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Raising Attainment at Key Stage 4.


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#1 Dan Moorhouse

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Posted 24 June 2003 - 10:08 PM

Every year someone, somewhere, sets a target for each of our departments to reach at Key Stage 4. Inevitably they'll be extremely challenging and the cynics amongst the department will state that there isn't a hope of getting there - but try we must. In this seminar I intend to look at some ways in which history departments can raise attainment at GCSE Level (Students aged 14-16 for the benefit of overseas visitors).

There are many different philosophies about how best to ensure the highest possible grades and many different contexts within which they can be applied. My own experience relates to teaching the AQA's syllabus A, with Medicine and Weimar and Nazi Germany the examined components. The school at which I teach has a very low attaining intake which has made progress by the end of KS3 but is still below the national average. In History at KS4, results are in line with National Expectations and the department has a positive residual of +.8 for previous exam results at GCSE. The examples that I am going to put forward for raising attainment are a mixture of my own departmental practice and ideas found elsewhere, they are by no means perfect but hopefully will act as a stimulus to further debate about how best to impact on student attainment.

A few initial thoughts then:

Firstly I believe that to raise attainment at any level the teacher and department has to be fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the student and any potential barriers to learning that they may face. At the beginning of KS4 a vast array of information is available to us as teachers and this has to be used effectively to provide us with a firm basis upon which we can build. Systems that I have seen working well here have combined number crunching exercises with work on learning styles and early assessment during the KS4 course. In my own department this entails looking at the KS3 Sats results as soon as they come in at the end of year 9. These are then looked at alongside MidYis results and teacher assessments for history to identify skills that students may find difficult to cope with at GCSE level. These thoughts are communicated to the students in writing and parents informed of the resulting agreed targets - SMART targets in reality, they'll relate to the use of sources, structure of work etc and have a range of examples for student and parent. A very early assessment is carried out in Year 10 to (hopefully) confirm what we initially thought. This covers many of the skills required for paper 1 of the SHP (AQA) course and identifies individual weaknesses - which are usually shared by a number of students. Target setting and assessment then continues throughout the Key Stage.

Students who are aware of what they are studying and why they are studying it have an opportunity to excel. Each of my students receives an overview of the scheme of work in both years of the course. This covers key questions addressed in lessons. In addition to this they receive a modified copy of the syllabus covering skills, concepts and including a range of links to useful sites and referrals to useful reference books. Again, parents know of these and in many cases are told exactly what work will be set in advance in order for homework to be monitored by parents.

Thirdly I'll note praise, rewards and competitions. In general the boys that I teach are highly competitive. I regularly have competitions at KS4, be it essay writing, crosswords or simple content based quizzes. The prizes are somewhat more worthwhile than the merit stickers that they get for good work etc. The result has been exceptional work for these areas of the syllabus and improved effort elsewhere in the syllabus.

Successes also appear to have been the result of regular mentoring sessions for students to discuss progress, identify strengths and iron out areas of weakness. I do this fairly informally. Most of my KS4 students attend history Club each week and those that don't are happy enough for me to call them in for a short chat. In these termly discussions I'll quickly check knowledge then go through a few examples of their work to assess where they are. Each student and I then agree a programme of work designed to tackle the weak points and firm up the rest. These are then written up on a proforma by the student who has it signed by parents. Work in class is then marked based on these targets. Dan Dyson's target sheets for SHP history have proved a godsend for this purpose - examples linked to below:

Target sheets

Fifth, and the last suggestion I'm making in this initial post. Teaching styles that match their preferences. This is an area that has been discussed at length elsewhere in the seminars programme but I believe that continued monitoring of the success of teaching strategies is crucial if students are to attain to their potential.

There are several areas of this topic that I am particularly interested in hearing other peoples thoughts on:

1) How do you turn A/B students into A* students?
2) What strategies do people have in place to identify skills based weaknesses in their students and how are these then addressed?

The following links and references may be of interest:

Challenging the More Able language user, Geoff Dean. NACE/Fulton. This book has chapters on challenigng the able reader and writer which can be easily converted into creating strategies aimed at reducing underachievement.

This document from NGFL Scotland is of some use when reviewing departmental practice.

