Longer lessons help to boost school’s grades

The Times, 30.08.15, longer lessons to enable bright pupils to spend longer immersing themselves in ideas, topics or tasks helped Manchester Grammar School to push its GCSE results even higher this summer. HMC Head Martin Boulton features.

A rejig of the timetable means that pupils have six lessons a day, rather than seven, each running for 50 minutes instead of 40.

“We have slightly longer in the classroom, which works for bright pupils who can concentrate for those lengths of time,” says Martin Boulton, the high master of Manchester Grammar. “I have always been a fan of having slightly longer lessons. There are fewer changeovers, so you are actually losing less time with pupils moving around between lessons.

“The other thing is that always at the start of a lesson, and to some extent at the end of a lesson, you lose some time because kids are just settling down and getting ready to work, and so you have less wasted lesson time. For bright pupils who really want to get stuck into a subject it just allows you to do that bit more.”

Two years ago the school hit its target of 90 per cent of GCSE entries being awarded grades of A or A*; this summer the figure went up again to reach 92 per cent, with just over 70 per cent at A*.

Dr Boulton says that the improvement cannot be traced to any single thing, but there has been a school-wide focus on teaching and attainment. Another change was much smaller tutor groups, with 12 pupils to a teacher, half their previous size.

He also introduced a monitoring system to track the academic progress of all pupils, not just those who were falling behind, which he says pushes middle-ability boys to work harder. This tracking of progress is more advanced in many state schools, he says, and was a key reason for the big improvements in GCSE results in London’s state secondary schools over the past decade.

The summer’s results made Manchester Grammar the top-performing independent school at GCSE level outside London and the southeast. Dr Boulton, who took over two years ago, having previously been under master (or deputy head) at Westminster School, says that schools like his have a wider ability range and take boys at 11 rather than 13. He also has 220 boys on bursaries, with an average figure of 92 per cent fee remission.

“Actually we add more value than some of the big headline schools in central London, where there can be über-selection because of the nature of the market there, but we have a smaller uptake of independent education in the north,” he says.

“Selection at 13 rather than 11 gives you a slight advantage. The key thing here it is all about having value. We have an entrance exam which is highly selective but we are not in the ten-to-one applications that you would get at King’s, Wimbledon, or at Westminster or at St Paul’s.

“There is a real need to focus on a slightly wider ability range and say how are we going to add value to all of these pupils rather than just relying on ‘we have just got the best kids’ and it being a knife fight in a telephone box in London to decide who are the best group and who gets them.”

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