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Saturday, 29 March 2014

Teacher verses Technology

We are living in a technological age where the notion of the Flipped Classroom is no longer a new one, lots of our pupils learning takes place in an online environment. Pupils as young as 5 are familiar with a range of technology from 'Apps' on their tablets to learning platforms such as Mathletics and Reading Eggs. Pupils in Primary schools will, under the new curriculum, be taught 'coding'.

There is lots of debate about the positive and negative aspects of technology:

  • Knowledge - The amount of information literally at your fingertips is amazing!  If a child is curious about anything, there is a wealth of information online.  They can see animals in their natural habitats with web cams and even watch things happening in space – live. Such access can really feed a love of learning
  • Connections - Besides connecting with particular interests technology allows our pupils to connect with pupils in schools around the world. Programs such as Skype can allow “face to face” visits with anyone from anywhere in the world
  • Online learning - There are a wide range of websites and apps to practice maths, reading, and writing skills.  Many activities online encourage problem-solving and collaboration with others Minecraft is hugely popular and has so many educational uses from reading, writing and maths to history.
  •  Too Much Screen Time - Spending excessive time in front of a screen is detrimental to a child’s health and well-being, according to many paediatric experts.
  •  Isolation.  As “connected” as we are in our tech-savvy society, sometimes it seems the connections are shallow and void of real relationship.  Sometimes it seems we are each wrapped up in our own electronic world, a culture of cocoons
  • Cyber Danger.  While rare, there is danger to children from cyber predators.  Being flippant about personal information and technology can mean someone knowing exactly where your child is and what they are doing 
I am a lover of all things technical and use technology as a tool in my teaching everyday. I try to prepare the pupils in my class for the technological world that they live in now and will certainly live in in the future. But there are a few things  that I know technology in education cannot provide for our pupils: 

A teacher/student relationshipPositive teacher-student relationships draw students into the process of learning and promote their desire to learn. Teachers who establish rapport with their students, and who engage their students in interaction within class, achieve the best results. One-way communication can be relatively ineffective, however competent

Using and Applying - Doing hands on work, our pupils get a better grasp of concepts that we are trying to teach. Using technology only enhances the hands on experience; it does not and cannot replace 'doing it'.

Collaboration - Working collaboratively goes hand in hand with Using and Applying but adds into it that Human Interaction that can enhance any learning experience. We learn so much from our peers some of which are not the measurable by 'Ofsted' such as Social Skills, turn taking, listening to the views and opinions of others, how to communicate with each other. 

'Learning experiences are far more important than learning outcomes'

Perhaps the future lies in Blended Learning which for older pupils at least provides a blend of face to face teaching with online learning. One thing is for sure teachers cannot afford to be complacent.  Teachers will never be out of work but they need to keep their technological skills up to date.

'New types of learning activities challenge our thinking as to how learning might be facilitated, creating new etiquette's of learning and teaching, and shifting the locus of control from the teacher to the learner.  (Littlejohn and Pegler, 2006)'

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Original 3 Rs

The Three Rs in modern times has several meanings including Reduce, Recycle, Reuse. But the original phrase referring to education came from a speech made by Sir William Curtis in 1795.  Sir William Chris was an alderman known also as 'Billy the Biscuit' because it is said he revolutionised the technology of biscuit baking and biscuit storage aboard ship. At the age of 30, William Curtis, in Wapping, on the edge of the City of London was at the centre of one of one of the largest and most profitable trade networks in the known world and as a result went on to become Alderman and Lord Mayor.

Due to his looks, his mangled catch words and phrases he became a delight of satirists and it is thought today that he was dyslexic. It is hardly surprising then that he, it is said, had no time for those who talked about the importance of Latin and Greek;  Listening to a debate on schooling Curtis said in the House, ‘What children need,’ is the three Rs, Readin’, Ritin’ and Rithmetic' and the phrase was born.

How ironic are these words and the history behind them with the advent of the new 'Govian' Curriculum which includes the teaching of both Latin and Greek! In his own apparently bumbling way William Curtis was right then and now. Through the 3Rs everything else can be not only understood better but also taught. 

Reading - through the mastery of this skill we open up to ourselves and our pupils the vast world of literature, history, the sciences and other languages. Reading is food for your mind and soul. Reading informs you of what's happening around, helps you remain updated about what's changing and not just that. Reading encourages you to think and imagine, think out-of-the-box and imagine the impossible. It's through reading that you understand that knowledge knows no bounds and It's through reading that we gain exposure to information from different sources. The latest developments in technology, advancements in science, breakthroughs in different fields, the inventions, discoveries, product launches, movie reviews, celebrity gossip, changing political scenarios; just everything around us can become knowledge gained and all through reading.

Writing - Learning to write is essential because it is a vehicle for communication, connection and creativity. The art of handwriting increases brain activity and hones fine motor skills. Writing is a major form of communication that allows people to interact with, and learn from, others. Instruction in writing helps children understand how to organise ideas and construct meaning, processes similar to those they use while reading. In fact, research indicates that writing and reading develop together and instruction in both areas leads to improvements in both writing and reading.

Arithmetic (Maths to you and I) - The technology around us was developed by engineers and scientists using mathematical skill. we might not have the computers, internet and mobile phones without people's mathematical skills. Jobs ranging from doctors and vets to fashion designers and gardeners rely on mathematical skill. Maths really is every where! In nature - good old Fibonacci, in the carpets we stand on (area), the food we eat (volume, capacity, money,) the list is endless.

