“Falling over the line”…

…is how a fellow Head of Department described this final week before half-term. It’s been pretty tough, to be honest: we’re tired; the pupils are tired; the holiday was tantalisingly close but just not here quickly enough.

Despite the running-through-treacle feeling of the last few days, there have also been some highlights, including a bit of a refresher at the ATL Midlands TeachMeet on Thursday evening (of which, more anon – too much for one blog-post!). I’ve also enjoyed teaching the first bits of the Management section of the new A-level course. I regularly teach new stuff (let’s face it, my Y11 class this year is the only class where I’m teaching stuff I’ve taught before; this isn’t the first time it’s happened) but this is the first time in a long time where I’m teaching stuff that is properly new – not just old topics repackaged for a new specification, but actual brand-spanking, sparkly new content.

We’re getting the pupils to pre-read (“low-tech flipped” if you must, but please don’t) before lessons, and that has worked very well so far, but I think that the more theoretical aspects are working better with a teacher overview first and then supported by individual reading/notes. I used that model for PED and YED, and was really pleased with the level of understanding (being an economist helped, for sure). I’m planning to do similar for the management theories, such as the Blake-Mouton grid, as they arise. Most of these theories appear in Section 2 of the new course – it’s been part of the IB course for a long time, I think, but I’ve not had to teach management theory before. I started Section 2 this week with Mintzberg’s roles of management – I gave each pair lots of ‘manager cards’, each with one of the ten different roles identified by Mintzberg. The pair then had to sort them into the three categories (inter-personal, decisional and informational). A brief bit of discussion followed, then I challenged them to identify examples of the school’s Head playing each of those roles. Having a context that they all knew so clearly made a real difference to their understanding, and this is something that I’m definitely going to tap into in the future. I’m not sure whether or not to upload stuff to the TES resources section – it’s so difficult to navigate that I suspect no-one would find it!

Now, though, it’s the start of half-term. I’ve survived seven weeks as a Head of Department. I’ve got much better at Excel. I’ve had to negotiate tricky decisions about UCAS predictions. I’ve re-written the department handbook from scratch so it aligns with the format expected by The Powers That Be. I’ve taught a fair few lessons, and now it’s time to sleep.G’night.

Wider reading and twitter

At a meeting this week, we talked about ways to improve whole-school learning. There was discussion about developing a reading culture, which is something that has been difficult to establish in the past: there are so many demands on pupils’ time here that wider reading falls very low down the list of priorities for the majority.

This lack of wider reading is particularly noticeable in Y13, where some students have very little awareness of current affairs and show little inclination to open a newspaper. It definitely hits them when they’re doing BUSS4 in the legacy Business Studies course. I’ve been pondering ways to improve this, but have found few definite answers; finding out what other departments do is definitely on my development priority list.

I like the idea of having a departmental twitter account, and there are some excellent departmental accounts out there. However, twitter is blocked for pupils on the school network and I can’t guarantee that they will all have smart-phone access: there’s no point setting up and curating an account if pupils aren’t able to access it through official channels.

Things are about to change, though. School has invested in Firefly to replace the existing intranet. Firefly supports twitter feeds, so we can at last have a departmental twitter account that pupils can access. A colleague set one up last year, and I’ve comandeered it: I feel a spot of re-tweeting coming on!


After three days away on a DofE expedition, I’ve turned my (slightly tired!) attention back to department administration. Our Department Handbook has grown organically over the last decade, and is currently full of all sorts of things that probably don’t need to be in there in these days of t’internet. I spent a bit of time this afternoon sorting through it and hacking out excessive bloat. Writing it was a useful exercise, though – there are lots of things I need to go back to and give more thought, but it’s roughly in the right shape to fit through the hoops expected by The Powers That Be.

One section of the Department Handbook is about extra-curricular, and it’s quite nice to see how that part has grown from last year. The Economics Society has been expanded and rebranded as the Economics and Business Society, and our first meeting is next Monday evening. I’m going to run some sort of Apprentice-type challenge, although my intention was to plan that whilst sitting in a DofE minibus waiting for teams to walk past. Sadly, I spent much more time driving and less time planning, so that’s another job to add to this week’s To Do list. We’re also planning a ‘morality in markets’ session later this term, plus a couple of visiting speakers and a large-scale business challenge competition in the run-up to our BASE heat next term.

