Come on teachers – take back control of your CPD

Every teacher needs CPD.  Even the best of teachers can benefit from new ideas and techniques, I’m told “there is always room for improvement”. Unfortunately the demands of modern teaching mean that CPD delivered in INSET days is often linked to school improvement priorities (or worse, isn’t developmental in nature).  Even if you see a course outside your institution and your school can afford to fund it, you are often asked how it links to school improvement plan and if it doesn’t you can’t go.  To cut a long story short, teachers find it hard to get out of school for CPD.

With the school out of the equation it is down to teachers to take back this control.  Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need any – even the act of meeting other (science) teachers and the networking that comes with it can be a source of ideas and inspiration.

Join Twitter and look for twitter groups and chat that is linked to your subject – e.g. #ASEchat for science teachers, and get networking for ideas. Many people prefer to keep a separate Twitter account for this whilst others (like myself) prefer to maintain a professional manner at all times.

Next I would recommend you join a subject association and look for the courses they run.  Quite often you will find that they are available to members at a heavily subsidised rate.  Speak to your school coordinator about being released to attend the courses they run – you are more likely to be released for courses run by subject associations.  Some associations run events on a Saturday which means teachers can attend if prepared to give up a day on a weekend.  Experience of organising regional events for the ASE tells me that many teachers are prepared to give up time on a Saturday but getting word to them about courses proves to be very difficult (so make sure you sign up to any mailing lists to keep up to date). Science teachers check out the conferences organised by the ASE here – you don’t have to be a member to attend (although you get subsidised prices if you do!)  Speak to your school about them paying for you to attend weekend courses if you go down this route – many of the courses are far cheaper than a paying a supply teacher for a day.

Evernote Snapshot 20160822 151943

Yesterday I attended a teachmeet/tweet-up where a group of science teachers came together to share ideas.  Members of this group had three things in common

  • Most were members of the same subject association – the ASE
  • Many were known to each other in cyberspace through Twitter
  • All were prepared to give up a day (or longer) of their holiday for the chance to get together and exchange good practice (and spend some time in the local pub as well!)

Teachmeets are less formal/structured but free – and vary in location, duration and subject content.  Many are advertised on the teachmeet wiki and others through subject associations websites/newsletters.  Not only are they a brilliant source of ideas but they also provide an excellent opportunity to network with like minded teachers.  Exam boards often have network or hub meetings which can serve a similar purpose, although these tend to be more one-way.

So there you have three ways that you can take control of your CPD to help you develop as a professional but the I can’t finish without a word of advice to fellow school leaders.

  • Set directed time aside to allow teachers to take part in CPD.  Even cancelling the odd meeting would go some way towards easing the time pressures that teachers face and be seen as a measure of good will.
  • Don’t insist on all CPD being linked to school improvement priorities.  Yes this is where you might target the bulk of your resources but think of the impact of a course that moves a teacher from being a good teacher to being an outstanding teacher.
  • Set up a teachmeet style sharing session in your own school and get teachers sharing good practice – if you aren’t sure what a teachmeet should look like then send someone out to do some research.


LessDull – an interesting website for science (biology) teachers


I recently received an email from a developer who had set up a website called LessDull.  The teacher is experimenting with the demand for interactive whiteboard teaching resources and has created some resources based on the eye to test demand.

There are free diagrams on the website that support teaching about the eye.  These are clear and suitable for use with learners of all abilities.  To complement these the author has created a standalone Windows utility which he intends to sell to teachers for a modest sum (£1.99).  The fee is payable to download the software using a well implemented shopping system.  The software appears to be free of DRM protection although it would be advisable to check with the author before sharing with a department.

The most useful feature of the software is the interactive labelling tool which allows you to label the anatomy of the eye, part by part.  There are the options to show/hide all labels etc if required.  This is the most interactive part of the software.  The software also covers the pupil reflex and how the eye focuses.

The software is simple. perhaps a little too simple as it provides similar functionality to a well crafted powerpoint.  For example it would have been nice to have some kind of transition between the images when demonstrating accommodation or a variable slider to make the differences more apparent.

