Thoughts from Durrington to discuss:

Cracking homework

Homework has been on my list of whole-school responsibilities for some time now.  In fact, this will be the sixth year in which I’ve been charged with leading on all things connected to learning outside of the classroom.  Other than revision that is.  Although that is partly me as well.


So surely five years has been enough time to crack homework.  You could reasonably expect to see a school in which all staff set purposeful and meaningful homework that has watertight consistency across subject teams, students are intrinsically motivated to complete it and so do so without prompting, detentions are a thing of the past as every piece is handed in on time, to a high standard, and the learning train travels smoothly on towards its destination of brilliant outcomes for all.

Perhaps not.

However, while the homework utopia described above may be out of my reach no matter how long it remains my responsibility, I certainly feel we are much closer to it that we were when we started.  As one curriculum leader who will remain nameless said to my colleague: “We have gone from a school where students generally don’t do their homework to a school where they generally do.”

There are multiple causes of this positive shift.  The starting point was to improve the quality of the homework that was set.  Research evidence tells us that, for secondary school children, homework has a significant positive effect.  Sources such as the EEF ToolkitHattie’s meta analysis and Paul Kirschner all support this idea.  However, while they and others suggest homework is worthwhile, the huge and somewhat obvious caveat to this is that only good homework is worthwhile, rubbish homework is not.  Therefore the starting point for improving homework was to make sure that if students were being asked to spend their time completing it and expected to value it, then it must be high quality.

In order to achieve this lofty objective we asked departments to write homework policies that ensured that all homework set met one or several of the following four principles:

  • Embed – consolidate learning that has taken place in the classroom, e.g. revision for assessment or learning key knowledge.
  • Practice – refine knowledge and procedures learnt in the classroom based on feedback from the teacher, e.g. DIRT activities.
  • Extend – move learning beyond what has been achieved in the classroom, e.g. adding breadth to their existing knowledge.
  • Apply – use learning from the classroom to complete a specific task, e.g. writing a practice exam question based on content covered in a lesson.

These principles allowed leaders to articulate what was and was not purposeful homework in their subjects.  What it is has also led to is most departments developing generic and centrally produced homework that all teachers set at the same time.  Due to our curriculum focus being on the long-term retention of knowledge (both declarative and procedural) the majority of homework set tends to fall into the embed category.

Below is a typical example taken from a recent homework report I ran:

Romeo and Juliet revision Please focus your attention on Romeo and Juliet this Easter holiday. You must use the knowledge organiser (you can download a copy below) to create flash cards. You must use retrieval practice techniques to learn the content. We will do a test on this on the first lesson.If you would like to watch a version of Romeo and Juliet, I have also included a link below.

Good luck.

In terms of monitoring quality and setting consistency we use an online platform called Connect.  This communicates homework to parents/carers and students and allows leaders to run reports looking at all the homework set across the school, within a department or by an individual teacher.  This allows for regular audits of the homework being set to ensure it meets one of the four principles.

Sitting alongside these principles is the problem of motivation.  One of the lessons of self-regulated learning as explained in the EEF Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning guidance report is that without motivation self-regulated learning will not take place.  In other words if they can’t be bothered and don’t see the point of homework they are unlikely to do it.  While intrinsic motivation is the gold standard we are unlikely to achieve this with the majority of our students and therefore have to rely on extrinsic motivation to get them on board.

The first step is to make them value homework and the see the purpose and benefit of doing it.  In order for this to happen we must make sure the output is as strong as possible.  In a recent blog Alex Quigley posed some excellent reflective questions for schools to consider when asking themselves whether the homework they were setting was good enough and students understood its purpose.  They were:

  • Are the students in possession of all the resources required to undertake the task independently?
  • What are the existing beliefs about home learning (students & teachers) that we need to recognise/challenge?
  • How can we best leverage parental support for home learning that is effectively communicated?
  • How do you plan to provide specific and timely feedback to students on their home learning?

I recently shared these with SLT for discussion and with line managers to take back to their subject leaders.

The final question is particularly pertinent and underpinning our principles is the non-negotiable that all homework must elicit feedback.  This can be in whatever form is most appropriate, be that peer marking closed questions, adaptation to teaching or detailed formative comments.  However, for students to value homework they need to know that the teachers place equal value on it.  Ensuring feedback is an essential facet of this.

Lastly there is the question of what to do about students who persistently fail to complete homework across several subjects.

The problem here falls broadly into those that are not willing and those that are not able to complete it.  For those not able due to a learning barrier or due to a chaotic home not conducive to completing work, we must provide support in completing it.  We run a support session once a week in our LRA (library) where biscuits, hot chocolate and support are offered for those students we identify as needing extra support.

