Not all those who wander are lost… My journey in building a knowledge rich curriculum and my reflections of ResearchEd Nottingham 2021

It has been two years since:

  • I wrote a blog to share my thoughts and experiences
  • I attended a conference in person as this weekend (25/09/2021) as I attended the inaugural ResearchEd Nottingham
  • I attended the PTE Wonder Years conference on the knowledge rich curriculum

It will probably be no surprise to you when reading this that I sit at the trad end of the teaching spectrum. I believe that the knowledge rich curriculum is a matter of social justice and to predicate the curriculum upon a pedagogical approach i.e. task after task with students wandering through the learning directionless, further compounds the educational inequalities which are already vast in this country. I believe that the knowledge rich curriculum can go some way to closing the gap for every student.

Here I want to say that I have undertaken a long journey building a knowledge rich curriculum in history, which is underpinned by mastery booklets. The booklets include the key knowledge that needs to be learned, workspace in lieu of an exercise book, two assessments embedded per term based on a bespoke assessments questions (out of 10 marks with custom-made mark schemes to make moderation/standardisation easier) which test the knowledge and key historical skills that have been learned rather than a regurgitation of GCSE questions, a five-a-day knowledge check after each topic, and three ten question knowledge checks which are cumulative and interleaved over a term.

This acts as the central resource and the benefits have been plentiful:

  • The booklets allow the teacher to focus on teaching. Students respect that we are the experts as this central resource is written by us which is deliberately pitched to the top, having the highest expectations and aspirations for our students (it also saves endless time in terms of printing).
  • This approach allows us to innovate the curriculum collaboratively and have meaningful curriculum conversations about changes, which in turn, allows for the development of subject knowledge and provides staff with key opportunities to build the curriculum with me and therefore, there is greater buy in and ownership from my team.
  • We support students with Dylan Wiliam’s idea of responsive teaching providing any support needed via high quality teacher talk, probing questioning, and modelling. For example, we often write the answer to the big question together through extensive oral questions to formulate every sentence of our answer.

This approach has taken time – I had a two-year plan and I stuck to it. It started with meeting staff and rationalising both the knowledge rich curriculum, the use of booklets and the structure of the booklets. Following this, we sequenced the curriculum and made decisions on what powerful knowledge to include and more importantly, what not to include.  I then delegated different parts of the curriculum to different staff members, starting with KS3 (I was blessed to have four very willing and very able historians working for me at the time when I started this and when I moved school, I had a very able and keen ECT1 who was endlessly committed to this project) so not to overload myself or my team. There was then an editing stage where I acted as a critical friend for my team to ensure consistency of approach. Finally, there is an emphasis on the importance of consistency of the lessons ensuring that they are quality and bespoke for each topic within the booklet, underpinned by big questions, quality teacher talk (which introduces the topic, the big question and key terms), ensuring that the lessons have answers built into them to allow teachers to teach and expertly talk students through answers (again utilising direct instruction), and the use of green pen to close the gap on the comprehension as well as the analysis/evaluation tasks to ensure no student is left behind.

Lessons learned

It is safe to say that as I wandered down the path to a knowledge rich curriculum, I went down a few wrong alleys and took a few wrong turns. I think it is key, as Kat Howard argued aptly at this week’s ResearchEd Nottingham (#rEDNotts), that making mistakes and owning them is key to the development of any teacher. Here, I want to outline some of the mistakes I made and tie in my experiences at key #rEDNotts.

Applying this model to different subjects

In my role as Director of Humanities, I have to wear many hats and manage no less than six subjects (History, Geography, RE, Citizenship, Sociology and PSHE). After some excellent improvements were made in my first term in my current school to the Geography curriculum, it still felt like it was missing a vital piece which I believed to be a central resource like the booklets we have in History. Students were doing little to no reading and for me, this is one of the central planks of what I believe makes a strong humanities curriculum as I want to embed rigorous comprehension and quality teacher led closing the gap time on the comprehension of knowledge. Furthermore, after several sessions to decide on the sequencing and topics for each booklet, I imposed the exact same model from my History booklets on Geography. This was my first mistake. Geography is distinctly different, and the needs of the booklet are different with more diagrams needed in places than text which can be taught via quality teacher talk as clear example. What is more, when turning to the lessons, I made two mistakes. Firstly, I did not explain the lesson formula well enough to a relatively inexperienced Geography team and thus, the lessons became too formulaic which we are going some way to correcting. Secondly, I rarely use videos and now accept in Geography there is a greater need for videos than in History. However, at first I insisted this should be the same in all Humanities subjects and videos were to be used sparingly. In short, I wrongly shackled the Geography department.

However, I am exceptionally lucky to have a team that are developing their own ideas and conversations have taken place on how we can change the booklets and lessons to fit Geography better. Conclusion: do not hastily rush and make sure the curriculum model fits the subject.

Retrieval practice – when to use it and not to use it.

