I’ve written before about how I used to think subconsciously that teaching in a school with poor discipline was a bit cool, and I suggested that maybe other teachers had had the same thought. One reader said they thought this was a poor argument since it attacked the person not the argument. I don’t think that’s right. I’ve read and benefitted from various articles of that nature, including “why I used to wear high heels but don’t any more” and “why I used to think I had to work part-time now I’ve had a baby but don’t any more”. People have many reasons for subscribing to ideas and I think it’s reasonable to discuss these. Anyway lots of people got in touch to say they had had a similar journey so there you go. 
Traditional things

A year ago I hadn’t heard of “traditional teaching ” and if you’d have asked me if I liked the sound of it I’d have said no. That’s because I didn’t like a lot of traditional things. I thought traditional was very uncool. 

Traditional English food: stodge alert! I’ll have sushi please. And I’ll eat it with chopsticks. 

Traditional wedding photos: paying good money to be immortalised standing stiffly next to my in-laws? I think not. 

Traditional decor: lol no chance, I’m going for Scandi/ mid century modern with a hint of Smiths memorabilia. 

Traditional family values: often used against equality so definitely not cool. 

Traditional gender roles: if you tell me to stay at home and cook I WILL DESTROY YOU. Not cool. 

Actually there were some traditional things that I did think were cool: three piece suits, old-fashioned studies lined with books… I don’t think I would have used the word “traditional” though. 

Other traditional things I liked included mulled wine and birthday presents. Still more I wouldn’t say I liked or thought were cool, but certainly saw as important. A good example of this is funerals. 

The Oxford dictionary gives the definition of “tradition” as:

 A long-established custom or belief that has been passed on from one generation to another.

And “traditional” as:

Existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established.

In my opinion then, “traditional” is actually a completely value-free term. The goodness or badness, coolness or uncoolness of something being traditional is completely domain-specific. But it is often perceived as uncool

Cool and good

“Cool” is notoriously difficult to define, but I propose I that it is an observer- defined quality. That is to say, a person can consider an object or piece of music cool because they can observe it. But if a person is cool it is because others perceive them to be cool. A person cannot identify their own coolness. That would be uncool. 

“Good”, in comparison, I propose as a participant-defined quality. Thus a person can say their shoes are good, if they know them to be good for walking in. I would define good as something like “in accordance with the participant’s values/interests”. 

(I’m aware that this could lead to moral relativism, which I reject, but I don’t think such a conclusion is inevitable.)

It is thus possible for a thing to be both cool and not-good (bad). We can see this in the example of brutalist architecture, which many, including myself, consider to be cool, but which is by many accounts bloody awful to live in. For an example of good and not-cool, let us take my husband’s Crocs, which he assures me accord very well with his interests of comfort and durability. 

 In areas like policy and culture, we need to ask what is good because there are many participants. Here, cool is at best an irrelevance and at worst a disguise for some very bad things. 

Traditions as good and bad

Some traditions will be good because they have served humans well and lasted the test of time. Funerals come under this category. 

Some traditions will be bad because they have served a group of powerful humans over time. Into this group I put such ideas as “a woman’s place is in the home”. 

Some traditions will be bad because in the past there wasn’t the technology, infrastructure, resources, or ideas to do anything differently. I would put hanging, horse-drawn carriages and homophobia here. 

Some traditions are good simply because they are traditions, and they mark out the passing of our lives, they are familiar, and they are interesting. I class mulled wine in this group. And surprising no one more than myself, now I’ve got kids, Christmas altogether. 

Of course different people will have different views on what counts as good and bad. I read an interesting article by Michael Merrick about family values and it challenged my beliefs a lot. Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Righteous Mind” gives insight into people’s differing approaches to ethics and politics. Spoiler: most people you disagree with are probably not selfish baddies. But what I have learned from thinking about this is: 

1. I don’t like traditional aesthetics and I think they’re uncool

2. In matters that affect people beyond the observer, cool should not be a concern. 

3. There are some traditional activities, policies and values that I think are bad. 

4. Previously I have wrongly believed that uncool and bad map closely onto each other

5. Previously I have wrongly believed that traditional is a value-term, and that because I disliked many traditional things, traditional meant bad and uncool.

6. Some traditions are cool and some are uncool depending on your aesthetic

7. Some traditions are bad and some are good, depending on your values/interests. 

Maybe all of this was always obvious to everyone else, and maybe there are others who’ve had the same thought processes as me. Or maybe I’m wrong. But thinking is how we find new things, so I’ll continue. 

Traditional teaching

In the past I would have thought traditional teaching sounded both uncool and bad, because of the errors listed above. I would have tossed it in the same pile as traditional wedding photos and “get back in the kitchen” comments. 

To class traditional teaching as cool or uncool would be invalid as it affects many participants. So I must ask myself, do I class it as good or bad, in accordance with my values? 

I value equality of opportunity and the comprehensive ideal. I value state education as a means for a child of any background to have the best possible life. I value the marvels of human understanding and creative endeavour. 

So while traditional teaching is not cool, it is definitely, according to my values, good. 

In the course of making my physics mastery books I developed a few little things to make it faster and more organised. If you make any please share!


You will need:

  • Specification
  • Snip tool
  • Smart notebook or similar for doing illustrations
  • Calculator
  • Word


How to make them


I made a separate file for each specification section or sub-section. After I’d finished them all I copied and pasted them into a single word file, adding page breaks to keep the sections separate. It seemed safer and easier to do it this way rather than work on a whole big file all at once.

I think the type should be the same as pupils will face in the exams – for AQA this is Arial in 12.



Start by writing out your exposition of the specification points. Either have a paper copy of the spec next to you or use the cutting tool to cut the relevant piece from an e-copy of the spec and paste it into your word document, you can delete it later.

