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GCSE study leave (or not) and what goes on in the afternoon at primary school

20 May 2019

The testing season is well and truly underway, so we’ve been finding out what is going on?

We’ll give you the lowdown on SATs very soon, but this week we are looking at what GCSE teachers are up to at this time of year. (Primary teachers – keep reading and you’ll find out more about your ‘foundation subjects’ curriculum at the bottom of this blog).

GCSEs – getting finished in time 

Great work! Only 1-in-10 of you didn’t manage to finish your GCSE courses during normal lesson time. But let’s find out who struggled…

English and maths teachers seem to have finished pretty comfortably, which is perhaps no surprise. In most schools, these core subjects have slowly increased their lesson time over the past couple of decades. Smaller subjects, such as the arts, DT and PE, seem to be struggling the most. You are only in your second year of the new GCSE curriculum, it may be that this improves in future years.

Schools who serve more disadvantaged communities were also a little more behind.

This has implications for teachers in these schools – when are they supposed to get the course finished?

Interventions, interventions, interventions…

Two-thirds of you have not needed to deliver additional sessions, outside your contractual work hours, to get GCSE course teaching finished. But a third of you did need to do extra lessons to cover all materials. 

Teachers at schools serving disadvantaged communities are much more likely to spend their personal time – after-school and at weekends – teaching extra classes to help students complete their course.

For example, in Independent schools, just 4% of teachers ran extra weekend sessions; in the most deprived schools 17% of teachers were in delivering weekend classes.

And remember those teachers in non-core subjects struggling to complete the course? Many are spending after-school time and weekends helping students prepare for their GCSEs.

Do the GCSE courses have too much content in them?

With all this extra teaching going on, we thought you would want a reductiong in the GCSE specification size.

And you do! Only a third of you would leave the existing KS4 content intact. The rest would reduce it slightly or significantly.

The ‘No Effect’ 3-year GCSE

Schools are now split in the way they deliver GCSE courses. Around half of you run the course over three years, and the other half deliver it in two years.

One reason for the switch to three years is that it gives more time for going over the content. We therefore assumed that those who only have two years to deliver would be most keen to extend the content, but not! Those teaching two-year GCSE programmes have no greater desire to reduce course length than those teaching three-year GCSE programmes. We find this intriguing and are going to ask you some extra questions to learn more about it this week, so look out!

ALSO – Those arts and D&T teachers who are struggling to complete the curriculum and are running extra classes? They are LEAST likely to want a reduction in the content of the course. How curious!

Instead it is the humanities and languages teachers who feel most squeezed and want a reduction.

Does ‘study leave’ mean teachers get to relax? If only!

For some of you, this is the golden time of year when your teaching load falls a little.

HOWEVER, things are not good for 1-in-5 of you who have been asked to put on revision sessions OUTSIDE your normal teaching hours (presumably without overtime pay).

A further quarter of you are CHOOSING to run sessions.

Furthermore, the days of students sitting at home trying to work out what revision actually means are long gone 

Today, only 20% of Year 11 pupils get to revise at home – the rest are required to come into school.

Independent schools are largely still running the traditional model of studying at home or school, as are about a third of the most affluent state-funded schools. But for high FSM schools, ‘revision’ is entirely teacher-supervised.

What goes on in ‘afternoon’ primary school?

Lots of primary teachers have asked us to find out more about what is going on in the ‘foundation’ subjects – that is, the subjects which are compulsory but aren’t the ‘core’ English, maths and science.

We’ve seen before that primary teachers don’t tend to say they enjoy teaching these subjects. (Whereas they really do enjoy teaching maths and English!)

Becky and Laura both have memories of doing ‘topic’ work at school, and wondered if this is still common in the primary sector. It seems there are still some state schools that do this, or at least a version of it.

The independent sector is not keen, however. This may because private schools more often have multiple, subject-style teachers for a class from a much younger age.

This may also explain why private schools do not conform to the ‘history is taught in the afternoon’ model that is now pervasive across the state sector.

How good are primary teachers at humanities?

Experienced primary teachers are firm in their belief that they have sufficient humanities knowledge to teach the subjects to a high standard. 

However, we wanted to get a sense of how you are producing the resources needed for history and science.

Many schools use resources entirely created by their staff.  A minority are principally using an externally created scheme.

Schools who produce their own science resources are also more likely to have to have produced their own history resources too. That’s a lot of workload!

What else do you want to know about the teaching of the ‘foundation subjects’? Ask us on twitter, email ( or via the feedback button in the app.

Finally, we know you love the tips, so here they are for last week…

And don’t forget to tell your teaching colleagues all about Teacher Tapp!

We’ve even got a poster to put in your staffroom