Daventry: Not as far away as you think (or why you should come and teach at Parker Academy)!

Daventry: Not as far away as you think (or why you should come and teach at Parker Academy)!

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room, or the elephant just off the M1 (J16/18): Daventry is much easier to get to than you might think, if, in fact you are fully aware of where it actually is – I wasn’t when I first applied to teach at the school!  So please take a look at Google maps to check how far away we are or use the table I have helpfully created below:

Northampton (Sixfields) 10 miles/18 mins
Northampton (Weston Favell) 20 miles/33 mins
Coventry 20 miles/31 mins
Wellingborough 29 miles/45 mins
Milton Keynes 30 miles/42 mins
Leicester 30 miles/44 mins

Right, so now we’ve established that Daventry is quite easy to get to and Parker is located on the outskirts, you need to know a bit more about us as a school and a faculty.

A lesser elephant in the room to deal with is our current Ofsted category: requires improvement.  While, of course, you would expect me to say this, it is just a matter of time before we receive a good rating or better and, as a staff body, we’re pretty desperate for Ofsted to come in and more accurately reflect where we are as a school.  Last year was our #BestEver results with 55% A*- C and the English Faculty weighed in with our highest ever (as an academy and before) English results of 70% A* – C.  What we’ll get this year, obviously no-one knows for sure but we have done a lot of work on training and moderation to make sure our marks are accurate and then done some relatively complex modelling using Exampro data to work out some grade boundaries that are as good, if not better, than anything anyone else has come up with.

It’s not only in trying to make some sense of the maelstrom of change we’re all fighting through at the moment that the English faculty is pretty much at the cutting edge of.  Despite our successes last year we are constantly looking to innovate and develop, for example, creating mini-textbooks and using knowledge organisers off the back of a visit to Michaela Community School, Brent last year.  While the level of challenge and expectations of our Year 7s has been considerably raised this year, there’s more that can be done.  So while we will be looking to apply many of the advances we have made with Year 7 to other year groups, we will be redesigning Year 7.  Several of the ideas for this (and the requirement for it) have come from ‘Making Good Progress’ by Daisy Christodoulou.

Hopefully what is coming across is that we are extremely committed to long-term CPD in terms of exam specifications and pedagogic approaches (we’re just about to start a 6-week CPD programme looking at cognitive science applications to the faculty) but, as a Head of Faculty, I’m extremely committed to trying to reduce the workload of the rest of the faculty.  One project that we are currently running in year 7 is looking at giving more frequent, whole-class verbal feedback as opposed to deep or triple marking that many English teachers up and down the country are saddled with by their SLT.

In terms of SLT, you’ll find them very approachable and very understanding with the issues and challenges we face…at least partly because the faculty includes two vice principals, an assistant vice principal and, technically, the principal himself!  The principal has completely turned around the culture of the school since he has arrived, to the massive benefit of staff and students and is very much committed to continuing this positive shift into the future.

So where might you fit in?  Well, the English faculty includes media, music and drama as well, so not only could you teach English from key stage 3 to 4 to 5, you could in these other subject areas too.  We teach both language and literature at key stage 5 as well, so if you want to develop your subject expertise within those areas then you would be very welcome to.  In terms of immediate responsibilities, if you had an interest in running a project, an extracurricular club (for example, being involved in one of our school productions – ‘Oliver’ is up next and we performed ‘Grease’ the previous year) or even Key Stage 3 English, that is definitely something we can accommodate.  Also, because so many of our faculty members are either SLT (or have other responsibilities), it is likely in a couple of years’ time for progression opportunities such as head of literacy and/or second in faculty to come along.

Ultimately though – get in touch!  You’d be more than welcome to have an email or twitter or even phone conversation with me about the faculty and where you might fit it.  Even better, come and see us and find out in person what we as an organisation are all about.  In the process, you’ll even come to realise that Daventry isn’t as far away as you think!


Kieron Bailey



AQA English Language Grade Boundaries, using Exampro’s Testbase Camp.

AQA English Language Grade Boundaries, using Exampro’s Testbase Camp.

We’re all in the very difficult position of on the one hand knowing that any grade boundaries we create are a fiction of some degree or another but on the other hand still being expected by our schools, academy chains and, ultimately, students to say where they are in relation to the new 9-1 grades.

My own academy chain has worked with several HoFs to devise grade boundaries, but these differ by as many as three grades from the grade boundaries provided by PIXL (ours are harsher).  To continue the fiction metaphor, it seems like it just depends whether we want a fairy story or a horror story depending on which grades we use.

