The night before

I’m really excited! I’m taking part in a learning platforms symposium tomorrow at BECTA.  I’m going to be talking with my group about the advantages that e-learning tools have brought to my teaching and (importantly) to the learning of my pupils. 

I’ve prepared a short presentation, which is posted below, and thought quite hard about the processes that I have gone through in order to make my various projects work (to varying degrees of success!).  This website forms part of the the story that I’ll be telling.  I’ll let you know what happens – and (as I’ve discovered how to make my Nokia act as a modem) I might do some blogging from the floor!

What did my GS students get out of online learning?

I recently did an interview with my General Studies students in preparation for a BECTA symposium I’m attending.  You can hear the results by listening to the attached file.  Apologies for the low-tech way of getting at this audio – I don’t yet use a podcasting module on this website (I know, I should).



A good year 10 and 11 parents' evening

teamworkI’m pausing during a busy parents’ evening to consider what we’ve put into making ours successful.

I’m the KS coordinator for KS4, and have done much of the ‘grunt’ work for this evening, Simon (of is our HOD, and has helped me with the documentation and data for the evening.  I want to record, in case I need it in future (and in case anyone else needs it now) what we have done to make tonight successful.


I wrote a letter, with Simon’s guidance, based on a letter written by Alan, the previous head of department.  This letter tells students (and parents) about the revision sessions (and resources) on offer, the dates of the exam, and some basic information about what is in each paper.

Revision Resources:

We offer weekly revision sessions, which are run by every member of the team on a rota basis, and will will also do two weekend sessions before each paper.  This evening we also offered a range of revision resources for students to use at home.  Mr Ross and I have prepared podcasts for the year 10 course, and I have made a DVD of revision material for the course over the two years.  We also have a stock of revision books which we’ve built up over a couple of years.  This year we’ve offered these out on deposit to every student in year 11, and many have taken us up on the offer.


Simon produced an excel spreadsheet based on CAT, YELIS and Fisher Family Trust predictions, and using our own predictions, along with the student’s performance in their mocks.  This data is used not only to show students how well they’re doing compared with where they should be (and congratulate them on their achievements), but also to point out how close they are to exceeding the expectations.  The data has been really appreciated, by parents and students.

Team work:

Of course, much of this is easier in a large department, where people can work on particular parts of this mix, and we’re lucky to work in such a large and dedicated team.  Each teacher recorded which parents attended, and we’ll send the letters and documents we handed out this evening, to those people who couldn’t attend.

Questions for Head of Department Interview

The text of this page was taken from the, now defunt, wiki.  It reflects my thinking in the summer of 2005 before I went for a (disasterous) job interview.  I might update it if I ever go for another one!

Hard Questions I might get asked!

How will we notice that you’re head of department?

  • GCSE raw grades and value added scores will increase. However, it has to be accepted that this is a long term development and realistically it will take five years (ie a whole school cohort) to be able to fully recognise the impact of a new HoD.
  • There’ll be a greater take up at GCSE, and a change in the calibre of students taking the subject, moving away from those who see it as a least worst option to those who actively choose the subject.
  • We’ll have to take on an NQT in a couple of years to cater for increased numbers at GCSE and A level. ALternatively, the core members are supplemented by part timers who are supported by the HoD.
  • ITT students will contribute to our professional development.
  • Ideas and techniques of peer observation and support will become more acceptable and used in the department. The department will become teacher researchers and pioneer the latest developments in pedagogy with a strong focus on improving independent learning, group work and thinking skills.
  • There will be fully planned schemes of work at KS3 which include plans for progression and assessment. These will reflect a commitment to teaching a diverse, inclusive History curriculum in line with the 2008 NC.
  • Higher profile of the department – assemblies, displays, competitions, trips

How will you motivate your staff?

How will you improve the practice of your staff?
Ask the students what they think.

How could you improve our Value Added scores / raw grades at GCSE?
How could you improve take-up at GCSE?
How will you use pupil data to improve attainement?
Why do you want the job/why should we give you the job ? – Vision for the dept

What were the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson I taught in the morning or a recently taught lesson

How would I improve learning within the department

What would you do if a member of your dept was not following school/department policy?

As a matter of professional courtesy I would assume firstly that they felt there was some aspect of the policy that was threatening the learning of the students, or that they were having difficulty in being able to implement it, so I’d do my best to discuss the matter with them – to find out what their objections or difficulties were. It is highly likely that I would learn something from this discussion, which might solve the issue and improve the policy in question or offer some support. If this did not sort things out, if it turned out there were serious compentancy issues, or this person was merely being awkward, then I would refer the matter to my line manager, for advice or further action, after warning the person in question.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I genuinely think that you have to give at least 5 years to a department job, I’d like then to move on to thinking about being an ITT Professional tutor, or starting to do some more work in a university.

