Women through the ages

A few months ago, I enthusiastically tweeted:

twitter women through ages

I was increasingly excited about the prospect of teaching some of my favourite texts to my year 10 class. I’ve written about year 10 before, but in a nutshell they are an intervention group whose literacy could be better than it currently is. My main aim for the scheme of work was to build their vocabulary and improve their creative, informative and persuasive writing skills through exposure to some of the best examples I could find.

Oh, and I wanted to make them feminists.

I teach in an all-girls’ school, and so this kind of aim pretty much suffuses our curriculum, not to mention the SMSC and other varied acronyms. I’ve written before about feminism’s place in the classroom, so perhaps this scheme of work was partly my way of making such arguments heard and understood.

Because I don’t think we can take it for granted that our students are cognisant of the challenges that might face them because they are girls. Despite continually out-performing their male counterparts in the education stakes, girls continue to enter a world in which women, to paraphrase Sheryl Sandberg, are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world. Women continue to do the vast majority of housework and child rearing, and they continue to earn far less than men over their careers. More terrifyingly, our children are growing up, as the film Miss Representation makes clear, surrounded by media which dictates that girls looking attractive to men is what matters.

Yet the message of feminism is by no means undisputed. Sandberg has been critiqued for exploring only a very tiny subsection of society in her analysis; Roxanne Gay has pointed out that women of colour are experiencing gender inequality in different ways which must also be heard; Caitlin Moran has been called “dismissive” for her comments on the hijab and why women ought not to be wearing it. This is a complex discourse, and one I very much would like my students to be able to enter into.

I’ve pasted the lesson powerpoints below, but will be making some key changes in preparing a similar scheme of work for the new Key Stage 4 curriculum. The revised scheme will be longer – six weeks instead of three. It will span a greater length of time, and take account of these alternative feminisms. It will be focused on key questions to interrogate, rather than key texts to read. I’ve posted a week-by-week below in case this is of interest.

I’ve also omitted textual exploration of masculinity, although we did watch the trailer for The Mask You Live In and go on to explore depictions of masculinity in adverts. This kind of scheme taught in a mixed school would definitely benefit from more gender balance, perhaps including the “He for She” campaign and exploring the challenges boys and men face in today’s society.

If we need to teach non-fiction, I do think there are some key messages we can use those schemes of work to put across to young people. There are too many inequalities in our society; I want my students to be empowered and inspired by knowledge and understanding of these inequalities to put them right.

*     *     *

Revised SoW: Week by week outline

Week 1:

  • Coverage:  Modern femininity
  • Key question: how are women seen in today’s society?
  • (Everyday Sexism; MissRepresentation; feminism today)
  • (Opposing branches of feminism (Wolf/Benn/Gay/Moran))

Week 2:

  • Coverage: Women under oppression (Malala; Wadjda; Reading Lolita in Tehran)
  • Key question: do women everywhere experience the same freedoms and constraints?

Week 3:

  • Coverage: Historical female oppression (Suffragettes)
  • Key question: how has the female experience changed?

Week 4:

  • Coverage: Female communication: journalism
  • Key question: Is there a female voice?
  • (Lean In excerpts; Lena Dunham (write to entertain), India Knight (write to shock)

Week 5:

  • Coverage: Female communication: political
  • Key question: how successfully do women convey messages in a political setting?
  • Speechwriting (Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Benazir Bhutto, Harriet Harman/Theresa May?)

Week 6:

  • Coverage: Roles and perceptions of women
  • Key question: how are women seen, and how do they see themselves?
  • Hillary Bill Clinton; Eleanor Roosevelt; Sandberg commencement speech; Fey Bossypants

Year 10 feminism SoW

All change: new KS5 specifications

I’ve never been entirely at ease teaching A-level. I’ve often joked I won’t consider myself a “real” teacher until I’ve taught Othello, and to some extent this is due to my own experience of English at KS5, which was, in a word, transformative. I’m not convinced that I’ve ever taught a year 12 or 13 class in that transformative manner, and this is partly (I think) down to the curriculum on offer.

I’ve taught Gatsby, but only in the tight confines of a coursework unit; I’ve taught Much Ado About Nothing and Waiting for Godot through the restrictive lens of comedy; I’ve taught Macbeth, Doctor Faustus and Frankenstein, mainly as a vehicle for understanding “the Gothic.” I don’t feel I’ve ever just taught a text.

