Student Led Inquiry

Erm Sir What am I Learning today?

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You know that moment when you’re sitting in class and you’re thinking “what exactly am I supposed to be learning today and why am I here?”  Think of the feelings that brings up.  Frustration?  Annoyance?  At that moment, are you ready for learning? This must happen daily to most children, but by utilising the research of Hattie we can change the way learning happens.

My main aim in tutoring is to explore topics using learning enquiries, keeping a clear focus on an exam question with older students or a directed part of a syllabus with younger students. In the past, this is something that the teachers did to direct their teaching.  However, this time, we had the kids discover the standards themselves and they develop their own learning targets. The students therefore develop their own learning pathway, based on a clear understanding of the process and the direction of travel.

Here’s an example of how the process could be developed.

1. I posted an enquiry question and simply allowed the student to tell us what they thought it meant.  Bringing in several different sources of information we were able together to scaffold some information leading us towards the enquiry, shaping towards able an answer. For example “to what extent did rats and rebels shape England?”.

2. It is essential to link this basic knowledge to something tangible like an exam or essay question. It surprised me that the students had never broken down a standard before so we modelled how to do it with the first learning target.  The students decided that even before they started integrating the text, they had to annotate the first set of sources to understand it at a deeper level. Thus, our first learning target: I can take notes while reading to get a deeper understanding of the text. Cornell note taking is a really key ingredient here as it helps to organise information and develop deeper understanding.

3. Based on the feedback from the first exercise, they decided what the next learning targets were.  This was where the ownership in learning began.  This is when the path of learning was revealed.

Some of the discussions the students initiated at this point were:

  • How do I comprehend a text?  Will I need to determine importance?
  • What graphic organizer should I use?  Is there more than one I could use?
  • What about the text structure of the passage?
  • How do I effectively take notes?
  • How do I show that I really know something well?
  • How exactly do you integrate two or more texts? Find a theme, a topic, etc?

4.  A Student having ownership over the success criteria and being able to analyse this is very powerful in laying out the direction of learning.  I always use model answers to questions as the most powerful learning tool, these aren’t necessarily perfect answers either as it is important that students see weak responses too. Same process though reviewing their own or their partners work, with highlighters or the highlighting function on the computer they take ownership of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each answer.

Highly effective teaching is tough.  Deep learning is even tougher.   What we have to do in education is work smarter, not harder so that our students can be self-directed learners.   Having kids unwrap the standard and develop the learning targets opened the doors to learning. These students now know where they’re going and they are guiding themselves.  They’re on the path to learning, not just sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher.

The most amazing parts of this process was the deep discussions students led and took part in and the fact that they can very specifically describe where their learning is about to go.

Running this process by a PGCSE student in school, the question that he posed is a valid one: How do I make time for this when I have so much to teach?  The answer is “How can you not?”  This process will make the teaching and learning more productive because the students developed the path for learning and they know what they’re working towards.   As opposed to that frustrated and annoyance feeling we’ve all felt when we have no idea what we’re supposed to be learning. If you doubt this, refer to number 9 and 10 on this site of John Hattie’s work, which is a meta-analysis of over 50,000 studies.  It works.

Still on the high road out

A progress check three months since leaving the classroom

at the beginning of September I wrote a blog explaining my rationale for leaving the classroom and what the future lay in store. In taking the high road out, I outlined three priorities:

  • Priority number one – Pay Septembers mortgage. I have registered with plenty of agencies, digging out old certificates and applying for DBS. Supply work is the priority, to make ends meet I probably need to bring home around £120-£130 a day, a quite and frighteningly tall order. I don’t actually know if any schools will take anyone on supply in the next few weeks with all this uncertainty? I guess pupils and teachers may well be hit by the French and Spanish quarantine rules? Who knows?
  • Priority number two – Set up a Tutoring Company. Its a mysterious world, tutoring. I hear of all these ex-teachers who have made successful transitions into tutoring, then I find out they all teach Maths! I have no idea if this will be successful or not, but I guess now is a good time to try. I will cover my experiences of setting up a company in my next blog post, but in the meantime excitingly is live.
  • Priority Number Three – Contact schools to offer catch up sessions. Talking of opportunities, the Government is offering schools a catch up premium of £1bn towards a National Tutoring Programme, with each secondary school receiving approximately £80k. This money is for small one to one tuition and extra teaching capacity from September.

So what progress has been made since leaving the classroom?

Priority number one – Pay Septembers mortgage.

Success – Well OK I cheated, we have deferred our mortgage payments for three months as part of Rishi Sunak’s Coronovirus support package. However, we have been able to put the equivalent amount away each month as the business builds and consequently are well placed to re-invest once the payment holiday comes to an end.


A tough first month, one day placement at an all girls Islamic school and the first two clients, one requiring A-Level English and one Year 6 Sats. The first £20 however went into the Castle Tutoring accounts in the second week so we were up and running. I enjoyed preparing a student for their University of Cambridge UCAS application in mechanical engineering and was successful in applying to run the Extended Project Qualification with a set of Chinese students, keen to obtain the necessary qualifications to study at UK Universities.

