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About this blog

This blog shares research on how the new GCSEs and Progress 8 will be implemented and on practical ways of helping students to attain higher grades in the new GCSE English examinations. For the first time the demands of all aspects of GCSE have been increased and at the same time a new value-added system (Progress 8) is being introduced. But the DfE will provide no advice on how to prepare students for the new examinations. This is in line with the Coalition and present Governments’ belief that standards are raised by schools competing for students, so each school is expected to work out its own approach to teaching and learning. The GCSE Boards can give little advice about teaching and learning because the exams are completely new and they don’t know how they will work in practice. In particular, they don’t know how Ofqual’s new control of awarding will work, ensuring that no Exam Board’s papers are easier than the others.

In these unprecedented circumstances, sharing research may be helpful. Comments and enquiries are very welcome, publicly on the new blogposts or privately on these or earlier posts (or any related matter) to laurie.smith@kcl.ac.uk.

About Laurie Smith

I taught in South London secondary schools for 22 years (English teacher, Head of English, Deputy Head) before moving into educational research and then into teacher education at King’s College London. I realised I couldn’t very well advise student teachers on their teaching if I didn’t continue teaching myself, so continued teaching timetabled lessons (1 to 3 per week) at an Inner London boys’ comprehensive until 2014 when the demands of Let’s Think in English (LTE) made a regular timetabled commitment impossible.

LTE arose from conversations with Philip Adey, one of the two originators of Cognitive Acceleration (CA), who shared the office next to me at King’s with Paul Black. We talked regularly about education and, in October 2008, realised a sea-change was coming. The Secretary of State abolished the KS3 SATs, announced the discontinuation of the National Strategies when Capita’s contract ended in March 2011 and, without publicity, created Ofqual to investigate and then control grade inflation by the GCSE Boards. Behind this, Government had accepted that standards of attainment in schools hadn’t risen significantly since the 1980s, so something else needed to be done.

Philip wondered if the changes would allow a revival Cognitive Acceleration in Science Education (CASE) which had been squeezed out of schools by the National Strategies and Ofsted’s demand for frequent formal assessment and tracking – and, if so, whether a CA programme in English could be developed. I said I would try. Michael Walsh, who had come across CA in Islington, joined me in 2009 and together we have developed the Let’s Think in English programme and its lessons, supervised by Philip until he passed away in 2015, with Michael also leading development in primary schools.

We have developed the LTE lessons by teaching them in schools and we have developed an ongoing training and support process for schools which includes four sessions and partnered work in between. It also includes us teaching an LTE lesson to a class in new schools, observed by the staff to model the LTE process. It’s now increasingly accepted that a single CPD day isn’t enough to bring about effective change in teaching and learning – longer embedding and support is vital. It has been good see this approach endorsed by the DfE’s Standards for teachers’ professional development [PDF document], and by thoughtful commentators like Robert Coe in his Improving Education : A triumph of hope over experience [PDF document].