Sam Strickland aptly argued at #rEDNotts that retrieval should not be a straitjacket – it should not be a tick box exercise, if it does not serve a purpose, don’t do it. I believe whole school policies on such things like using retrieval at the start of every lesson rarely achieve what they set out to. This led me to further consider my position on retrieval, as earlier in the week I had spoken to my team about diversifying our retrieval practice across the faculty. Kate Jones (using the work of Bjork and Bjork, 2011) argues that varying the types of tasks, rather than keeping them constant or predictable, improves later retention, even though it makes learning harder in the short term. As a result, we are going to use a more varied diet of retrieval practice and work out what works for our students. We have already embedded retrieval as our homework model, now we need to diversify the types of retrieval in class and how and when we use such tools.

Diversity in the Curriculum

Bennie Kara excellent talk on diversifying the curriculum at #rEDNotts made me realise that whilst my attempts to diversify my curriculum – with the introduction of Mansa Musa, the Black Tudors, the Haitian Revolution, Alan Turing’s role in WW2, the female liberation movement post-WW2, the introduction of the pill and abortion and their effect on the lives women (or lack of) – are not quite hinterland, however, they are not quite core yet either. One of my goals this year is to introduce more women’s and LGBTQ history into my curriculum of history and look to see how we can diversify Geography in the same vein.

Behaviour underpins everything

Kimberly Willmot’s talk at #rEDNotts was exceptional. Her messages were simple, but clearly powerful. Consistent language is key (I really love idea that something as simple as ‘we do not that here at Queen Elizabeth’s’ is consistently used and the students can only reply sorry sir/miss – there is real power in this) and hierarchy in the classroom of novices and experts, where teachers are put on pedestal and are trusted to make decisions on behaviour i.e., when someone needs to be removed from a room for the benefit of the class, was resonating with everything I believe about how we should manage behaviour in any school. In my faculty, I am the authority figure, I deal with all removals and any punishments when asked to enforce them by my team. However, post-Covid lateness is a problem as students re-navigate the school and push the boundaries of what they can and cannot get away with. It is safe to say some of my staff have struggled with this and I wondered to myself why? It was clear, because whilst I had imposed a system where if a student is a minute late, they owe me two minutes of their time and that students need to be in the room before the bell rings (metaphorically – we have no bell system), I had not shared this with staff. This simple, but effective message, has saw some benefits already in my faculty. Now, we have more consistent messages – e.g. students need to be back in the room two mins early from breakfast and lunch so they are ready to learn, that we demand silence when we are speaking as the experts and we use Doug Lemov’s Control the Game technique to ensure all are actively reading are just some of the shared consistent messages and approaches we use. As a Sam Strickland argued aptly #rEDNotts, Students flourish in an environment that is predictable. Simple tweaks go a long way. Moreover, if behaviour isn’t a priority in your school, there is a problem. It is important to look after yourself and work in a supportive environment which expects 100% compliance.

Explicit CPD

In my faculty, we have a weekly teaching tip every department meeting (so far we have looked at Big Questions and how to write them, EAL strategies, and cognitive load). These are delivered by myself and my team as I seek to empower them as much as I can. One thing this weekend, when listening to Kat Howard’s excellent talk at #rEDNotts on professional development, and hearing the overwhelming message of the power of teachers as the expert made me consider – have I taught what my team what direct instruction is properly? Have I modelled this well enough? How can I model this effectively? This is something I aim to work on over the coming weeks as much like Alexander Hamilton, I am never satisfied.

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‘The art of good business is being a good middleman…’ A reflection of my first year as Head of Department

“Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.” This quote often sobers me and reminds me of my role as a middle manager. This is my second year as a subject lead but first as head of department and in short space of time I have learnt a lot. However, the most poignant lesson I have learnt whilst HoD (History and Politics) is that it is lonely in the middle and there are a 101 hurdles to jump. In this blog I will lay out my experiences so far and in cathartic manner exhale the stresses of the academic year I am about to say goodbye to.

I am only in my third year of teaching so becoming head of department was a daunting task but one I’ve always wanted. I am a very ambitious teacher, I know what I want and some would compare me to a steam train that stops for nothing. However, this comes with its perils, one of which is a lack of a solid role model. In my first year, my HoD was organised, had a clear vision and helped rebuild a department in flux, however, she was a first time HoD too. She soon left for bigger and better things. Following this, in my second year, my HoD was a teacher of 5 years in the school (and the profession), and epitomised what it meant to be a teacher in my school and what is more, epitomised what outstanding History teaching looked like. As a HoD, he had excellent soft skills, was incredibly supportive of all his staff and would go above and beyond. However, again, he was a first year HoD and soon departed for a sabbatical and has decided not to return. Whilst I am immeasurably thankful to both of them – the former teaching me the value of organisation and how to build a solid curriculum and the latter teaching me key soft skills and involving me in all decision making as the Head of Politics which has served me well this year – ultimately, I do not have a solid role to model to look after 5/6 years of teaching like most. I contact the latter former HoD regularly, I try to take as many gems from other HoDs in my school, I regularly attend conferences, I scroll Twitter most days and engage teachers in meaningful dialogue wherever possible, all in a desperate search for nuggets of wisdom as I seek to build my identity and mantra as a middle leader. Moreover, I search for these nuggets due to the fact I am committed the challenge of providing stability, having a clear vision and providing a curriculum that is knowledge rich and provides every student an opportunity to learn history on an equal footing regardless of background.

