Pupil Premium & MFL

262986323_b35abe6dfc_m

We’ll start with some words from Number 10 Downing Street:

“The Coalition Government introduced the Pupil Premium in 2011 to provide additional school funding for those children classed as having deprived backgrounds, and also those who had been looked after (by a local authority) for more than six months. The Service Premium was also introduced for children whose parent(s) are, or have since 2011, served in the armed forces.” Source Material for super keen readers.

Regardless of whether you agree with the idea of the Pupil Premium and the considerable emphasis placed thereupon, it is here to stay.  I have to be honest that over the past few years I have had mixed feelings and a lot of questions about it: what about children who fall ever so slightly above the threshold?  What about students with parents in the forces that actually do not access the funding and do not want it?  Can it make that much of a difference?  Are we in danger of over-emphasizing it?  One headteacher’s blog wrote about the disadvantage gap being a chasm.  It is a complex issue but not one we should shy away from.

Earlier today our SENCO shared this picture:

It reminds me that my job is a teacher is to ensure that every pupil has a chance to achieve.  For some those boxes in the picture will equate to extra funding from Number 10 and for others the boxes are the process of scaffolding and lesson planning.  For some pupils the boxes symbolise my teaching, my feedback and my attention or time spent with them.  Feedback has been covered here, support and scaffolding for lower ability has been covered here and here.  Today we are looking at the Pupil Premium.

Why Pupil Premium Students struggle:

Pupil Premium encompasses a variety of different situations.  It should never be confused or used as a synonym for low ability or behavioural difficulties.  Both might be true but they are not always the case.   I have done my best to list the struggles and the type of student in the table below.

Type of Pupil Premium Student Explanation
Free School Meals Eligibility for free-school meals is used as an indicator of poverty. It may be that such students eligible come from homes that do not support their education in terms of material resources, or in terms of assisting with homework.  Other needs might be more basic in terms of uniform, cleanliness or communication skills.
Service Children Children with parents in the armed forces are often eligible for the pupil premium. In my experience this presents slightly different issues in terms of T&L. Some students will be anxious as a result of the situation the parent is in and the infrequency of contact. Other students may need no help at all as the other parent works and provides for them.  There is a wide spectrum of need when it comes to this type of student.
Children in Care Inevitably these students will have varying issues. Much depends on the reason these students are in care, and at the same time, the quality of care they are currently receiving. Children in care are often quite well supported but struggle in other areas possibly in terms of development, communication and social skills, or mental health.
Ever 6 This refers to the fact a student may have been eligible for the pupil premium in the past 6 years.  It is worth knowing as whilst the student may no longer be eligible; there may still be needs that require meeting or they may only have moved slightly above the threshold for FSM.

What is suggested to be effective?

Having read OFSTED’s report on how schools are using the pupil premium.  They mention a number of ideas but many relate to SLT and governance.  The following are their suggestions for the classroom:

  • Effective teaching and learning for pupil premium students – just teach great lessons everyday.
  • Target support effectively.  How are you moving students forward?  What support do they have?
  • Know the desired outcomes for PP students, not always age related but higher.
  • Know your pupils.
  • Deploy your TA effectively  (see previous blog post here).
  • Enhance their thinking, study and revision skills (see blog on revision here).

They also say the following:

“Where schools spent the Pupil Premium funding successfully to improve achievement, they never confused eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low ability, and focused on supporting their disadvantaged pupils to achieve the highest levels and thoroughly analysed which pupils were underachieving, particularly in English and mathematics, and why.”  

Having read around the subject it appears there is a “no excuse” campaign going on.  Social deprivation, familial background, home situation, low attendance and level of need are not excuses (see 2013 presentation by OFSTED here).

In short, the pressure is on…

Photo Credit: Jack Zalium via Compfight cc

What can we do in MFL?

There are a lot of questions below designed to provoke thought and hopefully action.

