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Joy or Relief? Exploring experiences of the first round of GCSE (9-1) English and maths

November 13, 2017

– by Michelle North, OCR Head of Subject Advisors 

Teaching the first group through a new qualification is daunting. It can feel like you’re leading a class through dark and mysterious uncharted territory. Much more so when you’re a head of department trying to lead your team as well. If you’re lucky enough to be a head of department in tranche 2 or 3, there’s good news – you’re not actually the first ones through – the heads of English and maths have been treading a path for you, and you can learn from them.

Whole Education and exam board OCR have been working in partnership throughout the last academic year to capture heads of English and maths’ insights as they experience the first round of delivering the new GCSEs, and are the first to have their students assessed using the new models and grading systems. We’ve been exploring how different departments have tackled the challenges by reviewing and updating how they’ve planned, delivered and assessed students during the course, as well as capturing their experiences as their students completed the final exams, and revisiting these reflections once they had the first set of results in front of them.

We’ve gained a wealth of insight from this research, and a range of recommendations, which we’ll be sharing at Whole Education’s Annual Conference on 28th February 2018. One of the most fundamental insights we discussed was this: it is different. You have much more freedom with a linear model, to plan a growth trajectory for your students. It’s not enough to take the modules from your old course, add in the new bits of content here and there, and continue with delivering your good old long term plan with minimal change for the new qualifications. You should be thinking about the opportunities to allow students to mature and develop in the course of your 2, 3 or 5 year curriculum, and planning with this trajectory in mind.

That being said, it is also clear that teachers should trust their professional judgement. Although big changes seem daunting, teachers were generally happy that where they had given thought to what they were doing before implementing significant change. When it came down to it they were generally happy they had made the right changes.

If you’re keen to find out more, make time to meet with your colleagues in your English and maths departments and ask them what they’ve learnt this summer, how they planned for success, and what they’re tweaking in their plans this year. Do take a look at your subject’s pages on the OCR website where you’ll find guidance and support for approaching the delivery of a linear course, including our teacher guide: moving from modular to linear. And if you can, join us at Whole Education’s Annual Conference where we’ll be discussing our findings in more detail.


Pass Pilot – Whole Education Project Summary

July 14, 2017

Hello! To introduce myself – I am Zara Peskett, Team Leader for Social Sciences at Shenley Brook End Secondary school in Milton Keynes. Shenley Brook End is a Whole Education school, and at the beginning of this academic year I had the opportunity to become our schools’ Whole Education champion, a role in the school whereby I help co-ordinate Whole Education projects and spread the Whole Education ethos among colleagues. This position gave me the opportunity to work further with a network of teachers on values driven education that aims to give children a Whole Education (it does what it says on the tin).

So I found myself on the Middle Leaders Programme with some like-minded people from different schools (they were lovely). The programme has two aims: 1. To consider leadership styles and skills in reflective sessions and 2. To carry out a project that furthers Whole Education values within school.

I settled on my project (action research if you like) – to introduce the Pupils Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) survey into school and to then consider the use of PASS data. The PASS survey is a way of measuring student’s attitudes to self and school in a standardised way with a national comparison (see the GL assessment website for further details – link to webpage).

The focus of the project was to identify students who have below average attitudes to self and school. Then to signpost / flag those students to various interventions within school (e.g. student services, Pupil Premium support, mentoring, Head of Year support). The aim was to improve student’s attitudes to self and school within a 6-month period. The first challenge, as silly as it sounds, was to get all of year 7 and 10 into a computer room to complete the survey. I found that once I had explained to staff what PASS actually is and the impact it would hopefully have, they were a lot more accommodating and having the support of our Team Leader for computing was key. Based on the survey we identified a cohort of 10 students who scored particularly low on the survey. I met with these students and looked at areas they had scored particularly low on. Based on our conversations, I then recommended them for interventions in school and alerted staff to their current views on self and school. For example, one year 7 student had scored particularly low on all the measures that are related to ‘self-regard as a learner’. Informed by this data and our follow up conversation, we were able to access our student services team for drop ins once a month and her form tutor recommended she could attend catch up sessions after school (she didn’t even know they were on!). Happily, I can report, that after supporting these students to access interventions within school, all 10 students PASS score improved when taking the survey for a second time. We are now starting to examine PASS data alongside traditional progress data, to give us a fuller picture of where students are and how they are progressing within school.

Now I am not saying my project was perfect! It wasn’t, but I feel I have done some good along the way, helped improve outcomes for students and learnt some things myself! The Whole Education Middle Leaders Programme is focussed throughout on developing a leadership style that is values led, I have really enjoyed this and my project has been a way of testing out my leadership skills and style in a practical way. When I reflect on my leadership journey I feel I have learnt that you have to be resilient when trying to introduce something ‘new’, be patient and keep talking with people and promoting your ideas. I feel that anything worth doing takes time and I am looking forward to embedding PASS within school further one teacher at a time – the project isn’t over!

Why Growing Great Schools?

November 7, 2016

 – from David Crossley, Associate Director of Whole Education

The Whole Education Annual Conference enables school leaders at all levels from within and beyond our network to come together to share, reflect on, explore current challenges and opportunities.

As delegate after delegate has commented, the conference is a chance to step off the day-to-day treadmill, be inspired and perhaps identify a key idea or way forward for your own school or schools. It also helps form and cement relationships with colleagues from around the country.

In January, we come together at time when few expect resource levels in our schools to increase in the years ahead but most will want to continue to change and develop what they do. This raises the risk of constantly adding things to what we do already and overloading already hard pressed staff.

This challenge set the basis for this year’s theme of ‘doing thing differently’, examining how we can make the most of the staff and other resources we have and how we can ensure we focus our efforts on things that will make a real difference to the life chances of all the children and young people in our care.

On Day 1 we look forward to the inputs, reflections and learning our plenary speakers, including Becky Francis, Jonathan Neelands, Estelle Morris and Tim Brighouse, will explore with us, and the ideas and developments in practice schools and other partners will share.

On Day 2 Andy Hargreaves will lead and facilitate an involving and engaging day around the important questions about leadership, effective collaboration and how to be bold and successful. Sir David Carter will also share his thinking on our school led system and on the importance of how we support develop our most important asset our staff.

We are shaping a confident agenda that will tackle the real challenges schools are facing head on and work towards positive responses. I look forward to meeting many of you there.

Click here to read the most recent conference programme.

Click here to book your tickets.

Growing Great Schools – booking now open for 7th Annual Conference

October 20, 2016

Booking is now open for our 7th Annual Conference, taking place on Thursday 26th-Friday 27th January 2017.

The Growing Great Schools conference will focus on thinking differently to achieve more with less.  On the first day a range of inspirational speakers, including representatives from schools, will share their experiences of practical solutions and wider perspectives. The second day will be facilitated by Professor Andy Hargreaves, who will explore how to make the most of teachers’ professional capital through uplifting leadership.

Visit our booking page to see pricing and the latest agenda and don’t forget to check back here for exclusive input from conference speakers.


Partner Post | Evolve Health Mentors

March 24, 2016

Evolve Health Mentors embedded in primary schools are having a powerful effect on the whole education agenda, an independent research study has found.

A leading Professor of Physical Activity and Health is calling for greater use of Health Mentors in schools after a report found they are having a positive impact on changing the emotional wellbeing and behaviour of children.

A research study led by Professor Jim McKenna of Leeds Beckett University, has found the work of Health Mentors from social impact company’s Evolve’s Project HE:RO led to previously inattentive pupils doing better in lessons.

And by building positive relationships with both pupils and staff the mentors’ short-term benefits of boosting emotional wellbeing are likely to extend to a healthy future life and higher academic progress for all pupils.

A researcher shadowed trained Evolve staff in four schools in Keighley, West Yorkshire, for five days as they mentored children using increased physical activity and one-to-one help with learning when needed.

Professor McKenna said: “This project that builds positive relationships works better than anything like it that we’ve seen brought into schools.”

“The work of the Health Mentors is having a profound effect on the whole school environment. Although the mentors tend to work with disruptive children, that impact extends to all children. If a teacher has a class of smiling children this helps the behaviour of everyone in that class.  That improves all classroom activity.

“I would like to see the health mentoring scaled-up into more schools. That would see a notch up in children’s performance by displacing a lot of anti-social behaviour.”

Professor McKenna added:  “Any school might benefit where it has similar issues to those in the Keighley schools we visited.  That said, there are many schools that are already very well served for adult ‘presence’.  Most, however, are not well served by adults who bring an activity-oriented approach to learning.”

The Evolve programmes are active in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Bradford and Nottingham, where they are having a positive impact.

Professor McKenna explained that by improving physical activity and health and promoting positive behaviour, children learn self-control in the classroom and for the rest of their lives. “In the short-, mid- and long-term this helps enhance positive behaviours and prevents anti-social and criminal behaviours.

“If success only comes in a chaotic way, children don’t learn how to control their achievements. It is crucial that children learn how to control success in a structured way before the age of ten,” he said.

“Some boys don’t have meaningful relationships with male adults as primary school teachers are predominantly female. Few of these boys had any gifted male role models show any interest in them.  Through Project HE:RO they have access to adults they can trust. This results in emotional wellbeing; once that’s in place, then we are in business for better learning.