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Supply teaching work started to increase, providing a financial safety blanket to the growing business. I worked at two schools, both mixed comprehensives in Berkshire, neither I had been to before, but as a former school leader I could see similar areas for development. I have really enjoyed going in at the ‘bottom level’, seeing what challenges ordinary teachers face not only day to day, but also how during a global pandemic they tackle the issue of social distancing and sanitation. There is no right or wrong approach, but one does feel that the advice given to schools could be more explicit to help develop a more coherent strategy, it does feel that headteachers have been left to sort their own schools out with very little guidance.

The tutoring work really started to build, as word of mouth spreads. A lovely set of clients across all age groups, I spent the first few sessions getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of each child and tailored each session to their needs. The National Tutoring Programme is an interesting development; as a small business unfortunately Castle Tutoring was not able to apply for any of the programmes, however the opportunities in schools are beginning to open up and the successful agencies are keen to recruit as schools look for catch up opportunities for their more vulnerable students.


Wow! I did not think that the situation would change so dramatically and so quickly, after a quiet couple of months November has been hugely successful. A lovely supply placement at an all boys independent school has set the tone for the month and the business has developed really successfully, with thirteen clients now on the books. There is a huge demand for tutoring services across the local area and it is now more a case of matching the right tutor to the right student.

Castle Tutoring have a waiting list of clients, if any qualified teacher is looking for some extra work then please do visit the website

I have my first meeting with the Chinese clients this Saturday working through the Extended Project Qualification, working out their areas of interest and seeing what resources they need in order to be able to develop their area of expertise and more importantly their project skills, to prepare them for life at an British University.

All in a really positive start and as we prepare for the next steps it will be focused on how we can grow this opportunity further.

Priority number two – Set up a Tutoring Company

Success – the legal details are all in place, accountant booked and Google business has been deployed. Early on I participated in a networking meeting with @realnetworking which was hugely positive and gave me some excellent pointers as to how to grow the business further. Since then thanks to my good friend @chrisedge76 and the partnership I have developed with @Opogoeducation, I have established a really positive online presence, blogging regularly to direct traffic through the site. The company exists and it is profitable, so onto the next stage. I have also recruited staff to help support the venture to reduce the waiting lists and I am looking forward to introduce our range of experts to a wider community.

Priority Number Three – Contact schools to offer catch up sessions

Less successful, whether it is the wrong time of year or that schools are preferring to work with National Tuition Partnership scheme I am not sure, but I have not received any offers of work through this option, despite emailing all the local schools. It is a difficult one as supply work has been constant and the odd hour in school may not be worth my while anyway, so will to perhaps reconsider this priority.

So what next?

It has been a very exciting adventure to date, you can track most of my progress through the variety of blogs that I have written and published. Castle Tutoring is profitable and the original daily target has been smashed.

However, despite only being three months into the campaign, it is clear that there is scope to grow even further. Finding out how that works and to turn the business into a truly exciting enterprise is the next step.

It would be great to partner with like-minded individuals who can see the potential scale of the business opportunity and help match outstanding qualified tutors with students looking for that extra bit of support.

The first few months have been a real labour of love, developing the business and working long hours in the evenings and weekends to ensure its success. There is still much to achieve but the future is very exciting indeed.

Richard Endacott, Castle Tutoring

So you think you know how to learn?

But you are completely wrong…..

Congratulations! You have reached the grand old age of …. and now you know everything. Teachers pack your bags, tutors? meh who needs them? I have conquered the world of knowledge and even that I don’t know I can google it. Yet, no matter how old you are you still have this opinion, just ask my 8 year how clever she is and she will tell you she knows everything, my 90 year old aunt probably does to be fair. This mentality is carried through with you no matter how old you are says Ulrich Boser, author of Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or How to Become an Expert In Just About Anything.

“We’re learning all the time, figuring out how to use new tools,” he says. “When you get a new smartphone or system at work, you need to gain new skills to use it. How you do that impacts your success.”

Unfortunately, there is a gap between conventional wisdom and facts when it comes to the process of learning, says Boser. “There are so many myths,” he says. “A lot of people don’t give much thought to the best way to gain new knowledge and skills. But learning is often a form of mental doing, and the more someone is actively engaged, the more they learn.”

Through studies and research, Boser identified several myths about learning that can make the process more difficult. Here are five misconceptions, and why you should stop believing in them:



You’ve probably heard about visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning. Boser argues that once you start thinking about the idea, it falls apart.

“It’s hard to learn football only by hearing it,” he says. “Like many myths, there is a bit of truth that lies behind it, but there’s no research to support learning styles. One major recent review stated simply that the authors found virtually no evidence for the approach.”

How to really learn: Instead, match your content to the process, says Boser. “Students should learn music by listening to music, while students should learn reading by doing more reading,” he says. ”


Before you go into an important meeting, you might refresh your memory by reviewing your notes or proposal, but this passive approach to learning won’t serve you well. While more than 80% of respondents in Boser’s study believed that rereading is a highly effective approach to learning, research suggests that the approach is flawed, says Boser. What works better is an active form of learning.

“People tend to see themselves as a computer; data flowing past them somehow gets into their head,” he says. “That’s not how learning works. You need to make sense of the order to understand.”

How to really learn: Instead of rereading, highlighting, or underlining important information, turn the information into a quiz.

