Reasons to be Cheerful?

Duncan Bowyer – Associate Senior Leader and Lead Practitioner

If you are anything like me the New Year can start with many a good intention – New Year resolutions being one of them! How long will they last I wonder? A few days, a few weeks? I am sure there are many of you reading this who are much better at sticking to a resolution than I (my new gym bag still lies in the hall unused!).  

January is a time for reflection; the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves of why we teach.

joy painting brush
Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com

Given the pressures that we face in our working lives it is sometimes challenging to remember why we do the job that we do…but for many of us the answer is simple – it is because of the students. We do this job because we want young people to have all the opportunities they deserve! We want our colleagues to get the opportunities that they deserve!

The reality is that this profession has a huge number of challenges;  larger class sizes, diminishing budgets, colleagues being asked to take on extra responsibilities without extra money or time being able to be offered to them. For many of us this time of year means the mocks and trying to fit in the marking of these exams in an already packed schedule.

It may sound ‘PollyAnnaesque’ but it is at these times of pressure when we can see the reasons why we went into this profession in the first place. Many years after training I can still hear my PGCE Tutor’s voice resounding in my mind highlighting  the joys that we have in our jobs everyday.

So, remembering the words of that tutor here are some little reminders of what she always said can bring us joy…

  1. Our students: Of course this had to be number one. Seeing how students progress, grow and mature is the main reason why we come in everyday. If we know that a student is able to have much better life choices thanks to the efforts of a school then surely that is enough to help spur us on when the going gets tough.
  2. Our colleagues, our family at school: In times of stress we see how a school can band together, can protect, support and develop staff. Aside from the students it is the staff in all aspects of school life who are the beating heart and soul of our education system. Like many of you I have lifelong friends who I have met in school. Where else can you soak up the years of wisdom and experience that we have in many staff rooms up and down the country?
  3. Our subject: We all picked our subject for a reason – in what other job are we lucky enough to spend all day talking about the one thing we have a real love for? I will never forget as a student seeing Mrs Hudson crawling along the floor in our English lesson pretending to be the monster from Beowulf, or Miss Hardy painting numbers onto the piano to help us all learn our scales more effectively. In what other job can we escape into the wonderful world of Science, see the beauty of Maths, or help students communicate with each other in melodic and exciting different languages?
  4. Our resilience: We can take anything that gets thrown at us! We can remain calm, focused and support those students and colleagues who at times are struggling. This gives us a massive advantage in life – dealing with the education of hundreds of young people can prepare us to take on the world!
  5. Our joy: A recent study highlighted that those who work in a school laugh – on average – 20% more a day than those who work in an office! That has to make us feel good.

Finally – we are human, we have days where we are stroppy and stressed. However, I am sure that if we think about some of the above reasons to be cheerful then it will make scraping the ice off of the car first thing on a cold winter’s morning that more bearable.


Critical Thinking for All

Hannah Evans – Assistant Headteacher


It is far from surprising that, when asked,  teachers who are working on a collaborative KS5 transition project here at Sarah Bonnell revealed that their main reason for signing up was to enhance the way in which their students think critically.  They want them to engage in independent thought and establish lines of argument. Isn’t that what we all want from our students? A sense of personal response, of real engagement in and evaluation of the things that they are learning about? It’s what John Hattie calls “deep learning”: when students can ‘think critically and develop a deep understanding’ in their lessons. This is an area of pedagogy I am really interested in and, as a teacher of mixed ability classes, I am even more interested in the ways in which I can engage all students, regardless of their starting points, in this type of learning.  Here are a few strategies that have worked for me because they really do foster insight and enquiry for all.


What would Simone say?

Whichever author, monarch, sociologist or scientist students are learning about, share a current news story with them and ask them to consider what the figure would think.  For example, what would Elizabeth Ist think of Brexit? What would Dickens think of the rise in food bank usage? How would Simone de Beauvoir respond to the ‘Me Too’ movement? What would Genghis Khan think about increasing diversity in the UK?  The idea is to get students to negotiate the ideologies of key thinkers so that they can be confident in applying them in their critical essays.