Teachers all around the world are teaching these skills every day in their classrooms or they were. Over the last few years the pressures upon teachers and pupils alike have become unbearable resulting in three teacher strikes in the UK in as many years. Teachers are leaving the profession in droves, pupils are stressed out and education is becoming a chore for all involved rather that the joy that it should be.

So maybe it should be us the educators that are calling for 'back to basics'. These skills are crucial but I believe getting lost amongst the confusion that reigns in education today. Teachers are having their attention taken away from what is important, teaching and learning! They are being forced to focus on things that do not improve teaching or learning but focus instead on the constant strive to achieve targets, display evidence, show progress and of course tame that elusive beast the 'outstanding lesson.' 

Professional development needs to be based upon improving teaching and learning, allowing teachers to develop and refine their skills, keep up to date with the world of educational research and changes in technology . Teachers need to be allowed turn their attention back to the people that matter, the pupils. They should have more time to plan and teach enriching lessons, collaborate with their peers and above all to do what they do best teach!!!

Monday, 24 March 2014

A Day Without my Teaching Assistant

Disaster struck in my classroom today, my Teaching Assistant was absent!! Don't get me wrong, throughout my teaching career I haven't always had a T.A. In fact in lots of my classes I have had no T.A. support at all, in other years I have shared a T.A.Yet today when I realised my T.A. wouldn't be in I was devastated.

She is a really valuable part of my class of course and without doubt she has kept me sane this year! But it has made me think why I suddenly felt daunted at the prospect of having a day without her support.

Firstly I think the size of my class is difficult, 34 in total, 4 more than the largest KS1 class which results in lots of marking for a start along with missing that extra person to help get the children organised when they come in in the morning, go out to play, have milk, get ready for home ........ The list with KS1 children is endless trust me. Add into this the fact that there are 22 Boys and only 12 girls and the difficulty increases along with the noise levels. I always thought girls were the chatty, noisy ones until this year! Then add in more than the usual amount of pupils with specific needs, both medical and otherwise and no one to take that extra group etc. Plus no one  to cover when you need an unexpected trip to the loo or have forgotten to photocopy that extra sheet you need. 

Then last, but my no means least, difficult parents. Now this is a big factor! I have over the years had 'run ins' with parents, we all have. But those problems usually occur at the beginning of the year when neither child nor parent knows you and they then usually sort themselves out as the parent realises that actually you are a good teacher, their child does like being in your class and actually they are making good progress. This year however, a couple of troublesome parents have really set the scene for a very stressful year, which is sad. It has left me feeling more protected with another pair of eyes and ears in the room.

The truth is though that actually I and the children survived! It was in fact quite a nice day, the children were being helpful, tidying up after themselves etc. We got through all of our lessons and even fitted in a bit of extra story time! 

It was a piece of cake. But boy oh boy I hope she is back in tomorrow!!!!!  

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Drama and investigative learning in the Classroom

Our topic at the moment is Traditional Tales and we have been reading a selection of stories and noticing how they have the same elements but can still be really different. One of our favourites at the moment is The Three Little Pigs.

I decided that in order to help my pupils become familiar with the key elements of The Three Little pigs which never change such as the 'I'll huff and I'll Puff and I'll blow your house down' I would set them the task of producing their own mini play. This knowledge will then feed into them writing their own playscripts next week.

They were put into groups of 4 and initially given only one instruction which was they would have to each play 2 parts - The Three Pigs, Mum, The person carrying the straw, the one carrying the sticks and the one carrying the bricks and finally the Wolf.

I always enjoy this initial part of a group activity because it is interesting to watch children organising themselves. Like adults each pupil falls into a category. They are either:

The organiser who immediately knows what to do and sets about organising the others. 

The observer who sits back and watches and listens waiting for the fuss to end so they can then have their say.

The moaner who turns immediately to the nearest adult with cries of 'it's not fair' if it's not going their way. 

The bossy one who wants it's all their own way and will do everything they can to make sure it happens.

The peacemaker who tries to please everyone and finally the 'looker out of the window' who takes no part whatsoever and gets dragged along.

What is interesting is that no matter how many times you do group activities the children's roles are already defined and fixed. Its as if these roles are defined at birth!

Once the groups were organised the children set off creating their play. Unless directed otherwise children, unlike adults, generally jump in and 'do' letting their play evolve as it goes along rather than planning first. 

After about 10 minutes observation it was clear that one thing they all were struggling with was how to create each of the pigs houses, so at this point I stopped the action and gave a couple of suggestions to solve this problem. After that they were left completely to organise the play themselves. 

With 34 children in the classroom the noise levels were inevitably high but all of the children were 'on task' they were communicating by talking and demonstrating, they were exploring different ideas, problem solving by abandoning quickly things that didn't work and were getting to grips with their lines and stage directions. Slowly but surely their plays began to take form, each slightly different to the other .

When, after observation, it was clear they were ready I told them they would each perform in front of each other. The front of the classroom was the 'stage' and off they went. What was really interesting was that I, because of my observations, had a pretty good idea of what each group were up to but after the first 'funny' play which got the class laughing it was clear that each group and I in particular the boys, were alibiing in order to get laughs too. 

