Friday, 4 March 2016

If we want them to revise...

Wednesday was a 6 period day with a working lunch. It was really hard work and I then spent over an hour catching up on the day (ah... emails!), before heading home shattered around 5pm. I had some work to do on my textbook and naturally wanted to spend some time with my wife and young son. I know I would find this an impossible way to work day in and day out.

However that's what many staff are expecting of Y11 students at the moment. Thankfully no one wanted the pre-school slots, but visit the form rooms at 8am and there are many in working. They then attend lunchtime and after school revision sessions.  Some then head to various areas to work on coursework or other controlled assessments. They then leave when the bells signal it's time to go home at 5.40pm.

They then have homework to do, and of course revision. They also need to get the bus, or maybe two.

Is it any wonder that, as Head of Y11, I have parents calling me worried about their daughter? Students crying with the pressure? Reports of students falling asleep in lessons? Teachers complaining students are not doing the extra exam papers they set? Mental health issues are on the rise, while the services that help with our care of these young people face severe cuts.

The pressures internally and externally are creating a 'perfect storm' of pressure - and both students and staff are starting to really feel it. We must do something to combat it. We must play our part in trying to ease this situation. League tables, OFSTED, Performance Related Pay, EBacc... is everything really in the interest of the students? If not, maybe we need a different perspective.

I've written about the effectiveness of revision sessions before (see here), but I genuinely feel the culture is becoming unsustainable for all concerned. I also don't think it is helpful, in the long run, for our students. Particularly at GCSE, we can be very guilty of 'spoon feeding': providing revision guides, revision sessions where we do 'a unit in 30mins', Easter holiday 'catchup'.

Yet students then begin A-Levels thinking the same way. However it's far harder to provide similar 'get out of jail free' cards. There is confusion from students. Sometimes the realisation that they need to do it for themselves (and should have been doing all year long) comes too late.

If we removed this expectation (implicit or explicit?) of revision sessions, maybe we'd take away 'comfort blanket' that students feel... my teachers will work in overdrive to help me pass my exams. I sometimes ask my Y11 cohort - who is working harder right now? You or your teacher? Often the answer is the latter.

We need to make students realise that after 18 months of failing to work, last minute revision sessions won't solve their problems. If you have attended over 200 hours of English lessons, will 5 hour-long revision sessions make any difference? 

Schools have become obsessed by interventions, a buzz word that's become every day usage in education, which often means teachers should be able to demonstrate and document that they have gone above and beyond with students. Where does good teaching end and intervention begin? I'm all for identifying the underachievers and trying to get to the bottom of why they are underperforming, and teachers are well aware of their responsibilities to get the best grades possible. What's intervention? What's revision? What's just teaching?

I really enjoyed Shaun Allison's blog on "What to do with Y11?" (see <here>) and shared it with all staff. I really think that teachers should be putting all their energy and time into delivering the best possible lessons: "the people who will make the real difference between now and the exams are the teachers that see Y11, day in and day out.". The advice that Shaun then provided about effective learning and revision was excellent - read it, share it widely!

It's my first time as Head of Y11 and it has been a steep learning curve. In my somewhat limited experience, what would I do differently?
  • Abolish the 'official' revision timetable (sadly staff don't stick to it anyway and we end up with staff competing and undermining one another).
  • Discourage all revision sessions.
  • Encourage staff to plan for learning throughout their syllabus (principles of metacognition and effective learning) so revision doesn't become such high stakes.
  • Create effective work spaces for Y11 at lunchtime (i.e. a rota for the four form rooms for lunchtime: silent work / quiet work / 2x social - and enforce it!)
  • Maintain detentions for work, homework and behaviour issues - these expectations must remain at the core of effective learning.
  • Generate a culture of greater independence, self-reliance, determination and consequence - if you do not work, there will be repercussions (and it won't be a teacher reteaching you after school and in the holidays!).
I believe that this will help in some way create less dependent and teacher-reliant GCSE students. It will also be beneficial for the mental and emotional health of both staff and students, taking off some of the high stakes pressure.

I fully admit some of the students in my care have not woken up to the fact that their exams are coming up very quickly. This is a separate issue, that needs to be addressed in a separate way. 

John Tomsett wrote in his blog:

“All I can ask is that, on results day in August, we can truthfully say to ourselves that we did the very best we could without damaging our own mental health or the mental health of our students. We must not push for even better examination results at the cost of our well-being.” <see here>

My Y11 students, come August, will always be more than a set of grades. I also want them to be healthy (physically and mentally), happy, knowing that they can go out and change the world for the better in many, many different ways.

Images courtesy of PixabayWikipedia and Pixabay

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