This section of the site contains four different types of advice. There is general advice, outlining factors that usually explain success at GCSE and a short paper entitled ‘Smoking Out Underachievement’.  Then there are five really interesting case studies of best practice.  Each has been co-written by an experienced subject leader who has been responsible for making a massive improvement in results or the quality of teaching and learning, or both!  There follows some INSET activities that you might want to use with your team.  Finally, we have the more practical advice relating to teaching at Key Stage 4.

General advice on raising attainment and smoking out underachievement:

Take your pick from the downloadables.

Case studies: Focus on high expectations, varied, purposeful teaching for all, and close monitoring

These are to be read in a narrative form. They have many areas in common but each is subtly different, depending on: the personality of the leader; the stage of development of the subject; the priorities of the department.

Case study 1 Mike. Massive improvement in results and residuals, brought about by his own brilliant teaching and then by transforming the work of his team to bring remarkable consistency.

Case study 2 Rich. Really strong results and residuals. An island of excellence within the school. The relationships with the students are superb, based on high expectations and strong mutual respect.

Case study 3 Nick. Stunning improvement. Doing all the right things before anyone else was.

Case study 4 Sarah. Cracking the mixed ability nut using really detailed schemes of work, highly engaging lessons and outstanding departmentally produced resources .

Case study 5  is slightly different. Here Rebecca and her team are explaining to another guest department how her team raised results.

Strategies that successful departments have used; a prioritising workshop activity

Many departments that want to improve examination results often start by looking at their choice of  examination specification and options within it. They also look at the course structure  and the degree of support offered with coursework. Usually the way forward lies in focusing on deeper issues. You can explore these in a variety of different ways, but I recommend that you start with a departmental workshop activity in which you attach different weightings to factors that have led to greater success in other schools. They may not all be relevant to your circumstances, so it is crucial that you arrive at a shared early understanding of what might need to be done and then start to tackle some of the issues. Everyone needs to be involved even the deputy headteacher who teaches just one small group! See downloadable resources  for the set of cards, to which you can add your own ideas.

Classroom strategies

The emphasis here goes beyond preparing students for particular types of examination question to look at how students can be helped to make their own meaning. Students should spend less time note-making  and more time applying their knowledge to build understanding.  A short paper outlining seven practical ways of helping students to improve their GCSE grades is included as a downloadable. 

Guidance on improving sourcework

Attribution and origin are rightly seen as essential to source comprehension and to effective evidential thinking. Much may be gained, however, if we are seeking to encourage creativity and innovative thinking about details, by taking this contextualising information away.  Removing labels / dates / origins from sources, or partially revealing some and not others, can allow the learner to think innovatively about the details of texts, about their origins, purposes and so on, as well as about the kinds of enquiry that material might support or allow. Removing contextualising attributions can also rule outeasy responses to tasks that often depend upon reading the attributions of sources as much as the sources themselves.

Challenging students of all abilities

It is probably worth your while looking at the Gifted and Talented and the Inclusion section of this site under the  Every Child Matters heading. For the moment you might like to look at the downloadable file called Providing for the more able GCSE history students.

Monitoring students’ performance.

The best way of monitoring students’ performance is to set frequent exam based activities, broadly under test conditions and then to mark them WITH the students using GCSE criteria. Students should be asked to IMPROVE their answer, there and then, so that you can be sure that the key learning points for improvement have been applied.

Four strikes approach

I am a great fan of what I have called the 4 strikes approach. Basically, as you can see from the image gallery and downloadable resource, the students are given a version of the topics they have to cover broken down into a grid. They are shown that they will USUALLY answer exam questions on these topics four times over the course. Some of them will be done for homework, others in class, some as part of preparation for Y10 exams and some during revision classes. Each time the question is subtly different to ensure that students can USE their knowledge and understanding flexibly.

By presenting the specification in this way, students can track their performance on particular topics, identifying their strengths and weaknesses. By the time revision comes around in YI1 students should know what to focus on. The department can also get a feel for what it teaches well and the areas students find difficult. This might apply to the TYPE of QUESTION, not just the topic. It is IMPORTANT not to make the headings simply content, but to try to turn them into questions. That way students can use them to self-evaluate. How confidently can they answer the questions?

Using data of prior attainment

Last but by no means least, we need to consider the use of data. This aspect is dealt with more fully in the using data section of the site. All that needs to be said here is that for each of the pieces of work mentioned in relation to the 4 strikes, students should have a target score in mind. This will mean translating a target grade, say B to an actual mark e.g. 6 out of 9. In this way students, can more realistically see where they are dropping marks. It could be argued that the difference between an A* and an A grade is simply consistency in scoring high marks rather than a qualitatively different approach.