However, what I’ve had to carefully reflect on is the big the decisions I am expected to make. On my first day of the job, at 5.30pm on a Friday evening, I had to rewrite the department’s timetable in order to be able to send two members of my department out to other schools in our trust to support with teaching. Being the lead school in a trust comes with the responsibility of supporting other schools and I am never one to scorn someone who asks for help and even offered to go across myself part time. However, what was difficult was managing the tough conversations that came with such a big change. Not only did I have to potentially upset two members of staff about working part time somewhere else, I also had to put more work on other teachers in my department, and what is more, another teacher was also subsequently sent to another school in January. Managing the perils of change for both the students and staff is difficult and clearly, never easy.

Furthermore, after years of instability – this summer will the first time in four years that somebody has lasted more than one year as HoD and will be the first summer in four years that no one has left – there are holes in our curriculum. We have recently undergone an age range change from 14-19 to 11-19, coupled with an underperforming A-Level course, there are problems which needed time and consideration. Me being me, I bulldozed into reforming the A-Level which was met with resistance. So when I planned to the radically reform our developing KS3 curriculum, I took a more measured approach which has paid dividends. We are enhancing and reforming our KS3 backed by a vision which is both knowledge rich and enjoyable for students and staff. What is more, we have changed the A-Level and this was also met with support and buy in from the department. These lessons have been valuable for a steam train like myself. My rank does not confer power, I have learnt I must take people along the journey with me. Innovation takes time, careful planning and buy in. This a valuable lesson for any first time middle leader.

What is more, finding time to be an all seeing eye over the department and all students whilst juggling my own teaching, non-judgemental lesson drop ins, management directives, planning/marking and supporting teachers both proves to always be the biggest challenge of middle management. I get to work at 7am and leave most days around 6pm, whilst also doing work most evenings. Juggling/managing six members of staff in a school of 2500 approx is a difficult task to say the least. I would like to think I am supportive HoD… I will give up frees at the last minute to cover, I ensure students get quality first teaching and the best possible deal even if that means going a whole week without a free period, I have and always take the bulk of the planning to save staff time, I mark mock exams for year groups I do not teach, I am there to listen even when I am snowed under and I am always seeking to develop and empower staff with responsibility and training. Yet, I get this strange sense of dread on a weekly basis that I am never doing enough.

Coming back to my original thesis, it can be lonely in the middle.

This blog is part two of my catharsis as I was recently at conference about embedding a knowledge rich curriculum with a close friend who is also a HoD for History and it was nice to talk/rant about middle management but to actually debate history, talk curriculum and our experience of teaching history (and argue that those espouse the virtues of a knowledge rich curriculum for all and the idea of empowering those most disadvantaged probably have little clue about what other barriers are there are due to a lack of personal experience with poverty which both have experienced in the extreme – an almost champagne socialism but being distributed by the right… It is a strange world in which we currently live). It was a great day and I am a keen advocate of a knowledge rich curriculum but moreover, it was a rare moment of being able to relate to someone like me because as empowering as Twitter is, it lacks something that I can never quite put my finger on.

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“The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder…” What I learnt at PTE’s #WonderYearsConference about Knowledge Rich Curriculums and the New Ofsted Framework

Last weekend I attended the PTE’s #WonderYears conference (click there for the Powerpoints shared at the event and it was hosted by Pimlico Academy, which is an impressive structure to say the least) and it reaffirmed my belief in the current buzz around the knowledge rich curriculum.  It is worth noting this is review and reiteration of others work on this topic including Tom Sherrington, Clive Wright, Ben Newmark, Matt Burnage, Robert Peal and many others that blogged about the idea of a knowledge rich curriculum or presented at the #WonderYears conference. Links to blogs about a knowledge rich curriculum you will find on Tom Sherrington’s blog (including his own) by clicking HERE.

Rather than rehashing what those far more capable and far experienced than myself have written, I wanted to share some of the key ideas I took away from the #WonderYears conference.

Ofsted and the key ideas behind the new framework

I was fortunate enough to listen to Amanda Spielman speak about the new frame framework and she was unequivocal in her argument that it is matter of social justice that all students are taught a knowledge rich curriculum. John Blake went some way to explaining this in more detail by arguing that skills based curriculums, i.e. teaching to the mark scheme, disadvantages students, especially those who are working class and/or PP, most. The advantage of private schools isn’t just the contacts they have but also in their curriculum which is knowledge rich which in turn precipitates common cultural knowledge and values which in turn creates a barrier for state school students. Therefore, social justice ‘requires access to valued cultural knowledge’ via a knowledge rich curriculum, and we must bridge that gap in the classroom. According to Spielman, this is especially true for our disaffected students (often our working class students) and our most vulnerable (SEND) students. She went further to argue that whilst it may take these students longer to acquire knowledge, it does not make it less important and we should not compromise on that ideal. Blake summed this up  by arguing “knowledge is not an imposition, it is an emancipation!”

