Progress reviews: A whole school model for monitoring


I thought I’d share what my school has done regarding monitoring. To be clear, my school is not Ofsted driven. It’s not interested in jumping hoops or catching people out. Over the year, all leaders are required to complete ‘progress reviews’. They focus on a year group each time. They are spaced throughout the year and each year group has two over the year.

It has its limitations, it’s not perfect but I truly believe it is the best model I have seen so far. It’s humane and I think it is fair.

The model is a holistic one.

 What is happening in our school/classes/lessons that can make a difference to our students’ progress in learning? What can we ‘see’ that can contribute to this?

The following are things that  our school has decided can be looked at that may or may not contribute to progress in learning at some point:


  • Orange stickers with formative comments
  • Student responses
  • General marking
  • Meaningful self/peer assessment
  • Attitude to learning
  • Challenge
  • Homework
  • Progress

There are no ‘measures’ or criteria for each area other than that the reviewer looked at something and whether it could be seen as exemplary practice useful to share with others. The reviewer may or may not write a comment about each in the available box. They don’t need to look at all of these, it could be one, a few or all. It is down to their professional discretion.

The reviewer has the following that they can use to collate information:

Visit to classroom *     book look *     student voice *     SMHW *     4matrix *

The reviewer can choose to look at all or just one of these. There is no set format however in my experience, cross referencing these is important. For example if I look at the student attitude to learning data and then I speak to students, they should correlate. I could then look at their book and see whether their book shows a good attitude to learning or not. This triangulation is important and can confirm as well as highlight issues.

The reviewer collates information from these sources. There is no judgement or tick sheet criteria on the ‘level’ of what they see. It is a record of what has been seen.

The single most important aspect of the model is that is completed by the nearest line manager to you (not by SLT other than if they are your nearest line manager, for example a middle leader) AND it is dialogic with that person. It is not done ‘to you’.

So, before the form is completed the reviewer and reviewee meet to discuss it all. It may be that the reviewer has questions to ask, to clarify what they’ve seen. Nothing is written without the evidence and discussion around the areas focussed on.

The pair can then discuss what might be the examples of good practice and any areas that need to be focussed on. Both of these are optional.

The idea is that from review to review any common issues can be identified and that in the second review for that year group, the teacher has the opportunity to work on any issues and progress in these areas will be highlighted in the comparison of the two reviews.

Please feel free to ask questions.



Teaching students to be sceptical 


I’ve touched on this before when talking about critique. However with recent political events I think students need to be taught how to be sceptical.

This week in my year 11 classes I have got them to consider these terms in relation to a continuum of belief. The main part of the lesson focused on extremism but I paused for a moment to tell them how they must become more sceptical.



Their first reaction to a piece or text or media should be to quickly internally assess it.

  • Where is it from?
  • Why was it created?
  • Who created it?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is it accurate?
  • What bias might it have?

The beauty of becoming truly sceptical is that in order to clarify a source, further research needs to be done. Our students desperately need to be able to research effectively but independently. They shouldnt rely on my interpretation or even my biased viewpoint. They need to find out what else is being said, who is saying it and why. Knowledge is power. The more they know about the issue and surrounding knowledge the better they will be at being critical about it.

But this scepticism is not just for the classroom; its desperately needed online. One student told me he just presses the ‘share’ button regardless. He doesn’t care whether it is true or not. He genuinely couldn’t see what was potentially problematical with doing that. In some cases he is sharing propaganda and potentially libellous material without even thinking. This is really worrying.

These are why we need our students to be sceptical

These are why we need our students to be sceptical

Scepticism belongs to all subjects and all classrooms but it needs to be taught. Teachers need to be pleased to be challenged over an issue with students not defensive. As clichéd as it is, I genuinely think is one of the things we can do for students that will equip them for life.

Differentiation;creating different resources for different students


I hear that teachers are having to prove they are differentiating for students by creating a different resource for different students. Worse still some are allocating the resource based on data.

Here’s how I mainly differentiate:

I teach to the top. At key stage 4 all students have access to A* material. I get them to write for me. I mark it quickly. I then see who needs some support. It’s usually in the form of a writing frame/sentence starters.

That’s it.

I don’t look at their data to decide whether they need to support, their work tells me. I don’t make any extra resources. I expect them to all to work towards A* work.

This has worked my entire career in teaching GCSE and A Level. So why are some leaders requiring teachers to spend timing creating different resources that are allocated to student based on target grades?

I have no words.


Habits of learning


Today I had a year 10 & year 11 lesson that both started in exactly the same way…

Students came into the class. We exchanged pleasantries. Without being asked they got their folders from the shelf. Some got others’ folders out for them. They sat down. I gave them a piece of paper with keywords on and I said ‘now quiet, start your keywords’. They sat in silence and recalled the definitions. Once I saw everyone was complete I said ‘swapsies’. They all picked up a red pen and marked each other’s work using the mark scheme they have in their heads. They gave a mark and handed it back. They told me their mark and filed it in their folders under ‘keywords’.

I barely did anything in the whole of this process. They knew what they needed to do and how to do it. 

This got me thinking about habits for learning. For me, routines like this make my life easier and I think they help students in their learning. They know what I expect from this part of the lesson and they all get on with it, mostly independently. The knowledge is needed for their exam and the skills in the routine keeps them organised. Little time is wasted with me explaining what they need to do. They already know and get on with it.

So, how else could habits for learning be developed to support learning, whilst making life easier for them and for me?

I think the next habit I need to work on with key stage 3 is proof reading before handing work in. It would only take a couple of lessons to embed and I could get them doing the same at the end of every lesson as my year 10/11 do at the start of their keyword lessons; an independent, yet highly structured process. It could save me hours of marking silly things they could proof read and address before they hand it in.

What other habits for learning could we develop that ensure high quality work is produced by students and little time is wasted in class?

Should we declare our bias to students?


I believe that it more important than ever that we teach our students the critical thinking skills of assessing reliability and credibility. The more and more the world is presented to them via the media and in particular social media they desperately need the skills to be able to discern between sources and see that everyone has their own bias.

As an RE teacher I have never told the students my religion or core beliefs however I will inherently through my language show a bias when talking about particular issues. But it doesn’t just occur in RE, in many subjects and topics there is the likelihood that bias will skew how something is taught. Maybe a move away from ‘what the teacher says is right/correct’ to ‘the teacher is presenting a view’ would help students in these skills.

The question is, should teachers declare their political/religious/social biases from the start or attempt, probably impossibly, to be neutral in their teaching?

Would teaching students these skills, in some cases, be too much for some as they’ve based their school/teaching on ‘the teacher is always right’?

School pastoral systems; time to reform form time?


Whilst I’ve worked and seen working several types of pastoral system, I’m not convinced that we have them right in many ways.


Heads of year, heads of house, heads of community, progress leaders, heads of key stage, call them what you want, their role is one of the most ambiguous in a school. Do they deal with behaviour or not? Are they in charge of progress? Really? Are written job roles really followed?

How can a progress leader be accountable for results? Surely that’s the teacher and head of subjects’ job? Is it a poisoned chalice? Can they really make a difference? How? 

I’ve seen schools change names to try and make these roles more accountable for learning but they still end up dealing with behaviour. Is it that simple to divide the two and if not, why bother trying to pretend?

I’ve also seen some schools go down the route of non-qualified teacher roles including heads of year and assistant heads of year. Do they need to be teachers? Why?

The role of form tutor

  • Are they really the first point of call? 
  • Do they actually have the time for this role? 
  • Do they really have an overview of their students? 
  • Are they given the tools needed to do this effectively? 
  • Do children need form tutors? Why? 
  • If so, do they really need to see them as a form group or individually? 
  • Is it possible for a tutor to me to students effectively? Or will only ever be light touch, superficial?

Horizontal, vertical, whichever way children are organised, does it matter? 

The use of pastoral time

I have seen this used in so many ways including:

  • Completing homework (which makes you wonder why it’s called homework)
  • Private reading
  • Watching videos (purpose?)
  • Reading newspapers
  • Playing games
  • ‘Mentoring’ ( anyone that really believes it is possible to mentor individuals effectively when you are also supervising 28 other students clearly needs to remind themselves of the tutor role ASAP)
  • Literacy & numeracy (and the tutor is responsible for their form’s progress in these subjects…..I kid you not)
  • Giving out letters
  • PSHE
  • assemblies
  • Checking uniform
  • Checking equipment

I’ve heard people saying that the time has to be ‘filled’, and that it is a burden to think of things to keep the children busy in this time.

I’ve heard that teachers let children sit on desks, chat, eat and play on their phones.
The point of this blog is to say that I think pastoral systems in schools need an overhaul or at least a review. Are they effective? Who ever checks the quality and impact? What IS the intended impact?
We spend a lot of time looking at teaching and learning and try to evaluate if it’s effective or not, what about the pastoral systems?

Where’s the research on pastoral systems? What does it say? How different schools/countries do it? Are our schools missing some great ways to use pastoral systems?

I don’t have an answer but would question if we gave subjects those 30 mins a day back into teaching time would this have more impact on students than form period time each day?

I can’t help thinking that we’re really missing something here. Time to reform form time?

Sending teachers to underperforming schools; My thoughts on the National Teaching Service


Nicky Morgan has announced that a new system of sending ‘elite’ teachers to struggling areas.

Tom Bennett has written about it for the TES.

