Category Archives: NQT

Sorting your class into ability groups.

If you mention ability groups to some schools and teachers they will throw their hands up in horror and tell you it is the worst thing ever!

Yet in many schools you will find ability groups that are spread across year groups and occasionally across key stages – so why this spread of opinion and just what is the approach to take?

Well let’s look at the basic premise:- ” Children need to have work set at an appropriate level which challenges, consolidates and reinforces their knowledge and skills.”

That’s it really – that’s the baseline from which you have to work with your class.

Now that’s all well and good but aren’t teachers then faced with a whole class of differing individual levels that need to be addressed – yes technically that’s the case. I once had a teacher come to see me in a panic because she was differentiating work in her class and was trying to accommodate 10 differentiated levels…the workload she had set herself was enormous and of course not sustainable.

Differentiation is, of course, a completely different topic and my article on this can be found through the search bar on this site. However it is enough to say that differentiation is NOT simply different levels of work!

So do I personally recommend ability groups in class – the broad based answer is YES I do and the qualification is… but only where appropriate -in other words only for some stuff!

In which areas can I use ability groups?
Let me give you a list:-
1. Guided Reading / comprehension
2. Spelling groups / dictionary work
3. English Grammar
4. Maths number (occasionally- you be the judge)

So how do I decide who goes where?
In one word – TEST
It’s as simple as that – you have to know the ability of the children to be able to group them together. Now this doesn’t mean that you start to carry out exhaustive diagnostic testing – no; a simple “start of the Autumn term” test will give you the basics from which to begin. From this starting point you can adjust the groups as and when the children progress, fall behind or you find that they have a better (or worse) ability than you initially thought. But before you start to panic; the actual movement of children is never very much, with your original test giving a pretty good result.
We are looking for 3 groups to cover the whole class.

Keep your test simple and quick
It’s simply a matter of concocting a test which has questions set at 3 levels. Let me give you an example:-
Spelling groups – which children go into each of 3 groups to take home and learn the class weekly spellings?
Conduct a spelling test of 21 questions taken from the previous years spelling list. Take 7 questions from each of 3 levels from the words. All children do the same test.
Correct answers decides the group:
0 – 7 ….Group 3
8 – 14…Group 2
15 – 21..Group 1
It’s as simple as that – there is your starting point.

Guided Reading – Choose 3 different passages with differing levels and pre judge the children’s ability (this could be based on their spelling levels or on previous teacher comments). Administer the comprehension and questions in the usual way and mark the results. Using your professional judgement as to whether each child completed the test satisfactorily or not then group the children into 3 ability groups.

Why just 3 groups? – because it’s manageable. Experience shows that this is the best number of groups to successfully manage within your classroom. Any more than this and not only does your workload increase significantly but your planning will start to fragment as will the results from the children – stick with 3. This is not to say that they are 3 equal groups; nor that the same children will be in the same groups (1,2,3) for everything. Some children may have more difficulty with maths than lets say comprehension. You will find that the spread of numbers will be heavy in group 2 as you would expect and less so in groups 1 and 3. However you now have your basis for setting work that is appropriate for the children in each group.

Why only certain subjects and areas within the curriculum?
Primary education is completely different from secondary in its approach and method. There are many areas of the curriculum where children can actively learn and respond at their own level and contribute not only individually but also in mixed ability group situations. These are represented in the majority of the foundation subjects but also in areas of the core – an example being “Speaking and listening” in English.

So there you have it – ability groups are an excellent method of targeting work to children’s ability and progress in various areas of the curriculum. Not only does it help focus your planning and guide your assessment but it provides the children with the appropriate levels of challenge and success that focus and encourage the children’s learning.

Support and training in your Induction year – just how good should it be?

This applies right across your teaching training course and into your induction year – so it should be good….shouldn’t it?

There are many and varied ways to train to be a teacher – yet all should, in theory, prepare you to the same level of competence to enable you to begin your teaching career with confidence.

However a recent report has highlighted that those colleagues who follow the PGCE route into teaching seem to be at a disadvantage due to the amount and pace of work required to push everything into 1 year. This workload will be familiar to any colleagues reading who have followed this route – but worryingly it’s not the workload that is causing concern but the resultant knock on effect in a negative way, on the practical support and training that these students are receiving. In short many PGCE students do not feel that they are practically ready to start their teaching careers with confidence.

Now it’s not the remit of this article to look into the perceived failures of PGCE training. However if we broadly look at the picture we should expect to see that whatever training you receive it should equip you to both understand the practical requirements of teaching and also to have experience and support in applying these in the classroom. After all, its 1 thing to talk about this but quite another to actually do it!

As I have pointed out previously the NQT induction year is there for a purpose. There is a recognition that the transition from teacher training to actually being a teacher in school does need to be supported and managed. But the induction year is not meant to be a “training year” as such – no that is the purpose and role of the University, college and the variety of teacher training establishments. Rather the purpose of the induction year is to assist, support and advise colleagues as they practically pull together all the strands into their professional classroom practice.

Teacher training establishments therefore should be providing the foundations and initial practical building blocks upon which the “induction year” can build and cement. (don’t you just love construction analogies!)

The Induction year – The Induction tracker is a working document against which a newly qualified teacher and also their school can judge both achievements and progress as the year progresses. Once completed the records will give a detailed report of the teachers achievements across the induction year and also document any training and support as well as mentor input that was given. As a document that is “running in the background” to a colleagues day to day teaching, it reflects progress in real time and can identify and report on any areas where input or support are needed and subsequently the resultant outcomes of that support. The detail and dated aspects of the tracker are especially useful on review by both the teacher and also the school.

Support and training:- The nature of support and training falls into 2 categories.

  1. Support and training that occurs as either part of the teacher training course or during the induction year process. This will either be part of the course undertaken in the training establishment (or could involve some forms of training courses at placement schools) Or Induction year training courses which may either be school based or be part of ongoing induction support run for all NQTs by the Local Authority. It is recommended that ALL courses and dates are logged by colleagues as part of their developing CV.
  2. The second level of support that I am going to refer to occurs when an NQT is experiencing difficulties during their induction year and we will go into more detail on this below.

Induction Year support

It is imperative to an NQT that the school uses the Induction year standards document – this provides the basic attainment and assessment thresholds that need to be met during this time and is completed progressively by both the NQT and Mentor. It is also the basis from which any support programme is devised should an NQT be experiencing problems in any area. Schools and mentors MUST raise any problem as soon as possible to enable support to be introduced immediately and the following procedures should be followed. It is NOT acceptable for a problem to be left and then reported upon at the end of a term if that potential failure point has not been previously identified and supported. Procedures to be followed are shown below.

Induction year support :-

As you can see from the above, there is a very definite support process for colleagues who may be experiencing difficulties during the Induction year. However do remember that you are not expected to be “the finished article” at this time and the Induction year is designed specifically to enable your transition from training to classroom to be supported and guided – that’s why the structures are in place. Everything is based on the Induction standards documentation…that’s why it is so vital!

Support from the NEU

If you are involved in any part of this process then of course you have the support of your Union to advise and guide. I would recommend that you contact your union straight away and to keep them fully informed of the situation and how it is being managed. The National Education Union is the largest teaching union in the UK and has a wealth of experience in NQT support and is up to date with all the processes and procedures of the Induction year and can advise you accordingly. If you are not currently a member of the NEU but would like to join then the link is below.

The NEU is recommended by Primary Practice.

https://neu.org.uk/join-now?utm_source=OrganicSocial&utm_medium=PrimaryPractice+PrimaryPracticeGroup&utm_campaign=PrimaryPractice&fbclid=IwAR08dn0iwL6PLSay3ZvkTtsBAFn3m5nahbBEteYs45sHw5IUEx921L4yB8A