Outcomes still matter… Results are still important, however they will be focused on less during inspections. Spielman argues that key question is “are qualifications achieved in a way that set students up to be citizens and life-long learners rather than just a grade on a piece of paper?” The idea of cultural capital is important here and empowering our students with knowledge is vital. Clare Sealy later went onto to argue that secondary education has for too long been ‘mark-scheme rich’ and we must deliver a broader education. She argued if results are hit, that is less important, what matter is students ultimately know more. Whilst I dispute the former in regards to the importance of examination performance, I do think the combination of good results AND knowing more is:

A. Important for unlocking doors for students who usually wouldn’t catch a glimpse of a world filled with the educated and cultural elites but moreover…

B. it is achievable to ensure students know more and achieve good results. I believe this ties in with the dying trend of the three-year GCSE which I would argue has been detrimental to the acquisition of new knowledge for students and has forced teachers into teaching to mark schemes and thus, schools becoming exam factories.

Quality of the curriculum and practice are most important – Spielman argues that there is no uniform answer or language to this. If it works in your school, it works. The new Ofsted framework is not a straight jacket. You can design your curriculum freely and constantly hone your practice.

Consultancy is unnecessary and a waste of money – I know during my short time in teaching I have seen consultants used – or arguably misused – as a sort of comfort blanket to tell us what we are doing right and what we are not. Often the outcomes of these reports are quite generic. The key thing is your senior and middle leadership should be able to critically evaluate what good practice looks like and how to improve that. As Sean Harford has argued we should be thinking about the curriculum carefully for ourselves.

The Curriculum itself – This was recently discussed at my school: it is a framework for setting out the aims of a programme of education, including knowledge and understanding to be gained at each stage (INTENT), for translating that framework over time into a structure and narrative, within an institutional context (IMPLEMENTATION) and for evaluating what knowledge and understanding pupils have gained against expectations (IMPACT).

Key Ingredients to a knowledge rich curriculum

To start here, Robert Peal and Matt Burnage (with some thoughts from Clive Wright weaved in) really dovetailed quite nicely on how to construct a knowledge rich curriculum and what a knowledge rich curriculum is and the common pitfalls people make along the journey towards a knowledge rich curriculum…

What it is…

  • Breadth not depth and clearly sequenced we only get a limited amount of time to really embed knowledge, use it wisely! Make sure the topics your teach have purpose, link to big questions and link to disciplinary knowledge. Make sure you curriculum builds on prior knowledge with accurate sequencing of knowledge and lessons. To borrow from Tom Sherrington, ‘[the] curriculum is not simply a set of encounters from which children form ad hoc memories; it is designed to be remembered in detail; to be stored in our students’ long-term memories so that they can later build on it forming ever wider and deeper schema.  This requires approaches to curriculum planning and delivery that build in spaced retrieval practice, formative low-stakes testing and plenty of repeated practice for automaticity and fluency.’
  • Assessment is purposeful – Embed low stakes knowledge retrieval quizzes into your assessment timetable. These can be used for homework and settlers/do now starters. Spaced retrieval, as mentioned, is key. Do not let what you taught last term go forgotten. Provide students with opportunities to retrieve and apply that knowledge. However, this isn’t say disciplinary knowledge is not important. We must weave in those key skills/exam skills into our assessment but they must be performance based on what is known!
  • Central resource – Whether it is a textbook, a booklet or online resource, knowledge needs to be centralised. This is why I will be talking about the power of booklets later in this blog and why I intend to design a curriculum this way moving forward.
  • Academia and CPD – Teachers are the experts. Value subject expertise and encourage teachers as much as possible teachers to engage with the movements within academia within their subject area. It is worth noting here teachers need time to do this and that it should be embedded within the directed time. Teachers often just do not have the time to read!


  • It must not be confused with learning a list of facts – it is about imparting the powerful knowledge that is sequenced in a logical order and making sure it is comprehended.
  • Difficulty is not the answer – everything we do is age appropriate but does challenge students to know more.
  • Still use skills based (disciplinary) assessments – this is imperative. We still need to teach the skills but after the knowledge has been consumed and understood and regularly rehearsed and retrieve by students.
  • Consider what you really want pupils remember – where are the key bits? Focus the majority of your time on that powerful knowledge.
  • Every one teaches different and we account for that by allowing teachers to adapt lessons whilst keeping knowledge at the heart of all lessons.
  • Resources must be easy to pick up and shared – Without this the knowledge rich curriculum can fall apart.

Top tips to achieve this… (a lot of this I have lifted from Stuart Lock who I admire greatly!)

Behaviour must be dealt with by leaders – In my school, it is often the middle leaders like myself that deal with the majority of behaviour due to the sheer size of my institution. However, as Stuart Lock and various others have argued, teachers should be allowed to teach. SLT need to be visible, need to be dropping into lessons to check on behaviour and need to be accountable for dealing with this. 100% compliance is key here; as soon as someone does not comply they are falling below the necessary standards. Whilst strategies like silent corridors at the Bedford Free School will not work for everyone, find what does work in your school. In short, behaviour must be at the front of management’s mind and without the right conditions, a knowledge rich approach will struggle to blossom.

Good line managementThis applies from SLT to Middle Leaders and Middle Leaders to teachers. Firstly, comparing departments is not always helpful. For example, in a school where there is a wonderful maths department, stacked with able teachers, brilliant leadership and a knowledge rich approach  and good results, then comparing that to a RE department  – equally filled with very able teachers but arguably a far less steadier ship due to several, deep-seated issues such as staffing retention let’s say – is not helpful. The conditions do not match and whilst some practice shared will help, ultimately size, stability and difference in curriculum (with maths being hierarchical largely and history cumulative) will not translate across.

