The New Normal…

 

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These are strange times indeed. I’m sure somewhere on my job contract buried in the small print there is a clause that covers the last few weeks, I haven’t found it, however.

It felt like a good time to stop and breathe, in fact this is the first moment I’ve had to stop and breathe. It’s been great to pause today, I’ve listened to a lot of Bruce Springsteen (I’m working my way through all his albums…currently on Live 75-85), I’ve read quite a bit. I’ve sat and thought quite a lot.

I stepped away from twitter today, as there was much that was frustrating me.

In education we have had very little time and guidance to create this new normal, parents have had very little time to adjust to this. First thing I have to say is it’s not the same, it can’t and won’t be the same.

We all have a wealth of new pressures on us, parents, teachers, children, everybody. Fundamentally our roles as schools and educators has changed.

Fact is education isn’t our most important job now. First and foremost, our role is about supporting our families to manage their way through this, helping them create rhythms and patterns, helping them find a home balance about what will happen in their homes for what could be quite some time. We have a key role in helping families find their way through this. We also have a key role in ensuring the children are safe.  We are in a honeymoon period now parents are more likely to engage with us, and there is a first flush of enthusiasm about doing this from many. For some this will last from many others this will diminish. As teachers and school leaders we need to remember that it’s not all about us.

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I’ve seen schools trying to run a full timetable, I’ve seen parents stressed, many of whom will have to be working from home while having their children there and children stressed by the demands. I then think of the teachers who may be home with their children and trying to create this plethora of stuff. I’ve seen teachers produce full timetables of internet links to learning videos and saying children must do this (some of these are great however, Joe Wicks has broken me though). I’ve seen demands on teachers to mark and feedback submitted work exponentially increasing their workload. (I now know what exponential means). We need to let go. We can’t control it all.

As time goes on, we need to help families find a healthy balance. In primary, that’s probably a bit of Maths, a bit of writing and some reading every day, (I’d say lots of reading but I’m a bit obsessed) anything more than that and we will create something impossible. We’re planning a more project-based approach for after Easter as way of keeping children motivated and engaged with the work. The key point of the learning is parents spending time and talking with their kids. Cook together, listen to music, draw, do a jigsaw, do some gardening, make the beds etc. Creating home patterns and rhythms is the key bit. We don’t know what will be going on behind those doors, we don’t know the pressures those families are facing, just in the last week I’ve had parents concerned about money, and food and a hundred other things.  One thing we should not be doing is making this harder for families. Equally we should not be creating an impossible job for our staff.

This isn’t school, it can’t be school…there are going to be so many more issues to deal with when the children return into our buildings. Firstly, how do we help these children become used to being with other children again and feeling safe in our care.

People have talked about the “Gap” fact is whether we like it or not the gap between children will grow. I’d love to say it won’t, but the gap will be exacerbated, we have children without internet apart from a data package on Mum or Dad’s phone (Constant video lesson watching probably used that up by Tuesday). We have children, with no tablets or computers at home. The wonders of internet teaching will zoom past these children, how do we make sure we don’t forget about these children.

This weekend is a time to step back breathe and re-evaluate what it is we’re doing and how it helps our families and our communities.

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To paraphrase Professor Ian Malcolm “Your teachers were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Anyway back to the book and the Springsteen marathon. Stay Safe

 

 

 

The Silence… (sat in no-mans land)

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For a couple of weeks now war has waged on twitter. Since The right honourable Gav, dropped his silence bomb, people have planted their flag in the ground and nailed their colours to the post.

This has been exacerbated by an Ofsted report that dismissed a strict behaviour regime due to objections by pupils and parents. We have high profile tweeters sniping  others about it if they don’t agree with them and even a robust response from the Tsar himself criticising Ofsted and the way behaviour was reported. I have to say in this case I agreed with Mr Bennett with his point about schools doing what they need to do. It is sadly, a hopeless, futile war where neither side will give ground and stop to consider the others view.

It is a landscape full of hyperbole, both sides portraying the other as wrong and spinning webs of propaganda to support their argument.

Silence on the corridors = compliance, control and robot children

Talking on the corridors = Chaos and supporting bullying

Exclusions = The greatest evil or the greatest weapon (depending on your side)

All children are Naughty/angelic delete depending on your viewpoint.

 

…and on and on it goes

Isolation booths, restorative practices, warm-strict etc…. Grenades hurled by both sides, good or evil depending on your stance.

This battle has waged and will continue to wage. There is no winning.  So now the mortal enemies stand either side of no man’s land staring across into the ravaged landscape, sniping from their bunkers and ever more it will be.

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Except that some of us are caught up on the barbed wire singing quietly into the night or cowering in shell like craters whispering our thoughts.

We are the middle. Generally, they are people doing the job on a day to day basis rather than the ones telling people how to do the job from the safety of their war-rooms miles from the front.

I am one such person, I have views on all these things, and they have changed and adapted as school has changed. I’m six years down the line here

 

When I walked into my current school behaviour was some of the worst I had seen in a primary school, the chief issue was behaviour. It was challenging and this was impacting on the wellbeing of staff and pupils alike. A new behaviour policy was devised and quickly embedded. Patterns of behaviour were analysed, and minor but high-impact changes were made, we restructured lunchtimes, for example, so all year groups were not on break together. Meanwhile, I made sure I was visible in school, and visibly supporting behaviour. I also spoke to parents and we put the onus on them helping us to get it right.

There were sanctions, there were rewards, we removed children from their classes (Most often to time spent with me. If children are disrupting learning of others, they should be removed IMO) We had clear systems and we stuck to them, as head I backed the staff to the hilt. We excluded; we even called the police.

We set rules and we held the line, corridors were silent, it was reset. It was not the end of the line though. We taught children about behaviour, we were rigorous to the expectations and we stuck to it. All the time we were building relationships and trust. In primary relationships are key, but if there aren’t clear expectation and boundaries you don’t ever give them the chance to flourish.  My teachers are fierce and demanding in the best way. We coined the term #FierceKindness way before warm/strict became a rebrand. We never saw it as end though. It was a moment, as behaviour improved the policy adapted, corridors were silent for about a term, now they are calm and orderly, class behaviour is focussed, children most of the time want to learn. We have some children that need extra. Sometimes behaviour is uncommunicated need, sometimes its children testing boundaries and making poor choices. The behaviour policy is still there, it’s very rarely used now in the way we had to use it. We equally work hard with those children who struggle.

‘The behaviour of pupils is outstanding. What marks it out as being beyond good is how considerate pupils are towards each other and how they remind each other of how to behave without having to be prompted by adults. This does not just happen by chance. Teachers have worked hard to create an ethos in the classroom where mutual respect, tolerance and cooperation are very much the order of the day.’ Ofsted 2016

Ask anybody who’s visited (that includes Mary Myatt) and they’ll tell you it’s a calm, orderly school, with enthusiastic children who want to learn.

The fact is each school should be able to choose what happens in their school and what those rules and routines are. For me too many rules mean that you are creating a battleground, for others I appreciate it’s a communication about values and expectations. (that’s why I’ve never challenged my son’s school on a behaviour policy that frankly I thought was a bit silly, equally I was careful not to say that to my son)

Ultimately it comes down to what our expectations of young people are. I think they can be brilliant, creative, caring, generous, hard-working and will with the right support make the right choices. I trust and believe in children in my school and they repay that in spades.

So, the question is what is it that we want from behaviour in our schools. Personally, I want children who have responsibility for their actions and choices and make them in a secure moral framework. Therefore, if we look at our behaviour systems, we should question what they achieve. Discipline without responsibility will need constant vigilance. Discipline driven by pupils’ own morals is almost self-regulating. Behaviour policies aren’t static, and the aim should be more than compliance.