The Autumn Package is a highly useful tool for analysis of data used when assessing potential.

#2 Richard Drew

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 06:54 AM

What an excellent and thorough set of ideas Dan.

I quite agree with the point about students knowing why they are studying the things they are. so many of them drift from subject to subject and even at GCSE they feel like they are 'filling time' and 'doing activities' rather than learning for a purpose.


From my own experience one thing i have done has helped students across the board more than any other. with WJEC exam papers we know exactly what we are getting - for example the crime and punishment paper always has a 2 point 'describe' question followed by a 4 point 'describe', a 6 point 6 'explain why', and 8 point 'how important' and a 10 point 'overview'. at the start of each topic my students are given a sheet explaining the technique for answering each type of question. in lessons and for homework EVERYTHING they write is in the format of an exam question. as such the technique is totally ingrained into their heads, and they have a great deal of practice at fitting the subject knowledge around the demands of the exam. also they constantly achieve high marks in their books, thus increasing their confidence.

on exam day they go in confident, they know exactly what to expect and they know exactly how to give the examiner what they want to see.

all of this has a huge impact on their scores. for example on the 'overview' question, students who do not get to gripsa with the technique can write reams of insightful comment, but if they do not answer the question in the correct way they will only iht the lower levels. an answer written in the correct format (1 paragraph for each time period studied) will hit the top level, even with only basic content in each paragraph - excellent content pushes them up to the top marks.

my current year 10 have all been commenting on how much easier history is than they expected and how they can't believe how well they are doing - the mystique of the exams has been taken away and they have simple procedures to follow.

2 weeks ago 24/27 in my y10 class achieved results above or on their YELLIS projections.
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#3 Dan Moorhouse

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 09:30 AM

I've found Yellis predictions to regularly be about a grade below what students get. The chances graphs and wide range of charts that the package offers are extremely useful though. If you can get your assessment people to give you access to it, have a look at their modified version of excel. Simple and esy to use, it will throw together chances graphs, identify a range of strenghts and weaknesses and visualises it all very well. When used alongside the Autumn pack it becomes quite realistic. I have used this much more in my role as Year Leader than through teaching History - it is something that I really ought t make better use of though.

#4 Andrew Field

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 05:47 PM

I will follow this seminar with interest. When faced with the demand to raise attainment, as it appears, you always are, what do you suggest the best practice is? I've read and liked Dan's - which is obviously successful. What about others?

There is an overwhelming amount of data now available, and it was interesting to read about the utility of the different systems. The thing I'm aways weary (and wary) of is extrapolating data to predict what the current yeargroup will achieve on a constantly upwards trend. It's a fine line dancing around the figures. I have no responsiblity for this within history, but ICT has enormous demands on it.

Keep the info coming please... I'm all ears. :woo:


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#5 Dave Wallbanks

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 08:33 PM

there's a couple of things I can add to this excellent discussion.
1) Tell the parents! I send a letter at the start of the year, outlining the course, coursework, selling textbooks and suggesting web sites their child can look at. THis is good in getting parents involved in your battles to push kids on. Also where possible I go over grades with kids and parents, not just in parents evenings but also in informal chats, phone calls etc. I think they are your supporters so it's best to get them on your side ASAP.
2) We geared the course to our kids, letting them decide what coursework they do so they'll find it interesting and apropriate. We mark coursework, give them general ideas for improvement and talk informally about what they do next. The whole course is designed to be as simple as possible to make it easy to know what to do and how to answer questions.
3) For the pupils who simply won't try or revise I tell them to follow the same pattern. Tell me what the source says, what you can infer from it, suggest it might be one sided and look at the provenance of the source. I reckon it's always worth at least a C to do this for edexcel's source based questions.
4) Be flexible, there whenever they need and let pupils know that because we're competing for their valuable time against subjects like English which they know they'll need for adult life. It sometimes means I do things that I might not be inclined such as giving up all my lunches to go over, then go over, then go over again the same questions for various groups and individuals. I read somewhere that one head of department starts teaching gcse skills from year 7. I'll be looking into it to see what effects this has on my new school. We don't normallt look at reliability in yr7 but might start doing so now.
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#6 Dan Lyndon

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 09:38 PM

I read somewhere that one head of department starts teaching gcse skills from year 7.

