Tag Archives: school

Daily Whole Class Feedback by @Mroberts90Matt

A recent idea shared by @_MissieBee has prompted me to share this. It links very closely to a brilliant idea where the class are given a whole class feedback slide or sheet to stick in their book which highlights good things done and common misconceptions. I shared a very similar idea previously and have updated it over the years. It is different to what was shared as it offers a regular, even daily, model which could fit into most, if not all, subjects which require recording in books.

One of the most frustrating things I  (used to) deal with as a teacher was the amount of time marking takes. It really is one of the biggest causes of workload. The most tiresome aspect was writing the same comments in multiple books. Things such as “Don’t forget to line up your place value,” or “Check you use punctuation at the end of your speech,” or even “Name one impact of exercise on the body.” Yes – not only can this approach address misconceptions, but give a follow up challenge without either the teacher writing it 20-odd times or cutting it out and sticking it in multiple times. This Daily Whole Class Marking allows me mark a set of books within 30 minutes complete with personalised comments on misconceptions and challenges. It hones in on each child with the teacher only writing in two or three symbols into their book.

Some examples are here: Cinquain Poem Writing

12Another one for Suspense Narrative writing:13

Maths this time – with challenge questions:


And finally a Science:


The Idea

I would start straight away by emphasising that this is not my original idea. I came across the method in a series of excellent summer blog posts by @LearningSpy who referenced it to Joe Kirby’s blog! The idea is so simple – basically instead of writing comments that is expected by a teacher to praise what the child has done and give constructive steps on how to improve – you write down three symbols. Then, in the very next lesson (as this method allows you to mark books for the very next lesson with ease) children are given 5 mins to copy down the relevant feedback to those symbols. Typically I have numerous various comments that are used across a set of 30 books ranging from correcting common misconceptions to a gentle reminder to underline the date and LO. During this specific 5 mins at the start of the next lesson, I am then able take the time to target individual children I have made a note of to give some extra verbal feedback on what they’ve done and try to progress their understanding further. I personally have labelled this time ‘MAD Time’ (Make A Difference) but the concept is that the children write the personalised comments down, rather than the teacher.

Does it MAD?

Well, I have been using this method in my feedback approach for over three years now. There are issues:
1. It may be more challenging for Phase teachers younger in the school (particularly KS1) to adapt this. Possible, but more challenging
2. The first week is always the most ineffective as the children get used to the method of feedback and are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their learning. It does take focus from them and reminders on how to use the time best but each year I have done this, the most challenging learners I have had have seen the advantage of this and taken it on board.

Despite these potential barriers, there has been clear outcomes. These are listed below:

  1.  My workload has balanced

Before I would spend up to an hour, maybe more, marking a set of class books. After having written repetitive comments in books the children would then barely give them a second glance, despite my attempts at the start of each lesson to get them to read and initial the words painstakingly etched by me. This would become disheartening after time. Now, I find I am spending 20-30mins or so on the same number of books. This means I have more time to prepare engaging follow on lessons from the learning I’ve just assessed. We all know providing written feedback is a huge drain on time and whilst some schools may be moving away from written feedback reliance, many are still expecting this. This approach allows this still to be met, whilst freeing time for the teacher.

2. The feedback has improved

I am not afraid to admit it – after marking 20-23 books, my enthusiasm would deplete and my comments to the children in their books would become more and more generic and rushed. I suppose this is human nature (and why a wonderful piece of writing from a child might get more rushed toward the end!) Because of this technique, the level of personalised feedback is constant for the whole class, not just the children whose books are nearer the top of the pile! One big loss in the later books in my pile would be follow up questions. I would be less likely to write these in later books. Also, if I planned to stick in follow up challenges, I often forget to print these off and take them home. Once I have the books home, I have forgotten them and therefore no challenge question to push my learners further. This way, there will always be opportunity for follow up challenges.

3. The technique gets the children to take the feedback in

Now that the children are, in essence, writing comments on their own work they seem to take it in more. I have seen direct improvement on a child’s work from comments they have written. Would those improvements have been made if I had written them? Maybe, but it is less likely the child would have read them. This way, the feedback is certain to be acknowledged, even if then the child makes no effort to act on it.

We all know the frustration when we spend all this time writing comments then the children just turn the page without taking it in. This approach means the children have to at least read, write and respond to the feedback (in their purple pen) to indicate any difference to their learning.

4. It shows innovative practice which is centred on one thing – learning

This marking approach has been used under two senior leadership teams. Both of them have stated that they feel this is outstanding practice in feedback. The MAD Time was stated as an extremely good way of helping children make a difference in their learning and straight away set a precedent for that lesson that we were there to learn, and they would have the feedback yesterday to work on. The whole reason I have decided to use this is because it has an impact on the children’s learning. This can be seen in session, in the books and in the data. Learning is the centre of this approach.

5. FInally…the children GET it!

I did NOT expect this outcome! Quite honestly, I thought my class would hate it to begin with. However, now when I display the 8-10 comments they may find in their work, they actually get excited to see what they receive! Some even utter a ‘yesss’ when they know it’s MAD Time before they then find they have a ~) or a +) which they need to work on. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because it’s a new idea and it’ll lose it’s freshness after a couple of weeks. Maybe it’s because they feel they are actually engaging in something they feel is new and a good way to improve their learning. They actually care that they understand why they’ve received certain feedback and what they can do to achieve that.

Will you try MAD Time in your teaching and learning? How do you get written and verbal feedback across to your class and are there any other ways that have been effective for you? Are you MAD?


Reflections on #nomoreboysandgirls by @Mroberts90Matt

Everyone will have heard of this documentary recently, and if you haven’t then go and watch it…now. On BBC iPlayer. I’ll wait…

Now that you have seen it, this was an excellent, thought-provoking two-part documentary about gender stereotypes and how these stereotypes are formed. Before watching this programme I was very much aware about how we can influence the gender views of the rising generation. However, I assumed there was some element of nature as well as nurture behind the preferences and that these influences created the strengths and characteristics of the gender. In this article I will not attempt to provide a summary of the documentary as I would not do it justice in my humble writing. However, if you seriously have not seen it, it is well worth a watch.

What I will do is pick out some of the reflections I had watching this enlightening documentary as an intrigued teacher, a curious observer and a riveted parent.

1 The need to be more reflective

One thing that hit me straight away was the way in which teacher-extraordinaire, Graham Andre (@grahamandre), allowed a crew of BBC television cameras into his classroom and watch him as he taught. Now, I know many professional teachers who shudder at the thought of having their headteacher who wonders around the school often into their lesson for 20 minutes occasionally. The thought that Mr Andre had a national television programme recorded in his classroom l leaves me in awe as my classroom is barely presentable at the best of times. However, not only the facades of the classroom were on display for the nation to witness, but Mr Andre himself in action.

However, as always on social media, there was criticism – particularly around Mr Andre’s use of the terms ‘love’ and ‘mate’. Now, I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised by these terms being used in the classroom – just not what I do. Despite this, the harsh words used online were unwarranted. I then thought over this further…it takes an incredible practitioner to have the confidence to allow television cameras into their classroom and teach for all to see. I had to applaud Mr Andre and his brilliant class.

This got me to thinking – teachers are often monitored by others and receive feedback from them. However, one technique that has been aired is the recording of one’s self whilst teaching and then looking back over the footage to self-evaluate teaching styles. I had this done during my teacher training in my final placement on request of my University Tutor who was doing research into it. I found it very informative and useful. Possibly could be something I will look into this year. Graham Andre was extremely reflective and willing to adjust practice from the feedback given to him and this is the mark of a reflective practitioner.

2 The (unrecognised) power of parents

The power and influence of parents cannot be overestimated. As teachers, we know this. We despair when children are not given the focus of daily reading or times table practice at home and rejoice when an engaged parent arrives at your door, willing to listen to any advie to help their child progress in their learning. However, this reflection came as the concerned parent of a 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter. As I sat and watched this documentary I started to analyse the influence I have on my own children. Whilst I feel we do ok, there is a recognition that I have an immense responsibility as a father to help my children develop in a world where they feel anything is possible is they put there mind to it.

This is not simply wishful, idealistic thinking but helping them realise that they can aim for whatever they wish to do and I have to be careful not to stunt any potential growth in any area. Not easy in a world where, as shown by the documentary, retail, the media and other influences are becoming ever more skewed towards gender stereotypes for children – ironically when we are aiming for a more equality view towards gender amongst adults.

I am hoping many more parents watched this and recognised the power and influence which they have.

3 Schools do not hold ultimate responsibility…

Here my thoughts switched back to me as a teacher. My thought was ‘What can I do in my classroom?’ What shone through in the documentary was that schools cannot do this alone. I can stand before the children and promote gender-equal views and challenge any stereotypes the children may have, however there are a number of other influences besides the teacher and school. Friends play a huge part and home life have a massive stake in the opinions and views.

As such this is where schools have to be proactive and reach out to parents and communities. In the documentary, the Head of Lanesend Primary School commented on how they will intend to continue the initiative to avoid gender stereotypes. What I would be interested to find out is how they involve parents in the drive…

4 …BUT schools do hold some power

Schools have power. They can take the initiative to make a difference. As was shown in the documentary, not only does breaking down the walls of ‘gender skewing’ give children the belief that they can achieve any goal (gender is not a barrier) but also there were other benefits. Most stark were the reduction of poor behaviour in boys (by over 50%) and a higher self esteem amongst the girls. Schools must therefore be focused on doing everything in their power to assist in challenging gender stereotypes. Yes, they are not the only stakeholders that need to act on this. However, they can get the ball rolling.

It was great to hear that Mr Andre had presented the experiment to the Institute of Education – hopefully there will be something that comes along in the pipeline. However, as professionals I had this question:

What can YOU do now?

I cannot influence multiple schools and local authorities to have a focused effort to challenge gender stereotypes. Maybe you reading this can (please do so)! However, I can begin where I have influence, in the walls of my classroom. It will not be easy, the first challenge is recognising the habits or tendencies I may have that reinforce gender stereotypes but then, once recognised, I can change that. I would encourage you to do the same!

Developing a World-Class Maths Model by @Mroberts90Matt

Previously I wrote about a whole school initiative I was planning to implement into my school called Talk4Maths, a Maths-focused drive on vocabulary and maths talk drawing on ideas from the well-known Literacy initiative Talk4Writing. The research and thinking behind this Talk4Maths can be found here. After some development with a team I was fortunate to work with in school and implementing it, I have refined this strategy into a model which is now at work across my school and has been for almost 5 months. It seems to be going well – some of the impact will be addressed later in this post.

What is Talk4Maths?

Talk4Maths is an approach to teaching and learning Maths which is based on talk and discussion. It asserts that Maths learning is taken in more when children are given the chance to explain their reasoning and describe different skills and processes. There are opportunities for children to internalise mathematic skills and concepts using oral retelling and actions. They then talk. Talk has been shown to develop mathematical understanding significantly:


As talk is the focus of this initiative, the Talk4Maths strategy then breaks down into three main approaches.

How does Talk4Maths look?

There are three key elements of our Model that we started to implement:

  • 1. Using oral retelling and actions to internalise mathematical terms and skills:
    This is the part of Talk4Maths which draws from Talk4Writing in a similar way. The children are encouraged to internalise mathematical skills and terms using mnemonics and actions to improve their memory of them. As a school we developed universal actions which all staff could use:


What you see above is the action for ‘multiply’. My Y6 class used this method to memorise terms such as ‘factor’, ‘prime’ and ‘square number’ as well as how to use the four operations on fractions.

  • 2. Creating ‘concept maps’ to show step-by-step understanding:
    The fluency developed from oral retelling and actions is then built on by children developing concept maps to help them break down skills and concepts and visualise them. They can create the concept maps, talk through them with their peers and even create other types of ‘concept maps’ such as tutorials (an example is when we created Long Division tutorials on Explain Everything on the iPads). An example of a written concept map can be seen below:


    What you see is ‘Factors multiply together to create a product’. As mentioned in my previous post I had a child working at a low Year 3 level who went home and taught his parents about what a factor was and gave some examples. This was a great example of how creating concept maps could work.

  • 3. Special ‘Talk4Maths’ sessions which involve problem solving, talk and informal recording on sugar paper.
    This is my favourite part (and probably the most important) for what is the purpose of developing fluency in mathematical  skills and concepts if this fluency is not developed in reasoning and problem solving challenges. As such, we set staff the challenge to involve AT LEAST once a fortnight a session dedicated to problem solving and talk. Of course they are expected to incorporate this in most sessions, but this session is special. It is out of books on a more informal style of recording, whatever that may be, and provides ALL the opportunity to discuss and tackle problems using the skills they have developed up until that point.  Some examples below:

To add extra incentive for the children to engage fully, the teacher circulates the groups and picks out through observation one learner who has stood out for their use of mathematical vocabulary. They are crowned in that week’s celebration assembly as (wait for it…) the Ruler of Reasoning!


And it gets even better – the Ruler of Reasoning from that fortnight receives a personalised RULER OF REASONING (a special ruler with the above logo inside it) which is theirs for the next two weeks until the next winner is crowned. The kids love it!

Why Talk4Maths?

Already, the soft data from the Talk4Maths initiative has been evident. The language used by the children and the staff in discussing who is the Ruler of Reasoning and why they have won that coveted title shows the focus being given to vocabulary, problem solving, determination, talk and mastery – just some of the key words being used in all communications around this strategy.

Hard data – we are just waiting to receive our school’s end-of-year data but a question-level analysis of the KS2 SATs Maths shows that the problem questions were not the vocabulary-based questions or questions that required explanations (of which there were two this year). As well as the improvement in isolated questions, the overall progress of this year’s cohort was greater than last year’s. Also, about 5 classes trialled the Talk4Maths strategy back in Autumn Term – of all the classes in our 2/3 form entry school the top 3 classes that made the most progress were classes that were trialling this strategy. I’ll hope to update it when we can see the impact across the school once that data comes through.

Any questions – just let me know 🙂 – you heard it here first!

Verdict on Whole Class Guided Reading by @Mroberts90Matt

So, just over 4 months ago, I set on a new journey in Guided Reading – Whole Class Guided Reading. I shared my initial thoughts back then on what I considered the pros and cons of this, and other approaches I had experiences that can be seen here. As I have gone along with this approach, I have noticed a few things which have really added to this method:

1. Keep the Groups but Keep them Mixed

At the start, I reflected a lot on what would be best. Should I completely disband Guided Reading groups? If not, do I keep them differentiated to be able to focus certain levels of questions or mix them up? As I continued I decided to keep the previous groups we had for Guided Reading which were differentiated – mainly so that the groups didn’t feel a complete change. In hindsight however I think that was the wrong choice. I think it is important to keep GR groups so that you can focus discussion and questioning in a smaller group setting but making them mixed ability is the way forward. This enables support for the lower attainers by accessing higher levels of questioning and discussion with their peers. Also, those with a greater depth of understanding can develop this through explanation and discussion of their thoughts with their peers as they coach them.

2. Vary the Activities

So when we were presented with the idea of Whole Class Guided Reading, I was given the idea that a lot of the Whole Class model could focus on discussing questions focusing on different strands in Reading (such as prediction, summary and comparison) and children should be able to model answers. As such, this was pretty much all I did. It was great to start with and it definitely had an impact – however, it did become stale after a couple of weeks. So I began to realise that Whole Class Guided Reading should be seen as engaging as any other session (duh – I know right) and whilst a lot of the engagement should come from a stellar text (we used Wonder – the kids LOVED it) you do need to put in some variety of activities. I probably won’t make it every other session – but maybe once a week or so throw in something to make the text come even more alive. Some examples can be found in this document (which I didn’t create) List of Possible Whole Class GR Activities

Some others are below:

In the back of your books, write three open questions you would like to ask any of August’s guides (Charlotte, Julian and Jack) about their first impressions of August.1

3. Go with the Flow

I think Whole Class Guided Reading has such a potential to unlock thoughts and imagination across the class. However, as we have gone through discussion and drawn ideas from all the class, a number of answers have been given that have taken things in a different direction. We have gone into in-depth comparisons between August/Summer and Beauty and the Beast, we have also delved into the genetics behind colour-blindness (one of my party tricks) as a result of the discussions going in their flow. One thing that I would take away for Whole Class Guided Reading is be ready for the discussion to take a different direction – I find it exhilarating and the children find it engaging when the discussion is at a high-level but has evolved over questions and thoughts from the children…and because it is ‘Whole-Class’, these ideas can come from anyone about the same text.

