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2017 English GCSE: Something to fear or a great opportunity?

The new spec GCSEs are coming. They are different. They mean that nearly everything we do needs to change…but is that so bad?

 Well it’s blooming not ideal…!

Agreed. This certainly is a rather flippant and optimistic blog based upon a brainwave I had a few months back. 

  • I completely agree that it is going to be INCREDIBLY hard for Jimmy with his predicted E grade to access a lot of the new syllabus. 
  • I completely agree that closed book exams are (currently) a ridiculous idea which almost sets students up to lose marks for not using enough quotes. 
  • I completely agree that it is a big pain in the backside for teachers to have to create new SoWs and resources etc as well as simply teaching themselves how to comparatively analyse 19th C non fiction…
  • I completely agree that it is unhelpful to try to teach year 10 a syllabus that is evolving by the day.


I also think the new GCSEs are a great opportunity: 

I believe that the single greatest opportunity stemming from the changes is the offer of time. We no longer have to schedule year 10 and 11 with military precision to cram everything in around coursework draft deadlines, moderation deadlines, real deadlines, missed deadline extensions and so on. With the exception of mocks, we have the entire year(s) to teach. 

Whilst this is going to be VERY messy whilst they drip feed clarification and resources to us, imagine what it COULD be like to teach something you know well WITHOUT the faff of teaching-marking-moderating-submitting coursework etc… 

Hopefully it won’t stay as chaotic as it is now…

Currently it feels like we’re all standing at the edge of a cliff. There’s no way back and it is just a case of plucking up the courage to jump and hope for the best. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, we will have all of the info we need to be able to discover a happy new land where we have the time to embrace new pedagogy, give KS3 attention AND get our students happily through exams… 

…somehow, though, I feel I won’t be this optimistic come September… 

…we can dream!


(Images not my own)


PEELing PETALs?: Scaffolding Analysis Essays

As always, this blog is designed to share some techniques I use with my students who are tackling the 2017 AQA Lit/Lang exams. I do not claim to know it all and -in fact- welcome feedback and corrections wherever possible. We are all bumbling through the curriculum changes so let’s bumble through together!

This blog will focus on how we can ensure that students hit all AOs in the Lit/Lang analysis questions, in the dreaded 100% exams, without us there to remind them to include quotes and so on. There is a lot of negativity online about how PEAL/PEE/PETER/PETAL/TEPAE and so on are all well and good at KS3 but are useless at KS4. I both agree and disagree with the statement. I agree that they can be restrictive for some students and, in these basic states, are not designed to hit the high marks. However, I believe that the only way we are going to train students to not forget to jump through the relevant hoops in their exams is to drill them in some form of structure. My preferred one is PETAL… but with a VERY BIG twist.


PETAL stands for:

  • Point: I believe that…
  • Evidence: This is shown by the quote…
  • Technique: This is an example of _____ or This has connotations of…
  • Analysis (Explain): This quote proves my point because…
  • Link back to Q: Therefore, I believe that…

If you are trying to get a bottom set class to put in some form of structure to their responses and not just re-tell the narrative, PETAL will do you fine. However, it will not help anyone who is looking at a half decent grade.

Grade 1 model cred

So what do we do?


Bare with me… it sounds a lot more confusing than it is!

In my classes, students are taught PETAL and then rapidly move to PETAAAL and then PETAETAAAL and eventually make their way up to PETAETAETAAAAL (pronounced: Peter-eater-eater-ahhhhhhl <– add some speed and the acknowledgement that you sound like a muppet and the students laugh!).

middle ability model cred


Let’s break it down:

  • Point: I believe that…
  • Evidence: This is shown by the quote…
  • Technique: This is an example of… or This has connotations of…
  • Analysis (Explain): This quote proves my point because…
  • Evidence 2: This is also shown by the quote…
  • Technique: Which is an example of…
  • Analysis (Explain): and proves my point because…
  • Evidence 3: Repeat
  • Technique: Repeat
  • Analysis: Repeat
  • Analysis (Effect): These quotes could make the reader feel _____ because…
  • Analysis (Effect 2): Also, these quotes could make the reader feel ____ because..
  • Analysis (Context): These quotes link to ___(e.g. life in Dickensian times)___ because…
  • Link back to Q: Therefore, I believe that…

By the time they are working at this level, they are trained in the types of ways you can finish off each of the sentence starter and end up creating a really detailed, analytical paragraph.

But surely that is not enough for the highest marks?!