Photo Credit: youflavio via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: youflavio via Compfight cc

Data tracking – Analysing data has become a necessary part of the job.  Whilst we may find it tedious, it is a means to an end.  The end should be answering the following kinds of questions:

  • Are your pupil premium students where they should be?
  • Are they attaining in line with their targets (grades 5-9, positive progress 8 score, FFTD, or whatever you use)?
  • If they are not attaining then you need to be asking why?
  • Is the underachievement isolated to MFL or is it more widespread?
  • Where are they achieving?  Why?
  • How can you use that knowledge to your advantage? What has that teacher or department done?  What are they currently doing?
  • Could another member of staff give a pupil a bit of encouragement that causes them to see your subject differently?  Is their tutor/head of year/achievement leader (or whatever your school calls the role) pushing them to achieve in all subject areas?

Targeted Questioning  

Some teachers would advocate a system of no-hands-up whereby any questions are directed at PP students first and then at other key groups (underachievers, more able, SEND, disengaged boys).  On a seating plan I do have key individuals highlighted and will more often direct my questions towards them.

Others might add on to this the idea of “no opt out” where the kid is not allowed to say “I don’t know”.  It is entirely up to you how to run your classroom.

Quality first marking/feedback.

A suggestion from another school was to mark all PP books first in the pile as you are freshest and most alert.  It is hard to dispute the logic if that is true for you.  Personally, I find my marking gets better after the first three or so.  I would need to adapt that strategy slightly.  I do have some issue with the ethics of this approach, as every student should be receiving decent feedback from me.  There are also students out there who may not be in receipt of the Pupil Premium but actually fighting battles at home on a par with, or worse than those who are classified as disadvantaged.  It is up to you as a teacher to differentiate accordingly.

Seating plans – Some of my colleagues advocate seating all PP students in the same seat in their room so they always know who they are.  Others advocate sitting them at the front of your classroom to enable them to seek help.  Yet more suggest surrounding them with pupils who can positively influence them.  It is up to you as a teacher to decide and you probably have your own views, but we have to know who they are and we have to be able to answer the question: how are you catering for their needs?

Strengths/weaknesses analysis – this was quite a useful exercise with my year 11s.  Looking at the data I had, their performance in class and their books.  What are their strengths and weaknesses as far as language learning was concerned?  Do they know what their strengths are?  Are they playing to them and working on their weaknesses?  One of the issues with the new GCSE is the many elements: speaking, listening, reading, writing, translations, photocards, roleplays, target language questions, target language answers, 40 words, 90 words and 150 words.  What bits are they doing well?  What do they need support with?  I have seen teachers on some MFL Facebook groups looking for “quick wins”.  Actually, could it be a case of looking at the individual pupils and picking one area they need to develop that is going to make the most telling difference in terms of marks?

Resourcing in school – This could be hotly debated and there is a strong argument from both sides.  Lend them equipment or don’t lend them equipment, it’s up to you.  Similarly the  issue is the same with books, do you let them take it home?  Much also depends on the individual pupil.  For some pupils you will never see the book or pen again, others will have it back in the subsequent lesson.  Perhaps for those who persistently struggle the school could supply a pencil case that could be picked up from a central point and returned at the end of the day?  Rewards could also be used to ensure its return.

Bought resources

  • Revision guides?
    • A note on guides – having examined a few I am leaning towards CGP.  I just feel their explanations and layout are more accessible.
  • Revision workbooks?
    • Some exam boards offer these full of past paper style questions.
  • Photocopiable booklets from TES?
  • Learning websites such as samlearning.com and Vocabexpress.
  • Twilight sessions.
  • Revision sheets with QR codes containing links to good sites.
  • MFL revision conferences (one school in Peterborough did this – found via google)
  • Half-term revision sessions.

With all of this there is a caveat: you need to evaluate how effective and helpful it was.  This is very much something OFSTED and the DofE are looking at.  It is no longer simply a question of how are you using the money.  The assumption is you are using it; the question is what effect is it having?

Resourcing the student with strategies and techniques

Do your PP students know how to revise effectively?  I hear from year 11s various comments on learning styles and about highlighters and gel pens however the research shows these to be largely ineffective.  If you are curious about how to make revision more effective then I suggest the following:

The Guardian – The Science of Revision – excellent article with links and research to back up.

EverydayMFL – GCSE Revision – Here’s one I made earlier, nothing like a bit of shameless self-promotion!

Classteaching – quality advice and backed up by research.

Anything to prevent the eventuality below:

screen-shot-2012-12-07-at-2-35-48-am

Relationship – Some students need someone to believe in them in spite of their home background.  They need that person who sees them for who they are and what they can become.  They need someone who sees them as a work in progress and who will not give up on them.  They need you to be the person who appreciates them just as they are, but cares too much to leave them that way.  I am not saying you have to be their best buddy but you can be the role-model, support and guide to life that they have lacked.

“Carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

Photo Credit: Macro-roni via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Macro-roni via Compfight cc

Teaching Assistants – Teaching assistants can be the unsung heroes and heroines of your classroom if deployed properly.  These are the questions you need to be thinking through:

If you have one then what is their remit in your classroom?

  • Do you direct them or leave them to it
  • Do they have a seating plan and know who they are meant to work with?
  • Do they have an order of pupils?
  • Could you promote independence by asking TA to move on after 1-2 minutes with a student?
  • Do they elicit or explain?
  • Do they guide to the answer or give the answer?
  • How well resourced is your TA?  Do they have your schemes of work?  Do they see a lesson plan or do you brief them on what is going to be taught?
  • Who is working harder: your PP student or your TA?
  • Could you get some planning time with a TA attached to a particular student?

Parents – Not all PP students have difficult family situations so get the parents onside.  Be careful not to patronise.  It is very easy to assume certain things when the label PP is on a seating plan or class list.  Parents evening is an excellent opportunity to build relationships, develop that link between school and home and facilitate learning and progress.  One parent recently asked me “what can they be doing outside of school as I don’t speak any languages?”  2-3 minutes later she left armed with strategies and places to find resources to help.  In terms of cost, it was minimal but there is a huge potential yield.

Marking Meetings – One of my colleagues recently suggested this at a meeting.  I’m quite keen to try it.  It used to be the norm when I was in school.  Certain teachers would call you up to their desk and go through your book marking it with you while the class were working their way through exercises. Would a pupil premium student benefit from some live feedback and a discussion of misconceptions?  Equally, this could apply to all pupils but if you’re going to work through a group, why not start with some PP students?

5493116929_662ed7e0bf_m

Photo Credit: Jellaluna via Compfight cc

Any great ideas?  Leave them in the comments section below!

Fighting the language decline – Answers in your classroom

Shortly after results day the Guardian ran a piece here reporting a continued decline in students taking GCSE languages.  They also ran an analytical piece (crowd sourced from Twitter) investigating reasons for the decline.  Both were interesting reads although I think Jennifer Beattle’s and Sara Davidson’s points were the most pertinent from the point of view of a teacher.  I have endeavoured to summarise the thoughts of a typical student in the table below, as I felt this was slightly overlooked.  There are likely some factors I have missed but I hope it provides a useful summary.

The Student View
Reasons for Reasons Against
Enjoyable lessons Oral exams
Useful skill Memorisation
Good for CV/Uni Fear of speaking in front of others
Mixture of exam and coursework Not feeling competent enough
Cultural interest Too hard and too much writing
Holiday use “Never going to go there”
All-round skill improvement Easier options around
Cognitive challenge Everyone speaks English belief

Table generated at http://www.tablesgenerator.com/html_tables#

Rather than further provide reasons for the decline or talk about how to increase the profile of languages in schools, I think the answer comes from the individual classroom.  Students need a feeling of capability, enjoyment and progress.

Creating a feeling of capability

“Capability” is often seen as a negative word in the teaching profession and understandably so, however our students need to feel that they “can do” something. Students equate their capability in a language with their oral and aural competence. Can they say what they want to say?  Can they understand what is being said? In my experience, reading and writing do not appear to enter into their equation to any great degree. The following are comments I have heard from students, friends, colleagues past and present:

  • “I was no good at languages in school”
  • “I couldn’t do languages”
  • “I’m not good at languages” (uttered by a year 7 September 2014 in his first ever Spanish lesson)
  • “I can’t do languages.”