However, AQA has offered a service where schools can upload their marks onto something called Testbase Camp and this has provided population data on the most recent sample assessment materials provided for the English Language exams.

Using these and a few other pieces of information from here and there I’ve put together the following:

Grade Boundary Rationale Using Testbase Camp 

This is the process that grade boundaries for AQA English Language were arrived at using the population data from Exampro Testbase Camp published 13th January 2017.

Data on for the national population distribution of each paper and combined can be provided, but it is accessible from Testbase Camp itself.

Guidance from “Setting the grade standards of new GCSEs in England – part 2” 


“Calculating 1-7

  • Broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 4 and above as currently achieve a grade C and above in the subject.
  • Broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 7 and above as currently achieve a grade A and above in the subject.
  • Broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 1 and above as currently achieve a grade G and above.
  • Grades 2, 3, 5 and 6 will be awarded arithmetically so that the grade boundaries are equally spaced in terms of marks from neighbouring grades. Grade 5 will be positioned in the top third of the marks for a current grade C and the bottom third of the marks for a current grade B. “

“Calculating 8-9

  • Across all subjects (as opposed to within each individual subject) close to 20 per cent of those awarded a grade 7 or above will be awarded a grade 9 (the ‘tailored approach’).
  • Under the tailored approach, grade 8 will still be awarded arithmetically so that the grade boundary is equally spaced in terms of marks from the grade 7 and 9 boundaries. “

JCQ Percentages 2016


Grade Cumulative Percentage 2016
A 11.9
B 33.3
C 63.4
D 84.6
E 93.5
F 97.5
G 99.1

Using “Setting the grade standards of new GCSEs in England – part 2” to transfer from letters to numbers. 

Grade Cumulative Percentage Comments
9 2% 20% of Grade 7
8 7% ‘Arithmetically equally spaced’ (7 and 9)
7 12% Grade A 2016 to integer
6 26% Grade B 2016 – ((Grade B 2016 – Grade A 2016)/3); 33.3 – ((33.3 – 11.9)/3)
5 43% Grade B 2016 + ((Grade C 2016 – Grade B 2016)/3); 33.3 + (63.4 – 33.3)/3)
4 63% Grade C 2016
3 75% ‘Arithmetically equally spaced’(1 and 4)
2 87% ‘Arithmetically equally spaced’ (1 and 4)
1 99% Grade G 2016

Comparative Raw Mark Grade Boundaries 

(Out of 80) Academy Chain PIXL TestbaseCamp
1 11 4 5
2 18 10 23
3 28 16 30
4 41 22 35
5 49 29 43
6 56 36 50
7 64 43 57
8 69 50 61
9 76 56 63

Ultimately we will only know in August how correct these are, but for the time being, as far as I’m aware, these are the best we have to go on.  It does, of course, assume that the marks provided to Testbase Camp are correct, as they would not be subject to external moderation.

I hope this is useful and if there are any flaws in my reasoning, logic or just maths, please let me know!

Sweating the Small Stuff

Sweating the Small Stuff

A few years ago I went to Bruges on Eurostar and was looking for something to read from St. Pancras, something relatively light that would while away the hours until I arrived.  My eye was caught by the sight of a Canadian astronaut skateboarding over an image of the Earth: ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ by Chris Hadfield, Commander of ISS Expedition 35 but probably best known as the ‘Major Tom’ guy.

Several hours later, my other half was begging me to put the ‘damn astronaut book down’ and go out to see the city we had travelled so far to visit.  Eventually I did put the book down and we had very nice evening trying to spot places where ‘In Bruges’ was shot.  But when we got back, I had to finish the book: it turned out that while being incredibly enjoyable to read, it was not the ‘relatively light’ book that I had expected.

The book is, on one level, an autobiography that covers Chris Hadfield’s early years at school and in the Canadian Air Force through to the beginning of his NASA career and the culmination of it as Commander of the ISS.  However, it is also much more.  As the subtitle of the novel says, it really is a book about ‘life lessons from space’, useful for anyone to help understand what they want to do and who they want to be, but priceless for a relatively junior middle leader working out what culture he thinks that schools should have.

A couple of years on, the same, albeit slightly less junior, middle leader was reading Sarah Cullen’s chapter of ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers’ with the focus on details being crucial to Michaela’s success and the parallels between the philosophies were immediately clear.

Cullen gives an example of how a seemingly innocuous subject like ‘which year group should use which stairs’ was carefully and meticulously discussed until the best solution was decided on; Hadfield gives an example of a crucial spacewalk almost having to be cancelled because of a bead or two of irritant cleaning fluid wasn’t wiped from a visor.

The title of this particular chapter in ‘An Astronaut’s Guide’ is ‘Sweat the Small Stuff’ and this is exactly the idiom that Debra Kidd uses in part 2 of her review of ‘Battle Hymn’ when commenting on Cullen’s chapter.  Recently I’ve been sweating a lot of small stuff with my own year 7 group and year 7 as a whole, trying to ‘imitate the action of the tiger’ with knowledge organisers, frequent low-stakes testing and a very high set of expectations, both in terms of conduct and behaviour for learning.  They’ve recently completed their second assessment of the year and the standard set is giving our year 8s a run for their money and, in terms of progress, has the rest of the school beat hands down.

What’s great too is how the staff are raving about their year 7 lessons, going from being a bit dubious about introducing terms like anaphoric reference and juxtaposition to keenly discussing how best to introduce the next set of terms, in what order, with which texts and really focusing on the minutiae of how we are supporting the students: sweating the small stuff.

Chris Hadfield’s spacewalk had a happy ending – eventually his eyes’ natural defences diluted the irritant so that he could see again and ‘sweating the small stuff’ through training enabled Hadfield and NASA to manage the situation effectively.  Subsequent spacewalks used a different cleaning product and if an astronaut was affected, the solution to the problem was known, thanks again to sweating the small stuff.

I’ll leave the final comments to Commander Hadfield: “That’s why it’s so worth it to sweat the small stuff.  And even in my line of work, it’s all small stuff.”

Imitating the Action of the Tiger

Imitating the Action of the Tiger

I first visited Michaela in the summer of 2016 after year 11 and year 13 had gone on exam leave and I wanted to use some of the gained time to see how some other schools were approaching some of the same challenges my school has. I’m not going to write about how amazing I found it as others have done so at length and much better than I could (see @Samfr and @Doug_Lemov for just two examples). Instead I thought I would write about what I had seen and read and experienced and how it has changed my teaching practice: how I am “imitating the action of the tiger”.

Knowledge Organisers
I first became aware of something similar to knowledge organisers through Twitter, a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ version, I think, and looked to include it in the new schemes of work we were creating for the new English units being written at the time. The first versions were more like fact sheets, were far too wordy and I wasn’t really clear how I wanted students to use them. As a reference tool, something to make pretty with highlighters (and then ignore!), a checklist for staff?

After my visit to Michaela and with the help of @jo_facer who kindly looked at and gave me feedback on a few early drafts, I developed something I was happy with and will post later in the week.

I chose year 7 because I wanted to embed these terms very early and also so that year 7 would know nothing different. Throughout the year I had numerous conversations about ‘inverting the pyramid’ of throwing all resources into year 11 intervention, only having to do the same thing again and again and again, and focusing on year 7 was one of the strategies to break this paradigm.

Generally they’ve been used effectively across the faculty and I know my year 7 lower ability group take pride in knowing what verisimilitude means and what the difference between anaphoric and cataphoric reference is. They still need more practice applying these terms and not looking for ‘one size fits all’ analysis, but they now know these techniques exist which is the first step to being able to apply them.

A few students have struggled learning the words so for those students I have recently given them an A5 exercise book (we had some spare!) as a practice book to formally practice look-say-cover-write-check as per Michaela homework. One student who was convinced he could learn them has gone from 2/10 to 5/10 to 8/10 in just one week and four nights of 15-20 minutes of study.

It has probably been the most successful and impactful homework that I have set in my career to date!

Work Booklets
In January 2016, years 7-10 were all working on non-fiction for AQA English Language Paper 2 and while I was happy with the texts we had chosen and the tasks set, the amount of recopying we had to do drove me insane! Not only from the waste of money but, more importantly, the waste of learning time with so many loose pieces of paper. Seeing the fabulous ‘Julius Caesar’ booklet at Michaela made me change my approach.

Again with year 7 only to begin with, I devised a booklet to support imaginative writing. This is something that is not imitating the action of the tiger as Michaela don’t do writing units per se, but integrate writing skills through their study of literature. (Although this is something that they are looking at developing.) We would then follow this booklet with one that looked at prose extracts (vaguely linked to AQA English Language Paper 1).

While I’m happy in general with how the first two went there are a couple areas that didn’t go as well as planned. Firstly, I included good examples of several genres in the imaginative writing unit for students to imitate before moving on to structural elements of a story. We never finished this because of when we had to complete our first assessment and it was a bit too much like a reading unit…which was then followed by a reading unit! This isn’t necessarily bad, and students did make links between the extracts and the booklets, but I’m going to look to combine the two booklets into one for next year.

