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Attainment setting, complex timetables and most importantly, pens!

11 October 2022

1. Game, set and match

During the pandemic, many of secondary teachers told us their school had removed some Key Stage 3 attainment grouping to reduce student mixing across form classes. As things are a little more normal this year, it seems like a great opportunity to see whether any changes are still in place. It seems that some of these changes have stuck, for now at least. 53% of English teachers told us they are teaching Year 8 in mixed attainment classes, compared to 31% back in 2018. Maths teaching seems less affected, with just one-in-five teaching in mixed attainment classes.

In Year 8, setting isn’t favoured by the majority of teachers. Just 30% of English teachers say their pupils are set in Year 8, far less than when we last asked in 2018, when it was 50%. However, the reverse is true for Maths teachers. In 2018, 65% of Maths teachers said they used ability setting, rising to 69% today.

Across all Year 8 subjects, Maths remains is the only one where the majority of pupils are placed in subject ability sets. However, attainment setting rises as students move into the GCSE years, with 46% of teachers overall saying that pupils in their subject are set by subject ability. Even at that point, though, one-in-three English teachers say their students are still in mixed ability classes, as do one-in-four Science teachers.

Understandably, among the option subjects, mixed ability grouping is far more common, as teaching often does not take place parallel classes to allow grouping to take place. Just 12% of Humanities teachers say their students are set in Year 10, and 20% of Languages say similar.

Grouping in primary schools looks very different, with the key question being how students are arranged on tables during maths and English/reading lessons. The pandemic saw a temporary increase in mixed ability grouping across tables in primary schools – in September 2020, over 70% said this was the case. It has since fallen again, back to a pre-pandemic norm of 60% of pupils on mixed-ability tables.

Maths grouping doesn’t vary much by Key Stage within primary schools, but things are very different for reading where phonics programmes usually require students to be grouped by their phonics stage. This means that in EYFS/KS1, less than half of reading instruction takes place on mixed reading attainment tables and 12% of students are even being moved across year groups to access reading instruction! By KS2, this has changed and two-thirds of reading/English classes use mixed attainment tables.

2. Teaching too much content?

The curriculum reforms of this Conservative government are truly embedded now, so how do teachers feel about the volume of content they are expected to teach? This week we are focussing on Key Stage 4 – the content in the GCSE specifications. Just one-in-four teachers said that they want to keep the same amount of KS4 content in their subject. The vast majority want to see a reduction – but again there were differences by subject!

Maths teachers were one of the happiest with the amount of content, 35% saying they would keep the same amount of content. However, Languages and Humanities teachers wanted to see a big reduction in the amount of content they wanted.

Now, every so often we’re challenged by Humanities teachers who, often rightly, say that Humanities subjects can be very different from one another. We often group these subjects together so it gives us a comparable sample size to other subjects (so if any of your colleagues aren’t yet tapping – let them know!) and often their responses are similar. However, this is a question for which it will depend hugely on subject, and I don’t think we’d be forgiven if we didn’t split them out on this occasion!

Indeed, the splitting proved fruitful, as History teachers were most likely of all teachers to want a significant reduction in the amount of KS4 content in their subject. A huge 55% of History teachers wanted this, compared to 31% of Geography teachers and 24% of RS teachers.

And no, Science teachers, we haven’t forgotten about you – although it’s slightly more challenging to tease apart this data. At first glance, however, teachers of all three sciences were in broad agreement, around 30% of Biology, Chemistry and Physics teachers wanted a significant reduction in content.

3. Teaching too many subjects?

What subject do you teach? Here at Teacher Tapp, we classify you according to the subject you are teaching the most this year. But many secondary teachers are expected to teach more than one subject. This is most common for science teachers who often teach all three of biology, chemistry and physics. Languages teachers also teach more than one, two-in-three of whom are teaching at least two subjects this year (presumably two different Languages). Even one-in-three maths teachers are teaching an additional subject or two this year.

This won’t come as a huge surprise, but many people who say they are teaching lots of subjects want to teach fewer subjects! Not as much as you might think, though, as many teachers would only want to drop one or two of the subjects they teach! In fact, 13% of teachers who are only teaching one subject want to teach more subjects this year. They should be careful what they wish for though, as 54% of teachers who are teaching two subjects want to teach one!

However, many Languages teachers buck that trend and don’t want to teach fewer – just 41% of Languages teachers said they’d ideally teach one subject. A similar theme emerged among Science teachers, 13% of whom said they would ideally teach all three sciences!

4. All about those pens

Just 16% of primary teachers say they have completely free rein to choose a pen for marking. 31% of primary teachers are required to use a green pen, but 25% say that they need to have several different colours depending on the feedback given – talk about workload! 🤯

Things appear much simpler in secondary schools, with 45% of teachers saying they have complete freedom. Otherwise, green and red pens are the pens of choice, with 20% of the vote each.

5. World Teacher Day 🧑‍🏫

Happy World Teacher Day! 🥳

Last Wednesday, 5th October, teachers were appreciated worldwide for their contribution to the lives of young people everywhere. But did you feel the appreciation? We celebrated World Teacher Day by finding out just this, and we did so with our Teacher Tapp friends over in the Netherlands and Flanders! So, by whom do you feel appreciated most?

Broadly, the Teacher Tapp England and Netherlands panels were in agreement, with colleagues showing the most appreciation (three-quarters of teachers said this), followed by students! School leadership fares well across all three panels, with more than half the vote on each!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the government didn’t fare well – but we’re not alone in not feeling appreciated by political leaders. While 0% of teachers in England said they felt appreciated by the government (although there were some), 2% of teachers in the Netherlands and 4% in Flanders felt the same!

Governors reading this – you may be disheartened by the 20% of teachers who say they feel appreciated by you, but looking at headteachers alone, 69% say they feel appreciated by the school governors and trustees.

Finally… we know you love the daily read, so here are the ones from last week

The tip read by most secondary teachers in the past week was: Convincing students their actions matter and amongst primary teachers, the top tip was Common primary maths misconceptions.

And here’s the rest for your reference: