New Ofsted Framework – a small school perspective.

I want to start this by stating that I think the proposed framework is incredibly positive and the emphasis on workload and evidence base has the chance to really make a difference for many teachers. Many will be warmed by the focus on a wider curriculum and the related insistence that an inspection should not cause an increase in workload.

There is some of it that does give me a cause for concern however. The biggest of this is the ’on-site’ preparation. This is where the school would be notified by 10AM the previous day of the inspection, but the inspectors would be on site for a half-day preparation on the day they call. The list of items they cover during this prep time is very similar to the current phone call, (school development plan, maps, staff list etc) with a few differences – wifi, single central register. And of course they expect to be able to speak to school leaders – and they will need space to do this. This is immediately problematic. There really is no small school in the land that will have random space, and spare staff, to be able to do this at such short notice. In a school where the headteacher is teaching and where there may be no business manager working (they may not even check the answer machine until lunchtime!) this is going to really make people anxious. It means for those expecting Ofsted there will always need to be ‘a plan’ in place just in case – a cost incurred and extra work already taking place. And, they haven’t even begun the ‘formal’ part of the inspection yet. This seems to be a step backward in a time where we look to using technology to save time and resources. The email / secure portal for sharing documents seems to work fine and the use of phones means that if the headteacher is off-site they can still get pertinent information.

On the other hand some of this proposed framework could, potentially, benefit the small school. The emphasis on a triangulation of evidence – ‘ connect lesson observation to other evidence: discussions with curriculum leaders, teachers and pupils, and work scrutiny’ could work very well in an environment for one leader is directly responsible for many elements of accountability. The chance to have a conversation, talking through how impact can be seen and how decisions are taken could be very beneficial.

Likewise for the focus on curriculum-level work scrutiny and on not taking a random sample of work. In a school where the curriculum is planned across 2, or even 4, years a holistic approach to the evidence in books and the ‘long view’ could work with a small school and give school leaders the chance to demonstrate impact over time. Of course small schools will need to put a bit of time into the long view themselves – including thinking about evidence, how long they keep curriculum evidence for and how they ensure their curriculum is incremental across different year groups. Schools will need a strong stomach not to start evidencing every little detail in ever subject, and Ofsted will need to take some responsibility and ensure they do not give the impression that this is needed.

The proof of any of these changes will be in the first crop of inspections that take place. And some will demand greater changes: I think they should cut out a one-word grade altogether (and much has been written on this topic) as well as ensure that they observe all schools and ‘outstanding’ schools are not exempt. But for a step toward recognising that they have been responsible for many of the workload-inducing practice over the years this Ofsted framework is a good start.

Getting your child started online.

Children will be online. There really is no way to avoid it. And, as they get online they will need an account or a profile for games, apps and even just for browsing on some sites. Then, as they get older, social media. To support this it’s a good idea to model the use of the internet and to support your child whilst they get used to managing their own accounts and their own online presence. But where to start?

Usernames

We talk about usernames in school. We discuss how you don’t want to give any personal information away in your name. You need a username that is not offensive and is simple.

Many people choose their first name and some numbers, or a nickname and children need to be warned of the danger of this. First names can be problematic. Not only can they identify you easily if names are spelt in an unusual way but they also give a sense of familiarity which may mean some children find it difficult to remember they are talking to strangers. A child may say they want to use their real name so they can find their friends. Some platforms offer the chance to let contacts know your real name separately – make sure you talk to your child about this before they do it. We always suggest that children only add as ‘friends’ those contacts that they know in real life.

Email addresses

To start with use a family email address so you can keep track of account registrations and any other agreements that go with it.

Schools may use email addresses for children for internal mail to get them used to the process of usernames / passwords etc. – and so as a family sharing email addresses is a good way to introduce your child to this. It also allows you to model use and to introduce the child to email etiquette. Staying in touch with far-flung relatives maybe or just emailing thank-you notes at birthdays. Most social media sites have a minmum age for sign up and so use this as a rule of thumb for email addressses too.

Friends

Always start with the premise that children should know their online friends in real life. Encourage this and talk to children about what they use to talk to friends and how they act online.

However, as we know, meeting people out of your bubble is a big plus of the internet and so, as they get older, the need to understand not to give too much information away. In a lesson we did once we found that children were pretty savvy about their own address, real name and family but not so good with their school. Children would give details out about where school was, or how they get to school particularly if it was another child they were speaking to. There has to be a fine line with trust and looking after your information. So use this a a discussion point. Do they really need to know how you got to school this morning?

Finally use these conversations as a way to set boundaries – once children are managing their own accounts or setting up their own games they will inevitably find themselves being advertised to. Being savvy about adverts and about what you can and can’t download is a big subject, but if you are able to be open about this early on it will hopefully prevent future problems.

And don’t forget there is lots of help online with specific apps, platforms and games. You can take a look here for more information.

