Essay box planning 

One of the hardest aspects of the GCSE-ALevel transition is breaking down those established essay structures that students have used every day for 2+ years. 

This is particularly difficult when going from a very universal GCSE History structure to A-Level Politics. Essays based organising arguments and evaluating them ensure students naturally revert back to their Introduction, PEEL x4, Conclusion safety.

This year I have trialled a simple box essay structure for 15 mark Edexcel Politics A2 questions. 

Questions are posed to students, but they only have 4 paragraphs to answer them. Students get 4 minutes to complete their box with examples.

Not only does this encourage uniform planning in exams, but it ensures that any waffle is cut out and students can focus on achieving those assessment objectives. 

This box strategy could easily be adapted for longer questions. I’ll keep you posted when I get to my 45 markers!!

10 things to remember when long term planning

If you’re like me, you have already started your long term planning for this year. This doesn’t have to mean creating resources, but it often helps to set out a scheme of work against the term dates, to work out exactly how much time you have. But that’s just the problem isn’t it? We don’t HAVE enough time.

In an ideal world, I would spend a whole term looking at World War 1, it’s causes right through to its ramifications today (for those politico’s out there, yes, I try to link every scheme of work to the modern day. Not only does it give students perspective, but it helps them put events into context.) So here are 10 things to remember when you’re long term planning:

1 – What are your goals?

Often, Humanities schemes of work go in chronological order. Whilst this is logical, it often undermines the eventual goal. Consider whether the goal is overall learning of an event, or one specific issue.


2 – AFL

I’ve seen countless outstanding SOWs, with lessons meticulously planned, handcrafted worksheets and all. But it’s very rare that a SOW leads seamlessly into an assessment. As exams are going linear, you are likely to favour an end of SOW assessment. If this is the case, ensure that you make everything as relevant as you can to the assessment, and build in revision techniques from the outset. Alternatively, why not build in a mid-term assessment? Humanities lends itself perfectly to more active assessments  – why not try a debate or a skills based assessment? Refresh the students and save your marking!

3 – Unexpected absences

If, like me, you are a sole teacher of a subject, you need to ensure that you produce detailed SOWs, incase of long term absence. This only needs to be a few bullet points for each lesson, but you and your school will find it invaluable should the worst happen.

4 – School holidays and bank holidays

This seems a silly one, but check the calendar! Work out how many lessons you have – there’s no need to over plan – in fact, I would under-plan by 1 or 2 lessons (see 5-10)

5 – Late starts/teacher training days

You would be surprised how many lessons you miss – put them in your teaching planner right at the start of the year. Spend 30 mins going through the school calendar. You’ll thank yourself in the depths of winter when you’re juggling dark nights, exam marking and Christmas shopping!

Young woman wearing Santa's hat is screaming.
(Young woman with Santa’s hat is holding her head and screaming!)

6 – Mock exams

Again – ensure you know when these are. Build your SOWs around these: try to leave at least 2 weeks of revision before mocks. As mentioned before, BUILD IN revision techniques into your SOWs.

7 – School trips

It pains me to see schools who do not take advantage of school trips. If you’re going to take your class away – you’re a great teacher – but you also need to link it into your scheme of work. Taking a child away to a Mosque when you’re learning about Buddhism doesn’t make much sense!

8 – Study leave, CPSHE days and work experience

Simple… You can’t teach the kids if they aren’t there!

Teacher in classroom
Teacher in classroom — Image by © Mango Productions/Corbis

9 – Flexibility

As mentioned earlier, under plan by 1 -2 lessons. You can bet that you will miss at least 1 lessons per term, if not more. In addition, be flexible with topics. If current affairs is relevant, there’s no reasons why you can’t deviate from your SOW for a few lessons. BREXIT was an excellent cross-curricular example of this.

10 – Enjoy it

It’s one of the most valuable pieces of planning you will do!

Getting started: Your NQT year

Starting out

EVERYONE has been there. You’ve owned your teacher training year, you’ve prepared as much as you can over the summer, and you’re at your new school. Here are some helpful hints for starting your NQT year:

1) Names – make SURE you get a list of these on your first day

2) A teaching planner – a MUST for any teacher. I always buy an 8 period day planner; 1 for form time reminders, 6 for teaching and 1 for after school meetings.