Don’t be afraid to add more science in if it explains it better. I included a fair amount of material beyond the specification because I thought it would help to build schema. I didn’t write questions on this extended content though – I may add some in future iterations but I sort of feel at the moment that most of the benefit of these explanations accrues because it makes sense at the time of learning, and when pupils need to use related knowledge the explanation might not be easily recalled from long-term memory, but it is forming a strong foundation deep in the brain. I feel working memory can be wasted when we deal with a question about something we “never really got”, whereas I know I can confidently answer questions about which if you asked me something about the underlying schema I would have to look it up… I don’t have any evidence for this beyond personal experience though, I’m just trying things out, and would be interested to hear if there’s research about this.

I tried to use diagrams to illustrate my explanations, and I used smart notebook to make a lot of these. Others I copied using the cutting tool, and adapted using white pen, and the transparency tool on smart notebook. Freeform snip on the snipping tool is useful too. Comic sans was my default font on smart notebook but I have since rectified this heinous blunder! I found it useful to save a smart notebook file of the diagrams I’d done so I could reuse easily.

I tried to include examples of common misconceptions, and “what it’s not” as per direct instruction.

If you sense your exposition is approaching cognitive overload, split it into subsections, i.e. a separate page with its own exposition and questions.



When you’ve finished writing your exposition, it’s time to write the questions. I started with comprehension from the text and then calculations. I guess this is declarative and then procedural knowledge practice. I tried to do lots of questions so it was like deliberate practice. Looking back I wish I’d done more questions on qualitative relationships as well as quantitative. I looked in a range of books for ideas for question styles: O-level books, American AP physics books, and Collins workbooks. It’s best to have all the questions stand-alone, i.e. all the information needed is in that question rather than an earlier one. This makes the intervention questions work better as pupils can just do the question they got wrong without having to go into other questions. Write your questions by looking at the spec and your exposition. If you feel you need to go back and add to your exposition then do so. Often this wasn’t apparent to me until I’d started writing questions.

Extension questions

These were, appropriately, the hardest part. I wanted them to be harder but not to require any more knowledge. I wanted pupils to be able to stretch themselves while others caught up, but I needed the teacher to be free to help those behind. Where I couldn’t think of any I just left them out as pupils could revisit questions from previous sections and I felt this was a valid way of helping them get full marks in any exam.


To do the answers, the best thing to do is copy your questions, paste below, re-title, colour red, restart numbering at 1, and then work through one by one, writing the answer at the front of the question and then deleting the question, before moving on to the next question. I strongly recommend you follow this bit as otherwise you can get muddled quickly. Use a separate calculator rather than trying to do it on your computer.

Intervention questions and answers

Again, copy your black questions and paste, change to purple, and restart numbering at 1. Then go through and change each question so it asks helps build the same knowledge but is not a repeat of the black question. You can change the calculation questions really easily and quickly by just changing one digit in the numbers. You just need to be careful as some of the numbers won’t change e.g. the half-life of a certain element. Comprehension questions are more difficult to redo differently, I found “this sentence has three errors, write out the correct version” was good if I couldn’t think of anything else, and at times I just kept the same question because I couldn’t think of anything else and thought a few repeats wouldn’t do any harm. I think it’s important not to overdo this though. For the answers, copy your purple questions, then paste and recolour etc. the same as before.


That’s all I can think of, I hope it’s useful. If you have any questions or tips please comment! Thanks.

In the last year I’ve read a lot of very interesting stuff on mastery, deliberate practice, feedback, AfL, cognitive load, working and long-term memory, and direct instruction.

At the same time my school were going mad for progress in purple pen. I’d always met this need by getting pupils to write up an experiment or demo using one of a range of success criteria, peer marking and then improving in purple pen – but this is no good for teaching lots of new knowledge. 

In science pupils need to be able to answer lots of short questions with the single correct answer. “What is the force on this object?” ”Why does the colour of the liquid change?” Pupils need to answer lots of these questions to practice and to show up areas where the teacher needs to provide “corrective instruction”.

Trouble was, I couldn’t ever get enough of the questions. In a textbook you get probably 6 or so at the end of a double page covering one section of the specification. In workbooks and sheets there are more but not enough for deliberate practice.

Alongside going mad for the mauve, my school was also getting potty for Pixl. “Go and look at how they do it in maths.” Well, we went and looked at how they did it in maths, and it was RAG’d spreadsheets a-gogo with pupils working on exercises on the topics they had got as red and amber. So science went back and did the same thing. With our textbooks with the six questions per double page. As opposed to the maths books with literally hundreds of questions per page. It doesn’t work, and it’s down to the resources.

Add to this the realisation that I hadn’t planned a single explanation since my PGCE, the ludicrousness of teacher workload caused in part by poor resourcing, and the fact that I’m on maternity leave, and the result is I’ve been working on some textbooks for the AQA Trilogy Physics units. I think they can solve or at least ameliorate a lot of these problems.

The key features are:

  • Everything from the new spec is there
  • Spec points separated into more manageable chunks
  • LOTS of questions for practice
  • Answers for immediate feedback
  • Purple intervention questions so pupils can improve their work – these are always on the same thing as that number black question, and are almost all a different question, except for a few places where I couldn’t think of a different question.
  • Numbered lines for whole-class reading.

This is how I plan to use them in the lesson:

  1. Print double-sided and staple into pupil booklets. They need to be in colour really but you can use them year after year. Needs to be 1 per pupil.
  2. Use a single-sided copy for the teacher (1 for each class) to plan your lesson on using Double Plan from Teach Like A Champion (thanks @Doug_Lemov)

Read text as a class using rulers Michaela-style (thanks @katie_s_ashford)


Use the text to plan direct instruction, using animations such as those at PHET, demonstrations, stories etc.

OR a mixture of the two.

