In Search of a GCSE ‘Pass’


This is an article to celebrate the success of a student and of further success for a teaching approach defined by the concept of Learning Intelligence or LQ. Read on.

It was very late in the last academic year (2016-2017), in March actually, when I was asked if I could work with a Y11 student. The subject this time was maths and the target a ‘pass’ at GCSE (a grade C or as of 2017, a grade 4). School predictions and targets suggested this was a significant challenge, especially given the short timescale and me meeting the student only once a week for an hour.  This was an opportunity for demonstrating my approach centred on my concept of Learning Intelligence (LQ) and learning needs (PBCF).

I can report that we were successful, “We” because this was a learning partnership and this is what my student had to say

“I just wanted to let you know that I got my GCSE results today and I got a 4 in maths which is the pass mark and what I have never achieved before. I am super happy and it means I have a confirmed place at college but I couldn’t of done it without your help and strategies to help me get through the exam… .”

So what had we done to achieve such a welcome result?

Essentially the approach is to see learning as a problem-solving activity, this helps in negating the emotional link to failure and personal self-doubt. Once this is accepted the limiting subject perceptions become secondary to the learning challenge and we can get on with finding ways of solving the learning problem, of managing our learning environment to meet our learning needs.

Please Be Child Friendly

Any teacher will know you need a willing student but also one who is confident and has a degree of self-belief. The student also needs to trust their teacher and have a learning relationship with them. Achieving this is my first step and uses the learning needs approach I have developed of PBCF.

PBCF” stands for Power, Belonging, Choice and Fun and each element needs to be in place first before learning challenges can be set.

So, even with very little time available to me, this was my priority and strategies were used to first establish a sense of belonging, of me knowing enough about the learner in order to understand who they are and where they are and create a partnership. It is also important that the student knows something about their teacher, the sort of things that build in them hope and confidence.

This was then followed by power, effectively this means listening. It means giving the student a voice and recognising their emotional state in terms of learning. Anyone who feels powerless is unlikely to engage in any challenge. This stage is vital in understanding the barriers to learning that the student holds.

Offering a choice as to how we were going to tackle the challenge together is an essential part of the strategy and supports the first two. This in practical terms means creating both a coaching and mentoring environment.

Finally, our learning relationship had to have a sense of fun but more importantly tying this to achievement, we needed to celebrate our successes and find fun in learning.

I also encouraged my student to take the concept of PBCF with them into the school environment and use it when faced with learning challenges. The benefit of this approach is that of improving their awareness of the impact of not having learning needs met on their ability to learn. This helps significantly especially when we have an over compliant student who does not express their learning needs well in the school environment or a teacher who is not ‘listening’.

Solving the learning problem

Finding ways of overcoming the learning challenges, of solving the problem,  is the second part of the strategy and involves developing the four aspects of LQ. I define these as:

  • learning Skills,
  • Attitudes,
  • Attributes and
  • Behaviours

The advantages of seeing learning as a problem-solving activity are highlighted when we employ LQ.

Let’s consider an electrician as an example of a problem-solving approach. In repairing or rewiring a house in addition to the necessary knowledge we would expect him, or her, to:

  1. have a developed set of skills associated with the task,
  2. have the ‘right’ attitude, to do a good job and to not give up and walk away
  3. demonstrate attributes such as flexibility or creativity in completing the task
  4. behave in such a way as to be both professional and polite.

A deficiency in any of these aspects on the part of the electrician will limit their ability to solve the problem. So it is with learning but if we do not integrate LQ into learning within the school context, and instead focus on subjects, students see themselves as unable to learn a subject rather than lacking any of the elements of LQ to solve the learning problem.

My work with my student focused in a very short space of time in assessing their LQ and working to develop those elements that were necessary for them to solve a learning problem themselves. It does not just have to be maths either, any subject or topic of learning can be tackled in the same way. Often I find that once a student sees learning in this way they quickly adapt and their self-belief as a learner blossoms as does their confidence.

Can you scale up this approach?

My nearly 40 years of teaching experience says yes you can. The approach I have outlined was used in a developing literacy and coaching model successfully used by an independent tutoring service. The issue of scaling up 1:1 coaching successes with larger groups was considered by Bloom in his 2 Sigma question. The problem in achieving this most often results from sticking with the original teacher/learner mindset and approach. Changing an approach is simple, in fact it is probably the easiest and least costly change you can make in teaching and learning. It will certainly have the biggest return.

What about maths

On a subject-specific note, that of maths, since it is one of the least favoured subjects amongst adults and children alike, I strongly advise that we need to treat it like a language if we want students to become confident in tackling the learning problems it presents.

Think for a moment how much time we use written and spoken language each day compared to maths. Much of our day is taking up with talking, reading or listening. We even use language when thinking so it is no wonder we are conversant in it.  How much of your day is spent on the four basic mathematical functions, those of adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing?  One of my strategies with any student I work within the area of maths is to increase this time significantly by asking them to play number games with their family and by looking around them for number patterns and associations in everyday life and when out and about. Try it and you will soon see the difference.

See for yourself and take the LQ, PBCF challenge

If you are interested in PBCF and LQ and how it can help your students, your own children or teaching then get in touch. I can arrange 1:1 sessions with parents, teachers and all the way through to group work and whole school CPD either here in the UK or indeed anywhere I am asked thanks to technology.

You can contact me here:

Wishing you success in your learning challenges


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About 4c3d

"4c3d" (AcEd) is the abbreviation for Advocating Creativity in education, a company I set up to challenge how we think about and deliver education. The blog champions my concept of Learning intelligence, how we manage our learning environment to meet our learning needs.

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