Hitting rock bottom

Rock bottom 1

I wonder if you have students at your school who had no hope of getting a C grade?

The ones whose FFTs are Es or Fs. The ones whose FFTs are Cs and Ds but nothing that happened in Years 7 – 11 gave any indication of how that could be. The ones who have complex (or even simple) needs and find learning tough. The ones who are never in school. The one who set the fire alarms off. The ones who SLT are always talking to in the corridors and on the playground.

As much as I love results day – and I do. And as much as I loved watching the faces of my top set when they saw their double A*s; it was the faces of the bottom set kids that I found myself seeking out. Knowing that they would be reading a list of Es, Fs and maybe Us.

You see, as well as teaching top set this year, I also taught bottom set. Two hours a week, Wednesday and Friday last lesson. With a group of 12 kids doing an English Only qualification. You might remember me talking about them in this post.

On Thursday, I watched those few who turned up to collect their results realise that they didn’t get what they wanted. For some of them it wasn’t even close. These are the kids where teachers will say “Well, he got 17 marks (out of 90) and I didn’t think he would do that!” or “An F grade is accurate.”

Whilst these maybe true, I wonder what it is like at the age of 16 to know that something has gone so badly wrong with your life already – that you need to start again, at the local College.

Rock bottom 2

It’s these kids and days like last Thursday that force me to have a cold, hard look at what I did wrong. (I know it’s not all my responsibility – despite what my PRP measure might say).
I feel like I say it every year – we can’t have another year like that.

So here’s my plan:

  1. The early bird catches the worm Our KS3 curriculum is pretty tight, very heavily weighted towards literature and knowledge. Whilst I love this – I have to ask myself whether a different provision might be needed for kids who have some of the fundamentals missing. You see, these kids need to read and be forced to read a lot. So at least half of their lessons will now include reading practice (phonics, reading aloud, guided reading strategies and all sorts of comprehension stuff). It’s time to look again at my Trust Me You can Read project
  2. Test them early, diagnose early, sort it early Running side by side with the above I think I know need a more effective way to test and diagnose reading age and reading skills. I know Katie Ashford at Michaela has blogged about this – although I don’t know this programme yet – I want to. I need data on these kids every term, every half term.
  3. Get my team on board My team are amazing, but by in large they are literature trained. We are lucky that 3 of us have all also taught TEFL. But until I started learning about phonics two years ago, none of us really knew how to teach a child to read. When a kid joins in Year 7, no matter what might have happened before – if I can’t teach them to read, then too much of secondary education is already lost.
  4. Get whole staff on board It’s interesting when you talk about phonics in a secondary school, the only people who know what you are talking about are parents. And most don’t like phonics. This year I will deliver whole staff training on phonics, reading and spelling strategies for all subjects. If we get these kids using the same approaches to reading key terms in Maths and Science as they do to reading a novel, then we have a hope of getting somewhere.
  5. Get parents (and their kids) on board Parent information evenings are great – however, I would like to see more parent workshops, where parents come in with their kids and work together on some of the kinds of tasks that they do in lessons. Providing parents with a little bit of information and lots of hassle-free opportunities to support their son or daughter in reading is better than saying “they need to read more” at parents’ evening.

I can’t say now whether this will have a big impact. I won’t stick my head in the sand anymore. It is a 5 year plan – starting at year 7, so we will just have to wait and see.

And because we all love a motivational poster:

rock bottom 3

Thank you for reading






6 thoughts on “Hitting rock bottom

  1. I’ll flag up this post at http://www.iferi.org (the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction) and other sites – thank you. The starting point for phonics is telling the Year 7s that the English alphabetic code is the most complex alphabetic code in the world because of (very interesting) historic reasons – and that many teachers have not been trained well enough to teach the code thoroughly. The second thing, I suggest, is to make it clear that adults use phonics for reading and spelling new, longer and more challenging words – but that most adults don’t actually realise this – therefore ‘phonics’ is not baby stuff, it’s adult stuff. The third action, I suggest, is to supply them with their own copy of a mini Alphabetic Code Chart, and for you to select your preferred giant Alphabetic Code Chart for reference during any phonics lessons and for incidental phonics teaching. I supply a wide range of free, downloadable Alphabetic Code Charts which are suitable for older learners and which, I hope, you and your Year 7s, and their parents/carers will find interesting and even invaluable. See http://www.alphabeticcodecharts.com .

    Good luck.

    Warm regards,


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Debbie – I really enjoyed your presentation at the Reading Reform Conf – much of what you say has filtered into the way I discuss this with colleagues and parents. Your Alphabetic Code is up in every classroom. I like the idea of giving kids a copy too.


  2. I think it won’t happen but more primary teachers (especially Early Years) need to hear this – why on earth should you have to teach reading to anyone in KS3 – even EAL should be able translating. I really hope that there is a greater emphasis on informal and formal learning of reading and writing skills in the lower years. Those are the same children who can not access KS2 (it’s already about reading to learn in Year 3!!) and children need quality first teaching from teachers not be behind and in the TAs groups for 5 years while others are in the class learning with the teacher. What does this tell them?

    I feel for you and hope truly that we can sort this out in primary – a first step would be a total commitment to SSP across primaries.


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