All of these statements beg one question “compared to who?”  My first memory of using a language in a foreign country was ordering ice-creams in a small village in Germany.  It essentially required remembering the words “ich möchte” and reading off the menu.  We need real-life scenarios in our classrooms where students can try and practise things.  This will lead to a feeling of “can do”.  Our students need interactive episodes that simulate real life or situations that allow them to talk for extended periods.  Here are 3 activities I like to use whenever I can:

Photo Credit: <a href=

Photo Credit: euranet_plus via Compfight cc

Debates (based on group talk) – Watch the video and note how the talking situations are cyclical.  There is not actually an end to the discussion.  You can get students to add in a new question or take the discussion in a different way.  When I have done this kind of activity with students there is an immense feeling of satisfaction in the room that they have spoken French/Spanish/German for 3-4 minutes non-stop.  For example: school subjects – there are enough subjects to keep them going for quite a while!  If not, just add in “defensa contra las artes oscuras”, “transfiguración” and “pociones”.

Photo Credit: <a href=

Photo Credit: Oh-Barcelona.com via Compfight cc

Drama – The hard bit is getting the balance between scriptwriting (which some groups will take ages to do) and practising/performing.  Ideally a lot of pre-teaching, listening and roleplaying will help with this.  Students tend to enjoy it as they feel they have survived a real-life situation.  Restaurants, asking for directions, 112 calls, meeting and greeting can all be done as dramatic episodes.

 Photo Credit: <a href=

Photo Credit: insunlight via Compfight cc

“I can’t help noticing I’m considerably richer than you” – based on the Harry Enfield sketch where a couple boast about being considerably more well off.   Students need to better the previous person’s use of the TL when talking about a topic.  They can add reasons, linking words, other tenses.  The idea is that what is constructed is significantly better than what went before.  Together the students will construct something better while teaching and helping each other in the process.

Engendering a feeling of Enjoyment

Enjoyment is not a synonym for games.  I have seen a variety of games in the past few years but when using them the question has to be: how much TL is this going to involve?  What learning return is the whole class getting from the game?  If students are sat there and their brains are doing very little during a game, is it worth doing or could the time be better spent?  Games that involve collaboration, competition, mystery, intrigue and humour are great.  I was going to list a few but I think I will direct you towards this list and put my favourite below.  I really like the look of “alibi” and “press conference” and will try them in a few weeks time.

Photo Credit: <a href=

Photo Credit: rakanb via Compfight cc

Battleships – probably my favourite in class game.  Minimal prep and maximum TL

Real Progress

I ran out of alliterative titles for the last section but if you think of one put it in the comments section!  Students need to feel that they are progressing in a language.  Sublevels and levels do not appear to have a massive effect on this.  Daniel T. Willingham’s superb book “Why don’t students like school?”  looks to have some thoughts with regards to this but I haven’t finished it yet!  There will be a post when I do, as it has been an excellent and eye-opening read so far.

In the meantime I find the following help to engender a feeling of progress among students:

  1. When a student has improved over time, praise them quietly for it.
  2. Comments in books referring students to their previous work and comparing it with improved work you have seen.  Show them the results of their learning and that they actually have made an improvement.
  3. Parents evening is useful particularly if you met the same parents the previous year eg: “Abigail has really come a long way since we last spoke.  Her work has improved and she is also contributing more frequently in class.  I was particularly pleased with her preparation and result in the recent speaking assessment.  It showed just how far she has come.”
  4. Use your own experiences as we were not all born with the ability to speak a language.  Tell them that it has been hard at times, explain how it feels to “plateau” for a while and then when you noticed the improvements.  Students need to know that the person in front of them has fought the same battles with understanding that they are currently fighting.
  5. Share the nature of learning with them.  The conciousness/capability model was something Louis Van Gaal mentioned in an interview and I think it helps to some degree in understanding the process of learning.  My students seemed to appreciate it.
    1. Unconcious & Incapable (don’t know it – can’t do it)
    2. Concious & Incapable (know it – can’t do it)
    3. Concious & Capable (Know it – can do it)
    4. Unconcious & Capable (Know it – can do it unthinkingly)

Ultimately the goal of any language teaching and learning is to get the students to stage 4.

I guess the point of this rather lengthy, meandering and reflective blog-post is a call to myself and maybe other teachers out there to absolutely go for it from September. There is a decline in languages uptake at GCSE nationwide.  Whilst there is a national battle over the future of language learning; there is a local battle to be won.  I firmly believe that generating a feeling of genuine capability, real enjoyment and visible progress in our own learners is our best bet at winning that battle.  When September starts I will have at least 360 kids enter my room and that is what I’m going for.

