MAs Re-Mastered


It is that time of year again. A pasty-faced band of colleagues return from their Christmas holidays having churned out 20,000 words for their MA Education dissertations. I have commented here before on some of the Masters work I have supported in my school. This year I want to share their work a little further (if my blog and twitter followers amount to ‘further’.)

With their kind permission I have reproduced their abstracts here. If you want to read their full reports, or to follow up a query with them, you can either type your email address into the comment box at the bottom of this post, or DM your email via twitter. It would be well worth your while!


Exploring the indirect impact of regular early morning football training on academic success: Can sport be used to develop a more academic culture?

By Daniel Saunders


Background: There are numerous studies which discuss the benefits being physically active can have on physical and mental wellbeing as well as cognitive development in young people. Equally, there is currently much debate regarding the potential academic benefits of sport although many studies have struggled to find a causative link. Over the past three academic years, students at our North London mixed comprehensive school have had the opportunity to attend early morning football training sessions. This study seeks to determine whether there are any academic and non-academic benefits developed as a result. Method: Students who attended over 50% of the sessions were eligible for the study and the rest of their cohorts were deemed to be control groups. Student progress data was measured over the academic year, form tutors were asked for their opinion of students’ development, students were given questionnaires to determine their enjoyment of school and their perceived impact of the study, parents were interviewed to determine their opinion of their son’s improvement and attendance, punctuality and homework completion was measured to determine if the study has impacted upon their academic culture for learning. Conclusion: Students who participate in early morning football training achieve comparable results when compared with their respective cohorts. Form tutors and parents have made numerous suggestions that lead the researcher to believe that students who participated in the study developed significantly more positive attitudes towards school. Punctuality of students involved in the study was significantly better on days where early morning sessions were available as opposed to non-training days. The data obtained suggests that homework completion may be beginning to improve with the research sample who have been attending early morning training sessions for a longer period of time suggesting there may be a dose-response relationship which is yet to be understood.


How does a Mastery Learning teaching method compare to a responsive teaching method actively developed over time? 

By Darren Glyde


This paper analyses in detail the Mastery Learning teaching approach and compares it to a tried and tested technique developed by a colleague over time. The two methods were applied to two GCSE Art classes, each taught by one method. The data collected has shown that both methods of teaching are able to raise attainment within the four core skills being investigated. The findings demonstrate that over a short period of time a Mastery approach of delivering skills based learning is effective, however, in the long term the tried and tested method of teaching produced higher levels of attainment overall.


An action enquiry to assess the effectiveness of a deconstruction model of teaching when applied to exam style reading-questions in year 8 English lessons, with a focus on: How far it can aid understanding of the question and whether it provides structural support when writing an independent response to a question.

By Megan Clarke


This study explored the effectiveness of a deconstruction model when applied to exam-style reading questions in year 8 English lessons. It focused on the extent to which it aided students’ understanding of a question and whether it provided a structural support when students wrote independent responses to the question.

Data analysis revealed that implementing a model which focused on: vocabulary; the deconstruction and reconstruction of a question; and student-led scaffolding, to be beneficial in affective terms and promoted self-efficacy in students as learners, including independence. The results showed the specific areas of the model were successful in strengthening the breadth of responses to questions when delivered in a classroom environment, although, the small scale of the research would necessitate further quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis in order to generalise and validate the use of the model further.


An Investigation into the Effectiveness of Distributed Practice and Practice   Testing Revision Strategies on Students’ Learning.

By Louise Legg


Students often struggle to complete revision in preparation for important and final exams  and teachers are sometimes uncertain of how best to support students at this time. Experts in the field of cognitive psychology propose two revision strategies as being the most effective in improving students’ learning, namely distributed practice and practice testing. This research tested the effectiveness of these strategies in improving students’ learning in A-Level Psychology lessons. An action research approach was employed and a variety of techniques used to test the effectiveness of these strategies over the course of several months. Findings suggest that practice testing and distributed practice can enhance students’ learning and lead to improved performance in assessments. It was concluded that embedding these strategies within the teaching of subjects across the school and from an early age,  could lead to an improvement in students’ ability to prepare for exams and in their overall academic achievement.

TWTWTW in #ChacePD

 That Was The Week That Was

Everyone experiences professional development through their own prism. Mine, principally, is as a ‘producer’ rather than ‘consumer’, as I am PD leader for my school. This week, much like any other, I led professional studies for our teacher-trainees and an induction session for our NQTs. But this week I was allowed also to be a participant, sitting back as my wonderful colleagues took the PD reins.

MONDAY…was the calm before the storm. We had our customary meeting in the morning, the Chace Lead Teachers and I, planning for the days ahead. We have staff training on DIRT coming up, we are getting exercised by growth mindset, and there is the nagging business of Lesson Study.

TUESDAY…was the real ‘Start the Week’. This year our team of volunteer PD leaders (our Development Coordinators) have been delivering Mixed Development Time – 5 sessions across the year, centred on the theme of Differentiation. This week we were focusing on differentiating for students working below (old) Level 3. The DCs led 8 Teacher Learning Communities, mixed by faculty, sharing best practice and remembering that the best differentiation is through knowing our students well.

WEDNESDAY…the Midweek slot was occupied by our ‘Pedagogy Marketplace’. The peerless Darren Glyde, recently appointed a Chace Lead Teacher assumed control of this professional learning day back in October, and the day bore the stamp of his meticulous preparation. The original plan was to provide a showcase for the disparate action research projects that several colleagues have been working into MAs over the past few years. Being their tutor (as an associate for Middlesex) I have long been frustrated by the fact that, whereas they have learned tonnes, we have not managed to learn from them. A marketplace was hardly the most original idea, but it at least offered all classroom staff the opportunity to opt into two or three sessions, which might coincide with their appraisal objectives.

@HughHalford reminding us of our ZPD

There was a choice of about a dozen. @BTerziyski promised to save us time marking, by designing tasks more smartly. We had sessions on literacy, underachieving boys, behaviour management, independent learning, using drama, reading strategies, and more. Each session leader was asked to present their theory, what their own research and practice and taught them about what works. We are still collating the feedback but we already know it was a great success. Our next challenge is to ensure there is a next step.

THURSDAY…is ‘Bookend’ day: begins with professional studies for ITTs, ends with induction for NQTs. Setting Targets was the title for the teacher-trainees. I cannot be alone as a Professional Coordinating Mentor in London, tearing my hair out as the various universities we work with (London Met, Middlesex, IOE and Kings) insist on not talking to each other about the start and finish dates of their school experience placements. So, we have trainees who have begun SE2, while others are yet to complete SE1. So this session was designed as a bridge between the two. We discussed first how to set an achievable target; they they wrote each on a post-it note, then plotted them on an X-Y axis to determine where the quick wins could be, and where they could expect to put in the extra effort.

My NQTs usually don’t get any sessions for free: they expect, for any input from me or an expert colleague, to be sent away for the next 3-4 weeks to enquire further before posting a blog on their reflections. At the moment, they are engaged in What is Appreciative Inquiry while also finding ways of introducing the Teaching and Learning Cycle (a device for extending students’ writing) into their classrooms. So today’s session was deliberately lighter-touch. Inspired by

This Sporting Life

…my session, This Teaching Life, asks the question, Is this a job, a career, a profession, a calling, or a life?

FRIDAY…should be Stop the Week. For me, it’s my day at the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at UCL Institute of Education. I have been putting courses together for school leaders and, when numbers allow, delivering them at the IOE and around London. This week, the pressure was off so I set my mind to a half day course I am leading in March, Performance Management: Making it work for you No previews, I’m afraid.

WEEKEND… without end! Those MAs that my colleagues spent their year on had to be marked some time. What did I read? An impact analysis of mentoring for underachieving boys. A look at the correlation (if not the causal link) between early morning football and academic achievement. The difference between an open-door Art club policy and one which is tailored for individual needs. The effect of green pen marking in year 8 science. The impact of Chris Watkins’ active reading cycle on a year 8 reading class.

Sitting here, I realise that – but for putting the bins out – I haven’t stepped foot outdoors since this weekend. I could have done, but I’ve decided to reflect on my #ChacePD week instead. That WAS The Week That Was.

Marking teacher MAs: hours well-spent

Marking has never been my thing. Shame to admit, but there it is. All those hours spent, discovering that my students have in fact not learned what I had so brilliantly taught them… that’s not good for the soul.