For those that we identify as simply choosing not to do it we use tough sanctioning.  We want to create a culture where homework is valued by all and as such we must ensure that alongside all the work we doing on raising the quality and value of homework we must also send a clear message that not doing your homework is not acceptable.  As a result we conduct fortnightly homework sweeps on any incidences of missed homework logged on Connect.  Appearing on this sweep leads to increasing sanctions following each appearance.  Here we seek to support the classroom teacher as following up 6 or 7 students who have not done their homework is a huge drain on their time, which we want them to spend planning brilliant lessons.

The picture is still far from perfect, but is improving.  As I often tell our staff and students, homework is here to stay so we might as well get it right.

Posted by Chris Runeckles

Tutor time – some thoughts from Durrington

Our programme is similar but please feed back to LW with your thoughts…

Waking up to Desirable Difficulties at Durrington

This year at Durrington we have made some major changes to how our students start their school day. Gone are the ‘tutor times’ of old and in their place every student now engages with ‘Period 1’ – a structured programme of learning with the aim of ensuring the best outcomes for all.

Up until last year, Durrington students would arrive at school and spend 20 minutes with their form tutor in the morning and a further 10 minutes with their form tutor after lunch. Since September, we have merged these sessions so that now all students have a 30-minute lesson with their tutor every morning instead. During these lessons, students engage in tasks that cover a range of teaching and learning foci that are central to our approach here at Durrington:

  • Developing students’ background knowledge.
  • Developing students’ cultural capital.
  • Increasing students’ range of tier 2 vocabulary.
  • Teaching students the most effective evidence-informed strategies for learning to use during revision.

We feel confident that bringing these underpinning principles of effective learning to the fore will benefit students across the whole curriculum and help them to succeed in all subject areas.

Accordingly, we have implemented a very structured weekly programme:

Content Aim
‘In the News’Students watch a range of news clips from the week with their tutor and then work on specific evidence-informed vocabulary tasks to discuss the items viewed.


We want to develop students’ background knowledge and provide an opportunity for explicitly teaching tier 2 vocabulary in a range of contexts.
KS3 DEAR (Drop Everything and Read)KS3 students have two ‘drop everything and read’ sessions per week. However, this is not a case of students simply bringing a book and reading in silence. Instead, one session is dedicated to reading aloud and the second session is spent reading a personal choice of book but with structured questioning.


We hope to continue developing the wider reading culture that is already a strong feature of school life at Durrington, but to also model evidence-informed reading strategies to ensure no student is left behind. There will be more about this in next week’s classteaching blog.
KS4 DEAR (Drop Everything and Revise)KS4 students have two lessons per week learning about and practising evidence-informed strategies for revision and independent work away from the classroom. We want to ensure that the time students are spending revising is as productive as possible. See below for more details on how we have endeavoured to make this the case for Year 10 and Year 11 this year.


AssemblyEvery student still attends a traditional assembly at least once a week. It is important to us that students are aware of their place and role in the school and wider community, and assembly is a crucial site for this sense of belonging and responsibility to be fostered and maintained.


Friday ChallengeThis is when students work as a team with their tutor to prepare for a whole-school memory challenge. For example, this half term all tutor groups have been memorising the countries of Africa. There will be a quiz at the end of term to test students and tutors to see who can remember the most. This provides an opportunity for students to develop their cultural capital (challenges have been designed with this in mind) and practise essential learning skills such as retrieval practice. Additionally, we did not want to lose the vital pastoral care that is intrinsic to effective tutoring, so the Friday challenge provides a way for students to build relationships as a group and with their tutor that are vital to wellbeing in school.


Our programme with Year 10 and Year 11 students aligns with Bjork and Bjork’s desirable difficulties which you can read more about in Ben Crockett’s Durrington Research School blog this week. Bjork and Bjork identify three problems that learners face which mislead them into thinking they are learning effectively when in fact they are not:

  1. Subjective impressions: Bjork and Bjork state that we can often feel that we are learning when we are not because of what we are doing. The researchers provide the example that rereading a chapter a second time can provide a sense of familiarity and perceptual fluency that is interpreted as understanding but is in fact just low-level priming.
  2. Use of cues: Students can encounter information coming to mind readily and interpret this as learning when in fact it is a product of cues in the environment that will not be present at a later time.
  3. Challenge: Conditions that rapidly improve performance often fail to lead to long-term learning, or in other words retention and transfer of knowledge. Conversely, conditions that create challenge often optimise long-term retention and transfer but are a lot less popular because they are slow.