When children get stuff wrong and they will because lets be honest we all do, do we just punish and expect them to not do it again (it will work for some, my son hates being in trouble he’s spent the last four years terrified he’d get into trouble for the tiniest infraction) or do we do the thing we are good at and teach the children.

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We need a behaviour “Christmas Truce” where we all step into no-mans land shake hands (or just fist-bump now) and listen to each other. I think we’d find that most of us are not as far away from each other as twitter makes us believe.

#StorytimeAssembly

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The idea for Storytime assembly came about when I was looking for a way to give staff a bit of extra-time every week. I’ve always been passionate about the importance of story and children being read to, so it started as a natural progression from that.

There was a purely selfish element to starting it on my part, I missed reading stories to children, I missed the joy, the art of reading a story to a group of children. It’s always been one of things that I could do well. I made an active decision that it would be about sharing stories and to not let it be overwhelmed by the messages from those stories. (generally, that is the case, but you can’t ignore the lessons great stories tell us).

In the first year I had all the children together, EY all the way Year 6. Whilst it was great it was also a bit limiting. I had to make active choices about texts that all could access.

I just picked stories, there was no real rhyme or reason to it, they were just stories I liked. Sometimes that was not always the best choice, reading for 230 pupils is different to reading to a class. I learnt very quickly that some stories worked much better than others. I also found that authors worked better for me in an assembly context. (I’ll share some of those later)

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Each week I would bring new stories or poems and read, and it was great I did however find my-self returning to stories and books. Some stories began to adapt for the assembly. Revisiting  became part of the structure of the session, returning to stories I often found children joining in and the telling became communal rather than solitary, some stories naturally lent themselves to performance and children now often come and take parts in the story-telling, being characters and helping our youngest children understand the story.

The assembly began to develop its own structure, we would revisit an older story, share a new, have a performance story and share poems. Keep focussed on the joy of the story and the almost tactile relationship between the teller and the audience.

I have a box for Storytime assembly books in my office (mainly so I can find them I have a lot of books in my office). I do read them, and I do practice the storytelling. There is an art to it. Knowing the books well allows yow to craft the telling.

I was lucky enough to get to do a Storytime assembly at #PrimaryRocks last year. There is a video somewhere.

This year I do two assemblies one for Early Years/Key stage 1 and one for Key Stage 2. This has allowed me to adapt the content for Key Stage 2, we now have an ongoing narrative/chapter story where we recap on the story. It means I can also share my love of Paul Jennings stories. We still however have picture books and shared performance, I’ve continued to try to keep the ‘something old, something, new’ mantra.

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Ultimately, it’s a joy for me, the children get to hear brilliant stories. I don’t have any evidence that it develops children’s learning, but genuinely I can’t think of a better way to give teachers and extra block of time above and beyond their PPA every week.

 

Story time assembly tips.

  • Pick books you like…it shows. Trudging through a book that you really don’t like will only transmit to your class that you don’t really like it. You are the teacher the choice is yours. I get that world cups of books can be motivating I would just say make sure you’re happy with the books you’re offering as a choice.
  • Knowing the book well helps you read it well. Knowing the story, the characters the key moments allows to share the story more effectively. Knowing the book allows you to become the controller of the story and how it plays out. It also helps you know where the sticking points might be. 
  • t is a performance, reading aloud is a thing that we need to practice. It takes time to get good at it.  Start with some great short stories or some brilliant poetry build your repertoire and confidence. (Paul Jennings was always my go to. I’m still a dab hand at Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake)
  • Go under the ‘spell.’ Allow your book to flow and get lost in it together. Get lost in the power of the story. Those moments when children are literally hanging on your every word waiting for the reveal are just amazing
  • Remember the audience, there is an element of pantomime to reading to a hall full of children.
  • Think about the structure of the assembly, the balance of texts, don’t be afraid of repetition and familiarity.
  • ENJOY!!! Have a blast!!!

 

This is a small list of books and authors; I’m just going to highlight the books that really work for me and form my core #StorytimeAssembly choices. They are mainly chosen because of how they work with an audience.

