23 Mar

The future’s bright, the future’s Cumbrian!

I had the pleasure this week of attending a fantastic conference full of great speakers and big names in Education. Not the first time I‘ve done this of course, but this one was different in that it occurred on my doorstep. My Cumbrian doorstep.

The reality here is that since leaving London I have travelled hundreds of miles to hear the latest thoughts in Education, to be inspired and or discuss the latest policy and find out what impact it will have. Having our own conference such as #northernlights in Carlisle really was a revelation.

Why such a big deal I hear you ask? Well, it’s simple really, here in the North of England we often feel talked at. We feel like the poor cousin of the geographical family; not independent like Scotland, or central like London – and we are sometimes catapulted into the news because we are not quite as successful as we would like to be. We get tired of hearing about negative news stories and often struggle to see beyond our borders because, well, we work so damn hard!

So a huge thank you to all of those speakers who came this week to Carlisle to share positive messages, to allow dialogue where the North of England was put on centre stage and to put context into our challenges and successes. I won’t name all of the speakers here, but they know who they are, and they know the positive vibes and the buzz that was at the University of Cumbria. It was a great mix of local experts – nearby academics – CEO’s of successful academy chains and education experts! It means much to know that we are not alone, that despite any political differences at the end of the day we all want our children to have a world class Education.

I came away buzzing about the success of some of our Cumbrian schools – happy to share my own experiences and looking forward to shaping local thinking in the future. I thought hard about the future for Education in general and glad that, for once, it was Cumbrian colleagues that I was speaking to, Colleagues who I could easily catch up with again, whose schools I could visit and who are in a position to share resources and ideas. Because this is really what it’s all about – I make use of twitter and of Skype, but the chance to talk positively about changes and success on your doorstep really is inspirational. The chance to look at challenges honestly, to talk about retention and recruitment in a way that takes into account our context. To hear policy makers and influencers discuss what is actually important for our area and to help us make the changes needed.

A huge thank you to Michael Merrick who got this ball rolling, and everyone else who took the idea and ran with it. The University of Cumbria was a fantastic host and I know many people gave their time to making it succes. Here’s to being the change!

12 Jan

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.

06 Jan

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?

03 Jan

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.
23 Aug

Starting a headship in September? Here’s advice I was given…

I will be starting my 5th year of headship in September – and I don’t need to say how quickly that time has gone. I would be being dishonest if I said that I love it – I have a mixed relationship with the job at times. It is complicated by the small school (around 80 children) in which I currently work – which means that over the last two years my teaching commitment has crept up to .6. Being so busy that I feel I am not quite functioning at my best has become the norm – I just have to be okay with that.  

I thought I would share three key pieces of advice I have been given (and you have probably been given too) over the years and see how they aged… 

  1. You must make time for yourself! An empty battery can’t power anything else. (Or variations of that theme; buckets etc.) 

To be honest this advice used to annoy me the most. I found it patronising and often felt like throwing my diary to those who said this. Why wouldn’t I want to make time for myself?! I love my life! Wouldn’t I do it if I could?! Well, it turns out I didn’t…  I moved to one of the most beautiful places in the country and barely left a square ten miles of it for a year. Then I got talking to an electrician who said to me something along the lines of ‘I’m to expensive for that, you need someone else…’. Simple advice that made me think. Am I using my time and expertise for the best here?! In a small school – was I just the most expensive painter and decorator? Was I really the best person to continually cover lunchtimes? (Note this is different to being ‘visible’ – of which I am a huge advocate). So, with the help of a brilliant governor I sat down and looked at a typical week (or so – typical is atypical to be honest). I then began to honestly review what I was actually using my time for – and then costed it. And went from there. I managed to make better use of school resources, and also made more time for the things that I amm actually good at (not many things to be fair, but I was getting tired of being a jack of all trades). This meant that I had to say right, I’m leaving at this time on a Tuesday. Wednesday afternoon is my PPA time for my class work. Coaching a teacher takes place at this time. Parent open door policies cannot apply first thing I’m afraid – and that age old one ‘Have you spoken to the class teacher? – which seemed to solve 6 out of 10 problems. Good advice which is often not acted on. Be ruthless with your time and imagine you had to pay yourself your hourly rate – are you giving the school good value for money? After all, good head teachers are hard to find!

