By Gove, they’ve got it! Raise expectations you say? But how on Earth do we do that?

“And therefore education at the University mostly worked by the age-old method of putting a lot of young people in the vicinity of a lot of books and hoping that something would pass from one to the other, while the actual young people put themselves in the vicinity of inns and taverns for exactly the same reason.”
― Terry Pratchett, Interesting Times

‘Raising expectations’ and ‘increasing challenge’ are two of my favourite Bullshit Bingo phrases.  You see and hear them everywhere, but the trouble is no bugger actually lets on what they mean.  Trouble is that they mean very different things to different people.  To me, increasing challenge means signing up for a 50 mile ultra marathon across the Lake District and raising expectations always happens when I smell baking.  In the spirit of the #challengeme cry from Staffrm, this is what these phrases mean to me. Ish:


Now, remember that this view has been moulded through teaching a little bit and a bit of middle leadership and senior stuff (look over ten years of posts here if you like).  To me, raising expectations and increasing challenge are crucial to getting the most out of teachers and students.  I should also add that I’ve taught exclusively in 11-16 establishments.  What happened before or happens after is a complete mystery*.  What follows is a mixture of what I’ve seen happen and work and what I aspire to do and see.

High quality teaching and learning from lesson one of Year 7

I don’t believe in pilling in interventions and extra after school sessions in Year 11.  That’s far too late.  It’s about high quality lessons from lesson one that don’t include a list of behaviour expectations and ‘this is my subject.’  They’ll work out your expectations of behaviour (and are probably very used to high ones from their last place of education) as you apply them fairly and consistently.  It’s about the small things – expecting dates and titles underlined and books to be neat (encourage the back of books for messy work) and meeting each student at the door.  This is your space, welcome them to it but sweat the small things (like astronaut  Chris Hadfield) and they’ll soon get the message.  Have a mantra – it may be ‘Nothing Less Than Your Best’ or something – don’t accept poor work.

In my school, we look for extended writing and homework.  Extended writing is really about having the opportunity to be quiet, think hard and work in silence.  To encourage perseverance and the production of something more than simple statements and compound sentences.  Communicated well in writing is a vital life skill – one day these people may have to write a letter of application or two.  

Looking after the Pupil Premium spent has really hammered home how important routines and expectations are from day one.  The gap between the attendance of disadvantaged students and others is a major issue and these are habits that need addressing from day one.  In fact, scrap that, they demand that schools work cross-phase and pool resources (including people and capital) to help educate families that education is important.  Teachers can be as great as you like, but if the children aren’t in front of them there’s not much you can do. 

All of this needs to be underpinned with a clear curriculum supported by schemes of work.  I favour using a cloud service like Google Docs as is allows these to be living documents:


GCSE questions as part of all lessons

There are ways of doing this that are subtle, but Year 7 can really get to grips with harder work.  The secret here is knowing your students which means trying to get into Year 6, finding out what they are up to before they get to secondary school and perhaps setting a rigorous baseline test.  The quickest way to discourage learners is to cover stuff they already know and can do.  Put them out of their comfort zone from time to time and challenge them with some real GCSE / A’Level style thinking.  Just now and again.

 KS3 linked to GCSE specifications

I’ve never seen the point of Key Stage 3 summative assessments, nor anything before it other than the accountability regime.  The first, real, high stakes tests are the GCSE.  These are the ones that students will remember and the first that really affect them.  It’s more important here to have a clear vision and idea of what you want students to do and to tie in progression to what follows.  This it not purely about examinations, as knowing what is coming allows us to play around with the curriculum and include other stuff that we should include just because we, as teachers, think that it is important.

There is a need to tackle data here.  Firstly, get over it.  Secondly, ask awkward questions about its reliability.  Thirdly, and most important, understand that the data is the starting point in the conversation.  Get to know the young person and be able to tell their story.  I was once accused of making up our data when all we had done was expect students to be able to gain higher marks.  No, it’s not a one-size-fits all world, but being able to engage with and understand data effectively allows us to raise expectations.  Know what students with a similar profile are actually capable of.  I can see an argument here of setting expectations that are too high perhaps.  We’ve got to be realistic. And I would agree, if fact I would advocate providing a curriculum that meets the needs of these students.

All lessons driven by enquiry

Because if your curriculum is not full of JONK, what’s the actual point?

It’s about Simple yet effective ideas


  • Don’t accept Banned Words (can’t believe that post is almost 10 years old!)
  • Point Evidence Explanation Link. Get mantras that link to your Maths and English departments and start helping students make links between subjects.  They may not see the connections so we need to teach them.
  • Social, Economic, Environmental, Political. A geography example perhaps, but use it.
  • Prove it! When students write something without supporting evidence, say do.
  • So What? How could that written answer be extended so that it actually gets marks?

All of this from lesson one of Year 7.  Even I got it.

These are some ideas, and not an exhaustive list. I’’ haven’t for example written about the essential support and challenge for teachers in raising their own expectations. What I’m interested in though is how you raise expectations and increase challenge.


*not really.

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