Getting the best from accrued marginal gains.

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With examination season upon us again newspapers, websites and blogs are filling up with articles like the Guardian Teacher Network 'Teachers share the best exam advice they received as a student'. The familiar tips and tricks are easily accessible at this time of year: don't cram, get a good night's sleep, focus on using past papers, drink plenty of water, and much more besides. It's light hearted and well-meaning stuff but who is it from and is it addressing the right audience?

Teachers are, ultimately, education success stories. They may not have sailed from educational triumph to educational triumph on their way to the classroom, and most have tales of examination disasters, the odd setback and, in some cases, a long, hard return to learning after years in another career. However, the fact that they are where they are demonstrates that they got it right in the end. If those experiences have not been reflected on, if they haven't been critically appraised, the benefits of them can be lost in easy clichés about making notes, studying regularly, keeping to deadlines, etc.

Some time ago, in compiling a revision guide for year 11, I set about interviewing highly successful practitioners. The interviews had a single purpose, to elicit the strategies that they felt were most productive in preparing for examinations in their specialist subject. It became clear that, for many of those teachers, this had never been consciously considered in a systematic manner. Some found it nearly impossible to articulate advice more sophisticated than 'try hard'. Probing and supporting reflection did generate really strong strategies in the end, and a lot of common ground emerged, regardless of the subject, but who should be the audience for those strategies?

A student spends, on average, 30 hours a week in the classroom. Assuming a couple of hours of homework a night and the same at the weekend, the 14 hours of home study is moving towards fully one third of total learning. Educationalists are therefore expecting a young person, largely independently, to both learn a range of subjects and learn to apply the most effective strategies to learn.

The opportunities for progression would be much greater if that young person had an effective partner at home, and yet even the get ready for the examinations advice rarely considers parents and carers as the audience.

School and national data demonstrates that progress and attainment are not equal, that there are patterns of inequality in achievement, and cohorts of students who routinely under perform. Their parents are often not hard to reach; let's put that group to one side for the moment and consider those who want to help their child but don't really know how. In early years it was feasible to help with the numeracy and to support reading at home. As their child moved through the education system these parents have become more and more disconnected with the learning that is taking place. They go to consultation evenings, read the newsletters and sign the journal but, at a fundamental level, they don't know how to best support learning at home. What a missed opportunity! Perhaps parental engagement is, as some critics argue, a case of marginal gains but the success of teams like the British cycling show that accrued marginal gains will get you a very long way towards success.

The Fulcrum Learning parental engagement programmes provide a systematic and fully resourced approach to developing parents as effective partners in learning. Nine hours of strategies and techniques, supplemented with booklets for parents and a handbook for facilitators. The programmes develop every year, so they keep providing those accrued marginal gains that can mean the difference between failure or success for students facing the pressure of those summative examinations.

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