True. For the highest marks, you need evaluation, embedded quotes and for it to sound less robotic.

high model cred


Let me explain how I do this:

  • Students have been scaffolded as they work their way from PETAL to PETAETA(etc) where they are using multiple quotes to build an overarching, perceptive (<–Ooo mark scheme buzz word there!) argument. They will naturally start to combine sentences, build paragraphs in a different order and so on. I welcome this.
  • We do a lot of joint construction where a student types at my laptop as it is live projected on the board and peers tell them what to write. Here, I help them write the first half of a paragraph and then go back through and take out the waffle, for example. This shows them, live, how to turn the scaffolds they are used to into embedded quotes.

Gru p.graphs cred

  • For the evaluation, I have PETAL paragraph builder cue cards with a list of sentence starters of varying levels on them and the students can pick and choose. They are now trained to pick the ones with words like “effectively” in.

PETA cue card cred

With students who are fully trained in PETAETA(etc), this is all the support I give them. In a lesson, I will -at short notice- tell them to write an exam style response to X question and just give them this to help. They find that this is all they need.

How will this help them in the exam though, when there aren’t scaffolds?

The idea is that, by the exam, the students will have memorised the higher level sentence starters and what PETAETAETAAAAL stands for so they will be scaffolding themselves in their minds. Due to their training on each letter of PETAETA(etc) they are less likely to fall into the trap of forgetting to comment on the effect on the reader and so on as they will remember me sounding like a muppet as I say PETAETAETAAAAL every 5mins!

The example responses from AQA feature multiple, embedded quotes which is something that standard PETAL does not encourage. Therefore, PETAETA(etc) is the way to get them used to creating anything that reflects what the boards are asking for.

AQA example.jpg

^(Credit to AQA – Colours = me) I have tried to keep it with the same colour coding. You can see 3 quotes (green), 2 techniques (yellow), a clear point (red) and plenty of analysis (blue).

PETAL mark scheme

^AQA 2017 Spec Lit Mark Scheme (Colours = me)

You said it applied to the 2017 AQA Eng Lang exams. How?

You will have noticed that the new spec Eng Lang asks students to analyse the use of language, structure and form in given texts. Whilst many of these questions are 8(ish) marks and, therefore, do not require every letter of PETAETAETAAAAL, a variation of PETAL is needed as students throw away marks if they forget quotes.. and so on.

lang example.jpg

^AQA 2017 Lang Paper 1, section A example student response. Colour = me.

How on earth are students expected to remember PETAETAETAAAAL?! It’s so long!

I agree. It’s a faff. However, in a way, it is not designed to be a rigid frame to confuse students who do the letters in the wrong order and so on. It is simply designed to remind students to go beyond PEAL/PETAL. When a student is trained in it, they only need to remember PETAAAAL and just remember to repeat the quote-technique-analysis bit 3 times…much more easily digested!

Our revision sessions can focus on making sure students remember “Analysis-Explain”, “Analysis-Effect” and “Analysis-Context” which is a lot easier than trying to teach them to include context in the abstract.

So there we have it…

PETAETAETAAAAL and all of if it’s differentiated variants. A good way to train students to analyse and evaluate 2017 AQA Lit & Lang sources.

All references to PETAETA and the examples about Gru from Despicable Me are  my own creation. Obviously, credit to the makers of Despicable Me for creating the film I could base my examples on and credit to AQA for the exemplar paragraphs.


Powerful Peer Assessment

Note: These are just some examples of how I am tackling the new 2017 Spec. I welcome all feedback including areas that you think I may have missed or got wrong. The aim of this blog is help other like-minded English teachers to tackle this immeasurable beast of 2017 Eng Lit/Lang, not to misguide anyone!

This blog is all about how you can ensure that your students, whichever year they’re in (and, realistically, whichever subject they’re in!), are always focused on every aspect of an effective piece of writing (Lit or Lang). I use tick box peer assessment after all extended pieces of writing so that students can see exactly where they are and what they need to work on. Below, I discuss a Lang example, how to make them and why they are useful. Lit examples are included at the very bottom.


I am a strong believer in students, right from year 7 up to year 11, having their eyes on the prize and knowing exactly where their strengths and weaknesses are. However, how do you do that effectively in a climate where everything is changing, where the teacher is still learning what exactly everyone needs to know and workload is ever increasing meaning giving a student an accurate reflection on all of their skills is near impossible? Whilst it is certainly not a panacea, I swear by my method of peer/self-assessment as a way to ensure that all students thrive.


Step 1:

Find out what it is that the students need to be able to do before their exams. If we take 2017 AQA Eng Lang (for example), these are the two main AOs.

writing AOsOne could very easily just display this and explain what it means to students. However, we all know that teenage minds are 20% fluff, 40% daydream about their one true love, 30% hunger, 5% things they shouldn’t be thinking about and only 5% work… if that. Therefore, do we really expect them to not just smile and nod as we dissect these rather abstract AOs for them?

