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READ THE QUESTION by @Mroberts90Matt

A tweet this week (and every practice paper we attempt in Year 6) remind me of a well-known, frustrating and exasperating conundrum all Year 6 teachers face often.



I seem to spout the same sentence individually, in a group and in whole class discussion every week. I have even said it and heard it said in a couple of staff meetings. I have also muttered it to myself when I have made the same mistake. It seems this pandemic is a global problem, no matter the ability, progress, cultural background or age of the person. But why does this happen.

The Documented Problem of Reading the Question

‘Underline key words’

It is a researched fact that in exams and tests one of the biggest issues that occurs is that students, from primary all the way up to university level, often trip with reading the actual question.

When revising, students often rehearse answers in their head. says Roy Jackson, course leader in religion, philosophy and ethics at the University of Gloucestershire. “Although we don’t deliberately intend to catch them out in exams, we do set questions that requires them to think and reflect under timed conditions. But instead students will often pick up key words in the question and write out a rehearsed response.”

In education we are obsessed with key vocabulary, and rightly so. Learning, understanding and categorising key language can underpin a lot of key concepts and skills in many, if not all, subject areas. Angle, adjective, hypothesis, artery, evidence, source, hemisphere, continent, analyse, evaluate, strokes, pivot, endurance…we throw all sorts of weird and frankly wonderful words at out learners to assist them in becoming more proficient in each of these subject areas. The grasp of key words is important in this endeavour. However, this fascination over key language seems to permeate into exam ‘practice’. This may help…but is it also a hindrance?

Many primary and Maths teachers will be aware of the acronym ‘RUCSAC’. I’m calling it out. I know many others have cast this aside for many reason, however I’m accusing this seemingly helpful skill of causing more problems in actually understanding the question.

I’ve seen the ‘U’ stand for one of two things – Understand or Underline. Understand: if I could get children to understand questions by just telling them to ‘Understand’ I would make a fortune. ‘Underline’ seems a bit more helpful but even this can cause problems…

Take this question for example: ‘I am going to share 3 boxes of chocolates between 5 friends. There are 30 chocolates in each box. How many chocolates are there to share?’ On the surface a very straightforward question.

However, as we know in Year 2, 6 and other high-stakes exam years, a lot of time is spent practising tests. If a child is trained to ‘underline’ key vocabulary and use THAT to identify the next stage (C – Choose operation) then they may misread the question. The higher attainers and rapid graspers (whatever phrase you’re using these days) will contextualise the problem and realise they need to multiply 3 by 30. However, the lower attainers and some middle attainers who are clinging on, will follow the strategy as they have been taught and identify one word – ‘share’. Now, all the followers of the RUCSAC strategy will know ‘share’ means one thing – divide. If children are taught to look for key words and phrases and to follow a strict guideline of how to solve, they will become stuck. They haven’t read the question properly and make the mistake.

Short-term Reliance

The ‘cramming before examming’ culture in academic exam years is also geared toward short-term memory. Scientific American says:

“Memories like what you had for dinner are stored in visual short-term memory—particularly, in a kind of short-term memory often called “visual working memory.” Visual working memory is where visual images are temporarily stored while your mind works away at other tasks—like a whiteboard on which things are briefly written and then wiped away.”

We teach children mnemonics, quick tricks and rehearsed answers to help them gain procedural understanding. However, in teaching this way, whilst we may gain lots of marks on some papers, that understanding is extremely limited. Conceptual understanding, the kind of understanding that enables children to see the bigger picture of a question, is lacking. This means they will read a question and struggle to contextualise it. No wonder they don’t ‘read the question properly’! They can read it but their short-term memory is trained to look for the procedure to answer the question.

Take 1/3 x 5/7. Every child in my Year 6 class would tell you the answer is 5/21. What does that ACUTALLY mean?

However, give them this question: “3/4 of a pan of brownies was sitting on the counter. You decided to eat 1/3 of the brownies in the pan. How much of the whole pan of brownies did you eat?” and see the confusion settle in…

And we wonder after a solid couple of terms on this method at least why there are drops in progress or attainment in Year 3 and 7…

The Solution?

A solution is worth searching for. Children may lose marks and not attain their potential not through a lack of understanding but just simply not having processed the question, or even their own working carefully. I have seen a child not achieve a Level 5 and then in later years miss out on Expected by one mark, both because they added decimals perfectly in their working but then forgot to include the decimal in their answer!!

Unfortunately I have no better solution to this problem of reading the question properly other than quality first teaching (or whatever phrase you use for that). I am also a hypocrite wilst saying this. Whilst I am now trying to help children understand the concept properly first more so now before showing them the ‘trick’ – I am still reverting back to little tips and tricks as we get ever closer to the SATs.

One thing I have done though which does open the children’s eyes a little bit to tackling this issue is this document which I found a few years ago which I share with you. Try it yourself…just read the question carefully 😉 (Answer at the bottom of the page so…spoilers down there if you want to try it yourself)!

It’s best if you get all children to promise to only say what they have to from the sheet, no helping or speaking to each other…




If you haven’t gathered, the children who read the sheet correctly will end up watching their classmates with smugness complete the ridiculous list of 19 or so challenges on this sheet until they realise they mistake at the end. Everyone else will look daft and you will have to control your desire to chuckle as one by one they say their name and eventually stand up and declare proudly ‘I HAVE FINISHED’…and then look in shock at the final sentences. Hopefully the ones who are fooled will look slyly at you at the end and keep quiet and enjoy watching the rest of their classmates fall into the same trap.

In three years of teaching Year 6…no one has completed it properly…let me know how it goes with you. DM me @Mroberts90Matt if you want this sheet on a Word document.



Ofsted: A Teacher’s Perspective

Well – we have had The Call and Ofsted have come and gone. Amazing how the tension generated by a single organisation can mount over years and then be gone in over a day (of course if the inspection goes to plan). Recently a number of headteachers and senior leaders have shared their experiences which have been extremely useful for others in preparing for their own visits. In fact, we only just looked over an example of one of these recounts in a Key Stage meeting literally the Tuesday before we had the call – which was spookily convenient. As it turns out, it was very accurate to our experience.

The New Framework 2018

Many of you will know that the framework for Ofsted has changed. In terms of Good schools, one of four outcomes can happen from a Section 8 inspection now:

1: The school stays Good.

2. The school shows evidence they are Outstanding. However, they keep the label of ‘Good’ until another full inspection in 1-2 years.

3. The school shows evidence they are Requires Improvement. However, they keep the label of ‘Good’ until another full inspection in 1-2 years.

4. The school does not have adequate provision of safeguarding for children and adults in the school. As such, they are automatically judged as ‘Inadequate’.

On top of this, in order for a school to now be Outstanding, they must be outstanding in all areas. In the past reports, a school could be Outstanding in most areas and maybe Good in one area and be deemed as Outstanding overall. Not anymore.

With this context in mind, what I wish to do now is highlight how this new one-day inspection approach framework has had an impact on the regular classroom teacher’s experience of this significant day in anyone’s teaching career. I’m hoping this may be useful for anyone who is expecting Ofsted to come any time soon.

The Call

12:25pm – Wrapping up a Maths lesson focusing on dividing by 10, 100 and 1000. It’s gone well, just thinking about pushing the concept further by challenging my lower set. One of our AHTs then come into my room quite quickly. ‘Meeting in the staff room, 12:30’ were the words said. I look back blankly – everyone knows what this means…suddenly I’m very focused on tidying up the classroom and ensuring everyone has finished what they need to in their books in the final few minutes.

12:30pm – Never seen a group of 40 or so people gather so quickly. Indeed, we are told the call has come. We are instructed to send any final adjustments to our timetables to the DHT and…well…get ready! And then, the staffroom vanishes…was quite surreal really. I didn’t go anywhere, I figured that I needed to eat and the time to sort things out would come. Typically I would usually have PPA on a Monday afternoon which would have been really useful but unfortunately the cover for half of it was going to be absent meaning I’d have to catch it up later in the week. So, I ate lunch.

2:15pm – Finally got rid of the class…because they were just getting in the way 😉 (it’s not like I do the job of a teacher for the children, right?) I sort out my classroom a bit, gather the resources for my Maths lessons the next day. I figure that the Maths lessons I had planned originally should surely be the ones I go ahead with. I aim to teach the best lessons all the time to show progression and enable the children to make the best progress – so why change it? I’ve heard the phrase ‘I’ll save that lesson for Ofsted’ and maybe so in the day when Ofsted would observe a whole lesson and give a judgement – but as the next day would prove those days are very much gone (and good riddance in my opinion).
We also had a visit from an AHT informing the children about the visit tomorrow and letters sent home to parents about the Ofsted questionnaire.

