Zoë's Blog

Advice and musings of an independent English specialist
For 2020 exam students and families…

For 2020 exam students and families…


This is for 2020 exam students and their families.

I wanted to address 2020 because for exam students and their families this year has been very different. As an English teacher and tutor I wanted to impart my thoughts on the results.
Ultimately, whilst this has been a stressful year for students, families and teachers with little control, we CAN control how we respond to the situation 😊
It was this response which ensured the government u turn on A Levels.



Great results?

If your results are good – fantastic! I’m delighted for you.

Tell me how you did and what you plan to do next…everyone loves a success story and yours matters.


Disappointed with results?

If you’re disappointed with your results, it’s okay to be disappointed. We are only human. Please know that your dreams aren’t over because of one set of exam results. You can still do what you want to do but it might take you longer to get there.
That’s okay because life is for living and no one gets to kill your dream. You’re in charge, even if the dream is delayed in its realisation.
I’ll be watching, listening and I will be thinking of all A Level and GCSE students at this time. And I’ll be here waiting to hear how you got on. If you’re a parent – I’m happy to talk and advise.

There will be the opportunity to sit these exams again if that’s your choice.

As for A Levels…you may be delayed at worst…or opt to amend the journey slightly…but the dream isn’t over.


Remember this is 2020

It’s never over and this is 2020. It is unprecedented and everyone knows this. No one is judging you for the cohort you find yourself in.
Make sure you have someone to talk to about your results and know that there are lots of kind, supportive people out there.
People care about this and about you.
If you’re a teacher/ tutor I’m sure you’ll agree and be supportive regardlesss of what happens.
I am thinking of you all.


To hear my thoughts on exams listen to the replay of my interview Chelmsford Community Radio 104.4 FM on 24th August 2020 at 9pm (around 36 minutes in).  In this City Talk Nita Jhummu talks to students, parents and teachers about the latest #examfiasco and that famous #algorithm ! 😱 City Talk is on CCR 104.4FM in Chelmsford and online every Monday 8pm-10pm.
How do I find the best (English GCSE) tutor?

How do I find the best (English GCSE) tutor?

A guide for parents and students of all ages on selecting the right tutor to work with you.


Are you struggling to find the best private English GCSE tutor for you or for your child? 


Or maybe it’s not even for English – but another subject? Maths?


You are not alone. 


It is unsurprising that now a quarter of secondary school children have private tutors.


And many adults need help in the wake of GCSE resits and other mandatory credentials.


Whilst tutoring is an aspirational act to some, there are some rogue tutors out there.


So knowing who you’re dealing with is crucial.


So how do you know who to choose?


Many have asked “How do I find the best English GCSE tutor?”


“How do I find the best tutor for [insert subject here]?”


Whilst there are financial constraints and necessary checks – tutoring clearly works.


It does work – I should know.


Here are three questions to ask in order to find the right (English) tutor for you.


1. Do they have enough subject knowledge?


Ask yourself:

  • Do they have an English / [insert relevant subject] degree? 
  • Did they achieve an excellent degree pass? Check qualifications.
  • Is there any evidence they currently write? (For anyone? / in their respective field?)
  • Have they taught the credential before? 
  • And have they taught students before?
  • Can they actually teach well? Ask previous students.
  • What’s their pass rate? Find out.
  • How long have they been teaching this specification? They ought to tell you.


You ought to find out this information at once. 

It will help you to decide if the tutor has the knowledge and abilities you need.


They should tell you about themselves (example here).


And be happy to show you their setting and work.


And if they want to tutor you online their website should be fun and easy to use – like mine 🙂 


But there are are many tutors around. Especially online tutors – so do your research. It’s worth it.


You should also ask yourself…


2. Do they connect with people and with you?


Think about it. You (or your child) want to learn from this person.


Whether you’re an adult, teen, or parent – learning can feel like a vulnerable place. 


Are they approachable?


This person must be trustworthy, kind and considerate.


They must care about their students.

Ask yourself:

  • How do they come across face to face/ online?
  • Are they posting online regularly and do you like their message?
  • Do you feel you can get to know them online?
  • Are they happy to answer your questions?
  • How do they help people? What have they done and what are they currently doing for others?
  • Are there any FREE resources/ classes/ groups available to see if you or your child could learn from them?


Don’t underestimate this stuff. It matters a great deal if you or your child are to learn successfully. 

It needs to be comfortable to learn and that means connection is key. 

Do you feel you know them?

And if you’re a parent of a child tutored face to face – does your tutor invite you to observe their teaching every session? They ought to.


And finally….


3. Do their efforts outweigh their costs?


We all know 1-2-1 tuition sessions cost money.


And generally the best tutors aren’t cheap. They’re the pros who have been perfecting this for years.


But their efforts must outweigh their costs. 


GCSE English Language / Literature are important exams. If you cannot pass Language you’ll have to resit.


It’s the same for other core subjects and any other exam you care about.


People can get stuck and no one wants to fail. 


Of course everyone wants to pass first time so their tutor may look this DELIGHTED on Results Day (yes, I was really HAPPY) 🙂

That means your tutor’s efforts must be equal to or worth more than their cumulative hourly rate.


Look at:

  • Their integrity.
  • Teaching abilities, including personal connection.
  • Quality of feedback.
  • Kindness.


Research the tutor. Talk to previous students. Read their website and blog. Ask questions. 


And if after all that you’re not satisfied – move on.


Life is too short. Tutoring is too expensive to get the wrong tutor.


Do your research with these three questions in mind to find the right person.

And if you still need some help with English I’m always happy to advise 🙂


I can’t help with Maths though (although this lady can – her online tutorials are great!)


How I help students

read more…

Unhappy with English GCSE Result(s)? An English Teacher’s Advice

Unhappy with English GCSE Result(s)? An English Teacher’s Advice

Unhappy with English GCSE Result(s)? An English Teacher’s Advice…. Before I start, I’m going to admit (no haters please) – I’m lucky. I’m lucky because I am definitely NOT unhappy with English GCSE Result(s).  All my students passed 100%. I’m delighted. And I’m elated. I am also so happy for them – and I’m happy for the many of you out there who may have passed one of your English GCSEs and are now working on your second (whether that be Literature or Language). I’m happy for all of you who worked very hard. That said, if you are…

Unhappy with English GCSE Result(s)? Here’s An English Teacher’s Advice

Firstly, believe me when I say – I’m happy for all of you who sat GCSEs this summer – whatever your result. I’m proud of everyone who tried.


However, I know that for some, the numbers in their school’s Progress 8, the grade boundaries and the notion of ‘academic achievement’ don’t reward them. Those scoring below a grade 4 in their English Language GCSE will have to resit or seek an alternative, equivalent qualification to proceed with their further study / access various job roles. This is very tough for the person who made a monumental effort just to steady themselves in that exam hall, sit that exam and do their best.  For that student – it is a big deal – given their relative experience(s) of the education system.


What about those with a grade 3 or below you ask? What would I advise to those people who tried their best, but are facing English Language GCSE resits?

Unhappy with English GCSE Result(s)? An English Teacher’s Advice

Here it is…


Take stock.

Whatever grade you achieved – you know if you tried or not – and that’s what matters, truly. Resits and tuition may come, but you know yourself better than anyone else. Take stock and notice how much progress you’ve made before contemplating your future plans.


Get some help.

Chances are you’ve done your best and just missed a grade – if that’s the case you may need to try something new. They say the definition of madness is ‘to keep trying the same things and expect different results’. Now is the time to change something – it doesn’t have to be big, you could tweak your working style, your support network, get a tutor, ask a friend – whatever it is get some help for the November resit.


You need to read!

Whilst that may sound like a line from the film Top Gun – chances are your resit is in the English Language GCSE. Rarely do students resit Literature. In my view English Language is harder than Literature. This is because, unlike Literature, you cannot read a set text, learn quotes and apply pre-learnt ideas (I mean that’s not the ideal way to learn it anyway, but many do…). With Language it’s a real test of your comprehension skills for an unseen text. To cope with this requirement, you need to be reading and understanding new texts regularly. These may be novels, blogs with challenging vocabulary or non-fiction magazines around a subject you love (again there needs to be some challenging text in there!)


Whatever you do – please don’t feel down. Many have faced the GCSE resit struggle in tough subjects and they have surmounted it. You CAN DO THIS and I’m here for all those who want to make it!


Happy Studies! ?

Zoë Sophie


Teacher | Tutor | English Specialist


PS: If you need any help, advice or resources – please do not hesitate to contact me or to request to join my closed Facebook Help Group.


Want students to learn? Three key points for contentment.

Want students to learn? Three key points for contentment.

Want students to learn? Here it is. September. And we’re in the thick of it already. Schools are propelling students forth at a frantic pace. The kids are getting jittery. The teachers are headstrong. And then there’s me, still teaching but not so fraught. Not yet anyway.

So yes, I shall go and say what you probably already know – ‘if you want your students to learn – we all need to be content’.

We need staff and students to be content – content doesn’t mean happy – it’s more stable than that.

Students must be calm, measured and able to think. That doesn’t come easily in certain environments where teachers are shouting at them.

And I know that’s hardly rocket science, but it needs affirmation.

And I feel I am now in a sufficiently objective place to state it.

Yes, I am still working in a school teaching English to small groups for their ‘intervention’. Of course, I also tutor English to students for KS3 English and their English GCSE preparation.

However, full time classroom teacher I am not. And this matters because I am now seeing what (perhaps) I once was – either recently or years ago in state sector.

What have I noticed since switching back from my three years in a private school to the state sector, you ask?

Here are my three main observations which I believe lead to the best outcomes for students and staff.

1. Class sizes matter.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I haven’t read the myriad of reserach on class sizes. I am keenly aware that context is key and many factors influence learning outcomes aside from the student-teacher ratio.

Hattie has stated that a reduction in class size from thirty-five to twenty-five pupils only brings a small improvement and the teaching itself must change in relation to the numbers to have a great effect.

Sure. I concede context and pedagogy (teaching) are crucial. However, what we seem to be missing from our studies is the focus on what is arguably very important: the emotional side to teaching.

I assert that teaching is not purely an art or a science. Teaching is a mix of the ability to be many things to many people, whilst still imparting valuable subject knowledge.

In order to enthuse – one must know the audience and that means really knowing their students. This means knowing how they think, feel, respond and what is most likely to interest them.

I am not alleging that those teaching large class sizes do not do this. However, it is harder.

With forty-one students to one teacher (maybe more – I’ve read of cases of sixty students in a room!) – there will be days when that teacher is swamped with demands, decisions and tasks which will inevitably distance teacher from student(s) and (at least temporarily) impede their ability to engage with those students.

Lower the number of students in the room and you reduce the statistical probability of problems, whether they be: bad behaviour, misunderstandings or just too much noise to think. And yes, that does happen to adults too. Just pity the image of someone like me overwhelmed by the noise in the corridor at changeover time. Or worse still – me embarking on a trip to a packed shopping centre! Ekk!

Want students to learn? Three key points for contentment.

With fewer students in the room. The chances are there will be less distractions and distance between individual teacher and student. This means teachers MAY find it easier to engage meaningfully with their students.

And this leads me to my second observation.

2. Connection – not a response – makes life better.

Again, I concede this sounds obvious. But if we draw upon the teachings of the likes of Brené Brown on ‘sympathy versus empathy’ (below) it is evident that ‘rarely can a response make something better, what makes something better is connection’ and to get a connection – we need the time and space to know our students and to develop an understanding of them.

I’m lucky – I get to teach individual tutees. I get to really know them and I can tell when they’re anxious or having an ‘off’ day and I may tailor my lesson to that experience. Obviously this is because I care about them and I want them to be contented and rational – but I also want them to pass their English GCSE too – and we don’t get there with distressed people.

Think about it. Have you tried learning from someone you don’t like?

Think of a boss, colleague, ex partner or friend that has upset you. Would you engage with them to learn a new skill? I imagine you would not relish this idea.

Now try it in a subject you dislike and have actively not chosen (a core subject, like Maths) – how does it sound now? Almost impossible I’d say?

And if you disliked that person, or at the very least, you found them irksome or monotonous – wouldn’t you seek out someone else or at least avoid that dull person? No luck for students, they’re stuck in that class – at least for a year.

Most students (I’m happy to say) do not actively dislike their teachers, but sometimes, just sometimes on those terribly fraught, busy days I do notice things.

I notice very overwhelmed teachers inadvertently ‘screening out’ distraction and excess noise. Unfortunately, that ‘noise’ can sometimes mean a student enters the classroom without so much as a ‘hello’, ‘good morning’, or ‘hiya, how are you today?’

It’s not teacher meanness. It’s survival.

This survival instinct kicks in when your timetable is rammed, you have a stack of marking, endless meetings, a display to rearrange and your computer is so slow you cannot access basic functions like printing. This is reality.

Most teachers do care – but they must also survive. It is this survival which costs connection and there is an impact.

Want students to learn? Three key points for contentment.

3. Measuring ‘connection’ in relation to student outcomes is almost impossible; yet the results are overwhelming.

A paradox I suppose. I have been / I am a cover supervisor, trainee teacher, qualified classroom teacher, learning support assistant, English interventionist and private tutor. All these roles involve varying numbers of students and stimuli at any one time.

However, clearly if parents are paying for their children to be privately tutored there must be something in it. Clearly 1-2-1 tutoring aids learning, there’s the time to ask questions and explore a subject in a level of detail one would not necessarily dare ask in a class full of other students, each with their own agenda and internal judgements.

But if it were just about ‘subject knowledge’ that wouldn’t explain the cases when I’ve had students turn up to me late in the year, facing their GCSE exam and stressing – wondering how they will pass. There is no way I would subject them to in depth subject knowledge without assuaging their fears and really finding out how they got to where they are and how I may calm them sufficiently such that they may learn.

I need my students to be content – not happy – but calm, rational and open to my teaching.

It really does help if they like me, but at least, if I am respectful and kind to them – I find the mutual consideration and liking usually follows. This must happen for them to learn. And it has. I’ve helped students to turn things around – even when they’ve come to me as late as March knowing little for that May/ June exam.

In order for students to learn and staff to be sane – we all need to be content.

We need the space, time and ability to connect with our students for them to learn; I doubt that is easy when too many demands drown out the connection.

Summer is over; progress and achievement are in

Summer is over; progress and achievement are in

It’s finally here – September! This has led me to think ‘summer is over; progress and achievement are in’. Yet whilst the summer holidays may be over – our intensions to make progress and achieve excellence in English are only just beginning.

Wasn’t summer wonderful!? It felt like it would go on forever – excursions to Wales, visits with family and friends, summer walks along the beach (pictured), time to read, time to think…and then suddenly – September is here. Time for coffee.

Back to school, back to early morning starts, bad traffic and classroom interaction. Some of those are true for me – but for those who were unaware – I no longer endure bad traffic.

Spare a thought for those in Chelmsford who have to battle the Army and Navy roundabout each day, minus flyover. The news spells disaster as council officials and government officials scratch their head for a timely, cost-effective solution (there isn’t one). My sympathy only extends so far – as this has been a problem for years – but as always with government the cogs of action are painfully slow.

But not for us: GCSE English students and teachers! We move fast, within minutes of being back in school there is focus on results, Ofsted and getting busy with work.

Here is mine! This website is up and running, FREEBIEs created, mailing responses primed and videos recorded. I have to say this website proved to be (and still is) quite the learning curve. As someone who is not technical and cannot code – I have learned much about interacting with WordPress over these last few months. It just goes to prove you are never too old to learn anything – if I can do this – you can PASS YOUR ENGLISH GCSE with flying colours.

Here’s to a great academic year with much progress and achievement.

Happy Studies! ?

Zoë Sophie


Teacher | Tutor | English Specialist


PS: If you need any help, advice or resources – please do not hesitate to contact me or to request to join my closed Facebook Help Group.

Thank you and goodbye (for now) English students

Thank you and goodbye (for now) English students

Thank you and goodbye (for now) English students.

I am so incredibly lucky to have had such lovely English students this year from Thorpe Hall and Chelmsford. So many ‘thank yous’,  some ‘goodbyes’ – but hopefully not forever (as I always like to know how my students fared in the exam and what they’re doing afterwards). However, this is only Thank you and goodbye (for now) from my English students.

I do hope to hear from them and to find out how they are doing.

Teaching is a choice, tutoring is often a necessity for many but enjoying one’s work is a gift. Here’s to a well-earned summer and rest and a fabulous bunch of kids who have made my job worthwhile. Thank you so much for your kind words – it means so much.  I’ll sip many a sip (of gin, red wine etcetera) to you!


I have subsequently heard GOOD NEWS regarding the GCSE results!

I hear my students have subsequently ALL passed their English GCSEs!!! They are now pursuing their dreams in further education (such as Sam)

And Finn too!

And the best news of all is – I hear they are all HAPPY 🙂

And so am I.

Thank you to all the GCSE English students for their hard work, enthusiasm and cheer during the run up to these GCSEs – it is always a pleasure to teach curious minds who enjoy hearing and telling stories.