  1. Model example questions
  2. Pupils work through the black questions – you could ask them to cover the red answers with a piece of paper
  3. Pupils check their own work against the red answers – mark in red
  4. Teacher scan work and note any common problems, then reteach.
  5. For any wrong answers, pupils do the purple “Intervention Question” of the same number, in purple pen, and then mark using the red answers.
  6. If pupils got none wrong they can do the extension and then go back and self-quiz using earlier questions in the book.
  7. Don’t try to fit one page into a lesson, it takes as long as it takes (thanks@BodilUK http://blog.bodil.co.uk/)

You can then check their work using whole-class marking (thanks @MrThorntonTeach)

If your school is well into Pixl then you can also do this:

  1. Give pupils their PLC with page numbers (I’m doing mine from Plicker to save HOURS – but it doesn’t have a share function yet sorry!)
  2. Pupils can turn to the pages they need, read, do the questions, self-mark in red, do the purple questions, self-mark in red.


I think this is great because:

  • Explanations are scripted
  • Where more explanation is needed than specified I have given it in order to build schemata
  • Feedback is immediate
  • Cognitive load is manageable
  • We can show progress (in purple) in a subject where redrafting is seldom appropriate
  • We can read challenging text with our pupils every lesson
  • Greatly reduced planning and marking
  • Plenty of practice for procedural knowledge.

Download here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1EnIwSSbgTgRDZhWTlQdXFwRHM/view?usp=sharing


Still to do:

I’m currently reading Reif: Applying Cognitive Science to Education and there will be a lot of changes/extras I’ll want to make! I think I need to split up some of the pages further (some cognitive overload still at the moment I think) and include more different kinds of question. I also want to look at the ideal order for the sections, and put together a list of demos and animations for DI. And I want to schedule spaced and interleaved quiz questions for starters…just a bit to be getting on with then! But all renewable.

I’ve called it a mastery textbook as I hope to use it in a similar way to the mastery in maths I’ve been reading about. However I’ve had to adapt the model a bit as the knowledge structure is different in science, and it might be that it’s not allowed to count as mastery…I’m happy to climb down on that one if I’m wrong!

I’m planning to do a separate booklet for the assessed practicals, and some other illustrative practicals that I think will build understanding.

There are some, er, ambiguities around the specification but AQA have stopped answering my questions! Ha! So while I wait for some guidance, or indeed for the spec to be corrected so that it doesn’t contain fundamental errors, I’ve included what I think it should say.

Please feed back

I haven’t been able to use these yet as I’m on maternity leave. There are bound to be mistakes, since most of the time I’ve been typing one-handed holding my baby in the other! So please get in touch in the comments or @rosalindphys and let me know what you spot and how you get on with them. I’ll be sharing the other units as soon as I can.



In addition to those I’ve thanked above, I’m also indebted to the following:

Joe Kirby on renewable resources and quality textbooks https://pragmaticreform.wordpress.com/2015/06/06/hornets-and-butterflies-how-to-reduce-workload/

Olivia Dyer on writing your own textbooks https://edudyertribe.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/textbooks-liberating-not-constraining/

Jem Maths on mastery https://jemmaths.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/adventures-in-mastery-4-lesson-sequences/

and Mark McCourt on mastery https://markmccourt.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/teaching-for-mastery-part-1.html

What is the nature of school science? I ask this because I think we should know the nature of a subject before we design our teaching and models of assessment. I believe a subject is more than the sum of its parts, that it has a character, texture, structure, shape. If we wish to use the findings of cognitive science to help our pupils to learn better, then we need to understand this character. Any model of progress and assessment must not conflict with the nature of the subject. If we can identify similarities in character with other subjects, then we can see where we can fruitfully borrow from them. Where we find differences we can guard against the foisting of unhelpful techniques and models from other subjects, or inappropriate “genericism”.

I’m leaving aside “scientific enquiry” for the time being and focusing on “content”, for want of a better word. This is because cognitive science tells us that you need to know stuff before you can enquire about it. Also I feel there has been quite a lot of theorising about the nature of scientific enquiry but rather less about content, and this needs redressing. 

I’ve identified five characteristics of school science and some possible implications stemming from them. In future posts I hope to consider what cognitive science can offer us in relation to these aspects of the nature of school science, what we can learn from other subjects, and what we as science teachers can practically do in light of these considerations.

 1. School science is factual

Most of the knowledge in school science is describing, explaining, predicting, and calculating. It relates to the natural world rather than the actions of humans or the products of our minds. 


  • Bloom’s is the enemy! But we knew that already. Helpful to have a clear argument against it though. 
  • Find out if cognitive science can tell us how best to teach this sort of knowledge. 

2. School science is visual

There are a lot of visual elements to school science, often in relation to its abstract explanations of phenomena. I’ve come to realise this ubiquity and value while creating knowledge-first textbooks for physics. When scripting explanations I’ve spent as much time making the perfect diagram as I have writing explanations. I feel this is an important area that I have overlooked in the past and perhaps applies less in many other subjects.


  • Look at how maths, design and technology, and art use and teach visual material. I suspect we may need to be critical about borrowing here, as none of these subjects use visuals to represent abstract phenomena in the way science does.
  • When planning curriculum and lessons, consider visuals as a priority.
  • Consider what software we can use to make visuals.
  • From cognitive science, find out the best ways to a) design and b) present visuals. Oliver Caviglioli springs to mind, plus I read a thing once that said it’s better to draw the visual in real time in front of the pupils… I need to do some reading!


 3. School science is cumulative AND hierarchical

I’ve been interested to read about cumulative versus hierarchical subjects in conversations on Twitter. I would argue that science is a bit of both. There are many different areas to be learned, for example photosynthesis, bonding, and momentum. Within each area is something of a hierarchy of difficulty of content, usually with a necessary route through from easiest to hardest. For example, below is a series of questions on momentum taken from the new AQA trilogy specimen paper:

 I would argue that these roughly ascend in difficulty, not because of the style of question or task, but the difficulty of the scientific understanding needed to answer them.


