GCSE 1-3 students – the forgotten cohort?

AQA recently released some very useful documents that gave feedback on the  2018 new-specification GCSE exams. As well as including common mistakes made by students, the documents gave entry numbers and grade breakdowns for each of the science specifications.

The entries for AQA are summarised below:



















































I was interested to see that the take-up for Synergy was much lower than I was expecting. However more interesting is the difference in single biology compared to single chemistry/physics. I’ve spoken to several schools who have entered SEND students for single GCSE biology – and whilst this might not account for all of the difference in entries it is certainly a contributing factor.

I did some ‘back of a fag packet’ calculations using the percentages of grades awarded and a significant number of students gained grade 3 or below (figures in brackets include those with 4:3)  These figures won’t hold up to rigorous scientific scrutiny (in my defence I was probably paying more attention to the Apprentice on TV than the scribbled figures on my notepad) but they do give an idea of the percentage of the cohort that isn’t reaching grade 4.

% of Foundation

% of total entries











55.5% (72.5%)

29% (40%)


29.4% (40%)

40% (52%)

Total exams

17% (21%)

I hear of schools putting all of their efforts (CPD, development plans etc) into getting students the 7-9 grades whereas the equivalent percentage of students getting grade 7 or above (calculated using the same method) was only a few percent higher.

Given that lots of students fall into the 1-3 bracket we need to pay more attention to how to support them. I’ve seen GCSE 1-3 CPD from STEM learning and the Science Learning Partnerships  (I’ve even run the course myself!) but my experience is that schools aren’t booking on these courses (perhaps because of a shortage of money or perhaps because of a shortage of capacity?)

I’m pleased that Oxford University Press is looking at this issue across the board, not just in science.  Their English Catapult scheme looks just as good as their new ELC/1-3 foundation tier GCSE textbook. They have products in development for your ELC/1-3 learners (but not all schools are able to afford them) If you haven’t seen their Foundation GCSE textbook, check it out (and also look at the principles behind it – and it is AQA approved)

Please make sure you focus as much attention on your 1-3 foundation learners as you do your 7-9 learners. They might not be EBacc students or have a full quota of Progress-8 buckets, but the success they experience in science might be every bit as life changing and motivating as hitting a grade 9 is for a higher tier student.

Score yourself some cheap train tickets – how I saved £87 on a single journey

I’ve read plenty of articles about saving money on train journeys and thought this wouldn’t apply to me or that the savings would be minimal.
I recently had cause to visit Bristol for the day on business. A quick check of trains on the National Rail site revealed that I’d be travelling on a Cross Country train.  I had to arrive in Bristol before 11am which meant a peak-time departure.
A quick search on Cross Country trains alongside the Trainline site offered me a ticket for £158 (or slightly less if I booked two singles). There are several routes to Bristol – all came in at the same price but the journey time varied from under three hours to nearly four hours depending on the date chosen.

I wondered if it might be possible to get a split ticket – and a quick google search revealed the site https://www.splitticketing.com/
The user interface for split ticketing is bare-bones and a little clunky. Clicking the wrong option (like leave after/arrive before) would show no routes available. Banging in the times and clicking on the proceed button brings up the individual legs of the journey. This site charges you an admin fee based on your saving – and I wasn’t keen on booking specific trains, I like the flexibility to catch a later (or earlier) train if I’m working and don’t know what time I might leave a meeting.

Using the information from the split ticketing site I decided to book my own tickets, hoping I could book individual day-return tickets. Unfortunately, neither the TrainLine website nor CrossCountry Trains would display day-returns when I put in the times of the individual trains but the East Midlands Trains site did (I’ve no idea why since they all appear to use the same software and interface)
I ended up buying three sets of tickets. I split my trip into three journeys, each with a seat reservation where available and for a total cost of £71.10 (selecting the cheapest tickets offered to me for each leg of the journey) and saving me £87

The upsides to buying this way are simple, you save money. If I’d bought the ticket I was offered first I’d have paid more than double the cost of split tickets! I also felt a bit mean not booking through Split Tickets but I didn’t want the ticket options they offered (and as I was claiming my travel back I felt their ‘fee’ could be hard to justify on an expenses claim form!)
The downsides were several. Searching for the same journey on different dates brings up different journey times and ticket splits, so you can’t always be sure you are being given the cheapest route (The route I took should be available every weekday but searching for other dates routed me through Wales adding an hour to the journey and changing the ticket split).
Because I booked three separate journeys, I had three booking reference numbers and had to go to the ticket machine and repeat the collection procedure three times. This resulted in fourteen tickets being printed – the photo at the top of this posts shows the ones I had left at the end of the day. Before my journey, I sorted them in order ready for checking on the train.
I had booked onto a busy route and on the way back my seat reservation was different for each leg of the journey. The train was packed and I sat watching people evicting each other from reserved seats so be aware that you might have to move mid-journey which can be a problem if you are carrying heavy luggage.
Booking a split ticket means that the train has to stop at the stations where you’ve split your ticket. To reserve seats on these trains yourself, you need to know the exact time of the stop where you break your journey so you can reserve your seat on the onward part of the journey after the break. This adds a significant amount of time and effort to the booking process (if you are travelling on a quieter route you can skip this step and save yourself a good deal of grief!)
Would I do this again?  Yes to save over £80, and watching people showing the train manager their tickets, I wasn’t the only one to split my journey to save money.
What this does show is what a shambles the whole ticket booking system is for travel by train. When we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint and use public transport, it shouldn’t be so hard to get a cheap train ticket.