Back in February I said I would not change my effective, well-planned carousel – Guided Reading, I had it cracked. However, I am of the opinion that I will not be changing my Whole Class Guided Reading – unless something else comes along that looks better/is forced upon me but hey – that’s teaching!



Recently I have been lent a book by Alastair Campbell called ‘Winners’. It basically breaks down different winners in history and the characteristics that they have. That’s a very simplified version of what this great book covers. Of course, different winners have different styles but it identifies winning strategies which can be applied to a number of different contexts, including in education.

He refers to Teamship and how if leaders can build a team goal or vision which all team members are dedicated to, no matter their role, then there will be success. One example he gave was a pit stop crew. A race can be won or lost in the pit stop. If the pit stop crew lose a fraction of a second in changing a tyre or making a slight modification, then it can throw the entire race for the team. As such, a clear structure and set roles are vital in this team. They have a clear objective – complete your task in the quickest time possible – win the race. The same could be said in a school team. No matter the roles or responsibilities of each team member, if they have the same vision (maybe provide the best education experience possible) and fulfil their roles for that common goal then that team can succeed.
Out of interest, I googled the quickest ever recorded pit stop that Alastair Campbell made reference to. 1.9 seconds! You have to watch extremely carefully to see that they actually do something to the car! Watch it here:

Alastair Campbell also makes reference to another experience which I had heard before but is excellent on this topic. It is also debated whether this story is true or not but it teaches a valuable lesson. Reportedly, John F Kennedy visited NASA on a regular basis during the race to the moon. They were working against other countries to be the first to do so. The intensity of this race was highly pressurised. During one trip he came across a cleaner, and asked him what his job at NASA was. The cleaner replied “My Job is to put a man on the moon, Sir.”

We can learn a lot from this response. Clearly this man was not literally engineering a rocket ship to take a man to the moon. However, he had caught the vision. He knew he was art of a great organisation that had this significant goal. He knew he was part of the organisation. He knew he had an important job – to make the working environment in this organisation clean so the people working there could complete their roles efficiently and comfortably. Teamship is about recognising the goal and get the team there.

Cleaner in NASA

The Power of Positivity

Thought I would share my article published in a recent UKEDMagazine – enjoy and hope at least one person feels motivated!

In 2014, an eager primary education student was introduced to a brand new world. I was finishing my last year of Initial Teacher Training and I was encouraged to join Twitter to engage with other professionals. What I was welcomed with was a vast horizon of conscientious, inspirational and outstanding practitioners. Unfortunately, I slipped off the radar around the start of my RQT Year due to workload demands but have been back since January 2017.

However, something is different. The mood had changed. There has been a lot of negativity and contention on Twitter. The topics have been wide ranging from philosophies, to phases in education to specific approaches in areas of teaching and learning. Debate is to be expected; personal insults and questioning other professional’s morals is shocking. I want to move away from this mentality – surely we are challenged enough in our day-to-day school lives? How can we expect to draw more teachers into participating with other teachers on Twitter when they arrive they see poor professionalism between a few? The golden question to ask is this – would I say that to a fellow teacher at school?

Face to Face

Positive working relationships in school have, at times, saved my teaching career. In my NQT Year I would often find myself floating in to my KS2 leader’s classroom – not necessarily because I wanted support but just to talk about what had been going on and any advice about any general things that were on my mind. They were so welcoming and those moments where I could reflect (without really realising I was reflecting) made such a difference to me as a teacher. The power of positivity is such a tangible force. Recently I have noticed that when I make the effort to exude positivity, those days tend to go better. Of course this has to come from the top-down: a calm, reassuring Head means a patient, unpressured SLT which means empowered, composed teachers. As well as this, composed teachers tend to lead to more unruffled children.

Of course, not every teacher will emanate positivity. That’s highly unlikely, maybe impossible. The temptation here will be to join in. It’s interesting how two different people can have two very different viewpoints on the same events. I work in such an incredible, forward-thinking school – and yet there are some who still manage to drain the warmth of positive energy. The challenge in this situation will be to continue being sanguine whilst trying to spread the optimism.

Face to Screen (or, Face to Many Faces)

As mentioned, due to the wonders of modern technology, online forums such as Twitter enable a wider audience to absorb other teachers’ positivity. This proved especially important to me in a specific experience.

I was in my NQT Year as a Year 6 teacher and had taken part in a Writing Moderation Meeting cross-school. To save on detail, it did not go well – not necessarily due to poor planning on my part but a couple of issues arose. I went home that evening, my confidence crumpled and tossed in the corner. What came before that day was a series of soul-crushing events, which were now culminating towards the KS2 SATs. As time went on I found myself going through the motions of a class teacher. A week or so later, I found myself on Twitter and found the #NQTchat, something I hadn’t encountered before. I decided to stick around and half an hour later I was enthused! I couldn’t wait to get back into the classroom and shake things up a little. What happened? The power of positivity. I was met with a wall of irresistibly passionate teachers…and it was infectious.

What makes positivity a challenge?

Surely, as we have the best job in the world, being positive should be something that comes natural to all teachers? However, this is not easy. As I was preparing this article, I went into school specifically with a target to stay positive. I went into school excited to begin. However, I found the copying for my lessons that day hadn’t been done. No bother! Then, there was no colour ink in the colour printer. Never mind! After that, I realised someone had taken my guillotine from my classroom and not brought it back. Ok…it’s alright! But I started to see how easily positivity can slip away from a teacher’s clambering grasp as they strive to provide the best education for their eager learners. The trial then is to defy the odds, break the cycle of negativity and realise that you are changing lives.

Positivity Pledge

For any that are struggling to find happiness or comfort in their role as a teacher now, don’t give up. The teaching profession will miss your influence. Hundreds of children will have different lives, they will miss out without your brilliance to greet them each school day. Times will be tough, demands will be great on you – however, there are parents, teachers and children that stand to await you and your positivity. Don’t get drawn into negative arguments on Twitter, don’t think that no one cares about you, many around you want you to succeed. This is why we teach – to make a difference to young people’s lives, and we get to be the one that makes that huge difference every single school day.

After reading this, I do hope that if you feel in any way inspired about the wonderful you have as a teacher – please spread the positivity to at least one other person you work with. You never know the impact on someone’s career you could have – I have had many career-saving influences!

Spending Sport Premium by @Mroberts90Matt

Once again, a recent discussion on #PrimaryRocks has inspired me to write this post! There was a #PrimaryRocks focused on PE and the question came up about the best way to spend Sport Premium. Now, Twitter is great for CPD and making connections but there was no way I could put into 140 characters, or even a handful of 140 characters, how to effectively spend Sport Premium. However, it is vital that this topic is communicated effectively as a lot of resources are put into PE Lead’s hands.

Each school in the UK (actually, I don’t know if it’s both Primary and Secondary, I presume both) receive an allotted amount of money solely for the purpose on developing a ‘legacy’ of PE and Sport. It’s an important word that – legacy – not ‘just providing the minimum within the curriculum’. A legacy of sport. This funding is initially provided from the London Olympic 2012 Legacy and as such, it should be used in a way to push school level sport beyond where it is now.

The problem is, unless they are part of a local sports partnership, many PE and Sports coordinators are not given direction on how to spend this valuable pot of resources. Interestingly, when asked what was the main barrier to the progress of PE in school, I did not notice a single #PrimaryRocker say that a lack of resources was an issue whereas if you asked, say, Science coordinators or Computing coordinators that same question – they may well point to a lack of resources or funding as a key issue. On top of this, the sugar tax is now going to double the provision for the Sport Premium funding from next academic year. Whether schools will actually get ‘double’ their amount or just an increase is not known yet (and probably will not be known until after 8 June) but one thing is clear: Sport Premium is still a priority. With schools being expected (by Ofsted) to publish their Sport Premium spending and the impact of it, it is even more important than ever to know how to effectively spend this money.

I feel a need to clarify why I feel qualified to share how we spent our Sport Premium in my first year as a PE Coordinator. I realised that this was a major problem for a number of PE Coordinators, both on Twitter and a couple of PE coordinators in local schools near me feel the same.

The year before I was appointed PE Coordinator, my school were just about achieving Bronze in the School Games Mark (a national award for school PE and Sport) and had only one or two members of staff leading extra-curricular clubs. Most classes were holding one hour of PE (led by the school coach – who is incredible) and not really any intra-school competitions excluding a Sports Day.

After a year of Sport Premium spending in the following manner (or philosophy), we led the school to Gold in the School Games Mark and we were named ‘School of the Year’ for Sport in the Local Authority by our Sports Partnership. Now, of course many other things were to do with this: a wonderfully engaging staff, a lot of children with enthusiastic potential, great location in Old Trafford, Manchester, an inspiring Head and willing SLT and so on. Also, not all the things I will list by be possible in your particular school, which is why I break this down into ‘stages’ or ‘principles’ which if followed will have an impact on school PE and Sport in your school.
Also, I will not lay out detail in spending or my actual school, but all suggestions listed came to just under the amount of the Sport Premium.

Stage 1 – Energise, Enthuse and Educate Staff
Any attempt to make a school-wide shift in ethos towards PE and Sport must be backed by the staff. If they are not engaged, one person will not achieve a lot. Even if that person is dedicated, they will eventually be swamped by the demands to make inspirational, effective change alone in the wide world of Sport.

As such, the first chunk of our Sport Premium was allocated to engage the staff. We purchased a package from our local authority sports provider which did a number of things. First it provided a year’s free membership to the gym for each contracted member of staff. There was a tangible excitement about this instantly. Staff were signing up and taking up the great offer. They were opening up to the idea of sport and PE.

Along with the free gym, staff were given a 2 hour curriculum slot. This was not to be a long term replacement. Each Year Group (from Year 1-6) would get this slot for one half term only and when their class was taken, the class teacher would be expected to observe. Giving staff professional development in PE is important but often the issues are 1. Time and 2. Tailoring to each staff members needs (e.g. one staff member may be uncertain about teaching Gymnastics whereas the other is less confident at teaching a certain sport). As such, I gave staff the opportunity to let me know what area of the PE Curriculum they were less happy teaching as they did not have the sufficient knowledge and I had the external agency would deliver this. Quality control was important and so I closely monitored the satisfaction of this with the teachers involved to begin with. Everything went well and the teachers expressed they found it useful.

Something else that was done which I think is quite unique that we used our Sport Premium for was the purchase of special kits for competitions. Also, the SLT and any staff who would be happy to run a club received their own, monogrammed version of the school sports kit.

As the mentioned expenditures developed, something very interesting happened. The year before there had been only one staff member providing extra-curricular sport activity (the PE specialist). Since the implementation of this Stage 1, there have been a total of over 11 different members of staff who have led at least a half term’s worth of extra-curricular clubs, and the most recent ones only just started this half term so it is still ongoing. The spirit of sport has caught hold in the staff’s hearts. This has been partly down to the wise way our Head began spending the Sport Premium but also through his enthusiasm for sport and PE also.

Stage 2 – Provide and Participate in Wider Opportunities

The groundwork had been laid. Sport began to spread through every year group. The vital focus of Stage 2 was to provide chances for children in our school to see the bigger picture – to look outside the walls of our own school. We had to provide opportunities to compete with other schools.

The easiest way to do this was to buy into our local School Sports Partnership. This was an indispensable use of our Sport Premium. They provided CPD for myself as the PE Coordinator, keeping me up to date on any changes in PE leadership but also making more CPD available for staff in our school. Along with this, they organised, led and promoted a vast variety of sporting competitions. All we had to do was come along. We have seen great success in applying to compete with other schools. However, being part of this partnership does not stop there. Our school has also been privileged to hold a CPD event and a multi-skills festival for other schools in the area. Due to our working partnership with the organisation, we also had a visit from Sue Smith (ex-England International Football Player) as well as presenting to VIPs at the Greater Manchester Games. This has provided a great sense of sporting pride in the school and again, engaged more children in taking part in healthy activities.

Stage 3 – Provide world-class Club Links

Once we laid these foundations in the school and with other schools, we used the remaining batch of Sport Premium funding to make partnerships with a number of external clubs. Some required cost but in the first year we made links with Manchester United, Lancashire County Cricket Club, Sale Sharks, a local Table Tennis club, Trafford Leisure and others. Being in Manchester we are fortunate to have these clubs with world-class facilities which we have been fortunate enough to utilise. However, making these links can be done anywhere. Doing this will bring in professional coaching additional to the PE curriculum and clubs your school are offering, other events such as Roadshows and Open Days at the grounds themselves and chances to be involved in actual sporting events at the club.

Two examples: a selection of our children (our School Sports Organising Crew – SSOC – who also received their own special kits by the way) were invited to watch numerous football matches at Manchester United. Amazingly so, some of our children were also invited to be the guard of honour at the England vs Pakistan Test match at the LCCC ground in July last year (as well as our staff being invited to watch the match afterwards). These and more examples have again promoted the importance and excitement of sport.

How you implement these three stages will be different for the different locations of schools. However, following this pattern of stages has provided a great culture of sport and enthusiasm around physical activity to the point where we are seeing even more improvement in all areas.

How have you spent your Sport Premium? Have there been lasting benefits? Please do share!

Term Time Holidays

It seems in recent years that around the Easter holiday, stakeholders in children’s education in the UK get in a fuss about…holidays. Specifically, the cost of a family to try and get away to sun-soaked destinations for a week or so to bond, de-stress and build wonderful memories as a family. Of course, the default stance in the UK is that children should not be taken out of school for holidays during term time. The official rules read as such:

Holidays in term time

You have to get permission from the head teacher if you want to take your child out of school during term time.

You can only do this if:

  • you make an application to the head teacher in advance (as a parent the child normally lives with)
  • there are exceptional circumstances

It’s up to the head teacher how many days your child can be away from school if leave is granted.

You can be fined for taking your child on holiday during term time without the school’s permission.

Now, it is clearly stated here that children should not be taken out of term time but there are exceptions, as there quite rightly should be. The issue comes when people interpret these rules in different ways. Recently, this has come to a head with a recent court ruling against a family who took their children out of term time. Now, before I dig into this a little deeper, I’m not sure why this has caused such uproar amongst parents. The guidelines are pretty clear, the sanction explicitly stated (down to the actual amount) and it’s pretty much common knowledge anyway. As a parent myself, I know that I usually would not be allowed to take my children out of school. However, because it has been enforced, everyone is now questioning this rigorous stance (everyone will probably have forgotten about it in a month).

Over the day or two afterwards, I heard all sorts over the radio about this news. I struggle to find any sympathy for the parents I heard, not because I didn’t agree, but because their reasons for why they should be able to take their children out during term time were confusing at the very best. I’ll list a few here:

What some parents say

“It is just not fair for parents”
Right okay. So…therefore we should inhibit your child’s learning and have them miss hours of progress they could make in their education? Is that fair on them? I relate to this – I don’t think it is fair that I can’t take my children on holidays for prices that other people would be able to pay, or could even afford! However, the stakes of what they will be missing make this a difficult argument.

“Fine doesn’t matter”
This is sadly true and probably why we don’t hear about this rule much. Any parents who are fined for taking their child out of school receive a fine for £60 (if it is paid within 21 days). If the government really want to enforce this law and make attendance in schools increase, the sanction needs to be a larger penalty then what they are gaining. A quick bit of research by The Guardian stated:

“The results are predictable but no less frustrating for parents: every single holiday cost more in August with the average holiday costing £905 more than in July and £1,310 more than in June while in one case the price of a holiday jumped by 126% between June and August, a £1,903 difference.”

So a 60 quid fine starts to look a little more tempting…

“If my child is on track for where they need to be why can’t they miss some days?”
This one made my blood boil. The nerve of this parent to say that the rules shouldn’t apply because their child is (in Maths and English) achieving what they should in school. This is dangerous talk. I am careful to say that they are not saying their child is doing better than others (although if the recent KS2 SATs results say anything, which is debateable, then it’s only a very minute majority that are achieving what they should). However we are opening very dodgy ground here – what about children with SEN? The issues with this mentality go on…and if parents are going to state their rights are being taken away because they can’t take their child out during term time, then how much more are schools in control in their child needs a certain teacher assessment from their teacher! No – bad idea!

So – as this is quite a divisive topic I took to Twitter (in a most reliable method) to see if I could uncover any opinions. Not much response but:


This was quite interesting. Three main messages are here for me:

  • Almost an identical percentage of parents and teachers felt that children should be allowed a certain amount of time during term out of school.
  • A higher proportion of teachers felt that children should not be allowed to take time out of school
  • A proportion of parents (although very low) felt they should be allowed to take their child out of school for any amount of time, whilst no teacher did

Interestingly, there is one thing that unites all sides of the debate in this – they are all seeking the best for the children. So to explore all stakeholders I want to briefly look out how each of them are indeed aiming for getting the best for the most important benefactor in all of this – the child.

Teachers (and Governors)
There will be some teachers who are worried for their data – particularly Year 2 and 6 teachers – when children are taken out of school during term time. I’m one of them, I just had a child taken out for 3 weeks before Easter claiming exceptional circumstances. I worry for them in the SATs. However, hopefully, I’m sure most teachers want every child in every day because it is in their job role to help all children make as much progress as possible and help them achieve all they are expected to.

The poll I ran on Twitter tells an interesting story though – that not all teachers believe what is best for the child is to keep them in school. 32% did, but the majority felt that they should be allowed a certain amount of time. Also, the 4% who selected other basically said they should be allowed but for very understandable reasons in close discussion with the Headteacher, so I see that as 68% say children should be able to be taken out (but some feel with a good reason). So does that mean that the best thing for the child is not necessarily keeping them in school through the whole term? Or perhaps to enable the child to live a whole, complete life, some teachers recognise the need to allow children to be out of term time when occasion allows?

In this wide-ranging debate, I know that parents also want what’s best for their children. Most, if not all, recognise the value of their child’s education and want to work with the school to help their child achieve their attention. A lot of parents also want to be able to provide memorable experiences for their child but a number find it difficult to provide these at the costs that are found in the school holidays. I know my family will struggle. The question is this – is it not the parent’s right to take their child out of school? This is a very difficult question. If the parent has agreed to the relevant home-school agreement so the school can educate their child – don’t they agree then that they will endeavour to ensure their child attends school as much as possible? Then the schools agrees to take them on their role? I will not attempt to make a decision here but this question suddenly becomes very complicated///

Of course, the government wants the best for the children – I’m sure. They want all children to be in school all the time so that they make the most progress and become assets to the society they live in. As such, they have cracked down on guidelines to keep all learners in school during term time. I suppose that this group would be less aware or sympathetic to parents who want to take children out during term time but the question they have to consider would have to be this: How they keep attendance at a high whilst being flexible for families?

Holiday Companies
I suspect this group have less care for children’s learning but are devoted to providing life-changing memories. Now, it would be very easy for me to accuse holiday companies for being the ‘enemy’ here for taking advantage of young families, knowing full well they have to pay out for half-term dates. However, I am trying to be diplomatic here – perhaps they bump prices up because their services cost them more during this time due to high demand in the destinations they send customers to? Maybe. I hope so. Surely they don’t just do this to make more profit? If so, then I think instead of looking at cracking down on families, the government need to look to the root of the problem.

Being a teacher myself – this also means I will not be able to take my growing family on decent holidays at a decent price. But no one is worried about us teachers taking time off for our families to have more affordable breaks away…

Taking on the Mantle by @Mroberts90Matt

When I go into school on Monday, I will be entering a secret NASA base and be recorded there, receive a briefing from a high-ranking NASA officer, enter a state-of-the-at rocket, land in a distant galaxy, meet alien species who are concerned about the brutality of the human race and try to convince them through a series of tasks that Planet Earth can get along and contribute effectively to the wider universe society…then be home in time for dinner! 

Of course, this is no extraterrestrial experience: the NASA secret base is our school office, the high-ranking NASA officer looks a lot like our Head in front of a green screen, the state-of-the-art rocket a lot of chairs in our two halls, the distant galaxy looks a lot like our school decorated very well, the alien species…well, guess who. 😉

Yes, it is Mantle of the Expert. Our Head introduced this to our school last year with great success – we visited Cretaceous Park and did tasks based on dinosaurs (all linking to Maths). In this week the staff are expected to be in role and deliver sessions based on curriculum content but themed around the experience for the week. The children take on the role of experts and complete the tasks.

In preparing for this event, there are clear benefits, but there are clear downsides to learning. Let’s start with the benefits: 

1. Enthuse children about learning 

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion on Twitter about a number of things. One of these is the supposed ‘wow’ factor of learning. A divisive concept, it is claimed that if children are ‘wowed’ or highly motivated in a lesson, they are more likely to learn. Is this true? I am not well researched enough to know, however there is no doubt that the children enjoy Mantle of the Expert. It is something which gets them excited to come into school and take part in learning activities. Do children need to be excited to learn? No. But it may well have an impact. 

2. Teamwork and Mentoring Development 

As part of this experience, children across the school are split into smaller groups of 20. These groups are formed from their Houses and are a mix of Year 1-6 children. As such, there is great opportunity not only for children who don’t usually interact with each other to work together, but also for older children to support younger and younger children to learn from the older ones. This was evident in our previous Mantle week where, in any session you entered, you could see children interacting with their peers from other year groups and for weeks afterwards they would look out for each other.

