Headteacher scraps ‘mad’ year 11 revision classes to protect pupil mental health

A headteacher has scrapped extra revision classes and interventions for year 11 to protect students’ mental health in the run up to this summer’s exams.

John Tomsett, of Huntington School in York, has instead urged his teachers to save their energy for planning and executing “great lessons”.

Mr Tomsett told Schools Week he did not think months-long “untargeted interventions” had a positive impact on results.

He said they overloaded teachers and pupils with extra pressures, causing them to become stressed and ill.

“Why do some students think, when they have seven hours of English lessons in years 10 and 11 a fortnight, that 10 one-hour lessons, once a week leading up to the examinations, held after school when they and their teachers are tired, will suddenly transform them from D grade students to C grade?” Mr Tomsett said. “It is mad and there is no logic to it.”

Mr Tomsett (pictured), a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable – a key influencer of government policy – said the reason extra revision classes were widely used in schools was so staff could “cover their backsides” if results were poor.

“When governors question why results weren’t good enough, staff reply: ‘But look at all the work we did.’ Well, actually, if you hadn’t done that work results might have been even better because the teaching would have been better,” he added.

In 2010, 55 per cent of pupils at Huntington achieved five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths.

“From this point we first stopped doing the interventions and we went up around 20 points in 2013. Last year we were at 66 per cent,” Mr Tomsett said.

“This year I’ve seen staff start to get a bit anxious again and start more interventions. There are clearly loads of variables in our results so our view is just to teach.

“I’m not going to get results at the cost of the mental health of my staff and pupils. Just keep the whole thing measured.”

Clacton Coastal Academy headteacher Steph Neill agreed with Mr Tomsett that some interventions are a waste of time but said extra classes were essential for some groups of students.

“The main issue for me is that there is a habit of assuming the more hours we put in the better exam outcomes will be,” Ms Neill said.

“Bringing the whole class back after school for an hour or two does not have the same impact as identifying the targets for a specific group of students who really need extra support.”

She said interventions at her school focused on pupil premium students who had gaps in their knowledge.

Meanwhile Andrew Day, headteacher at Northumberland Church of England Academy, sympathised with Mr Tomsett but said interventions were a “necessary evil” for most schools.

“Much of our work should be accomplished in the classroom and yes, part of the problem is students think: ‘I’ll just go to the revision classes at the end,’ and they do, and they come in their droves,” Mr Day said.

“But unfortunately we don’t have a culture where students say: ‘No, we’ll do the work in lesson time and we’ll revise and do all the things we are supposed to do.’”

Northumberland Academy’s results increased 18 per cent last year after concentrating efforts on interventions. “So they had a very positive impact on what we do,” he added.


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  1. I believe that a good quality piece of research should be carried out comparing both methods with a control group, then a real answer can be deduced from factually based quality information. I have just finished Matthew Syed’s Blackbox thinking – that would be a great place to start.

    • Chris Carpenter

      Hi Paul, are you ok with using natural science type research for such research? How would you ‘measure’ the differences? Is it better to think of this in a more hermeneutic manner? Is there any argument to say that thinking about education in this way can be reductive? Does the teacher matter? Does how they teach matter? Daniels, in his book on Vygotsky argues that Vygotsky saw a key element of pedagogy as the relationship between teacher and student. My worry with your suggestion is that we are going down the line of evidence based teaching without considering what constitutes evidence in evidence based teaching. There is also the idea that if teachers feel a particular approach has value to not give it to all children is an ethical issue? Really interesting stuff thanks for the post.

  2. An interesting read. I can see both sides, but ultimately I think the problem with interventions is that they become a free for all. Targeted intervention can be useful, but it does need to be targeted.

    I do sympathise though, well-being is affected, I see so many kids suffering. It needs to be a whole school approach though. If most subjects do it and yours doesn’t it may come back to bite you.

