Tag Archives: school

Teamship

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.

Outcomes
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:

12

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?

Parents
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///

Government
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…

10 points to Gryffindor! by @Mroberts90Matt

A brand new year, a brand new start. In our school we have a new Senior Leadership Team with a new Head and Deputy. It has been great so far and I’m personally happy with how things are going in the classroom. My class (predominately boys) are responding really well to our Behaviour Management system (Class Dojo – would recommend) and my TA and I are very well organised at present.

As with new beginnings there will be new initiatives school-wide. In our school we have now adopted a House System. When this was first suggested by our new Head, I couldn’t help thinking of the popular story ‘Harry Potter’ and the houses that were in the school, Hogwarts. I pictured myself in a robe taking house points off some meddlesome children who were lurking around our Forbidden Corridor where a great, big machine waits to gobble up small children (otherwise known as the photocopier).

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Not one to dwell on sterotypes for too long, I have embraced this new idea with relative optimism. In fact, I more than embraced it, I wrapped my arms around it as I volunteered to be one of six Head of Houses! As far as I understand my role is to motivate and inspire the children in Dunham House to be their very best and aim to win the House Cup. I also have to give an assembly once a half term – slightly scary as it was my first assembly but it went well.

My impressions so far of the house system? I’m actually quite impressed by the impact that it’s had in such a short time. This was especially clear after the House Assemblies. When we returned to the classroom the class were so engaged and ready to learn. Last Friday the first weekly winners of the House Trophy were announced and children from Year 1-Year 6 celebrated their victory which was a brilliant sight (our house was 5 points behind in 2nd but it was still good!) I think like most new things it will take time to see the extent of this new system.

As it turns out, it is possible to look at an example where the House system seems to be making a difference. In the current TV series ‘Educating Cardiff’, it is there for all national television viewing audiences to see. We are introduced to four houses in the Welsh high school which seems to work in a similar fashion, a Head of House with a student House Captain and competing to win the most House Points. There does seem to be more of a pastoral role involved too which hasn’t entered our House System (I’m not sure if that is the end goal or if that is more for a high school system).

Does your school have a House System? If not, are there any other ways that your school builds links between Year Groups? Would it be something you would like your school to try out?

Resolutions Part II – RQT Version by @Mroberts90Matt

As I sit in school on the 2nd INSET day we have (thank goodness) I browsed back through my posts on Teacher Voice and saw a post created near the start of last year called NQT Resolutions. Not one to miss out on building on something that was successful, I’ve decided to pen the sequel – RQT Resolutions.

It probably gets tiring seeing post after post about ‘resolutions’ at this time of the academic year but resolutions are an important concept in the development of an excellent teacher. Unfortunately this does not mean if you design and implement resolutions you will be an excellent teacher, but I do think it gives you a much better chance at this. In terms of what my resolutions will be, I have looked at my NQT goals for guidance as there is no point to the resolutions made last year if I don’t build on/improve them. Obviously, the RQT Year is a lot different to the NQT Year and my goals will reflect those contrasts. In sharing these, I hope that other RQT’s that have graduated to having an ‘R’ rather than an ‘N’ might get some ideas, find their thoughts confirmed to them or they were not planning to make goals but now decide to do so.

1. Keep my home-work life balanced

Now, if you did take a moment to have a peek at my NQT Resolutions you will have noticed that this resolution is exactly the same as my first NQT resolution, and it may well be the first on my list every year in my career. My family are the most important thing to me. I will certainly not be trading them for a successful career in teaching – I would change jobs before that happened. Obviously it can be done but it will require time management and careful a selection of priorities. I look around at some of the staff in my school who have families of their own and wonder how they can manage to do what they do! Now, at this stage at the precipice of my RQT Year, my wife and I have a 3 year old son and a soon-to-be 1 year old daughter – so it is busy times in the Roberts household! Yet, as long as I keep this goal foremost in mind I know it will be fine – it was last year (if not a little rocky in places)!

2. Get more involved

This leads on from one of my goals last year. As an NQT I got clear advice from many teachers to not volunteer myself for extra responsibilities (and this turned out to be sound advice). However, as I move to being a ‘proper'(ish RQT) teacher, I recognise that I will need to do a little more to support the life of the school. I’ve already volunteered my services for a couple of things so I’ll see how they go but it is something that I think will be beneficial. Today I volunteered my services as a Head of House, for a new House system the new Leadership want to try. It will involve me leading an assembly once a half term, or organise it, and take on more responsibility – looking forward to that! I’ve also volunteered to be a NQT Mentor if needed – I’m very aware I might not have some of the experience needed for that but the request was posted and I thought well, why not make my willingness heard? We’ll see with that one.