Research shows that quizzing yourself is a far better way to learn,” says Boser. “After the end of a paragraph, ask yourself, ‘What is the author trying to say?’ ‘How is this different than other things I’ve read?’ ‘How does this relate to other material I know?’ When you’re making sense of something, you start learning it.”


When it comes to learning a difficult subject, people often believe you should practice one thing at a time. If you’re learning to use a new suite of software, for example, practice one program one day and another the next.

How to really learn: Mixing it up, however, is a better approach, says Boser. “In mixed learning, you get a chance to see the core idea below it,” he says. “And when you shift details, you get a better sense of what it means.”


In school, many of us were taught that if you put an answer on a test you shouldn’t change it, but you’re actually better off reconsidering, says Boser.

“People are overly confident,” he says. “Go around a room asking who the hardest working person is, and most people will identify themselves in that group. Also, if they’ve learned something from an article or TED talk, they think they know it. We actually need time to deliberate and reflect to understand something.”

How to really learn: While facts are important, how you use them is key. “To solve new problems and come up with ideas, you need analogies and systems of how things relate to each other,” he says. “Making that connection takes time. A study found that teachers who give three- to five-second pauses when explaining ideas have students who learn a lot more. The brain needs time to settle in.”


Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory provided a benchmark for becoming an expert, but this doesn’t necessarily translate to learning, says Boser. “Most of us drive every day, but most of us have not gotten better at driving,” he says. “Putting in a lot of hours doesn’t always mean you’ll become good at something.”

Like trusting your first answer, overconfidence plays a role here, too, says Boser. “There’s a long line of research that suggests people often overestimate their own expertise in just about every field, from driving a car to their grammar skills,” he says. “Or as one research paper put it, ‘people tend to be blissfully unaware of their incompetence.’”

How to really learn: What works instead isn’t just time; it’s outside advice and input. For example, Boser hired a basketball coach to help him improve his game, and videotaped himself shooting baskets in the park.

“Don’t just ask a friend for feedback,” he says. “There has to be a social contract where the other person has to give you something. That’s why hiring coaches and tutors are so beneficial to learning.”

What do the best students do?

The characteristics of successful students

Through my career I have taught, coached and mentored 23 students into Oxbridge. All of them are very different, yet in the own ways are extremely similar.

So, what characteristics do all the high performing students appear to share?

1. They Google EVERYTHING.

It’s like an automatic reaction. New concept = go to Google for a quick explanation. Don’t think just because your teacher gives you a textbook and some examples on the interactive whiteboard that you’re limited to that information. You have a massive free search engine at your fingertips, so make use of it.

2. They never “read through” the textbook.

Per time spent, reading the textbook is one of the least effective methods for learning new material. Top students use the examples and practice problems, but otherwise use Google, lecture notes, and old exams for study materials.

3. They don’t always do all of their homework.

Shock/horror, teenagers do not always do the homework? Say what?

Yet who can blame them? The homework I have seen set has generally been set to please the senior leadership team and Ofsted inspectors. The quality is poor and the tasks extremely mundane, with no connection to to any future usefulness. Parents are experiencing unnecessary confrontation by insisting that their little ones colour in that picture of a rabbit set by the Biology teacher who had been teaching about natural habitats. dull, dull dull. No wonder the brightest students avoid completing this work.

The best homework’s are the ones set to inspire further questions which they can bring to class next time, that allow the students to stretch their minds and prepare them for learning, maybe completion rates might even improve.

4. They test themselves frequently.

Testing yourself strengthens your brain’s connections to new material, and gives you immediate and clear feedback on whether you know something or not. Bottom line, repeated self-testing significantly improves long-term retention of new material.

Those of you familiar with my blogs, will know the following strategy to help with retrieval:

Block out a two hour revision slot in your revision timetable.

  • 30 mins – Revise the information, read the notes/books, make notes, use flashcards. Active learning through doing rather than simply reading or highlighting.
  • 10 mins – Off, go and make a cup of tea, check your insta stories, whatever really to switch off.
  • 30 mins – Answer a question in exam conditions, no notes, no phones, no laptops, no reference points. Simply put yourself under pressure for 30 minutes.
  • 10 mins – Reward yourself wit a cup of tea or a nice cool relaxing drink
  • 30 mins – Compare your answer written in exam conditions with your notes. use mark schemes and examiners reports. what grade would you have given yourself? Why? What did you do well? what could you improve etc? If you have time re-write either your whole answer or parts of it.

5. They study in short bursts, not long marathons.

Studying in short bursts tends to help you focus intensely because you know there is at least a short break coming.

This also fits in nicely with our Ultradian Rhythm, the natural activity/rest cycle of our bodies, which makes studying continuously for multiple hours on end counterproductive. Students are always amazed when I explain this to them, yet it is such a simple concept, no one can concentrate for more than 45 minutes at a time, this is why TV shows are becoming ever shorter, episodes of Schitts Creek or the Mandalorian for example are never more than twenty minutes long as they know the attention span of the audience cannot commit to longer.

6. They reverse-engineer solved problems.

It’s one thing to follow and memorize a set of steps to solve a calculus problem. It’s an entirely different thing to understand what a derivative is, be able to take derivates of complex functions, know when to use the chain rule vs. the product rule, etc. The problem with simply following the steps the teacher provided, or the textbook outlines, is that you’re only achieving a surface-level knowledge of the problem. Top students, instead, take solved problems and work backwards, from solution to question, asking “why.”

