The end of spoon-feeding?


Our new exams will prioritise knowledge ― but students will need more skills than ever to pass them, says Phil Parker.

GCSEs are going, EBCs are arriving and C grades are going to get tougher to achieve. If it required spoon-feeding to get some students through GCSE it is going to need ladles to get many to succeed in this brave new world of Goveducation. 

The problem lies in the need to ram home more and more content into year 10 and 11 students’ brains. They will need to know more than what is needed to pass exams. I’d suggest we encourage students to look at how they get that knowledge learned and how they apply it in exams. In other words, we give students the tools in the form of learning skills.

Last term I was involved in research which looked at how a skills-driven curriculum raised achievement. We found it required staff to change the way they taught – to look at how learning was to be conducted, rather than deciding what needed to be learned. Schemes of work were reworked, lesson plans rewritten. This was an organic process, one in which students played their part.

The skills (TRICS – Team, Reflective, Independent, Creative) have become the foundation for thinking shared with teachers and students. TRICS permeate every aspect of school life. Reward systems recognise each student’s success in each of the four skills and data is collected on it and used to analyse student motivation and achievement. 

As a result students can talk about learning quite eloquently. They understand how teachers plan lessons using TRICS as their foundation. Increasingly students are getting involved in lesson planning too, delivering them sometimes. Even reviewing them. Some students have been trained as Learning Detectives, they visit lessons and observe how other students learn and then report back on it. This is true student empowerment of learning.

Students have an excellent grasp of their own learning, knowing their strengths and areas to develop. The school’s IT management system is used to store students’ reflection of their learning, rather like a diary. Successful use of the skills in lessons (and beyond) is recorded and is included in reports to parents, in tandem with the tutor’s observations using an assessment policy based on the student’s level of sophistication in each skill.

As one year 7 student put it: “TRICS help me learn because I know what I’m good at and what I need to work on in my learning. When teachers are talking targets I can look at my TRICS to help me work out how to achieve my targets.”

CPD has been crucial in changing the culture. The sharing of best practice has taken place, lesson plans were regularly handed in and reviewed at one point. Lesson observations and performance management objectives featured heavily in this context.

Learning has been transformed. The quality of teaching is a real strength, there are dynamic lessons going on now, where students are the ones who are doing so much of the work. Spoon-feeding is rare.

One teacher said: “It was never just about the results. I can see change. Aspirations are higher. They (learners) have to think and then plan. They reflect on what they do. Their creativity comes from TRICS. We are now thinking about emotional literacy and TRICS are helping with that too.”

The impact on achievement is remarkable. We found a 15 per cent increase in GCSE higher grades with English and maths in two years; 68 per cent of students attain three levels of progress in every subject. 

This success comes from recognising that students needed to be empowered. If exams are going to get more rigorous then perhaps we should start looking not so much as what we’re teaching, but rather how students are learning. Because when you give them the spoon, it’s amazing how achievement can improve if students know what to do with it.

  • Phil Parker is an ex-senior leader of a successful school and is now a director of Student Coaching Ltd. Visit


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Claim Free Subscription