3. Lead a Curriculum Area

I guess this one stems from number 2 but I feel it deserves it’s own heading. Obviously with casting off the shell of an NQT I’ll be expected (or at least I WILL want) to take on the responsibility of leading a curriculum. I’ll personally want to make sure this happens to benefit my career progression and development. As far as what curriculum area I don’t know – I think that’s up in the air for now with the new Leadership anyway but we have meetings next week so I’ll hope for what I want to do…

4. Begin a Twitter account for the school

This is a bold new world for our school. We have had a Twitter account but no one has used it yet. Our new Head has used Twitter at his previous school and is keen for it to happen in ours – fantastic! So I would like to try and make that happen more to give the school a more global audience. Also, it will give the children in the school more enthusiasm to show off their learning, so I’ll need to try to gather things from around other classes also!

5. Improve children’s progress in Reading

With being in Year 6 – I can’t help myself looking at results. As a school we had some pretty great things happen – the SPAG was fantastic, Writing was where it should have been, Maths was not as good a last year but better than expected. To be fair, Reading results were excellent too but I feel in my class (and my analysis shows it) some children did not achieve what they could have, despite reaching the national expected level. Therefore, I want to try and develop my teaching of Reading so that my class this year progress better across all abilities. I’m going to be working with the Head of Literacy in Year 6 this year who is brilliant with stimulating reading in her class so I’ll be able to learn from her experience.

Well there you have it – a humble RQT’s resolutions to make their second year of teaching as productive and effective as their first – hopefully a lot more plain sailing too but we all know how this profession works…

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Green for GO! by @Mroberts90Matt

As the eagle eye of you may have noticed – I have not written a blog post for quite a while, most of the holidays in fact. I decided to take step back from EDUCATION for a few weeks, just so my family knows I still exist – you know, those people who I love the most in the world.

Anyway, this one is a short post sharing a thought I’ve had that is not original but I would like to try out in the classroom, then I’m hoping normal service will be resumed from next week.

Ever since I guest published on Teacher Toolkit just over a year ago about self assessment I’ve been trying to think of ways that I can integrate the principles of self-assessment into my teaching and learning without detracting time from the lesson and, at the same time, making it useful to inform my teaching in my Year 6 class. I’ve tried a few things over my NQT Year and toward the end of my ITT which have had benefits but also downfalls. As we go into a new school year, I have read that if a teacher does not do anything new or differently, they are not progressing. So this is what I’m thinking of doing…

I’m pretty sure most educators would know what I’m thinking about when they see the above picture. What I want to try is to have each child have a green, yellow and red paper cup in front of them and, during the activity in the session, the pupils display whichever ‘colour’ they feel they are at in their learning – green they are confident and may even want a challenge, yellow they are going ok but want to work on it a little more and red they are struggling with the learning going on and want a little support. In my mind, this is a marvellous idea…

Yet, in the back of my mind, I know there must be something that will make this a hindrance. Maybe the cups will be a distraction on the desk? Clearly there would have to be some sort of agreement between myself and the students to ensure that the cups are not misused, lost or damaged (they cost money you know, shall I send the bill to your parents etc). Maybe they could sign their cups at the start of the year, Starbucks-style, so they would have some ownership over the cups?

I’m sure there are probably other downfalls that I might not have noticed – has anyone had experience of using this self-assessment tool? Has it worked incredibly well? Any tips on how to make it work really well? Anyone think that this is a horrible idea that has no hope in working? Would love to hear your thoughts!…

A Word to Newly Qualified Teachers by @Mroberts90Matt

Context

Almost a year ago to this day I published a blog post to New Educational Bloggers and Tweachers giving them tips and things I wished I knew at the start of my time interacting with many of the world’s best educators. Now, I have come to end of the first year of my career in teaching. I am officially no longer an NQT. It has certainly been the hardest life of my year. This was because of a number of things in my personal life as well as professional life but all these events have caused me to think about what I wished I knew at the start of this year to make it even more effective.

As with the post last year, this will not be an exhaustive list of things NQT’s need to know (ideas from others would be much appreciated), but these are ideas that I wish I had known or had made sure I remembered that would make my NQT year a bit easier.