Data an overemphasis on data and key stage 4/5 is unnecessary. Rather than conducting these data knowledge trawls, observe teaching, do book/folder ‘scrutinies’ with general feedback to ensure it is not construed negatively. To quote Lock, ‘if every conversation about data was about the curriculum, the data would probably be better.’ Focus on what matters, especially in light of the new framework, where Ofsted will not require to see any in house data snapshots.

Steal other peoples’ ideasMatt Burnage at the Bedford Free School recently shared a series of booklets designed for their knowledge rich history curriculum with me and will do the same for you if you ask. Twitter has numerous people always sharing ideas, a few of which I stole today which you can see HERE. Facebook has numerous groups, I am a member of three different groups one for KS3 History, one for GCSE AQA History and one for Politics teachers all having well over a thousand members to share ideas, peer mark and share resources. Do not reinvent the wheel.

Challenge everything as Clive Wright neatly argues do not take things at face value! Even the idea of a knowledge rich curriculum… Find what works and what you agree with/works for you. Be adaptable, it is key as not every setting is the same but it does not mean we shouldn’t be offering our students the best possible deal in terms of the curriculum and empowering students long term.

5/7 year curriculum plan Middle leaders should take ownership of their subject and lay out what is learnt, how/why it is learnt and what impact that should have. This should be available in a handy document which shows clear curriculum links and a clear sequence. You can find my version of this HERE.

Genericism To paraphrase Lock further, generic approaches across subjects butcher subject specialism. If you work in a school which does this, break the policy rather than butcher the actual teaching and learning that goes on in your department. Michael Fordham’s blog excellently sums up which genericism has to be made extinct HERE.

Knowledge Organisers – They are an inadequate proxy for a knowledge rich curriculum. They are not necessary, however, if you are using them make them valuable. Both Robert Peal of the West London Free School and Matt Burnage of the Bedford Free School argued at the #WonderYears Conference that knowledge organisers must have a purpose. I am guilty, as I am sure others are, of making knowledge organisers which are essentially a list of chronological facts and key figures/stats/events. From now on, knowledge organisers I make will focus on knowledge retrieval of the key knowledge students need to retain.

BookletsThis was something I had not really thought about until this conference. I have always dismissed booklets as lazy teaching and not really given them any consideration as my teaching has always been guided by the desire to make a PowerPoint. However, as Ben Newmark argues HERE schemes of work often become ‘hotchpotch of directionless standalone lessons.’ However, there are many benefits including the idea that everything is in one place, a focus on comprehension questions accompanying the knowledge, assessments can be kept separately in a folder behind the booklet (which is what my school currently does) and ultimately it makes planning easier as it stops the plethora of printing that is required and makes the transition between different tasks easier.

I like to think I am constantly reflecting and trying to improve my knowledge and my curriculums.I have written this blog to share what I have learnt and to help rehearse before a forthcoming three day Ofsted pilot inspection at my school. I hope this blog helps you along your journey! Comment is free…

“One person’s data is another person’s noise” – Data Drops, Marking and Workload

Workload… It is the word on everyone’s lips. It is increasingly problematic. For myself when I teach 8 classes: one year 10 group (History), two year 11 groups (History), two year 12 groups (Politics), two year 13 groups (History), and one year 13 group of 21 (Politics), I find myself drowning in a sea of marking (one formatively marked piece of work every 5 lessons which is effectively less than every two weeks), half termly data drops, reports, UCAS references,  consistent whole school mock exams (so far this year two for year 10, one for year 11, two for year 12, and one for year 13 all have a short turn around), an extraordinary amount of planning, timetabling 14 teachers into 80+ classes for next year (timetabling is a good example of middle leader empowerment in my school which in fairness I value dearly), supporting staff with behaviour issues and three two-day department reviews of both teaching and marking across the year. It is safe to say the pressure is on.

The problem the profession faces is, in the light of stagnant funding and decrease in support staff in all forms, how do we cope? I know I have gone from an NQT last year, to someone with a lot of responsibility this year by running our KS5 More Able Provision and A-Level Politics, which has close to 50 students across the two years, leading year 10 history – planning and writing all the assessments, mock papers and fully resourcing all lessons, plus leading on year 13 NEA questions, and teaching a lot of content from new specs I have never taught. At points this year I have felt dejected, desperate for more time, and disillusioned with a profession I am passionate about. Here  I want to unpick some of the problems I am currently facing and how I am tackling them going forward:

