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

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.

Collaboration, Literacy, Professional development, Writing

I do it…we do it…so you can do it: the importance of collaboration across the curriculum

ADD56B9E-DD3C-400A-A064-C34118F2D469Natalie Jim-Lead Practitioner

As I read the fifth piece of coursework my heart continues to sink. Although the words on the page are definitely recognisable as being part of the English language, they seem  to be randomly placed on the page, with no actual sense being communicated. The constant question keeps circulating around my brain: “how can they write so fluently and attain such high grades in English, but be unable to transfer these same literacy skills when studying other subjects?”

It became such a source of frustration that I knew something had to done.

As teachers in secondary school, we understand that collaboration with other curriculum areas is a fantastic way to improve attainment across the school community, but we may not forge these links as often as we should. I speak very generally, but curriculum planning, the sharing of practice and finding the time to observe other colleagues can be challenging. Is it any wonder that students can’t connect the skills required in numerous subjects when we often don’t utilise opportunities to make those connections?

As a teacher of drama, I have had to shift my mindset regarding the teaching of writing and literacy skills in response to the new GCSE exam specification. Interestingly, a student’s ability to write about drama is awarded higher marks than their ability to demonstrate practical skills. There is also a further focus on preparing students to confidently sit a 2 hour written paper worth 40%.

After marking a batch of  mock exam papers,  it was with a sinking feeling that I noticed a gap in what they were achieving in English compared to drama. What was frustrating was that the skills needed to answer questions in the written paper were very similar. Taking action, I turned to a Lead Practitioner from the English Curriculum Area to support me in my quest to join the dots.

The first step was to break down the similar aspects of the English literature exam paper and the specimen drama paper. It was apparent that analysis and evaluation were the overlapping skills. So the questions can students: identify language used by a writer; infer meaning and evaluate the effect on the reader were similar to what I was considering as a drama teacher. So, for example, drama students should be able to identify theatrical skills used by a performer, infer meaning and importantly discuss the effect on the audience.

I looked at a writing frame grid being used in English and adapted it for a drama question. In addition, the LP visited and team taught a drama lesson that was introducing the grid and demonstrated the most effective way of modelling – “I do, we do, you do.” When using top band models as a teaching tool, I had often not spent enough time on the joint construction of a response with the class. Instead I would jump from showing them a model and breaking it down and analysing it, to then giving them the task of trying to create a response for themselves. What seemed to be the missing piece of the jigsaw was actually working on a new model together and then giving them the independence to try.

It is still a work in progress, but looking at students’ subsequent attempts at similar questions, I am hopeful.  I would recommend using the expertise of those around us to problem solve and support highly.


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!
Group work, Literacy, Oracy

‘Let’s talk’- the role of Socratic talk in challenging students

Yamina Bibi- Lead Practitioner

Follow her on Twitter: @msybibi

A colleague of mine once told me that a ladder can be used as an analogy to explain differentiation. All of our students need to reach the top of the learning ladder but how many steps they require will differ according to individual needs. Some students might be able to skip a few steps to reach the top, while others may need a few extra steps to enable them to do so.

Stretching and challenging all the young people in our classrooms to reach the top of the ladder can be the key to their success. As Tom Sherrington states in his blog Teaching to the Top: Attitudes and Strategies for delivering real challenge:

‘The secret to doing this well is to think about it in three areas of teaching practice:

  • Attitudes:  The belief and mindsets teachers need to have themselves and inculcate in their students. This influences everything else.
  • Routines/Habits:  The things you do all the time, in every lesson.
  • Extra Challenges: Things you build into an overall scheme of work and use occasionally.’

As a teacher, this means that planning and embedding challenge doesn’t have to include many versions of the same worksheet (this is something I have been guilty of in the past).

In fact, that’s why I find Socratic Seminars an effective way of implementing the principles of ‘teaching to the top’; the differentiation is planned meticulously prior to the lesson without the need for three different coloured worksheets.

What is a Socratic seminar?

A Socratic seminar is a specific style of dialogic teaching (see Robin Alexander’s ‘Towards Dialogic Teaching’) I learned from my wonderful NQT mentor, Teresa Dunseith.

It encourages students to: think deeply about a topic; contribute effectively to discussions; listen attentively to other students’ ideas; justify and challenge rather than accept the first answer and ensures all students are involved. Although some may argue that this strategy is only effective in subjects such as English and Humanities, I strongly disagree.

I have observed a Socratic seminar taking place in a Science lesson, where students debated the use of stem cells. I have also observed students discussing and working out a Maths problem while other students observed and then discussed the methods used.

As a strategy, it’s adaptable and it’s the teacher’s decision how they use it in their classroom. For example, in some lessons the Socratic discussion is used as part of the ‘Do Now’ activity to hook learners, while in other lessons, it is part of the main activity to enable students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

So how does one plan and deliver a Socratic seminar?

Below are instructions and ideas on how you can plan and deliver a Socratic seminar in your classroom. I have also provided examples of resources I share with students in the lesson; if you would like copies of any of the resources, please do let me know using the comment box below or tweet me @msybibi. 

whole class socratic

mini socratic

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I hope that you will try the Socratic seminar and that it will enable your students to be stretched and challenged and reach the top of the learning ladder.

Time saving teaching, Work/Life balance

Time-saving teaching for time-pressed teachers

Charlotte Paine- Assistant Headteacher

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any teacher, in any school, is always in want of more time.  We go from standing at the photocopier at 8am to the bell ringing at 3:10pm in the blink of an eye, and in any case contrary to popular opinion amongst non-teachers – and in my experience usually expressed at parties beginning with phrases such as ‘ah you teachers, 3pm blah blah blah, long holidays blah blah blah’ – most of us aren’t going home for hours to come anyway.  In fact research conducted by the BBC and The Guardian show that teachers in England and Wales work longer hours than almost anywhere else in the world – at secondary level it’s an average of 55.7 hours per week, whilst our primary colleagues are clocking up a staggering 59.3 hours.

So, we’re busy people – which is better than the alternative of being bored – but that’s to be expected because we are also (contrary to popular opinion!) important people, in charge of educating, shaping and mentoring the next generation.  But, are we always using the time we do have in the most efficient way?

What follows are some time-saving tips, designed to help you maximise your working day, and perhaps even go home before it’s pitch-black outside.

Before we begin, here is a glossary of key terms:


Procrastinating The act of doing a lot of things that are not the job you actually have to do e.g. organising colouring pencils into rainbow order instead of marking Year 7’s assessments.
Faffing The act of taking a long time to do something that is, in theory, achievable in a very short space of time.
Stalling The act of putting off the thing you have to do, and creating a whole list of excuses in your head as to why you have not done it, whilst regarding your mounting anxiety in a detached yet terrified way.
Postponing The act of delaying, or putting off something, that you still actually need to do.  Similar to stalling.


Tip 1: Audit your time

On the face of it, this might seem like just another job to do, but completing a time audit for a day (or dare I say it, a week) can help you identify where you have pressure points, and where you have more time to play with.  It can also help you identify where you have time that you could use more effectively.  It’s simple to do – you just write down what you are doing at hourly intervals through the day, e.g. 8am – photocopying resources, 9am – teaching, 10am – teaching, 11am – planning.  Working out patterns or lost or wasted time can really help you to restructure your day.

Tip 2: Lollipop sticks

A set of wooden lollipop sticks can be used for many different purposes, not least, for grouping students quickly and easily, flexibly and on the spur of the moment – no planning required.  On each stick, write the student’s name in a colour – if you choose several different colours then you can automagically (apparently this is a word) group students into ‘colour groups.’  If you also write a number on the stick, then you have another option – ‘number grouping.’  Add a shape, and you have a third option – ‘shape grouping.’  Sticks can also be used to direct questions, or you can hand them out at the start of the lesson and gather them in when a student answers a question, or contributes to the lesson positively – at the end of the lesson you have a clear indication of who has participated, and who has not. It makes awarding achievement points much quicker too than writing names on the board and then rubbing them off, and forgetting who’s they were.



Tip 3: Google Forms for self-marking quizzes and questionnaires

Google Forms are a great way of setting up quizzes or questionnaires for your class, staff, or even parents/visitors to the school.  They can ‘self mark’ (once you have entered the right and wrong answers!) and you can add feedback to each question so students can see why they have answered (in)correctly which saves you having to write comments individually.  The results can then be exported to Google Sheets, and graphs will automagically (still a word) be generated again.  You can also ask your Google Sheets questions, and it will analyse the data to answer for you.  You can also use the same form again and again, either as a revision activity, or for next year’s lessons.  Plan once, use forever! For more info, head to Google and google Google Forms.  ‘Google’ is now noun and verb.

