GCSE Results Day 2019

On Thursday 22nd August 2019, students across the country receive their GCSE results.


The results can be collected from the institution of study on Thursday morning. Alternatively, results can be requested by post, or collected by a relative. 


GCSE Grading System 


In 2017 there was a change in the GCSE grading system. The previous A*- G grades are now replaced with a numerical grade equivalent. The grades score from 1-9, where 1 is the lowest and 9 highest. 


This is the second year the new grading system is being implemented. In 2017, maths and English were the only subjects to use this grading system in order to slowly introduce it. In 2018, 20 more subjects used the new system, with the remainder following this year. This numerical system can loosely be compared to the A-G grades. 


  • Grade 7 equals to grade A and above

  • Grade 4 equals to grade C and above

  • Grade 1 equals to grade G and above


A grade 5 is a high C pass, where a grade 4 is a low C pass.


The numerical grades were introduced by Michael Gove, former education secretary, to differentiate amongst the brightest pupils. On average, fewer grade 9s will be awarded than A* grades. In 2019, just 732 amongst more than half a million students taking their GCSEs achieved a grade 9. 


In previous years, grade boundaries were posted online ahead of results day by the exam boards. In the last two years however, grade boundaries are now posted on the day, in order to prevent unnecessary stress. 


According to the Department of Education, ‘The new, more challenging GCSEs will help young people develop the skills that employers tell us they need.’


Receiving GCSE Results

GCSE results determine whether the student is accepted at their 6thform or college of choice, to study their chosen A-Level subjects. If a student isn’t accepted into their first choice, should they not receive their predicted grades, back up options are chosen in advance.  


It is advisable to contact the 6thform or college to explore other options; sometimes they accept lower grades. Alternatively, another course can be chosen, or a different institute of study.


Students can appeal their grades if they feel they have been marked unfairly. This can be done through the school, or independently through the exam board. 


There are other alternatives to A-Levels however, if the results received weren’t as expected. BTEC qualifications are coursework-based modules that can be taken instead of A-Levels. Apprenticeships are another option to consider, in place of continuing further education.

A-Level Exam Results Summary

August is an important month for students awaiting their GCSE and A-Level results. Last week, students across the country received their A-Level grades. The grades received on the 15thAugust determine whether students have gained a place at their university of choice. 

“Only 25.5% of students received an A grade or higher.”

On A-Level results day 2019, the 30,000 students who achieved the highest A-Level grades fell to its lowest point in 12 years. A-Level maths candidates needed to score just over 50% in order to pass, due to the difficulty of the exam. 


The pass rate fell from last year, at 97.5%. This year, only 25.5% of students received an A grade or higher. This is down by 26.4% from last year, making it the lowest level since 2007 with 25.3%.


According to the Joint Council for Qualifications, the number of girls taking three sciences has risen to 50.3%, overtaking boys. Despite this, 30,159 boys took Physics, compared with 8,799 girls. 


Spanish has become the most popular language to study, overtaking French for the first time. 8,625 students studied Spanish at A-Level, compared with 8,355 taking French.


The number of students studying Politics has also risen to 19,729, up by 1,765. Students this year would have chosen their A-Levels in 2017, the year of President Trump’s election, as well as the UK’s Brexit referendum. 


On the other hand, the English A-Level entries have fallen by 7.8%. English Literature is down from 44,200 to 40,824, and Language from 18,049 to 14,144. 


The University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) stated that there has been a slight decline in the number of students accepted into their top university choices. This total has dropped by 1%, with 408,960 students securing a place. Consequently, the number of applicants going through clearing rose to 126,170 on Thursday morning. In 2018, over 60,000 students went through clearing, with UCAS predicting a rise to 70,000 this year.


A recent change in the A-Level syllabus saw final exams overtaking coursework. This was with the aim of differentiating between the highest achieving students. 



A Level Results Day 2019

This year, A Level Results Day falls on the 15th August 2019. 

Hopeful students across the country awake to see if they’ve achieved their predicted A Level grades. This day determines whether students wanting to go into higher education have secured a place at their university of choice.


Accessing results

On the 15th August 2019, results will be published online from 6am. The 6th form or college should provide their students with how to access A Level results. Alternatively, students can go into their 6th form or college to collect a hardcopy of their results. 

Students can access UCAS Track from 8am to see whether they have been accepted on their chosen course at their firm university choice.

It is important to remember that the website may be slow when checking A Level results and UCAS, as thousands of students will be logging on at the same time.  


Grade boundaries

Exam grade boundaries are published from 6am, alongside results. Exam boards publish these separately, so students will need to check the individual exam board websites: 







Grades aren’t as expected?

If students haven’t received the grades they’ve hoped for, there is no need to panic. There are many alternatives; sometimes the firm choice university will still accept lower results than requested. Or they may accept students onto a different course than the one they applied for. Otherwise, the student’s insurance university choice might offer them a place. 

Adjustment and clearing are other options, which are done via UCAS Track.  



If students have exceeded their offer, they can go through adjustments to apply for other universities, whilst holding their firm offer. This is available from 9am on the 16th August until the 31st August. On results day, 15th August, students can register for this on Track. Student have five days to secure an alternative university. Read more here: https://www.ucas.com/ucas/undergraduate/apply-and-track/results/ucas-adjustment-if-youve-done-better-expected



Clearing is for when a student doesn’t receive the results they were expecting. It provides the option of choosing a different course or university. Students can apply for clearing when they haven’t received any offers, or when they have declined the offers they have received. This can be done through the clearing option using UCAS Track. Find out more here: https://www.ucas.com/clearing-launch


Other options?

There are many other options that include: retaking exams and applying next year, doing an apprenticeship, requesting a remark, or going into full-time work.


Thinking about the future

Well done to everyone whose results went well! Embarking on a new adventure at university is a rewarding experience. If students didn’t achieve they grades they were hoping for, then don’t worry. Explore every possibility, stay calm, and remember there are always other options. 


Making the most of the Summer Holidays

The summer holidays are a well-deserved break, for both teachers and students. 

An intense year of studying and tests should be rewarded by winding down and taking time out.  

Although relaxing is necessary, being productive during this time is important and will prevent boredom and summer learning loss.  

Why not take the six-week break to find something that inspires you? There are so many activities, organisations and hobbies to get involved in this summer.


Here are some ideas on how to spend your summer:


1.    Apply for National Citizen Service

The National Citizen Service is for people aged 15-17. It is a 4-week program in 4 phases: adventure, discovery, social action and celebration. This action-packed program develops talent and provides a range of new skills that look great on a CV. 

Find out more here: https://www.ncsyes.co.uk


2.    Get Involved in Work Experience

Work experience is something that all employers look for, so why not start building upon your skill set now? Whether it’s discovering what you’re passionate about, or becoming one step closer to landing your dream job, there’s something out there for everyone. 

Go to https://successatschool.org for career ideas.


3.    Summer Schools and Courses

Schools often run summer camps and activities throughout the summer for young people, with a diverse range of activities, from sports to music. Enquire at your local schools or visit your local council’s website and see what they have on offer this summer. 


4.    Take time to Read

Reading is an essential skill, used daily throughout your lifetime. Find a genre that interests you and relax with a good book. Revise a subject that motivates you, be it psychology or physics. This is a beneficial way to prepare for the upcoming academic year, especially if you’re going into GCSE or A-Levels. 

Check out BBC Bitesize for free educational materials: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize


5.    Learn a new Skill

Take the summer break to try something that you’ve always wanted to learn. It’s never too late to discover a new talent.


Why not…


Play a musical instrument: There are endless materials online, like YouTube tutorials or how-to guides, so if playing the guitar or piano inspires you, take the holidays to learn. It is also proven to relieve stress. 


Learn a language: If you ever plan on travelling, speaking a different country’s language is beneficial for getting by. It is also a skill that future employers may look for when choosing the perfect candidate. It can enhance job prospects, especially if you’ve ever dreamed of working abroad. There are many apps and websites for learning a language that are free, like Duolingo, https://www.learnalanguage.com and even YouTube.

Take up cooking: Help your family to make the dinner, or even cook for them by yourself. Follow recipes from cookbooks, magazines, or websites like https://www.bbcgoodfood.com

This will come in handy if you are thinking about going to university; it’ll save money on buying ready meals and teach you to improvise using leftover ingredients.


6.    Volunteer

Do something rewarding this summer and volunteer. You can work in a charity shop, help out at an animal shelter, go litter-picking, and so on. You can even volunteer through charities to work at festivals and events. This is a highly valued addition to a CV, demonstrating dedication and commitment to a good cause. 


7.    Explore your Talents 

If you enjoy writing, create a blog. There are many free websites like WordPress or Tumblr that allow you to personalise and design the layout. If you’re interested in technology, learn how to code and build a website. Get a pen and paper and let your mind run free with creative writing. Write about events that have happened to you or make something up. Keep a summer journal to record your memories throughout the holidays. 


