Sunday, 26 August 2018

Interventions – stop swapping cows and magic beans

I hate the word ‘intervention’. It’s a nasty word that has crept into education. It’s so bad that parents and students are using it now. What interventions have you put in place for my Tiny Tim? By creating the concept of intervention and readily using the word, we have separated things from teaching. We have made it seem like something extra.  We have made it seem like extra work and divorced it from teaching. I am all too aware that the rise in workload and pressure is closely linked to the naming of intervention. We have made it seem like something extra and in addition to teaching.  What did we do before 2012 before schools used the word ‘intervention’?

Intervention is just teaching and I think we need to keep going back to the idea. Intervention is just another word for good teaching. It isn’t something extra. It isn’t magical. It is just teaching stuff and working out the right stuff. We can make millions of choices and we are all working to make the right choices for our students. If we use words like ‘intervention’ we are suggesting that there is a magical cure and a simple solution. If I do X, then they will succeed. If I don’t do Y, then they will fail. Not only are we creating stress with workload, we are creating emotional culpability for a student’  performance. I bet there are teacher kicking themselves over the performance of some of their children. No amount of interventions would have worked, because the student didn’t work hard enough. Yet, we beat ourselves up, because there must have been one magic bean that would have worked to transform them.

Every year I look at results and the key thing I keep going back to is this mantra: the student who works hard gets the results they deserve. I don’t look at students and think that the one lesson on ‘An Inspector Calls’ is the secret to a student getting a grade 8. No, the student got the grade because they listened to me and worked hard. The student did two solid actions. They listened. They worked hard.

We need to rewire our thinking in schools. We need to stop propelling the idea that there is a simple fix. A pure, unrefined solution. We need this at all levels and not just with the students. Students need to work hard and listen to teachers. If they do that, then they will be successful. If we think success is driven by something other than hard work and listening, then we are removing a student’s responsibility from the process. We are actively doing this by propelling the idea of interventions.

This year we changed some parts of our teaching and this proved fruitful and positive in the recent results. But, underwritten behind the changes was the mantra: the student who works hard gets the results. None of the changes were mind-blowing. Here’s just a quick overview:

[1] Scanning mock papers

We had an issue with students going into the exams in 2017 and writing nothing. Throughout Year 10 and 11, we scanned and emailed parents the paper of students who didn’t answer the paper or wrote a paltry effort. We sent a nice email explaining how this level of effort would result in an ungraded paper, which doesn’t reflect their true potential.

The great thing about this approach was that I was evidencing the fact that student wasn’t working hard enough. I have electronic files of the papers as evidence to parents and SLT. It was also blooming immediate. I emailed parents after the mock exam, so the parents can speak to the child and address the issue so that the next mock they did showed an improvement. All students this year completed the papers.

[2] Using apps

There are a number of tools to help students revise and I use the PixLit app for literature revision. This year, I closely monitored the use of the app. The app was a clear marker for me to see if a student is revising. The rest of the time we don’t know what students are doing. I told students that this was going to be the thing I’d use to judge their revision. I then emailed parents if a student hadn’t used it and I spelt out to parents that they were, in my opinion, not revising.

I wasn’t draconian to the point of berating hard working students if they didn’t use it much. Instead I used it to monitor the students who don’t work hard enough and highlight to parents this fact that revision is not happening. I used it as a starting point for discussions and meetings. It was evidence of the students working hard, or not working hard.

[3] Homework booklets

For two terms, I produced a homework booklet for Year 11 students. They had 50 practice questions / tasks from the various papers - I used those terrible KS3 exam papers – and students had to use the booklet. On the front cover was a table for students to tick off the work they had done. Some of the tasks were annotating a poem or writing some example sentences. They were all about thinking rather than writing. I wanted students to practise thinking in response to the questions on the exam paper. Instead of writing a piece, I’d ask students to write plan. Therefore, they were practising again and again the thought processes.

This addressed the issue of giving practice papers and them sitting at the bottom of a bag somewhere. There was nothing for a teacher to mark. They just had to quickly skim to see if the student had completed it or not. We were spelling out how to revise. But, more importantly, we were visually showing how much revision students had done. A teacher and a parent can see how much revision had and hadn’t been done.

[4] Redoing mocks  

After we had marked the mocks, we had highlighted in every class a few students who had underperformed because they hadn’t worked hard enough or they just had a bad day. As a result of this, we asked students to redo the paper at home. The teachers remarked it and (surprise, surprise) the students always did better.

I wanted this to be a genuine concern of students. If I don’t work hard enough, then I will have to redo the paper. Simple as that. I want working hard to be the easy option.

[5] Patrolling the mock exams with my invigilator spies

I ditched the walking-and-talking mocks. We teach the papers thoroughly so a walking-and-talking mocks doesn’t add much value for us, so instead I walked about the desks during the mock exams. I made notes about performance. I observed students with heads on the desks and students who looked visibly stressed and panicky.  After the exam, I spoke to the students about their behaviour.

I think every head of department should patrol mock exams, because it gives you a fantastic overview of a cohort. You see the students and all the problems. You see the students who lose steam and motivation after an hour. You see the top set students writing to the bitter end. It gives me an opportunity to praise students (a simple thumbs up) or put back on track students not working (tapping the desk).

The invigilators are now my spies. They tell me and note down how students perform in the exams. They are there to observe and monitor students. They make great spies and they love telling me about students. They are in the best place to tell us who is working hard.

[6] Extra mock for a few select students

I see no point in doing endless mocks. However, for a select number of students I put on an extra mock after school. With the parents’ support, they did another paper. One more than the rest of cohort. Mainly, I did this for bright boys who were underperforming and students with confidence issues. Students were told that if they did better on this mock, it would replace the grade on their previous mock. The whole ideas was about improving and getting better.

This was also a PR stunt. It told students they needed to do better and that there were selected because they had the potential to be better.   

Stop using the word ‘intervention’ in your school. Teaching is one long piece of intervention. There are no magic beans. The students should be working harder than the teachers. For too long the teachers have been working harder than the students. We need to address this. We need to focus more on making students work harder. We need to be the mirror that reflects the level of student’s work and effort.

Plus, we need to make working hard the easy option in schools and not the other way round.

Thanks for reading,



  1. but what about those students who are struggling to decode - there are gaps in their knowledge of the alphabet code and need extra sessions to bring them up to speed - this is why I would use the word intervention.

  2. I would hope a teacher would be catering for this need in their teaching and addressing it. My point is not about stopping support for students but more about how we view that support. Call it what you like but it is at the end of the day teaching.

  3. Thank you for this - it mirrored a conversation we teachers had last Thursday as the last of the students collected their results. Effort in, results out. Simple. Our job is to help them know and understand the subject and develop the communication skills to convey that understanding.

  4. I am a spy. My concern is student x who is there to disrupt ....
    (over & out)

  5. I thoroughly agree with your approach to "intervention" - my own child told me that the reason he succeeded at his GCSEs was that he listened in class. I love some of your ideas to ensure students are working hard - could I be really cheeky and ask if it is possible to get a copy of your year 11 homework booklet?? No worries if not. Thanks for the ideas.

  6. Thank you. Sadly, the booklet isn't electronic and it is a combination of things.


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