  • Bear in mind the hierarchical and cumulative models when looking at curriculum design, lesson plans and questions
  • Look at threshold concepts – what they are and how best to teach them
  • Maybe look at maths and languages for how they develop hierarchy, and geography and history for how they build cumulative knowledge?

4. School science has short, right-or-wrong answers 

I think an important way to find the nature of a subject is to look at the way it tests its learners. I’m not advocating using exam papers as the starting point for lessons, and heaven knows individual exam boards and assessment systems have their faults, but I think patterns in assessment globally and historically can give us valuable insight into the nature of a subject. Science, for example, is never assessed through an essay, but through many questions with short and medium-length answers. Daisy Christodoulou describes this as the difficulty model versus the quality model. I feel this is a useful distinction, and that it highlights an important aspect of the nature of school science: there are only ever a very finite number of correct answers to the sort of questions science can ask, and there are a lot of short answers that pupils need to know or be able to work out.


  • Look at maths for feedback and practice on these sorts of questions and answers.
  • Do any other subjects have a lot of questions with a small number of right-or-wrong answers? Maths questions are to do with processes, and we also have description- and explanation-type questions in science…maybe geography or technology? Find out and see if there’s anything we can learn!
  • Think about different types of question. One area I want to look at is the different ways questions can be difficult. I have a sense that they can be difficult because remembering the facts needed is hard, or because the explanation is hard to understand, or because recognising the application of a concept in a new situation is hard, or because there are many elements that need considering at once… Look at cognitive load theory and element interactivity, hopefully some other research as well.
  • Be vigilant against the blithe importation of ideas from other subjects, for example “success criteria” which are designed for a quality model such as a design or essay.



5. School science is schematic

When I think about schemata, I imagine being inside my mind and looking up to see a big domed frame, like being in a geodesic tent.It’s made of lots of different pieces of wood joined together, but forms a single unitary structure. It’s dark under this frame, but I can find my way around it because of the way the pieces of wood are arranged. When I learn a new piece of related knowledge I can reach up and hang it on the frame like a coathanger. When I encounter a situation where I need to apply some knowledge from the schema, I can reach up and follow the wood along with my hand until I reach the bit I need.Schemata are very important in school science. Most of the knowledge required fits into one schema or another, and so if the schema is well constructed then retrieval will be more successful. Many questions, and many of the most difficult ones, require pupils not only to apply what they know to new situations but also to recognise that the situation is an example of the knowledge they already have. Consider the example below, again from AQA Trilogy:

As schemata are a fundamental cognitive aspect of learning, I imagine they are important in all school subjects. I would suggest a couple of features of science schemata that distinguish them from others: they often contain counter-intuitive elements; and they often rely heavily on abstract theories that require visualisation and imagination.I feel that a strong schema allows pupils to recognise the relevance of a theory to a new situation, and to become intuitive in applying it.


  • Consider schemata in curriculum design, lesson planning and questions
  • Look at how threshold concepts relate to schemata, identify them, and consider how we can best teach them
  • I can’t really think of a school subject where schemata function in the same way as in science… I’m thinking philosophy or perhaps RE in that there are fundamental principles with explanatory power, observable phenomena or familiar examples with unobservable explanations?
  • Think about how we can nurture an intuitive sense of science’s schemata in order to overcome the counter-intuitive elements and encourage application in new situations… look at the work of Michael Polanyi, Thomas Kuhn and Greg Jacobs.
  • I think it is here that demonstrations and practical experience are most relevant – read and think about this.


I hope that this list will allow me to make some informed decisions about what we can do to best help our pupils. I feel I’m still groping around under my own, partially-built schema-tent a bit in this, so I’d be especially grateful for any thoughts in the comments section. Thanks!



Greg Ashman on difficulty and element interactivity: https://gregashman.wordpress.com/2017/01/


AQA Trilogy Science paper 6 specimen: http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/resources/science/AQA-84646P2H-SQP.PDF


Niki Kaiser on threshold concepts: https://ndhsblogspot.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/threshold-concepts-4-confidence-and-retrieval/


Christine Counsell also on the need for subject-specific considerations: https://thedignityofthethingblog.wordpress.com/


Daisy Christodoulou on difficulty versus quality model:

Christodoulou, D. (2016), Making Good Progress?, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p64.

Harry Fletcher-Wood on schemata: https://improvingteaching.co.uk/2017/02/12/why-formative-assessment-matters-the-power-of-prior-knowledge/


Michael Fordham made me think about the need to think about our own subjects and how they are different to others: https://clioetcetera.com/2016/06/18/genericism-and-the-crisis-of-curriculum/


Thanks also to @bennewmark for helping me think about history, I’ll be returning to this when I write in more detail about science schemata.



I think it’s possible that some of the reaction against strong discipline is that some teachers like pupils to look and act a bit bad because it’s cool. Rule-breaking, questioning authority, and non-compliance are all phrases you might hear in a favourable review of a record by someone cool like the Sex Pistols or Dizzee Rascal. Eager, polite and obedient are not.

I suggest that some teachers like working with tricky teens because it makes them cool by association. A gruff “safe Miss” on the way out of the lesson gives a sense we have been accepted by the urban subculture. An awed “I don’t know how you do it” from a friend when a noisy and slightly intimidating gang get on the bus gives us a feeling we are a bit special.

“Those nerdy kids in the photos? Reading their books on the tube? Gleaming in their smart uniforms? Eager to learn with impeccable manners? Any saddo could get through to them. But I, the quietly cool teacher, I can relate to these edgy kids, with their slang, and their clothes, and their body language, because although I am a middle-class teacher from the suburbs, inside I am a lot like Patti Smith”.