Lessons learnt teaching MFL to KS3 bottom sets. Part II

In my NQT year I had two hellish groups.  There were some good kids in there but the unmotivated and disruptive outweighed the good kids.  We had to deal with verbal and physical abuse of peers and staff (me), refusals to work, refusals to do anything or be sent anywhere and refusals to listen to you explaining anything.  They would throw things, swear, talk about all manner of unearthly thing and be loud and abrasive.  Some would storm out with a sense of drama befitting an RSC production.  Over the years I’ve got better with these groups.  If you’re a new teacher reading this.  I have three words for you: it gets easier.  The longer you are in a school; the more the kids begin to follow you.

I’ve learnt the following and I have a lot of colleagues to thank for this.

1) Relationship is the most important element of teaching these groups

If you are new to teaching then stick to the rules, follow policy and try to be understanding at the same time.  Most of the students in these groups see little point in languages and therefore you’re an obstacle between them and break/lunch/a more exciting lesson.  In the first few weeks, consider how you can make them want to be there and how they can feel succesful.  Learn their names in the first two lessons and learn things about them.  If the worst behaved kid in the school happens to do kickboxing outside of school, ask him about it.  You might be the first person that day to take an interest in them as a person.

2) Critical mass

Sometimes a few individuals can tip a group.  I remember being told on my PGCE that “the ideal group size is 3 smaller than you already have, and you know which three.”  It is a fair statement most teachers would identify with.  Look at the group.  Who influences behaviour?  Who follows?  Is there a way to get the influencing ones “on-side”?  This does not mean being their pal or mate, rather that you find a way to challenge them and get them involved.  If they are involved others will follow and you will have less to deal with.  Sticking to the rules and following up is crucial in this process.  I had a group where the critical mass was definitely not in my favour and it is really hard work.  The key to not getting into this situation is the first term and sticking to the rules.  Make them accountable to each other.  Explain how you want lessons to be and that it is their job as much as yours to make lessons enjoyable.  Bill Rogers suggests reviewing with a group how you feel lessons are going.  I would take the approach of getting pupils to write in the back of their books the following:

1) What skills or aspects of languages am I finding easy/difficult?  Why?

2) How am I getting better at languages?

3) Complete the sentence – my favourite lessons involve…

With these the students get a chance to “influence” your planning.  You can then say “‘you asked for this activity so that’s why we’re doing it”.  It shows them that 1) you listened  2) you acted on it  3) you want them to enjoy lessons.

3) Don’t pitch your lesson too high

Low ability sets are fighting weak literacy/numeracy, low self-esteem and being written off as a “bottom set”, “sink group” or “nurture group”.  In their minds, they have already lost.  You have to give them manageable challenges and praise them when they do it or when they don’t quite manage it but have tried really hard.  For some kids a sentence using a verb and an infinitive correctly is a huge challenge but if they can manage it, great.  Then stretch them further.  “You’ve done that, bet you can’t …” – some boys will really respond to this.  If they decide they can’t, then find a way to appeal to their competitive side or stretch them on that aspect next lesson.

4) Relentless positivity

Bottom sets are used to being bottom sets.  They are known as being the groups that no teacher looks forward to.  For one difficult girl I taught last year, all she needed to have a good lesson was the belief that I was happy to see her and wanted her there.  That meant finding something nice to say at the start of a lesson or asking how her day was.  It meant finding activities the group could do well early on and making things fun.  It also meant being honest when a less fun bit was coming.

5) ICT room

Every now and again I will take a group to the ICT room.  Kids enjoy ICT and websites such as www.linguascope.com or www.languagesonline.org.uk have excellent resources and cater well to all abilities.  Make sure they are clear on what needs to be done and don’t allow them to run out of activities.

6) Have a plethora of redirection phrases at your disposal.

Lower sets go off task quicker than most.  “Bradley, whilst your pet turtle’s mating habits are really interesting, can you get on with what you’re meant to be doing, thanks”  “That’s a really good question, ask me at the end.”  Praise the ones on task from the front, sometimes this will provoke the others around to action

7) Have a routine (Michaell Marland – Craft of the Classroom – massive help with ideas for this)

  • Date title and starter on board as they walk in.  Students get books out, write date and title and attempt starter.  First finishers can be helpful in giving out books etc.
  • Register while they do starter
  • Go through starter.
  • Explain objectives
  • Present something
  • Practise it in some way (L/S/R)
  • Check their understanding so far (mini-plenary)
  • Produce something – what can you do with it (S/W)?  What understanding needs to be practised (L/R)?
  • Plenary – an activity that shows you and them that they have managed to achieve the goal set at the start.