  1. Data drops are often inaccurate due to both the criteria from which we draw data and they often fall way too close to trial exams or assessments to have the time to accurately input what has recently been achieved. We have decided with the mock papers especially to inject some realism into our data via using last years boundaries to inform our marking of formative assessments for the current grade as opposed to overly inflated grade boundaries. This way, we have a some control over our data and real aspect of realism. I am also an examiners which helps inform our data and how others in the department. I mark GCSE History, A-Level History and A-Level Politics and this really has developed my skill-set. I suggest encouraging one person in your department to do it to really help quality assure marking.
  2. Marking is an increasingly fruitless and unproductive use of my time. I have always written detailed notes on essays but what I see – even with my A-Level students and ‘best’ students – is that they skip to the grade and the end WWW/EBIs. They do not respond to my annotations, however, what they and I both value are the close the gap sessions we run. In these sessions we unpick the essays/assessments with activities and whole class discussion and board work lead by the expert – us. Recently at the Midlands Schools Knowledge Hub Conference, this exact point was made (Found at this link: @Knowledge_Ed). We need to value our knowledge expertise and highlight this in the classroom rather than being facilitators of knowledge. CHALK AND TALK IS VALUABLE, and it is my belief that the whiteboard is the greatest tool in the classroom. I have decided, as Head of Department (History and Politics) this coming academic year, we are going to try a different a whole class approach to feedback and put the emphasis on close the gap. After trawling EduTwitter, I was inspired by Mrs Humanities who has been doing excellent work on cutting the marking workload with the idea of #FeedbacknotMarking. I took one of her crib sheets and have adapted it somewhat for my own department which you can find HERE and download freely. You will find a filled in exemplar HERE which I used to inform my close the gap session.
  3. Department meetings – They are tedious and pointless and nothing that cannot be achieved via email. Use this time to collaboratively plan and sketch out schemes of work rather than spending a day in your flat with your colleague between Christmas and New Year like I did, trying to sketch out the Elizabeth module for AQA GCSE history and losing nine hours of one your days off.
  4. CPD – There just is not enough time. Recently I spent six hours of my Saturday the Midlands Schools Knowledge Hub Conference and it was amazing. It was a day of ideas, innovation and inspiration. However, the problem is it was a on Saturday. I am a committed professional and committed to my own development to inform and improve my practice. However, the fact I had to give up a Saturday is a not a criticism of the Hub’s decision but more the sad reality of this: if it had been held on a week day, it would likely not have had the huge turn out (close to a hundred or just over) that it had. Schools need to provide more time, more support, and in fact, thinking time to teachers. It is critical we give teachers, especially middle leaders, thinking time about their department, SoWs, modules at GCSE and A-Level, and their general approach. The reason we are so bogged down is the fact we rely on short term fixes to long term solutions and the lack of forward thinking which is really detrimental to mental health, the students learning and progress, and the long term success of any department and school. I am lucky enough to be in an institution which backs me fully on near enough all CPD opportunities I want to attend. I hope more schools and trusts continue to support staff with this more and more.
  5. Behaviour – I am someone who constantly challenges behaviour and consistently supports staff in my department and beyond by removing students, challenging expectations and tackling apathy. History under the Ebacc is facing many new challenges which it has not had for a long time of a wider range of students taking the subject and an increase in apathy. One of my biggest gains from the aforementioned conference was from Ann Donaghy who made an excellent point. Do not have a zero tolerance rule, have a 100% compliance rule so as soon as students step out of line they immediately fall below 100%. Every student has a right to a good education and we should, as Ann rightly points out, have high expectations of our students.  Simple psychological mindset shifts like this can go a long way. I admit recently with my year 10 class I have struggled with the more apathetic in the room and it has at times been a battle. However, it is one I am determined not to lose and next half term we will build upon this by applying the 100% compliance expectation.

A sentiment recently shared by Stuart Lock at the conference I attended was this (and I am paraphrasing somewhat): I don’t know if I have the answers but here’s what I know from my experiences… This is my second year of teaching and I just wanted to share some of my experiences from stepping from a NQT to a Middle Leader in short space of time and to share some strategies I am employing/aiming to employ in my department to make working life a little easier.

I hope you find this helpful and comment is free…

N.B. – This blog is was inspired by experiences this year and the reading of the excellent article by Ros McMullen – ‘Don’t wait for permission to take control of data’




“R2-D2, you know better than to trust a strange computer” – How to Incorporate Technology into your Classroom

Whilst roaming the corridors of various schools in Leicester, I have seen wonderful teaching. I have witnessed silent debate being used effectively, peer marking used to further a child’s understanding of what an examiner expects of them and some excellent 1-on-1 feedback for students who need that push to meet their target grade in a data driven age. 

However, despite various CPD talks – which I admit are not always delivered in an enthusing way – staff often tend to ignore the fact we live in a technology driven age. Using iPads, laptops and phones to research and work is the natural habitat for the teenagers of this era, but teachers often try to lead students out of their natural habitat into a wilderness of paper, mini white boards and photo copied text books that have been vandalised that much they look a state school tribute to a Banksy mural. 

Technology should not only be embraced but moreover, be the crux of any scheme of work. Most students have smart phones, and for those who do not most schools have a trolley of iPads lurking in the one department that actually attempt to incorporate technology into their scheme of  work. Often, the fear is that if we allow students to use their phones, they will become distracted from the task in hand. However, I would argue that if the activity is engaging, then why would they stray from that task? The onus is on us as educators to make it engaging, and there are a plethora of resources out there that are free, interesting and engaging. Below, I will list a range of apps and sites that are free, accessible and there for you to use (all the names of apps and sites are hyperlinked for your ease)…

Kahoot – Most educators know about this. This a fun and interactive way for students to show off their knowledge and get competitive about it. It is a colourful, vibrant and lot of fun for multiple choice questioning as a starter or plenary.


Pocket – My favourite app. You can store articles into and send them on and creates them in a personalised reader format.