Why do I think some teachers think these things? Because I myself have thought them all. It is NOT COOL for me to admit this. Being cool requires a convincing attitude of not caring or knowing about being cool. To be fair I didn’t realise I thought I was thinking it until I questioned myself recently: Why do these photos and videos of very well-behaved secondary school children make me feel a bit uncomfortable? And that was the answer I found. But hang on, I’m supposed to be here for the pupils’ benefit, not the other way round! So now I have two massively embarrassing realisations. First, I have been (albeit subconsciously) trying to be cool at the age of 33 and second, I’ve allowed this to colour my reaction to something that really does help the very children I profess to care about. Children in schools with stronger discipline get better results. Especially poorer children. Every school I’ve ever come across which has turned itself around has done so with a foundation of strict uniform and strong discipline. So I am naming this beast I have found in me that I might better fight it. I’m rejecting cool and embracing success for pupils instead. How many others could do the same?

A presentation given by Matthew Newberry, Ofsted’s science lead, at the ASE conference this week was seen by some to contradict the (welcome) message from Ofsted that they don’t have a preferred teaching style. Greg Ashman wrote about it here

Sean Harford responded that scientific enquiry is on the national curriculum and so it’s reasonable for inspectors to look for it, and he reinforced the message that Ofsted are not looking for a particular style of lesson.

Here’s what I think: two very different things have been conflated: “scientific enquiry” and “enquiry-based learning”. Scientific enquiry is a curriculum area whereas enquiry-based learning is a style of lesson.

This is a slide from the ASE conference that seems to advocate enquiry-based learning for delivering science curriculum: 

This is the sentence that gives me concern: 

“Timetables in a significant minority of primary and secondary schools visited did not allow enough time for the teaching of science through regular, enquiry-based learning”.

I have scanned the “Maintaining Curiosity” document and I didn’t find this sentence, it could be in there or it could be a paraphrase, but as it was Ofsted’s science lead giving the talk, I don’t think there’s any question of this being one of those “someone stuck an Ofsted logo on a PowerPoint but it’s not the actual Ofsted position” moments.

So what’s the difference between scientific enquiry and enquiry-based learning?

Scientific enquiry is a curriculum area including things like making predictions, making accurate measurements, and planning investigations. These can be taught using different styles of lessons. For example, I teach my pupils what a good experiment design looks like, and then ask them to design their own experiment. The thing that they are learning is how to design an experiment to give valid and accurate results. The results themselves are incidental. Another teacher might choose to get pupils to research on the Internet what makes a good experiment design, rather than telling them. The lesson style here would be different but the intended curriculum area to be learned would be the same.

Enquiry-based learning, as I understand it, is where pupils find out the content by enquiring, often through experiment though it could be using another method such as researching using secondary sources. So when you need to teach pupils about latent heat, you might get pupils to do an experiment in order to find out how temperature of ice varies as you supply heat energy using a Bunsen burner. The experimental findings are not incidental, but are the intended curriculum area to be learned. The teacher does not tell the pupils the results: they find them out for themselves. Another teacher might choose a different style of lesson: showing pupils a graph of temperature against heat supplied in an ideal experiment, explaining about latent heat, and then getting pupils to conduct the experiment themselves in order to compare their results with the ideal ones. I would class this style of lesson as direct instruction with illustrative practical.

I hope I’ve shown why enquiry-based learning is a style of lesson, and separate from the scientific enquiry section of the national curriculum. Whether or not you think it’s an effective style of lesson (I don’t), given that Ofsted now state they have no preferred teaching style, it should not, in my opinion, be advocated by their representatives.


One of the biggest challenges in adopting our behaviour system was persuading pupils and staff that it was real. We were told about it with words but feeling it in our bones took a lot more, because the mindset was diametrically opposite to what we had before.

Under the old system (if you could call it that), teachers were individually responsible for behaviour in our lessons. I don’t think anyone was responsible for behaviour outside of lessons! If you saw poor behaviour in the corridor there was a vague expectation that you would try and get them to stop it, ideally in a jocular, distracting way rather than being “confrontational”. Certainly no detentions. In lessons, the ideal was that pupils would just behave because teachers had planned such great lessons. If that didn’t happen, we were supposed to use all the Bill Rogers techniques like “redirection”and “the language of choice”. Failing that, we had to set detentions, communicate home, chase them when they did not attend, work around clashes with other teachers. And if we needed a pupil removed we had to document what happened in detail and all the steps (there should be many) we had taken to try to resolve the issue before asking for help. And if a pupil contradicted our version of events then we would be questioned, often at length, to determine “what really happened”!

This really was a hideous state of affairs that simply didn’t work but it is one I know is prevalent in schools across the country. Anyway, the teachers knew it was rubbish but when the new system was introduced we all found it hard to change our culture.

Firstly, staff needed to pick up on things that previously would have gone under the radar. Second, we needed to overcome feelings of guilt or hesitation in giving consequences to pupils. It was common in the first few weeks for pupils to incur consequences without really knowing what would happen. They were told the new expectations in detail in an assembly before the system took effect, but it takes more than an assembly to change habits and it’s hard to believe it in your bones as we teachers found ourselves. Things like playfully pushing a friend in the corridor, asking a neighbour about the work during a silent task, and swearing in conversation with friends at break were all to be given consequences now, (C4 other, C1 and C5 respectively) where previously they would have been cajoled, gently reminded, tactically ignored or not even noticed. Many really lovely pupils who had never had a detention before suddenly got them, and it was hard for teachers to do this. We hesitated too, with more challenging pupils for fear we’d ruin our relationship with them and actually make life more difficult for ourselves: “Min’s worked really well all lesson, do I really want to jeopardise this because she said “piss off” in a friendly way to her friend as she left the room?”