We’ve also got various competitions going on: Target 2.0 has started; the Tycoon In Schools business plan has been submitted; pupils are sorting themselves into teams ready for Student Investor. Of course, some of this happened last year, but there’s a feeling of renewal (not to mention the cross-referencing of sign-up sheets and assorted administration). There aren’t massive numbers taking part this year, but I’m hoping that these guys will be the trail-blazers and there will be more teams next year.

Assessment Point follow-up

Last night, via Twitter, I read Tom Sherrington‘s post about the formative use of summative assessment and that jolted me into thinking more carefully about how I was going to use the results from the Assessment Point tests. The Y12 tests did a pretty good job at splitting the pack – scores ranged from 8/30 to 27/30 – but it seems a bit daft to have that knowledge in a spreadsheet but do nothing with it. After all, why find out if someone’s underperforming if you’re not going to do anything about it?

I am fairly ambivalent about the use of re-tests, but I get the impression that several of our underperformers did little to no revision, and I want to get the message across that this is unacceptable – in the linear world we need students to be building a solid foundation, and that means that they need to be consolidating their knowledge properly right from the beginning. This time, the ‘pass’ mark was 15, a mere 50% (which is a D in the current BUSS3 paper) so everyone getting 15 or lower will be coming back at break time next week for a “chat” and a re-test.

Longer term, I think I’ll put the “pass mark” up a bit each time: that should encourage everyone to raise their game. There’s a danger that our weakest students will spend their lives in a cycle of test-and-re-test hell, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with high expectations, provided we’re giving them support rather than leaving them to flounder. At least regular tests will help to keep the content fresh!

Assessment point 1

When I was planning the Scheme of Work for the new A-level Business course, I decided to introduce cumulative assessment points (APs) every few weeks – not only assessing the most recent work, but also checking everything covered in the course to date. I wrote a bit more about that here.

Time has ticked round, and it’s the first AP has arrived. Here is the paper for Assessment Point 1, testing all of Section 1, plus 5.1d and 5.2f (types of profit and profitability). Early results show that it’s been quite a reasonable differentiator.

My plan is to identify which questions were particularly troublesome and use those again (albeit with slightly different wording) in the next Assessment Point. The results are going onto the shared tracking spreadsheet, so everyone can compare results – I think we’ll have a look at those in our next department meeting and work out support strategies for those with the lowest marks.

Tycoon In Schools

We’ve never entered anyone for any business competition, at least to the best of my knowledge. This year, though, one valiant Y13 has taken the bait; he’s going it alone, but seems very determined. We’ve just spent the last 90 minutes finalising his business plan submission for the Tycoon In Schools competition, and (apart from a moment or two where cash-flow and profit got hideously tangled) I’m impressed with what he’s planned so far. He’s been on the phone to suppliers, negotiated discounts, organised production schedules and done market research. He’s learning a lot from the process, and the competition hasn’t even started yet!

Next week’s challenge is to get teams signed up and ready for the ifs Student Investor Challenge. I’m not going to think about BASE just yet: that’s a project for next half-term…

Assessment points

One of the things I was very keen to introduce as HOD was a series of assessments that were common for every class. I couldn’t think of anything other than “Assessment Point” to call them, so that’s what they are (much as one of my Y13 tries to persuade me to call them pop quizzes!) For the Sixth Form, APs happen about every four weeks; this ties in with our school reporting timetable, so in theory it makes coherent sense.

In reality, what happened is that I forgot about the APs until the time when they were scheduled to happen, so everything has slipped a little – our first internal reports are due in a couple of days’ time, and Y12 have still to sit their first AP – but you can’t have everything all of the time. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself!

