How To Improve A-Level Attainment

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Alice England

Studying for a PhD in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Sheffield, Alice became heavily involved in the university outreach program. As a result of these experiences, she completed a PGCE in Secondary Science at the University of Nottingham and began teaching in 2012. Since...
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How can you bridge the ability gap at A level?

We often think of A Level students as being ‘high-attainers’; the ones who are most-able to tackle the demands of a challenging specification. More often than not, however, we face mixed ability classes which combine the high flyers and the least able all in one; we are then faced with the task of progressing each and every one of those students.

5 Strategies For Raising Attainment

It seems like a daunting task, but what I have learnt is that it doesn’t need to be, and with a bit of preparation and careful management, every pupil will be able to access the curriculum.

Here are some ideas that I find the most helpful for raising attainment for all ability levels.

1. Regular Recall Quizzes

Even A* students need to know the basics, so recall tests and quizzes as starters or as homework are great for all students. Throwing in a few random questions from last week’s topics will keep them on their toes.

2. Peer Support

Using the most able to support others is not a new concept and can have mixed results. Sometimes students respond positively to peer teaching and sometimes it can make the divide between the abilities even greater. However, one way of addressing this is to use peer support in a more structured way, with year 13 students attending and helping out at structured support sessions (for example at a lunch time or after school).

This has a number of benefits – it shows year 12 students the progression into year 13, weaker students in Year 13 will benefit from recapping the Year 12 material by teaching younger students and all year 12 students would benefit from the support from year 13. It can be developed further with a mentoring scheme, where year 13 can be recognised in school for their support and therefore, strengthen university applications.

3. Mark It Yourself

“Where did I lose the marks Miss?”

Make students figure it out by not telling them where they dropped the marks. Make students look back over their answers, find the correct/relevant information and then improve their responses – thereby actively developing their understanding.

4. Teaching and Learning Strategies

Ensuring all students, especially lower ability ones, are fully engaged in the material covered is of utmost importance. When left to their own devises, many students will merrily highlight large chunks of text or copy out whole pages from the textbook without giving the information a second thought. To avoid this, use more active techniques to help them engage with and retain the information being covered.

5. This is ‘What a grade A looks like?’

Always share examples of what an A grade piece of work should look like – either by using model answers for students to mark, or by developing ideas in class in the style of an auction. This works by asking the lower ability students to contribute their ideas first, and then the higher ability students are not only challenged towards the end, but the whole class then has access to more detail which has been developed by the whole group.

The importance of high expectations cannot be underestimated – students raise their game to meet those standards, so sharing examples of high level work will show all learners what is expected of them.

I hope your A Level students attain the grades they deserve.


5 thoughts on “How To Improve A-Level Attainment

  1. Thank you ! – as an “experienced”, ie rather ancient History teacher, idea of using yr 13s to coach/support year 12s , is , for me, one of those glaringly obvious ” light bulb” -can’t believe I haven’t thought of it – KISS ideas . Absolute winner for all involved.

  2. I love this. Do you have any other strategies that i can share with staff as a form of CPD?



  3. Hi Alice,

    Thank you for your article, and I hope you may read this comment despite the fact the article is a few years old.

    Myself and a colleague are creating a series of CPD sessions for staff at our school as part of a new role trying to bridge the gap between education research and classroom practice. This time round we are looking into the differences between teaching strategies we use for different age groups, and mainly the reasons why we choose those different strategies.

    I was wondering where your top 5 come from. Are they purely from your own experience as a teacher trying different ideas out or from sources you have read first then tried out in class?

    Many thanks,

  4. Hi does anyone have any ideas/experience about the creation of a robust performance orientated learning program for sixth form? Thank you so much – any help gratefully received!

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