Harkness Discussions

I learned about this strategy from one of our maths Lead Practitioners; she told me about the Harkness Method which encourages students to take control of their own discussions by setting challenging questions about a text or topic.  John Hattie’s research found that classroom discussion was ranked the seventh most effective strategy out of 150 strategies to enhance learning, so it seems essential that we consider the ways in which discussion can be harnessed to generate critical and evaluative thinking. The diagram below details the way in which the process can be set up and facilitated. For me, the most interesting part of it is the fact that when students set the questions for the discussion, they give them a challenge rating, thus ensuring that they are constantly evaluating the sophistication of their own ideas and questions.  


Empowering language

Giving students the right language so that they can sound critical in their approach is really empowering for students who may not have an existing flair for using an evaluative style. I like to challenge my students to use one new critical technique in their essays each time to encourage them to reflect on the way they write, not just what they are writing about. Students enjoy building up their repertoire of sophisticated methods and I will often ask students to share their ‘showcase sentences’– sentences that really demonstrates sharp and clear expression of thought.


Model high expectations of critical thought

Sharing great critical writing with your students is, I think, the best way to enhance their critical thinking and style.  Some of my favourites are Caitlin Moran, Elizabeth Day, Barack Obama, Virginia Woolf and Gary Younge. These great journalists and orators will save you hours of model writing time and inspire students to see that having a critical viewpoint really does matter in the real world.


Question Level Analysis

Hafsa Farhana – Lead Practitioner for Maths

Teaching a year 11 class can be daunting, especially when you know very little about them. This was one of the challenges I faced when I started teaching two year 11 classes at Sarah Bonnell. I wanted to get an overview of their strengths and weaknesses and use that to plan my teaching for the rest of the year. I needed to make sure that all of my lessons were effective in order to maximise learning in a short amount of time. To do this I used question level analysis (QLA) tables from the beginning of the academic year. This helped me devise a Scheme of Learning catered to my class.

QLAs are all readily available from exam boards websites with conditional formatting so you can see the Red, Amber and Green (RAG) scores for each student. I would also calculate the average as a class and RAG each topics. This is now a method employed by the Maths department for our year 11s to ensure we use the build up to the summer exam effectively and can have a systematic approach to revision.

A comment I often heard from students is that they didn’t know where to begin with their revision so I always share the analysis with the class and individual students. The feedback from students is that they found QLAs useful as they were able to hone in on their weakness so that their revision was purposeful.


The QLAs enable me to give whole class feedback, for example, anything that is Red as a class average, I will need to reteach as a priority. This could be as a whole lesson or part, a starter, homework or a flipped learning activity. The Amber topics can be addressed through starters in lesson or using experts in the class to support the learning of those who weren’t as successful as them in those particular topics. Anything above 75% are the strengths of my class and therefore not a priority to revisit.


When I first started doing this the downfall was that it was very time consuming to enter the data myself. Asking students to fill in the google sheet posed a problem as some students did not want their classmates to see their results. However, I recently discovered how easy it was to do using Google Forms.

I created a Google Form so that I could collect individual scores of my students and shared the form onto the Google Classroom. Within minutes my I collected all their results; I couldn’t believe how quick and easy it was!


This populates a Google Sheet which I then export and copy into the QLA file.

QLAs are not restricted to just exams, but they are very effective when used with diagnostic questions. Another way I use QLAs is by create a sub-SOL, where I can address the topics identified as starters for the term, thereby ensuring students are making progress without deviating from the department SOL so all topics are taught. The next thing I am keen to try is to use the QLAs to support my class in creating a revision timetable.


Marking and Feedback, Uncategorized

Being an examiner: Is it worth it?