I have just come off a marathon marking session: 9 hours of it yesterday (Sunday.) By the end, I had assessed a sum total of 3 assignments. For this was no normal set of essays. Each was an average of 20,000 words, and they were written by my colleagues. For these teachers, this was the culmination of 2 or 3 years work on their Masters in Education. I have blogged elsewhere on these pages on how I lead this MA programme in my school. Here, I want to celebrate the work they have achieved.

Ama is a Maths teacher in her third year of teaching. Last year and this she has arranged parent Maths workshops, where the year 7 (or 9, or 11) student would attend with their parent after-school sessions over 6 weeks. Ama and her colleagues planned the sessions carefully so they would not threaten or embarrass the parents, some of who were nervous about their own ability in the subject. Ama wanted to measure the degree to which attendance at the workshops boosted the students’ confidence. She carried out telephone interviews with the parents. All agreed that they were now more likely to assist their child with their homework. They all said also that their child had enjoyed the sessions. ‘My son didn’t look forward to the sessions but once we were there he really enjoyed it.’ And 100% said that their child’s confidence in Maths had grown. ‘My daughter will now tackle problems and ask for help. Before she would just say I can’t do it!’

Ama also conducted questionnaires with the participants. Every child confirmed that their confidence had grown as a result of the workshops; and 80% agreed (or strongly agreed) that they were likely now to attempt any Maths problem. Ama did not measure the impact, if any, on the students’ performance, but there was clear impact on their self-concept.

‘Self-concept’ was the theme taken up by Ama’s colleague, Sahar. Sahar, four years into her career, has recently been promoted to Head of Year. How she found the time to balance that stupidly demanding role with a part-time Masters, I’ll never know. Just before Christmas – 3 weeks before hand-in day – she nearly deferred. I applied the ‘you’ll never have a time in your career when you think you have enough time’ line, and she bought it. I’m glad she did, because her work was marvelous.

She wanted to know whether disaffection among middle attainers in Maths would be reduced, and their self-concept enhanced, if they were taught using ‘complex instruction’. Being a bear of very little brain, it took me time to work out that this meant structured group work. The genius of Sahar’s piece was in her research design. Maths is taught in two half-year groups, meaning there are two parallel top sets, two parallel bottom sets, etc. Consequently, in the middle there are comparable middle-attaining groups. Sahar taught one of these, deliberately deploying frequent group work. The parallel group was taught by a colleague, who followed the agreed programme of study more closely. This avoided the common ethical dilemma in educati0nal research, whereby to create a control group we somehow have to deny them what we believe to be best practice. Sahar’s control group was getting exactly what the PoS said they should get. All sets in one year group also sat the same tests (and, being Maths, this occurs frequently.) This gave Sahar rich comparative data. By the end of the trial, Sahar deployed the Marsh self-description questionnaire. This showed a significant growth in self-confidence regarding Maths. Test scores also showed that the mean results of the test group were better than that of the control group by the end. However, the range of their results was considerable, meaning that although some scored very highly, others disappointed.

What Sahar’s study showed – and she had the confidence to say so – was that, even after we invest considerable creative energy on a particular pedagogical approach, the results are unlikely to be uniform. Some students will excel in the new environment, others will flounder.

Hugh Halford found the same. Also recently promoted to Head of Year, Hugh has been teaching so long that he was not able to count his M-level PGCE points towards his MA, so had to do it over three years. His work was astonishing. As his focus has been consistent over his three years. he wanted to know the extent to which barriers to successful independent learning had shifted over that time. The beauty of his study was that he was able to implement the same independent learning unit to an AS level Politics class as he did 3 years ago, and measure the differences in outcomes – both in their written work, and in their self-perceptions. As he still had access to his original study group, before they left last summer, he was also able to quantify any changes in their responses to independent learning.

What Hugh found may be dispiriting to some. The longer the students remained in the sixth-form, and the closer they got to final exams, the more they depended on their teacher fronting the lesson. They understood that, working independently, they were honing worthwhile skills. But they were anxious that, unless the teacher told them everything, they would miss out. Key stage 3 pupils, for whom exams appear more distant, were the most enthusiastic about independent learning. The school had a CPD push on independent learning three years ago, and staff believe that they provide many opportunities for students to develop those skills. But, as a school, we have become yet more determined to drive up attainment at GCSE. We have seen our results improve steadily, and this has been attributed to exhaustive interventions. These might be seen as short-term quick fixes; but, whatever they are, they have worked. With independent learning, however ardently one might believe in it, it takes much longer to see the results. For the teachers, and students, at my school one priority has squeezed out the other.