  1. This [insert problem that has arisen that morning] won’t matter in six months. Just sort it and leave it!

It’s weird – I have a kind of ‘inverse reaction’ to the perceived seriousness of an issue. A huge police-involved safeguarding issue and I was calm as a cucumber ready to call meetings and to speak to children. Behavioural issues – acted without a thought. But, a phone call about the homework policy, or a slight off-message chat with a member of staff and I could be a wreck for hours, days even. Constantly going over the situation.. Was the policy up to date? Had I really said that?! And so on… Luckily I have some amazing Headteachers around me (and some who were not so willing to help… trust your instinct here and avoid those) and one fab one, who had the misfortune to call after one such problem arose and was almost ruthless in her dismissiveness.  I was a bit taken aback – but she was absolutely right. And that really is all to say about this. You might need someone to talk through a few issues – and it helps to have brilliant staff at school that you can use to get a perspective but really, as the Persian wise man said ‘this too shall pass’. 

  1. Always be reasonable – by taking a reasonable stance you put others in the position of being unreasonable. 

My brilliant mentor said this to me – and whilst it may sound a bit unrealistic it has kept me sane in a number of situations. It can be easy to want the upper hand in a dispute – or to just put your foot down about something because, after all, you are the head teacher! But really – is it worth it? Compromise is often harder to do, but if you can be reasonable about something then do. Whoever is causing the conflict. It can help to take a moment and consider, simply, what the reasonable thing to do would be… 

 

Other advice was handed out over the years as well – and I may look over those in the next post! Would love to hear advice you have been given, and how it worked for you.

22 Aug

Can Ed Tech save our schools?

Spoiler: no!

Hinds calls for Ed Tech Revolution  in Schools 

Education Technology is something of a hobby of mine. Trying new things in the classroom is something I enjoy and, as the head of a small school that is isolated, utilising technology to the best of our ability has definitely saved us time and money. It is with some cautious optimism then that I read Hinds latest proclamation. Technology in the classroom can provide genuine educational experiences that bring to life curriculum areas – it does support good assessment practice and it can be used to provide targeted support to those children who may need it.  Then I read a bit more of his ideas and I really want to remind him of some key points… 

Education Technology companies are not the best placed to ‘bring tech’ to schools. You never start with the tool and create the problem to fit it. If there is a problem you have – then fine – but do not ask  ‘ed tech companies’ to look at how they can solve problems in the classroom. This way lies lots of wasted money – interactive whiteboards are probably the best example of this. There are definitely some fab examples of interactive whiteboard use up and down the country, but many would be fine as just a projector.

Technology does not automatically save on workload.  In fact school leaders should be reminded that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This is the issue with electronic assessment systems, or online feedback ideas – often they work for one teacher who may need something, but for those teachers who had a system already they just add to the workload. Forcing all teachers or all schools to follow the same system will not save on time and will add to the very increasing list of training to do. In a school with problematic internet access then it will just slow down even more if a cloud based SIMS system is used. Schools that rush in with technology will suffer with teachers who are not confident and leaders who don’t have time to share their vision. 

New tech always cost money – regardless if the actual ‘product’ is super cheap or even free. Laptops need to be upgraded regularly – those desktops that still run on Windows XP need to be discarded safely – headphones disappear and get broken – licenses for anti virus need upgrading. Internet costs reviewing regularly and so on. You can never really on cheap IT solutions and schools do not have spare money sitting around to make these ‘solutions’ work. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve written about apps I’ve used in the class, I’m a fan of MOOCs and I regularly take part in online coaching, mentoring and training. There can be no doubt that edtech has made some real improvements to the availability and ease of use of education. But the Education Minister needs to be aware that his words will give sales reps up and down the country the freedom to push more yet unwanted rubbish onto schools. The answer to all of this of course is for the government to stop tinkering – to put their efforts into raising the funding schools receive at the base level rather than added extras and incentives. To allow those best placed to decide what to do with their resources and how to use technology. 

Of course, this whole announcement does not really come with any money, but it gives a message to tech companies that schools need something that do not. And it means that school leaders feel under pressure to be doing something with ‘edtech’.