In my last post I mentioned that the culture change was like Chip and Dan Heath’s “motivate the Elephant”. (This refers to the emotional brain and not just motivation.) Staff wanted behaviour to improve, but we were afraid.
It was really difficult to believe that using the system didn’t make us look bad. SLT would drop into classrooms and we’d feel embarrassed that we had names on the board with ticks next to them- but this was what we were supposed to do now. After I’d C5d one pupil for deliberate attempt to undermine the lesson, could I really send a second, a third, a fourth? Under l’ancien regime this would be unthinkable: it would make you look completely inept. Even having one pupil removed was often a challenge if the SLT member doubted you or the removal room was full. But now, if four pupils deliberately tried to undermine your lesson, then four pupils should get a C5. If thirty pupils did it, then thirty pupils must have a C5. We staffed extra consequence rooms during the first few weeks to make sure we had the capacity for such eventualities.

To support the culture change we needed constant modelling and reassurance from SLT. They, including the headteacher, were all out and about around school all day every day during the first few weeks. They modelled giving C4 others in the corridor and answered all our questions. They gave specific praise for use of the system and shared stories of their own use of it. It was really helpful to hear them say, yes, I found it difficult to give him a C4 for offering a classmate a pen during a silent task, he’s a lovely lad, but that’s what we’ve got to do. We had to have many of these conversations, partly because the system has many details but also because telling us once wasn’t enough to convince us that it was what we should be doing: this shows how much of a departure it was from the previous approach.

When new and supply staff join us now, we have to work hard to make them believe that they really are supposed to use the system in the way they say we are. They can’t believe that they will not be seen to be doing a poor job if pupils misbehave in their lesson- but this is absolutely the case. David Didau describes the two cultures here where he presents them as (a) believing good behaviour to be a product of good teaching and (b) believing good behaviour to be a necessary precondition for good teaching. Previously my school subscribed to (a), and the new system is born out of (b). I believe (a) to be a well-intentioned but wrong. I defy anyone who genuinely cares about pupils’ prospects to maintain a belief in (a) once they have seen the quality and amount of work that is possible under (b). But the role of the emotional brain cannot be underestimated in this transition. If teachers have been held responsible in the past because of their teaching rather than their application of a behaviour policy then they will need a lot of reassurance in order to absorb the new policy into their core. Supporting this culture needs to be an explicit goal for SLT if a policy is to be effective. The elephant needs reassurance.

Image source 

The behaviour management I described in Part 1 is underpinned by an administration system and several other out-of-classroom supporters. These are absolutely crucial to the success of the system.

It would probably be helpful to have a diagram for this bit- but as I write these posts on my phone in the middle of the night while feeding my baby, that will have to remain an “area for development”- sorry! I hope my description is clear enough and welcome any questions.

The administration of the policy is incredibly strong. In fact it’s almost completely watertight. This creates the consistency and certainty of consequences that pupils need in order for consequences to be perceived by pupils as fair, and for them to be a strong disincentive. It also means there is almost no additional workload for teachers in applying the system. This is an important aspect as if teachers have too much to do, something will slip somewhere some of the time, even with the most conscientious teachers. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

When a C4 is issued, the teacher fills out a short form that the pupil takes with them to the department room. The teacher only writes the date, time and pupil name on the form. While in the department room the pupil fills in a few more details like the lesson and their form. The pupil has to give the form to the department room teacher at the end of the lesson to sign, and then take it back to the class teacher. In this way it is like a receipt of the pupil’s whereabouts during that time. The teacher then takes the form to the behaviour administrator before the end of the day. The behaviour administrator (BA) is a member of staff employed solely to administer the behaviour system. I would conjecture that the school saves the equivalent of her salary in reduced vandalism throughout the year as a result of the policy but even if this were not the case the post is absolutely worth the money. The BA records the information about the C4: the pupil, teacher, department on her system, and phones and texts the parents to inform them of detention the following day.

If a pupil who has been given a C4 does not return with the form at the end of the lesson, then the teacher fills out a different form but with the same information as before, and takes it to the BA in the same way. The different form is a cue to the BA that she should check that the pupil did attend the department room, and if not then where did they go and what further sanctions (usually a C5) should be incurred.

When giving a C4 other the teacher fills out a C4 other short form with pupil name, teacher name, time and tick a box for the nature of the misdemeanour. The teacher takes the form to the BA, who processes the detention in the same way as for a C4 (low-level disruption).

When giving a C5 the teacher fills out two forms. One is for the pupil to take with them to the consequence room. The other form is sent with a reliable pupil to the BA, who phones the consequence room to expect the pupil. If the pupil does not arrive then the consequence room radio SLT who then look for the pupil. In not going where they are supposed to the pupil would incur an extra detention on top of that already incurred by receiving a C5.

The BA collates registers on who has attended their detentions. If a pupil is absent on the day of their detention then the BA puts them on the list for the following day and phones and texts home again. If the pupil is in school but fails to attend their detention they incur a C5 (a day in the consequence room) AND they still have to do the detention the next day. This process is repeated as long as is needed until the pupil does their consequence/s. There is no escape! If a pupil hasn’t done their consequence on the last day in July then they are on the list for the first day in September.

The consequence room
This is staffed by two full-time members of staff and we have an overflow room supervised by teachers on a timetabled basis. The consequence room staff coordinate with the BA to register attendance. If a pupil does not take themselves to the consequence room in the morning then a staff member goes and looks for them in lesson- but they have to do an extra detention for not taking responsibility and getting themselves there. They always know if they should be there as either they are doing the second part of their day’s worth in there and so were there the previous afternoon, or if they were absent or the C5 was issued right at the end of school the previous day then they have still had the phone call and text home. In the consequence room, pupils work in silence in booths from textbooks provided by departments.

“Department detentions” are run every night and hosted by a different department every night. A single department will host approximately once a fortnight, and rotate the supervision around teachers in the department. So as a member of a department of 6 I supervise detention approximately once every 12 weeks, or it could be as frequently as every 6 weeks if two rooms are used to accommodate more pupils. The name “department detention” is a bit misleading as they are for all pupils who got a C4 the previous day, regardless of what department it was. There is also SLT detention every night for detentions that have accompanied C5s.

The BA takes slips round to pupils during last lesson to remind them they have a detention. They are expected to take themselves to the detention at the end of school.

The BA sends out detention registers as whole school emails so there is never a case where a teacher is running a detention but doesn’t have a register. The register is completed by the teacher and returned to the BA, who then ascertains which non-attendees were absent from school that day and which were in school but did not attend their detention. The former are moved onto the list for the next day. The latter go on to the list for the next day’s detentions AND the list for the consequence room. Parents are phoned and texted.

In detention, students sit in silence and copy out the pupil code of conduct.

So every consequence has a paper record handed to the BA, who communicates the consequences to parents and pupils. All missed consequences are centrally recorded and escalated.

In Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch, they characterise human behaviour as being like a Rider perched on top of an Elephant. In order to change human behaviour, we must direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path. The Rider represents our rational mind, the Elephant our emotions, and the Path the environment around us. The Rider directs the elephant because he holds the reins but his control is precarious because he is so small compared to the elephant. If the elephant decides it wants to go left then the Rider probably won’t be able to make it go right. The Path provides an obvious path for the elephant to take: it is unlikely to choose to walk through dense trees when there is a clear path available. The authors propose that changing human behaviour is most effective when we “direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path”. Our system directs the rider with clear steps for every eventuality. The path is shaped by the fact that each step is very easy and very quick. We motivate the elephant by looking after the culture. I’ll wr

After our system had been in place for a few months we could see there was a group of pupils who were constantly in the consequence room. Some were doing things on purpose because they preferred being in there to lessons. These pupils typically struggle with interactions with their peers and would rather avoid them. Other pupils seemed to be struggling more with the higher expectations in lesson and these pupils were often sent home for poor behaviour in the consequence room. We now have a team of mentors, drawn from TAs and other support staff, who are assigned around four of these pupils each. Every week the mentors have a one-to-one meeting with each of their mentees to check-in, discuss any consequences incurred that week, and give encouragement. I haven’t seen any data yet to show if it’s working but it seems like a good idea.

The pastoral team helps pupils if they are having problems. Any member of staff can email or talk to them about a pupil who they think is having a problem. Pastoral staff talk to the pupil and may issue a ”

Where a pupil is judged to have SEN that make it difficult to cope with the policy, they are issued with a “Think and Return” card. Teachers still apply C1 and C2, but when they get to C3 they invite the pupil to use their think and return card. If they choose to do so, this allows the pupil to go to a SEN/nurture type room for a maximum of 10 minutes after which they must return to the lesson. The consequences still apply when they return, ie if they were on a C3 but create low-level disruption again they will incur a C4. If they don’t return within 10 minutes we send a C5 form. These pupils receive C4 others and C5s in the same way as other pupils.

SLT member responsible for behaviour
One member of SLT oversees this whole system. Some of the things  she does include:

  • Learning walks to check teachers are applying the system correctly
  • Training for staff 
  • Answering questions- there are a lot of these and there needs to be if staff are to understand and apply the system correctly. 
  • Dealing with parents if they challenge the system
  • Dealing with fixed-term exclusions (C6 and 7, depending on duration) 
  • Creating and sustaining the culture needed- staff need to feel safe to ask questions, unthreatened by learning walks, and motivated to apply the system every single time
  • Line managing the system staff: the BA and consequence room staff, especially the paper trail
  • Dropping in to detentions and the consequence room for monitoring
  • Looking for patterns and addressing them, for example the mentoring system that has been introduced 

All of these components together mean that as long as teachers pick up on the behaviours and fill out the very quick forms, then pupils will never slip through the net. No pupil is exempt from the policy, but we provide additional support to those who need it. The system isn’t simple, but it’s clear and it’s well designed, and it works very well. Please do ask questions below, and watch out for my next post on our culture for behaviour. 

There’s a discussion at the moment about whether teachers or a school are responsible for behaviour. My view is this: the school is responsible for having a good behaviour system and teachers are responsible for following the system. By “good system” I mean one which does not create work for the teachers; does not require them to teach for behaviour rather than learning; and in which follow-up and escalation are dealt with by admin staff and SLT respectively. We have such a system in my school.

In this and three subsequent posts I will write about our system and how we make it work. We are not the only school to use it but neither are we part of a majority. I think that many could benefit from using this policy or something similar.

It’s no exaggeration to say that adopting this system has been transformational. Our school is like a different place: we now plan for learning, in the pupil culture hard work is the norm rather than the exception and our results have improved dramatically. In my department A*-C were up 45% in one year.

In this post I describe what teachers do in lessons to manage behaviour using the system. I will write about the administration and culture in parts 2 and 3 respectively. I think many schools have something similar to what I describe in this post, but fewer have the strong administration system and culture that make it work so well. However it won’t make much sense to talk about those without first describing what we do “front-of-house”. So:

There are three distinct groups of behaviour the system addresses: low-level disruption, “non-heinous misdemeanours” and high-profile behaviour.

“Low-level disruption: C1, C2, C3 and C4”
Low-level disruption in lessons is dealt with as follows: a pupil will receive three warnings, called C1, C2, and C3, before receiving a C4 which results in two things. The student leaves the lesson and works in the department room for the rest of the lesson. This is a designated room for that period (usually with a class in it- we don’t keep a room and teacher free for this purpose). The pupil will also incur a one-hour detention the next day. Thus the pupil cannot disturb the lesson further and receives a disincentive from repeating the behaviour in the future.