Duncan Bowyer-Lead Practitoner

After a long day at school and sometimes even a longer evening at home marking and prepping, the last thing one may want to do is add to the workload!  Yet every June, there are thousands of teachers who willingly sign up for additional work; tasks that can often take up whole weekends and – in many cases –  the very early hours of the morning before we start our working day! Indeed a colleague of mine once told me that she gets up at 3am and squeezes in ‘just a couple of hours marking’ before arriving at school at 7am.

Who would do this to themselves I hear you ask? An examiner!

For the last five years I have told myself ‘never again’ after sacrificing every second of spare time I have to marking the latest set of GCSEs. Every year when the new contract comes through to once again be an examiner – I always find myself signing it thinking that this year will be different. Dinners, socialising, the gym, seeing loved ones, domestic chores and binging on NetFlix are all put on hold for the marking period. Friends say I became a man possessed – desperate to ensure that I was hitting my targets, passing my standardisations, accurately marking the seed papers, annotating correctly and being within tolerance.  

After a particularly gruelling marking session, I remember sitting staring at one of the last GCSE papers… I was so tired I could not even work out what level to award this student. At this point it was a wake up call – it would be unfair to mark these papers when so exhausted as I would not be accurate and the students do not deserve that; so I closed the laptop lid and fell into a blissful much needed sleep.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed that morning, I snapped open the laptop lid and looked again – I could mark it easily now as I had rested.

So the real question in this blog is – is it worth it? Contrary to the tone of my opening to this topic  I would argue wholeheartedly that yes it is some of the best CPD one can get. Not only does it allow your students and department to benefit from your expertise as an examiner; it also allows you to see some of the most mature and sophisticated responses to texts. It has undoubtedly made me a better teacher and means that I can offer an extra layer of support to my team during mocks. I have also learnt from student responses some very interesting and effective alternatives to structuring literary criticism.

Don’t get me wrong-it is hard work and the money isn’t really worth it. However the support and encouragement that I received from the team leaders and principal examiners really pushed me through the process. So if anyone is thinking about becoming an examiner next year, I would say go for it – but remember these tips that I was given when I first started.

  1. Organise your allocation of papers so that you can do 10 – 20 per evening. This makes it much more manageable.
  2. Be open, honest and keep in contact with your team leader during the process. They will help make what seems like an impossible task possible.
  3. Remember not to mark the papers in a public place or in school (they are very big on that).
  4. Have a scheduled night off! Don’t let it take over your life.
  5. If you feel you won’t get through your whole allocation, that does not make it a failure! It is more important that the scripts are marked accurately and the boards have contingency plans for any marking that does not get completed. Keep them in the loop as to how you are doing and flag up any issues you may have as soon as possible.
  6. Enjoy reading the responses and awarding the marks the kids have worked so hard for!



For the love of transition:where it all began.

Yamina Bibi-Lead Practitioner

This blog was originally published on http://www.msybeebs.wordpress.com

Shattered dreams

Since the age of ten, I knew that I was destined to work as a primary school teacher. Or so I thought. I knew nothing else. When I wasn’t in school, I loved playing ‘school’ with my younger siblings. My eldest sister, who was already working as a teacher, told us brilliant stories about her day and my parents insisted teaching was the most rewarding job in the world.

I was desperate to be a teacher as soon as possible and I did everything I could to build my experience once I was old enough. I completed my secondary school work experience in a primary school; I volunteered in primary schools and worked as a tutor during my years as an undergraduate student.

But then, during my final year at university, I had a realisation. I loved my subject. I did not know anything about maths or science or art but I loved learning about 18th century literary England, post-colonial literature and my beloved Shakespeare.

And so, going against family tradition, I became a secondary school English teacher. It was, of course, the best decision I made. Not only because I loved teaching my subject and sharing it with young people, but because I was discovering how difficult it was to be a primary school teacher.

The challenge of primary school curriculum

Interestingly (or maybe not), I have spent my life surrounded by primary school teachers: my three sisters, my friends and even my husband work in the early years and primary sector. This has given me a deeper understanding and insight into what the primary curriculum expects young children to achieve. Now, at the end of it all, 11 year olds are expected to know and learn and apply knowledge in tests I would find a challenge.

This knowledge was all well and good but I wanted to see it in practice and share it with colleagues so that we could really challenge the KS3 students we taught.

And so, two years ago, after a fantastic CPD session on transition delivered by a primary school colleague, I spoke to my line manager about contacting local primary schools to begin strengthening transition links.

Below are some ways we began to bridge the gap between KS2 and KS3 and the impact this has had on Teaching and Learning.

Last academic year

Collaborating with the Maths Lead Practitioner, I contacted one school and asked them if they would be happy to share resources such as Schemes of Learning; this would help us learn more about the primary school curriculum. In turn, we delivered some subject specific booster sessions to Year 6 students. At the end of the year, we had two primary school colleagues deliver another enlightening twilight session on the topic of transition sharing curriculum ideas and strategies.

This academic year

Through the power of Twitter, I have made links with local primary schools colleagues such as Jonny Walker. Below are some of the ways we have developed the transition project:

  • I set up a ‘Teaching and Learning transition team’ consisting of teachers from the core subjects (to begin with) to help drive transition across the curriculum.
  • We organised to observe teaching of reading, writing, maths and science lessons in three local primary schools. This enabled us to better understand the starting point for Year 7 students and also have clarity of the different ways the primary curriculum was delivered in KS2. For example, while one school delivered a traditional curriculum, another delivered a creative curriculum.
  • Through observations, members of the transition team have not only amended their own T &L but have shared their knowledge within their departments. This had led to important changes to the KS3 curriculum.
  • Primary colleagues have observed teaching of core subjects in KS3 to gain a deeper understanding of how specific subjects are taught at KS3.
  • We have connected subject leads in primary schools with secondary subject specialists to enhance the knowledge and skills of primary school teachers.
  • Last week, we organised a twilight CPD session on transition which included a mini TeachMeet. A range of speakers from the primary and secondary sector shared ideas on how we could continue to build transition links. The transition coordinator also requested SOLs from primary colleagues, which were shared with curriculum areas. Using these as a starting point, colleagues were asked to amend their Year 7 schemes of learning to ensure it built on prior knowledge and challenged all learners.

It has been an incredibly exciting year for KS2/ 3 transition and I hope that it will continue to be a central focus for schools to ensure challenge for all of our young people.


Diversity and Identity in Education

Nick Bentley-Lead Practitioner 

Follow him on Twitter: @MrBentleyTweets

The young people we teach are as diverse as the society we live in; including in terms of ethnicity, gender and gender identity, religion, sexuality and disability, to suggest but a few characteristics. If all of our students are to make the most out of their schooling, I would argue that they must be able to see themselves reflected across the curriculum, and that they should be in a learning- and living- environment in which they can thrive. Given this, can we truly say that the educational experiences we provide for those young people always meet these diversities? And if not, how can we make these positive changes, for our young people and ourselves?

With these questions in mind, I have endeavoured to suggest some potential sources of support below. These are all people and networks to whom I am very much indebted and grateful.

    1. Our Students: Though it may seem obvious, actually starting with the young people who are the centre of all we do, can be really helpful in working out how to reflect their lives in the curriculum. How would they wish to be represented? What is working well? What future opportunities might there be? I have always found discussing these matters with my students to be the most important starting point.
    2. Our Colleagues: I have been incredibly lucky to benefit from having wonderful colleagues who are very supportive, and who I have worked alongside to (amongst other things) run LGBTQ+ inclusive CPD, establish an LGBTQ+ student group and attend the #Diverse Educators Event. I strongly believe that collaborating with supportive colleagues is essential in having the biggest impact on diversifying students’ experience!
    3. Our Allies: There are incredible grassroots movements which seek to inspire educators and the movements of #WomenEd #BAMEed and #DisabilityEd have provided many teachers with new ideas and connections, but also opportunities to share what they are doing. Given my own identity, I have personally been wonderfully impressed by the work of other educators connected by #LGBTEd and through amazing celebrations in LGBT History Month. Yet I am highly aware of my own social privilege, and it is wonderfully helpful to work with colleagues who recognise where they can help and support all of our students in an inclusive manner. In the spirit of solidarity, working with others on this really can make us stronger.
    4. Our Curriculum: As teachers, so many of our interactions with young people are in the classroom. Building a fully and genuinely inclusive curriculum is so important, to represent our all of our students in all of their diversity- it can also help engage them in their learning! There are so many ways in which we might be able to do this. Do we use diverse people in examples of data sets in Maths and Science? Do we give students the opportunities to respond to or create diverse stories in Drama and English? Do we celebrate the work of diverse individuals in Art, History and Music? Interrogating our own lessons and curriculum to ensure we represent and celebrate students’ diverse identities can be an integral way of celebrating diversity in schools.
    5. Ourselves: We can empower ourselves to make positive change in our schools; from the way we speak to students, to the lessons we teach and the extra curricular opportunities we run. As educators, and as the people our students see on a daily basis, we really do have a choice to making changes in our lessons and in our schools so that our diverse young people get the schooling they deserve; that they are celebrated and that they thrive!

Engaging Learners in the Languages Classroom.

 Natascia Servini- Associate Leader and Curriculum Leader World Languages

Tuesday 26th September was European Day of Languages. As we continue to celebrate the cultural and linguistic diversity of our school, we are also aware of the wider context in which we are teaching.  There is a decline in the number of students taking languages at GCSE nationally, so it is more important than ever to hook our students and teach them to love learning languages from an early age.

Here are my top tips for engaging and motivating students that could be applied to any subject:

  1. Use competition and games

I love using games in my lessons: after all, if I’m going to be teaching for 5 hours a day, I want to have some fun too!

The most popular game is ‘splat’ where I have a selection of images on the board that represent a new word; students have to race to touch the correct image when they hear the new word. I have played this game every week of my teaching career to date, and I’m always amazed that students still get excited at the very thought of it.

  1. Technology

Technology is second nature for many of our students. There are numerous ways we can harness their skills and interests in order to enhance their learning experiences. One such way is the app Memrise. My students can’t get enough of Memrise. It’s completely free and an invaluable resource that helps students learn vocabulary. You can even track how many minutes they have spent on it each week. Memrise also has courses for other subjects and if they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, you can create something of your own.

  1. What’s the point?

The future can be a very abstract concept for young people. Some rarely know what they will want to do in a month, let alone in decades to come. It is therefore vital that everything we are teaching has a purpose and enables our learners to make clear links to real life skills beyond school.

Students also love hearing about their teacher’s lives – why not share how studying your subject has impacted on your life and career?

  1. PIP

Think about the last time a colleague motivated you. Was it because of the positive, encouraging words they uttered recognising your excellent work? How did it make you feel?

In the same way praise has an impact on us, praise also significantly impacts our students. A recent student voice survey conducted at Sarah Bonnell highlighted that the thing most students wanted as a reward over money, sweets or prizes was a phone call or postcard home.

  1. Show your passion!

During my training year, a ‘Teachers TV’ video called ‘The Queen of French Grammar’ really inspired me to develop my passion. The teacher was clearly a skilled practitioner but  what impacted me the most was her comment at the end of the video: “love your subject, love your students”.

I think of this every time I plan and deliver a lesson. As well as this, I believe that a teacher’s classroom environment is crucial. An environment that is bright, tidy, welcoming and includes lots of resources can support students in their learning and help them become more independent. Look around your classroom, what does it say about you and your passion for teaching your subject?


To end,  according to a recent survey by TES, the quality that most students want in a teacher is sense of humour. So start and finish every lesson with a smile and enjoy it!