Animoto – Create fun, free videos

Prezi – A fun alternative, if somewhat annoying sometimes, to PowerPoint.

Flashcards for Apple

Flashcards for Android




TypeForm – Surveys

Twitter – Have a policy, run revision from it! It is fun

QR Codes – a good way for students to explore beyond the classroom!

Dropbox – a good way to share resources with students!


Dr. Spenry or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Marking and Love Rubrics

*This blog has been written to my first ever TeachMeet presentation at Rushey Mead Academy, Leicester. If you have never been to a TeachMeet go to one!*

Unfortunately for you, I love to twist a quote or a movie/song title to fit my own agenda. This blog post will outline the use of Rubrics on iDoceo. It will give you links and a quick overview of how to use Rubrics on iDoceo with a little help from an Australian.

Now, those of you who know me know I am GLUED to my iPad and iDoceo is a godsend (it is only available on an iPad though – I will be offering an alternative rubrics app for Android users so bear with me). iDoceo is a handy assessment tool which allows you to import classes from excel spreadsheets and export them just as easily, it generates a seating plan which you can easily edit and add photos to with its facial recognition technology – meaning all you need do is attach your class photos from SIMS to an email, attach it to iDoceo and then drag each individual childs face to a designated student, it allows you to create assessment folders, attach all of your class plans and resources to each class, annotate individual students with colours, symbols and attach photographs of work or effort (or lack of), allows you to generate different seating plans for different classrooms, and a whole host of other cool features to make your life as a teacher easier!

Its latest feature is rubrics and for those of you have no idea what I am talking about, a rubric is essentially a scoring guide used to evaluate the quality of students’ work. It 99% of the time set out like a table and can be simple like this:


or be more detailed like this (excuse it being cut off, I could not fit the whole rubric in):


Now these are easy to make. You can weight individual skills with different percentages, you choose whether the rubrics generates an average score, an additional score (adding the marks from up from each skill), or a percentage score. As you can see here from my example:


Often the assumption is that rubrics are useful for peer and self assessment, but I want to argue here that it is easy to incorporate them into your practice, especially when they are digitally accessibly via iDoceo or the Android alternatives. They make marking easier and feedback even easier knowing exactly what your students need to do push on to the next level.

You can also easily upload pre-made rubrics which I advise you to make on Excel and save them as CSV files. This is because PDF and XLS features are still buggy and having spoken to the developer briefly, they are working on it for the next update of iDoceo.

iDoceo is currently £8.99 which is a steal considering what it does. You can literally save your teaching life to it including your own timetable and schedule and it sinks perfectly with Apple Calendar. It allows you to generate and save an unlimited amount of rubrics which help you with your marking, you can print progress reports, you can email parents these scores directly from iDoceo and it is a god send! However, those of you who do not use iDoceo, there is an app for Android users which allows you to generate 10 different rubrics and and keep class lists in the same manner as iDoceo for rubrics based marking. It is called Rubric Scorer – this is free version for you to try out and this is Rubric Scorer Pro which is £2.99. I have not played with these Android versions but the reviews are positive and a good alternative if you have not got an iPad.

Here I will list a bank of resources for you to look at which are useful to find pre-made rubrics and for generating for your own: – This is our handy Australian friend who has saved me from making a video about how to create rubrics on iDoceo.  – This a very nice academic piece outlining why clear learning objectives are not enough and why rubrics are incredibly useful – This article outlines some very good pros and cons. – How to be clear and consistent with your rubrics – This handily outlines the different types of rubrics and their uses and pros/cons – A variety of pre-made rubrics – Free rubrics generator – A catalogue and a generator – A catalogue and a generator

Spenry’s Survival Guide for Your Teacher Training Year

It has been a while since my last post and that is because I have been enjoying my summer. A close friend of mine told me before my teacher training that is it vital to use the summer as serious ‘down time’ in order to survive the academic year and it is advice I pass on. What is more, you need to give your self a weekend day and an evening or two a week off! You will not survive without regular breaks. I thought my first post, after my somewhat long-ish hiatus, should be to pass on the pieces of advice I was given as a trainee. My training year was a tough year, especially in my first placement and I did often wonder whether I would get through it and how I would cope with a full timetable next year  – what is more,  little did I know at that point I would be teaching solely GCSE and A-Level History and Politics (with a 2 periods of GCSE RE short course… It is a cross to bear as a humanities based teacher). However, here I will re-communicate the handy tips I was given in order to get through my training year.

1 – Keep expectations high of your students but show them you are human. Whilst teaching I will often, when moving around the room and checking understanding in small groups etc, talk about music, football, politics, anything really that we could connect on. It is important show the students you’re not just a teacher, you’re a person they can connect with. This has many benefits, including a creating a better working atmosphere as often students respect you more and want to work in your class room.

2 – Constantly reflect. What I mean by this is take on board what colleagues are saying about your teaching and use that to spur you on. The written reflections in any form are a tedious exercise but can be useful, but what is more important is that you listen when someone says ‘that technique isn’t working’, ‘you need to differentiate upwardly more’, ‘you’re questioning could be more open to elicit better answers and display progress’. These are all – amongst other things – you are likely to hear during your training year. Build on them, find ways to improve, and ultimately allow them to be a catalyst for change rather than bewildering and upsetting.

