Sunday, 28 December 2014


Must be time to blog again! It has been some time but then work and life does get in the way. The nurture posts initiated by @ChocoTzar two years ago have inspired a range of touching and often humbling personal and professional reflections, many of which I have read in recent days. I like the new 5 and 5 format, especially with the year numbers growing. This will aid being concise. Last year's reflection can be found here

Driving on: 

To review 2014 first- I will group last years 14 points as succinctly as I can.

1. In January my teaching workload trebled with our Year 6 teacher going part time.  Not what I expected in my first year as DHT but I was left with the responsibility for Maths and English in OFSTED year, so no pressure!  But what a wonderful group of children they were. For the first time in my career a school I had been part of attained 100% level 4+ across the board, got the best score in the authority in level 5 in reading and hit third place in one version of the local league tables. I am no great fan of presenting data like this, but as a small school with 70% Pupil Premium in that year it drew acclaim to the school and to the teachers who had driven those children in the previous 6 years. More importantly, they were genuine results giving those children the best possible start in their secondary school lives. 

OFSTED came in the middle of March. We knew it had to come before July and the timing could not have been any better, with our in-year data analysis well established and more importantly being seen to be used. Tremendous team spirit and a confident grasp of priorities by everyone together with excellent behaviour, great teaching and engagement of the team in conversation and not confrontation enabled us to reach the 'Good' grade we deserved. The best inspection outcome the school had ever had. Everyone is hugely proud.

2. Twitter has continued to be a great source of CPD for me, opening a range of opportunities through blogs, chats, links and interactions that aren't available in my LA. I have met a number of teacher tweeters and also other followers from my non-teaching interests. One aspect of Twitter that continues disappoint though is the slanging matches between professionals. There is bullying on Twitter(despite denials), and what I witnessed particularly in school holidays has been unpleasant. For the only time I unfollowed and blocked teachers, not a form of censorship I like, but I have no desire to see unprofessional behaviour on my timeline. 

I organised a Teach Meet too. The first in my LA. Numbers were small, but it was a start and it began conversations in other quarters. In September I was contacted by @Sazwighead and @RachelSwinburne offering to take on the running of the next event, which I was glad to do with my workload. Teach Meet Bexley 2015 will have over 100 attendees. From small acorns, mighty oaks grow! 

3. Getting the inspection out of the way enabled us to pay serious attention to the new curriculum. In summer we trialled some examples of how we felt we could deliver the new requirements. We have taken on the opportunity to deliver the curriculum in an innovative and creative manner.  We call it the Project Curriculum, as projects have defined beginnings, phases and endings. Each is based on one or more core texts from CLPE's The Power of Reading, placing literacy skills at the very centre of learning. A lateral, rather than linear approach enables colleagues to plan for the other subjects to accompany the project, though not in a contrived fashion. If it fits, then fine, if it doesn't, then it isn't squeezed in, but sits discretely alongside the rest of the learning.  One term in, we are feeling very excited about the engagement the children are showing. Not everyone may agree, but this suits our school and our children.

British Values hit the headlines in the Autumn, but we had already decided to embed Dr Neil Hawkes' Values Based Education as our PSHE curriculum. This is documented here

Again, the impact of this is embedding itself in the very fabric of the school. 

4. My reading. I have managed to read a good few educational texts. Other than Neil's book mentioned above, I won't name them. If you like what you read, you will put it into practice, if you don't then you won't. Enough said.

My personal top five for this year:

Golazo! (Andreas Campomar): A History of Latin American Football: Politics, intrigue and conspiracy abound.

The Sleepwalkers (Christopher Clark): An in depth study of the causes of World War I.

HHhH (Laurent Binet): A narrative based on the plot to assassinate Heydrich.

The Teleportation Accident (Ned Beauman): I read Boxer Beetle last year. One of Britain's best young novelists. 

The Psychopath Test (Jon Ronson): Read this and you will be seeing them everywhere!

5. Work-Life Balance: Must try harder!! Not easy to organise when you have a lot on your plate and often I have had to be reactive rather than proactive because of circumstances. Weekends have been especially busy. Four cinema visits all year; I used to exceed 40!