7. They don’t own a highlighter.

Highlighting anything = unengaged reading. If you want to note something that stands out, underline and write a corresponding note to go along with it. Or better yet, write yourself a note summarizing the item in your own words. Alternatively try the Cornell note taking for effective notes which can trigger retrieval.

8. They sleep–a lot.

They’re teenagers! Let them. The daily routines of top performers, in any field, are characterized by periods of intense work followed by significant quantities of high-quality sleep. You see this trend in top violin prodigies and chess champions, as well as elite athletes. The idea is to alternate periods of intense work with rest, so that you create tons of new connections in your nervous system, and then allow adequate time to assimilate those gains.

9. They engage themselves by asking questions.

An innovative mind must always be filled with questions. You’ll probably find yourself going to Google to fill in the gaps. Through that process your learning will be much more deeply seated in your brain than anything your subject teacher ever told you about. That’s the power of asking questions.

10. They immediately study their exam mistakes.

In a recent CPD, I challenged teachers to not focus on why the student achieved seven out of ten, but why they missed out on the three. This is what the highest achieving students are doing, most students get their exam grade back, flip through to see if the teacher made any mistakes they can argue about, and then promptly shove it into their notebook, never to be seen again until the mad scramble at the end of the term to study for the exam.

Instead, top students ignore what they got right, and use their mistakes as an indicator of what to improve on.

Finding Inner Peace in Schools

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Om Paramatmane Nama

TO the universal consciousness a bow

Sit upright, both feet on the floor, fingers still, eyes closed

Come to rest and be still

Feel the feet on he floor, the weight of the body on the chair and come into the present moment. Use the sense: connect with the sense of touch, c;othes on the skin, air on the face, connect to the hearing, listen to the sounds in the room and let them come and go. Let the listening run out as far as it will go.

Become aware of the breathing and focus on the sensations as the air enters the mouth or nose and leaves again. Notice the changes in the body as the air fills the lungs and is naturally expelled. Remain with each breath and just observe without interfering.

Now dedicate with the words OM PARAMATMANE NAME

The individual dedicates this activity to the service of everybody and everything. In Sanskrit, the individual is called the Atman and the Universal self is called the Paramatman. The mind is encouraged to acknowledge the universal consciousness upon which it depends. One of the benefits of the pause is to prevent the build up of mental agitation throughout the day and allow the mind to become more focused and better directed. It reduces stress and improves learning (and teaching).

The coronovirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption to normal routines and schools in particular have borne the brunt of this. I have been impressed at the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ mentality of senior leaders across the many schools I have had the privilege of visiting, despite the almost daily disruptions this pandemic is causing. But, the side effects of this are huge and the constant, stress, worry and uncertainty are having huge repurcussions on the entire profession. The Guardian have warned about an exodus of exhausted headteachers and one fears this will come to reality in the very near future.

For children and adolescents with mental health needs, such closures mean a lack of access to the resources they usually have through schools. In a survey by the mental health charity YoungMinds, which included 2111 participants up to age 25 years with a mental illness history in the UK, 83% said the pandemic had made their conditions worse. 26% said they were unable to access mental health support; peer support groups and face-to-face services have been cancelled, and support by phone or online can be challenging for some young people

The Lancet

Routines are an essential part of anyone’s life, but in particular children. It is the one real anchor which they can hold on to. Take that anchor away and those already prone to coping issues will relapse and a new generation of students who have locked themselves in their rooms, refusing to eat, take showers or leave their beds will struggle to regain normality. Add in the uncertainty of whether exams are going to be able to proceed as normal in the summer and if so in which form will they take and you have a petri dish of competing problems that can have severe knock on effects. The problem is that there is very little research available about the long term mental effect on children or adolescents, especially those facing bereavement or the loss of family income.

The charity Place2be have come up with 5 ways to help at home

  • Celebrate your child’s strengths and differences. The world would be a pretty boring place if we were all the same. Help your child to recognise, and love, their own qualities and interests – this could be their hair colour, skin colour, religion, hobbies, sports they’re good at… Notice and celebrate what makes them an individual and encourage them to see those positives and be a friend to themselves.
  • Have open conversations about feelings. Be a good role model and share your feelings openly with your child. This will show them that it’s okay to talk about how they feel – whether they feel happy and excited, or worried and sad. If your child knows they can talk to you about anything they’re feeling, they’ll be more likely to come to you and ask for help if they’re struggling.
  • Help your child to come up with their own ways to cope. As parents and carers, we often want to fix things for our children and do all we can to protect them from hurt or upset; but it’s important we don’t take over and we give our children a chance to deal with difficult situations on their own. Make it clear that you will step in if your help is needed (for example by talking to the school) or in circumstances where your child’s safety is at risk, but empower your child to come up with their own ideas to cope with problems by asking them questions like ‘how could you respond?’, ‘what do you think might help?’. If they can come up with their own coping strategies now, they’ll be able to use them in future situations.
  • Let them experience their feelings fully. Every feeling is valid and it’s so important we let our children feel all emotions. Try to avoid minimising their feelings (‘I’m sure it’s not that bad!’) or rescuing by trying to instantly make them ‘happy’ or saying things like ‘don’t be sad’. Instead, talk to them about their sad feelings and tell them it’s okay to be sad sometimes.
  • Make yourself available to listen. Sometimes your child may not want to talk, and it’s important we don’t force them to have a conversation they don’t want to have. Make yourself available but don’t pressure them to talk. You may find that your child opens up in situations where they feel less pressure – for example when you’re in the car on the way home from school, or during the walk to school in the morning. Create rituals where you have a chance to regularly connect – for instance at mealtimes

Remember Young people cope in different ways

Some children may be coping better than adults, the traditional stresses at school classwork, exam stress, bullying etc. all still exist, yet they may be coping particularly well at home.

For some children, being at home has been a positive experience, and returning to school requires greater intervention. From the different schools I have visited, separating children into ‘bubbles’ has proved to be both popular and beneficial for all; having smaller groups has made it easier for students to settle back into school and has helped teachers manage their return relatively easily.

Similarly students may be presenting different behaviour characteristics, during this uncertain time, poor behaviour may be linked to other pressures at home,

take the time to understand the behaviour characteristcs before deploying the full weight of the schools behaviour policy.

Staff wellbeing should be a top priority

Imagine teaching the same way for 20 years and then being asked to open your laptop and do the same thing but virtually, without seeing the students faces to check understanding or even participation?. Imagine being told that one of your students ahs tested positive and you will have to isolate along with the rest of your tutor group for 14 days? This whole period has been hugely challenging for all and I would recommend any school to utilise both workshops in school for staff on wellebing and an external mental health charity for support. This extends beyond anxiety relating to COVID-19, supporting staff with a variety of other mental health issues and difficult situations. At one school I have taught in, the school have deployed ‘The Karma Army’ to promote activities, to avoid the stigma of mental health and to ensure those teachers who in lockdown may have been isolated and lonely feel well supported and an integral part of their community.

My advice

While there is pressure surrounding the curriculum, timetables and results right now, we should strongly focus on wellbeing. If someone is struggling with their wellbeing, they cannot learn – and the same applies to staff and their teaching. Being available to those who may want to reach out when they’re ready will ensure everyone in the school community feels supported and knows they have a network they can rely on. Combining this with a long-term strategy will enable all schools to ensure children can flourish, both now and in the future. The lesson I have learnt is to find peace in schools, you need to find peace within yourself, start and end the day with time for quiet reflection and solitude, perhaps this school is on to something?

TO the universal consciousness a bow

Sit upright, both feet on the floor, fingers still, eyes closed

Come to rest and be still

Feel the feet on he floor, the weight of the body on the chair and come into the present moment. Use the sense: connect with the sense of touch, c;othes on the skin, air on the face, connect to the hearing, listen to the sounds in the room and let them come and go. Let the listening run out as far as it will go.

Become aware of the breathing and focus on the sensations as the air enters the mouth or nose and leaves again. Notice the changes in the body as the air fills the lungs and is naturally expelled. Remain with each breath and just observe without interfering.

Now dedicate with the words OM PARAMATMANE NAME


Due to unprecedented demand

Castle Tutoring are currently recruiting for enthusiastic and proactive English, Maths and Science tutors around Windsor to work on a 1:1 basis and with small groups of students to raise attainment in core subject areas.

This is an exciting role for any experienced teacher or NQT who is looking to provide support and work to bridge the gap created by the current Covid-19 situation and also prepare students for their upcoming 11+, Sats, GCSE and A-Level examinations.

As the successful tutor you will possess the following skills:

  • Good subject knowledge in either Maths or English (we will be accepting applications for those qualified in other areas too)
  • Empathetic and patient attitude
  • Ability to work to the school’s schemes of work and provide constructive and effective feedback
  • Good time management to fully utilise the sessions and give students the best support possible
  • Experience working with challenging behaviour

We will provide you with support and resources you need and you can take on as any or as few clients as you wish. Please complete the contact form below and we look forward to hearing from you.

Catch 22

Do I revise or don’t It

As a tutor is is really difficult to advise my students on whether revising for their exams is a worthwhile exercise or not. The Covid-19 experience has blown apart any certainty in what is going to happen next? Exams have been cancelled in Wales, and in Scotland but not in England … yet, so we are waiting to hear what the Department for Education will announce next. Even parents are joining the clamour to cancel next summers exams, but where does this leave the poor student?

At Castle Tutoring for the GCSE and A-Level students we send out a simple message

We cannot pre-empt what the Government might say, but we do know from previous experience that should there be another lockdown and exams are cancelled at the last minute, every student should be thoroughly prepared.

Therefore there should be two priorities for every student right now.

  • 1 – Make sure all assessments and coursework are produced to the highest standards.
  • 2 – Prepare for the mock exams as if they are the real exams

Retrieval practice continues to be at the heart of any revision strategy, drawing on the previous learned material from their long-term memories, and returning it to the front of the brain ready to be deployed onto an exam paper.

Even today in a Year 13 Politics class I espoused by oft repeated technique for retrieval;

Block out a two hour revision slot in your revision timetable.