My career has been driven by Government Initiatives.

Funny, I had a bit of a revelation today. Tidying out turned up my old CPD folder. One which I kept throughout my career, up to this latest job. ( I have to say I found this very helpful when job hunting and whatnot, but that’s not the point of this post!)

Looking though my folder, organised by ‘theme’ – e.g. photo evidence, letters and articles, reports; I realised that everything I had done in terms of pushing my career forward, or trying something new, had been dictated by the government of the time. Even my Local Authority position, which was partly inspired by a big push into spending on IT, was all about money – and where schools were allowed to spend.

Take my first role – which was PE and School Sports Coordinator. Completely driven by the money that was going into school sports. This meant, of course, that schools had to evidence the spending and the impact (remember the survey and older SSCO colleagues?) – and they needed someone to do this. My folder also contains the ‘evidence’ of my next role – extended school coordinator. Again, using clubs, afterschool clubs, out of hours (I think that was my title!) all as ways to engage the whole school community. I was in London then, and there was a lot of local focus on the family- family kitchen cookery classes, English classes, etc. I’m sure the Head Teacher at the time thought these things were needed, but the fact is I only did it because money was available and school were being rewarded for doing such things. If there hadn’t been money I don’t think the school would have provided these services. Was this a choice of that school then? Would we have scraped together the money?

Reports are also a big part of my CPD folder, as Assessment Lead for a few years, I put a few in my folder and the change over the years is startling. I reported to governors, SLT and our SIP at the time. It started with a look at the whole school trends, three years trends, cohort strengths etc. But then in a few years it moves into groups – and a focus on just a small percentage of children for each cohort — and each year the number of these groups increase, and the detail I go into bcomes more specific, and arguably, more useless. The time taken probably increased too – but I don’t remember!

It doesn’t just follow the money of course, in all this I have attended courses for hockey, cricket FA Coaching (sports, of course! )- but also book corner training, and the seemingly obligatory ‘outstanding teaching courses’ (I attended a few of them.. take that as you will!). There were also the interactive whiteboards training (government put a lot of mone into this of course – see this report for more info) and the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment – which I don’t think we ever used). These type of initiatives can all be linked to government drives though, and it makes me wonder if I, as a new teacher looking for opportunities would have made those career choices if there wasn’t this big push on sports / IT and assesment practises.

This has all made me think, if, as a Headteacher, I can now effectively lead my school in a direction that the school community wants to go in? Even if it is not attached to a government idea, or funding pool? This is why our profession needs an independent body that can advise and protect schools and teachers from the whims of whichever government happens to be in power. Hopefully the Chartered College can do this, but I wonder how many teachers have had their careers shaped by Government whims?

What Parents need to know about Videogames.

Many children are now settling down with new games consoles or new games following Christmas. For some parents this can be a whole new world, and a bit of a confusing one! After all video are big business – millions of pounds and thousands of employees. Here a few things to be aware of, and a few links that will guide you for further reading.

Surviving Mars

there is a massive variety of games… it is, after all, not just for kids!

The stats around who plays and what they play make for interesting reading. Average age; 35 – and 45% of US gamers are women.

Find out about the games, spend a bit of time exploring the store of the platform you are using. Lots of websites are out there for suggestions, and ask around for recommendations. Depending on the age of your children there are lots of multiplayer games and I recommend you set aside time to try and play yourself. Start with Lego, or Rayman! Good sites to check out include: this round up from CNET and co-optimus.com.

And… read the ratings! All games come with age ratings, it can be harder to see these on digital downloads so make yourself aware. For example a rating such as a PEGI 12 will mean there may be violence, usually against fantasy characters and mild swearing. A rating of PEGI 7 is not that different from a PEGI 3, but you may find some peril or mild fighting. You can find out more about the ratings here: https://videostandards.org.uk/RatingBoard/pegi-info.html#pegi-controls

you are always online, unless you specifically request not to be… parental controls need to be used.

This works also for mobile platforms such as the Switch and the PsVita and you need to ensure you are aware of these settings. Big games often require updates once bought, and for this the games console will want to be online. Create a master account, or parent account, on the console first as this will allow you to keep an eye on parental controls, report any issues and check any purchases. Don’t let your children create an account which doesn’t have their real age.

They can be more about the social side of things than the actual game.

Recent games, such as Fortnite, which is based on team battles often involve lots of talking, working together and general ‘hanging out’ – be aware of this and talk to your child about who they are talking to and how they ‘play’ together. Minecraft or Terraria also create virtual worlds which allow players to meet and to work together cooperatively. This is good social interaction, developing language and game skills and a good opportunity to take about esafety, be involved.

Limit screen time and have breaks!

There is some evidence that screen time at a young age should be limited, but there is little firm evidence for older children. Still, be vigilant as with anything, encourage breaks, such as you would have with TV and Film. Talk about what they are doing, especially if they seem to get angry at games. What do they enjoy about playing? Will they try a different kind of game instead of the same one over?