I approve of the simple style and layout of the software which will function well in a touch environment.  The price compares favourably with some of the resources on the TES site, although it could get expensive if you had to buy lots of resources (I teach the whole of the GCSE curriculum).

I hope the author takes this project further and produces further resources – perhaps readers of my blog could signpost the resources they need the most?

SEN learners and the new science GCSEs

multchSince I wrote my last posts  about the new GCSEs (here and here) I’ve had several people get in touch to seek advice or ask what we are doing.  I’ve written this post to provide an update.


When the new KS3 curriculum came in we decided to shadow Activate science (I say shadow because I don’t use Kerboodle and I don’t use textbooks in the classroom).  We bought the year 9 scheme as well but quickly abandoned it as it turned out to be a dry parallel of GCSE topics.  That left me with a short KS3 and a three year KS4 to fill.

The current year 9 are the first to have experienced the shorter KS3 and with final GCSE specifications being a long way in the future we decided to do BTEC Science with year 9 and come back and make a decision ready for September.  I also have year 8 moving up to KS4 needing to start a KS4 topic.

My current year 10 have just sat AQA Core and have just started AQA additional, and my year 11 did BTEC science followed by AQA Core.  There has been lots of student anxiety around the three core exams (and lots of anxiety from me in my role as exams officer trying to provide the support awarded through access arrangements)

Where we are now

I had thought I knew what I was doing next year because of the lack of options. Entry level isn’t demanding enough, BTEC is, well BTEC, and there are no more single combined science GCSEs.  I was all set to choose an exam board and prepared a presentation for our governors to keep them up to date with our thinking.  There was much debate about the pressure placed on exams in sitting six hour of exams in whatever combination we choose, combined with all the extra demands of the new GCSEs that I blogged about before.  I also wanted to alert the governors there will be budget implications for the new required practicals.

Unfortunately discussion overran the time available and it was agreed to return to this at the next governors meeting.  I agreed to put together a little more information on the options available and these are what I’ve listed below.

Three year GCSE – Double award combined

Three year course, possibly with entry level certificate taught alongside for those who can’t cope with the demands of GCSE.

Either 6x1hr or 4x1hr45m exams

Two year ELC and single science GCSE

NC covered by ELC (taught to foundation GCSE level where possible so double science GCSE remains an option for the odd student).

Single science GCSE (probably biology) which count as a single GCSE in the sciences bucket of progress 8

Examined by 2x 1hr45 exams

Entry level and BTEC L1

NC covered by ELC and reinforced by teaching BTEC science.  Doesn’t allow for any student who has a target grade higher than an F and will make no contribution to progress 8.  Much of the BTEC content is dry and the focus tends to shift from learning to generating evidence.

iGCSE (with ELC?)

Edexcel/Pearson have a single science iGCSE in development but won’t be ready for accrediting students until 2019.  That leaves Cambridge iGCSE.

Exams 1x45min, 1x1hr15min and 1hr30 practical

My presentation to governors and staff

I’ve embedded the presentation I created – feel free to download and adapt it if you need to have similar discussions at your school.

Finally it would be great if you could leave me a comment letting me know what you will be doing with your SEN students or if you have any words of advice to share.

Why I always say no thanks to Sainsburys’s Active Kids Schools vouchers


Whenever I fill up my car or interact with a human at Sainsbury’s I’m asked if I’m collecting the schools vouchers.  In years gone by I used to religiously collect them and vouchers from other supermarkets as well.

Now I see the scheme for what it is – a shameless ploy by a supermarket to drive traffic into stores and get positive publicity for doing so.  Schools all over my area have their banners out proudly declaring that they are collecting the vouchers and students are reminded to bring in their vouchers.  Some even have leaderboards to encourage parents to spend more.

The sad truth is that parents and carers have to spend an absolute fortune in store to qualify for anything worth having.  Of course small schools are automatically at a disadvantage, as are schools where much of the catchment can’t afford to shop in Sainsbury’s and prefer to shop at a cheaper alternative.