Thus, let’s look deeper into what they need to do. Below are examples of the mark scheme for the highest “Level” (Band in old speak…) but it is easy to see how it differentiates down.

writing mark schemewriting mark scheme 2

Step 2:

Turn the core ingredients of a high level answer into a list of success criteria for a piece of work (we are focusing on 2017, Eng Lang Paper 1, Section B at the moment) and display this in a table with “Yes”, “No” and “Sometimes”/”Not Consistent” at the end.

self assessment card cred

This is an example of a self-assessment card my top set year 9s completed for the specimen question about a train, with a couple of labels demonstrating how the mark scheme trickles down to this. As it is only for year 9, there are extra elements I would add in for a top set year 11. Nonetheless, it is indicative of how I use peer/self-assessment to fully dissect student strengths and weaknesses.

Step 3:

Add in any extra room for comments by students and then set the students free on the exam question/task you have designed. When they are done and you have given them time to proof-read their work, give each student a peer/self assessment card and a different coloured pen (my school’s policy is purple…) and set them free on marking.

Usually, after 1-2 attempts at the very start of the year with me fielding lots of questions and making sure that students take it seriously, students can complete this accurately AND provide effective comments (either to themselves or their peers) without much support from me, across any topic.

filled in peer ass rotated cred

As you can see, this student has many ticks in the “yes” column as it was his final assessment for the module. However, students have said how beneficial they find the cards at any point in their modules as they know exactly what they need to work on.

Step 4:

I then say that they must act on anything they got a “No” or a “Sometimes”/”Not consistent” in by redrafting that paragraph/sentence or looking up spellings for example. This soon trains them to go beyond what they initially thought they could do.



So why does it work and do you find that there are any issues with it?


  • I believe that it works because it gives students so much more detailed feedback than I ever could on so many pieces of work
    • Every piece of extended writing they do is peer or self assessed and then I pick pieces to also mark in depth and give specific improvement tasks on.
  • Moreover, this is a highly effective way to hit Ofsted guidance that there must be evidence of progress in books.
  • Also, it hits marking policies which require students to act on feedback.
  • Furthermore, students go beyond what they ever thought they could do.
    • Once you get past the idea of “Well, I’ve written it once so why do I have to write it again/improve upon it?!”, students start to improve massively because the next time they do a piece of writing they can look back at the clearly pointed out mistakes they made and avoid them from the start.
  • Additionally, it is differentiation to the max as every student has their own tasks to act upon and has incredibly detailed feedback.
  • BONUS: It really engages poorly behaved students as they start to compete over who got the most “Yes” ticks and it is also chunked into small enough piece for them to remain engaged.

Issues to avoid:

  • You must ban comments such as “write more” or “handwriting” and ensure they use the “yes” and “no” ticks to inform comments.
    • I HATED peer/self-assessment before I developed this as it is too easy for students to just write “Good work!” on a rubbish piece or to set themselves targets for next time which they totally ignore.
  • You must give them a suitable amount of time.
    • For a self-assessment card of this size, I would expect it to take a whole lesson to fill in the card and then act upon to a satisfactory standard. I often like to play music and call it a “chilled lesson” so that students believe it is easy when, in actual fact, they are going above and beyond their comfort zone.
  • Do make sure that you wander around the room for quality control.
    • When they are trained in how you would like them to do it, I would argue that it is MORE valuable than you always marking their books as it forces them to think about what the marker wants. However, you must always be monitoring them as:
      • a) All students deserve regular teacher marking
      • b) You will always get 1-2 students who don’t take it seriously…
        • …I often find that these students need a couple of experiences of re-doing it at break to get them back in the spirit of things… 😉

So there we have it…

My beloved peer/self-assessment cards! I use these roughly once a week with most of my classes (across all years) as it trains them to constantly be thinking about just how intricate a high quality piece of work is.

Give it a go and feel free to give me a comment and/or a tweet with any feedback. If it fails miserably for you, I am more than happy to talk through it with you further. I have recently trained the whole school on this and have seen success in Art, Maths, French and our EAL department (featuring some students who can barely read or write!) and they have loved it so, where there’s a will, there’s a way!

More examples of the cards:

peer ass An Farm cred

^An example of 2017 Eng Lit – Animal Farm (Explanations of PETAL/ PEEETTTAAAAL/ PETAETAETAAAAL coming soon in a blog!)

peer ass poetry cred

^An example of 2017 Eng Lit – Poetry

All peer/self-assessment cards are my own. Thanks to AQA for the screenshots of AOs and mark schemes etc.