The art of Retrieval Practice

Education has a number of different trends which come and go, but ultimately whichever way content is delivered, the student has to sit in an exam hall on their own and retrieve all those golden nuggets of information that their teachers have tried to instil into them.

So all of a sudden the action is reversed instead of trying to get information INTO students, we have to try to get information OUT of students. Now those of you with teenage children, getting anything out of them is a near on impossible task, let alone any semblance of information, so this presents quite the challenge.

Retrieval practice is a researched learning strategy which focuses on bringing information to the front of the brain so that it can be acted upon efficiently. Revision strategies have tended to be based upon reading textbooks and highlighting key information and hoping that we can remember them, in he old days we called this technique ‘cramming’. All students think they can read something and then feel confident that they know the information, until they are faced with the pressure cooker of the exam hall and it has all mysteriously disappeared. How many of you have started an exam confidently and then half way through the question stopped to think ‘what shall I write about next’? Retrieval practice is positioned to prevent this situation from occurring.

Retrieval practice is a strategy in which bringing information to mind enhances and boosts learning. Deliberately recalling information forces us to pull our knowledge “out” and examine what we know.


So by trying to recall information we can strengthen our memory and help bring the information to hand my readily. Difficult in an online world where everything you need to know is at the push of a button, why bother learning something when you can look it up readily? However, in the exam hall that comfort blanket is taken away and all of a sudden there is a demand to recall information, are your students prepared for this?

Cognitive scientists used to refer to retrieval practice as “the testing effect.” it seems obvious when you think about it that recreating the exam conditions through tests (or short quizzes) dramatically improve the ability to recall information. Retrieving information requires effort, in the same way a dog retrieves a stick requires a significant boost of energy, so does recalling information. The challenge is to normalise this activity, the more one practices retrieving information the more the brain gets used to exercising itself in this way.

So how can this bve put into practice? In History and Politics lessons, I have developed the 30 minute on / 10 minute off strategy for GCSE and A-Level. it is a simple act of 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.

There are of course other less time consuming ways to achieve the same outcome, such as short quizzes, however it is important that you normalise the process of completing exam questions and this technique will help you achieve this whilst retrieving that golden nugget of information at the moment you need it the most.

Why are male teachers really leaving the classroom?

the impact of restrictive school policies

Journalist Greg Hurst in the Times today highlights a growing problem, with male teachers such as myself, leaving the classroom in their droves. The explanation by Hurst backed up by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) narrows the debate to issues around pay. Yes, pay is important and the pay freeze implemented by the coalition government and the subsequent 1% pay rise has not helped and it is true that on the whole males are more responsive to salaries than females. However this explanation does not cover the full story.

Mary Curnock Smith the widely admired former Chief Executive of UCAS suggests that the lack of male role models has a seriously negative impact on the outcomes of boys, particularly in the case of white working class boys. I have seen first hand that white working class boys are being left behind by a more dynamic and ambitious first and second generation immigrant population. London is outperforming the rest of the country in terms of student progress and there is a serious issue with white working class boys which successive governments have failed to address. Indeed there is an argument that Michael Gove’s curriculum reforms have hindered their progress further as the content delivered is both uninspiring and too narrowly focused. However this is a by product of the issue and does not help to explain why male teachers are leaving the profession.

Workload is a perennial teacher complaint and there is certainly some value in that. According to a recent (NEU) National Education Union survey, 80% of classroom teachers have seriously considered leaving the profession in the past 12 months because of their workload. And a recent online poll by Teacher Tapp has found that only half of teachers reckon they’ll still be in the job in 10 years. According to Mary Bousted joint general secretary of the NEU, The increase in workload is caused by government policy innovations, including significant changes to how pupil progress is assessed at both primary and secondary level – a programme that has been “far too hastily implemented”. However, it is the way individual schools interpret and implement this quite vague direction causes larger issues. School policies can be over zealous and too directive, with senior teachers undertaking book checks and learning walks armed with clipboards to ensure the policies are adhered to. We’ve all heard horror stories of how a teacher has been put on capability because they refuse to mark in purple pen, or have not written the letters VF in a book every time they have given verbal feedback, yet this is real and happens much more frequently than people realise.

Some of the male colleagues have worked with have been truly inspirational teachers and consistently deliver outstanding results, yet regularly fail the school checks because their methods are considered too unconventional. Subject knowledge is considered of equal value to providing evidence that every student has underlined the title and date, it’s crazy and hugely frustrating.

The issue here is school policy – there is a perception that Ofsted are primarily looking at school policies, how schools implement them and how they are reflected in practice across a school.

Schools therefore try to make their policies as detailed as possible to impress inspectors and then use a sledgehammer approach to force those square pegs into these artificially created round holes.

The constant cycle of testing, marking, feedback, reflective learning and responding to the reflections slow down the pace of learning, significantly add to workloads and add to the frustrations in the classroom. Again I have met male teachers who have a real passion for their subject yet are straight jacketed by this focus on assessment. It means that the primary focus which should be the imparting of knowledge is spent more on administration of assessments, the passion for learning is lost.

The impact of school leadership is therefore the bedrock on which any study on ‘why male teachers are leaving the profession’ should be based. School leaders are ‘teachers’ promoted to new opportunities in schools, many are not trained in management and the impact of poor management cannot be underestimated. School leaders have a huge responsibility to consider the impact of their policy driven approach to the quality not just of delivery but also impact of recruitment and retention of staff. I have worked in policy driven schools and can attest from first hand experience that not only do they have a staff retention problem, but the staff who are there are too afraid to speak up as they have mortgages to pay and mouths to feed and therefore choose to put up with this nonsensical approach.

By harnessing the outstanding knowledge that many male teachers possess, making them feel valued, including them in decision making and ultimately providing inspirational leadership the sector can arrest this decline. School leadership needs to change to move away from the fixed mindset approach to school policies, allow more creativity and unconventionality in the classroom and persuade male teachers such as myself to return to give the boys in the class the role models they so desperately need.

Supply and Demand

The real life of a Supply Teacher

The flexibility of being self employed as a tutor allows me to build my life around my teaching commitments, using supply work as an opportunity to supplement my income as my business builds. In truth it has been a slow burner gathering the references and the various documents for my carefully selected agencies, but also due to Covid-19 schools are clearly trying to avoid encouraging too many visits from strangers, plus September is traditionally a slow month for supply work.

I am currently on my second placement as a supply teacher and in this reincarnation I find myself teaching English to secondary school students, even trusted with Year 11 as they revise An Inspector Calls ahead of their exams next summer. I have already taught Drama, Maths and Computer Science as the school responds to needs. In truth I am finding this fascinating and a real eye opener to how a school operates from an outsiders point of view, but also how different curriculum demands are met and the pressure not only ordinary teachers but also middle leaders face daily. Planning, target-setting, assessments, and meetings are all part and parcel of a teacher’s daily work. But supply teaching can provide relief from these onerous tasks, allowing a to press the reset button on what is important in schools.

1. School improvement

As a former Head of Sixth Form and Head of Faculty I have been in countless school improvement meetings, where school senior and middle leaders attempt to implement processes to help support students achieve the very best they can. being on supply it allows me to see those strategies at first hand, which work and which do not. I have always advocated for any Headteacher to know what is happening on the floor they ought to teach a class, to get a true understanding. As a supply I have a list of school improvement priorities which I have highlighted to the senior leadership team and they have arranged a meeting for further discussion. Another avenue here is that the students are much more open about the strengths and areas for development within a school environment, always worth engaging with students to discover what the experience is like for them on a day to day basis.

2. Behaviour

From what I can see, there has been no change in the way students deal with supply teachers in the past 40 years, they play up for them. In my previous roles I have had no problems with behaviour, mainly due to my status in school but also as I have a number of strategies which I like to deploy based on consistency and fairness. As a supply I have had no opportunity to build that momentum. Heading into the classroom armed only with the school behaviour policy and a board pen, I do not even have the log ins for the school computer, a recipe for disaster. And, it has been I have really had to go back to basics to get the routines right early in each lesson and to set the right standard form the off. This has meant a return to traditional values and core teaching skills and abilities.

Making a good first impression with the students is incredibly important for a supply teacher; those initial interactions with a group of pupils can strongly influence the chances of successful relationships being established. consequently, I have had to think strategically about how to ensure pupils’ initial perceptions of you are positive. Having resources and materials set up in advance of the start of the lesson is ideal, hence why arriving early at the beginning of the school day is crucial. Meet students at the door, greet them positively and have an activity ready for them to complete as they enter the room.

3. Variety

Most teachers stay in schools for years, in fact, some never get to experience life in any other school. While this may offer familiarity, security and other benefits, some supply teachers feel that they could be missing out. The schools I have been to include a purpose built academy school based on a brand new housing estate and a faith school based in a warehouse on a trading estate. Two completely contrasting schools yet aiming for the same objectives which are success at both GCSE and A-Level.

As part of my Masters degree in teaching and learning at the University of Reading, I looked at the reasons why so many white British boys underachieve, from this particular placement I have been able to draw direct comparisons with the relative success of the faith school. The changing job market I fear will highlight this discrepency further. The BBC goes as far to say

If the modern version of working class means being caught in low-wage, fragile employment, predated by debt and insecurity, what does that mean for children growing up in those communities? Who do they look up to? What does this do to people’s health and the well-being of family life? Outflanked by the financial muscle of the middle classes and by education-hungry, ambitious immigrants, it doesn’t leave much left.


Add in the impact of Covid-19 on these communities and you get a real sense that white British boys spent those six months on the playstation, whilst the more ambitious immigrant population were striving to get ahead of the pack. I am stereotyping of course, but there is a large truth to this and successive Governments have achieved very little progress in this area.

4. Lessons

Photo by slon_dot_pics on Pexels.com

Today I’m teaching French, yesterday English, the day before that Drama, I am getting ground level exposure to a wide variety of lessons and curriculum experiences. I am super excited about teaching French, but fear my knowledge is limited, however the lesson plans are good and the kids are really engaged. Yesterdays English lessons were less successful and the behaviour reflected this, it’s not the students fault they are just bored and have an opportunity to play up. This is a salient lesson for school leaders to ensure that the cover work set is of a suitably high standard to minimise disruption and ensure that medium and long term plans are kept on track, long term supply can cause serious disruption to any planning.

5. so why supply?

As Castle Tutoring builds its momentum, supply is an excellent way to ensure October’s mortgage payment is made. However I am also quite enjoying myself, I have just received feedback that most supply teachers wither leave in tears or shout loudly, apparently these year 10s are enjoying my approach and are responding accordingly. A great start to the day ahead of my tuition clients a bit later on this afternoon.

7. will I Return to teaching?

Most supply teachers have had some time out from the classroom after having children, or perhaps have tried their hand at a new career and are now thinking of making a return to the classroom. For any school to take me seriously, I will need to show that I have up-to-date experience and are aware of current developments and initiatives in education, so time spent in classrooms to update and refresh my skills is crucial. Not only that, but I also want to make certain that returning to teaching is the right decision for me and supply teaching can provide me with this opportunity. On that last point I am really not quite sure.

Six Months Lost, Three Weeks Gained

We have lift off as GCSE and A-Level exams will go ahead but pushed back by 3 weeks.

Monday 7th June 2021 will be a date pencilled into the diary of many teenagers notebooks this year, it is the date when GCSE and A-Level exams will start, three weeks later than planned. However, the department said one English and one Maths GCSE exam will still take place before May half term “to help manage potential disruption”, along with some A-level exams in subjects with “typically low” student numbers. This despite the decision in Scotland to abolish the examinations altogether for 2021.

The Government also announced that “no further subject-level changes to exams and assessments will be made for GCSEs, AS and A-levels” beyond what was set out by Ofqual in August”. Whilst Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Students have experienced considerable disruption and it’s right we give them, and their teachers, the certainty that exams will go ahead and more time to prepare”.

“I will continue to work closely with stakeholders and I’m grateful for the commitment and willingness that’s been shown in delivering this additional time to ensure young people have the best opportunity to succeed.”

Gavin Wiliamson,

So what does this mean for thousands of teenagers across the country? Well it is certainly is a long time coming and quite frankly an inadequate response whilst students have been waiting patiently to find out there fate, however we finally have some idea that there will be an exam schedule and that students ought now be preparing to sit their exams next summer. There will however be some changes to the exams themselves and students and teachers need to be aware of these.

According to the Department for Education

Changes include:

changes to how content is assessed in GCSE geography, history and ancient history, to help teachers and students cover that content in appropriate depth, as we proposed in our consultation

changes to GCSE English literature, to introduce a choice of topics on which students are required to answer questions in their exams. The government, which is responsible for content, has decided to allow for this change in light of the responses to the consultation. As this subject is taken by the majority of students, and typically taught alongside English language, this will ease the pressure on many students and teachers

changes to the requirement for a specified number of days of fieldwork in a number of subjects. Teachers widely welcomed our proposed changes to the requirement to carry out GCSE geography fieldwork, while noting the importance of fieldwork to the subject. A number of respondents argued strongly for a similar adjustment to be made to AS and A level geography, because of the potential obstacles they foresee for students undertaking fieldwork during the next academic year. As such, we have decided to align the approach in A level geography to that of GCSE, although A level students will still have to undertake an individual investigation. We have also confirmed similar decisions for GCSE, AS and A level geology; AS and A level environmental science; and modified the arrangements for observation in GCSE astronomy

changes to how the assessment of students’ spoken language skills is reported in modern foreign language GCSEs – students’ speaking skills will be assessed through a teacher endorsement alongside the 9 to 1 grade. Common assessment criteria will be produced for teachers to use when assessing students’ spoken language skills, so that these can be assessed within teaching, giving centres some flexibility over how they approach the oral component of the assessment

a range of modifications to the non-exam assessment arrangements in a number of subjects to accommodate potential public health requirements, for example, GCSE food preparation and nutrition, GCSE, AS and A level music and GCSE physical education


All well and good but there are still some unchartered waters ahead, and a Plan B is still six weeks away according to many commentators. Even with the new three tiered levels, we are faced with the real prospect of another lockdown in large swathes if not the whole country, although I suspect shutting schools again will be the very last resort. Gavin Williamson had quite rightly decided that there should not be any further culling of exam content, but that does cause pressures in the system, especially if students are unable to go to school if either they are off themselves or their school is in lockdown.

Overall there is an opportunity here to start discussing whether a single one off exam is still the fairest way to judge a students ability and whether there is any scope in a complete review of the examination process. One for another blog perhaps.

Here at Castle Tutoring we are able to support students through the catch up of a wide range of subjects including History, Geography, Economics, Business Studies, English, Maths, PE and Biology and help prepare for those all important public examinations.

Homework – Is it worth the hassle?

“Our findings on the effects of homework challenge the traditional assumption that homework is inherently good,”

 Denise Pope, Senior Lecturer, Stanford Graduate School of Education

The study by Denise Pope found

 Greater stress: 56 percent of the students considered homework a primary source of stress, according to the survey data. Forty-three percent viewed tests as a primary stressor, while 33 percent put the pressure to get good grades in that category. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.

Reductions in health: In their open-ended answers, many students said their homework load led to sleep deprivation and other health problems. The researchers asked students whether they experienced health issues such as headaches, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, weight loss and stomach problems.

Less time for friends, family and extracurricular pursuits: Both the survey data and student responses indicate that spending too much time on homework meant that students were “not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills,” according to the researchers. Students were more likely to drop activities, not see friends or family, and not pursue hobbies they enjoy.

Stanford Graduate School of Education https://news.stanford.edu/2014/03/10/too-much-homework-031014/

So that’s it then homework is bad for your health and your happiness and should be banned? As a teacher I have spent hours marking the same work, correcting errors according to the fashionable marking policy of the time and then handing back to the student for their feedback to my feedback, ready for me to feedback on their feedback to my feedback… and so it continues, but does it have any value?

John Hattie, in his excellent book Visible Learning suggest a different approach. His research highlights that homework for secondary school children is much more effective than for primary school children. This could be that primary school children are less able to work independently and cannot filter irrelevant information as effectively, however as Helen Silvester from the npj science of learning community, in a recent Guardian interview argues that homework is only effective if a teacher:

Set work that’s relevant. This includes elaborating on information addressed in the class or opportunities for students to explore the key concept in areas of their own interest.

Make sure students can complete the homework. Pitch it to a student’s age and skills – anxiety will only limit their cognitive abilities in that topic. A high chance of success will increase the reward stimulation in the brain.

Get parents involved, without the homework being a point of conflict with students. Make it a sharing of information, rather than a battle.

Check the homework with the students afterwards. This offers a chance to review the key concepts and allow the working memory to become part of the long-term memory.


So is the setting of homework worth the hassle? The simple answer is yes, but only if it serves a purpose and is checked by both the teacher and the parent. A big report for the Department for Education, published in 2014, concluded that students in Year 9 who spent between two and three hours on homework on an average week night were almost 10 times more likely to achieve five good GCSEs (A*-C) than students who did no homework at all.

At Castle Tutoring we use a platform called ‘Loom’ which enables a flipped learning approach to homework, encouraging the student to learn the content before the session and allowing for a focus on skills in the lesson itself. Homework is an integral feature of school life and can be enriching, but there are definitely limitations and teachers should be aware of these.

Tutoring in a Pandemic

“Castle tutoring take the safety of our students very seriously and use the following advice and guidance to ensure we all stay safe”

Richard Endacott, Castle Tutoring

If someone had told me that our lives would be disrupted by Corona, I would have immediately thought that the additives in the popular sparkling drinks from the 1970s had finally caught up with us, I would never have dreamt that we would be in the worst global pandemic since the conclusion of World War One. Last week I did some supply work in a school and was taken aback by the necessary changes in the classroom. I salute all those Headteachers who have had to adapt the physical environments, timetables, curriculum and staffing despite some very weak direction from the Department for Education. For us tutors it has led to some very dramatic changes too, especially considering that the majority of our teaching is face to face whether that be 1:1 or group work, so how have we adapted?

Tutoring online

As the pandemic took hold last March and schools went into lockdown, most tutoring went online. There are huge benefits to online tutoring and it is becoming a hugely popular form of tutoring. Online platforms such as Zoom, MS Teams and Skype became second nature and new platforms such as Loom allows us to pre-record lessons ahead of the session, allowing for a flipped learning approach to tutoring. Not only is there zero risk of passing on or catching coronavirus via your computer, but actually it is a dynamic way of teaching which allows you to share files and adapt to online practices. Safe to say I have deployed IT skills I didn’t know existed. So far this year my clients mostly continue to prefer face to face, but with a second lockdown seemingly imminent this will change.

How to tutor face-to-face safely

Invariably you will either be tutoring in a complete strangers house or in a centre, either way it is important to ensure both you and your client are as safe as possible.

How will you get there?

Counterintuitive I know, but consider your transport options, cycling is ideal in terms of the environment, but if this is not possible you may wish to prefer to drive than use public transport. Remember if you chose public transport that masks are compulsory.