That is why holidays are so important to recharge, spend time with those you are closest to and to just be me. This year I have been especially lucky. I have stood on top of the Empire State Building, seen puffins in Shetland, and tracked the locations of my favourite Danish crime and political dramas in Copenhagen. I have rediscovered the love of photography I last had as a student. I am going to indulge myself with some examples here.

Arty interpretation of Lady Liberty

One of life's ambitions fulfilled.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen. Just beautiful. 
Driving forward: 

Hopes for 2015

1. Professional: As I said above I am most excited by the way the new curriculum has offered such opportunities to develop teaching and learning. Next challenge is the replacement of levels. We have taken the approach that we will keep levels for the moment and scaffold a replacement around them. There is a lot of material out there, and hasty decisions may be costly, especially with the rather imprecise performance descriptors looming. I am eternally grateful to @tim_jumpclarke and to @MichaelT1979 for their selfless efforts in working on the key objectives and to Tim for sharing those with me.

I have a few things in mind for time management, which I won't list because I know that by 8th January I will have to reevaluate those again. 

2. Twitter: Although we are in a minority there are an increasing number of primary practitioners sharing on Twitter, and a healthy number of secondary teachers making increasing connections with primary colleagues. February's Teach Meet will I hope lead to further channels of communication opening in my LA. Of course there are still a few who think we let the children run riot with glitter and glue, but you can't please everyone!

3. Reading and Writing:I will set myself a similar target. I always get books at Christmas, and I'm still working through some from the last year. I've just begun  A Song of Ice and Fire, that's the Game of Thrones books for the uninitiated. We have quite a fan club at school and now that everyone has caught up (usually it is a matter of knowing who is dead) we have another line of conversation at lunchtimes. 

I harbour no ambitions to write a professional text, but I do have a whole bank of short stories and plays I have written for the children. My sitcom never made it past a producer's desk but there is a chance it could be performed in a local theatre, with a few edits. 

4. Humour: This is such a powerful weapon. It can engage children and colleagues, and it develops a level of understanding that promotes language use. I don't advocate teachers being stand up comedians, but it does demonstrate a more human side to ones character. Humourless types just need to lighten up.

5. Health, Hope and Happiness: I aim to cook a new recipe each week. Although not a vegetarian, I have several great books (Ottolenghi) with amazing vegetable recipes to discover. 

I hope that whatever happens in May, we will have Government which will deliver and not damage.

I have a round numbered birthday this year, and that's the point where doctors begin conversations with 'At your age...' I've got pain in my right knee, but I watch my weight and exercise appropriately. Next month I will find if I have inherited glaucoma from my mother. However a few eye drops and an tubular bandage is nothing. I read @imagineinquiry's  contribution to this series yesterday, and his frank and honest assessment is most humbling. 

What will 2015 bring? Well I am looking for the positives. 

Monday, 1 September 2014

Building A Values Based Education Curriculum

We are all shaped by experiences. Every one of us has experienced joy, grief, excitement and disappointment. We have been let down or supported; embarrassed or praised;  been lied to, or even lied about. Heartbreak, romance, childbirth, promotion, pride. All of these impact on our thought processes and life decisions, and make us the people that we are.

It was with such in mind that we considered in developing our PSHE curriculum. The 'tough new curriculum' as some sources have called it begins from this month. 

The new documentation tells is this:

2.1 Every state-funded school must offer a curriculum which is balanced and broadly 
based and which:
 promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and
 prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.

2.2 The school curriculum comprises all learning and other experiences that each school 

plans for its pupils. The national curriculum forms one part of the school curriculum.

'.. all learning..' is the key phrase here. If we view the whole day, from the time before the bell sounds, through break and lunch times, to taking the children round to their parents at the end of the day, then there are a plethora of other learning opportunities. Indeed, if we were to include anytime a child is in school uniform, and representing the school in the community, then the definition of the 'school curriculum' is even broader. 

Which leads to this further paragraph from the new curriculum document.

2.5 All schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice. Schools are also free to include other subjects or topics of their choice in planning and designing their own programme of education.

PSHE. I have seen a 'scheme' for this, and what a behemoth it was, dictating which year groups should be covering a particular aspect in which week. Totally unworkable. Some teachers may be familiar with SEAL, which contained some useful material, but was also unwieldy and inflexible in some hands. Indeed I recall a former colleague delivering one of the prepared assemblies, and still being there 45 minutes later until rescued by a fire drill. 

PSHE needn't be such a 'beast'. It is about life skills and dealing with people. No fixed scheme can possibly support that.

It was with this in mind that I introduced colleague to the work of Dr Neil Hawkes and his superb and deeply personal reflection 'From My Heart'. Neil's work outlines 'Values Based Education', something he built during his headship in Oxfordshire, and has since shared Worldwide.

I won't go into detail. The book is an excellent read, and the website provides a simple rationale of the project.

We chose VbE because we felt the philosophy behind it suited our school and the way we wanted to deliver the new curriculum. We had already made the decision to build a project based approach, driven by CLPE's 'The Power of Reading' programme, to which the creative aspects of the curriculum are linked where possible. 

Quite simply, a programme of values, 22 of them, one for each month over a two year cycle, is chosen to suit the needs of the school and the children. The values are modelled through assemblies, at least one dedicated lesson, displays and rewards, and form part of the fabric and character of the school. Modelling is the modus operandi, as the staff have to live those values, and use the appropriate vocabulary to support them.

Today our start of term INSET was dedicated to deciding our guiding values. We considered what had shaped us as people, by reflecting upon our own perceptions of positive and negative aspects of society in our lifetimes (we range, as most staffs do, from 20s to 50s), and discussing the people who embodied values, and the books that had deeply moved us. This list produced parents and grandparents, Mandela, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and perhaps less predictably, but nonetheless deservedly, Clement Attlee. The books included The Bible, 'To Kill A Mockingbird', and at somewhat of a tangent, 'Black Beauty'. 

We also took time to consider the school itself, because the programme of values is determined by the character of the school. Social deprivation, degrees of aspiration, the lack of positive (particularly male) role models; all were considered, together with the fact that we already have strong core values, our views of society and our values 'heroes'. Through discussion, sharing, elimination and no small amount of laughter, we generated this programme, unique to our school.


So that is it! Our values! Our values journey starts with the children's arrival tomorrow and my assembly on the value of 'Positivity' later in the week. There is more work to do in further INSET on reflection, vocabulary and the application of the values to situations around the school. The values have to be lived by all the staff at all times after all.

This was the most powerful aspect of Neil's work for me; living the values. As teachers we are incredibly powerful as role models: in totalitarian regimes we would have been one of the first 'up against the wall' after all! It does disappoint me to see teachers being rude to each other, particularly through Twitter. This summer I have seen a number of unpleasant comments between professionals. Would they speak to colleagues or indeed children like that? Bearing in mind that Twitter is an open forum; anyone could be reading it. Healthy debate and discussion is fine. Rudeness is not. Perhaps these people need to read Neil's work too.

Monday, 30 June 2014

"What is the best place for testing in schools?" Has testing supplanted effective teaching and learning?

I am pleased to offer this further contribution to this month’s #blogsync

Since the announcement of the scrapping of levels and the changes to testing arrangements there has been copious debate and a fair amount of head scratching as to the future of testing and its place in the cycle of assessment.

Who do we assess for?

·         For the children – to inform the next stages of their learning, to inform them of their progress and what they need to do to reach the next step of their learning journey.

·         For the parents- to inform them of their children’s progress and how they can best support their offspring.

·         For ourselves- to plan the next stage of the children’s learning, to set learning targets, to judge relative progress.

We don’t assess for OFSTED, though OFSTED will be interrogating our data, books and the children in regard to their attitude to learning.

What is assessment?

There’s been much dialogue about assessment since the announcement about the scrapping of National Curriculum levels. Much of this debate has been not so much about assessment as about tracking. Whilst both are required, the current system of National Curriculum levels has been that its use as a tracking tool has seemingly replaced its purpose as an assessment tool.

To assess: to evaluate or estimate the nature, ability, or quality something.
To track: to follow the trail or movements of something.

Inevitably, the way that Ofsted works has meant that schools have been forced to use their levelled assessments to prove that they are tracking progress towards the end-of-key-stage expectations. However, in doing so we have all but removed the act of assessment from the processes of teaching and learning.

The problem with the drive towards the tracking of progress is that with each large step towards numerical data we lose the small step detail. Ultimately we lose sight of what makes a good teacher: one that knows the children in their class.