  • 30 mins – Revise the information, read the notes/books, make notes, use flashcards. Active learning through doing rather than simply reading or highlighting.
  • 10 mins – Off, go and make a cup of tea, check your insta stories, whatever really to switch off.
  • 30 mins – Answer a question in exam conditions, no notes, no phones, no laptops, no reference points. Simply put yourself under pressure for 30 minutes.
  • 10 mins – Reward yourself wit a cup of tea or a nice cool relaxing drink
  • 30 mins – Compare your answer written in exam conditions with your notes. use mark schemes and examiners reports. what grade would you have given yourself? Why? What did you do well? what could you improve etc? If you have time re-write either your whole answer or parts of it.

For me this remains the most successful revision technique out there, the problem is getting our students to follow it. Yes it is uncomfortable and yes it highlights areas that students may not actually know, but surely it is best to understand gaps in your knowledge now rather than six months down the road? Re-reading your notes and using highlighters may be comforting but research has shown they are not very effective strategies. They don’t tax your memory and consequently you don’t have to work very had as the information is right in front of you. 

So how do we overcome this?

Firstly, I have found it important to share the materials that you have and in particular the research that reveals the importance of retrieval as a revision tool, such as this by Karpicke and Grimaldi (2012), and discuss the graph showing the difference in test outcomes from retrieval over re-study. 

Revision is a singular activity, what works for others may not work for you, however the fixed mindset approach is to make excuses around that, such as

“I can’t work without listening to music”

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

They may need to find what works for them, but this needs to still involve retrieving information from memory, spacing it over time and having a calm and focused learning environment. Here is a checklist to give you an


  1. I give myself at least 3 weeks to prepare for exams
  2. My notes are finished well in advance of exams (2 weeks before the exam day)
  3. I spend at least 1 week on practice questions/papers only
  4. I do practice questions open-book initially, then when I feel more comfortable I transition to closed-book
  5. I do practice questions/papers without time constraints initially, then when I feel more comfortable I time myself
  6. I mark any practice questions/papers that I do


  1. I stick as closely as possible to my usual routine (eg. what time I wake up, go to bed)
  2. I avoid people who speculate about what might be in the exam
  3. I avoid cramming outside the exam hall


  1. I read all questions thoroughly during reading time, and make sure to consider the instructional words used (eg. discuss, analyse, evaluate, etc.)
  2. I ration my time according to the number of marks allocated to each question
  3. Before I start writing a short-answer or essay response, I take the time to consider all answers and plan out my response
  4. I regularly take deep breaths to help avoid tension and to break up sections
  5. I allow a small amount of time to review what I have written and make any edits


  1. I ask for my teacher’s advice on how to improve my marks
  2. I identify what types of exam questions (multiple choice, short answer, essay) that I lose marks in
  3. I identify what topics I am weak in based on the questions I answered incorrectly
  4. I use sample responses from people that are getting higher marks than me to see what they are doing differently

re-inventing the wheel

Photo by Navneet Shanu on

The problem with re-inventing the wheel is that you get all sorts of different shapes and sizes. Students like to see what success looks like and giving prompts on how to study and revise is a really positive first step. When I lecture to teachers about assessment I always put model answers at the top of the priority list. After all if a student knows what a top grade answer looks like, they are likely to a) replicate it and b) strive to surpass it.

I am much more explicit about teaching learning strategies in class, such as effective mind mapping and self-explanation, and explaining how this could also be used by them at home for revision and it works 

There are so many other ways of doing this successfully and as a practitioner i am always on the lookout for new strategies and ways of doing things. This gets us a long way, especially with those students who are already motivated to do well, but there are always those who are resistant and need extra encouragement to revise effectively.

Can my Parents help?

Photo by August de Richelieu on

There are ten really good ways parents and other adults can be supportive during this time and more than ever their support and understanding can make a huge difference. I will write in more details about this in another blog, but here is a good checklist for the adult in your life.

  1. Being a role model
  2. Help them set goals
  3. Keep them active
  4. Healthy eating
  5. Time out
  6. Sleep patterns
  7. Unplugging
  8. Staying cool & calm
  9. Belief
  10. 10.Be supportive

Revision is tough right now, but it is really important to keep those eyes very firmly on the prize, good luck and make sure you have no regrets.

Flying without wings

How assessment can support retrieval

Unusually for a supply teacher, I am delivering an INSET to the whole staff next week on assessment. This is an area that not only I am passionate about but also believe has the single largest impact on student outcomes.

Standardising the assessment progress not only allows the teacher and the student to have a laser sharp understanding of the strengths and areas for development but also normalises ‘pressure’ which allows a student to cope mentally with the demands of a real exam much more effectively.

Schools generally either over complicate assessments or try to shoe horn them into single ‘assessment weeks’. Assessment is a continuous process it should be an integrated part of any scheme of work. Learn – Assess – Reflect – Test – Repeat, this straightforward model not only informs next steps, but also helps to consolidate on previous learning, continually building ‘mastery’ of a particular topic. Retrieval practice in action.

Assessment can be broken down into three questions.
  • What do students know?
  • What skills have students developed?
  • To What extent can students apply their knowledge and skills?
Nathan Fertig via Unsplash

Those of you who have had the pleasure of being in my classroom will know the analogy I use of Elton John, will know the metaphor that sitting an exam is like Elton John playing a concert in front of ninety thousand at Wembley. Elton doesn’t just turn up and play, he has practiced for hour upon hour, not only perfecting his skill, but also normalising the ‘pressure’ so that he is not fazed by so many people. Similarly police horses are trained in this way, so they do not react to the crowd, to normalise the process of sitting exams is the single most effective way of ensuring success.

