SEN students and GCSE – how we achieved success

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As a special school teacher I’ve taught GCSE before but changed to BTEC for many years, thinking the assessment suited our learners.  Recent changes including higher targets, variable attendance and a change in the performance tables all contributed to a move to GCSE.

I moved to teaching AQA Core A GCSE, and to do this I wrote all my own resources and ran the whole course without a textbook or a technician.

I did have some support with coursework from within the academy trust, marking their ISAs alongside experienced staff which meant my coursework marks weren’t adjusted.  I was expecting the coursework to drag my overall marks up but progress over the last six months meant the opposite was true.

As a result of this progress most of my students were well over target (upper quartile of progression guidance for those familiar with the terminology) and the estimated grades from my final tracking window were fairly accurate so what were my secrets? How did my students pull it off?

My first tip is to know your students.  I had secure KS3 data as a starting point (as I taught the students myself) and my targets were set in line with the upper quartile of progression guidance (aspirational!)  Every lesson I wrote my levelled learning outcomes with grades pitched from G to C and marked books with reference to these grades so that students could see every week where they were. Marking includes development points and students have an opportunity to respond to marking at the start of a lesson.

Exam questions should be slipped in to teaching lessons as well as revision lessons.  Educake provides a less intimidating way of testing what students know and is extremely responsive to suggestions for improvements.  My students would engage with this online system when they were tired and not in the mood for written questions.  Real exam questions are a valuable resource and I use the ExamPro database of questions to use in my teaching so students can learn tricks like counting the number of marks and making sure they give the information that the question asks for.

Practical work is an important tool that you have to boost comprehension, and one of the skills of the good science teacher is knowing when practical work is appropriate and when the practical work should be a demonstration or classwork.  My experience shows that SEN students benefit from the way practical activities can help them understand and link concepts, and it aids retention of information.

Discussion – don’t be afraid to go off topic from time to time.  My year 11 students were experts at asking me questions that took us well off topic, but they were engaged and interested in science.  I might not have the same depth of science knowledge as an A-level teacher but my knowledge is broad and related to every-day life.  My students enjoy science and lessons are engaging meaning all take part to the best of their abilities.

Mock exams.  Mentioning mock exams is like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs but they are useful for highlighting gaps and misconceptions.  Having smaller groups meant that many of my students sat their mock with me as the scribe, and I had a fairly good idea of what they were capable of.

Plan your revision.  Don’t assume that students will revise or even know how to revise.  We planned to have finished the content several weeks before the exam.  The first phase of the revision was to revisit the most difficult concepts, the second phase was to move on to past papers.  We follow the route with separate papers for physics, chemistry and biology which makes it easy to chunk revision and you can revise right up to the exam.

At the end of the day good teaching is good teaching.  You plan what you want students to learn and you then plan activities to make sure they learn.   In the past I have shared my resources on the TES and on this site for others to use.  Unfortunately I don’t have the time to keep this updated as my teaching resources are constantly evolving and being improved.  Weeding out resources where I have grabbed copyrighted resources off the internet or out of a textbook would remove key activities and the remaining material wouldn’t make much sense.  If you have a Google or Microsoft account I may be able to share a live (read-only) copy of my resources with you – use the contact option to get in touch if this interests you.

Many of the strategies I’ve used work for me because of my setting and the smaller group size, but I see no reason why most of them couldn’t be used in a mainstream school.

If you want to know more about SEN and science, join #ASEchat on Monday 28th September 2015 when I’ll be hosting the online chat on Twitter.

3 thoughts on “SEN students and GCSE – how we achieved success”

  1. What a great advocate you are. I’ve used many of your resources in my lessons with great success. Thank you for sharing your work your ideas and your help ??

  2. HI Rob, I too teach AQA core science GCSE to my SEN students and our school has had fantastic successes. However what are your plans for the 2016 changes? with students limited to the option of a double award only? I am disappointed that our students are to be restricted to ELC or a new stem technical award but not a well recognised GCSE qualification. Have you found a suitable pathway/exam board for the future?
    Thanks
    Lisa Edwards, Oak Grove College, Worthing

    1. I’m fed up of BTEC, just because I find I’m watching the evidence all the time rather than the teaching and learning. Plan is currently to move eventually to a three year gcse (covering it in two years with next year’s y10).

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