For me, this is what English in the sixth form needs to be about: exploring a number of excellent texts in more depth than you ever thought possible. The issues I’ve had with the two specifications I have taught, WJEC and AQA Literature B, is that they want the focus to be ever narrower (the latter significantly more so that the former).

So it was with these issues to the forefront of my mind that I delved through the new KS5 specifications, looking for a bit of breadth.

Being part of a sixth form consortium, though, I was somewhat limited in the choices I would make. The consortium had taken the decision to enter 100% of students at the end of year 12 for the A/S qualification, meaning that any specification I chose had to be deeply co-teachable. Although every exam board claims its spec is co-teachable, in reality the difference in papers at A/S and A2 reveals this as a fallacy. If you need to re-teach the whole of year 12 to different assessment objectives or exam layout in year 13, you could be seriously disadvantaging those students.

(An aside: in my ideal world of never, we teach the A-level over two years, spending the first half of year 12 reading widely texts which are nowhere near the specification, just because; because it’s edifying to read a lot, and know different things about different texts, and to read without being relentlessly tested – but I digress.)

Aside from co-teachability, I wanted a spec which contained texts which I knew I could teach myself or oversee others teaching, but, more importantly, texts which had the potential to change students’ perceptions of literature and English and language and life, love, the world.

I’m excited about the two year overview. I’ve chosen AQA Literature A, and the only irritation is the requirement to study a post-2000 text. The simplicity of the specification is its real selling point; the exams are sensible and allow for wide reading and focus on the key issues and themes in the texts. Plus, it allows me to finally become a real English teacher – by teaching Othello, at last.

Year 12: Love Through the Ages

Studying:

Othello: greatest Shakespeare play of all time (I acknowledge my own bias here)

The Great Gatsby: because if you don’t read about true, painful love when you’re seventeen, it will never feel as visceral in later years

Wuthering Heights: see above. (Also, “I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”)

Poetry pre-1900: as I find the poems slightly more beautiful and therefore teachable than post-1900.

Year 13: Texts in Shared Contexts

I’ve gone for 1945 to the present day, as I felt this would open itself to more varied readings than those in the immediate aftermath of WWI.

Studying:

A Streetcar Named Desire: the production in the Young Vic last year is without doubt the most incredible piece of theatre I have ever seen, and I’m hopeful there is a way to bring the year 13s to see a screening of it. Also, it’s a great play and one through which so many great American themes can be elicited.

Revolutionary Road: I love the idea of teaching this. I’m concerned the students will find the central concepts hard to relate to, but hopeful that they will respond to the inner turmoil and flawed characters.

Duffy: Feminine Gospels: Because they have to study something post-2000, and you can’t go far wrong with a poet who draws so richly on literary history.

Coursework unit: This will be determined by students’ personal choices and guided by the teacher who takes this unit.

Above is what we will teach: what of the how? I’ll come on to that over the coming weeks.

How do I revise English?

Around this time of year, “how do I revise for English?” becomes the clarion call of many a desperate student. It seems that no matter how many times I talk through precisely this question on a powerpoint slide in a lesson (from which students dutifully scribe notes), I still receive feedback from various tutors, mentors, parents and other interested parties who tell me: “she has no idea how to revise English.”

It struck me all too recently that perhaps the answer is to begin to “do” the revision in lesson time. It took me a long time to realize that much of teaching was a gradual recognition of things students did not know which I had assumed they did (my year 10, for example, who dropped the bombshell of not knowing what the word “vocabulary” meant, thus rendering half a year’s worth of feedback essentially meaningless (“is it ‘connectives’?”)). In the same way that I would not now set an essay for homework for any class that is not sixth form (as I did for the first homework for the first year 10 set 5 class I taught), I would not now send children into the wilderness to flail about with highlighters. We need to begin this in class.

Starting with year 13, I decided to show them the evidence. Last year, I read Make it Stick, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. One of the central messages in this text is that students learn by retrieving from their memories. So, as so many others have written at length about, not by re-reading, underlining and highlighting.

No: we need to learn by testing ourselves. This seems more straightforward when your subject is orientated around “facts.” Making a test on how many nitrates make up a – sorry, I don’t think I can finish the sentence without completely embarrassing myself. But you get the idea. English is a skill-based subject, right? How could you possibly quiz yourself?

Except when I think back on how I revised, I start to see a way this might work. I recall for GCSE English Language learning around forty-five key technical terms (oh, what I would give to retrieve that scrap of revision paper) using an alphabet-based mnemonic. Before even opening the paper, I wrote each word on the question paper. I then ticked off each term as I used it, thus, in my own mind, securing my top grade.