3) IEPs (Individual Educational Plans for those with an SEN) – every school has these, although they may be called something different. Ensure you have a paper copy of every IEP in your classes. Spend 30 minutes reading through these, highlighting key information and taking note of strategies that work for that student.

4) Timetables of your department – if your school does not have an ‘on call’ member of your faculty, sit down with your department timetables and work out who is a) near you and b) can support you for every teaching period. Try to identify people who are teaching near you (in case you need to place a child into their room) and those who are free to help.

5) Create seating plans for each lesson – take a walk around the school, and take photos of the layout of each room you teach in. Use this to create a seating plan for each room. Print these and highlight FSM, EAL and SEN. You can also write levels underneath for quick differentiated questioning. Super useful to have for observations too!


6) SOWs – print out an outline of each scheme of work. If there isn’t one, it only takes 10 minutes or so to create. Excellent for planning and useful for observations too!

7) Your teaching folder – if your school does not provide these, get one. This will hold almost all of the above!

8) Rummage – have a good rummage in offices and classrooms for good resources (with permission of course!) The odd DVD, the random textbook. All good to have.


9) Department shared drive – this is a magical place where resources past and present are often dumped. Even if you only get a slide or two from PowerPoints, it will undoubtedly save you time! You may also find that a lot of things are already resourced, allowing you to focus your efforts effectively.

10) Establish your routine early – work out whether you want to come in early, stay late, work in the holidays or during weekends. Personally, I prefer to get all of my basic planning done during the holidays. This allows me to have most evenings and weekends free. In addition, work out a time when you will run errands each day, e.g. photocopying. HINT – try and do this early in the morning or after school to avoid copying queues!


Above – a very rare sighting of 3 free photocopiers in school.

11) Shared classes – it’s likely that you will share a class or two with another teacher. Ensure you chat to them to work out how you’re going to tackle the SOW. They may also have a different style of teaching to you, so discuss how you’re going to ensure everything gets taught.

12) FREE TIME! – as an NQT you are entitled to twice as many free periods as other staff. Use this wisely. Work out if you want to mark or plan during these.

13) Most importantly – ENJOY IT! Good luck!



Volunteers or tourists? My time at the Calais migrant camp.

I’m not really sure what first drew me to the plight of those stuck in Calais. We see disasters across the world every day. Every day we turn to those around us and speak about how horrible it is. We may give to charity, share a few articles on how awful something is on social media. But often that’s as far as my efforts go. 

The plight of those in the migrant camps is well documented, both positively and negatively, by the media. I’m no political activist; I have an opinion which I rarely voice. However, even I was surprised when the slurs “marauding” and “swarms” were uttered by those who we have chosen to represent our views. I felt an urge to help. So, whilst I was still on my summer holidays, I put together a list of everything I wanted to achieve.

My friends and family reacted wonderfully, although many had reservations. The Daily Mail were quoted on several occasions, and many not-so-light-hearted debates were had. At the end of the day, I think, and hope, that people understood that I was in this to aid humanitarian crisis, not to help people get into the UK illegally. Over the following 2 weeks, I drove across London, to Berkshire, Kent, Hampshire and Wiltshire to collect supplies from what I can only describe as fantastic people.

So, on the 17th August, I left London with a car crammed full of aid, and headed for Calais (lord knows how I managed to drive my boyfriend’s 4×4 onto the Euro Tunnel without scratching his alloys!) Whilst on the shuttle, I met two young women who were heading to the camp for the day also. Their car was empty, which I thought was odd, but after chatting to them, it transpired that they were going to volunteer for the day.

When we disembarked in Calais, I was disappointed that my contact I had arranged to meet didn’t arrive. The internet on my phone wasn’t working, so I spent an hour driving around the city to find a McDonalds, to use their WiFi. Eventually, I made it to the camp. What greeted me was unlike anything I had seen.

I arrived at around 14.00 French time, as I’d wanted to avoid getting in the way whilst the volunteers were serving lunch. The police were strangely reluctant to let me into the camp, despite me explaining, in very ropey French, that I was there to deliver supplies. They had started to raid a few tents; apparently they do this every few weeks to ensure that people don’t get too comfortable there.

