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.

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.

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’.