How do you get into the house?

Last week I arrived at a house for a session to be met with blind panic, do I use the bell? This is your first decision and do not underestimate how hazardous this is. This is probably the most frequently touched item with which you are likely to come into contact with. make sure the antibacterial hand wipe is available, if not you may wish to telephone the client to let them know you’ve arrived.

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

Meeting and greeting

People are getting pretty used to this normal now, but of course do not shake hands, lots of alternatives are good, maybe even teach your tutee sign language for hello. Get creative and think about the silliest greeting you can try with your student. There is a lot of public hysteria about coronavirus, so if you can put the student at ease early that’s fine, it helps to lighten the mood.

If you do have antibac with you put it on the table and apply before the session starts. Hopefully the client has set up a hygiene station, if not it might be worth suggesting to them. If there is not one in the house, then politely ask if you can use the bathroom to wash your hands.

Where are you going to sit?

At a tutoring session last week, we started outside, but it got too chilly so had to move inside. Wherever you sit, try to be as far away as you can without impinging on the quality of the lesson or making things unnecessarily difficult for you and your student. Not only does this reduce the chance of infection, it will also make both of you feel more at ease. If using photocopies or books try to get two copies and don’t be shy in asking the client to get additional copies if needs be.

When reviewing a personal statement draft, I ensured I did not lean over them. I asked them to pass you the work to mark and then pass it back when you’re done. The same is true in reverse — they shouldn’t lean over you — so if they need to see something you’re writing or drawing, consider whether you can write/draw it first, and pass it across. Another option is to ask the WiFi code from the client and pass work electronically if possible, bringing your own equipment, pens, paper, laptops etc is an essential feature of keeping people safe. Maybe provide a list of items you are likely to need and ensure the client has these too, such as calculators.

Be careful about over enthusiasm.

Teaching is a great theatre and it is often felt that the teacher is the star performer, but it is too east to get too carried away and start sweating or accidentally spitting over your audience, try to avoid this and maybe calm the enthusiasm just for now.

Use the pandemic as a learning tool

You may want to think about whether there are any ways you can turn a negative into a positive and improve the student’s understanding of the coronavirus situation in a way that is relevant to your subject and ‘does your bit’ for your fellow citizens. In history for example there are a number of examples from the Black Death, the Great Plague and Spanish flu where you can draw parallels, creating masks is a great learning tool. Schools are one place the virus could potentially spread quickly, so children do need to understand the risks and how to minimise them.

Make sure you are up to date with Government advice.

Tricky as the advice keeps changing and varies from region to region, however, as a basic you should aim to be a model of hygiene from the moment you step into a client’s home to the moment you leave it. Not only is this the safe thing to do as it minimises the chance of infecting or being infected, but it also sets a great example to your student.

Coronavirus is a fast-evolving situation, so you should keep abreast of any developments and consider how they may affect your tutoring practice. Ensure you are fully familiar with the latest coronavirus guidance from the NHS, which currently includes sneezing into your sleeve (never into your hands) and avoiding touching your face (eyes, nose or mouth).

If at any point you develop coronavirus symptoms, you must self-isolate and should alert all of your clients. The responsible thing to do (if you can’t move to online teaching for whatever reason) is to stop tutoring for as long as necessary, even if it comes at a financial cost.

Consider how you can protect yourself in a business sense.

Having a Covid-19 policy in place is not a bad place to start. Clients will respond well to this, especially where you teach in their home, which they will undoubtedly see as their one guaranteed germ-free space where they can and should be able to relax without worrying about coronavirus.

All you want to do is convey that you’ve thought about how to keep your client and student safe, and reduce any awkwardness that may arise from you behaving differently in lessons going forward, whether that’s avoiding doorbells and handshakes or asking more regularly to use their bathroom, or anything else.

You should also politely and respectfully detail anything you want the client and student to do to ensure your own safety and comfort. For example, maybe you would like them to confirm that your student is up-to-date with the latest hygiene advice and to inform you at the earliest opportunity if your student develops any coronavirus-like symptoms so that you can postpone your in-person lessons until the all-clear.

I hope all of this advice is useful to both tutors and clients and you will stay safe.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Imparter of Knowledge or cheerleader?

What makes a good teacher?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Making this move from the classroom to 1:1 and group tutoring in Windsor has led to some real introspection as to my own teaching practice and I was astonished to find that my key role was as a motivator and mentor than simply an imparter of knowledge. Having substantive subject knowledge as a History tutor is critical to success, but so is the softer skills of understanding human nature and the importance of emotional intelligence.

I always try to make learning goal-oriented, a set of defined goals with your students at the beginning of the school year or even of each lesson means the whole class will have a better understanding of its individual and collective accomplishments. I have no secrets, everything is out on the table early.  I always try to make learning more goal-oriented. For example, start a lesson with a statement such as “today you will learn the long term causes of the First World War,” and finish the class by saying, “Congratulations! Now you’re ready to show your parents you’re learning how the first world war started!” Cultivating this perspective helps students take confidence from their own progress, boosting motivation and confidence.