For assessment to be useful and meaningful, it needs to tell children, teachers and sometimes parents, what it is that the child can or cannot do. Levels aren’t especially helpful, since they were designed to be broad. Accordingly, sub-levels were created to try to fill the gap as indicators on a tracking scale. Remember though, sublevels were only intended originally to subdivide level 2 for a more measured ability profile at Year 2. Sublevelling higher up transpired from use of the optional tests; readers will recall that APP deemed children as low, secure or high, not C, B or A.

For assessment to work well, it needs to be directly linked to the taught curriculum. In schools, we need processes which are directly linked to the curriculum that allow teachers to judge how well their children have learned what has been taught. Current national tests (optional and statutory) do not fully serve this purpose. A child in Y5 might not have covered all of the KS2 curriculum content which could come up on a test, but a test level does not discern between that the taught and untaught, the grasped and ungrasped.

For example a child can achieve a Level 4 on National Curriculum tests, or even through APP assessment, without knowing their tables up to 10×10, despite this being a requirement of both the APP criteria and the National Curriculum attainment target. Indeed, some children who manage well in many areas of mathematics can continue to appear to be making progress in tracking records, despite never confidently knowing some key aspects of the curriculum.
In the absence of assessment, it is perfectly possible for a child to never have this key need identified. Despite all that we know about the importance of some key aspects of subjects, progress measurement relates to tracking first and foremost.

A child might well be achieving level 5, or within the expected range for his/her age, or 101 on a scaled score- but none of that information gives away the truth about whether he/she can quickly recall 6 x 7 or to apply this knowledge further.

The issue with testing

QCA optional tests were only ever designed as a summative measure, designed to be delivered at the end of a school Year. There was never any intention to correlate the standards of the 1998, 2003 and 2006 tests to each other, or to correlate the Year 3, 4 and 5 tests to each other- hence a high achieving child in Year 3 would score an indicative level 4, and a high achieving child in Year 4 would also score the same indicative level 4. The key term is ‘indicative’ here. The same issue exists with level 5 in the Year 5 tests. At best the ‘indicative’ level is a 5c (or a 4c in the Year 3 and 4 materials) but it is also worth considering the implications for KS2 tests- until recently a child achieving level 5 in Year 5 tests had nowhere higher to go in Year 6.

One further issue is the sublevelling. In some tests a margin of 5 marks could turn a ‘c’ to an ‘a’, which in terms of APS progress is 4 points, theoretically in excess of a whole Year’s progress. With an element of ‘teaching to the test’ a few ‘tricks’, such as looking for the questions where drawing a line or completing a box is the requirement, can make the apparent difference to the result. This is not representative of good teaching or learning.

One observed issue has been the splitting of the indicative upper level into sublevels which is completely inaccurate in terms of reporting. Overall testing has issues with reliability and validity, and hence there are issues with what testing actually means.

Why teaching to the test is so bad

Tests are about making a measurement: of something enormous and not clearly defined.  The term ‘domain’ describes what is available to be tested. The domain is huge; just consider how much as a primary teacher you cover in an entire academic Year. No test can ever truly measure the domain, as parts of the curriculum cannot be tested in a written form. In short, tests are at best only a sample.

Teachers need to see and use standardised tests which prompt certain responses and which are the same for each child taking them. The QCA tests are standardised, but not in relation to each other, and were only ever designed to be end of Year, summative assessments with results that were only ever intended to be indicative rather than strictly accurate.

Memorisation of things such as times tables and verb endings, is of some value, but memorisation of the wrong things like exam tricks and hints, is clearly not. If the writing test is use, teaching Year 5 a unit on persuasive writing shortly before that test will inevitably result in a skewed result. Matching teaching to the test will inevitably result in fabricated gains.  The syllabus is not the curriculum, and nor should it be the curriculum.

It is so much easier nowadays for teachers (and parents) to download past papers from the internet and work on their children’s areas of weakness. However teaching which fixates on past papers and test preparation is not teaching to the domain. It’s teaching to the sample. The improvements it generates are not likely to be genuine. Teaching to the test doesn’t replace teaching and learning.  A good Year 6 teacher will complete old SATS papers with a class, but not to teach test tricks, they to allow children the experience of working to time and under pressure.