8.    Relax

As important as it is to keep active and learning, you don’t want to burnout. Take time for yourself every day and find something that relaxes you. Try going for a walk, listening to music or taking up meditation. Alone time for relaxation is key to improve wellbeing and mindfulness. After a busy day or challenging task, give your mind a rest and wind down. 

There are various apps and videos for mindfulness, like ‘Calm’ and https://www.mindful.org.


Take this summer to develop yourself as a person and learn something new. Keep busy and get involved in an activity or teach yourself a new skill – the possibilities are endless. 

Make sure you are fully prepared for the academic year ahead during this break; read up on your favourite subjects and familiarise yourself with new material. Everything that you participate in this summer break will reward you later and increase your abilities. 

Can grit be taught?

Nicky Morgan, the ex-education secretary, has said in her book “Taught not Caught. Educating for 21st Century Character” that there should be an emphasis on character skills such as resilience, persistence, grit and leadership as well as academic study. She continues with this theme and asks the question, ‘Does Grit Improve Grades’?


Children differ widely in how well they do in exams and there is continuing investigation trying to understand which factors can predict or explain the differences.  Research has shown that grit is associated with academic achievement and life outcomes, even when intelligence and other personality factors are taken into account.

According to Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who first popularised the grit concept in 2007, “grit is passion and perseverance, sticking with your future, day in and day out”. She believes that if we can teach children to be “grittier” in schools, we can help them achieve greater success.  Her 2013 TED talk on the topic has been viewed over 8 million times online, and her 2016 book ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’ was an instant best seller.

Dr Duckworth formed a model, the Grit Scale, to be used in schools which focuses on 8 character strengths: curiosity, zest, gratitude, grit, growth mindset, self-control with learning, understanding others and self-control with others.  Studies in the US have shown that promoting the development of good character skills in schools seems to lead directly to positive outcomes in both behaviour and academic achievement. In the UK there are head teachers in both the independent and state sectors that have long argued that schools can excel both in academic rigour and at teaching character.

Duckworth’s concept has made its way into US national education policy with states required to include at least one non-academic factor in their school evaluations, examples given are grit and gratitude. It is reported that schools all over America are exploring how they can incorporate grit into their curriculum, and in California they are already grading schools and students on grit.

However, some psychologists and policy analysts question the methodology behind Dr Duckworth’s research, which has chiefly relied on students answering questionnaires on how gritty they think they’ve been.  It is also noted that much of the research to date has used restricted samples, for example undergraduate students and children who were finalists in a spelling competition.

Little is known about the association between grit and academic achievement in the general population, why people have different levels of grit or if genes / DNA have a part to play. Some critics also argue that grit places too much weight on individual student behaviour, and as a result attention is directed away from other factors that prevent academic success. Indeed, some researchers think that emphasising grit can even produce negative outcomes, such as killing creativity.

A UK study of 16 year old identical and non-identical twins, which looked at the origins of grit and its association with GCSE exam results, found that grit had little impact on exam grades. The results showed that whether or not a person has more or less grit is greatly influenced by their DNA. This finding helps to explain some of the differences between people’s level of grit. Their conclusion was that while increasing grit or perseverance could have long-term benefits for children, it is unlikely to improve their academic achievement.

Ultimately, it would appear that we just don’t know that much about grit yet. Grit research is still in its infancy, and more is needed. Even Angela Duckworth has admitted she doesn’t know if we can actually teach it in schools. Nicky Morgan writes that many head teachers she met believed that schools can develop character and character traits to the benefit of students, and that character can be taught directly in the classroom and conveyed more indirectly through a positive school ethos.

Is this the one thing every teacher should know?


British educationalist Dylan Wiliam, says that Cognitive Load Theory “ . . . is the single most important thing for teachers to know”. Is it?

What is Cognitive Load Theory?

Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) was developed by John Sweller, an educational psychologist, and refers to the total amount of information that the short term, or working memory, can hold at any one time. The basic premise is that since the working memory has a limited capacity, teaching methods should avoid overloading it in order to maximise learning.

Most people have been on a course where the trainer has gone through the content so quickly that you barely learnt a thing, or have attended a session where the material was so complex that you left more confused than when you arrived. CLT offers explanations of why this happens, and what teachers can do in the classroom to avoid it and so maximise the learning of individuals.

What is Memory?

In our brains we have two types of memory. One is working memory, which we use to process new information. The capacity of working memory is quite limited so it can only handle so much before it is overloaded. Processing new information results in ‘cognitive load’ on the working memory, which can affect learning outcomes.

The second is our long-term memory, which is where we store information from our working memory and from where we can later retrieve that information.

In order to understand CLT, it is necessary to understand how the working memory and long-term memory process and store information.

Working Memory

Information in the working memory is stored for a very short length of time before being either processed or discarded. Research shows that an average person can only hold between five and nine items, or chunks, at any one time. When the brain processes information it categorises that information and moves it into the long-term memory, where there is endless capacity for storage. The long-term memory stores information semi-permanently, and works with the working memory to retrieve information.

Long Term Memory

CLT assumes that knowledge is stored in the long-term memory in the form of ‘schemas’. A schema organises and stores elements of information according to how they will be used. There is no limit to how complex schemas can become. It is a bit like a filing cabinet, so you will have a schema for different concepts such as dog, cat, mammal and animal.

You also have schemas for actions like hitting a ball, riding a bike, driving a car etc. The more you practice at using these schemas the more effortless these behaviours become.

An analogy used by those writing about CLT and the transferring of information from working to long-term memory is learning to read. At first we practice a lot to read individual letters as the working memory is small and information is not retained for very long. The simple schemas for letters are used to construct higher order schemas when the letters are combined into words, which, in turn are combined into higher order schemas for phrases and sentences.

Eventually, with ever more complex schemas, reading becomes an automatic or unconscious process requiring minimal conscious effort as the knowledge of how to read becomes part of the long-term memory.  Schemas therefore reduce the working memory load.

Types of cognitive load

Cognitive Load Theory proposes that there are 3 types of cognitive load:

  • Intrinsic Load – is the mental effort involved in understanding the content of a lesson, or a specific topic, and achieving its goals. It can be described as a ‘necessary’ cognitive load, e. g. learning to read.
  • Germane Load – is the mental work put into creating a permanent store of knowledge, or schema, in the long-term memory, from the actual activities directed by the teacher.
  • Extraneous Load – This is mental work imposed by irrelevant elements that require extra mental processing e.g. decorative pictures, animations etc. that add nothing to the learning experience. 

How to reduce overload

  • New material – Find out what your students already know before sharing new information with them, and then continually build upon their knowledge. Using metaphors and similes are good tools to help make links to information already in the long-term memory.
  • Integrate visual information – Diagrams, such as a-maps, are a more effective learning tool than text. Incorporate labels into very clear diagrams rather than having them in a box at one side.
  • Replace some visual information with auditory information – the mind processes visual and auditory information separately. Direct the student’s attention to parts of a diagram while talking about it and the burden on the working memory will be far less.
  • Use worked examples – CLT follows the theory that learners do best when they are provided with step by step guidance clearly showing them what to do and how to do it, with teachers providing direction and support.
  • Less is better - According to CLT we are less likely to overload the working memory when irrelevant information is cut out. So, remove decorative graphics and animations.
  • Use more signals – Focus students’ attention and reduce effort by using concise writing, making every word count. Use bold text, bullet points and headings.
  • Break content down – Break complex content down into smaller chunks and allow the student to control the speed of learning.
  • Remove extraneous noise – cut out background music and reduce external noise.

Cognitive Load Theory is a developing field and an area of research with implications for teaching practice. It has some useful things to say about learning in general. By using the above methods teachers can test Dylan Wiliam’s statement!

8 Back to School Tips Every Parent Needs to Know

With just one week left of the summer holiday, the new academic year is soon upon us. It is my second favourite time of year (nothing beats Christmas!) as it heralds the dawn of so many beginnings, especially for children and their parents.

Amongst the excitement of new stationery and freshly polished shoes there is an air of trepidation. Starting a new school year can be incredibly daunting not just for students but parents too. 

To help, we have put together our Top 8 Back to School Tips Every Parent Needs to Know

You can download our guide for parents completely free by clicking here. 

Top Back to School Tips that Every Parent Needs To Know.jpg

If you liked our guide for parents you may also be interested in our parent and child workshops that empower parents to support their child at home through effective learning strategies. 

*NEWS* We are proud partners with PiXL

We are delighted to announce we are partners with PiXL

PiXL have an outstanding reputation for supporting school improvement. Their unwavering dedication to promoting excellence for all students, belief in people, and family ethos is in line with our strong values that continue to drive us forward year after year. 

As a teacher-led and family - run business we believe: 

  • All children can achieve no matter their social economic background.
  • In a personal and holistic approach to raising achievement and aspirations. 
  • In the power of creativity and imagination to inspire a love of learning. 
  • In family; trust, respect, honesty and unconditional support. 

We are thrilled to be partners with PiXL! All PiXL schools will receive a 20% discount off our workshops. PiXL Schools who would like to work with us to embed a whole - school approach to metacognition, self - regulation and well - being as a Learning Performance Partner School also receive exclusive benefits! 