“The mentors are having a powerful effect in unlocking success and supporting the oasis of learning that teachers are working so hard to create.”

The research was commissioned by Bradford Public Health to evaluate the impact of Health Mentors. Independent researcher Stephen Zwolinsky observed the mentors, interviewed teachers about their experiences, collected data and identified the impacts of physical activity and social behaviour.

He said: “Project HE:RO supports children’s holistic development. With a particular focus on increasing their contact with supportive adults, mentors energetically promote physical activity.”

“Evolve carefully recruits and trains young, active and highly motivated staff.”

“The teaching staff and head teachers I spoke to were all fulsome in their praise for the positive addition to the staffing and the importance of the mentors’ contribution.”

“It was fantastic to see how the inspiring role models built relationships with the pupils and made such a difference. I wasn’t expecting to see such amazing changes in behaviour, self confidence and academic achievement.” A class teacher who was interviewed for the study said: “The confidence he has built there is amazing, a real big change, you see a huge difference. The pupil he is working with has massively grown in confidence.”

And a head teacher said: “It’s about meeting the social and emotional needs of the children, if you can’t concentrate, have no confidence or lack self-esteem then the classroom is a very difficult place. Building that up, for me, is so important before you can start learning.”

Birmingham-based Evolve director John Bishop said the findings of the report are welcomed and he hopes the study will be taken seriously by education leaders.

“Our strength is bringing children’s health and education together,” he said.

“We combat inactivity and obesity through active learning and this is improving basic numeracy and literacy. The research shows that one of our biggest assets is improving the emotional wellbeing of pupils too.”

His co-director, Keighley-based Graham Morgan said Evolve is commissioned by individual head teachers to provide successful health intervention. “Physical activity is helping prevent future illnesses that cost the NHS millions, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. We can help prevent these conditions.

“Our success has come from careful recruitment, rigorous training and the excellent rapport our Health Mentors develop when engaging with children.”

Project HE:RO (Healthy Engagement: Real Outcomes) has been running since 20 and delivers programmes to 120 primary schools.

For more information about Evolve visit

To view the full evaluation report of Project HERO click here

Unleashing the curriculum designer in us all at Secondary

March 23, 2016

graph image cropped Heather Tydesley, Whole Education Secondary Network Facilitator

“Thank-you for a very inspiring day that has brought my spark back!”

– Feedback from Deputy Headteacher, Curriculum/Teaching and Learning


This year’s Secondary Curriculum Conference, ‘Unleashing the Curriculum Designer in us all‘, had some big questions to answer: If we are to become curriculum designers again, where do we start? And how should the process of innovation be managed? What are others’ doing about assessment and how do we know what is best for students in our schools?

Our host school, Shireland Collegiate Academy, certainly got us off to a good start: their inspirational and bold journey of change to establish a blended curriculum and assessment model that suits their learners encouraged delegates to consider the needs of their own school and what stood in the way of meeting them.

“Real admiration for Shireland’s L4L; it’s a brave and rigorous programme”

– Feedback from Head of Year 7


Network schools shared some brilliant practice in breakout sessions and Sir John Dunford reminded us that KS3 is a really powerful place to deliver a whole education, that we are stronger together in working toward a curriculum that maps skills and qualities onto the development of  knowledge, and finally that we need to ‘stop looking up and start looking out’.

“Refreshed my desire to make the change for my students”

– Vice Principal




North East Regional Workshop – at Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy

March 22, 2016

Regional workshops were piloted for the first time last month, hosted by Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy in Newcastle. The event was very successful, perhaps because it is the only occasion on which schools in different ‘sub-regions’ come together at a regional level to share some of their strongest practice over the year.

Sessions presented by schools from across the region included ‘Emerging from The Wasted Years – Ensuring Challenge at KS3′, ‘Questioning for Challenge’, and ‘A whole school and inter-school approach to action research based on the Spirals of Enquiry model’.

I think we all benefited from learning about Lord Lawson’s approach to life without levels, their work to prevent the gap from emerging in KS3, their quality assurance process and lots more.

“We all want to do the best for our students, but it can get very insular when you’re just working in your school and you’re not going and having a look at what else is out there… One of the most valuable things about whole education is that opportunity to talk and actually share ideas  and find out what other people are doing… When we’ve had a look at what’s really made our school improvement in the last two years a lot of it has come back to either what we’ve seen at different schools through Whole Education or what we’ve done with the projects… It really is moving us forward.”

– Deputy Headteacher and Whole Education Champion

We look forward to running regional workshops across the country next academic year and do get in touch with your Network Facilitator if you would like to host one.

Heather Tyldesley
Whole Education Secondary School Network Facilitator