Finally enjoy them! There is a world of experience in games, and some which will definitely tax your problem solving skills as well as silly games which will encourage the whole family to have fun!


What will 2019 bring?

As useful as it is to reflect, I think that the chance to look forward and to plan, as far as we can, is also important. Being the Head Teacher of a small primary school means that we have to be able to move with the ever-changing political and financial tide. And so, for the first time, I thought I’d try some predictions of what will, and won’t, impact our schools this year. Here goes:

Assessment

Now, in the core subjects, I don’t think this will be so controversial this year. We have had our fair share of controversy over the last few years and things are settling down now. Guidance for Key Stage 2 remains the same, and moderation procedures are left untouched too. There is some change on the horizon for Key Stage 1, it I don,t think this will bite just yet. Instead we will be busy creating our own procedures for the rest of the curriculum. Unfortunately, I think that the welcome broadening of the focus by Ofsted will mean that we will see various ways of schools looking to ‘prove progress‘ or to measure where pupils are on their curriculum continuum. Of course the result of this will be two-fold, with some of this entirely within our control. The education world taking a look at the wider curriculum in Primary is a good thing, of course, and will hopefully influence other areas of the media. However we need to keep ourself in check and ensure that this does not add to an already jammed workload.

Staffing and CPD

We are in the middle of a rise in home-grown teacher led CPD, and this is a good thing. This is not just my Twitter bubble, although I do love the hashtag led chats on twitter. But it is thanks to Multi Academy Trusts, The Chartered College and, of course, the fact that schools are feeling the pinch. Ofsted is more open than I have ever known it, and I think that teachers scrutinise DfE announcements for themselves more now. As a teacher shortage bites we need to realise how much power we have. I hope this teacher led expertise continues to grow and we don’t lose this growing confidence. Social media can be very helpful in this way. The downside to this is the opportunity for misinformation, though this is a predicament for all areas of social media now.
 
As for other areas, I think much will be about well-being, whole curriculum and ‘evidencing’ the whole school and what we do. I just hope we can keep our heads whilst we do this.

How I Use Whole-Class Reading

Context first: this is a mixed age Y5/Y6 class.

I tried whole class reading instead of a guided reading carousel last year after a bit of a dip in the KS2 reading last year. And it worked, our children were more confident with the SATS questions, and they talk with great pride about the books they read. For some of the children this is the first time they’ve read whole books. 

Why whole class?

An analysis of test results – as well as the use of standardised tests across the school revealed some common themes.

  • phrasing of some of the questions – e.g. the ’find and copy one word’ or ‘find and copy a phrase which shows..’
  • struggling to scan – running out of time
  • Vocabulary (an oldie, but common theme)
With this in mind, and with a very wide range of needs within the class, I couldn’t help thinking that the carousel style of guided reading was not giving the children enough exposure to ‘good’ reading, we weren’t discussing author choice enough, or answering questions with enough depth. I started by looking at many of the people who have tried this method before me.

The Text

The first hurdle was the choice of text – as it was a whole new concept for the class I thought long and hard as I wanted something that was challenging and interesting. I wanted them to feel like we were trying something new, and potentially very challenging. We went for Treasure Island – and then built around this our literacy planning and activites. This ensured it was a key part of the classroom environment. Other texts that have worked well have been Journey to the River Sea, The Railway Children and we are currently leading Secrets of the Sun King.

The Sessions

Our School has forty minutes of reading every day. Four out of five I lead the sessions. For the other session they can read what they like.
My sessions work like this… at least 20/30 mins of reading mainly led by me although as I get to know the children better I will choose them to read paragraphs at a time. Questioning varies between vocabulary or author choice of punctuation through to ‘what would you do…?’ type questions. I focus questions on specific areas so it’s not a scattergun approach. First half term it has all been vocabulary and punctuation. You really have to work on questioning; making it non-threatening, discussion style.
Then ten, twenty minutes on a task. Usually a written task, or a few questions.

The Tasks

Vocabulary work – I give them a word they follow a practised routine with it. Synonym, antonym, dictionary definition, contextual definition, type of word and ‘context’.
A couple of written questions – linked to my oral questioning. I also give them a point value so they get used to searching for evidence if needed.
Quick creative piece e.g. a diary entry, a scene we’ve not witnessed. Drawing a scene that has been described. Aim here is story understanding – anything more and I will link these to the literacy lessons.

Some Practical Points

  • I still ‘just’ read the book to them, so sometimes they are just listening and enjoying!
  • It is really important that they get their copy of the book to take home if they wish, to reread and refer to as we answer tasks, or work on linked work. Even to read on if they want.
  • Share copies of books with local schools. Create a shared document keeping a list of the class books you buy so you can share them.
  • Be inclusive – all children can be included in this. If struggling to read, encourage them to follow and listen. Rulers help.