Review by Harry Fletcher-Wood

13 Nov 2015, 6:00

Harry Fletcher-Wood picks his top blogs of the week 9 November 2015

Is A-level physics too hard (and media studies too easy)?

By Dave Thomson

“Which subject is easiest?” is the subject of perennial, circular debate among teachers. Dave Thomson, of Education Datalab, takes a more promising approach and examines the data, seeking to answer “are some current A-levels really easier or harder than others?”Using a series of statistical tests to investigate the progress that students make from GCSE to A level, he finds that pupils with equal starting attainment make much greater progress in media studies than in physics – equivalent to gaining results a grade higher at A-level.

Having offered an apparently clear answer, however, Thomson muddies the waters again, showing that the difference is far less dramatic when we measure progress from key stage 2 to A-level, perhaps because those who have underachieved at GCSE do better with a fresh subject and start. Thomson’s post is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the challenge of different subjects.

Behavioural Exchange Conference

The Behavioural Exchange Conference in September brought together the world’s foremost behavioural psychologists to discuss how “behavioural insights” can help to deliver government policies and social benefits more effectively: one example of a successful trial added 350,000 new people to the organ donation register by linking registration to driving licence renewal.

The organisers have posted videos of all the sessions – I’m still working my way through – but I’d recommend three to start with. “Education RCTs: Past, Present and Future” summarised a number of recent trials showing the positive impact of text messages sent to parents asking them to help their children revise for a test; of offering students money for their effort in year 11 (but not trips); of informing parents about how their child’s absences compared to those of their peers. “Trials and tribulations” collected researchers’ experiences of experiments going wrong and acted as one long cautionary tale: one speaker described how an experiment in a major bank went brilliantly, the data came back, he told his boss results were just around the corner, then realised he would need to match the data with individuals by hand. Above all, though, I’d recommend the session on “Words that matter”, in which Steven Pinker offered advice on writing with clarity and style, and Robert Cialdini explained how powerful reciprocity can be.

Subject knowledge for teaching

By Emma McCrea

In a deceptively short post, Emma McCrea breaks down the components of subject knowledge for teaching, identifying and then explaining why she includes curriculum demands, progression, multiple representations (of a particular concept), misconceptions and probing questions. She does teachers and teacher-trainers a huge service by codifying the aspects of subject knowledge that matter.

How I stopped the Taliban from shutting down my school

By Sakena Yacoobi

Sakena Yacoobi left Afghanistan to be educated in the United States, and subsequently helped her family to join her. There was one thing missing, though – “Where was my heart? My heart was in Afghanistan.” She reflected on how “education changed my life. It transformed me. It gave me status. It gave me confidence. It gave me a career. It helped me to support my family, to bring my family to another country, to be safe.” Yacoobi concluded that her role was to “give to my people education and health”.

In this inspiring post, she describes twice facing Taliban gunmen: the first time she explained that she was educating girls in the Koran, which would teach them to be obedient to men. Then she was approached by young men, who told her: “You train women, you teach them and you give them an opportunity to have a job. You build their skills. How about us?”

Latest education roles from

Communication Support Assistant (BSL)

Communication Support Assistant (BSL)

Barnet and Southgate College

Exam Access Arrangements Adviser (Student Services)

Exam Access Arrangements Adviser (Student Services)

Barnet and Southgate College

Lecturer in Marine Electrical

Lecturer in Marine Electrical

Bournemouth and Poole College

EA to the CEO & Senior Directors

EA to the CEO & Senior Directors

Haberdashers’ Academies Trust South

Chief Executive Officer Cornwall Education Learning Trust (CELT)

Chief Executive Officer Cornwall Education Learning Trust (CELT)

Satis Education

Head of Faculty (History and RS)

Head of Faculty (History and RS)

Ark Greenwich Free School

More Reviews

Developing inclusive schools: Pathways to success

It represents an important call-to-arms for a sector that is highly aware of burgeoning need, limited resources and lack...

Find out more

The Conversation – with Rob Gasson

A big listen on oracy, a not-so-golden thread on recruitment and a falling out about who should and shouldn't...

Find out more

Why Learning Fails (And What to Do About It)

A refreshing, pragmatic guide full of actionable strategies for teachers to keep students learning

Find out more

More from this theme

The Conversation – with Sarah Gallagher

'Telling off' your staff, the cultural capital gap, the maths curriculum and test-induced anxiety

Find out more

The Classroom Management Handbook: A practical blueprint for engagement and behaviour in your classroom and beyond

Clearly structured, well-explained, evidence-informed and rooted in experience of school leadership. Who could wish for more?

Find out more

The Conversation – with Zara Simpson

A whole host of blogs, podcasts and resources to plan for transitions - this summer and beyond

Find out more

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *