Assessment and Personalised Learning in GCSE in 5 Easy Steps

If you teach GCSE PE and you’re anything like me by this point you are more nervous about next summer’s exams than the pupils currently are. The first round of predicted grades have gone in and you’re having to justify pupil’s current levels of progress and suggest who might not get their target grade in 6 months time.

During the past 7 years of teaching I’ve had a year 11 GCSE PE class for 5 of these. I’ve had chance to gradually refine how I support these pupils in the lead up to the exams and now, for the first time, I think I have a relatively effective system.

In my first year of doing this I taught the syllabus through to moderation day and then spent 6 weeks revising 2 years of information, which went at such a pace it left most of the class frantic and panicking. The next group I got I began revising topics towards the end of year 10, which was equally as ineffective as they weren’t stressed enough- a year is a long time in a child’s eyes and they thought they had plenty of time to ‘catch up’.

Through trial and error I think I’ve found a good system for identifying underperformance and supporting learning throughout the course.

Step 1

All pupils are given a realistic target grade. Don’t just accept FFT (Fisher Family Trust) or other fancy ways of predicting Key Stage 4 results, use a combination of practical grades (average of best 4 normally works well as it translates to GCSE performance) and computer generated target grades to ‘argue’ realistic grades for your pupils.

Step 2

Translate these into theory target grades. Use last years grade boundaries in the GCSE Marksheet to calculate what percentage the pupil must get on the theory paper(s) to reach at least their target grade. This is important as it will form the basis of all end of topic exams.

Step 3

After every end of topic test get pupils to write on the top corner of their exam how long they spent revising for the test.

Step 4

Produce the following documents and display them somewhere prominent where the GCSE pupils will see them regularly

– Grade and Revision Table– shows a comparison to the percentage they got on the exam and how long they spent revising (don’t worry if they got 95%, but only spent 5 minutes revising!)

Grade and Revision Table

– Progress Table- shows the percentage achieved against the percentage required to achieve their target grade. Red= underachieved by 10% or more, Amber= Underachieved by less than 10% and Green= Achieved on target or above.

Progress Table Example

– Revision Surgery Dates- display a day of the next week when pupils can come to an allocated class room and revise specific topics with teacher support. Pupils don’t have to attend every day. Once they’ve checked through their exam paper (an important part of this process!) then they decide which lunchtime surgery sessions they need to attend. It’s personalised to them and based on their independent analysis of their exam paper.




Step 5

Once pupils have re sat the test you’re then in a position to review learning and target set ready for closer to the exams. I have recently started using an adapted version of PiXL’s PLC’s (Personalised Learning Checklist) that our school have started using in Key Stage 5 (see below)

PLC Example


Using this pupils can go back through their end of topic test judge what they did well on (Green) what they have a limited understanding of (Amber) and where they lost significant marks (Red).

Remember earlier I said “don’t worry if they got 95% on it and only revised for 5 minutes”? A few years ago I would have told a pupil that they weren’t taking revision seriously enough if they only revised for 5 minutes. I’d say things like “you won’t do that in the real exam!”. Actually, fair play to them! If it’s a topic they understand, do well on and tick mostly green boxes on their PLC’s then we’ve established that this shouldn’t be a huge area of focus for their revision leading up to their final exam(s).

This shouldn’t replace the revision sessions or any other intervention that you want to run in the stressful run ups to the final exam(s), but it will reduce the amount of ‘fire fighting’ you have to do in the January to April run up to GCSE exams.

This method isn’t fool proof and it won’t get a pupil from an E to a C, but what it can do it give pupil’s realistic targets throughout the two years they study GCSEs. It supports the pupil on an on going basis and not just when their performance is beyond help and it can make them accountable for their own learning and revision and help them prioritise revision closer to the final exam(s).


Teaching…is it about numbers or people?

If I said I went into teaching to change lives I’d be lying! I went into teaching because I enjoy standing in front of people and it looked like a fun job. It wasn’t until I actually started teaching as an NQT that I realised the huge sense of satisfaction you get when you can visibly see that you’re making a difference! From then on teaching became about this.

One of the main reasons I became a Head of Department four and a half years ago is because it was a position where I thought I could make more of an impact. I am passionate about curriculum planning and teaching and learning because these two things are the biggest contributing factors to a pupils education (in my humble opinion).

I guess as you become more experienced in teaching, naturally, you become more cynical as well. Every NQT thinks they can change the world one class of pupils at a time and by the end of the first term they realise that it will be a miracle if they can make it through to Easter just saving themselves. As you go through teaching things become less and less shocking, whether that be poor behaviour or school based politics.

As someone who’s only been teaching six and a half years I don’t really know what it’s like to teach outside of a recession. Every year budgets get tighter, teachers leave and aren’t replaced and the expectations of what ‘above and beyond’ duties you should be doing increase. Whilst becoming more and more cynical I have seen my budget reduced significantly over the past few years and the freedom within my role reduce at almost the same rate.

I am in teaching to change lives. I believe that pupils being engaged with sport and Physical Education can change their lives (it did for me!) so I am struggling to come to terms with the constant fixation of many schools to be driven by numbers and not pupils!

If you hold a paid responsibility you will have met the term ‘cost effective’ over the past few years. This refers to whether it’s worthwhile to the schools finances and dreaded headline figures to run a course or to send a teacher on a much needed CPD opportunity. It seems to me that schools have become so driven to save money and find cheaper ways of doing things, whilst putting more pressure on staff to deliver higher grades and ‘improved outcomes’.

Almost everyone I know who teaches Key Stage 5 at their school has a minimum quota of how many pupils have to enrol on a course for it to run. This is ridiculous!! Now I am not naïve enough to say that a course should run with a one to one ratio and I understand that staff are the most expensive resource in any school, but what happened to doing the right thing for every child. When I qualified from university the one motto that had been branded into my brain was ‘every child matters’, unfortunately this is no longer the case- every pound matters, every percentage on headline figures matters, the children come a very distant third place!

If 4 pupils want to study an A-Level in Physical Education then it is worth running the course because that opens an opportunity for those 4 pupils that may improve their quality of life in the long term. Too many schools are designing a one size fits all style curriculum normally padded out with BTEC options because less able pupils can get a Pass and more able pupils can get a Distinction. Forget what doors this will close for those pupils in the future they’ll most likely get 100% Pass rate and it’ll save the school money because you can just allocate one teacher to a class of 25 pupils!

As previously stated I am not naïve, nor am I an idealist. I understand economics, I understand common sense (I think!), but I don’t understand making decisions that ruin pupils futures- that’s not why any of us got into education. Schools need to return to doing what is right for every child and not just what will keep the bursar happy. A curriculum should be wide and varied because pupils are diverse people, who have different interests and different preferences. One size doesn’t fit all, it lets most down.

Unfortunately all I can see happening over the next few years are schools increasing class sizes (especially as Key Stage 5) and narrowing the curriculum to maximise headline figures without increasing operating costs. When will we get back to doing what is right for every child we teach?!

Any comments on this post please tweet me at @mikeharrowell