But it wasn’t until University that I really became self-test-super. By my final year, I had perfected the technique of mind-mapping everything I needed to know about a text (key quotes, critical quotes, key ideas, main concepts), hiding the mind-map, writing it again, checking back with the mind-map to see what I’d missed, adding the ones I’d missed in a different colour, and beginning again.

This seemed like a sensible way forward for my year 13s in preparation for their AQA Lit B “Texts and Genres” exam. Following our weekly “quote quiz” (in which I blank out some key words to test they have learned some quotes from one of the three texts, then go through each quote, writing in the words and reviewing the comments we might be able to make about them), I shared some of the wisdom from Make it Stick:

•       “Learning is deeper and more enduring if it is effortful.”

•       “The act of retrieving learning from memory has two profound benefits. One, it tells you what you know and don’t know, and therefore where to focus further study to improve the areas where you’re weak. Two, recalling what you have learned causes your brain to reconsolidate the memory, which strengthens its connections to what you already know and makes it easier for you to recall in the future”

•       “Retrieval practice—recalling facts or concepts or events from memory—is a more effective learning strategy than review by rereading. Flashcards are a simple example. Retrieval strengthens the memory and interrupts forgetting. A single, simple quiz after reading a text or hearing a lecture produces better learning and remembering than rereading the text or reviewing lecture notes.”

In order to begin, students would create a ten-question quiz on each text. I could then collate all of these into a handy “quiz-pack” for each student to assist in their revision. I advised students to use the quotes, but also the key critical ideas we were engaging with, and shared with them the mind-map idea.

This is all a work in progress, and not something I’ve previously done with classes. I do think it is worth considering, and I will report back on how year 13 find it. I’m planning to share the same concepts and ideas with year 11 later on in the year. I’ve posted the slides below exactly as I taught them to year 13.

Lesson 9 critical views Frankenstein 4.2.15

All change: new KS4 specifications

English subject leaders around the country have undoubtedly been on the same emotional journey as me regarding the introduction of new specifications for KS4 and 5 simultaneously (not to mention the recent KS3 changes and removal of KS3 levels). For a time, I complained it was too much. How could we possibly be expected to take on such an inordinate amount of wheel reinvention? Not to mention the purchasing of new texts from already overstretched budgets.

Then, in a moment of calm over Christmas, I turned off all technology, sat with the specification, and planned. I looked at the assessment, the time, the units, the assessment objectives. And after a while it ceased to be scary.

I’d made my peace with Literature before Christmas. Having chosen to go with AQA (albeit with reluctance), I wanted to stick with as much of the same content as I could. We currently teach both Macbeth and An Inspector Calls, and though neither would be my first choice of text, I’d rather send English teachers into classrooms armed with at least some prior experience of teaching at least some of the texts.

For the nineteenth century novel, I won’t lie: my first impulse was to go for the shortest available. We teach Jekyll and Hyde in year 9, so it would have to be The Sign of the Four (a short story that begins with the injection of illegal drugs? Sounds eminently teachable to me). We want to teach every child the same curriculum in English, and if the exam is closed text, surely the shorter the text, the more manageable?

Luckily, I was dissuaded of my instinct to game by two people: my glorious line manager (deputy headteacher; fountain of wisdom, knowledge and general calmness) and my superstar NQT (so good at what she does already, I am improving my own practice with every observation). Both looked at the text choices afresh, having not been in the room when I was descanting on the virtues of a short, easy novella. Both said “Jane Eyre.

Of course. We teach in a girls’ school, for one thing, and what female (human?) has not felt left out, isolated, unfairly treated? And, of all the texts on the list, which would I most want the children leaving us to have read? It had to be Jane Eyre. Plus, we have time – despite the weight of many exams, the course content is comfortingly manageable. Four texts in two years is no great feat.

That settled, my new worry was the Language specification. Teaching fiction would be straightforward – I stuck the word “seminal” in front of the unit title, and thought we would pretty much teach any “great” literature, thus exposing students to excerpts from the best that has been thought and/or said. The non-fiction reading/transactional writing had the greatest potential to devolve into the current, mostly meaningless skill-drilling of the current AQA language paper (my least favourite exam ever).