Confidence is a huge barrier to student progress, many believe their teacher does not believe in them and many more worryingly believe their parents do not believe in them, with no adult seemingly on their side, they start to lose confidence in themselves. Positive feedback and encouragement does wonders for outcomes, especially when those who do believe in themselves are better equipped to be successful. This is a huge advantage of 1:1 tuition as if you want a student to believe in theirselves, then actually tell them that you believe in them, that you will not give up on them, that you understand their struggles, and that you are there for them. It is so easy in a large classroom environment for teachers to forget to do this, to tell and show their students they actually believe in them. Simply reassuring and encouraging students has a huge impact on a child’s confidence and willingness to be successful.  

Instilling a growth mindset is part of my practice which I have been very keen to develop, since I first came across the term at a PiXL meeting in 2008. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, a fixed mindset conceives of student skills as rigid and inflexible. In contrast, a growth mindset views student learning as fluid and changing, and aims to develop children’s skills and talents through effort and persistence. The growth mindset, Dweck notes, helps students become more receptive to lessons and feedback. Earlier we spoke about instilling confidence, yet this cannot simply praising how intelligent they are or that they have made a huge effort, to develop students progress. Using encouragement such as “Don’t worry if you don’t understand something right away. Focus on your next steps. What should they be?” or “If you don’t understand these types of questions, try using a different perspective. You may be able to draw or write them out”. This allows for further development and fulfils that mentoring role aswell as purely the cheerleader.

Some of the students I have met whilst tutoring over the past few weeks have really responded to the variety of tasks I have given them, use of Playdoh and games such as Dobble have opened up opportunities for learning. It is trying different ways to overcome challenges in learning which allow a student to flourish more quickly. Experimenting with learning strategies through active learning helps bridge this gap with an approach that puts students at the centre of the learning process, allowing them to build a more meaningful understanding of the abstract skills and concepts you are teaching.

Teachers often talk of a pure love for the profession and there is simply nothing more satisfying than a successful lesson, over the years have experimented widely. Whilst sometimes it does not work, on the whole if the process has been planned effectively and the learning outcomes are clear then success will follow and there truly no better feeling.

Coping with ADHD Super Powers

“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, then it is going to go through its whole life thinking it is stupid”

Albert Einstein

Wednesday is my favourite day, I look forward each week to the time I can spend with a Year 6 pupil, who as his Mother says has a very special superpower, ADHD. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviours (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active. This can be quite intimidating to a new teacher or tutor who has set ideas about how children behave and react in different situations. However, every child is different with varying needs and ADHD children are no different, there are some very easy strategies which can be deployed to maximise your time with them and help them to enjoy learning again.

  • Predictable routines are very important, the child and I both know that the tutoring session is at 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon, after he has finished school and had the opportunity for some down time. I cannot afford to be late for this as anxiety and stress will start to manifest itself and will make the session far less productive.
  • The learning environment needs to be uncluttered, we have a perfect space in their kitchen with a work station with a computer and room for written activities, this allows me to transition between activities quickly and minimises the wait time.
  • Short sharp activities and structured transitions are essential, my 5-minute sand timer is an excellent support or a countdown clock also works, although there is no need to be quite limited by time, if an activity is going well, just keep going as there is no need to transition just for the sake of it. If this means you do not finish all of your activities, then so be it.
  • Children with ADHD can have motivational issues, they figure they can use their disability as an excuse for not doing work, the child and the parents know that I have zero tolerance for this, particularly as I know how talented they really are. Clear parameters in terms of expectations are critical, as with boys in general stick to the old mantra, be firm, fair and consistent.
  • Set up buddy pairs – I have been lucky in that my son has been available to support me, same age and with good organisation and study skills, this gives my student the opportunity to be mentored in good habits.
  • Build movement breaks into the routine, last week halfway through the session we played some cricket wth the scores jotted down in Roman numerals and the totals added up, this kept his concentration and enabled us to learn proactively.
  • Where outside learning is not possible it is important to set short, achievable targets and activities. Mind maps are a essential tool here allowing links between topics and also is an essential memory tool.
  • All students learn better when the activities are more hands on, using play dough is a good tip, particularly when creating rewards, allow the student to use the play dough to manipulate the shape into something creative.
  • Essentially variety is the spice of life, creating activities which both motivate and inspire, building on likes and dislikes. My student is sport mad and it helps I am their cricket and rugby coach so I try to relate as much of that as I can into the various activities. This allows an engagement beyond normal teaching.

There are huge challenges when tutoring a student with any kind of special educational need or disability (SEND), especially with ADHD in this case. With public examinations fast approaching understanding that individual and developing skills will reap huge benefits.