What do you think History contributes to the school ethos?
History enables children to more successfully take part in our wider liberal society and in school society. Skills such as suspending judgement, looking at matters from different points of view, trying to understand strange perspectives on life, through to thinking about what happens when these things go wrong, a school history student is taught the value of rational thought and action. From a purely educational point of view history has lots to offer. It brings with it the contexts for understanding things from other subjects. geography, literature, languages, even sport are better understood if one has knowledge of their historical context. History widens vocabularies, teaches about the construction of sentences, paragraphs, and even arguments. Most of all, history is the best antidote to prejudice, although it cannot guarantee its eradication. Nostalgia, folk memories, garbled TV chronologies are all weakened by historical knowledge and, more importantly, historical thought. What would you like in terms of ICT facilities and why? (don’t forget to mention staff training to use the equipment!)

How could ICT play a role in raising achievement in History?

Who would you deal with underachiving boys (esp D grade students at GCSE)

How would you use data like CAT, SAT, G + T internally produced info to raise achiev within the dept?

What one change would you introduce to improve results within the dept?

How would you develop a team ethos within the History department?

Hard Questions that I should ask!

  • How much time does history get in the time table?
  • Standard practice is 10% of KS3 curriculum time – you should not be expected to have less than 100 mins per week ie two lessons for each year group.
  • What kind of administrative support do you supply to HOD’s?
  • What kind of support have teachers got from you in terms of workforce reform?
  • Does the school support History as a discrete subject valued for the skills it delivers and the contribution it makes to the whole school, or is it seen as part of Humanities / Citizenship? Personally it has to be the former.
  • What freedom do you give departments to innovate in terms of their curriculum, use of ICT, dept website, experimental lessons, assessment policy?
  • 14-19 Reform and History

This department needs help, what changes would you make?
This depends very much on what you find when you take over a department. I guess that a common theme in departments that find it hard to add value to their GCSE scores might be an over emphasis on content, especially (taught through powerpoint, rote learning, note taking etc) and a lack of emphasis on historical skills and the skills of exam answering.

Short Term Fixes
what might be possible this year for year 10 into 11 and year 8 into 9 Year 11 GCSE
Practice Papers, Peer marking of practice papers, student markschemes.

Year 9’s
The main thing here is that the curriculum has got to be interesting and fun. If this year is a long trawl through the causes of World War One, a tramp through the trenches, a discussion of the winnners and losers of Versailles, followed by the causes of World War Two, and on and on until we stand, already depressed and unwilling to take in the messages that we find at the gates of Birkenhau, then year 9 are going to run to the relative joy of hanging valleys and terminal moraine.

I think that a curriculum that is relevant to the pupils, involves real historical enquiries and not just a succession of “what was…” type questions then numbers should rise. Black peoples of the Americas, the life of Malcom X (some positive references to Islamic faith might not go amiss in today’s world), the assasination of JFK, or some medicine through time perhaps, could liven up this year. Implementing this would, of course depend on having a group of teachers willing perhaps to try something new, a supportive management, and money to buy new resources. It is also important not to fall into the trap of overloading the curriculum too much – remember the old adage – less is more! Longer Term Changes

Key Stage Three
The big change has got to be at KS3, partly because this is where we’ve got the most freedom, and partly because this is where attitudes towards history in school and the skills of doing history are formed. Students should be taught the skills needed to be succesful at GCSE from year 7 onwards. I’d start with a brief review (one day, in the summer hols, in department) of the schemes of work as they stand, looking at topics, resources, opportunities for assessment, provision for skill progression and time available. On that same day I’d assess the state of the classrooms, quality of display etc. I’d then draw up a document for a ks3 review meeting, similar to one that I’ve already used, which you can find here. This document is designed to allow the members of the department to:

  • get an overview of the topics that are taught;
  • get an overview of which skills are to be taught and when;
  • share their expertise about:
  • which parts of the curriculum are most important; and
  • which skills are best taught with which topics.

The activity is designed to provoke discussion about the history curriculum. I think it would be a good way of getting to know where your department stand on a number of issues, a good start in learning about the conventional wisdom of the department and the strengths and weaknesses of the team. The last part of the discussion is recorded onto a master sheet (either in pairs or as part of a team). However, as leader of the History Department I must be prepared to take unpopular decisions if necessary and to convince the rest of the department that my vision for the future is going to take the department to greater success.

Key Stage Four

Planning schemes of work and integrating practice papers, knowledge tests and skills practice at GCSE level.