google cpe


Tip 4: Weekly meal prep

My husband still hasn’t managed to grasp the idea that teachers don’t have a lunch ‘break’ – instead, we have a unit of time in the day that is not technically a lesson, but probably still involves working.  If possible, set aside part of this time unit – 20 or 30 minutes – to have as much of a break as you can manage, but above all, prioritise eating.  3:30pm is not lunchtime, even if it is when many of us eat!  Prepping your lunches in advance of the week can be really helpful, as then each morning you can just grab the tupperware and go.  If this isn’t possible, or isn’t your style, consider eating in the school cafeteria.  It is a great opportunity to sit down to a proper meal, and to have more informal conversations with colleagues and students.


lunch cpe.png

Tip 5: Glossaries

This is essentially front-loaded lesson prep, but a well thought-out glossary can be a big time saver later down the line.  Properly used as a reference document, students can access the vocabulary that might otherwise hold back their learning, take up time in the lesson whilst you answer ‘what does xxx mean’ 15 times, and possibly even prevent disengagement leading to time-consuming behaviour.  Again, once constructed for a topic you teach every year, a glossary can be reused over and over.

Tip 6: Planning-free starters and plenaries.

Here are just a few ideas of flexible and adaptable strategies that can be used in lessons, as starters or as plenaries:

  • Last lesson learning (LLL) post-it note.  Hand out at the door.
  • This lesson learning (TLL) post-it note.  Hand out in class.
  • Thunks – questions with no answers e.g. is the past closer to the present than the future?
  • Mnemonics.
  • Key words – write down as many as possible in 2 minutes.
  • Students set a reflection question.  Answer their own, or peer swap.
  • Write an email/note/summary of the lesson for an absent peer.
  • Quiz – students write questions on slips of paper, and you then choose a set to make a quiz.
  • Draw it!  Visual representation of the lesson’s learning.
  • Metacognition – display an image/diagram/quote etc. students respond with ‘I am noticing’, ‘I am thinking’, ‘It reminds me of’, ‘I am learning.’
  • Keyword definition – you call out key words, they define them.




Better with Meta?

Hannah Evans-Assistant Headteacher

I know there are many teachers out there who view metacognition as merely a pedagogical fad that won’t have any real impact in their classrooms.  After all, in a climate of more content, more exam hours and, arguably, more complexity, have we really got the time to build this type of reflection in to our schemes of learning?  Why not just get on with the doing rather than thinking about the doing? With the Education Endowment Foundation’s conclusion that students who take part in metacognition activities make eight months additional progress, however, it seems hard to deny that these strategies might enhance our students’ learning.  With this in mind, I set myself the task of trying some of them out in order to discover how much impact metacognition could really have.

Before I share these strategies, though, let’s clear up what metacognition really is.  Put simply, it is the process of learning about learning.  Metacognition activities provide opportunities for students to evaluate the ways in which their cognitive processes can be enhanced by undertaking methods and strategies that work well for them.  They also help them become self-regulators: students take control of the processes that enable them to be successful.  Here are my top three strategies for establishing a metacognitive learning environment:

1. Post-assessment learning quizzes

Rather than simply providing feedback after a key assessment, ask your students to reflect on their study processes.  How do they revise?  Do they prefer to learn from audio or visual notes?  Do colour or graphics make a difference or would they rather employ a clear bullet point list?  What about the significance of environment and collaboration?  This strategy not only creates a dialogue about the need to revise smart, not hard, it also provides you with an insight into the ways your students like to learn.  Ultimately, this can be invaluable when planning effective revision lessons.

2. What could ‘go wrong’ regulation reflection

Create a handout that asks students to think about what could ‘go wrong’ in the assessment and how they might overcome these challenges.  For example, if they come across a task where the question focus contains vocabulary they don’t understand, what strategies could they put in place to overcome this barrier?  Fostering self-regulation in students means that they are active and self-assured in the exam process.

3. Whole class revision resources

Rather than you creating a revision booklet that suits your needs but not necessarily every student in your class, ensure that all students are involved in the creation of the revision materials.  How long do they think they should spend on each question?  What should they do as soon as they see the question title?  How should they plan each question? By providing a sense of ownership over this process, students gain autonomy and are empowered during the assessment itself.

These strategies certainly had a positive impact.  David Perkins insists that the ideal learner is one who is reflective, strategic and self-regulating.  Employing these strategies went a long way in creating these types of learners in my classes.  What was also significant was the way in which these activities established dialogue and, therefore, a real insight into the outlooks and attitudes of the students I teach.  By asking students to reflect on their personal learning processes, I established a more personal, more strategic and, ultimately, more dynamic learning environment. I can definitely attest, then, to the fact that learning really is better with meta.