As soon as I arrived, people started to gather around my car, to the point at which I couldn’t see ahead. Understandably, they could see my supplies, and were keen to be first in line. I was very aware that, although they were all in need, I needed to find the distribution centre, as they could best allocate my aid. I reversed and parked on the outskirts of the camp, and walked back in.

The conditions were appalling. Many people were sleeping 6 to a 1 man tent, with many sleeping outside. Rubbish was strewn everywhere, with decomposing items smelling rancid. Many of the migrants who approached me had their hands cupped, and asked for money. I tried to explain that I had come to deliver food, clothing and shelter, but still they came.

The volunteers I saw and spoke to were split into two camps. A handful had been there for a week or more, and wanted to help on the ground; litter picking (rubbish is a huge problem in the camp), preparing and distributing food and supplies, teaching in the school etc. However, most volunteers I met were only there for the day. I was surprised that many of them didn’t seem to be doing much helping at all. Many were taking photos with the migrants, and were taking tours of the camp.

I spoke to a young couple, called Victoria and Tyler. They too had come over in an empty car, to ‘volunteer’. However, when a member of Association Sallam (one of the French charities helping to run the migrant camp) approached us with a litter picker and a bin bag, their faces turned red. They claimed that “they weren’t there to litter pick” and demanded a tour of the camp. The young volunteer tried to explain that they didn’t have anyone to take them around, but the couple were adamant that they be taken.

I was perplexed. Why would someone want to come over to this camp, for the day, and not help? Journalists need to spread the message, of course, but I couldn’t see anyone who wanted to get their hands dirty, and a majority of these people were not journalists. I spoke to several other groups of volunteers, to try and understand. Many seemed to be of the same opinion that they wanted a tour of the camp. Again, many photos were being taken; some people even bought selfie sticks. The strange thing was that they were not talking to the migrants. They seemingly had no interest in them, or their stories. I saw at least 50+ British people act in this way. These people were clearly getting in the way of the day to day running of the camp, so much so that several were asked to leave by members of staff in fluorescent jackets.

I had been on the outskirts of the camp for an hour. I felt as though I was bothering every volunteer I found, with questions about where to drop off my aid, and how I could get to the school I was due to be teaching at. I wasn’t at all interested in taking photos or going on a tour of the camp, which they presumed I was. My initial aim had been to volunteer at the camp school, to teach English. However, it was clear that their education operation was running smoothly, and that my help would actually inconvenience teachers, I was very happy to simply drop my supplies and leave.

It’s not surprising that the camp is so disorganised; it’s a credit to those in charge that it’s even running at all. In no way did I expect a red carpet entrance. But I did feel as though many of the people there were acting as tourists, and were taking up the time of charity workers with constant requests for tours and photos.

Eventually, I left the camp, with my car full of supplies, and headed to Secours de Catholique; a French Catholic church on the other side of Calais. I had been told that I could drop supplies off here, without inconveniencing those at the camp. They also had storage, which meant that I could go and buy additional food donations. These people were simply saintly. Working behind the scenes, they co-ordinate hundreds of donations every day, and ensure that it gets to those who need it most. Margaret, an elderly Catholic, explained that she was worried about the camp. She said that many British people went over every day, but that they only wanted to see the camp, and didn’t want to help.

I spoke to several young men, who had travelled from Eritrea to escape compulsory military service. One of them, Stephen, explained that he had been beaten by the police for being gay. Another, Ferguson, was blind. He told me that the government had raided his house, after his parents were killed by the government for being Jewish. He had been beaten and his brothers and sisters killed. Their stories were harrowing to say the least.

My day in Calais was not what I expected; it was better. I can’t even complain about my journey (shout out UK Customs), as it’s nothing compared to what these people have been through.

Over the past few months, an increasing number of children who have travelled through Calais have reached my classroom. That’s a whole different story, but suffice to say; none of their parents are here to claim benefits or to be a nuisance to society.I have no doubt that everyone I met during my time in the camp had good intentions, but I’m unsure how well-met their efforts were. I’m glad that I could help, even in the smallest way. These people deserve compassion and kindness.

A teacher’s perspective on the Tory victory

This election has been one of triumph, mourning but above all, surprise. Not even the Oxbridge educated Conservatives team of election gurus could have predicted this late surge of support for their party, securing them victory at the strike of 22:00.

Juxtaposed with this Tory jubilation, teaching and support staff met in staffrooms across the country this morning, weary from a long week of teaching. But it wasn’t a lack of energy that was troubling our educators. The stark prospect of another 5 years of Conservative education policy was now a reality.

As a Politics Teacher, keeping politically neutral in front of students throughout this campaign has been difficult, no more so than on the subject of secondary education. Teachers across the country have ridden the vicious wave of Tory-led policy changes; although many are increasingly abandoning ship, finding the light at the end of the 60-hour working week in a stable 9-5 job.

The average teacher has little to do with school budgeting; ironic really as they are in direct contact with those it will affect the most. Dealing with tighter budgets is nothing new for schools; a 25% cut was correctly predicted by unions in 2011[1]. This directly affected every young person in the UK, with increased class sizes to increased testing and unnecessarily draconian GCSE and A-Level reforms.

Severe cuts to special educational needs, for example, left our most vulnerable students without ANY kind of support in schools. The role of teaching assistants in classrooms were filled by class teachers, who juggled (often unsuccessfully) to aid those who could not access the curriculum with those who excelled and needed challenging.

The prospect of deeper education cuts under the 2015 Conservative Government is a terrifying one. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested that schools could suffer an extra 12% of cuts[2], “once rising pupil numbers and increased national insurance and pension contributions are taken into account.”

Several leading Conservative Education ministers have alluded to class-sizes of 32+ to serve these cuts – could you imagine trying to teach 34 mixed-ability teenagers in a classroom designed for 25? Desperately trying to show their progress every 5 minutes, just in case OFSTED pays you a visit? Marking these 34 books ‘developmentally’ every 3-4 lessons? Creating ‘engaging and interactive’ lessons for these students, which tactfully balance supported learning for the less able, and push the most? Coupled with an increased teaching timetable, you are probably grateful for your office job!

Aside from marking, anyone who knows anything about teaching knows that data is our bible. At the start of each academic year, we pour over prior data of students, painstakingly attempting to memorise every level and plotting our intervention strategies for those who do not mould to OFSTED’s expectations. We need to show that we understand our students – not by knowing what makes them tick or how they learn best, but how they are performing. When the Tories announced plans to “limit the burdens of OFSTED” inspections, many were hesitant. They were right to be. What the Conservative government instead plans to do is rely almost autonomously on data collection from schools. Any rumours of bringing OFSTED ‘in-house’ were soon quashed – after all, the Tories and Privatisation are a love affair that will blossom under a solely Conservative Government.

A further bullet to the heart of our teaching profession is the compulsory EBac. In essence, this means that every Year 11 student, regardless of their ability or interests, will be forced to sit exams in English, Maths, Science, History or Geography, and a language. Not only are schools being shoe-horned into cooperation (the party manifesto states that any school that “refused” to offer the EBac would be unable to be judged “outstanding” by Ofsted), but the increased teaching time for these seen-to-be ‘core’ subjects is decreasing due to the aforementioned budget cuts.

However, this increased testing will not be limited to 15-16 year olds. Our Conservative Government plans to re-test those who fail KS2 SATs in their first year of secondary school. Rather than addressing the plethora of reasons why Year 6 students do not reach the ‘agreed level’ in English and Maths in our Primary Schools, the Tories again add to the pressure on Secondary Schools by plucking KS2 SATs training, manpower and teaching time out of thin air. And no, there is no additional funding planned for this, either.

And so, at the end of an exhausting week, I leave you with this. Schools are a lifeline for our youth. They educate, they support, they nurture. Teachers parent, inspire and motivate. The prospect of increased cuts to this vital lifeline for the next 5 years is only going to damage a generation of learners for many more years to come.

[1] Budget: Education spending –

[2] Schools could face 12 per cent cuts, says Institute for Fiscal Sudies –