Secondly, I created the first two booklets on my own so while I was enthusiastic about the texts I had chosen, other faculty members were less keen on some of them and I’m pretty sure this came across in some of the lessons that were delivered.

For our next unit, everyone contributed a poem on society in the same format as the earlier two booklets and I modified the knowledge organiser to fit with what those poems required. Funnily enough the outcome turned out to mostly be a reprise of the old AQA Different Cultures anthology, but welcoming ‘Two Scavengers…’ back into the classroom has been like meeting up with an old friend from uni who hasn’t changed a bit.

Marking Trial
Apart from students’ results, my number one target for this year is to try and do something about my faculty’s workload. I’ll come back to Comparative Judgement another time, but I’ve been trialling ‘Giving Feedback the Michaela Way’, also being influenced by the work of @bennewmark and @MrThorntonTeach.

My plan is to demonstrate that my class have made at least as good, if not better, progress than other classes BUT in the extra time I have added significantly more value than the ‘hornet’ of extended written feedback would. Interestingly @learning_spy blogged exactly this suggestion this week! I’ll know by the middle of next week if I’ve achieved this and then my plan is to extend it to other English teachers who teach the same half of year 7 that I do and see if it works for them too. One of the teachers thinks it’s a great idea; one takes a huge amount of pride in their written feedback and prefers ‘deep’ marking; the third teacher is struggling with workload and is willing to try anything that may help!

In a couple more months, if the trial continues to be successful then I want to widen it to the whole faculty, leading to a change in the whole school marking policy for next September.

So, three ways in which I have been influenced and as I read ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers’ more and more ideas are occurring to me, which I’ll come back to in later blogs. But there’s one other way I’ve been influenced and you’re currently reading it!

I’ve always been a bit nervous sharing my ideas outside of my school after a quite unpleasant online experience in my training year, but no longer! So until we meet “once more”, take care, “dear friends”.

Unto the Breach

Unto the Breach

After being tempted to write a blog about my experiences and reflections on the classroom for many years, the book launch of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers’ at Michaela Community School, Brent was the last little push I needed.

The example being set by so many of the Michaela staff but also teachers like Toby French, Ben Newmark and Daisy Christodoulou regularly make me examine my own practice and if I can, in some small way, be part of what the incredibly inspirational Katharine Birbalsingh describes as a ‘revolution’ in teaching, then great!

But what to call the blog…

My first thought was something from Coriolanus, one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and a text that I studied with an all boys English group a couple of years ago.  The moment in Coriolanus that sticks with me the most is when he completely loses his temper with the sniping and goading of the tribunes, calling them “You common cry of curs!” and concluding with “There is a world elsewhere.” He then leaves Rome, joins (and essentially leads ) the army of his mortal enemy and turns against Rome, almost destroying it before his mother manages to save Rome at the last minute, but dooms her son in the process.

While the idea of “a world elsewhere” certainly strikes a chord with me in terms of how differently, and in most ways better, Michaela do things, I wouldn’t go as far to call those who don’t agree a “common cry of curs”!  Also, taking into consideration Joe Kirby’s discussion of stoicism that every year 7 student is taught about at Michaela’s boot camp to help them understand that anger is weakness and self-control is strength, Coriolanus probably isn’t the best role model.

That got me thinking about some of my other favourite Shakespeare speeches, one of Hamlet’s less well known soliloquies, right before he goes and becomes a pirate for a few years, “Rightly to be great/Is not to stir without great argument/But greatly to find quarrel in a straw when honour’s at the stake.”  Aiming for greatness…good; quarrelling…less so; the final line “My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!”…not generally approved of by…, well, everyone but pirates.

Then I thought of Henry V, my favourite of all the Henry plays, and the siege of Harfleur. Henry’s men are tired, have been beaten back from a breach in the walls of Harfleur and are on the verge of defeat and that’s when Henry commands, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”, turning around their fortunes and, ultimately securing the thrones of France and England for his son, Henry VI.

As I read on in my head the rest of the speech I smiled at the lines, “But when the blast of war blows in our ears/Then imitate the action of the tiger”, as I knew I had my title.  There are pretty clear parallels between Katharine Birbalsingh’s call to arms to get the message out about what is possible in education and Shakespeare’s ‘blast of war’.  And as for the ‘action of the tiger’, well, they are ‘tiger teachers’ after all.

So now I have a blog, a title for it and now just need a catchy ending to this first post and again Shakespeare comes to my aid.  To all those who were in Brent on Saturday, watched the livestream or have watched it since I would say:

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,

Straining upon the start.  The game’s afoot:

Follow your spirit, and upon this charge

Cry ‘God for Katharine, teacher-centred learning, and Michaela!’