I am delighted that the parent of this student has supplied the following testimonial, proving that the hard work is most certainly paying off.

“Richard has just started tutoring our 10 yr old boy who is year 6 and has a super power – ADHD. We were very nervous as parents when the first session took place as anyone with a child with ADHD would know that they have a very short attention span. Once we could see how Richard was very engaging and personable with our child but kept tasks short, clear and concise, Richard was able to hold his attention the whole time during their sessions and they have loads of fun learning about various topics. 
Our child is always excited to see Richard as he can’t wait to see and learn what they will do for their session.  
Finding Richard has been a dream come true as a parent, as it has been very hard to find someone like Richard with a wealth of teaching experience but someone who tunes into kids and their super powers!”

How to be Uni-que

A beginners guide to applying for university

Why go to university?

In these strange times and with so many restrictions being placed at university, many teenagers are asking this exact question, but there are certainly many benefits to a university education. For example, average graduate is estimated to be about 38% better off by his/her early 30s. Over a whole career to earn between £100k – £300k more, by 2023 it is estimated that 56% more jobs will require people to hold graduate level qualifications. It is also claimed that on average graduates live longer & are healthier, happier, less prone to depression, more likely to exercise & more likely to make a significant & satisfying contribution to the community around them. But the competition is fierce, particularly in a post lockdown world where many university courses this year were oversubscribed thanks to the grades debacle, meaning potentially fewer available places next year. Even so, generally the best courses are fiercely competitive, for example a History course at Durham University attracted 1200 applicants for 90 places.

The art of selling yourself.

University applications are a huge minefield and they require a completely different approach to anything you have experienced before because for the first time in your life you are having not sell yourself, all within the confines of 4,000 characters.

A personal statement will be impossible to write until you know what you want to study, because it needs to focus around your chosen courses. Remember that different institutions will focus on different modules, English for example could be a variety of non-shakespearean, old English, American English or creative writing, so be cautious of what it is you are applying for. However, while doing your research and making your decisions, be mindful of your statement right from the start. If you know the course you wish to study then the personal statement is simpler, if you are unsure specifically on the course you wish to study that is not a problem but will require a slightly different writing style. Read everything you can about the course itself, including details of the modules and what sort of thing you’ll be learning – it’ll help you to work out if it’s the right type of course for you and get you thinking about how your interests or experiences fit in with that path.

Once you have decided all of this it is time for the dreaded personal statement, I would recommend even students in year 10 start thinking about how robust they can make it. What opportunities can I take advantage of either in school sports teams, music, drama or wider school community projects? Outside school what can I do to help maybe volunteering at a local food bank or a friends business? Reading around subjects is critical, it is always worth knowing who the influential authors in your area of study are and start reading some of their works, essentially building up a portfolio that shows admission tutors that you have a real passion for their subject. As a general rule, Admissions tutors are looking for a checklist of the following skills, which you need to be able to demonstrate through your personal statement.

  • Ability to work independently
  • Ability to write an extended essay
  • Ability to think critically
  • Ability to solve problems
  • Ability to manage time effectively
  • Ability to contribute to team thinking
  • numeracy

They will also want to know the following about you;

  • Why you want to study the subject(s) you’re applying for? Remember – expand on your reasons and evidence this e.g. has a particular area/topic caught your attention? Have you undertaken work experience/placements/EPQs/tasters to broaden your knowledge and understanding? 
  • Why should universities choose you? What have you got to offer? Demonstrate your motivation and enthusiasm. Showcase your skillset. 
  • What else do you do? Part-time work/ Volunteering? Hobbies/interests? Responsibilities? Other achievements?
  • Tip: When reviewing your statement, ask yourself – why am I putting this information in my personal statement and what is it telling the person reading it?
  • Your personal circumstances
    Your experience of estrangement may have had a massive impact on your studies. Pragmatically, there may be skills/experiences that you could draw on when talking about yourself, how have these experiences affected your choice of course?

Castle Tutoring are able to provide a personalised university application service, having enjoyed success in placing students in Oxbridge, Russell Group and other universities, in addition to mentoring and guiding students through Higher Aprenticeships. UCAS deal with 17,000 applications in an average week, in 2020 dealt with 27,000 applications on Jan. 15th alone, with 55,000 candidates only logged on to UCAS for the first time in the period Jan 13- 15th, being prepared early is critical to success and we are available to help.

Key Dates:

  • 15 October 2020 for 2021 entry at 18:00 (UK time) – any course at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, or for most courses in medicine, veterinary medicine/science, and dentistry. You can add choices with a different deadline later, but don’t forget you can only have five choices in total.  
  • 15 January 2021 for 2021 entry at 18:00 (UK time) – for the majority of courses.