It took me 9 hours to read all that, and mark it. But, unlike the other hours I have spent, similarly hunched over with red pen in hand, these hours were food for the soul.

Is Action Research research at all?

How many were there? There must have been 500 and more. How many of them were drawn there by the power of Twitter? Well, surely most of them had been told by the little blue bird that the event was taking place; without doubt, this was a community of Tweachers. Bloggers too, many of them. I am late off the mark with mine (a full 24 hours has elapsed), but I’m calculating that my 244 twitter followers won’t mind too much. This might get read, it might not, but new knowledge will emerge from it, for me if for no one else.

That’s enough, isn’t it? I have learned something, I am writing about it here, something new is now known. A little of this will seep into the consciousness of the others who are kind enough to listen to me when I am advising them, cajoling them (and doing those other verbs that Dr Joseph Spence, Master of Dulwich College, reminded us amount to teaching.) And that will be enough, or at least it will be something.

Or so I thought, before I spent the day at the Research Ed 2013 conference, mustered and mastered by @tombennett71 and @hgaldinoshea  (where do they get it from?) Now I understand that stuff arising from research demands a much higher standard before we can call it new knowledge.

Or perhaps I should start again. An event such as #rED2013 (what hashtag did we settle on?) must mean something different for every individual who attended. What were there – 40 odd sessions, divided into a 7-period day? Master Bennett, are you the timetabler in your school? Independent learners that we are, we self-selected what sessions to attend. So what if we sometimes had to sit on the floor? We could hope to nab a seat by avoiding the catnip of @johntomsett, or the @miss_mcinerney honeypot. In the past 24 hours (and indeed, during the event itself, despite the lack of wifi at pricey Dulwich College), attendees have been retelling the event from the evidence of their own experience, reducing it to its gist, extracting its essence, drawing out its strands.

For me, the theme was: Action Research – should we bother? It seems we absolutely should not, or absolutely should, or should but not in absolutely every circumstance. First, Ben Goldacre. I’m a big fan of his Bad Science, and Bad Pharma. I know he’s a charismatic polemicist, and I believe he plays a vital public intellectual role. His advocacy of Randomised Controlled Testing is compelling when applied to pharma; I’m less convinced by his similar advice to the DfE, but I don’t want to be that self-regarding creep (on the slide we didn’t quite see) who naysays before he has quite heard the case. Goldacre, however, dismisses the small-scale work that a teacher-researcher might realistically engage in in their own classroom. He wants research networks of hundreds of schools, where studies can be scaled up. Size matters to Ben, and bigger is clearly better. I wonder how deeply he has considered the differences between a pill and, say, a Physics programme taught across a number of schools. Patients, like pupils, are diverse and will respond to their ‘medicine’ differently. But, within a bottle of tablets, all the tablets are the same: the same cannot be said for the various teachers teaching from that Physics curriculum. Each teacher picks their own way through a course, no matter how standardized the materials they work with, and some teachers are ultimately better than others. So RCTs testing the effectiveness of an intervention in education will always have to allow for that variation in input.

Anyway, Goldacre is a smart guy, brilliant at what he does, and surefooted enough to demolish my little puff at his work. In me, he has nothing to fear. Perhaps even with Carol Davenport on my side. She is from the National Science Learning Centre, and her talk was called Using Action Research to Improve PracticeShe defends the little guy, the one examining their own practice in their own classroom. So what if the work is not always objective – it can still be rigorous and honest. She espouses  the action research cycle, where an action is analysed, a next step is planned, a research question is decided, research is planned and carried out, its results are analysed and shared. There may be bad research questions, but good ones are specific, focused, measurable and (I would add) interesting and important. Observation, questioning, pre- and post-testing are all data collection methods that – though flawed – are also part of what teachers always do. Teachers call this teaching, but perhaps Carol allows us to call this research.

Chris Husbands @Director_IOE would scoff. For him (pace Lawrence Stenhouse), research is ‘systematic inquiry made public’, or it is not research. Action Inquiry is not sharp enough to cut this mustard. It might be inquiring, but it is essentially unsystematic and rarely of sufficient generalisability to deserve publication. Husbands – a generous man – owns that Action Research may have a place in CPD, and it can change one person’s practice. But research it ain’t.

I admit that Phillipa Cordingley @PhillipaCcuree is too clever for me to understand a lot of what she says, and she says a lot of it very quickly for my slow-turning brain. But I’m pretty sure she thinks teachers can be engaged in something that – at least at the start – could be called action research, and that this matters. But the bar is still set high. Teacher-researchers need to know what is known. They must be clear about what is, and what is not, working. They must have a passion to make the difference for their students. And (there will be a catch here for many) they need peer and expert support, including coaching in research methods. Action Research may be possible, and will be useful, if it has access to specialist expertise, uses the evidence well, and engages the teachers in collecting and reflecting on the evidence in their schools.

What am I to tell those colleagues who don’t tweet, blog or attend geeky conferences on a Saturday? Actually, quite a few of them have engaged in Action Research, gamely claimed new knowledge and have acquired their MAs thereby. Dr Husbands might tell them they have done some worthwhile CPD, and Dr Goldacre would tell them to randomly find 200 friends doing the same thing and he might then be interested in them. But I still hold that, where they have asked a meaningful question, collected their data with care, and analysed how what they have found might be applied elsewhere (even where this might simply be down the corridor in the same school), then, well, they have just done some research.

Let’s send academics back to school

I am just back from an academic conference in Lisbon, hosted by CICE (Chidlren’s Identity and Citizenship Education) – a network of universities across Europe. I was very lucky to be there, for Lisbon is a beautiful city and I met several earnest and well-meaning researchers from whom I had much to learn. I was doubly lucky to be there, as the afternoon I flew out coincided with ‘the call’ from Ofsted. I was there at the invitation of London Met University, with whom I have been working this year one day a week.

Working with educational academics as I have done this year, I have come to respect their expertise. I value particularly the insights that can be afforded to those who have gained some distance from the classroom. Those of us who answer to the call of the school bell, whose planning for one lesson is trumped by the marking for another; those is the classroom more than I: teachers can rarely stick their heads up for too long to engage in the theory of what they are practising. It’s a good thing that someone does.

So, I value educational academics: we should spend a bit more time in their company. The trouble is, I suspect they could do with spending a bit more time in ours. If I was struck by one thing at the CICE conference it was that the academics are too reliant on the theoretical frameworks they started out with (their ‘critical theory’ and their ‘ethnological methodology’) and bereft of real opportunities to test them in schools. Very often, their research field was the student teachers they had in front of them. They wanted to know how happy teachers were, how teachers mix across age and ethnic divisions, how they experience racism, their attitudes to Europe in times of economic downturn – all relevant and important questions, and each time researched by talking (sorry, ‘discoursing’) with the class of student teachers they already had. In these cases, evidence may be the personal testimonies of these student teachers, their declared opinions expressed in questionnaires or surveys. I am not one to decry the use of affective, qualitative data, but I would prefer that it were substantial, reliable, valid and cross-referenced with other evidence. I repeat: academics are my friends and they are asking important questions. I just want to be able to trust the answers they come up with.

Which is why I reckon they should spend more time with us. But of course, they cannot. The  sort of immersion they would require to make an ethnological approach valid is not available to them. Frankly, schools are not very welcoming places to outsiders poking their noses into our business and asking our students questions. (Recall I mentioned Ofsted came in last week.) We could do with the work these academics are doing, but we are none too keen on allowing them to do it.

Others, such as have written about academic research in school. I myself have blogged on my leadership of a work-based MA programme. Action Research conducted by teachers for their schools is just about the most valuable CPD I can conceive of. But I have something else in mind here. What if teachers conducted the action research (we could not, after all, be more immersed than we are) on behalf of an academic researcher? The academic could apply the theoretical framework, the bibliographic underpinning, and the access to publication. The two could be listed as co-authors. The academic would have a data field much wider than they normally do. The school would have been invited to think about its practice in a much broader context. And the product – the research – would be a much more trustworthy item altogether.

And before anyone thinks, ‘But schools don’t have time to collect data about their students or their teachers,’ what do we do every day? There is a degree of research rigour that goes into a simple learning walk (observing teacher practice, coding student responses, scrutinising evidence of impact, interviewing students) that I believe would be the envy of any academic.

So my small contribution to academe would be this: approach my school with a research proposal; have a look at our learning walks, our faculty reviews, our impact analyses; tell me what you think you can make of it; and let’s publish together!