3:30pm – Children have gone, staff back in the staff room to listen to more details that have been given on the phone by the Lead Inspector. We were told that they would be focusing on the key areas for development from the previous inspection – challenging the more able, curriculum leadership and marking. However, the inspector said that he actually wouldn’t be taking any interest in marking as Ofsted have no set agenda on what marking should look like or what frequency – they may review the school marking policy should the need arise. Thank goodness for the Ofsted-busting myths! We were informed the inspectors would be taking a learning walk around the school between 9:45am-11am but that would be all the observations they would make of lessons. We were told the general timetable of the day and asked to send a selection (1 HA, 1 MA and 1 LA) of all books to the Head’s office. We even got to choose the books! So far so good I thought.
One thing I did think that was odd was that, as Maths Lead, there was no time set aside in the timetable to speak to the Maths Team. This was interesting considering Maths was mentioned as an area to look at in the last inspection and we had a Maths subject-specific Ofsted inspection in 2015. Our Head though wanted us to be on standby in case we could get to speak to them.

3:45pm – All hands on deck! Displays neatened, books up to date, documents updated in files, targets highlighted…

5:30pm – Our Head ordered in some pizza – was nice to sit together for 10mins and talk about anything other than what was going to be happening the next day! Was a nice touch!

5:30pm-7:30pm – I left at 7:30pm. I know others stayed longer but I figured that everything I needed to do at school (marking, printing etc) was done. I wasn’t completely ready yet with slides or certain lessons but that could be done at home…

The Day

5:00am – Up early. Out of choice. I went to bed by 10:45pm which is fairly early for me. Get my playlist on, finish off the afternoon sessions – bring on the day!

8:25am – All staff meet in the staff room to be introduced to the two inspectors who would be in school. Was a very short introduction, the lead inspector took the lead. He explained that ‘they had been in our position before’, they would be in classrooms at the most 10-15 mins and to please just do the wonderful things we always do. Done – everyone leaves to put the final touches together.

8:40am – The inspectors take to the playground and speak to parents. We are out in the playground (as usual) to greet families to the school. I was also informed that the inspectors just would not have time to meet with the Maths Team. Little disappointed by this but the reason was that they had no concerns about Maths. In fact, it became quickly apparent that they had a very interesting significant agenda…

10:35am – The door opens….enter the Lead Inspector and my Head. I continue the flow of my lesson. After a couple of minutes I am beckoned over by my Head and the inspector asks me about the teaching of Reading across the curriculum. He requests to see a Topic book. Again – I was allowed to go and choose one! I explain our previous topic and how reading was evidenced in the children’s books. This is my one complaint I have of my inspection – I didn’t get any eye contact or even a thank you for leaving my children’s learning to show evidence in my books. That’s all. I was also asked to see evidence of Reading in my Science books (easy). Then they left.

To be honest, that was all my involvement directly with the Ofsted inspectors. I was asked at 11:40am to assist the Head in compiling some data that we did have but just needed to put together neatly for the inspectors. Other than this, I went about teaching my other lessons and didn’t see them again.

What was very clear was that actually, they were not interested in the previous action points from the last inspection. What I gathered was there was a clear focus and setting of specific meetings with certain people on three specific areas. Those three areas will have been identified by the data about the school. It is apparent that because there is only one day to complete the inspection that the inspectors come in with a preconceived judgement, some key areas to look at and they see if anything is being done about those problem areas. There simply isn’t any time to look at things the school is doing well and celebrate their successes. As it turns out our school did well.

I can certainly see positives from this new framework (less time observing and judging lessons, ‘light-touch’ approach’) – however, this does cause problems such as not getting a full picture and focusing only on issues in the school and of course, if a school is now Outstanding, it will not be labelled as Outstanding for another 1-2 years.

If anyone has any further questions about the Ofsted Section 8 experience feel free to ask. Email or DM me @Mroberts90Matt

Hornets and Butterflies: How to reduce workload

Joe Kirby's blog

Butterfly      Hornet

When teachers were asked about workload, 44,000 responded. Teachers work 50-to-60 hour weeks, often starting at 7am, often leaving after 6pm, and often working weekends. Some 90% of teachers have considered giving up teaching because of excessive workload, and 40% leave the profession within 5 years. There are teachers out there working 90 hour weeks.

For a school, there are great benefits to leading the way on reducing workload. Teachers who aren’t exhausted teach better. We contribute more over a longer time period. We are far happier to invest time in building trusting, caring, affirming relationships with children. We stay calmer in difficult confrontations, and are less likely to be short-tempered in everyday interactions. We support and encourage each other better. New teachers improve faster, veteran teachers stay longer, and everyone works smarter. A school that pioneers healthy work-life balance is more likely to attract teachers to…

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Primary Assessment changes… again!

Ramblings of a Teacher

First of all, let me say that I’m pleased that primary assessment is changing again, because it’s been a disaster in so many ways. So here is a summary of the changes at each key stage – with my thoughts about each.

Early Years Foundation Stage Profile

  • The EYFS Profile will stay, but will be updated to bring it into line with the new national curriculum and take account of current knowledge & research. I’ve never been a huge fan of the profile, but I know most EY practitioners have been, so that seems a sensible move.
  • There may be a reduction in the number of Early Learning Goals to as few as 5 (down from 17). I think that that’s probably fairly sensible, but I imagine won’t be popular. Maybe a middle ground will be found?
  • The ’emerging’ band may be divided to offer greater clarity of information particularly…

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Jo Boaler is wrong about maths facts and timed tests

The Quirky Teacher

This is a blog post about how I believe Jo Boaler is wrong when she asserts that learning maths facts off by heart and timed tests are detrimental to children’s well-being and mathematical ability. I’ve tried to take the time to read pretty much every piece of research she has linked to in her article and it’s been an interesting reading journey, not least because some of the research she cites seems to provide evidence that learning maths facts off by heart and the use of timed tests are actually beneficial to every aspect of mathematical competency (not just procedural fluency). To help me get my head around what she’s saying, I’ve summarised the entire article and analysed each part:

  1. The new UK curriculum requirement for children to learn times tables off by heart will lead to children being scared of and then turn away from maths

On the…

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Teaching/Cementing Difference

Insightful comments into curriculum and how to get the balance right between facts, experiences and stereotypes.

jonny walker teaching

With stories and through the humanities, we can bring distant cultures into our classrooms. These may be cultures that our pupils associate with through family ties, or they may not be. The stories we do and do not tell shape the way our pupils come to see the world.
But how nuanced is the view that we give? How much simplification is acceptable before we begin obfuscating the reality?

There is a growing chasm between the way we present the world to our pupils, and the realities of these places. In many cases, we contribute towards Othering the people there.

Othering. n. The process of perceiving or portraying someone or something as fundamentally different or alien.

In order to reduce issues to paragraph length and to make the intangibles of culture appear more knowable, we can promote generalisations and simplifications that children grip onto but, simply, are neither true nor…

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KS2 Writing: Moderated & Unmoderated Results

Have to share this – expert analysis from Michael Tidd.
Hopefully change will start to happen or at least moderators, LAs and schools across the country will endeavour to try and make some more sense of this chaos.

Ramblings of a Teacher

After the chaos of last year’s writing assessment arrangements, there have been many questions hanging over the results, one of which has been the difference between the results of schools which had their judgements moderated, and those which did not.

When the question was first raised, I was doubtful that it would show much difference. Indeed, back in July when questioned about it, I said as much:

At the time, I was of the view that LAs each trained teachers in their own authorities about how to apply the interim frameworks, and so most teachers within an LA would be working to the same expectations. As a result, while variations between LAs were to be expected (and clearly emerged), the variation within each authority should be less.

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Nudging Better Attendance

We have a similar problem in our school and have been doing the same thing. Ironically one parent commented to me they want less messages about attendance but if they need to hear the message then they need to hear the message!


Working in a disadvantaged community or a school with large numbers of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds is a bit of a challenge.  Normal rules apply but there is a need to go the extra mile, insisting and working hard at things other schools take for granted; it can be exhausting.

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How I ‘mark’ regularly but I’m not a marking martyr 

Couldn’t agree more. I use a code system where I assign a code to a certain comment or identifying of a misconception or a challenge. The chn write down the comments and do the challenge in purple pen. Means they actually take in the comments more if they write them and interact with feedback rather than letting it wash over them.