If Sainsbury’s were serious about getting the nation fit they would target the money they spend at schools in problem areas, with high levels of inactivity or that have poor diets.  I bet Sainsbury’s could even identify these areas from their Nectar card data.

Of course we all know that the vouchers aren’t really about getting children engaged in sport but are a shameless loyalty grab with some free publicity.  For that reason I always refuse the school vouchers when offered (and for the same reason my school are NOT collecting the vouchers).

Only by refusing them when you pay for your shopping will Sainsbury’s ever change their approach.  How do you feel about the vouchers?  Are you prepared to join me in refusing them?

Choosing an exam board and specification for the new science GCSEs #asechat

Pupils sit their GCSEs

New specifications come into effect from September this year as the government continues the introduction of new linear GCSEs from grade 1-9 intended to be tougher and more challenging.  In the past schools chose an exam board based on content and assessment of the content.  To a certain extent there will be a lot more homogeneity between exam boards and even specifications from the same board as the content is dictated by the government.  There is also no single combined science option now – instead there is a combined science qualification worth two GCSEs (double award).  Single sciences also continue to be an option.  One of the biggest changes is the removal of the ISA and I’m still not sure how I feel about this as some students benefited and some students lost out under ISA.  Instead science skills will be assessed as part of the terminal exams which carry 100% of the marks.


Fortunately, we will retain tiers as I know this poses real problems to my students in English as they see the paper as very hard (since the same paper goes from grades G to A*).  Mathematics features strongly in the new specifications accounting for 20% of combined science as do enquiry skills questions which are work 15% of the marks.


With these changes common across exam boards the offerings of the major exam boards are very similar and challenges faced by schools will be common across all the exam boards.  This leaves schools free to choose exam board based on the support (or service) they receive from the exam boards, the structure or split of the final assessments and the wrap-around services they provide like KS3 schemes or Y10 exams.  Having been to meetings with all of the exam boards I have been impressed by the professionalism and way they have tackled the new curriculum.



AQA Edexcel


Qualifications offered Synergy Trilogy Combined science Gateway A 21st Century B
Overview Content split into topics. Ideal for 2 teachers – divides content into 8 units Traditional separate sciences – similar to teaching triple but less content Traditional combined Traditional science course similar to separate sciences. Applied science in association with York university.  Science taught in topics – not intended for those going on to do A-level
Assessment 4 exams – each 1hr45 mins long 6 exams – each 1hr 15 mins long 6 papers of 1hr 10 mins long 6 papers of 1 hr 10 min 4 papers of 1hr 45 mins
KS3 scheme KS3 scheme available. Plans to move into KS3 assessment etc (probably as a paid service) Five year scheme

11-16 progression scale

Online assessment and mark books (not free)

Set of excellent STEM projects to provide a transition to GCSE but not a full scheme for KS3 on their own. Could be used with Y9 for those that do a 3-year KS3 (are there any of you left?)
Wrap around services Excellent no-strings CPD sessions online (I’ve done two of them already!).  Y10 exam in development. Year 10 exam – externally marked (rehearsal for GCSE).

Two terms’ worth of free teaching and learning resources as a bribe 🙂 Online course planner.

Supporting materials published by Pearson (not free).  Exam-wizard is free with questions.

Free mock


Delivery guides for several/most of the topics covered and checkpoint tasks.

OCR weren’t pushing any fancy wrap-around services (and I don’t see any on their website) but when I saw them in person they had the biggest focus on the science content.

SEN ELC scheme co-teachable (is that a real word?) with GCSE.  New ELC to complement GCSE.  SEN friendly schemes available for foundation only ELC to run alongside GCSE.  Short topics with a test to help map to GCSE.

GCSE has saw-toothed demand so students don’t give up part way through. SEN friendly language

It was suggested that SEN students could do 1 single science GCSE and cover the rest of the NC through the STEM projects.  There is also a new ELC certificate as with other exam boards.
Other comments KS4 schemes available (several to fit different scenarios)


“start early, finish strong”

KS4 schemes available Layout of specifications very clear with misconceptions and mathematical content for each topic.

So which course are you offering in September?  I think I’ve nearly decided…