Update: 23/10/18
Yesterday I repeated the technique. Again I had to book my own tickets because the ticket split site did not offer the chance to make sure every ticket was a day ticket (handy for flexibility) By splitting my ticket I saved £60 this time off a quoted direct ticket price of £128. Again I had a handful of tickets (which the bemused ticket inspector clipped all at once) but I didn’t want to risk my phone battery running out with e-tickets

Life after teaching – two terms on.

I wrote several posts about leaving my job as a deputy head in a special school – you can find them  here, here and in the TES here (although I didn’t write the headline!)  I’d been with the school a long time, and more recently on a journey as deputy head from special measures through to good with outstanding features.

As many teachers do, I found myself questioning the hours I was working and the tasks that filled up my days. There was never a question of not being able to do my job, more an issue of not being prepared to do it any more.  I had hoped that exiting special measures would bring about an end to the relentless demands of the job but being so close to getting an outstanding judgement led to an increase instead of a decrease in workload. Rather than be signed off work, I thought a swift (and unplanned) exit would allow me to look for new opportunities that being off work with exhaustion would not.

As my leaving date drew closer I pinned my hopes on the hope that I’d be able to use the network of contacts that I’d built up and the fact that my face is known to many people in the world of science education. Having no mortgage I set myself an income target and started searching through online job adverts to see what was out there.

The Christmas holidays were barely over before I’d bagged my first interview after being sent an advert by a friend. It was at that point that I started to think that I might be employable and perhaps I wouldn’t end up on the street begging for money to buy dog biscuits! I was keen to maintain my salary level and to work fewer hours than before (after all I didn’t want to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire) This would seem to rule out a return to teaching as it would be a similar workload but on a vastly reduced main scale salary.

In the seven months since my leaving day I’ve learned some important lessons:

  • Don’t look back. It’s hard (I was at my last school for twenty years) and they will keep going without you. Break the connection and move forward. I have mixed feelings about my last employer – I feel resentment that they had a corrosive work/life balance (they were far from the worst school for workload but no trailblazer either!) but I still miss the pupils (and being a teacher)
  • Don’t expect the people you leave behind to miss you – they are too busy carrying on. I still hear from some of them with moans and gripes but on the whole, that chapter of my life is behind me.
  • There are very few posts for an ex-deputy head at even a teacher’s salary, let alone a school leader’s salary…
  • Very few employers want part-time workers. Many of those that do expect you to be self-employed (with all the admin and insurance that brings with it)
  • Working from home is hard. There are many distractions and setting up a workflow takes time. Harder still when you have to juggle several different employers (and a string of email addresses that require my attention)
  • Accepting part-time opportunities limits your options – for example, I have dates in my diary all the way through to next March. This could make it hard to accept jobs that are full time or that aren’t flexible. I’ve already withdrawn from one interview for this reason.

So what did I end up doing?

  • A local authority ran my DBS check and sent me into a school as an associate member of staff to support the leadership team. That was brief but provided the kick-start that I needed.
  • I wrote ELC and GCSE 1-3 resources for Oxford University Press on their Kerboodle platform (and also their blog)
  • I joined the Derbyshire Science Learning Partnership as their secondary lead. I also became a facilitator for them and have presented several times across our region. I’ve met lots of great people from across the STEM learning network whilst doing this.
  • I work for the Science Council and I run workshops for them across the country promoting their Professional recognition for scientists (I’m a Chartered Science Teacher myself)
  • I’ve presented several times for the ASE with positive feedback
  • I’m joining the ASE to help promote the Annual Conference which is in Birmingham next year (and promises to be better than ever)
  • I’ve had more time to attend CPD related to my role as a trustee for Global Education Derby
  • I’ve also spent more time walking the dog (a minimum of five miles a day) but I’m no thinner than this time last summer!

So the world keeps turning and I’ve carved myself a niche outside of teaching, although on a fraction of the salary (but working a fraction of the days). I’ve spoken to other teachers (some that left the same school and many that left others in similar circumstances) and realise that I’ve been fortunate in pursuing avenues that interest me and not having to turn to minimum wage employment or supply work to make ends meet.

I don’t know what the future holds. Most of my contracts have an end date and I can feel my credibility slipping further and further away as I spend longer and longer outside the classroom. I could return to teaching but it would have to be the post in the right school with the right department (and I’m not keen on starting at the bottom again!)

What advice would I give to anyone thinking of doing the same? Be prepared, start to pay down your mortgage and save up so you have a financial cushion if you need it.  Speak to other people inside and outside of the profession. Scan vacancies inside and outside of education so you know what the likelihood of finding another job will be. There’s lots of good advice in the guidance from the ASE (much of which applies to teachers of subjects other than science as well)