So how do we go about assessing our students to ensure they make continuous progress. Research gives us some clues here.

The academic research bit

Hatties research in 2009 – Visible Learning is nothing less than a synthesis of more than 50.000 studies covering more than 80 million pupils. Hattie uses the statistical measure effect size to compare the impact of many influences on students’ achievement, e.g. class size, holidays, feedback, and learning strategies. The following examples may give an impression of the scope of Hattie’s findings:

  • What’s bad? Retention, summer holidays
  • What’s neither bad nor good? Team teaching, open vs. traditional classes
  • What helps a bit? Class size, homework
  • What helps a bit more? Cooperative learning, direct instruction
  • What helps a lot? Feedback, Student-teacher relationships

Hattie’s round-up of core influences for better learning outcomes has many implications of what is good teaching and how to become a successful school: First, teachers are the central aspect of successful learning in schools. Second, Hattie’s results suggest that school reform should concentrate on what is going on in the classroom and not on structural reforms.

John Hattie developed a way of ranking various influences in different meta-analyses related to learning and achievement according to their effect sizes. In his ground-breaking study “Visible Learning” he ranked 138 influences that are related to learning outcomes from very positive effects to very negative effects. Hattie found that the average effect size of all the interventions he studied was 0.40. Therefore he decided to judge the success of influences relative to this ‘hinge point’, in order to find an answer to the question “What works best in education?”

Hattie studied six areas that contribute to learning: the student, the home, the school, the curricula, the teacher, and teaching and learning approaches. But Hattie did not only provide a list of the relative effects of different influences on student achievement. He also tells the story underlying the data. He found that the key to making a difference was making teaching and learning visible. He further explained this story in his book “Visible learning for teachers“.

John Hattie updated his of 138 effects to 150 effects in Visible Learning for Teachers (2011), and more recently to a list of 195 effects in The Applicability of Visible Learning to Higher Education (2015). His research is now based on nearly 1200 meta-analyses – up from the 800 when Visible Learning came out in 2009. According to Hattie the story underlying the data has hardly changed over time even though some effect sizes were updated and we have some new entries at the top, at the middle, and at the end of the list. Hattie’s research has been updated in 2011 and 2015.  In his new work of 2015 where he worked with Higher Education Hattie states that the most powerful factor influencing learning and achievement was “Teacher estimates of Achievement”

So what is the best way to assess LONG TERM understanding and knowledge. This includes combining current knowledge with previous knowledge and testing on knowledge regularly.  These methods if done regularly improve memory but also enable sound judgements of knowledge and understanding.

Examples include:

  • Regular quizzes – at the start and end of lessons, in time when you want to get the class to pack up or for a “brain break” after 30 min in the lesson (if a long lesson). 10 questions in rough back of the exercise book – answers only.  Check mark – small prize for highest score.
  • Pupil to pupil quiz – teacher can start but best for pupils to start  -last one to pack away, nearest birthday, last one to arrive in the lesson, or on a rota, Pupil A poses question ( they need to know the answer) they chose pupil B to answer ( countdown clock goes on ) if pupil B answers correctly he then asks pupil C etc…
  • Online quizzes – there are lots available, but quizz seems to be the most popular currently!
  • Total Recall – quick knowledge recap.  
  • Multiple choice questions, – these work really well if the answers are close to each other and some get them wrong and will debate it!
  • Word searches (where the search is complete and the pupils write the clues/definition) .
  • Pupils all write a test/quiz on a key topic on the spec for homework.  These are then used during their lessons with the whole class. 

However nothing beats practicing a test under test conditions, normalising that processs of working under pressure without notes and nd/or aids to help access the information.

At Castle Tutoring we recommend the 30 minutes on/10 mintues off model for revision to help normalise the pressure and get used to understanding how to write exam style questions.

A student picks a subject and a topic for a two hour revision slot.
  • 30 mins – Revise the topic, make notes preferably in the Cornell method, flashcards etc. DO NOT USE highlighters or simply read the books
  • 10 mins – relax – make a cup of tea, look at your phone etc.
  • 30 mins – Attempt an exam question under exam conditions, as tempting as it sounds, no notes, no phones.
  • 10 mins relax
  • 30 mins – check your answers vs the notes and mark schemes, examiners reports etc. can you make improvements? if so where? write them out.

How to develop ‘Mastery’

He is now She. A shift. There are no trumpets, no statues to be torn down, no graffiti, no slogans.

Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Virginia Woolf’s book Orlando, shows how transitions can be made without the reader actually noticing. Covering the time between the Elizabethan and Stuart eras, the lead character changes, a he becomes a she, the genius of Woolf’s writing is that no-one notices that Orlando has slipped across a boundary. So it is the same with education, we have crossed over a divide and no one has really noticed, we just kept calm and carried on, to borrow a phrase.

In another blog, I outline how transformational technology in education has been in practice. The future of schooling, I argued, is collaborative learning and how the traditional model of transmitting and receiving is now a thing of the past. By harnessing knowledge and the power of technology students can become empowered to take control of their own destinies.

Authoritarian, managerial, top down ways of running schools have been rendered meaningless when pupils are not in front of teachers to be ‘controlled’.