Instead of teaching skills, therefore, I thought about what else I most wanted our girls to leave us with. I want them to be confident young women, who are armed with knowledge of the inequalities of our world that might face them, and angered enough to challenge these. I wanted them to be inspired by female role models, and seek to achieve more as a result. I wanted them to understand the journey that women as a sex have been on, and how far we have come. It was thus that the idea of “Women Through the Ages” came about: a scheme of work that would explore female journalism and feminist polemics in the context of works such as Everyday Sexism. The unit is under construction now, and I will write more about it in due course, but I am terribly, terribly excited.

But with eleven schemes of work to write over two key stages (and that’s just for us to be 2015-16 ready), how could I convince a small team to pitch in? I agonized over the department meeting, and spent a good deal of time talking with close colleagues and loved ones about how I would go about dumping a massive amount of work at English teachers’ feet; English teachers who I already have to chase out of the office nearing 6pm on a Friday, where they trudge, still laden with exercise books, home to half eat, half watch television and half communicate with their families while marking.

Under excellent advice, I simplified my initial explanatory teaching grid (it underwent many guises, including one especially confusing multi-coloured moment), and talked teachers through it. I’d spoken to the whole department about the new specs informally leading up to this moment, and I think our conversations were invaluable to trail this meeting. We went through each paper and the mark scheme, but not in a great deal of detail. I then shared a timeline for how and when these schemes would be completed: each teacher was in a team with either myself or the 2 i/c, and each teacher had a deadline for the medium term plan, first week of lessons, second week and so on.

I could not believe the response from the team. They nodded along during the meeting, chipping in helpfully, and making positive and enthusiastic comments. When I broached the making of SoWs, no-one flinched. When I asked them to go and have a think about any they might be happy taking on and let me know by the next week, one burst out with: “can I do Jane Eyre?” I wanted to explode with gratitude.

The following week, I approached my team to see if they wanted to sit down and clarify their schemes prior to beginning the medium term plans. Each member surprised me by showing me nearly fully finished plans, three weeks prior to the deadline. There was no fear, no concern; just seeming excitement and graft at the task in hand.

I could not be more grateful to the team of amazing teachers I am privileged to manage. I was expecting resistance, struggle and unhappiness; instead, the department feels invigorated, stoic and almost merry. Long may it last.

Reading aloud

I was not a confident reader in school. Fortunate enough to begin school knowing how to read, my abilities stalled mid-way through, and I couldn’t seem to move beyond the very simplest texts. I did not read much, with the exception of some truly trashy American “series” books (Sweet Valley High; The Babysitters Club). I do not recall at any point having to read aloud in front of a class.

 In secondary school, my reading repertoire remained limited. Winning a prize for English in year 9, I spent the money on The Diary of Adrian Mole, which I’d heard was good. The Head of English was appalled. I recall my first brush with Shakespeare – a valiant year 8 teacher having us perform “Pyramus and Thisbe” from Midsummer Night’s Dream. I hated it. I don’t have any memory of reading this play in front of my peers, though it seems likely I did.

Moving into year 10, my memories of reading begin to crystallise. This was the time when anxiety entered. I was, for the first time, becoming truly excited about books, prompted by a teacher of unparalleled excellence. I was also painfully aware of my shortcomings: I’d read a lot, but it tended to be extremely straightforward. Furthermore, where I’d learned new words, I’d learned them by sight, with no idea how to pronounce them. I can’t manage to forget being picked up for saying “guess-ture” for “gesture.”

Reading texts I was challenged and absorbed by in class was balanced with abject fear: would I be asked to read aloud? If so, how could I possibly make sure I was pronouncing all the words right and reading at a decent speed and putting enthusiasm into my voice? It seemed impossible. Conversely, I loved reading plays – the shortness of the lines and the space around the text lessened the fear for me.

In short, on becoming an English teacher, I had read approximately twenty-five pages of text aloud to a classroom of students in my life. Surprisingly, this did not seem to be a problem. I was advised during training that students would benefit from “guided reading,” where they sat in groups and read to each other as I circulated, checking students were on task and understood. The painful exception was my first year’s 10 set 5, who were studying To Kill a Mockingbird, and seemed unable to read this alone. I valiantly attempted to breathe life into the text, but my shoddy reading skills (among other things) meant disengaged students. (When I finished, a marathon 287 pages later, they applauded. From relief.)