I was one of the HoDs who wrote on an earlier posting that I teach source skills from Year 7 onwards, but as I have only been in position for 3 years, I have not yet been able to evaluate the full impact of this strategy. However, if today is an example to go by then I must be doing something right; one of my year 9s came to me today to ask how he could achieve a level 8, having managed to reach level 7 so far. On the advice of other colleagues on this forum I gave him a copy of this years Edexcel Paper 2 on DNA. We talked through the questions and he was surprised at how well equipped he was already to tackle the paper. I await to see the results ...

Over the last 3 years I have tried a number of strategies to raise the achievement of my inner city boys, with varied degrees of success; As mentioned above the key element of my long term plan was to move towards a skills driven curriculum, and here I was influenced by Michael Riley's article in Teaching History vol 99 'Into the KS3 History garden; choosing and planting your enquiry questions'. This outlined a shift in focus away from a chronologically driven programme of study to one based around a series of investigations focused around a key question. I certainly feel that the History students that are coming through to GCSE are far better equipped to deal with historical skills than when i first arrived. I no longer have year 11s who don't know the difference between a primary and a secondary source! The other areas that I have tried, with less success has been mentoring - my boys tend not to be too motivated to meet their teacher's after school, and revision lessons starting in January, which have had more success.
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#7 Carole Faithorn

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 10:13 PM

I read somewhere that one head of department starts teaching gcse skills from year 7. I'll be looking into it to see what effects this has on my new school. We don't normally look at reliability in yr7 but might start doing so now.

I may be the person referred to here. I certainly recall saying (I believe in the thread about Nichola's Source Booklet) that we introduce source evaluation skills in Y7. I don't mean 'full on' GCSE questions but we constantly encourage the pupils to look critically at source material asking, "Do you believe that?/Why might that not be the whole truth?/is that useful?"etc. Much of this is done informally during oral work but by the end of the year we are doing simple written tasks on utility and reliability. Years ago I decided that treating the skills based work as a bolt-on extra starting in Y10 was not the way to go. Similarly, with essay writing skills - they need to be introduced early in secondary school (via essay writing frames and other such strategies). I know we are not unique in this. This gentle build up during KS3 pays off at GCSE - and in that sense is a way of raising attainment at KS4.

I am aware of the fact that I teach in a very different type of school from many other contributors to this thread, but comparative wealth does not necessarily equal intelligence or motivation or even parental support. We have a wide ability range and many pupils for whom English is not their first language yet all but 4 pupils in Y10 have chosen History (and we don't do a 'hard sell' at Options time). We consider it a failure on our part if any candidate gets less than C - it does sometimes occur - and we very rarely exclude anyone from taking the exam.

We do give lots of individual attention (small classes are a huge help) and having a 'captive' school population is another factor. After the Mock GCSEs in particular we focus very hard - often out of class time - on helping the B/A candidates to achieve A* by running 'workshops' for selected students at which not only do we analyse their work in fine detail to show and discuss how it can be improved, but we also discuss topics more generally and in a more sophisticated way.

I do appreciate that what I have described is not easily replicated in every school, but the key ideas: start early developing the skills and give extra attention to your potential A* candidates especially after the Mocks might well be copied elsewhere.

#8 Richard Drew

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 06:44 AM

I know we are not unique in this. This gentle build up during KS3 pays off at GCSE - and in that sense is a way of raising attainment at KS4.

this is something i also do a great deal of, for example:

~ Hamburger writing frames in y7 to encourage pupils to PEE
~ An enquiry into the reliability of the Bayeux Tapestry in y7
~ An assessment on the Civil War in y8 that follows the pattern of the WJEC sources paper
~ An enquiry into the usefulness of sources on the trenches in y9 (preparing them for the battle of the somme source usefulness coursework in y10)
~ regular 'exam format' questions within activities: "How important was..." "Explain why...."

not only does this vastly imporve pupils' abilities when they get to y10, but also their confidence. showing my y9's the GCSE exam papers and coursework booklets the other day, they felt very happy that they had the skills to cope with it now.
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#9 Paul Smith

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 10:07 AM

Just a short note to voice my appreciation of this seminar - as someone trying to return to 11 -18 from purely post 16 its a goldmine. Lots of the material is very relevant to post 16.