We are using P1 to try to support our KS4 students in overcoming these challenges. Crucial to this is the introduction of desirable difficulties, which Bjork and Bjork describe as conditions of learning that apparently create difficulty but actually lead to more durable and flexible learning. We have tried to create these ‘conditions’ in the ways set out below.

  1. We have varied the conditions of learning by requiring students to revise specific-subject material with their tutor, i.e. outside of the subject classroom and not just with their subject teacher. This has taken a lot of preparation and coordination by assistant headteacher Steph Temple so that tutors feel supported in dealing with content outside of their specialism but has, so far, proven totally achievable.
  2. We show students how to interleave rather than group topics. For example, most recently Year 11 have been working on the English Literature GCSE text ‘An Inspector Calls’. Using knowledge organisers, students have created banks of revision materials based in topics such as characterisation, themes, context etc. Crucially, the tutors have then modelled to students how to interleave these revision materials by mixing up their topical resources rather than revising in blocks of topics.
  3. The students have P1 DEAR for 30 minutes twice a week which allows for spacing rather than massing their study.
  4. Finally, the revision resources that students have been making and using are specifically flashcards with questions or instructions on one side and the answers on the reverse. This is so that students use self-testing rather than presentations as study events.

Bjork and Bjork emphasise that the desirable element of desirable difficulties is fundamental, and explain that desirable difficulties trigger encoding and retrieval processes to aid learning, comprehension and remembering. Essential to this is the fact that students must have the required background knowledge in place – asking them to revise content they do not already know would create undesirable challenges that would thwart learning . This is why the KS4 DEAR programme has been carefully designed so that students are only revising knowledge that has already been fully taught in subject lessons. For example, Year 11 students are currently covering topics they studied in Year 10.

So far the new P1 KS4 DEAR looks very promising, and, although it is too soon to evaluate the impact, we are hopeful that P1 will benefit students both in their school outcomes and beyond.

Next week we will take a closer look at the KS3 DEAR programme and how this is supporting literacy across subject areas.


Fran Haynes

A Walk through of every lesson counts…

This week Michael Chiles has produced an excellent ‘A walk thru…’ series of documents for each of the six pedagogical principles featured in ‘Making Every Lesson Count‘.  Michael explains his thinking behind these documents here:

Since Shaun and Andy’s release of Making Every Lesson Count it has been an integral part of our approach at school, focusing on applying the six principles every lesson, every day. The practical strategies have enabled us to use CPD time to review our approach to each one of the principles and look to share the best approaches in departments to implement the different strategies. This has enabled us to embed a more robust and consistent approach to teaching and learning.

One of the barriers to implementing CPD that is robust and focused on the ‘main thing’, such as the six principles, is time for teachers to engage with and continually review the implementation of strategies. After the initial discussion around the principles, teachers want a handy guide to be able to quickly refer to. This is where Oliver Cavilglioli’s work on providing visual clarity has been integral in providing an approach that will enable teachers to be able to quickly review the strategies for each principle over the academic year, using the A3 walk thrus. This has led to me creating a series of 6 walk thrus for each principle to provide a visual step by step guide of five strategies that teachers can implement in the classroom.

Here are Michael’s six ‘walk thrus’:


Michael has very generously shared these as powerpoints for you to download, using the links below:

On the 19th May, we are hosting a one day workshop on the 6 principles.  Details and booking here.

Modelling – a whole school approach

A Great blog by Durrington School on Modelling ! Original post can be found here: https://classteaching.wordpress.com/2019/10/23/modelling-reading-a-whole-school-approach/

In last week’s Class Teaching blog we explained about the changes we have made to the start of the day here at Durrington High School. In essence, students now begin learning as soon as the first school bell rings. This is because the tutor times of yesteryear have been replaced with Period 1. Period 1 is a structured programme that covers a range of teaching and learning foci that are central to our approach:

  • Developing students’ background knowledge.
  • Developing students’ cultural capital.
  • Increasing students’ range of tier 2 vocabulary.
  • Teaching students the most effective evidence-informed strategies for learning to use during revision.

KS3 and KS4 students diverge in the programme for two of the five days in the week. Last week’s blog explored how KS4 students have DEAR: Drop Everything and Revise. In these lessons, Year 10 and Year 11 students are making use of Bjork and Bjork’s desirable difficulties as part of cycle of revision. KS3 students, on the other hand, also have DEAR time, but this is Drop Everything and ReadIn these lessons, Years 7, 8 and 9 enjoy and prosper from the benefits of reading a range of fiction texts.