As the years went on, I’d found reading aloud becoming easier – if I’d taught a text before, for example, I would feel more confident and could put more energy into the reading. Yet mere familiarity was not enough. Last year, I decided I needed to do more. Over the course of the summer, I practiced reading aloud daily – poems, short stories, newspaper articles – whatever I happened to be reading at the time. I rehearsed. I improved.

In September, with my year 10 class I’ve written previously about, this exercise was invaluable. With reluctant readers, I found for the first time that I could engage them with the sheer entertainment of me reading. I found myself putting on voices, dramatically pausing, and even walking around the room at the same time as reading (and, most impressively I feel, at one point crawling around the room, while simultaneously demonstrating a narrator’s slide into madness in “The Yellow Wallpaper”).

Then, last week, something amazing happened.

I hadn’t asked year 10 to read aloud in front of the whole class. They had done some reading in pairs, but in an extremely limited way. I had felt happy enough “modeling” good reading for them.

But last week, as I read, a student chimed in with me. My first thought was that she was mocking me, as this class so often does (this is a common theme among many of my classes. I’m easily mocked). I paused, unsure of what to do.

And the student carried on reading.

She stopped at the end of the paragraph, and I picked it up. And then a second student chimed in. I stopped. She kept reading.

It’s the strangest and in some ways most beautiful thing I have experienced, and I hope my words here do the moment justice. In this week the class has transformed itself from one where I did all the reading, to one where students are themselves choosing to publically read, and even actively asking me if they can read aloud. I’ve never put any pressure on any of them to do this, and wouldn’t want to put them on the spot – after all, I have first-hand experience of feeling terrified of this in front of peers. But I couldn’t be more delighted that they have taken matters into their own hands.

How I plan lessons

This half term, the scheme of work for my ever delightful year 10 class is organised to produce a few pieces of coursework. The general idea is that they are exposed to a number of texts – poems, stories, news articles – and along the way they practice the key skills needed to complete the coursework. They produce so many pieces for no reason apart from variety – it lets them stretch their imagination.

This worked beautifully with year 10 last year, but I’ve noted before that my new year 10 class are in need of more. They need more exposure to the very greatest texts, with more challenge and more support at the very same time. Over Christmas, I decided that the only way I could make them write more eloquently was to make them read more eloquent writing. Poems and articles had to go – we were going to go all in for the short story.

What did they need from this term? The most glaring omission was vocabulary – they needed to know many, many, many more words. The texts I would choose would have to be complex. They needed to describe in more detail, and use more unusual images in their writing – I would tear my hair out if I had to read about one more “clear blue sky” or anything that was “shining like diamonds.”

The result is a lengthy scheme of work, which includes a few lessons excerpted below on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story “The Rich Boy.” Last week, I sent the lessons to our resident NQT (who also happens to be one of the most accomplished teachers I’ve yet encountered – I feel like with every observation, she’s giving me CPD) who commented: “these are amazing.” (They’re not; she’s very generous.) “Did they take you ages to make?”

And honestly? They really didn’t. I think once I’d cracked the “planning formula”, every lesson became simple to plan. My wonderful first and second year mentor (who has taught me everything I know – I should definitely rename this blog: “What Carly told me about teaching”) told me the key steps to planning a lesson, and the order you do them in. I share this wisdom now.

1. Plan the learning objective

What do you want students to learn in this lesson? No, what exactly? Think about what they can realistically either learn, practice or revise in the time given.

 2. Plan the key task

And in English, this should, with very few exceptions, be an extended paragraph. The question should invite them to show you what they have learned. For a long time, I pasted my objective onto this slide to remind me of this.

3. Plan the plenary

How will you check immediately, there and then, that they have understood? How will you address misconceptions? How will you extend the top end? How will you invite questions on the learning? How will you make students project their thoughts forward to the next lesson? A plenary should probably address one of these questions, depending on the specific context of your lesson in the scheme of work.

4. Plan the starter

This should be something every single student in the room can do immediately. It needs to be open enough to allow students to extend their ideas (there is no point in being halfway through the register and having seven students thumb-twiddling). Ideally, it should engage students’ thoughts. The harder the class, the more important this latter point becomes.

5. Plan everything else

What is the “stuff” that students will do between the start and end of the lesson to enable them to accomplish their writing task to a high level of competency? In the lessons below, this is reduced to: read. Learn the new words. Discuss the key questions. Review the key skills. More accomplished teachers than I will insert their exciting, bell/whistle moments here. I’ve never been good at this creative ilk of teaching, and almost all of my lessons are identical. (I tell myself this is good for students in a different way; the rhythm of my lesson will always be the same, giving them security and certainty. I acknowledge I should try to mix it up more.)

I’ve shared the series of lessons below. I’m not especially proud of them; they’re not my “best work.” But these are lessons that work, teach students new things, and did not take me any time at all to make. And, for an NQT in particular, that is vital.

The Rich Boy lessons

Reading exercise books

Marking as an English teacher means you spend most of your week reading. If I am honest, most of what I read is what I mark. A set of exercise books can become a novel; more than a novel depending on the class size. A novel, of course, full of repetition and analysis. Perhaps, then, more a book of critical essays.

A recent conversation prompted me to realise that while anyone I have worked with knows that marking is 1. My absolute favourite part of teaching and 2. The way I spend almost every evening, weekend and holiday, I have somehow neglected to say very much on the subject here. Below is my attempt to shoe-horn my ideas about marking into a blog about reading.

Teaching lessons: in my first year in the classroom, I found I wasn’t terribly good at it. I read Phil Beadle’s How to Teach, wherein he writes: “make no mistake: this is the most important thing you do as a teacher… mark their books with dedication and rigour and your class will fly.” Essentially, Beadle contends, you can be the greatest educator ever, but if you don’t mark, your students won’t progress; conversely, you can be a bit of a rubbish teacher, but if you mark well, great things could happen. In my first-year-teacher despair, I clung to marking.

While my mentor and line manager watched me hunched over yet another pile of books (“you’re marking again Jo?”) and begged me to instead spend more time planning semi-decent lessons, I ploughed on regardless, writing buckets of WWWs and EBIs on every page a child’s pen had reached. I handed books back, and rushed to deliver my next rubbish lesson.

Happily, what I learned from this was to balance my time more effectively. I went on to spend less time marking, to mark less frequently and say less, and taught better lessons where children went on to make some progress, as well as making my life less of a nightmare.

Indeed, as the years have gone on, it seems that the thinking around marking, at least in my sphere of existence, has become ever-more progressive and manageable. If the mantra of my mentors early on was “mark less!”, it is now “write less!”

I’ve read so many excellent blogs on time-saving marking, notably from Joe Kirby; and Alex Quigley has signalled my earth-changing, life-altering view of marking, and made me realize that “marking” as a term is horribly outdated. What we need to talk about, instead, is feedback. (Indeed, Quigley’s department has a feedback policy as opposed to a marking policy, a semantic shift I adore.)

When we mark a student’s book, they need to spend about as much time doing something with that marking as I spent giving feedback. This means that rather than writing “nice notes” as I had been advised early on (“put something on every page, so Ofsted don’t think you’ve ticked and flicked”), I do tick and flick their notes (if they are there and in good order; if they are not I tend to write “WHERE ARE YOUR NOTES?!”). I mark their extended writing closely, but not too closely if it’s riddled with errors – most of their ideas are good, and the human brain can process only so much red/pink/green ink.

At the end, I write an encouraging comment (unless they have been truly lazy) and a target. I used to check students had met their target the next time I marked their books, but I now recognize this is not the most effective way of target setting. I now phrase their target in such a way as to encourage editing there and then. And, crucially, I give students time to go back and improve their writing.

The first ten to twenty minutes of the following lesson can then be spent improving a decent paragraph and making it marvelous. The efficacy of this exercise very much depends on what you have written as a teacher; your comments need to be specific, detailed and open-ended, allowing students to add to their responses without needing you to stand beside and cajole each letter from their biro.

Interestingly, in our department’s mock-Ofsted last year, the English specialist pulled out a couple of books that he believed showed outstanding marking. These books had a relatively small amount of ink spilled, but it was done in a miraculously effective way. Teachers had written short, pointed questions at key moments, and students had responded and improved their work. Easy as that: marking not to build confidence, not to check every error, not to show Ofsted we have marked – marking, instead, that allowed students to progress, and allowed teachers to mark without wanting to kill themselves. What a relief!

I haven’t written about the state students keep their exercise books in, because it’s not something I’m especially concerned about. Perhaps another year I will endeavour to inspire students to keep their books pristine, but I’m not a very visual person, and I can’t help but overlook dog-eared covers for the glorious writing inside.

All of this sounds so painfully straightforward, I wonder if anyone is still reading. There will always be new ideas, and new approaches. Yet the core of marking is beguilingly simple: mark often, mark strategically, mark specifically, and make the students do some work too.