Common practice of successful departments

Common practice of successful departments:

There are 4 exceptional departments in my school, and by exceptional I’m referring to exam results. Year on year with different cohorts they exceed expectations and deliver what can only be described as outstanding results and value added. Over the course of the last 2 weeks I have spoken to the HoD’s about how they achieve this. Although there were differences in their approach, this was mainly due to the subject. However there were also a number of similarities in each of the Departments, especially when it came to homework, marking and intervention.

Similar practice between the successful departments were:

* Plan for the formal assessment process – including ‘proper’ mocks

* All formal assessments using past paper questions (not just from examining body, but others)

* Regular knowledge based testing (multiple choice and short answer)

* A major focus on use of questioning in class

* No adjustment in grades for time of year (give grade as if it were the real exam)

* Use toughest grade boundaries seen in past external exams (as they could be used in final exams)

* Work out and provide UMS marks for all assessments (do not rely on grades alone)

* Provide mark schemes, exemplars and exam report style feedback, all in hard copy and electronic for feedback and self evaluation

* Do not set regular homework to produce written work to mark (lots of alternatives for regular homework)

* Only mark written work produced under exam conditions

* Identify intervention students solely from data

* Do not offer intervention as a substitute

* Imaginative intervention strategies for individuals

* A Year 13 mentorship programme, where the best students in Year 13 are expected to mentor students from Year 10 to 13

* Try and avoid 1 on 1 support where more students would benefit from same feedback (be productive)

Some of these I have in place, others are common sense and I should try to implement and others I just wouldn’t be able to offer due to numbers.

A couple I personally feel are a little controversial:

* Do not set regular homework to produce written work to mark (lots of alternatives for regular homework)

* Only mark written work produced under exam conditions

I do understand what my colleagues in other departments are trying to do with this, but I feel negligent if I’m not setting written homework or marking work completed and trying to give clear and precise feedback. One colleague explained that feedback was only essential on work done in an exam environment, anything produced in another environment was not a real indicator of how they would ‘perform’. It would be better to test and then spend time dissecting answer written in this environment then regular setting of ‘pointless’ work. They felt that repetitive practice of exam performance was the best way to prepare the students and get the results. I find this hard to accept, but their success is obviously not open to debate. The facts speak for themselves.


3 thoughts on “Common practice of successful departments

  1. What sorts of things do they offer instead as homework tasks? I tend to agree with you….
    I set things like: long question perfect answer planning; exam questions where I encourage them to use books to get perfect answer; research tasks; flipped learning videos; presentations and posters, however, I feel they do written answers in the exam so should do written answers as homework. BUT then I feel like I’m teaching to the exam and not developing them as learners. Oh the dilemmas….


    1. The Heads of our departments are quite open about teaching to the exam. That is how both students and their staff will be judged in the end. They want to get the best results and this is what in their mind achieves that. With regards to homework they knowledge based revision; little and often. The Economics Department use Quizlet, a tool where students can test terms, concepts and definitions. Others use multiple choice tests regularly for homework. What they don’t do is set loads of written work to make. All of them believe that basic fundamental knowledge is key to the top marks. If you have any specific questions I can ask on your behalf.


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