The evidence-informed rationale behind KS3 DEAR is explicated in the EEF’s guidance report for ‘Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools’. As this report suggests, it is imperative that all secondary teachers ‘should be supported to understand the fundamental ways in which students learn to read, and the most common barriers to their doing so’. Achieving this understanding, through an effective approach, across a whole school, for every teacher, is no mean feat but one that we consider imperative to students’ success.

Coupled with the requirement for this widespread understanding from teachers is also our desire to maintain and further develop the reading culture that is already woven into the fabric of school life at Durrington. Ideally, we would like all students to see themselves as ‘readers’, that is individuals who independently choose to read and feel confident in identifying themselves as someone who reads. In his book The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads (2017) Willingham pinpoints four attributes of successful readers:

  1. Reading attitudes – having a positive emotional attitude to reading.
  2. Motivation to read – having a belief that reading is worthy and a belief that you will succeed at reading.
  3. Choosing to read – being in an environment that facilitates reading.
  4. Reading self-image – seeing yourself as a reader.

Above all, Willingham emphasises that being motivated to read is closely related to reading ability and therefore verbal persuasion is unlikely to be effective. Consequently, KS3 DEAR is based on two principles:

  • Modelling effective reading practices so that all students can participate in reading, irrespective of their starting points.
  • Making reading something that all students can access, both physically (i.e. given a time and place to read) and emotionally (i.e. made to feel like a valued member of a reading community).

The first KS3 DEAR session of the week is based on reading aloud. It is understandable that many people may be surprised that we have adopted reading aloud in the secondary school setting as this is often viewed as a primary school practice. However, as Doug Lemov advocates, reading aloud can be a powerful way of modelling fluent reading of texts (which is a key reading skill), especially texts that are more challenging. Accordingly, during the first DEAR session the tutor reads aloud from a selected fiction text that has purposefully been chosen because it incorporates more complex issues and includes a range of tier 2 vocabulary.

This is not all. Crucially, during the reading aloud session, the tutor models other key reading strategies as well. The EEF’s guidance report identifies five reading strategies that ‘support the active engagement with texts that improve comprehension’ – comprehension being the end goal of all reading. Students who are proficient readers in secondary school will have these skills in place and be using them tacitly every time that they read. However, students who are struggling with reading need these skills explicitly modelled time and time again until they can use them independently.

The five reading strategies are:

  1. Activating prior knowledge — students think about what they already know about a topic from reading or other experiences […] and try to make meaningful links. This helps students to infer and elaborate, fill in missing information and to build a fuller ‘mental model’ of the text.
  2. Prediction — students predict what might happen as a text is read. This causes them to pay close attention to the text, which means they can closely monitor their own comprehension.
  3. Questioning — students generate their own questions about a text to check their comprehension and monitor their subject knowledge.
  4. Clarifying — students identify areas of uncertainty, which may be individual words or phrases, and seek information to clarify meaning.
  5. Summarising — students summarise the meaning of sections of the text to consolidate and elaborate upon their understanding. This causes students to focus on the key content, which in turn supports comprehension monitoring. This can be supported using graphic organisers that illustrate concepts and the relationships between them.

In order to explicitly model these reading strategies, as they read aloud the tutors purposefully stop and ask one or several of these questions as appropriate:

At the start of a new book:

  • Look at the front and back covers. What do you think the story might be about? What makes you think this?
  • Consider the title. What do you think the story might be about? What makes you think this?

 During reading:

  • What would you like to ask the characters or author at this point?
  • Are you finding anything difficult to understand? If you go back and re-read, what can you look out for?
  • Have you read, watched or seen anything else that is similar to this? In what ways?


 After finishing a book:

  • Tell me what happened in the story.
  • What is the most important message or idea in the story?
  • What was the turning point of the story?
  • What one message or idea do you think the author wants you to remember from the story?


 In the second DEAR session of the week, the students read their own books, and these can be fiction or non-fiction. It is critical that in these private reading sessions, the tutors circulate and have one-to-one conversations with their tutees using the reading questions (above) as a basis for their discussion. In particular, tutors specifically target those that seem to be stuck with their reading as these are the students who are likely to be in most need of the explicit modelling of the reading strategies – thus these students have the opportunity of learning from the modelling twice in a week.

As with KS4 DEAR, it is too early to confirm any clear successes from the implementation of KS3 DEAR. However, our school librarians have reported that the issues figures for books from our Learning Resource Centre have increased from just over 1600 books in September 2018 to just over 2000 books in September 2019.

Ideally, we would like to adopt a disciplinary approach to teaching reading across the school, which you can find out about on our Research School blog here. However, as a step in our journey for embedding effective whole-school reading, our KS3 DEAR programme has made a promising start.

Fran Haynes