Black History Month

A Celebration of Black History

“and what of history are they going to be taught factual history or progressive woke history, as to be politically correct to protect the snowflakes and and all the other bleeding heart loves of our society as not to offend them”. So roared a comment on my Facebook page as one red faced, angry, middle aged white male took to his keyboard to blame me for the current social movements which challenge traditional thinking, such as Black Lives Matter.

And yet, he has a fair point, historical interpretation is all about how we all describe, analyse, evaluate and try to create an explanation of past events. Students of history have the opportunity to look through the evidence, which may include written sources, verbal accounts, points of view and visual primary or secondary sources and then reach an evaluation based on the facts and their own interpretation of these facts. However, it is how these facts are presented that can cause misinterpretation.

October is ‘Black History Month’ a highlight in the History teacher’s diary as it presents an chance to teach a counter narrative to traditional thinking, is this a woke approach? no of course not, it is a chance for all members of society to re-evaluate the facts and perhaps come to different conclusions. It is also a chance to celebrate those people who made a series impact on the lives of others, Mary Seacole, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King to name just a few.

Mary Seacole 1805-1881 We have all heard of Florence Nightingale, yet few have heard of Mary Seacole. Mary Seacole rose to prominence during the Crimean War when she funded her own journey to Turkey after British authorities refused her offers of help. There she opened a hospital, and became a popular figure in Britain, receiving various awards for bravery. The Mary Seacole Trust has been created to highlight Mary’s work.

Rosa Parks 1913-2005 Her story is interesting as it was completely accidental.Parks’s refusal to give up her seat on an Alabama bus in 1955 became a symbolic moment in the American civil rights movement. The fallout launched Martin Luther King Jr to fame. The incident sparked a mass boycott of the transport system by the black community.

Trevor McDonald – Journalist, born 1939 
A familiar face on our TV screens, The first black news anchor in the UK, Trinidad-born McDonald is one of the most popular figures on TV. Starting his career on the BBC World Service, in 1999 he was given the Bafta Richard Dimbleby Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television.

Maya Angelou – Author, poet, playwright, born 1928 
Missouri has always been a hotbed of talent, she was a great voice of black literature. Angelou’s memoirs expose the difficulties of growing up as a black woman in St Louis. Her achievements are many and varied, and she was the first African-American woman admitted to the Directors Guild of America.

Kofi Annan – Diplomat, born 1938 
Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations. His role in working for global peace was recognised when he and the UN were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. He helped to reform the UN and strengthen its peacekeeping abilities.

Lewis Howard Latimer – Inventor, 1848-1928 
History does not record the work of black inventors and yet there are scores of examples, the most famous perhaps is this son of escaped slaves, Latimer is considered one of the greatest black inventors, notably due to his improvement of carbon filaments in light bulbs. He worked with Thomas Edison and Alexander Bell and secured many different patents.

Jesse Owens – Athlete, 1913-80 
If there was an individual who was born to re-write a narrative then Owens is the perfect example. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Owens defied Nazi propaganda and won four gold medals on the track. When he died, the US President Jimmy Carter said: “Perhaps no athlete better symbolised the human struggle against tyranny, poverty and racial bigotry.”

Martin Luther King – Civil rights activist, 1929-68 
The figurehead of the American Civil Rights Movement, King became a national hero after leading the successful Montgomery bus boycott. In 1964 he received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his work. He was assassinated on 4 April 1968

Nelson Mandela – Political activist, born 1918 
A key anti-apartheid figure in South Africa, Mandela spent 27 years in prison for the cause. After his release, he became the country’s first fully democratically elected president and leader of the African National Congress. In 1993 he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Pelé – Footballer, born 1940 
Growing up he was one of my heroes, christened Edson Arantes do Nascimento Pelé, he is regarded as the world’s greatest footballer. Playing for his native Brazil, Pelé won the World Cup three times. In 1999 the BBC named him the second greatest sportsperson of the millennium.

Haile Selassie – World leader, 1892-1975 
Researching the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 I was astonished by the leadership of Haile Selassie, not to be confused with the marathon runner. Accepted by Rastafarians as a symbol of God incarnate, the former emperor of Ethiopia became a worldwide anti-Fascist figure after appealing to the United Nations for help against Mussolini’s invading armies. An ally of the west and opponent of colonisation.

Oprah Winfrey – Media tycoon, born 1954 
A living American institution, she is seen by some as the most influential woman in the world. At the centre of her various projects is her TV chat show which is syndicated around the world. In 2006 Winfrey became the world’s first black woman billionaire.

The effects of the slave trade are always going to cause huge arguments on both sides, along with the apartheid movement in South Africa and the civil rights movement in the USA. What cannot be denied though is that these events occurred and it is how we learn from history to correct perceived injustice and build a more tolerant and inclusive society. it should not be black history month, but a year round celebration of how people have contributed to society regardless of their background. History is continually evolving and new interpretations are continually developed, this is why it is the greatest subject on the curriculum.