A few thoughts, having worked in the schools similar to these:

  1. There are ALREADY excellent teachers in these schools. Why aren’t they being used?
  2. The overall performance of a school is an accumulation of lots of teachers’ work. How will one teacher have impact?
  3. The overall performance of a school is generally a reflection of the leadership and management of a school, how will one teacher work with a team that may not have the skills to move the school forward?
  4. The programme relies on schools ‘requesting’ help. This relies on a high level of reflection of the school leadership. This may not be present. Which leadership group is going to say ‘One person will make the difference’ we’ll get a NTS teacher?
  5. What if the outstanding teacher doesn’t want to aspire to a leadership role? Won’t they just be seen as ladder climbers?
  6. How will an excellent teacher make a difference by teaching their subject/class? Does it mean they won’t teach?
  7. They may be an excellent teacher with excellent behaviour management skills but this won’t matter if the school’s systems are weak or non-existent.
  8. How will staff feel having someone arrive who has already been labelled as an ‘elite’ teacher?
  9. How will this one teacher’s impact be evaluated? If they face resistance throughout, what will happen?
  10. This system is based on a huge assumption; an excellent teacher from one school will remain an excellent teacher in another, in particular coastal & coasting schools that have very unique challenges. Someone that has spent their teaching careers thus far in certain types of school and are excellent in that context are going to get a real shock and probably won’t be so excellent.

Accountability over time


I believe that all teachers should be accountable. It’s important that we maintain a standard expected of us however how this is done is wide and varied and in many cases based on ‘one off’ examples of teacher performance such as observations.

These observations are a tiny snap shot, often pressurised and therefore unnatural. They are high stakes, being used as the only/main evidence for performance management. Yet they don’t really show if a teacher is being a ‘good’ teacher or not.

If we list what our duties are as a teacher we can probably use the Teacher Standards as a basis;what we should all be doing as a minimum.

So instead of making a judgment on someone in the equivalent of 3 hours of their working year, how about we look at how a teacher is fulfilling their job role regularly and in all aspects of their job? Accountability over time. But not an increase in pressure just spread over the year, a genuine dialogue of what a teacher is doing and if appropriate, not doing.

If you wrote a list of what you expect a teacher to be doing, how can you monitor this without creating more work and without putting additional pressure on a teacher? Literally, are they doing what they should be doing?

Some don’t like the term ‘accountability’ but I feel that we have a responsibility as a teacher to do the job we’re paid for and there should be some way of checking that this is happening. It should never be ‘hoop jumping’ it should only be looking at what is already there.

This means no:

  • Written lesson plans just for the purpose of being checked by leaders
  • Use of marking systems that are only there to show leaders that some thing is being done
  • Once a term observations that judge a teacher or progress

But these don’t mean that we shouldn’t be:

  • Planning & teaching lessons that ensure all students can learn
  • Checking student work for understanding
  • Seeing what is happening in classrooms

If teachers aren’t writing these things then how do we know they are happening? Some would say ‘trust’ them; it’s their job to do so. It’s not always that simple. How else do we know that a teacher is effectively doing their job?

Suggestions might be:

  • Speak with students about their learning, their understanding etc
  • Look through books. Not for specific markings but for clear development in writing or understanding or knowledge
  • Looking at books to see that agreed schemes of learning are being followed
  • Looking at homework tasks and if they are appropriate. Asking the teacher how they link to schemes. Did they work? why?
  • Have discussions with the teacher. Asking why they’ve done certain activities or how they’ve used student book work to assess, in the wider sense, that students are learning.
  • Popping into lessons. Discussing with the teacher what was happening, why and how it links with their learning.

The whole process should take place throughout the year. It could focus on different year groups at a time. Line managers should do this for their team. They are accountable for ensuring that their team are being effective teachers.

The system only works if the school has reasonable systems in place. Where the systems are unreasonable, inefficient or extreme, the simplicity of low stakes accountability becomes unachievable. The ideal requires less prescription and more dialogue with reasoning. Asking how and why a teacher knows how a child is progressing is not the same as asking them where their students’ purple pen DIRT time work is.

The beauty of this system is that where there may be issues, they are highlighted over the year and in different areas. Support can directly be put in by the line manager instantly. There is no need to wait for a performance management  meeting to then suddenly panic and in some cases there be extreme consequences. When a teacher may be struggling with year 10 their year 7/8/9/11 may be spot on. This would easily be picked up and specific support can be given. No harsh generalisation about them as a teacher due to one issue.

This system also negates the need for teachers to run around collecting ‘evidence’ for their PM. The evidence has been collated throughout the year. No PM is a shock or surprise; it’s an accumulation over a year. Have you as a teacher been fulfilling your teacher duties throughout the year?

I believe this system, whilst not perfect, can be implemented with no extra work for teachers. Nothing special should be done. Dialogue with a teacher is essential at regular intervals. Minimal paperwork used but high frequency of low stakes accountability can really show how a teacher is fulfilling their teacher duties. Teachers shouldn’t shy away from this. We should be proud of what we’re doing.