  3. Richard Harrison

    We moved away from the free for all of intervention sessions, where departments would be chasing the same students and we extended the school day for year 11. They now get more teaching time in all subjects over a longer period and this has eliminated the need for last minute jntervention. It has worked wonders and decreased stress levels all round…

  4. Paul Hammond

    Accurate diagnosis of student weaknesses means that support is just required where understanding is weak. That is often just a fraction of the syllabus. A target group of students – such as pupil premium – working on these focus topics is much less work and far more impactful. It is the approach recommended by PiXL.

  5. Ian Holden

    Look with longing at The Finnish Lesson by Pasi Sahlberg. Particularly the chapter ‘The Finnish Paradox:Less is More’.
    In fact, read the whole book. And press its message home.
    Imagine how good it could be?

  6. @kabradders

    This is a very topical issue in my school at the moment. I am a huge advocate of John Tomsett’s and agree with pretty much everything he writes, however, the entire essence of this is a requirement for a culture shift from results to excellent teaching. In order for the shift to take place – and have a positive impact on results, you need a governing body that stands behind you when the results take a dip in year 1 and possibly year 2, and you need a steady body of staff that continue to stay with the vision (even when they get anxious towards the end of the teaching time). Unfortunately not all schools have this.

    My school has an owner and is branded and the teachers are on a rolling two year contract which means they feel the pressure constantly. If they don’t make the grade then they don’t make the grade and the inevitable happens. In the absence of being able to do anything about the above (I have really tried), all I can do is ask the teachers to protect themselves by doing absolutely everything they possibly can to protect the borderlines with results at GCSE and A2.

    I do, however, take their wellbeing very seriously and hold myself out as the shield against the storm of arrows and stones – indeed it will be my head that rolls if the results take a dip this year. The pupils are targeted for intervention and our pastoral support systems have repeatedly been categorised as excellent, and we are all on high alert for anxiety and pupil issues.

    It’s very far from ideal, but it’s the system we’re in.

    • “My school has an owner and is branded and the teachers are on a rolling two year contract which means they feel the pressure constantly. If they don’t make the grade then they don’t make the grade and the inevitable happens”

      I cannot believe that this is a sensible OR sustainable way to employ staff!! And I wonder why more and more teaching staff give up on the profession!! Dreadful! Dreadful!

  7. A great idea and refreshing to read about sensible expectations of teachers and children. However, to refer to “the pupil premium students” is telling in that the children are still only valued for what they bring in terms of results. When we can finally look at Y11 children as “scientist” or “musician” or “comedian” or whatever instead of them as “A” or “Borderline C” etc then we will start to really turn round mental health around in schools.

  8. Sandra Palmer

    Where are the Teachers’ unions? It is time for a collective led boycott of the year Sats. Their content is dubious on all sorts of counts, children’s education is being narrowed and for many they are psychologically damaging . Teachers need to reclaim their professional authority .

  9. People are using the word ‘interventions’ in a strange way here. I don’t recognise revision advice as an ‘intervention’. No substitute for good teaching, proper differentiation and realistic expectations from yr 7. Then not such a need for unproductive last minute panic. Also stop early study leave, teach for longer.

  10. Roy Boulton Lear

    This was refreshing to read that a person in such a responsible position is listening to staff. i always thought that GCSE exams etc were a measurement of the individual students work knowledge and ability throughout there school life and not a measure of the teachers ability as results determine a good teacher or not. The schools should have stratergies in place during this time not at the end. if for example the students do not do their work or do not turn up to ogoing catch up classes thdn surely this is a true measurement of that students commitment and over all knowledge. Not cramming exam revision into the few weeks prior to the exams. stress tiredness fed up red tape commitments take place all year and is then extended into the final weeks. How can an employer get a true measurement of these students if we keep putting extra methods to get results from lazy lack of effort students. RBL

  11. Finally, someone has spoken out against the destructive nature of exam factory culture which has been festering in schools for far too long. Unions should be supporting this head teacher and working to extend his methods into all schools across the country so we can stop this abuse of our young people and their teachers.