Holiday Revision Sessions: There is an alternative!
It’s coming to the end of half term and all across the country students and teachers are working hard towards the end of GCSE and A-Level exams. Everyone involved has a vested interest in this – Academic futures and Performance Management success all rest on the results this summer. Who is going to pass up the chance for one last push?
There is much debate over the usefulness of holiday revision sessions. The Secret Teacher in the Guardian writes about the strain they put on teachers and students. The underlying assumption that students can’t succeed without them undermines all the other effort put into preparing for exams in advance. The Huntington school in York is used as an example where extra revision classes were cut and the progress increased. On the other hand, there are some schools where students actively ask for them and happily attend them. And for many they are a relief, with teachers safe in the knowledge that if a student does not meet a target grade at least it wasn’t the teacher’s fault.
The Telegraph Education this week has looked at the exodus from teaching and on the whole workload seems to be to blame (Christine Blower – NUT Secretary General). So how much work is involved in a holiday class?
The cost of a holiday revision class is financially the overtime for the teachers (this may not be offered in all schools as budgets tighten and teachers view it as vital to their PM portfolio). There is a resources cost as the school has to be open, but site staff are usually working in the holidays anyway. The cost to the teacher is the 2-4 hours they work for on the day plus travel time/expenses, 2 hours planning and resourcing, 2 hours advertising to classes, assemblies, writing a letter home and in some cases phoning individual pupils. Many teachers would argue that they are happy to work an extra day if it meant that they could convert 2 or 3 extra students to their target grade. On the small scale this seems like a good swap but is it possible to avoid this need in the first place?
Not all schools want to drop their holiday revision sessions, and I’m sure if they were banned subject leaders would be up in arms about their results. However if your school is finding them tiresome here are some ideas to work into your planning that could help you succeed without them next year.
1) Revision Skills CPD for teachers. Outstanding teachers plan brilliant revision sessions with transferable skills and resources, while many other teachers just print out a few practice questions and past papers. A united approach sends a consistent message to students and the more they practice the skills in class the better they can apply them at home. The TES produced a review of revision activities in 2015 demonstrating strengths and weaknesses and giving a range of ideas.
2) Revision Skills Sessions for students. Maybe this could be to launch their revision for mocks exams, or earlier down the curriculum. Look at the activities shared in the CPD and let students explore the value in them.
3) Make sure revision time is included in your new curriculum plans. Some teachers still find themselves teaching after Easter; this can put them at a disadvantage when other subjects are revising already and lessons start to get lost to practical exams and extra mocks. Review your curriculum and see if it’s possible to give yourself this time so you don’t rely on the extra revision sessions.
4) A whole school approach to revision within the timetable. Some schools use a series of masterclasses once exams have begun where subjects are taught for a block of time before the exam. By keeping the timetable relevant students are less likely to vote with their feet.
5) Start early. Students who learn to revise in an unpressured environment will learn the skill and its value better than those who use it only at the last minute. Use the same revision skills with younger students revising for end of year exams to help them master them sooner.
6) Demystify exams. Where students are preparing for the unknown revision cannot be targeted, and they cannot measure their progress well. Where students have utilised their revision skills early in the year and seen results in mock exams they will learn the best way to revise for them.
7) Depressurise the situation. Everyone is feeling pressure, students and teachers alike. Unfortunately, some teachers still transfer this pressure to the students. Review your Performance Management Guidance - how much weight is put on these summer results? Make it clear to staff that you are there to support them throughout the year. Students can tell when staff aren’t happy. The TES 3 June contains excellent ideas for management to help them make staff feel included and valued.
8) Build the resilience of students and staff. Resilience has been a buzz word of late but here I think it is really important. In my experience building resilience of the individuals has a greater overall impact on their confidence in approaching the exams and revision and reduces their reliance on individual teachers.
Every school is different and there is no one answer to this problem, and many schools would argue that they are happy with the situation and don’t wish to change it at all. Hopefully for those who do I have provided you with a few new ideas to start planning for next year’s Y11 (Don’t forget to give yourself at least one night of well-earned rest though before moving on to the next cohort).