Our Managing Director, Carrie Starbuck, will be at the PiXL Main Meeting on Thursday 11th May so come and say hello! 

Our values

Six Strategies to Create a Growth Mindset School

Psychologist, Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset theory describes the belief that intelligence can be developed through perseverance and effort. In contrast, a fixed mindset focuses on the belief that intelligence or ability is set and cannot be changed. 

Dweck claims whichever mindset children have has huge implications on how they approach learning, how they perceive, overcome or avoid challenges and ultimately, how they achieve in education. 

The theory is incredibly popular but can be difficult to make tangible so here are six strategies to creating a Growth Mindset School. 

1. Use the Language of Success. 

Words have power. One word can build a child up or tear them down. Small tweaks to how we communicate with children can make all the difference. 

Carol Dweck swears by the power of ‘YET.” When a child hasn’t quite got it right rather than be defeated or fail, add the word ‘yet.’ 

I can't do maths...YET

I can't spell... YET

I can't read this word...YET

One small word, three little letters, and a world full of power. ‘Yet’ implies a forward motion, space for growth, and an unwavering expectation that you believe they can do it. 

2. Effective Feedback and Praise. 

According to Dweck praise for effort rather than achievement is one of the most effective methods of promoting a growth mindset in children. 

This doesn’t mean lots of empty praise, as this can be harmful to pupils’ learning.

To help we can break it down into three different types of praise: 

  1. Strategy or process based praise. For example, praise for how they have set about solving a problem or task. 
  2. Effort – based praise. For example, “that is a great score you must have tried really hard” as opposed to “That’s a great score. You must be good at this.” 
  3. Target – based praise. For example, now you could have a go at… 

We can can go one step further by phrasing praise as feedback so we can keep up the momentum. For example;

  • What can you tackle next? (Effort based)
  • How can this strategy help you? (Process based)
  • How can you build on this? (Target based) 

Good feedback is: 

  • Specific 
  • Hard on the content 
  • Supportive of the person 

For feedback to be truly effective there has to be a continual 360 loop. 

Feedback loop

Most importantly, praise and feedback should always support the messages we value. 

3. Define what effort means for your school

There has been little exploration into teachers’ and students’ perceptions of effort, which is an interesting omission given current interest in focusing on effort rather than inability as a cause of poor performance. 

Effort has been described variously, from the rather vague notion of ‘working hard,’ to the more specific focus of quantity of study hours, whereas Dweck classes effort as persisting in the face of an intellectual challenge. 

Interestingly, a study into children’s perceptions of ability, effort and conduct found they often confused the three. Children primarily used outcomes such as grades for assessing ability. Good conduct was defined by being quiet, obeying and not fighting, while effort was defined primarily by behaviours such as completing a task quickly and ‘always working.’ Interestingly, effort was also judged as ‘staying out of trouble’ or ability-related cues such as grades or task performance, rather than cognitive aspects of mental exertion.

With this in mind, what does effort look like to you and your students? Create clear expectations, display them proudly and live by them. 

4. Expectations and Challenge 

All the way back in 1968, two researchers conducted a fascinating study. A teacher was told the children in her classroom were classified as ‘high potential’ after completing a test. She taught as if all the students were high achievers and results rocketed but there was no test, no classification and no ‘high potential,’ just regular children thriving under their teacher’s high expectations of them. 

Teaching to the top while providing support or scaffolds for students at their different stages is vital. There are lots of little things we can do to help create a culture of high expectations and challenge in the classroom. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Personal Challenge Diaries
  • Growth Journal 
  • Challenge unhelpful thoughts (back to language of success) 
  • Set agreed goals and review periods
  • Feedback Fridays
  • Reflect - what skills are required?
  • Mindset Monday 
  • Progress Charts
  • Weekly challenges! 

5. Learn to Learn Strategies 

In study Dweck had two groups of pupils, one only received lessons about Growth Mindset while the other group had a programme on both Mindset and study skills. The group who received the Mindset and study skills programme progressed further because they were explicitly taught how the brain learns and equipped with strategies to support their learning. 

The Sutton Trust Toolkit also highlights metacognition and self - regulation as a low cost, high impact way to improve pupil progress. 

For example, this includes techniques surrounding: 

  • Time Management 
  • Memory Techniques
  • Reading Strategies
  • Mind Maps
  • Note - Taking
  • Retrieval, Interleaved and Spaced Practice
  • Exam Techniques 

To name a few! 

