Assessment for Learning

Brooklands College

In this project we set out to try to understand the barriers our students face when trying to engage with a non-fiction text within a classroom or examination situation. We then hoped to identify strategies to help them overcome such barriers.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


Brooklands College is a Further Education college based on two campuses, one in Weybridge, Surrey and the other in Ashford, Middlesex. We are proud to be one of Surrey’s largest providers of vocational training and Further and Higher Education.
Our course offering is diverse and our teaching excels. The support we provide for our students is also excellent and is recognised as one of our key drivers for success.

The college has been awarded ‘Good’ by Ofsted following the college’s December 2019 inspection, stating that the College fosters “a close community between learners and teachers.”


We had four main objectives. We hoped to:

  • develop the learners’ ability to identify the barriers in engaging with reading
  • work with a learner cohort in finding pathways around these barriers
  • support the learner cohort in creating a bank of reading resources which map across GCSE exam requirements but are more student-centric
  • support the learner cohort in developing questions on the reading resources which are related to the assessment objectives of 9-1 GCSE English.

As a result, we hoped that learners would have a greater awareness of themselves as learners, their study skills and their potential. We hoped too that learners would feel more confident when approaching reading texts and we planned to build a bank of student-centric GCSE texts and exam papers to support classroom delivery and promote student engagement.


We recruited a team of lecturers and student researchers to develop approaches for Phase 1. These approaches were tested with the GCSE student cohort using exemplar reading materials, discussion and questionnaires. In Phase 2 we planned to put our approach into practice and assess its impact.

Phase 1:
Locate exemplar GCSE texts.
The project team decided to focus on the non-fiction texts for Paper 2 in the AQA exam, as the fiction texts of Paper 1 could be seen as more subjective in their appeal.

• Work with these resources to identify where engagement is lost and why.
We started with a generic visual approach to understanding where engagement began to falter.

• Note the factors which engage and disengage students
We developed a more thorough approach in identifying the factors that disengage learners by creating a questionnaire for the GCSE cohort. The GCSE cohort fed back on this and we developed another questionnaire to catch more information.

• Create a bank of reading resources to meet the required elements of GCSE, but which would also be likely to engage learners in their content and format.
We researched and located a series of linked resources (contemporary and 19th Century non-fiction texts) that met with initial factors for engagement and then formatted them to ensure they met the further requirements.

Phase 2:
• Develop questions which are more student-centric and meet the requirements of the GCSE English AOs.

The project team realised that only three questions of the five were barriers to engagement and developed alternative examples.

• Apply these questions to texts selected from the reading resource bank
We were able to put together a series of papers ready for testing. One was completed with questions.

• Trial papers with the GCSE English cohort and collect the feedback using the developed questionnaire.
Given the timescale of the project we were unable to trial the resources as fully as we had planned.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

The lecturers within the project team were asked to evaluate their participation and identify any changes to their teaching, learning and assessment practices.
They reported that they had gained:

  • a greater understanding of the barriers to engagement which will inform lesson planning and delivery in the future;
  • an increased confidence in finding new resources in a move away from the tried (tired) and tested;
  • a greater awareness of the AO requirement of the GCSE which will impact on lesson planning and delivery;
  • an increased respect for the ability of students to work collaboratively with tutors.

We plan to build on these insights in the planning, development and implementation of next year’s curriculum.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

The creation of a lecturer/student collaborative project team is an innovative approach within the college and is something we would like to pursue in different contexts going forward. It promoted equality and diversity in seeking to involve a cross section of the college’s members, students and lecturers alike.

The scheduling of classes for the project team was new and necessitated redeployment of staff and resources.

Project findings were used in some departmental CPD in December, exploring ‘the aesthetics of a study text’. This involved a workshop where English and maths lecturers on GCSE and Functional Skills programmes discussed the project findings regarding resources and questions.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

Quantifying learner achievement and progression at this early stage is difficult, as the student volunteers and GCSE cohort are yet to sit their final exams. However, we can say that student confidence in their ability to overcome barriers to reading seems to have improved, with clear potential for increased achievement.

“I feel as if I know more about me and why I don’t read so much. I reckon I could do better in the exam now”

“Now I know what they want me to write, I’m sure I can do better.”

Student comments

“It’s good having students to discuss the project with, I’m really impressed with some of the ideas they’ve come up with.”

“Retrospectively, I can see why the formatting of the texts including a photograph could make such a big difference.”

Lecturer comments

It is also evident that identifying barriers to engagement in reading activities involving the students has helped them self-assess their own learning. This capacity should promote a better achievement rate, as shown in the generic visual approach and in the questionnaire feedback.

Learning from this project

Phase 1
• Commonality in AQA paper texts. Whilst it is clear that initial texts were selected as examples of persuasive writing, this seems to have tailed off
and has been replaced by what may appear to be more accessible topics for students e.g. surfing and sailing.

• Barriers to engagement. We found that while the topic of a text is a key factor in the engagement/disengagement of a student, another important factor seems to be the formatting of the text on a page. This is not always linked to the length of the text but also to the use of paragraphing and pictures.

• Preferred themes. Students seemed to move away from the “heavy” texts relating to world affairs and significant historical events. They preferred more “popcorn” topics such as social activities and popular media. These themes include: crime, fame, recreational activities, horror, sport, the supernatural, prison and disasters.

• Bank of resources. This research and selected process has been challenging but effective. It would have been better if we had identified this process within our learning aims, as the adaptive nature of this individual research provided some great results.

• Formatting of text including pictures. Our understanding of what worked on the page based on the research was key in formatting the texts. In future it would be good to look at the presentation of this in a multi-media format.

Phase 2
• Adaptation of questions. This was a particularly valuable task and is something we will roll out as part of lesson content going forward. We developed alternative versions for exam questions 2, 3 and 4.

• Assessment of final papers. The project was divided into two phases but we were unsure how long these activities would take. We were able to get further into phase 2 than we perhaps expected but a full trial of the created papers was not possible in the timeframe of the project. The papers will be rolled out within the college as lesson resources later in the spring term and as revision materials at the start of the summer term, and feedback sought thereafter.