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Things I wish I knew

1. Start as you mean to go on…and then go on!

I found it easy to start strong with a focus on learning and firm but fair behaviour management. However, I quickly realised it was all to easy to let that slip. In the hustle and bustle of day to day teaching and learning, it can become easy to let small things (or as Ofsted have called it recently ‘low-level disruption’) slide as at the time it seems tedious to have to deal with. However, if low level disruption is not dealt with every time, learning will be disrupted further down the line. Therefore, it will be vital to make sure that does not change.

However, I learnt that this point does not apply just to behaviour management. When I started in September I had a number of what I felt (and what turned out to be) engaging teaching and learning strategies. However, when I reach November, those same strategies did not produce the same level of engagement and learning potential. It is important to start searching out and implementing engaging teaching strategies but it is then still important to keep up with searching and implementing new teaching strategies (another reason why Twitter is such a valuable CPD tool). It is not as easy as it sounds, but will make the ride in the classroom easier for you and the students you teach.

2. Things will work out – just do what you know to do

Sometimes the tasks that you have in front of you can seem overwhelming – educating a class of 30+ children and ensuring that they make progress in a number of subject areas is just the start! Of course, I personally had to deal with the SATs, a residential trip and other things. As a result (understandably) I got a little worked up over a few things. However, I wish I knew this fact – as long as I continue doing what I was trained to do (provide quality first teaching) then things will eventually come through. Take each step at a time and you will pull through with good results. I found things didn’t go so well when I got myself worked up about the large task at hand and lost the focus on what I needed to do there and then. Not easy to do but worth it.

3. Seek advice from others

Wherever you begin your employment as a teacher, you will be working with other members of staff. That is a constant variable which you can rely on. As such, you will meet many different characters and styles amongst the teaching staff. One thing I wish I knew was how willing many teachers are to help out. I think that, as a profession, we are increasingly being pressured from many sides, we recognise that when we can support one of our own it will be greatly appreciated. Of course, not all teachers will be as willing to help out, but you will very quickly learn who to ask for what kind of support. That support could be a life saver for you – and of course it is a requirement in the Teachers Standards.

So, do actively take the time to seek support or even just opinions from others. As a got further into my NQT Year I found that the afternoons I’d be in school would be spent less on marking (partly because I had gotten used to balancing the practice out and more efficient, as well as SATs prep reducing the amount of marking in books) and more on discussions with other members of staff. These moments were really helpful and I was left kicking myself at how I hadn’t done that sooner. As this went on I found that not only was I receiving more support but other members of staff started to come to me for advice and support. I was able to have a number of interesting opportunities for dialogue with the Maths Coordinator and she began to share pieces of learning from her class and asked me what I would have done a little differently. I found these exchanges to be really thought-provoking and it also improved my practice. You must do this!

4. Use the holidays well

..By this I do not mean spend every moment planning, assessing, evaluating schemes of work. In fact, quite the opposite. I managed to pass my NQT year with doingh (a bit) less at the holidays than I thought I would have to. You must use these times off effectively, yes get done any pressing work that needs to be done, but also take the chance to RELAX. My wife and I went away without the kids for a few days at the May Half Term (between the SATs and a residential trip and end-of-year production). I’m sure if I didn’t get that real little break in between I would have had a mental breakdown having to coordinate moody Year 6’s to perform after being tested the most they had in their lives.

(I also got my reports done in those holidays – only an hour or so a day spread out but it worked. I actually was one of the few that got my reports in a couple of days before the deadline – it can be done!)

5. Never let work overtake home life

This final but simple point does kind of link in to the previous. Hopefully your school is led by human beings who appreciate you have a life outside the workplace. I guess I’m in an unusual position to other NQT’s but during the year my wife and I had our second child and that child ended up in hospital for a week with bronchiolitis. They nearly lost her in the ambulance…My school were an amazing support. They never questioned the fact I had to be there with our little daughter, there was never a tough question as to when I’d be able to get back in and when I returned after the horrendous week everyone was eager to find out how she was doing. It would have easy to say I couldn’t afford the time to miss much work and not been there for my wife, daughter and poor 2 year old son who was confused why everyone was so worried and absent despite explaining what we could to him. It would have been wrong too. Never let what goes on at work impact on home life (again, much easier said than done and I often didn’t follow this advice) and then the things at work will fall into place.

Your thoughts

I would love it if any other recently passed NQT’s have any more pieces of advice to give to upcoming NQT’s. It would also be marvellous for this article to get to upcoming NQTs as most probably don’t read educational blogs or Tweet as a Teacher. What advice do you wish you knew before your NQT year?