Some schools give the same QCA test at the end of each term. This can produce feelings of familiarity which may result in overconfidence, and subsequent underperformance, or undermined confidence for the fear of repeated mistakes. In contrast a child who performs well at Christmas has nowhere else to go in terms of progress for the rest of the year.

So: What now?

Testing clearly has a place as a measure of progress with a National standard in place. Overtesting results in anxieties, for children and teachers, and potential inaccuracies.

Good teachers know their children: what they can do well, where they need support, how they can develop in the future. Rigorous and regular formative teacher assessment, monitored and moderated, is representative of good practice. Knowing that a child is working at a secure level 3, rather than saying the child is there ‘because the test says so’, is a clearer indication of a teacher with a knowledge of their class, and a firmer basis for planning next steps in learning. With levels going, these teachers are going to be in the best position to adjust to any change. 

Monday, 30 December 2013

#Nurture 1314

Nurture 1314 is  proving a popular venture amongst teacher tweeters and bloggers this holiday. I took part in last years project and my full thoughts can be found here:

Below is the summary of my aims for 2013- not all educational- and outcomes. I promise not to mark against my learning objectives! 

Thirteen for '13

1. Twitter: You don't have to be on Twitter to get the best of out being a teacher- but it helps!! Twitter exchanges with other teachers have been awesome, and in some cases ORRsome! To meet 40 or more other tweachers at #SLTcamp was a highlight of the year and an experience which has supercharged my desire to bring initiative to the whole school environment. 

2. Michael Gove:. Still there! Possibly only for another 18 months though.

3. Wine: France and Turkey sold amazing value wine! Are you listening Tesco? 

4. 20 books: If I include books I read for school I met this target. Must try harder!

5. My writing: As yet not published but I have had positive responses to my writing blog and a promise to have a play based on my sitcom script performed at the local theatre! WOW!!

6. Football silverware: Andy and Steve- you will appreciate that supporting our clubs is a calling, an endeavour, a labour of love- and very occasional success. Thank heavens I'm not a Palace fan!

7. Untruthful people: Let's just say that they have to be lucky every day!

8. Cooking a new recipe at least twice a month and share it with my Twitter friends: Done! And beyond! See below!

9. Greater financial sense: What is it with teenagers?

10. My garden: enough courgettes to put my wife off them for years!Tomatoes hit by cold weather in early part of year. Disappointing harvest!

11. Common sense  in education:  The feckless Twigg is history. Hunt writes good History! Only time will tell! Foot out of mouth will be a good start!

12. DV: Sadly as teachers we have to see the signs of this. The suffering that Nigella Lawson has had to put up with, including the smear campaign since she was brutally and publicly assaulted, can only however expose what some men are like!

13. Being in a happier place: People who know me will know that my wife was brutally cut down from her Headship- without so much as an OFSTED call- just the victim of one year of  results- after a few months of thinking she would never work again, she has now worked in three schools in senior positions. And after many years of trying and almost giving up hope I secured a DHT position in a school I wanted to work in, with a Head I am very happy to work with and  which offers the challenges that make this job worthwhile! 

Fourteen for '14

Begins with the professional, ends with the personal. 

1. Twitter: really is the most amazing tool for connecting people. Teachers in particular. I have had better CPD through Twitter (not just SLT Camp) than I have for years. The notion of Teach Meets doesn't yet exist in my LEA, but I hope to lead this initiative this coming year.

2. The Death of Ego: See also Twitter/SLT Camp. It was one of the requirements of SLT Camp to leave ego at home. Didn't that work so well? Teachers often work in an environment where they feel constantly under pressure and criticised. Look at any staff and it is a mix of NQTs, young single people, those with more life experience and some with their own children. Just like any workplace. The best team, and there is no 'I'in team, works with everyone playing to their strengths and those strengths add to a collective whole. There is no room for the whingers, complainers and the 'me-me-me' brigade. Recognise your own weaknesses, act and build on them and be part of a team that put children first,children second, but never last!

3. The New Curriculum: Despite what we may feel about Mr Gove the new curriculum can be shaped to deliver what we consider to be good learning. English and Maths seems fairly set in stone, nut as for the rest of it, if we don't like the content we can shape it to what is good for the children and their futures. No teacher dares scupper the future of any child. The New National Curriculum is a challenge, but an exciting one in the right hands.