Thanks - you're all wonderful - even the Toffee!


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#10 Dan Moorhouse

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 04:53 PM

It would appear from the posts so far that the key to success is guidance of students. Having clear guideleines for students to follow for a wide variety of tasks mixed in with mark schemes and fairly detailed feedback, through whatever format, seems to be the order of the day.

To pick up on one point made in this thread so far, I also believe that teaching skills from Year 7 is vital. Not only will this help to boost results at KS4 but it will make the subject more relevant and appealing at KS3, therefore increasing take up of the subject at GCSE level. In a school like mine this is extremely important for the department as students have a straight choice between History, Geography, Art, Music, Design Technology and MFL. With a minimum group size of 20 and only 150 students to 'catch' there's no need for mathematical genius to work out the need for a good KS3 course.

#11 Dan Moorhouse

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Posted 28 June 2003 - 09:36 AM

When I was thinking about my first post for this seminar I found a number of documents on the 'net that were quite interesting. Not all of them are directly related to history departments but they contain ideas and strategies that can be adapted. As there are quite a few files I've opted to simply upload the folder onto my site rather than attaching files to the forum. They can be accessed and downloaded from this section of the Schoolshitory.org.uk site.

Once the upload is complete it will contain:

A pdf from the Standards site that is an example of how to audit History at KS3. Some interesting ideas in there which are as relevant at KS4.

A Short case study on Raising the attainment of boys in Geography.

A DfES publication relating to the best way to teach students for whom English is a Second language - I'm amazed I've never been given a copy of this before!

There are a number of other documents there that I've included as they may be of use to people, not all of them are related soley to raising attainment though (A Year 7 Scheme of work is included for example).

#12 John Simkin

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Posted 29 June 2003 - 06:58 AM

Dan is of course right to suggest that “to raise attainment at any level the teacher and department has to be fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the student and any potential barriers to learning that they may face.” The government is right to stress the importance of obtaining detailed information about the abilities of the individual via formal assessment procedures. However, far more important is the need for the teacher to find what Dan calls “any potential barriers to learning that they may face.” To do this the teacher needs to build up a close relationship with the student. Dan is right to point out the need for “regular mentoring sessions for students to discuss progress, identify strengths and iron out areas of weakness”.

Most teachers are aware of the importance of this in raising levels of attainment. The problem they have is finding enough time in the school day to do it properly. It is not uncommon for teachers to teach over 200 students a week. How much time can a teacher give each student each term for mentoring sessions? If you only give each student fifteen minutes a term it is at least 50 hours of work a term. During my teaching career I have constantly felt guilty about the time I have been able to give to individual students. Only my ‘A’ level students have receiving anything like the time I should be able to give to individual students.

One of the major problems is the size of classes. Parents who send their children to private schools are aware that one of the things they are buying is teacher time. They know that with small classes teachers have more opportunity to provide the time for mentoring sessions. Of course there is no guarantee of this taking place but it does make it easier for the teacher in the private school.

As we know, the government is unwilling to provide the financial resources to reduce the size of our classes. Therefore other solutions have to be found. After a long career in teaching I have become convinced that students receive far too much time studying academic subjects in the classroom. This time should be dramatically reduced. Students should be spending this time playing sport and being involved in developing more practical skills. This would free up academic teachers to spend more time with individual students. I am convinced this would lead to raising levels of attainment.

#13 Dan Moorhouse

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Posted 29 June 2003 - 10:59 AM

Most teachers are aware of the importance of this in raising levels of attainment. The problem they have is finding enough time in the school day to do it properly. It is not uncommon for teachers to teach over 200 students a week. How much time can a teacher give each student each term for mentoring sessions? If you only give each student fifteen minutes a term it is at least 50 hours of work a term. During my teaching career I have constantly felt guilty about the time I have been able to give to individual students. Only my ‘A’ level students have receiving anything like the time I should be able to give to individual students.