6. Patience, Perseverance and Consistency 

Changing years worth of culture and belief is not going to happen overnight, or after one assembly. It will take time, things will ebb and flow, it won’t be easy. Have patience, preserve and remain consistent. Steady the ship when the storm blows and remember what is important to you – every child no matter their social – economic background achieving. 

When you think, “this isn’t working,” remember YET! 

Want to develop a Growth Mindset school? Join us! 






How to Spend Pupil Premium Funding Effectively

The Sutton Trust's annual survey recently revealed that a third of senior leaders used pupil premium funding to plug gaps in their school’s budget. 

With schools under increasing financial pressure this is not surprising. However, Pupil Premium funding with thought and planning can make a huge difference to the lives of disadvantaged children. 

In this current climate, every single penny counts and is held to account. Schools are rightly looking to use their funding effectively on low cost, high impact strategies to improve the life chances of the young people who come through their door. 

We have gathered together evidence from the EEF, Government reports and expert advice, to help navigate your way through spending Pupil Premium funding effectively for your school. 

1. Think Big. Think Long-Term. Think Strategy.

The former National Pupil Premium Champion, John Dunford, suggests before spending any funding to set the ambition you want your school to achieve with Pupil Premium. He says;

“some of the schools aiming high express this ambition in terms of becoming one of the 17 per cent of schools in which those on free school meals do better than the average for all pupils nationally.”
— John Dunford

Once the ambition for the school has been set, the team can work backwards on how they can achieve the goal.  This starts with looking at the potential barriers to learning, which is likely to be different for each school but typically includes: 

  • Poor parental support
  • Poor literacy levels
  • Low attendance
  • Low aspirations
  • Low expectations

By exploring this it will help identify your schools priorities and desired outcomes of your Pupil Premium spending. 

2. Set your desired outcomes. 

When  I ask schools this question I often hear, “close the gap.” Yes, lovely. It’s when we drill into the specific aims of how a school will achieve this using Pupil Premium funding that the water tends to get muddy.  Looking at the school’s ambition and barriers to learning will help shape specific goals and focus where funding should be spent: These might include: 

  • Improving attendance
  • Reducing exclusions
  • Increasing parental engagement
  • Increasing opportunities and broadening pupil experiences. 

3. What does success look like to you?

Having the ambition and smaller targets feeding into the bigger picture is the fundamental foundation for ensuring funding is used effectively. The crucial next step is setting success criteria for each aim. These tend to be data driven, but there are some things such as, parental involvement and children’s experience that is difficult to quantify so set out what success looks like to you. 

4. The Big Question: How are the most successful schools spending their Pupil Premium Funding?

Ofsted's 2013 Pupil Premium Report summed this up nicely. Here is a snapshot of how schools are using funding to maximise achievement:

Quality Teaching First. Always. 

Schools invested in staff development and had robust performance management systems. 

High Expectations.

Schools never confused eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low ability and focused on all pupils achieving at the highest levels. 

Effective Feedback.

Schools focused on giving pupils, clear, constructive feedback about their work and how to improve. 

Always Reflecting. Always Changing. 

Schools used achievement data to frequently check whether interventions were working and made adjustments when needed. 

Get Everyone Involved. 

Schools had a designated senior leader to oversee Pupil Premium and involved governors in the decision-making and evaluation process. 

Give Everyone Responsibility. 

Schools ensured all class and subject leaders knew which pupils were eligible for Pupil Premium so they could take responsibility for accelerating their progress. 

Thought Holistically

Schools provided well – targeted support to improve attendance, behaviour, links with families and other potential barriers to learning. 

Had a Clear Policy and Strategy

Schools had a clear policy and were able through careful monitoring and evaluation, to demonstrate the impact of their spending. This was evident on the school website. 

Ring-fenced Funding

Schools carefully ringfenced funding so they always spent it on target groups of pupils. 

Established an Evidence - Based Approach

Schools explored research evidence such as, the Sutton Trust Toolkit, and learnt from others’ excellent experience to allocate funding to activities that were most likely to have an impact on raising achievement. 

5. What is the best evidence on raising attainment and achievement?

The Sutton Trust Toolkit is a fantastic resource for research – informed strategies on improving pupil progress. Here are the top 5 strategies from the toolkit: 

Sutton Trust Tooklit

Dr Lee Elliott Major, Chair of the Evaluation Advisory Group at the EEF, developed a brilliant visual in the strategies’ value for money. 

Value for money when using pupil premium funding

In these cash - strapped times we have to be savvy with Pupil Premium funding as not using it effectively is only going to fail those who need it most. 

