I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about whether stopping extra revision sessions after school works (and why we don’t need Grammar Schools).
Less is more. Back in February I wrote a post about how I had told colleagues that I did not expect them to offer extra revision sessions after school in the run up to the summer examinations. I just wanted every single teacher to teach the best lessons they possibly could during the normal contact time they had with students. Truly great classroom teaching is the only thing which secures genuinely great students outcomes. The post went viral and made headlines nationally. We are now analysing our students’ 2016 GCSE results which will, to some extent, reflect the success, or otherwise, of resisting the urge to offer extra revision sessions. Overall, our students’ results are very good. At GCSE the attainment levels are the highest we have known and we wait optimistically for our Progress 8 score from the DfE. At A level our ALPs score is yet again in the red, suggesting our students’ progress between GCSE and A level is excellent. Subject Leaders have each written a report on their students’ results and I am in the process of meeting with them to chat about how we might tweak things to improve, at the margins, teaching and learning in each one’s subject.
History is a complex subject at GCSE. Success in History depends upon students knowing a huge amount of historical content and those students’ literacy skills. It is an Ebacc subject, to boot. It is, perhaps, a good barometer of a school’s performance overall. The History GCSE and A level results at Huntington this summer were pretty damned good and owed much to the out-going Subject Leader, John Titmas, who, over eight years, had stuck resolutely to improving the quality of teaching in his department above all else. His GCSE cohort this summer was truly mixed ability. Unlike the previous few years, where there were two History GCSE cohorts with one taking the History GCSE and the other taking the Applied History GCSE, this was a single cohort taking the History GCSE. Here is the analysis of the KS4 outcomes for History:

Year No. of cands %A*-C target grades Mock exam A*-C % Actual A*-C %
2011 129 97% 62% 60%
2012 113 88% 50% 67%
2013 79 96% 59% 77%
2014 78 98% 79% 86%
2015 81 100% 83% 91.4%
2016 82 98% 73% 83%


Year No. of cands %A*-A   target grades Mock exam A*-A % Actual A*-A %
2011 129 47% 19% 18%
2012 113 37% 19% 32%
2013 79 39% 32% 32%
2014 78 53% 46% 45%
2015 81 66% 26% 51%
2016 82 56% 46% 46%
  • A strong set of results in 2016, and although we were 6% down on 2015 figures for both A*-C and A*-A, we largely matched the strong performance of 2014, despite the lack of Applied History groups in 2016.
  • 83% A*-C compares well to the 69% national average. Previous high A*-C from a whole cohort (i.e. without an Applied History course running) in the last 10 years was 68%.
  • 0.2 residual against FFTD. 0.14 residual in comparison to other subjects at Huntington.
  • Significant increase in A* conversions, however A*-A total 5% down to 45% from 50% last year. It does compare favourably to the national average of 29%.
  • It was our best A* numbers in recent years – 28% compared to 17% last year. Two students achieved 200 UMS and three others were above 195.
  • Paper 2 performance (historically the weakest element of the assessment) was strong, particularly at the top end with 44% of students achieving an A* in this paper. Our modal grade in every unit was A*.
  • Increased ‘tail’ of 10% E-U may have its cause in having no Applied History course this year. This is something to look at carefully in 2016-7, given our tracking data for our Year 11 2017 cohort shows a similar pattern.
  • As with the two previous years, the significant increase in attainment from mock to actual grades achieved is encouraging, suggesting that the identification and implementation of minimal, targeted interventions was effective. We followed school guidance and did not provide pre-exam intervention outside of the timetable; we found focussing on teaching in lessons and a measured, planned revision process within those lessons successful.

GCSE Attainment against Huntington targets 2016

Student Target Number of students Above On Below Avg target residual
A* 22 N/A 16 6 -0.4
A 24 7 7 10 -0.3
B 19 5 8 6 -0.36
C 15 3 5 7 -1.1
D 2 2 -3
Total 82 15 35 32  
  • Targets met or surpassed with 61% of the cohort in 2016, an increase on the 56% rate achieved in 2015, and considerably above the 51% figure in 2014.
  • We remain strong at converting A/A* targets in particular. Improving the percentage of C-target students meeting their targets remains a crucial focus.

The world is for the discontented. The results aren’t perfection, but…what I like best about this analysis is the sense of wanting to do better next year, especially for the C/D grade target students. And of course the line, We followed school guidance and did not provide pre-exam intervention outside of the timetable; we found focussing on teaching in lessons and a measured, planned revision process within those lessons successful.
York has no grammar schools and no selection by ability. Huntington School has a truly comprehensive in-take. Houses around Huntington are relatively cheap. If you live near our school you can get a tremendous education irrespective of your academic starting point or socio-economic background: that is the case for all the secondary schools in our City. We all have genuinely high expectations of our students. Why replicate Kent’s school system? Why not try to replicate what is going on in York or London, rather than re-introduce Grammar Schools and selection by ability? In York we have a city that works for everyone…

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This post has 7 Comments

  1. Thanks for the boost – I teach US History in America to grade 8 (13/14 year olds) and it’s a slog at times. Trying to make the past relevant is a challenge and mixing up techniques and methods to increase engagement is the key. Thanks again – enjoy your weekend.

  2. I didn’t do after school ‘revision’ nor did myself or my colleague give up any of our holidays for our GCSE students. They were the ‘best’ results in the school.

  3. I am a History teacher now retired and for years this has been my mantra – teach it well in the first place and they shouldn’t need a load of extra revision sessions. Thank you!!
    Tricia atcheson

  4. Hi John
    Really enjoyed reading this, and I’m tempted to follow you and tell my staff to drop the extra revision sessions and focus on great classroom teaching.
    I’m also meeting with my heads of department over the next couple of weeks to look at results. I’ve asked them to analyse their results, look at residuals against targets, component and teaching group breakdowns etc. I’ve also prepared a subject report for the meeting, to see how my analysis compares with theirs, as I’m anxious that too often I provide the data analysis, and they haven’t interrogated enough themselves.
    I’m interested in what you say about asking them to write a report on their results. Is there a template you provide them with for this exercise? If so, would you mind sharing the format of this report? Sounds like something I should get mine to do, so any help would be much appreciated!
    Steve Garthwaite
    North Wales

  5. You may be interested to know that the average High Achiever in your school gains an average 392 GCSE points over 8 GCSEs. Children leave the Kent grammar schools with an average of 395. So the “grammar equivalents” in your school are doing perfectly well.

  6. In York and London the comprehensive system works, but what about Hull, Nottingham or Knowsley? Not saying that grammar schools are definitely the answer, but the question is when authorities like Knowsley have been trying for decades to make their comprehensive schools work and failed, maybe a grammar school in an area like that is one thing which hasn’t been tried? Just a thought!

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