This time last year my department got the best GCSE results of my time in teaching. We had made some changes and reaped the rewards (I wrote about it here) but I always knew it was going to be a hard act to follow. Well, we followed it and improved on it. When WJEC finally released the results on their website (after two hours of hitting refresh and scowling) I saw a sea of A*s and could finally breath. In the end we got 56% A/A* (the majority of those were A*s), 91% A*-C and the majority of pupils exceeded their targets. This followed our A level results which came out at ALPS 2 (top 10% in terms of progress) and a hair’s breadth away from being ALPS 1.
I have spent the past couple of days doing two things.
- Beaming from ear to ear as I reply to lovely messages from my classes.
- Trying to work out what we have done over the last couple of years that has made a difference.
This is what I have come up with so far.
- Had a clear vision. For the last two years we have had an absolute focus on raising expectations. This has led our work in department meetings and INSET. It has influenced everything from our classroom displays to how we work with parents.
- Have an action plan. A vision is no good unless you can make it happen. For the last three years I have written my own action plan setting out exactly what I wanted to do and what I was hoping to achieve. I really think this has made all the difference in keeping the main thing the main thing.
- Focus on our subject. We have, I think, focused on just teaching excellent geography and not just on covering the specification. Exam papers are unpredictable and Geography is a naturally synoptic subject. Who knows what might come in useful?
- But keep the exam in mind. We still though keep the style of questions in mind. If they are describing the location of a place they may as well do it as a three mark question. If they are writing about an example of a place they have studied why not do it as though it is a case study question?
- Show them excellent work and unpick it. We have spent a lot of time modelling excellent geographical answers and explaining the thinking behind it.
- Cut the fat. All the way we have looked for ways to stop doing anything that wasn’t going to improve the quality of their education. Displays are functional, feedback is usual verbal and never done for an audience, data analysis is done with a specific purpose in mind. We ask “does this make the boat go faster?”.
Luckily I work in a school where SLT are very supportive and give Middle Leaders the authority, and responsibility, to lead their departments and do what works, we have parents who share our high expectations and pupils who want to succeed. This gives us the right conditions and certainly makes my job a whole lot easier than it otherwise would be.
My next job is to work out where we go from here because we certainly still have room for improvement. Where would be the fun otherwise?