4. Levels: Levels won't be used by the Government to assess end of Key Stage progress. We have had years of levels and are used to them as teachers, and most schools seem used to APS and the implications for target setting. What is actually stopping us using this as a progress measure?  Schools still using the old QCA tests will all know there is no consistency between the levels from one test to the next. Strong and rigorous (and I don't use 'rigour' ironically) teacher assessment is required to answer that old perennial favourite question from parents 'How is she doing?'.  Deciles will determine relative standing on a national scale,and the first use of it for primary schools will be in 2016, but that will work with up to 600,000 children. With a cohort of 30-60 the use of deciles will be virtually meaningless because applied to a whole school lifetime experience of a child, we know that there will be a group who will always be in the first decile, and one who will always be in the last. What impact will that have on self-esteem. I attended a conference recently at which the question about level replacement was answered by the representative from the DfE with a resounding 'I don't know!'

5. Developing Leadership: I have found the transition to my new role relatively smooth because I realised that I had actually been doing much that is required of me for a few years already. Being a really good leader is something I wish to develop. There are plenty of examples of what is not good leadership. I'm certainly not going to employ any of those strategies. Leadership should be by example, and founded in the realities of life in the classroom,not divorced from day-to-day practice. Good leaders drive from the pack, not from behind it. Listening is a skill, not a gesture. I'm not a checklist and clipboard person. I would rather get my hands dirty! And I hate cliches. 

6. Reading: I have barely been near an educational text since my research experience. Time to reverse that trend. SLT camp provided me with a start to my reading list. Any more suggestions would be welcome

7. OFSTED: Love it or hate it, there is no getting away from it and I know I can't because some time between January and July they will be here. Is OFSTED a bad thing? Ignore the horror stories for a minute. The organisation per se has made schools more self evaluative, reflective and aware of the meed to be responsible for their own development. In four inspections I have only encountered one inspector with  negative attitudes. 

8. Surely we should be united against the common enemy: Not the obvious one or two! Not the Judean Peoples' Front! It is complacency, arrogance and a belief that ones own ideas are right at the expense of those of all others that can undermine our professional standing. There isn't one way of teaching well and some methods work better for some people than others. 

9. Making a difference:Quite simply, that is what I want to make in my new role. Not change for change's sake. Enough said.

10. Proactive not reactive: Ok that is a cliche! One which I may have used in my interview, but from experience. However no school can run successfully by simply reacting to day to day events. Of course there is no way of predicting some of the random happenings, but anticipation of where problems might arise, through sound management and awareness of what is happening, is strategic and avoids dramas becoming crises. 

11. Work Life Balance: Mythical? The Holy Grail of teachers? I know of teachers who have been told that they couldn't have one! Well we need one, all of us, because quite simply which child, and which parent, wants a teacher who is an automaton with no life experience to draw upon? Children want to know your football team (and to rib you when they lose) whether you watch  EastEnders and if you can salsa. Thanks again to SLT camp for that one! Without a work-life balance a teacher will be stilted and unproductive. I fully intend to take  and make time for myself each day and each week. 

12. Reading and Writing: Not work related this time! However if the children perceive us as readers, then they will see it as less of a chore. Christmas again produced a small pile of reading material for me. At least 20 pages a day will be my target. Also I am going to add to my creative writing blog as was mentioned above. If my work does make it to the stage, even as an amateur production, it will bring enormous satisfaction. And hopefully no lawsuits!

13. Cooking: See work-life balance. For me this is not just a survival essential, but a hobby and a way of bringing people together. Twitter again has enabled me to build this aspect of my interests, and it is a great channel to share pictures and recipes.

14. Family and Friends: Finally if you don't have a work-life balance, you don't have these! Value your time with both, because you never know when you will truly need them. For the cynical, and they probably won't be reading this, Twitter does lead to real friendships.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Musings and Ramblings: Reflections on the first #SLTcamp

Imagine if you will for a minute the stereotypical images of teacher  INSET and CPD, be it a staff meeting, training day, local or national conference.

Someone droning on endlessly, loving the sound of their own voice. One who constantly interrupts and berates the course leader. The naughty group in the corner! Then there's the eye rollers, the yawners, the doodlers and the sniggerers! 

'It won't work in my classroom!' 

'I've done it my way for twenty years and I'm not changing now' 

'More work for us from the top!'

I am not one for stereotypes, but all these have been familiar as the quality and quantity of CPD has been impacted by cutbacks, lack of time and the delivery of often generic and stale material. 

Which is why, in response to a single tweet in August, I signed up for the inaugural SLTcamp.

The pre-camp emails suggested a quite open and general agenda, and as I drove into the pitch black of the Surrey countryside, losing phone signal and missing the turning twice, I wasn't entirely sure of what I might come away from the weekend with.

A week on from the experience, I can say that SLTcamp represented the best CPD I have ever been part of. For the past week my mind has been abuzz with the potential to employ the ideas and feedback generated by forty or so very different, diverse and dedicated professionals. Quick fixes; simple solutions to pressing problems; longer term strategic thinking. All were generated in a chilly village hall and over lunch and dinner. 

Already this week I have ordered a roll of 'Magic Whiteboard', arranged the beginnings of staff meetings to be like a 'Teach Meet', set up a 'risk factor' analysis for vulnerable children, and introduced the now world famous 'Wobbly Wallet', a quite marvellous and simple idea, which had the primary group in stitches, thanks to the wonderfully effervescent @debtex. 

Indeed, I have also taken inspiration from the salsa session that rounded off the Saturday evening! I am no dancer! Ask the wife! However there was no hiding place, so I faced and overcame my initial reticence, and used this in assembly, where I raised with the children the notion of facing a difficult learning experience, and the acquisition of new skills. I taught a few children some simple steps, and then to their horror asked them to dance together! To be fair to them I demonstrated too, thanks to one of our Teaching Assistants who gamely agreed to be my partner. One of the Year 6 children grabbed a table tennis bat and chalked a 10 on it too! 

I challenge my fellow campers to follow suit!

Not a moment of the weekend was wasted. It was a tremendous opportunity to catch up with people I have chatted with on Twitter for a while, particularly @Andyphilipday to bemoan our respective football teams lack of recent silverware. The interaction between Primary and Secondary colleagues, so rarely experienced, was a real eye opener to shared difficulties, experiences and successes. I will be returning to the bank of ideas I came back with for a very long time to come. 

One of the few requirements of the weekend was 'No Egos!', and this was firmly adhered to, which was incredibly refreshing. Of course there was a lot of character on show, as there always is in a group of that size, but the mix and balance of the participants was perfect. I left with new friends, new contacts and recharged enthusiasm.

Thanks once again to Sarah and Stephen for all their marvellous preparation and resilience in organising the weekend. 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Purpose of Education: Making a Difference

Twenty years ago I began my teaching my first primary school class. This was some years later than I might have anticipated. My original intention, to teach History at secondary school, was scuppered when my finance for my MA fell through and I had to work for a living. Finding myself in the misogynist's haven and creative abyss that was the insurance industry in the City of London, and being neither a 'barrow boy', the owner of an old school tie nor a serial philanderer, realised my calling lay elsewhere.

I never wanted to be an insurance broker, I wanted to be a ....

I wanted to be a ...

Twenty years on, I haven't looked back. However many teachers do not last the course, and education is not a profession they remain in for a range of reasons: pressure of OFSTED, management or behaviour management; the demands upon their time; greater financial reward elsewhere.

Which brings me to the topic of September's Blogsync: The Purpose of Education.

Simply put, I believe the Purpose of Education to be to make a difference in the lives of those we work with, the children. 

By difference I do not mean getting a struggling child to level 4, or to Grade C at GCSE, though of course those are hugely important to the student. Nor do I mean coaxing a child to perform in just the right way at the very moment the inspector enters the room. If any of  my former pupils achieve fame and fortune, they aren't going to appear on 'The One Show' recalling revision sessions or SATS papers. No! They will remember setting the classroom up as if we had been burgled overnight, class assemblies presented as a mythical journey or as an episode of Doctor Who, memorable trips and humorous moments. 

Think of the films that celebrate teaching. Goodbye Mr Chips, To Sir With Love, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, The History Boys. All have teachers that inspire, engross and impact the lives of the students they encounter. The students all achieve, but with that extra special ingredient- engagement, the achievement really means something. Engagement is something that OFSTED look for, and it is explicitly stated in the revised Framework, but engagement is that key element, that secret to unlocking the potential within each child.

Coincidentally I sat my A-levels in the same year as the film was set.

One of the hardest things for boys to learn is that a teacher is human. One of the hardest things for a teacher to learn is not to try and tell them.”

 The History Boys

“We don't read and write poetry because its cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is full of passion.” 
Dead Poets Society

Education has the power to make a difference in the lives of our young people. Engaging them in powerful and effective ways can convince them that their learning has a vital place in their future. There have been suggestions that white working class boys in particular are disengaged from learning ( and my own experience would bear this out:

 'He'll be alright! He don't need no qualifications to get by!'

'Bloody teachers, think you know it all don'tcha!'

'My mum says I don't have to do what I'm told in school and if you say otherwise she's coming down here to sort you out!'

I remember all these from my very first year, very typical of parents who were in an anti-school and anti-authority culture in the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps trapped in a cycle of generational unemployment. 

Well these days 'He won't be alright'; in the 1970s school leavers could turn up on a building site build a wall and be a bricklayer by lunchtime, now they can't get beyond the gates without certificates. We need to go beyond simply insisting upon attendance, attention and homework completion; we have to give these meaning and purpose. There is no right or wrong way to do that, but the armoury of intellectual and persuasive weapons at our disposal can enable us as educators to empower the youngsters in our charge with the skills for the future and to step forth with aspirations.  

I think of the teachers who engaged me: Mrs Dalrymple and Mr McCann at primary school; Chris and Pauline Collier who lit the flame of my love of History; John Wohlers, who scared us all to death but got the whole class grade A or B at O-level Maths, Janet Lawley, who never taught me but whose very presence oozed her love of learning and her vision. These names don't go away, but those who didn't inspire are hard to recall. 

Few of us can hope to be 'Legends', or 'ledge' in the children's parlance, but at least we can hope to be remembered for a few years. 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

New Horizons

After being in my first teaching post for twenty years (I won't explain, its a long story) here I am two weeks into Deputy Headship and I'm loving every minute of it.

Twenty summers spent planning, preparing, compiling reports and trying to grab some family time! This year I was determined to completely recharge my batteries, particularly with working late most of the final half term at my previous school, finalising as much as possible for those taking on my old responsibilities. I read several good books, experimented with a few new recipes and ingredients in the kitchen and was able to appreciate the weather, made all the better by success in The Ashes!

At assembly on my final day I joked that twenty years beforehand, I had arrived dark haired, happy and full of great ideas, and that I was leaving with two out of those three still intact. The gene pool is to blame for the first on this list!

I didn't divorce myself entirely from education over the break. Twitter provides wonderful opportunities for free CPD for the teaching community, and serves as an excellent platform for sharing of the best practice and current development. The most useful links for me came from Heather Leatt (@Heatherleatt) with the highlighted changes to the OFSTED framework and . Extremely useful to have this 'heads up' before the year began. 

I am very much looking forward to attending SLT Camp (@SLTcamp) in November, with the chance to meet some of my fellow tweachers, and to share inspiration and innovation. Many thanks to Sarah Findlater (@MsFindlater) and Stephen Lockyer (@mrlockyer) for organising this.  With CPD offered by some LEAs a little thin on the ground and of sometimes questionable value, what an opportunity this is to encounter like minds, and to interact with secondary colleagues too. So glad I don't have to pack my wellies and sleeping bag.

Two weeks into term, and unsurprisingly I'm very busy already. There are plenty of challenges ahead, but I knew that, and it is one of the reasons I took on the position. One challenge to myself is to develop my educational blogging further. Let's see if I keep that one up!

Lest we forget, the reason we are in this business is to make a difference to children, and the responses they give our professional lifeblood. I took my first whole school assembly this week; the importance of creating a good first impression was my theme. I showed a picture of George Clooney. 

'Does anybody know who this is?' 

'Is it you Mr Cowley?'

I'll take that one! The gene pool has its uses sometimes!

George is often stopped and asked if he is the new Deputy Head