People have a thirst for stories in English lessons.

I have found that no matter what the adversity or challenge there may be in English lessons – by tapping into the love of stories most students find something they are passionate about. This passion can be turned into writing, which can be turned into marks to award for the GCSE.

The fact that everyone passed this year is testament to the fact that English is a subject for everyone if you can find the right interest.

Look at the Pass English GCSE Chelmsford ‘office’

Look at the Pass English GCSE Chelmsford ‘office’

Look at the Pass English GCSE Chelmsford ‘office’.

The Chelmsford ‘office’ renovations have been going well. I am now able to cater for face to face English GCSE tuition for AQA, Edexcel and other exam boards.

Much time has been spent turning this portion of the house into a worthy tutoring setting. This is informally termed ‘the Pass English GCSE office. I am based in Chelmsford, Essex.

And you can see some success in the photos below 🙂

I am SO lucky to have so many wonderful tutees, students and parents. They have been kind enough to write me such lovely messages and thank you cards. And I didn’t want to leave all of these behind. So I didn’t.

They now adorn the waiting room area of my tutoring setting. This is where parents and siblings may sit, read and enjoy refreshments.

And refreshments are important!

Especially coffee!

In my Pass English GCSE Chelmsford ‘office’ I tutor face to face. This could be for the English GCSE student who needs 1-2-1 attention  or for a well matched, pair who enjoy learning together.  

Tutoring 1-2-1 is my most popular service. I have been blessed with wonderful, keen students. And their results speak for themselves.

For GCSE English students

  • Remember to make sure you are familiar with the GCSE exam boards. I’ve included a link to the specifications here.
  • Be sure to have a look at helpful GCSE pages.
  • Don’t give up.
  • If you don’t understand the exam specification – get help.
  • Join my closed Facebook Help Group.

…and parents

  • Perhaps you would like to discuss GCSE English educational needs? Feel free to schedule a FREE initial consultation.
  • You’re always welcome to come and look at the Pass English GCSE Chelmsford ‘office’ 🙂
New beginnings: leaving my current school to tutor GCSE English

New beginnings: leaving my current school to tutor GCSE English

I am leaving my current school to tutor GCSE English

I am very sad to be leaving my current school. And yet I remember hearing uttered ‘a story is a happy one, if it ends in the right place’. Depressingly, I once heard this line uttered at a eulogy! But from unhappy ends stem new beginnings and it seems such has led me to begin this blog. Whilst I am very sad to no longer be able to teach my lovely students at Thorpe Hall – in Southend-on-Sea, I am happy that I may focus on my tutoring work. This will be at my Chelmsford setting: Pass English GCSE. So it is official: I am leaving my current school to tutor GCSE English.

The school is/ was perfect, alas the commute became increasingly awful, to the point where my other half and I became regular gamblers on ‘who can get the shortest ETA compared to Google Maps?’

After several sorry three hour journeys home, with no viable de-tours, second homes or any real tangible solution involving part time working arrangements…I had to admit it. I must leave the school. But I am determined that this story shall not end in an unhappy place.

And it is from this conclusion that I have realised that I CAN have it all.

I may combine my love of teaching English and helping students to realise their potential. All with a decreased commute time. Who can argue with the commute from home to office? One must shuffle from bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room to surmount the Everest of all mornings… one must open the door to ‘the office’ right next door.

This is part of the house sealed off with a door where my domestic life ends and my professional one begins.

But what about the cat? You ask. That’s okay, he’s happily ensconced in the living room and is in total agreement with the new working from home arrangements. And if he ever gets lonely – he may peer through the glass windows to watch me writing this blog, tutoring a student or recording a ‘How to’ video for my online learners.

Never fear – Sir Mitchie (my cat’s preferred title) – you shall not be lonely, and if you do something cute, I may even feature you in my online videos, for brief interludes when my students may desire a few seconds of a cute cat instead of annotated verse. As if!

My business is titled with the original name of ‘Pass English GCSE’. Yes, I know, not particularly innovative, but it does what it says on the tin.

If you are unsure of anything – please consult my introductory video and my testimonials.

I teach English GCSE to all boards. However, my experience is dominated by AQA and Edexcel.

Luckily, I have had many happy students and colleagues and I have many fond memories.

And here is the happy ending as promised – long may it last!

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