8) Reward effort (Carol Dweck – Mindset)

We spend a lot of time in our schools awarding achievement.  We celebrate who can run fastest, act best, sing well, play well and much more.  Effort is something that needs to be praised.  The end result may not be great but the effort that went in was.  If you show you value effort then you will eventually get attainment.  If you show you value only attainment then the rest that missed it will not try.  How could you deal with the situation below?

Teacher: “You put a lot of effort in there Tyler i’m really pleased”

Tyler: “But I didn’t finish it”

Teacher:

Lessons learnt teaching MFL to KS3 bottom sets

I’ve not quite cracked it with KS4 yet but i’ll have a go at ideas for key stage 3.

Having taught a number of bottom sets in the past 3 years I’ve learnt the following:

1) The next level is quite a big jump in their minds

2) Memorisation, literacy, behaviour and confidence are your main battlegrounds

3) Positive reinforcement has to be relentless – yep even for that kid you just thought of. 🙂

4) Relationships and rules are of equal importance.

5) They are reluctant to use the TL.

Some teaching ideas that regularly work:

1) Writing challenge (adapted from Rachel Hawkes)

Rachel Hawkes’ idea is to give an answer to a question that is exactly … words long 9/11/13.  The idea was to get students extending sentences with ,weil.   I’ve changed it a little.  Get a student to pick a number between 35 and 55 (whatever range you choose).  Then tell them that whoever can write a piece using everything they’ve learnt, the textbook and their exercise book gets a merit or whatever reward system you run with.  80-90% of kids will give it a good shot and be surprised that they can be quite successful.

2) Running dictations

Really good way of practising speaking, listening and writing.  Just make sure the runner does not have a pen or they will write the difficult words on their hand.  Caught a budding tattoo artist the other day.  Another thought: don’t make them too long.  Or if they must be longer put part II on another piece of paper somewhere else in the room and that way it doesn’t look like so much!

3) Bingo/Last man standing bingo

Bingo is exactly what it says.  Last man standing bingo is similar.  Write down four items of vocabulary on topic then stand up.  One student is a caller and goes through words.  If you have all four crossed out then you are out and sit down.  Winners are the last few left standing.  Good mini-test of listening skills and injects some fun into the lesson.  Think it might work well with Queen’s “another one bites the dust” music as they start to be “out”

4) Speaking bingo grid. 

You make a 4×4 grid of phrases you want them to use.  Students then have a time limit to use as many as possible making sure they make sense.  Their partner notes the ones that they use.  The person who uses the most  in the time wins.

5) Points for speaking/writing. 

You make another grid but the top row has various point allocations for what they say.  So depending on what you want them to use then give them various points (keep scores in 2 or 5 times table for easy adding).  Again give a time limit and set them off.  Award winners appropriately.

6) Teams idea (massive thanks to Bill Rogers “tackling the tough class). 

Get the students to write down someone they respect and someone they like.  Put your class into teams and give them points for everything: uniform, presentation, work rate, use of TL in lessons, helping others, helping put out equipment, being kind, answering questions, winning team games etc.  Take off points if they talk when you are or break other rules.  Keep this going over a term with a prize for winners at the end of the term.  Seems laborious at first but can engender really good habits and cooperative/collaborative learning.  Allow students to submit transfer requests at end of term that you will “consider”. Have done this 3 years in a row with tough groups and find I have far less bad behaviour and far less detentions.  Kids, particularly boys are used to team sports and it plays to their sense of competitiveness.

7) Reading reduction paper (thanks to my HoD although he swears he can’t remember having this idea). 

If students with weak literacy are tackling a tough reading text then give them a post-it note or an opaque ruler and encourage them to tackle it line by line.  I have found that the reduction of information bombardment helps and they can then work at their own pace.  It is a simple way of catering to students who find reading difficult.  It is also successful with dyslexics.

I think this post requires a part II sometime.  I’ve enjoyed writing it, hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and have something you can use.