3. Provide an opportunity for wider learning

This is a pretty weak benefit in my view – however, Mantle of the Expert provides a great vehicle to cover a lot of objectives in the Foundation Subjects which teachers might have struggled to find time for in their crammed timetable. As the topic is constant across the school, it is much easier to move from one activity to the other and cover a lot of content in a relatively short amount of time.

Now, let’s think about the drawbacks to this kind of event:

1. Impact on learning

Being a teacher on Twitter, is it very easy to see a clear divisive  debate raging. It was going on a year ago when I stopped going on Twitter for a time. It still goes on today. Progressive teaching versus Traditional teaching. Honestly, I still don’t have a complete opinion on this. I think both styles are required to make an effective teacher. It is clear that Initial Teacher Training institutions are very much focused on the progressive side (remember a lot of lectures on child-centred learning, focusing learning on children’s ideas, they even showed the picture of ‘that tree’ in a lecture, look familiar)…

…and on the other hand I personally think that it is bizarre to not recognise the teacher as the key figure of authority and knowledge in the classroom. A doctor does not expect a patient to come up with a discussion around their diagnosis, the professional doctor makes the authoritative decision.
I am probably wrong as I am still to gain a greater knowledge on this debate…but Mantle of the Expert seems quite a progressively-based concept rather than a traditional style of teaching. Some would then argue for or against for this – but this much I know. My Year 6 children will progress slower this week in their curriculum learning objectives than they would do in a ‘normal week’…

Honestly, I am struggling to think of another downside – however, considering that the point of the school is to develop learning the one downside is significant. Overall, I’m looking forward to this week! Mantle of the Expert proved exciting to be a part of last time and I’m sure it will be again. The question is are the benefits of the week worth potentially slowing the progress of key curriculum objectives for that short period of time?

Reasons why the 2015-16 SATs should NOT be abandoned by @Mroberts90Matt

Another attempt from me to try and blog regularly – we shall see…:

Many teachers (particularly Year 6 teachers such as myself) will have heard this news on Tuesday and felt a small spark of anticipation: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/nut-calls-sats-be-suspended-after-widespread-criticism-new-assessment

Yes, the teaching unions have finally decided enough is enough with the upcoming assessments in May and have called for the 2015-16 SATs to be abandoned for a number of reasons: over-realistic targets, too short a time between exemplifications and assessment and chaos over schools monitoring of progress and attainment with no clear way offered by government to support this being a few of the arguments.

Such arguments are founded on sound reasoning but here I list a few reasons why this current Year 6 should sit the national assessments this May:

1. To keep schools accountable for progression in learning

The main principle of statutory assessment in primary education is to keep schools in check to ensure they are not doing our children a disservice in poor quality learning. They do not take these results with them into their future lives and it will not have an impact on which secondary school they are placed in. As such, this has to be considered when deciding whether to abandon the SATs. If the SATs were to be abandoned, then how could Ofsted possibly decide before they enter a school how well the children learn and progress in the school and make a pre-judgement?
(Although…due to the clear lack of communication about how the new assessments link to previous levels and no direction on how even to monitor progression in schools, a single result this summer will not represent progression that this cohort have made since Reception…so forget that).

2. To assist secondary schools in providing well-pitched teaching and learning from September

Whilst children’s SATs results do not influence what secondary school they are placed in, they do help the high school determine what level children are at (approximately) so they can provide the sufficient support or challenge for each child. This indication is vital if the secondary school is to help children hit the ground running in their learning and make as much progress as possible from when they start in September. If the SATs are abandoned with this cohort, they will be denied the opportunity to make this effective start as secondary school will only have the primary schools assessment and, with multiple schools feeding children into the high school, it won’t be possible to effectively discern a child’s level of understanding.
(Although…let’s be honest, most secondary schools assess the new intake within the first few weeks anyway because time has elapsed over summer since the SATs – as well as a Summer 2 term of limbo – and a one time assessment in May is only a snapshot of a child’s abilities. I had a child who was achieving Level 2/3 in their Reading test as we prepared for the SATs consistently and when the real ones came he achieved a Level 4! To this day I don’t what the secondary school he went to thought when they received this child who has a Level 4 in Reading and then sees what he can actually do…so that point is void!)

3. To help parents see which schools help children learn the best

The SATs are an effective measure for parents to see which schools they would want their children to go to because they can see what percentage of children achieve what they’re meant to if they attend this school. Not only this, but the very helpful leaders in education collate all this data into league tables, helping the world to see just which schools should be sought after.
(Although…if educators and schools are in a state of confusion about what assessment is these days I’m not sure what these poor parents will make of it. They live busy enough lives as it is without trying to decipher where their child is at in their learning. The number of puzzled faces I got when I told these parents “Your child is meeting the current expectation of a Year 6 child in Maths” was embarrassing. Although I guess I can now pull out a handy exemplification document which shows them exactly what that means…all in a 10 minute Parents Evening appointment! So…I don’t think that point has much standing either…)

I think by now you may have recognised my view on this. Usually, I am not one to say that SATs are a waste of time/are useless/have an adverse effect on children – but with the poor organisation, communication and expectations imposed, I am struggling to see how this year’s SATs will be bemeficial to the children sitting them. The reasons for having them are in disrepair due to how they have been implemented. The unions are meeting today – I shall look forward to the next installment of this saga…