We are incredibly proud to work with 4 out of the top 10 best performing schools for pupils on free schools meals and half of all 2015 and 2016 Pupil Premium Award Winners. Discover how we support schools and how we aim to raise achievement and inspire a love of learning. 


Are effort grades harming our children?

Gill Robin's book, "Praise, Motivation and the Child," suggests there are two models of teaching. 

Behaviourism vs Constructivism

Robin's argues that Behaviourism creates extrinsic motivators, while constructivism leads to intrinsic motivators. 

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators

Whilst I don't believe it is quite as simple as that, nor do I believe the two are mutually exclusive, it does beg the question; what type of students would we rather develop - those who have an intrinsic drive to learn or those who do it for the reward or worse, to avoid a punishment?

With Carole Dweck's Growth Mindset taking schools by storm, many schools have adopted effort grades in attempt to recognise and reward her work. 

Yet studies such as, Cognitive Evaluation Theory, have shown that such an approach could diminish intrinsic motivation; especially if the children believes the only to work harder is for a reward. 

For example, a child receives a sticker for painting. The child believes the reason they are painting is to get a sticker. This interpretation could diminish the child's intrinsic motivation, as the only reason they are painting to receive the reward. 

There is of course, another possibility that the child believes the reason for receiving the sticker was because they are improving at painting. This would produce positive results such as, feelings of competence and pride. 

It is the interpretation from the student that is key. What do they believe?

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan's work on Cognitive Evaluation and Self - Determination Theory led to them identifying 4 learning behaviours. 

Self Determination Theory

Alfie Kohn in "Punished by Rewards," is completely against grading effort. He states, 

"Grades by their very nature make students less inclined to challenge themselves...The fatal paradox though, is that while coercion can sometimes elicit resentful obedience, it can never create desire."

Kohn's concern is that low grade for effort is more likely to read as, "You're a failure at even trying." On the other hand, high grade efforts combined with a low grade for achievement says, "You're just too stupid to succeed." 

Deci and Ryan's suggested solution was to focus on the three primary factors that encourage motivation: 

  1. Autonomy 
  2. Competence
  3. Relatedness

Kohn's three points to motivate students were similar:

  1. Pupil Autonomy
  2. Learning Mastery
  3. The acknowledgement of curiosity 

What do you think - are effort grades the best thing since sliced bread or are they detrimental to students' motivation? 

Join the conversation tweet me @CarrieStarbuck

How Parents Can Survive Exams

Parents can find exams just as stressful as their child. Often parents want to support their child but don't know how. Demand for our parent and child workshops has been overwhelming more so, than any other year. Here are our top tips for parents:

1. Be realistic

Encourage your child to follow a realistic review programme that incorporates 5-minute breaks (every 30 – 40 minutes) and factors in fun things they want to do, watch TV, see friends, go on Facebook. This helps maintain a work/life balance, something we all strive for.

2. Make learning part of the culture at home

Encourage the learning, revision and memorising process to be part of the home. Provide a noticeboard (or give them an entire wall!) for their notes, posters, timetables etc. It helps to have this visible so you know what is going on too.

3. Provide a calm working space

Ensure they have a suitable space for working in, away from distractions. If they share a bedroom or have to work in a family space give them “red time” where siblings (and you) can’t bother them so they have quality, quiet time to study. 

4. Show them you're interested

Show them that you are interested in their work and have fun with it. Revision doesn’t have to be hours of staring at notes hoping it sinks in. Encourage them to use Mind Maps (they are utterly brilliant), create colourful posters, and enjoy creating imaginative memory palaces together. 

5. Recognise their effort

Give praise for accomplishment and effort. If your child is working hard recognise it, everyone needs encouragement from time to time. 

6. Be a team

Teachers are partners. They want the best for your child just like you do. Find out what is expected and stay informed.

7. Be calm and positive

This is the most important one of all - don’t get discouraged! Sometimes the going gets tough; remember to act calm and positive. Don’t let yourself get drawn into arguments and negativity. If a child is angry about schoolwork it is often because they think they can’t do it. It is your job to show them they can.

To help you can download our "How to Make Stress the Key to Success" for free here. 

What makes successful schools successful?

The government commissioned the NFER to research good practice in raising attainment of disadvantaged students. They specifically looked at features of schools that successfully narrowed the gap and compared them to schools that weren't doing as well. 

It is a fascinating report but like it's title, it is long and not sexy. It is tough to find time read such reports so we have gathered the highlights to make life a little bit easier. 


What makes successful schools successful?

