Improving the progress of more able students

One of the priority areas we have as a school is ensuring that our most able learners make progress in line with their targets. These are the students that are described as High Ability on entry to secondary school. Currently these students don’t make as much progress as students in the Middle or Lower ability bands. When we look at the number of students that are High Ability, they are increasing in every year group from y11 to Y7.

As a school with a proud list of alumni that have gone onto achieve great careers our key questions was ‘How can we ensure that all students meet their potential’. A closer look at the data highlighted that this action research area crossed over with the others – the most likely High Ability students to underperform are male, pupil premium students.

Again this is not an issue specific to our school and there is a lot of current research into why some High Ability students fail to make the same progress as others. A report by the School Mobility and Child Poverty Commission in 2015 identified a ‘glass floor’ in British society, less able, better off students are 35% more likely to become high earners than bright students from low income families. Again, the key question for us is how can we ensure that all students meet their potential – regardless of their background.

We wanted to make sure that as a school we were providing enough challenge, that we weren’t teaching to the middle and that we hadn’t underestimated what our students could achieve.

The research leads for this area are James Perry (Deputy head of Sixth Form) and Nina Elliott ( head of Languages).

What makes a difference?

  • Language: Increase the use and application of subject specialist language.
  • Questioning: Increase the use of differentiated questioning, higher order thinking and oracy within the classroom.
  • Modelling and Feedback: to ensure all students know what excellence looks like. Provide opportunities to make their work excellent. Students consistently responding to clear and transparent feedback.
  • Challenge: Increase expectation for more able students at all levels. Develop Lead Learners in the classroom. Flipped learning – no note taking in post 16 lessons!
  • Teach to the Top – Use department time to plan and create challenging resources together such as “impossible questions’.
  • Build challenge into day to day routines – support more able students to develop self-regulation and use their talents.
  • Competition and motivation – many high ability students want to beat their rivals.
  • Aspiration – students who know what they need to achieve are more motivated.
  • Language and communication in the classroom – using higher level language consistently encourages students to do the same.
  • Peer challenges – they are often tougher on each other than the teachers!

One of the key – mantras that come out of the action research was ‘Take away the spoon‘.

Removing the Gender Gap

One of the priority areas that we identified as a school was the performance of boys compared to girls. This in itself is not uncommon and one that many schools face. In the academic year 2017 – 2918 many staff carried at action research projects to identify strategies that would work in Tor Bridge High to improve the boys performance and bring in inline withe the girls.

The action research leads for this area are Chris Langmead (Head of English) and Andy Lyon (Head of Art).

This is not a simple problem, whilst there is a gender gap it is not found in every subject at Tor Bridge High,  additionally when looking at the national research it is not as simple as saying that boys underperform compared to girls. The largest gender gap in the UK is found between boys and girls designated as ‘white working class’.

As a group of professionals we had to look at our own practice and consider if we were challenging negative stereotypes in education or reinforcing them.

Some of the ‘common thinking’ you currently find in education in the UK at the moment can be summarised as follows;

‘Boys are programmed to be destructive, boorish and rebellious’,

‘Boys underachieve nationally’,

‘Boys like competition and rewards’,

‘Boys don’t like school’,

‘Boys don’t show their feelings’.

We wanted to look at these again and see what could make a difference in out school. Through the action research projects we have come up with what we feel makes a difference in reducing the gender gap in Tor Bridge High.

What makes a difference?

  • High expectations of boys; in their approach towards learning and their outcomes.
  • Developing boys use of subject specific language.
  • Positive relationships based on clear boundaries and consistency.
  • Regular testing and feedback with opportunities to reflect and improve.
  • Raising the self-esteem of boys.

What did people do?

The following are some of the action research areas that staff carried out, the findings of these eventually lead to the list above.

  • Use of extra-curricular activities to boost boys engagement in learning.
  • Developing positive relationships in the classroom.
  • Use of visual stimuli to support engagement and learning.
  • Use of rewards and short term goals.
  • Explicit teaching of command words for examinations.
  • Focussing on boys’ presentation of work.
  • Use of skills based tests.
  • Exploring the role of mentoring in developing boys’ engagement.
  • Use of seating plans.
  • Developing use of technology and apps in improving homework engagement.
  • Use of competitions and rewards.








Excellence in assessment.

At the start of the year we wanted to review our assessment and feedback procedures to ensure that they were the most effective they could be. There has been a huge amount of discussion about assessment and feedback. The recent changes to many key stage 4 courses means accurate assessment has become more challenging. In addition there is a much needed conversation regarding marking and the work-life balance of teachers.

Our Assessment priorities are:

  • Meaningful feedback that is responded to by students and clearly improving the quality of the work.
  • Student ownership of marking.
  • Immediate feedback and whole class feedback to help motivation.
  • Raising expectations in success criteria and presentation.
  • Withholding assessment grades and focus on actions needed for improvement.

The research leads for this topic are Jen Claxton (Teacher of Technology) and James Thomas (Head of History). The action research projects that have been carried out have led to the school reviewing its whole policy on assessment. Whilst this really shows the impact of action research in schools, it also means we are still working on policy – we will share what this looks like when its done.

In the meantime please find a case study of one action research projects and a list of the action research areas below.


Case Study – Tor Emberson – Science Teacher

Structuring formative assessment to facilitate students ownership of progress

How did you come up with this Action Research title?

“As part of my continual CPD I organised a learning walk across other curriculum areas to see how other members of staff were collating assessment throughout the entire duration of the course…..this gave me ideas for developing the strategies we have in place in our department”

What do you personally hope to get from carrying out the action research?

“…develop our students independent enquirer skills…more efficient use of our feedback…ultimately to improve the use of lesson time.”

How have you found action research?

“I really enjoy Action Research, it gives me a reason to do some targeted reading to improve my own practice and trial ideas from the masses of pedagogy that is out there.”

For a full list of the Action Research areas that are being carried out on Assessment at Tor Bridge High please read on –  Continue reading “Excellence in assessment.”

Other Areas of Research

Before we launched our Action Research program members of Tenzing School at TorBridge High undertook a pilot of action research in 2016. We had been involved in whole school training and wanted to see if what we had learnt could be effectively transferred into our lessons. We worked in groups each testing out a different project. Before the project people were a little unsure but after they had completed it everyone was positive that it was a good way to develop their practice.

Conclusion: All colleagues felt that the techniques could be easily implemented into their practice. Questioning was improved and students did appear to have more opportunities to critically think around subjects. All of the team who participated felt it they had been able to take a number of positives from the experience.

Continue reading “Other Areas of Research”

Links to Research

This is a list of online research starting points, this is a great place to start to look at what current research exists in each of our priority areas.

National research organisations.

Education Endowment Foundation funds and evaluates research into many areas in education and publishes the results on the teacher toolkit.

National education Trust collates knowledge and expertise to support innovation and good practice in the classroom.

Education Datalab these carry out research for policy makers but also work with schools to help them use data to adapt their practice.

The Institute for Effective Education based at the University of York, this is a charity that works with schools to improve the quality of teaching. They also produce a best evidence in Brief fortnightly newsletter which is emailed out if you sign up.

Sutton Trust a foundation that aims ti improve social mobility through evidence based research, programs and policy.

Blog Sites

Evidence Based Educational Leadership this blog focuses on the leadership and management of Evidence Based Education – including Action Research projects. It provides a really good ‘reality check’ for what works … and significantly – what doesn’t work  – in terms of implementation.

The Super Blog Database of research already conducted by teacher researchers in schools in the UK and across the globe.

Class Teaching This blog shows one school’s (or MAT’s!) approach to Evidence Based Practice and Action Research. They are undeniably much, much further down the road than we are … but their resources may help to shape how we can move forward.

Overcoming Prejudices to the Benefit of Students – Blogpost by John Tomsett, Headteacher in York and review of Making Good Progress?: The future of Assessment for Learning by Daisy Christodoulou 

Review of the OECD paper ‘Academic resilience’ – excellent study on what works for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Twitter – some people to follow…

@acethattest – The Learning Scientists blog is a treasure chest of ideas and resources presented by leading cognitive psychological scientists. The FAQ section is a good starting point for Action Research ideas.

@suttontrust – updates from the Sutton Trust.

@edudatalab – regular updates from the Educational Datalab.

@marcrowland – wrote an excellent book on pupil premium and works for Rosendale Research School.




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