I was particularly keen to get the APs in place to help with consolidation – each AP tests all of the topics covered in the course to date, and this will mean that students are going back over their notes and revision materials on at least a monthly basis. This will be important for the linear course, but also for our Y13 students, some of whom are sitting on pretty uninspiring AS grades and need a structured reason to go back over their AS notes alongside the A2 stuff. Hopefully this spacing will help improve their recall, as well as helping to break down the compartmentalisation of knowledge; after all, A2 modules are synoptic.

The format of these APs is something that I’m less certain about, and it will be interesting to see how they develop over the next year or so. This time round it’s been short answers (and some multi-choice for the Y12), which is fine for subject content and great for marking(!), but I think that we need to move to longer answers as the pupils’ knowledge gets more robust. This can happen fairly quickly with Y13, but I’m less certain about when to move Y12 on to much longer answers in tests. We’ve already started writing explanations (and one class have had a go at an essay already), thinking about quality of written communication, but I’d rather spend a bit more time getting the written foundations in place before pushing them in an exam. Another thing to discuss at department meeting…!

DfE consultation on GCSE Business

Way back in the summer holidays, I got an email asking me to respond to a DofE consultation on the new GCSE subject content. It’s been sitting lurking in my inbox ever since,getting closer and closer to the deadline of 24th September. Being a last-minute merchant, I’ve ignored its nagging until now, but I’ve finally sat down and done it.

The consultation page is here if anyone wants a go too – with the subject content here.

Interesting things I noted:

  • The list of quantitative skills includes calculating Average Rate of Return. I normally do ARR with the Y13, so that will be an interesting addition
  • The document refers to Net Profit, whereas a lot of the company accounts I’ve looked at recently don’t use this term. Given that the A-level course is using Operating Profit and Profit For The Year, it would be good to have some consistency (not least for the pupils who have to learn new terminology from one course to the next!)
  • It’s going to be assessed through 100% examination. There will need to be a lot more focus on quant skills in lessons so that they can do the data manipulation and interpretation in exam conditions. This does concern me, as number-crunching inevitably takes valuable time in exams, but I don’t know where the solution lies. Thank goodness I’m not an examiner!

A-level essays

I wrote my first 25-mark essay this evening, all about mission statements. I’ve made my pupils do it; it only seemed fair that I could provide them with my attempt as a model.

I worked on 1 minute per mark, and it was really, really tough to get through the points I’d wanted in the depth I thought was necessary. The essays appear in Paper 1, alongside 15 multi-choice questions and 35 marks of short-answer questions – it’s 100 marks in 120 minutes. Given that they will need time for choosing and planning their essays, 25 minutes writing struck me as being about the right allocation of time. I’m now reassessing this in the light of this evening’s efforts. The only solution is that they’re going to have to whizz through the multi-choice really quickly to free up time for the essays; this is going to make deep learning all the more important, so that recall is instantaneous.

I’m also struggling with knowing the depth that the examiners will expect – there’s a big difference between the existing BUSS4 40 marks and the new Paper 1 25 marks, but will this be reflected in the marking? Without exemplar material, I’m finding it really hard to know what standard is an A, and what is a B. This uncertainty makes me worried about predicting grades for school purposes, let alone for UCAS – I know we’re still a long way off that point, but there will be a time when we have to allocate a letter to each of our pupils. We’re hoping to get an examiner in to run departmental INSET focused on marking (I’m really happy to open this out for other local centres, if people would find this useful), and I’m sure there will be courses over the next few months, but until them I’m stabbing in the dark.

The visualiser…

…is brilliant! I set it up on Tuesday, and have already used it with three different classes. As I predicted, it’s been really useful for showing the Y13 how annotations help with BUSS3 case-studies, but I’ve also used it with Y11 as part of the preparation for their controlled assessment. One of the areas where GCSE pupils have struggled in the past is writing explicitly about the findings from their market research – far too much vague waffle, rather than specific, numerical analysis. I got my Y11 to choose a graph, and then write a “perfect sentence” to start their analysis. I then put various pupils’ work under the visualiser, discussed it and developed it, and then I got them to extend the sentence into a paragraph. I think there are a lot more ways of using it, so I’m keen to know what others do.