3 – Get involved! Help run sports clubs, set up some sort of games club, debating society, politics society, history society, book club, whatever whether you can find a gap and create something new or get involved in something already established. I am aiming to set up a hip-hop lit. group which is something that interests me and hopefully a vast amount of students as we can talk hip hop and develop their analytical skills. It may a lost lunch time or hour after school once a week but it’s an investment in your development as a professional and gives you time with your students away from your subject area which can be priceless.

4 – Inspire enthusiasm within your subject area. This is an area where I do not fall short. I am very enthusiastic generally and even more so in the classroom. Energy and enthusiasm are important because the subject matter will not always – if ever in some cases – inspire that enthusiasm. It is your job to be infectious and passionate about your subject.

5 – Observe, steal ideas and seek advice. I have learnt an enormous amount from those around me, especially my Lead Subject Tutor and phase two mentor. I also observed teachers outside of my subject area to take in different behavioural and pedagogical techniques. Look on Twitter, the TES, blogs (like this one), google scholar etc. There is a plethora of resources out there for you to use. Also ask your fellow trainees, go to Teachmeets and network meetings. They are invaluable in terms of resources. I would also raid the shared drives of your school and share these resources and ask your contemporaries to do that too.

Those are my top tips. If you have questions comment and if not, good luck!

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”  – William Arthur Ward

The first post of many…

So I am approaching the end of my SCITT PGCE course and despite my ever-growing workload, I decided to set up a new twitter – @MrHarrisVIII – and this blog. I see it as an opportunity to share ideas and steal some, which is after all, a teacher’s bread and butter.IMG_0578

I feel at this point I should address the name of the blog and Twitter handle. There are only two historians on my course (one of which is me), and Becky – my fellow historian – often retorts that I rather look like Henry VIII (the picture does not do the name justice). I have grown rather fond of the nickname that she decided to bestow upon me, and have always been an admirer of Henry VIII himself (some would say I aspire to look even more like him…). In short, I decided to use SpenryHarrisVIII to blog and share my experiences, ideas and my life as a teacher generally.

I currently teach at English Martyrs’ Catholic School during my second phase and I am enjoying the experience due to many reasons – an excellent mentor, a stress free department and a well organised school. My phase one school was a great experience and taught me a lot but this phase has definitely been the more enjoyable. I am being rated  outstanding in lesson observations (yes, my lesson observations are Ofsted graded, every standard and substandard is graded) and I have a really nice range of classes – year 8, year 9, year 10 x2 and a year 12 class. My students ask challenging and interesting questions and always seem engaged. My year 9s are most definitely my most challenging class. However, they have really surprised me these past few weeks as I devised a 9 lesson scheme of work on immigration to the UK and social and racial tensions in which they have learnt about colonial soldiers WW1, Asian immigration post WW2, Windrush immigraion, the Notting Hill Race Riots, Race Relations Act, the Stephen Lawrence case, the UK 2011 riots and this all culminates in two lessons on Britishness and what that term encompasses and means to them. To be able teach this to a difficult group of varying ability and focus, it has been fascinating to see how engaged they have been with the topic and being able to teach history with a sociological twist has been refreshing, especially for them!

As of August, I’ll be teaching at Beauchamp College in Leicestershire which is a huge challenge. An outstanding school which is in the top 20 schools nationally for progress and has a reputation for academic excellence comes with its own challenges. I will be teaching history (GCSE and A-Level) and RE (GCSE) and most likely Psychology (A-Level) and possibly Politics (A-Level). For my NQT year, it is an awful lot of work and I could be swimming against a very strong tide. However, as anyone who knows me would attest, I relish challenge and by-and-large, stay calm under pressure. I couldn’t wish for a better NQT job in truth, and will be entering a very strong and supportive department. My end goal is to be a head teacher, undertake a PhD and in the mean time focus on teaching and learning and developing as a teacher.

A little about my historical interests: Social and political 20th century British history, immigration, the Tudors and Stuarts, American history (very broad interest and I am still deepening my knowledge), Cold War and many more!

I am also interested in psychology, politics, economics, sociology, literature, and human geography.

I have written schemes of work on: The English Civil war (year 8) (7 lessons), the industrial revolution (year 8) (8 lesson), World War Two (year 9) (12 lessons), Immigration C. 20 Britain (year 8/9) (9 lessons + 2 lessons yet to be taught), Edexcel GCSE unit Transformation of Britain 1931-51 (all four key topics) and a knowledge based 15 page revision guide, and WJEC GCSE Media C. 20 Britain – media section of the sport, leisure and tourism paper. I have also written a pretty decent lesson on Kenyan history and the Mau Mau uprising and a two part lesson Shakespearean theatre. I am currently writing schemes of work on slavery (year 8), empire (year 8), C. 20 major events (year 9) and the evolution of British music (year 9). I am happy to share any and all resources.

This is where I sign off to write my lesson plan for my last QA (Quality Assurance) visit from my LST (Lead Subject Tutor) on Thursday. The lesson is on Winston Churchill and how he came to the fore in an extremely fractured world for my year 10s.

NB: I love a quote and will sign off most, if not all, of my blogs with one.

‘If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.’  — Michael Crichton