They all really enjoyed performing and what I love is that the fact that they all took part without any fuss at all, even the shy children who don't normally contribute in whole class situations. 

As they had performed so well I gave them an extra treat which was, in their groups to create one of the scenes from their play using the construction sets in the classroom. They were all delighted and set off enthusiastically. Again they were talking, organising and making decisions. When the time was up they took photographs of what they had created which will be posted on our school eplatform for their parents to see.

The whole morning was a huge success the children were in charge of their own learning, and I believe they learned a lot, and I was able to observe them and take photographs. True assessment in action!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Why Experience Counts

In many cultures around the world age and experience are revered and celebrated. In some jobs experience is king but what about teaching? Is experience celebrated? I would argue that sadly the answer to this is 'no'. Not a fact I blame on school leadership, the blame lies with the funding of education which in turn lies securely with a series of Governmental policies that result in squeezed budgets. 

I am an experienced teacher, with lots to offer. But what does that experience actually mean and why should it matter? 

I have been teaching for 16 years and have taught years 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. I have co ordinated, I.C.T, Assessment, Humanities, P.S.H.E and Maths and was leading teacher for Gifted and Talented. 

I have taught at an I.C.T summer camp in one of the Governments 'City Learning Centres' and attended and supervised 10 residential "outward bounds' courses with year 6 pupils in Derbyshire, the Wirral and several different places in Wales. 

I have written, from scratch, three parent workshops covering both I.C.T and maths which were delivered by myself and other staff. I have written approximately 12 policy documents for subjects ranging from Sex and Relationships Education to my most recent, a Calculation Policy  for the new Maths curriculum. 

I have delivered staff training to staff as part of my co ordinator roles, delivered training to teachers at the local Professional Education Centre on 'Community of Enquiry ' a structured communication system which encourages effective group work and have been a mentor to both student teachers and N.Q.T s. 

I was part of the pilot scheme for the Wider Opportunities Music Program, which I went on to co ordinate along with a very experienced Teaching Assistant. It was during this time I learned to read music and play the clarinet. From this I helped create and manage a school band which resulted in a huge uptake of children learning to play a musical instrument. This also led to me performing alongside our school band at New Brighton's Floral Pavilion.  I have produced and directed lots of school plays including my class assembly and a full summer production of Bugsy Malone.

I am a trained Mentor for the Seasons for Growth Program which supports pupils who have experienced significant loss and change in their lives and have experience of teaching pupils with a wide range of special needs from A.S.D, Visual and Hearing impaired pupils, moderate learning difficulties and Dyslexia. I also have experience of teaching pupils with a range of medical conditions such as Cystic Fibrosis and Leukaemia. I have supported and counselled pupils and parents through divorce, death, alcohol and drug misuse.

I have helped to develop a 'creative curriculum' and used Kagan structures regularly in my teaching. I have seen many changes to the curriculum and Ofsted and altered my teaching accordingly. I am constantly developing my own practice and professional development keeping abreast with changes in technology and teaching methods, attending courses and conferences and using social media as a professional development tool.

With all of this experience you May wonder why I didn't go down the management route. There are lots of varied reasons for this but the main reason is my absolute passion for teaching and learning. I have, before teaching, had experience of other industries and offices and went into teaching to teach. 

I am sorry if this blog appears to be nothing more than my professional C.V but the purpose of this was to demonstrate the amount of experience that I have but also that lots of other teachers in my own school and schools all around the country have. I know that this is not true for all experienced teachers though as some teachers become cynical and disengaged but I do feel they are in the minority and perhaps if they were heard and valued more this might well be avoided.

So how is this huge experience resource used? In my experience not very well at all. 'older' more experienced teachers who have not gone along the S.L.T route are at best ignored and at worst treated with disdain and often told they are 'expensive.' This is such a shame, we are in a knowledge based industry, knowledge is power and yet we don't tap into it. Experience in all of its forms should be celebrated and used to its full extent. Some of that experience may come from teaching but a lot also comes from experiences outside of education in previous jobs etc. Put this vast array of knowledge together with the youth and enthusiasm of newer teachers and the sky is the limit! We all have so much to learn from each other and our pupils would benefit from it hugely if we did.


One of the reasons I started blogging was due to the frustrations of being unable to share the knowledge that I have. It has become my way of communicating and sharing the things that I am doing and have done. Hopefully my knowledge and experiences both good and bad will help other teachers, students and educators improve their practice or at the very least ensure they do not feel alone and isolated in their classrooms.

How do you share your knowledge and experience? Do you value the knowledge and experience of those in your own setting?

Monday, 17 March 2014

For the Love of Teaching

Education and teaching are going through a huge period of change. I know by its very nature education evolves constantly but over the last four years the changes have been fast and furious. Teachers it is reported in the press are leaving the profession in their droves, teachers workloads range from 50 to 60 hours a week, pay has been frozen whilst pension contributions and pensionable age have increased. Add into this the recent changes to the curriculum, assessment and Ofsted requirements and it is not a pretty picture at all.

I always believe that in times of crisis and negativity it is important to focus on positives. This is blog is my way of remembering what it is I love about teaching and why I always refer to teaching as my vocation:

  • Building relationships with my pupils - I always enter a new school year with a sense on anticipation, excitement and fear. Will the children like me? Will I like them? By October the answer to both of those questions has always been yes. No matter what  age they are I absolutely love getting to know the children in my care, finding out what makes them tick, what type of learner they are, what they like/dislike. Children spend approximately 5 to 7 hours a day with a teacher for almost 10 months having a good relationship makes the time spent together so much easier for all involved. To do that takes time, you need to reveal a bit about yourself as a person as well as a teacher but in the end it is all worth while.
  • That 'penny dropping' moment - Teaching a child something completely new is a real buzz, it is what it is all about, imparting knowledge, teaching a new skill. Along with re explaining something you know they have been taught before but didn't quite 'get' and literally watching 'the penny drop', pure magic!
  • Teaching Moments -  We all experience them, those 'magical moments' the times make you laugh out loud or the laughter you have to stifle. These moments don't come along every day but when they do they are worth the wait. They range from a child calling you 'Mum' loudly in front of the whole class to watching the pigs and cows in the infant nativity muddling up their lines and giggling uncontrollably on stage.
  • Shared Experiences - Throughout the year as a class we laugh together, cry together, we sing, we learn, we make mistakes and I always feel like we have been on a real learning journey together. My favourite parts of the week are Monday and Friday mornings because this is when we sing our Monday song 'Happy' by Pharell Williams and Friday song 'The Candy Man' by Sammy Davis Jr
  • Making a difference -  We have all taught those difficult to reach pupils, the ones that it can appear that everyone has given up on, they have become dis engaged from the whole learning experience. If I as a teacher can re engage just one of those pupils by reaching out to them then that makes my job worthwhile.
  • Every day is a learning journey - I am the teacher in my class, most of the time! Quite often I learn from my pupils, we learn and explore together. I am, especially when teaching a new topic, often only one or two steps ahead of my pupils and I love it. They I love it if I get something wrong and they 'catch me out' (often staged) but a great learning experience.
 This is by no means the full list, I know I could add more which is a good reminder to me and hopefully some of you why it is we teach.

Sunday, 16 March 2014


Everyone in education from pupils to teachers to S.L.T. hear the word progress on a daily basis. It is the thing we strive for everyday and what we all want for our pupils. The rate of progress for individuals changes depending on lots of factors, some terms, years is rapid whilst others is slow. Likewise when compared with each other progress differs from pupil to pupil.

So What is progress? 
'A movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage', 'continuous improvement' and 'the process of improving or developing something over a period of time.'
 How do you measure Progress?
 'When considering data on pupils’ progress shown in RAISE online and for each year group of pupils currently in the school, inspectors should pay particular attention to the proportions that are on track to make, or have made, expected progress and more than expected progress.' Ofsted
Most schools currently measure progress from pupils:
Progress Towards their Termly Target
Progress Towards their End of Year (or KS) Target
Progress Since the End of Last Year
Progress Since the Last Keystage
Progress Since Last Term

However recent changes to the curriculum has led to changes in assessment of progress and attainment:

As part of our reforms to the national curriculum, the current system of “levels” used to report children’s attainment and progress will be removed from September 2014. Levels are not being banned, but will not be updated to reflect the new national curriculum and will not be used to report the results of national curriculum tests. Key stage 1 and key stage 2 tests taken in the 2014 to 2015 academic year will be against the previous national curriculum, and will continue to use levels for reporting purposes.
Schools will be expected to have in place approaches to formative assessment that support pupil attainment and progression. The assessment framework should be built into the school curriculum, so that schools can check what pupils have learned and whether they are on track to meet expectations at the end of the key stage, and so that they can report regularly to parents. Schools will have the flexibility to use approaches that work for their pupils and circumstances, without being constrained by a single national approach.

Taken from - Myths and facts Curriculum and assessment DFE 27th February 2014

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said that it was crucial for schools to devise a common means of judging pupil performance.

“The idea of 20,000 different models of assessment is not a good one,” he said. “We want schools to use broadly similar systems. Although levels weren’t brilliant, complete fragmentation is not good either.”

Very confusing times ahead but what is clear is teachers on the chalk face must continue to using both summative and formative assessment to ensure the continued progress of their pupils, to do this we need to:
  • Be clear about the learning goals and the success criteria by which learning will be judged, sharing them with pupils using pupil-friendly language
  • Show pupils that all responses, views and opinions are valued and encouraging them to view errors as learning opportunities
  • Give specific, constructive feedback, which indicates how pupils can improve and the steps they need to take in order to do so (via written, scaffolded marking and verbal feedback)
  • Give time for learning to be absorbed (realistic achievable goals which still allow pupils to be stretched) 
  • Encourage pupils to reflect upon their learning and to monitor their own progress, for example, by means of self and peer assessment. This means time to respond to marking, time to talk with their peers and teacher
  • Take every opportunity to observe learning rather than relying on test results or evidence in books
  • Questions, questions, questions - an essential assessment tool
  • It is also important that the focus is on improvement and that pupils understand what they need to learn or the skills they need to develop in order to improve and reach certain goals
  • Use present formal tests (statutory, optional or commercial) as they can provide useful evidence
    about what pupils know and can do
  • Use moderation to inform assessments - Moderation can be described as a dialogue between teachers and other professionals, to agree and make judgments about what pupils understand, know or can do. Moderation activities can range from informal (for example, a discussion with a teaching assistant about an interesting observation of a pupil’s work) to a formal external process (e.g. local authority moderators reviewing teacher judgements). Moderation partners may include
    colleagues within your school, teachers from other schools (e.g. from a local school
Review your methods of assessment continually, remain open to change, partake in dialogue with your fellow teachers, be in tune with the needs of your class having the confidence to use your knowledge of them as learners.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Importance of School Playtime

As part of my daily teaching duties I do playground duty twice a week on KS1 playground. For most of my career playground duty has been part of the job, because lets face it standing outside on an often cold, wet and windy playground is hardly going to be a highlight.

I am glad to say however, that what was once a bit of a chore, has actually become a highlight to my week. The reason for this change? I think it is due to the change from KS2 to KS1 playground. The children of KS2 playground are lovely and the part I would look forward to on KS2 duty would be the little chats I would have with pupils, which on the playground, are very different to the chats in class.

On KS1 playground what I absolutely love is the opportunity to watch the children at play, they truly take the opportunity that playtime gives them to 'play actively'. They run out and wait with eager anticipation for the outdoor equipment store to open and then play begins!

The play is split into several distinct groups: 

The footballers - (mainly year 2 boys) who run as fast as they can to be first to 'bagsy' the footballs, they then run towards the playgrounds football area and begin playing a game immediately sorting out teams whilst actually playing. They rarely fall out andt he chaotic way in which they organise themselves and play clearly makes sense to them and works perfectly.

The dancers - (predominantly year 1 and 2 girls, with the occasional boy thrown) they rush over to the stage area of the playground and sing, dance and play traditional playground clapping song. Their songs and dances generally come from dance classes they attend after school or ones they have made up themselves. Very occasionally they are dances to songs from boy bands such as One Direction but more often their own 'made up' dances prevail.

The Superheroes - A variety of children play these imaginary games, which are based upon characters ranging from superheroes to zombies. The main theme is 'fantasy', this play is rarely organised, but appears to evolve through language and communication between participants who make it up as they go along. 

The hoppers and bouncers - (Mixed age) these children delight in whatever play equipment they can get there hands on. This ranges from bouncy hoppers and bats and balls, to stilts. Play in this format tends to be in pairs or small groups and occasionally individual play. They bat, stomp and throw non stop, abandoning one piece of equipment for another and leaving a trail of equipment in their wake.

The hoarders (usually F2 children) - this play is often based upon picking up and collecting any equipment that has been 'abandoned' on the yard. This equipment is then piled up and sat on!  The aim of the game is a bit of a mystery and clearly requires more observation from me! Whatever the aim is the children involved take it very seriously. Sneaking up like little Ninjas apparently unseen by the other children, swooping down to claim the equipment with a triumphant grin.

The cones group (again F2) - Again a small select group of children who swoop upon the small cones in the equipment store. They then run around the the furthest, most hidden, part of the playground and set out the cones in a variety of patterns and lines. They protect their cones at all costs and have children on 'look out' for any potential takers. The object of the game is a total mystery but provides another investigation opportunity for me.

The horsey's (F2s and year 1s) - They use hoops, skipping ropes and anything they can get their hands on to assist in their game of horses and ponies. The game is best played it seems is 2s or 3s and requires one child to be the horse, pony or even unicorn! with the other child holding the reigns. This is a very physical game and often ends in a big heap on the floor. Play is centred around imagination and a obvious passion for horses and ponies.

Whichever group they find themselves in it is clear to see that this 'play' thing is in fact quite serious business. The children are imagining, creating, organising, communicating, disputing, resolving and exercising. They are developing an understanding and observation of the world around them. Play is learning!

On our playground the children rarely require any assistance or interference from the adults on duty. In fact I think that they not only don't need it but play and learning is interrupted or ruined with adult interference. The adult is, and should only be there, in an observational and safety role. Do they even need adults out there at all? I would argue not. If accidents do occur they are always minor and require little more than a 'magic rub'. If they were playing in their own garden and got hurt they would merely come in to find an adult. But in our 'litigation' and blame culture they are stuck with us, but we must be really careful not to interfere with their play. We must also remember that conflict resolution is nine times out of ten best left to the children to sort themselves too, this is a very important social skill which they will never develop if someone is always there to sort it for them.

So next time you are on playground duty have a look for what groups you have, remember to only step in and interfere if it is absolutely necessary. Just use the opportunity to enjoy watching play and learning in action!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Standing up for Education

I have been a union member since I first started work at the tender age of 16 back in 1977. I have also been a fully paid up member of the NUT since 1994 which was when I went back to complete my education. I come from a 'working class' background. A background that I am proud of. Both of my parents worked from the age of 15, my Dad an engineer and my Mum, who also raised 8 children, worked mainly in factories.

My parents were true working class, they had a strong work ethic, regularly teaching all of their children that you only get in life, what you work for. 'Nobody will hand you anything on a plate' Mum used to say, 'You have to work for your living.' They could not afford for us to 'stay on in school' so off to work we all went from the age of 16. Dad, a man of far less words than Mum encouraged all of us to join the union as soon as we began work. 'You never know you need a union until you need it' he would say.

Once in a union I believe you have to support any action they take no excuses other wise why join? Yes, to strike is expensive and in the current financial climate I, like most people cannot really afford it but I will. The NUT have called the strike on 26th March as part of an ongoing dispute with the present Government and the Education Secretary Michael Gove over: intolerable workload pressures, performance related pay, increased pensions contributions and working until the age of 68. All of which I agree with and hugely support.

The reason I am 'Taking Action' is also because of what I witness every day in education and what I read on Twitter from fellow educators around the country. The absolute disintegration of our, what was a wonderful education system. The pressures are not just on teachers but also on the pupils. Children are 'assessed' from the age of 2. Pupils in year 1 are given phonics screening check then tested again at the end of year 1. This incessant testing then continues throughout their education journey. With all of  these tests then come the inevitable 'targets'. Children as young as 5 are being deemed 'off track'. 

All of this has a direct effect on children's experience of education which is a never ending slog to achieve targets. Obviously, all educators want their pupils to make 'progress' and to achieve! But education and learning should as often as possible be fun and engaging. I truly believe that people of all ages learn better when they are relaxed and happy. However, I know that some people in education do not agree, they shrink at the word 'fun' but even they I am sure would admit that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. 

Today in the BBC news it was announced that teachers from 'Shanghai' would be coming to the UK to teach us how to teach Maths: 

'Up to 60 Shanghai maths teachers are to be brought to England to raise standards, in an exchange arranged by the Department for Education.' They will provide masterclasses in 30 "maths hubs", which are planned as a network of centres of excellence. The Chinese city's maths pupils have the highest international test results.'

But what is it like to be educated in school in Shanghai? According to an article in the Guardian today it is not a pretty picture:

The streets surrounding Shijia primary school in Beijing were mobbed by a crowd of parents so dense that cars were obliged to beat a retreat. At 3.45pm on Friday, 11-year-old Zou Tingting, five minutes late, bounded through the school's west gate and into her waiting mother's arms. Tingting's classes were over, but her day was just beginning – she had an hour of homework, plus lessons in ping pong, swimming, art, calligraphy and piano.Tingting's mother, Huang Chunhua, said that, like many Chinese mothers, she once considered Tingting's academic performance her top priority; now she realises the importance of a well-rounded education. "I've seen British curricular materials, and I'm actually kind of jealous," she said. "British teachers guide students to discover things on their own – they don't just feed them the answers, like in China. Tingting attends an expensive cramming school at weekends, leaving her tired. She will probably have to abandon extracurricular activities in high school to devote more time to the college admission exam, called the gaokao. Many parents consider the gruelling nine-hour test a sorting mechanism that will determine the trajectory of their children's lives.

Add into this the growing suicide rates in China and the picture is not a pretty one. This quote is taken from China Daily:

'Every year, roughly 250,000 people commit suicide in China, while another 2 million attempt to cut their lives short, according to the Ministry of Health. Although studies show the highest incidence is among elderly and rural women, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention says suicide is now the top cause of death for people aged 15 to 34.'

We already have an education system whose aim is to test, test, test and now we are seeking advice on teaching methods from Shanghai, is this truly what we see as the 'Nirvana' of education? I certainly hope not. But even without the influence of Shanghai our own system is flawed. In my own, very humble opinion, a good education system should include:

  • A solid foundation in Maths and English - essential for everything we do
  • Technology - this doesn't mean technology for technologies sake but ensuring our pupils are equipped for the digital age
  • No homework - very controversial I know but children and young adults need time for extra curricular activities such as sports
  • Thinking skills taught - to encourage deeper understanding and to enable pupils to problem solve, explain and reason
  • Smaller classes - this allows for more student focussed teaching
  • Teachers valued - we really need to retain the best teachers which will not be achieved in a system where teachers are undervalued, overloaded and stressed
To try to ensure our pupils get a good solid education and their teachers are paid fairly and are not constantly 'under the cosh' on 26th March 2014 I will 'Stand Up for Education.'

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The disintegration of the teacher/parent relationship

Dealing with difficult parents is virtually impossible for any one in education to escape and it is something that can be stressful, exhausting and has led to many great teachers leaving education. However, parents are vital part of their child's educational journey, research has proven that students with greater parental involvement typically have a leg up on students whose parents are less involved. So the reality is that with more parental involvement can come more parental complaint.

Parental complaints can come in a variety of  guises, there is:

The note on a piece of homework - this is generally any easy one to solve with a well worded and considered response, again just in note form, taking on board any concerns and reassuring the parent and rarely causes any stress.

The handwritten letter - again generally easy to solve but this one may require a phone call to the parent or a quick word at the end of the school day, again allaying any concerns.A bit time consuming but not stressful.

The 'quick word' - usually at the beginning or end of the day and still, usually easy to sort out there and then. Probably the least stressful because it is sorted there and then, face to face so avoiding any further misunderstandings between parent and teacher.

The going to see the head or SLT for a moan - getting a bit more tricky to solve now, and stressful, because of the involvement of someone else, along with the frustration it brings that the parent didn't just approach you first. Often, if you are well supported by your SLT or head, this is sorted before it even gets to you and the SLT concerned will listen to the complaint and concerns themselves and allay any fears, leaving it only to inform you what was said. Sometimes though you may have to have a meeting with the parent to do what you would have done if they had just come to you first!

The going to see the head or SLT with a more formal complaint - this may result into you being invited to the heads office which in itself signals the beginning of the stress caused. You may feel under scrutiny and threatened, depending upon how well your head deals with both you and the complaint. The result of this meeting is often the head seeking your point of view and then making a measured, reassuring response to the parent whilst making it clear that they support their member of staff. Sadly this may not always be the case and either way the stress levels are bound to be high.

The Email to the head - I think this is perhaps the worst type of complaint because I think people often elaborate a lot more in an email, adding content they definitely wouldn't if the complaint had been made face to face. This type of complaint in my experience is the most stressful but again needn't be if you have the full  backing from your head. This type of complaint may be dealt with in a similar way to the one above.

The 'complaints I mention are all generally 'he said, she said', 'too much homework', 'too little homework', 'shouting', 'getting picked on by a class member' etc. they are not child protection complaints as these clearly would take a completely different format altogether.

With parents increasingly treated as consumers of school services, to be consulted at every turn, it is perhaps not surprising there has been a rise in parental complaints about everything from the content of the curriculum to pedagogic methods.  The internalisation of the ‘pupil-centred’ model of education can mean parents have little regard for the authority of teachers. Parents at the school gate complain, ‘That teacher doesn’t have the right to say/do that to my child, just because they can’t control the class’.

Teachers want to do the best job they can for the students sitting in front of them. They want the students to excel and learn. They want to teach reading, writing, maths and science. They want to support the multiple learners who sit, waiting to be motivated and engaged. They want to spark that desire for learning in each student... but what expectations are reasonable?

Don’t get me wrong. Teachers expect parents to be their child’s advocate and they need to be. They should request meetings to discuss their child’s progress. Parents should be involved in their child’s education but, what level of involvement is reasonable? When do schools need to call parents on their expectations and say, “this is unreasonable?” Here are some examples:

  • insisting that your child deserves more of the teacher’s time than other children
  • showing up at the teacher’s classroom door making demands
  • requesting daily updates on your child’s progress both academically and behaviourally, by email, phone calls or written notes
  • expecting that ill behaviour be ignored because “that is just Johnny” or “Sarah has an identified problem, so her behaviour should be excused”
  • creating such stress in the teacher’s professional life that the teacher ends up home on stress leave
  • complaining about homework and school work and not holding your own child accountable for the quality of work completed, yet demanding high marks when the report comes home.
Both parents and teachers seem to be defensive, neither fully trusting the other to do their job properly. But what is the proper job of parents and teachers today? The 2004 Children’s Act put the responsibility for children’s happiness and emotional well-being with teachers, while home/school contracts are used to encourage parents to read with their children and help with homework. It seems that the roles have been reversed, or blurred at the very least. Can this lead to an improved partnership between parents and teachers? Or is it undermining relations of trust, without which neither teacher nor parent can do their work of developing the new generation properly?

If you are subject to a parental complaint, try to remember it is one parent out of the 30 something you have in your class. It is a 'lone' voice yet unfortunately a rather loud one that speaks to you through the night following a complaint. Seek support from your SLT, colleagues (who may have had problems with the same parent before) and from your family. Remember although it is stressful:

Thursday, 6 March 2014

World Book Day Fun and a visiting author

World Book Day Ltd is a registered charity whose financing of World Book Day comes mainly from contributing publishers, the sponsorship of National Book Tokens Ltd, some literacy partnerships and other supporters, as well as the participating booksellers who fund the entire cost of Book Token redemption.

Schools around the country celebrate World Book Day to enthuse and excite pupils about reading. It is a great opportunity to get dressed up and have some fun.!

As the last topic in our class was based upon the Katie Morag stories World Book Day provided a great way to conclude the topic. This is a snapshot of our day:

Everybody in the school got dressed up as characters from their favourite book whilst our whole class got dressed up as the characters from the Katie Morag stories, it never ceases to amaze me the huge amount of effort the parents put into the children's outfits. The children were really excited to look at what everybody was wearing and they all cheered when the teaching and support staff appeared on the yard to collect them.

After register the whole school went into the hall for an assembly hosted by our visiting storyteller, author for the day Curtis Watt which was excellent, he had all of the children and staff dancing and performing poetry. The look on the children's faces was magic.

Then everybody returned to their classes for their own World Book Day Events. My T.A. and I spit the class into two groups, half went with me to make Porridgie (a flapjack recipe taken from one of  the Katie Morag stories) in the staff room. I think the best part was licking the bowl after the mixture was put into the baking trays for cooking. The other half of the children stayed in the classroom and made still life paintings of items washed up on the shore of the Bonny Loch. They really enjoyed using the watercolours which they have never used before and were really proud of the results.

After break we were greeted in our class by Curtis Watt complete with his Djembe. To begin with he used the drum to get the children to join in with a poem, then as part of a story that he was telling that also had a rhythm and call response which kept them engaged throughout the session. What is really special about Curtis is that he engages with his audience , he draws them in with his great storytelling techniques but more importantly his impromptu stories that you can see just pop into his head without at a moments notice. He visited each class from F2 to year 6 keeping them all engaged and enthused. Check out his website here.

After lunch it was time to make the whole Isle of Coll out of  Lego, Duplo and wooden bricks. The children in my class love Lego and relish any opportunity to build and create.

That just left time for a quick game of Chickenelly also known as Knick Knock, Knock and Run etc. Chickenelly is a game that the 'Big Boy Cousins' play when they visit Katie Morag for a holiday. The scene was set with me informing teachers and office staff that the children would knock on their door then run away and that they should open the door (after allowing a short escape time) and shout angrily along the corridor with calls of 'Whoever that was will be in trouble in I catch them!)

At home time the children all went home with a couple of pieces of Porridgie and huge smiles on their faces!



Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Impact of Teacher Workload

'Primary state school teachers in England are working almost 60 hours a week, according to a survey by the Department for Education – a sharp increase on the previous survey. The snapshot of their workload is a grim portrait of a profession plagued by long hours and "unnecessary and bureaucratic tasks", according to the survey. Many of the 1,000 respondents cited preparations for Ofsted visits as well as form-filling and other paperwork as causing a burden outside the classroom.'
A quote taken from a recent article in The Guardian. 
Although this is a worrying statistic I don't think teachers will be surprised by it, teaching is a full on, full time job. In a previous blog post I referred  to it as 'teaching the 24/7 profession'. Whilst this was a very light hearted post about how teachers never switch off and are 'teachers' all of the time even when out shopping, It was really my way of trying to see the positives in teaching. However there is clearly a dark side to the fact that teachers never switch off.

It is one thing to be SO committed to your job and to choose to spend your free time trailing around car boot sales for wet play games or building volcanoes at home for a science lesson. But it is quite another when the workload means working in the evenings and at weekends just to stay afloat.

I have been teaching for 16 years and teachers workload has always been a big one but it has definitely got worse over the last few years and has not been helped by the changes since the coalition government came into power. Below are some of the changes taken from (Education in England - the history of our schools website) 
2010 Academies Act 2010 provided for massive and rapid expansion of academies.
2010 Budget cuts: government proposed cuts of up to £3.5bn in the schools budget.
2010 Independent review of the primary curriculum proposals: scrapped.
2010 Diplomas: Labour's flagship policy scrapped.
2010 Building Schools for the Future: scrapped.
2010 Higher education: fewer places and vastly increased tuition fees, the latter despite Liberal Democrat pre-election promises.
2010 White paper The Importance of Teaching  : wide-ranging document covering teaching, leadership, behaviour, new schools, accountability etc.
2011 Education Act 2011  increased schools' powers relating to pupil behaviour and exclusions, further diminished the role of local authorities, further expansion of academies etc.
2011 Tickell Report The Early Years: Foundations for life, health and learning  made recommendations relating to the Early Years Foundation Stage.
2011 Bew Report Independent Review of Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability: recommended that published test results should be more comprehensive and seen as a part of a bigger picture. 
2011 DfE The Framework for the National Curriculum : a report by the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum review. 
2011 HCEC Report Behaviour and Discipline in Schools : a report by the House of Commons Education Committee.
2011 Green Paper Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability
2012 HCEC Report Great teachers: attracting, training and retaining the best: a report by the House of Commons Education Committee.
2012 White Paper Reform of provision for children and young people with Special Educational Needs 
2012 Statutory Framework for the EYFS: Setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five.
2012 2013 EYFS Profile Handbook published by the Standards and Testing Agency.
2013 The framework for school inspection published by Ofsted.
2013 School inspection handbook published by Ofsted.
2013 Subsidiary guidance: Supporting the inspection of maintained schools and academies published by Ofsted.
Of course amongst all of the Reviews, Reforms, Frameworks, Guidance and Handbooks are the pupils, young adult, parents, teachers and teaching assistants. Most of whom are bearing the brunt of changes and are yet rarely consulted. 

Curriculum reforms, the removal of statutory protections to limit classroom observations and ever-increasing workload with insufficient protections means teachers feel increasingly under attack. Pensions, the pay freeze, job cuts arising from funding cuts and  and threats to national terms and conditions arising from the privatisation of schools all result in huge amounts of stress.

Whilst my job is my vocation I still work to live not live to work and would quite like to have the right work/life balance. So how can this be achieved? Here are a couple of my thoughts:

Less lesson observations - I really do not see what they inform. Pupils results, team teaching and book scrutiny are less invasive and reveal what is actually going on in classrooms.
Realistic targets - for pupils, teachers and schools. Targets are an inevitable part of our job but unattainable, unrealistic targets increase stress and workloads. 
Smaller classes - class sizes impact upon everything from noise levels to excessive marking. 
Get rid of Ofsted! The constant changes to inspections and the mixed messages about school and lesson headings are damaging. 
The list could go on ....... What would you add?  

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Boxing Clever part 4 The Finished Pieces!

As part our topic on Katie Morag the children in my year 2 class were set the task of writing their own version of their favourite Katie Morag story. To help them with this process we used the 8 boxes from Alan Peat's Boxing Clever. (See blog posts Boxing Clever Parts 1, 2, and 3).

The finished pieces of writing have astounded me! All of the children, including those who are usually reluctant writers, have written 8 pages of a story in the correct sequence and with lots of detail and their handwriting and illustrations are beautiful.

Their story is presented as a book with:

 A front cover which includes the name of the author and illustrator

A blurb to hook potential readers in

Followed by 8 pages which match the 8 Boxing Clever Boxes


 Where next?


What goes wrong?

Who helps?

Where last?


On Thursday (World Book Day) the children will read their books to the children in F2 and Year 1. Then the books will go into the school library for other classes to look at before being sent home at the end of term. Boxing Clever has improved the children's story writing and they are understandably really proud of themselves.

I would recommend using Boxing Clever with pupils in KS1 as a way of teaching the linear nature of story telling but also for any pupils in KS2 who struggle with story structure.