In case you’re interested, this is what I think and what I do.

Thoughts on where I think some schools/leaders/teachers go wrong:

  • Thinking more writing = more learning.
  • Every lesson, students must write X amount.
  • A teacher needs to write on a piece of work
  • ‘Teaching’ lessons to cover content is more important than reflecting, redrafting and improving on prior work/learning
  • Every piece of student writing has to be marked in the same way to the same depth
  • All student work (including homework) must result in some sort of recordable result
  • Conflating marking with assessment/reading work/feedback
  • Having the same policy for all subjects including frequency and methods
  • Believing the colour of pens matter beyond being different colours

My classes

To give some context I teach 18 classes. 3 are GCSE groups, the rest are core RE with lessons ranging from 1-3 times a fortnight. They use 3 different formats for…

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Reflections of a QT (not an N or R Rated Teacher) by @Mroberts90Matt

Time is a weird thing in education. It feels like since I started teaching in September 2014 that the educational world has progressed to something completely different already. I do recognise however that with changes in statutory assessment, a brand-spanking new Curriculum, farcically implemented new Assessments and Pupil Premium paranoia setting in, I could probably be forgiven for feeling that. Also, the fact I came into my school with temporary new Heads close behind me and they prepared the school until our current Head followed the next year, it isn’t surprising I have felt this way!

Time also waits for no teacher! Whilst I still can’t believe I have only been teaching for 2 1/3 academic years, it does feel like a lifetime ago I was regularly writing blog posts! Long ago is the time I was introduced with the statement “A new blogger appears on the block :)” – (Stephen Tierney, Executive Headteacher, @LeadingLearner” and long ago is the time I had an article feature on the most influential UK teacher blog – Teacher Toolkit – to the point…well just look at the views on my blog over the last three years:blog1

As you can see, the deeper I’ve gotten into teaching and taking on responsibility, the less I have networked and blogged…surprised? No. It is the fact that I bemoaned before teaching full-time and wanted to avoid myself – there are a lot of outstanding practitioners who, due to the overwhelming workload, do not get chance to share their incredible practice…fortunately it is Christmas and I am getting more experienced in planning well ahead so I have a chance to sit as my wife enjoys the Christmas Bake Off. I have looked at  one of my recent blog posts (RQT Resolutions) and I am happy to report that I have met them all despite not blogging as I now want to again! We had great results (for our school) in the 2015-16 SATs and I am very, VERY involved in developing teaching and learning in the school. Things are going well…here are some belated resolutions for my 3rd year in teaching:

1. Keep my home-work life balance
This has been, and will always be, my first goal each year. My family are the most important thing to me. I will certainly not be trading them for a successful career in teaching – I would change jobs before that happened. Obviously it can be done but it will require time management and careful a selection of priorities. I look around at some of the staff in my school who have families of their own and wonder how they can manage to do what they do! I now have a 4 year old son and a 2 year old daughter. My own son is now entrenched into the education system, and I am now starting to see how depressing it can be for parents, to try and get their children to jump hoops at such a young age. At least it will be another source for blog posts…but for another time!

2. Complete NPQML Qualification
Yes – I have taken the plunge. I am in the middle of completing my next qualification after my ITT. I am leading a team to develop the style of Maths learning across the school, to develop Maths vocabulary and talk in our 80% EAL school. I have asked, pitched and championing a ‘Talk4Maths’ approach, which you all will be hearing about very soon – watch this space! 😉

3. Maintain amazing start to PE Leadership
I’ll probably go into more detail about the steps in this particular journey but, simply, I was asked in November 2015 to take on leadership of PE and Sport in my RQT Year, the school had previously achieved not much more than Bronze in the School Games Award (a nationally recognised mark for PE and Sport). We moved the school to receive Gold in the same award (the highest category possible), receive a visit from Sue Smith (ex-International Women’s Football Player) and we named the Trafford School of the Year for Sport. As any leader should, I will say now it was not down to me but the monumental effort provided by the staff in the school. I want to make sure this is maintained to the point that it will become a self-sustaining system and service the school provides.

(Now the big one…) 4. Publish a blog post every month
This is the minimum. I do want to try and post once every two weeks but I am anticipating that saying this during the relaxed Christmas holidays is easy – actually staying on top of this will be the challenge!

Roll on 2017 – and I look forward to sharing more with you all!