This is the question on everyone's lips. In a nutshell they place an emphasis on: 

  1. Teaching and learning strategies including emotional/social support. 
  2. Straightforward assessment for learning systems. 
  3. Clear feedback for pupils. 
  4. Improving pupils' ability to learn through metacognitive strategies


What is the silver bullet to raising attainment?

There is no one singular approach identified as raising attainment. This is important, they repeat that a lot. In fact, the most successful schools had on average, 18 different strategies in place to support disadvantaged pupils. 

The are four main groups of strategies used by schools to raise attainment. The analysis of relationships between these factors identified one statistically significant relationship; more successful schools were more likely to use Group 4 - metacognitive strategies. 

This is supported by the Schools' Week Alternative GCSE League Table which shows the best performing schools in the country for FSM pupils. We work with 4 out of the top 10 schools with our Pupil Premium Project.  


What can my school do next?

What is clear from the study, is the effectiveness of such strategies relies on them being embedded into a whole - school ethos of aspiration and attainment. 

There are seven building blocks for success:

Building Blocks for Success

What is the improvement journey?

I found the below visualisation of the school's pathway to success really helpful. 

Timescale 3 - 5 years

Timescale 3 - 5 years


There is no simple or one size fits all solution to closing the gap. Instead, a number of measures are required including setting a culture of high expectations and looking at evidence based strategies, such as metacognition. It must be tailored to each school's circumstances and above all, the students themselves. 

For more information about our partnerships focusing on metacognition, self - regulation and resilience, and the whole child please click here. 

How can we stop students procrastinating and start working?

Procrastination. We have all been culprits of this from time to time. I have certainly been guilty of putting off cleaning out the loft, until suddenly it became the most important job in the world when I had to write an important bid with a tight deadline!

I joke as if procrastination is trivial, but when a student is perpetually procrastinating to the point of self – sabotage it is a serious matter. So why do they/we do it? 

Dr Joseph Ferrari identifies three basic types of procrastinators:

  1. Thrill seekers – those who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.
  2. Avoiders – those who may be avoiding the fear of failure, or even the fear of success. In either case, they are concerned more about what others think of them and would rather have people think they lack effort than ability.
  3. Decisional procrastinators- those who simply cannot make a decision! 

This can be born out of various reasons from die - hard family habits to an act of rebellion. Nevertheless, all are avoiding an act that may being about some emotional discomfort about making meaningful changes to our lives. 

For me, it was the potential of life - altering funding resulting in success or failure. For our students, it is the potential to rise or fall in their exams and what this could potentially mean for their future. 

By electing to put off today what can be done tomorrow we are effectively selling ourselves short. How can we as teachers, help students to stop procrastinating and start working? 

Here are our 6 strategies to help end procrastination and motivate students to get cracking!

1. Start With The End Point

A great goal - setting exercise for students is to draw an archery target board. In the bull's eye students write their ultimate goal and a deadline. For example, in 2022 I want to be a qualified hairdresser.  In the outer rings, students write the steps that will help them reach their end point.

This will help them see the bigger picture of schools and exams whilst breaking down their dream into a tangible target. 

2. Challenge Unhelpful Assumptions

When procrastinating we justify our behavior to make ourselves feel better. For example…

Challenging unhelpful assumptions table

The best way to challenge these unhelpful conclusions is to see if they are really valid. Are they based on evidence or fact, or are they assumptions?

Work students through their assumptions and encourage them to create new conclusions like this one… 

Source Centre of Clinical Interventions (CCI) 

Source Centre of Clinical Interventions (CCI) 

3. Swap Critical Self - Talk with Motivational Self - Talk

The cycle of procrastination can be a toxic, vicious cycle. We lie to ourselves to make us feel better, and then when we become overwhelmed with stress we beat ourselves up for wasting time.  Work with students to find their common self – criticisms and how they can change this into something positive, kind and motivational. Here’s an example;

Critical vs Motivational Self Talk

Notice how the motivational talk separates behavior of procrastinating from their personal qualities. It also focuses on what can be achieved going forward, rather than dwelling on what hasn’t been done. 

4.  Prioritise

Writing a ‘to do’ list is hugely therapeutic but the next step many miss is prioritizing each goal, from 1 – 10 from what is most urgent and important. This means students start on what is critical, rather than what they feel like doing instead! 

5. Build Accountability

Partner with colleagues, parents and carers to create a‘Personal Board of Advisors’ to keep students focused and on track. This shouldn’t be a nag feast (remember procrastination can be an act of rebellion) but a supportive board that can listen, support, and encourage when the going gets tough. 

6. Reward Progress