Examples of low-level disruption include: talking when the teacher is talking, talking during silent work, off-task conversation at a time when work-related talk is permitted, too loud a voice during these times, pen tapping, turning round.

For a C4 to be given, the teacher must have gone through C1, 2 and 3. You can’t jump to C3 for example because the pupil is more disruptive or because you think they should have got a C1 earlier but you didn’t get round it.

Teachers are required to administer these warnings and sanctions with a dispassionate tone and narration of the reason. So it’s “James that’s a C1 because you’re talking during silent work” without a gleeful “gotcha” or an angry or harsh tone of voice. Indeed, we have no shouting.

When giving a C1, 2, 3 or 4 the teacher records it on a specially made small whiteboard at the front of the class. It has column headings “Name”, “C1”, “C2”, “C3” and “C4”. The teacher writes the pupil’s name on the board and a tick under “C1” and then more ticks if needed for 2, 3 and 4. In this way there is no room for a pupil to argue that they didn’t know which stage they had got to. It also helps the teacher to keep track.

An absolutely crucial aspect of the system is that we distinguish between thoughtless low-level disruption and deliberate attempts to undermine the lesson. We are very clear that children can be extremely clever in playing the system and that if, in our professional judgement, they are doing this, then it is not a C1, 2, 3 or 4, it is high-profile behaviour which incurs a C5. More on this below.

We also have Vivos for positive behaviour; teachers are required to award Vivos to at least two students per lesson and write those names on the main whiteboard (not the consequence board). This requirement reminds us to give them out.

The tone in lessons is positive with high expectations.

“Non-heinous misdemeanours: C4 others”
There is a set of behaviours that incur a “C4 other”, by which the pupil does not go to a department room but does incur the next-day one hour detention. These are: graffiti-ing one’s own book, graffiti on hands, chewing gum, using mobile phone at any time other than before and after school and break and lunch-time, food or drink outside of break and lunch-time, repeated minor uniform offences eg blazer sleeves rolled up, lateness, corridor behaviour eg friendly pushing. There is no warning in the form of C1, 2 and 3: it is just straight C4. I have invented the term “non-heinous misdemeanours” to try and make it clearer- we don’t call them that in school! When giving a C4 other the teacher must tell the pupil that they are doing so and why.

C5: high profile behaviour
If a pupil receives a C5 they go to the consequence room to work in isolation. They do one full school day in the consequence room: so if they receive a C5 during lesson 3 on a Tuesday, for example, they go to the consequence room for the remainder of lesson 3, plus lesson 4 and 5, plus lesson 1 and 2 on Wednesday, returning to normal lessons lesson 3 on Wednesday.
C5 behaviours are: high-profile uniform eg trainers, no blazer, no tie; swearing, regardless of whether it is aimed at a teacher or even anyone at all; rudeness, including body language and noises eg tutting; fighting; racist/homophobic/sexist language; vandalism including graffiti-ing someone else’s book; refusal; misbehaviour in the department room having been given a C4; a deliberate attempt to undermine a lesson.

A deliberate attempt to undermine the lesson can be many things. It can be trying to make somebody laugh while the teacher is talking, deliberately asking a silly question to divert the teacher, or trying to distract someone eg by throwing something at them or making a silly face. It also includes attempts to “play the system”: if a pupil repeatedly gets to a C3 and is then good to avoid getting a C4, and the teacher judges that this is a calculated strategy to cause disruption but avoid a consequence, then that is a C5. A pupil tapping a pen while the teacher is talking so as to undermine the teacher would count as a C5. I cannot overstate the importance of this aspect because it is the one place where pupils sense a weakness in the system and try to exploit it. There is an inescapable ambiguity around these behaviours, we know when a pupil is doing something deliberately but it is of course impossible to prove it. So we say: “I think that you tapping your pen as soon as I begin to speak is a deliberate attempt to undermine our lesson. However I will give you the benefit of the doubt because these things are difficult to be certain about. Now that I’ve explained this to you, if you do it again I will know that it is deliberate, and it will be a C5.” This is very effective.

Teachers are expected to follow the system at all times without exception. We don’t have to do much to apply a consequence (see part 2), but we do have to do it every time and never ever pretend we didn’t see something, or let a pupil off for any reason. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Next posts: administrating the system and supporting the culture

I’ve worked in several schools where behaviour has been judged “good” in an inspection while the school overall got a 3 or a 4 because of results. In each case the behaviour was actually poor and, I would argue, the main cause of the poor results. I would conjecture this error has been repeated many times. So why are Ofsted not picking up on the problem?

1: Pupils are loyal – often pupils in schools with poor behaviour behave a lot better when Ofsted were in. I’ve seen this many times in several different schools. Once, a year 9 boy who had been interviewed by an inspector told me, “Miss they tried to get us to tell them if there were any shit teachers, but we wouldn’t say anything. Yeah we might have shit teachers, but they’re our shit teachers, and we won’t grass.”
In my experience a school with poor behaviour expectations and systems can have the most lovely, charming pupils who really like many of theirs teachers, and their teachers really care for them too. This is not enough though for pupils to do well. I’ve written about this in an earlier post. 

2: SLT cameo appearances in the corridors during an inspection. Thanks for nothing guys!
3: Teachers have got behaviour to be good because they have learned how to plan for behaviour. I have written about this in an earlier post. Inspectors never seem to comment that the style of lessons being taught reflects low expectations of behaviour for learning and poor systems for managing it, and that this is causing the poor progress. Maybe it’s outside their remit, I don’t know enough about Ofsted to say. It’s certainly within the remit of edu-bloggers to make this link and so I do so with no compunction!