One of the major problems is the size of classes. Parents who send their children to private schools are aware that one of the things they are buying is teacher time. They know that with small classes teachers have more opportunity to provide the time for mentoring sessions. Of course there is no guarantee of this taking place but it does make it easier for the teacher in the private school.

As we know, the government is unwilling to provide the financial resources to reduce the size of our classes. Therefore other solutions have to be found. After a long career in teaching I have become convinced that students receive far too much time studying academic subjects in the classroom. This time should be dramatically reduced. Students should be spending this time playing sport and being involved in developing more practical skills. This would free up academic teachers to spend more time with individual students. I am convinced this would lead to raising levels of attainment.

It's very difficult to have quality time with students for this sort of work. I have a rolling programme of talks with students in History Club which runs weekly. This at least means that students have an opportunity to cry for help. In class I use a few monitoring sheets that can be completed by myself and the student fairly quickly. We'll look at the last two assessments and the comments I've made on those and go through a few areas of the syllabus that the group are supposed to be revising at that time. If we identify areas of weakness I've got a range of worked examples along with mark schemes in the room so we can go through the question type and look at the features of a good answer. I'll then see that student a week or so later, probably at lunch time, to see how they've got on and to offer any further advice. The process involves students creating their own targets for improvement which I have to agree to. As a result most students create revision programmes that begin in Year 10 and are well aware of the question types that they struggle with - and of ways to tackle this.

That's the theory at any rate. As John has rightly said though there is a massive problem with time. My Year 10 group have now lost 20 lessons due to all sorts of things - so we're playing catch up and that impacts on the amount of time, and quality of time, available for monitoring. The history club gets hit as a result of my being a Year Leader - half of the time I get called out to deal with an after school fight.

Methods of getting around this problem? I think there's a lot of scope for the involvement of Learning mentors and Language Support Assistants in this type of work. They might not have the subject knowledge but will be able to use carefully prepared materials to help students along. Similarly there is a lot of potential for use of Gifted and talented resources/ funding.

#14 Dan Moorhouse

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Posted 15 September 2003 - 04:41 PM

Now is the time of year to be putting long term plans for raising attainment into practice, so what things are people planning on doing this year? Any new ideas?

This year I've got the home e-mail addresses of all of my students and, the students don't know this bit yet, the e-mail addresses of the parents. Covers 80% of the students who do History at KS4. A weekly newsletter will be sent to all of the students, and parents, with a brief overview of the lesson contents, a few tips and links to revision activities that I think are of use that week. Hopefully the weekly contact with home will result in higher quality work being produced outside of lessons. Students without e-mail addresses will have this posted to their parents.

All of my Year 10 students will have received formal targets by the end of this week. These are based on KS3 results in core subjects and their end of KS3 History level. I've also put together a range of student speak statements for each student that identify specific areas of their work that need to be concentrated on.

All KS4 students are getting a copy of my student feedback on exams. At the moment this document covers two mock exams and the last two years formal summer exams. Contains examples of the good, the bad and the plain ignorant answers with brief notes explaining why each received whatever mark.

My big job for the next two weeks, whilst Year 11 are out on Work Experience, is to set up appointments with all of my Year 10 students. Plan on having a short chat with each every term looking at the quality of their work, areas of strength and weakness and going through structures of answers, using ideas such as the PEEL one noted in the Seminar on writing essays at AS Level.

Anyone would think that HMI were coming given all that... :crazy:

#15 Dan Lyndon

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Posted 15 September 2003 - 05:40 PM

For the first time this year the History dept has been putting 'critical steps' to improving historical skills, based on the NC skill areas, into every KS3 student's books. These will be accompained by posters for every classroom which can be used by the teacher to direct the pupils to these areas. I have also set up a Historian of the Month competition using a great idea that I borrowed from this website for both KS3 and 4. For my year 10s I have sent a 'welcome to GCSE History' letter which outlines the course and explains what expectations I have for GCSE students. The year 11s start coursework catch up / revision lessons after school next week and I have started INSETing new members of the dept on how to mark GCSE c/w and looking at GCSE exam markschemes. Let's hope that is a good start.
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