As you watch online lessons being delivered and scroll through the chat function you will witness students problem solving and supporting each other, behaviour in online lessons has been impeccable. In the past the challenge was to find and present the right resources to challenge students and engage them in their learning. The biggest challenge now is to cultivate self discipline, to engage in the sheer power of technological advancements. In a world of artificial intelligence, algorithims and surveillance, the leaders of the future will need a winning combination of EQ and IQ.

The core of Castle Tutoring’s delivery is emphasising ‘mastery’ of a particular subject area. The Mastery Approach is a customized learning process that reflects the very best in curriculum design, asking students to learn essential skills, relate aspects community in which they live, and make choices about their own learning. The Mastery Approach provides opportunities for students to show their strengths, explore their interests, and discover their own potential. 

Mastery learning is THE transformational education innovation of our time. At its core, mastery learning enables students to move forward at their own pace as they master knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Effective implementation at scale will completely change how students learn, how teachers teach, and how schools work. It will revolutionize state testing, education research, and the labor market. It will transform how curricula are developed, how learning is measured, and how teachers are trained.

Yes, it is THAT big.

Scott Ellis – Getting Smart

I am not a fan of educational fads, indeed I often rail against them, if they have no impact on an individual student, however a mastery based approach to learning is exactly the kind of strategy which will deliver success for students.

Why a Mastery Learning Approach is the Future of Student Instruction

Over the past several years, educators have heard about and increasingly been exposed to terms like personalized learning and blended learning. These are closely related to mastery learning and often include concepts like differentiated instruction and the effective use of real-time data. Competency-based education and proficiency-based education are often used as synonyms for mastery learning in different regions and by various groups. But the essential and truly transformational element in all of these is the same: enabling students to move forward at their own pace as they master content.

Today, through technology, tools, and expertise, we have the ability to scale this model at a national level. We have reached a point where for the first time we could implement mastery learning across the entire education system. We have defined the required elements and all the pieces exist.

The question is: will we choose to do it?

It will require innovation—in software tools, classroom practices, and policies. And innovation is challenging, especially in education.

Enabling Mastery Learning Strategies with Technology

Over the past several years we have made tremendous progress as a country in implementing the enablers necessary for mastery learning. More schools than ever before have sufficient internet connectivity to enable online systems to be an essential component of classroom learning. Laptops and tablets are widely available, and students (and increasingly teachers) are very comfortable using them. Teacher practices like rotation models and data-driven instruction have been defined, and many coaching organizations exist to help educators implement these practices effectively. Many software and online learning platforms have been developed and widely adopted as part of daily classroom learning.

The pieces are in place; the ecosystem is ready. It is now time to take the next step in the journey of innovation. System-wide implementation will, of course, require action at state, district, and school levels to address thorny topics like mastery-based high school transcripts, transitions from traditional grades to mastery-based measures of progress, alignment with parents and school boards about expectations, and numerous other critical issues. But an important catalyst to support this essential work is clarity about what exactly happens in the classroom. How do the student, the teacher, the learning resources, and the data actually interact on a daily basis to nurture the kind of mastery learning we are seeking? As the sector gets more experience the answers are getting clearer. It is time to transform America’s education system and implement mastery learning at scale.

What is required for this to happen?

According to Scott Ellis there are 5 Key Elements of Mastery Learning at Scale

In addition to continued implementation of the enablers described above, five key elements need to be present for mastery learning to occur at scale:

  • 1. Specific, clear, demonstrable learning objectives. We must be clear what we want students to know and be able to do when learning has successfully occurred. Traditional high-level standards do not enable mastery learning; greater precision is essential.
  • 2. Clear mastery thresholds for each learning objective. Students and educators need to know exactly what mastery means and how we know when the student is ready to move on to the next learning objective. Historically we have been mushy in our thinking about this topic; we must be clear. This applies to all learning objectives–the simple objectives that require computation and memorization as well as the very advanced objectives that require complex collaborative synthesis and application. All objectives must have clear mastery thresholds!
  • 3. Clear processes for students to demonstrate mastery. The processes must be fully scalable: for every student and every learning objective. This also works to ensure equitable access for all learners.
  • 4. Clear processes for teachers to assess mastery. These processes must also be fully scalable so it is feasible for teachers to assess mastery for every student and every learning objective (remembering that some students may need multiple attempts to demonstrate mastery depending on their level of readiness and the potential variety of assessment options available).
  • 5. A system to effectively organise and display the data about mastery-based student learning progress. The data must be immediately and easily available to students, teachers, headteachers, and parents.

Once these elements are in place, mastery learning can occur. And once mastery learning systems are in place, they will improve over time. As teachers become accustomed to teaching in a mastery-based system, they will get better at using effective classroom practices and continue to hone their craft. Curricula will re-align to specific learning objectives and mastery thresholds, and they will support mastery-based teaching and learning more effectively. As schools generate and then review data about mastery-based student learning progress, they will be able to identify promising practices to adopt and scale. These parts of the system do not need to be in place at the beginning, but rather will develop over time. But without the five key elements described above, mastery learning simply cannot occur at scale.

None of these elements are particularly revolutionary or complex at first glance. However, very few of them actually exist today at scale or in ways that are scalable.

But innovation is starting. The enablers are in place