An interview with one of Ashbourne’s most successful teachers of Government and Politics.


What are the most critical factors behind the academic success of your subject in the last five years?

It is a combination of various factors

  • Expert subject knowledge; strong relations and close liaison with other teachers who share my groups. Detailed knowledge of all specification requirements and the assessment objective. Early finishing of the specification to allow for an extensive revision period. No stone unturned approach to accuracy and detail.
  • Always set ambitious expectations for students. There should be no cap or limits on aiming for the best grades.
  • Enthusiasm and passion for the subject combined with a love of teaching; genuine interest in the subject matter; keeping up with the latest political developments.
  • The use of writing frames at the beginning of the course to encourage good habits amongst students.
  • Sound communication skills, specifically the ability to simplify complex issues to aid clarity and understanding, as well as providing instantaneous feedback on assignments.
  • Zero tolerance of low standards; always aim to deliver a clear structure for each lesson and lots and lots of homework for consolidation and feedback.


How do you inspire and motivate students?

I tend towards making them understand that they are capable of anything if they put their minds to it. I also inspire students with my own passion and knowledge of the subjects.


How do you deal with underperforming students?

Underperforming students fall into different categories. For those who simply aren’t working hard enough, there needs to be early intervention strategies. For those who underperform due to lack of confidence, they need both psychological support and a strategy that will raise their performance level to boost that confidence. When those students overcome their self-doubt and achieve good grades, they are capable of producing the most satisfying of all results. Patience and kindness are also key.


What are the most common mistakes of students that stop them from realising their potential?

It is always the basics. I insist early on, on the fundamentals which I call politics essay basics. I usually hold a session every half term to straighten out all the mistakes that have been made over the course of that half term.


What is your approach to teaching – in and outside the classroom?

Early on, the presentation of the material is the key. This should be done swiftly and effectively. Scaffolding is also important, building layers of complexity upon firm foundations. Marking is stricter than the board’s, and this allows for stretching and challenging the students to reach a higher standard. Stimulating and interesting materials are also crucial. Later in the year, the structure within the classroom is flipped and I take the role of a moderator. Here the students take the lead and fill the space in the classroom. Outside of the classroom, I insist that each student sees me one-to-one immediately after they have received their feedback to reinforce the points made. Interventions also take place outside the classroom for poorly performing students.


What is your view towards imposing discipline vs independent learning among students?

I am not sure that these are binary oppositions. Independent learning is best when students have high levels of self-discipline. This is why the early establishment of high standards in all areas is so important. Minor or repeated small infractions (not wearing a lanyard, late submission of work) are very strong indicators of a failure to reach academic potential.


What makes the teaching and learning environment at Ashbourne unique?

Brilliant staff who are experts in their subjects. Teaching staff who genuinely love teaching at Ashbourne. Deep care for the students' welfare and academic progress. All of these produce students who value and deeply care about their membership in the Ashbourne community. Happy students are more likely to be successful students.


Your view on extracurricular activities and whether they add value to students’ academic performance

Extracurricular activities are great for bonding and enhancing the sense of community. They deepen students' understanding of their subject and enhance their critical reasoning skills. They allow students to better apprehend cross-curricular links and for non-academic activities. They enhance the sense of belonging to a community that I alluded to earlier.



This article was written by Mike Kirby, Principal, Ashbourne A level college

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