 

‘That Rabbit belongs to Emily Brown’ by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton

Just my favourite read aloud ever… I do voices

‘Read the Book Lemmings’ and ‘Horrible Bear’ by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah O’Hara

‘Dandy’ by Ame Dyckman and Charles Santoso

Amy’s books have a brilliant read aloud rhythm and are fantastically funny (she really knows how to write a joke). The art is equally simple and arresting that helps it work with an audience. Read the book is possibly the best book for shared performance.

 

‘Secret Sky Garden’ by Linda Sarah and Fiona Lumbers

Perfect for a bit of quiet beauty with a room full of people

 

‘Little Red’ by Bethan Woolvin

Great retelling of Red Riding Hood with a twist

 

‘Grumpy Frog’ By Ed Vere

Genius levels of funny

 

‘Not Now Bernard’, ‘Elmer’ by David Mckee

Just classics

 

‘Oh No! George!’, ‘Shhhh!’

‘Don’t worry Little Crab’ both by Chris Haughton.

Chris is a master of the simple repeating narrative making his books perfect for the join in and read aloud.

 

Would You rather?’ by John Burningham

There is not a better Question and answer response book ever, wild and just a bit anarchic. Perfect, for interaction with just a bit of gross out humour.

 

‘The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors’ by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex

Perfect for parts and over the top performance. It’s an assembly fave.

 

‘Look Up’ by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola

This is a new favourite, great characters and a delightful story

 

‘Something Else’ by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell

Just a perfect story

 

‘Diary of a killer Cat’ by Anne Fine

A perfect short chapter read

 

(KS2) Loads of Paul Jennings short stories (favourites are, Exposer, Licked, Wunderpants, Strap Box Flyer, Only Gilt amongst many).

I have relied on Paul Jennings for the last 26 years… He has never let me down

 

Joan Aiken Short stories especially ‘A Necklace of Raindrops’

Just Genius.

 

Also a range of great poetry

Michael Rosen, Joseph Coelho, Allan Allburg, Paul Cookson, Rachel Rooney new this term is Matt Goodfellow.

The Purpose…Part 2

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In almost all curriculum posts I see a focus on the What of curriculum. What is it that children should learn, the phrase by Matthew Arnold ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world’ is oft quoted. Ofsted use it, Michael Gove used it. However, Arnold’s original quote was a little more nuanced.

The whole scope of this essay is to recommend culture as the great help out of our present difficulties; culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which must concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.

Matthew Arnold ‘Culture and Anarchy’ 1848

The best that’s thought and said on all the matters that concern us gives it a different slant and perspective. IMO

We’ve spent a huge amount of time defining the WHAT for our school. Our starting point was the national curriculum but a curriculum that denies where we are and the history of the place, we live in is no curriculum at all. We’ve thought long and hard about the things we believe are important for children to learn in our school. We’ve thought about the ‘WHAT’ of each year and how it builds on the ‘WHAT’ of previous years. (This is something under constant review by our Curriculum team) What we were missing however was the WHY? We had a curriculum of learning without purpose. We created a curriculum that skimmed the surface, over-full, teaching lots of things without any purpose for knowing them. We had missed the WHY?

We used to start with a ‘hook.’ Sometimes it was a trip or a visit or some other showy thing to get the children interested. The initial enthusiasm wore off quickly. The buzz lost in a cavalcade of stuff without any reason to learn it. It had no impact and even less retention. Children did the Vikings, the Romans or Space. Facts were taught but not for a reason. Learning had no purpose. We taught everything in a hit and hope kind of way. It was curriculum by ‘Bugsy Malone Splurge Gun’

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We came to the realisation that for our curriculum we needed a purpose, a reason to learn. (I know people will say learning is a goal in and of itself and I would agree.) The purpose however allowed us to focus the curriculum, to do less but better, to really think about what children needed to learn.

We created purpose in two ways, first was the design of a key question that children were going to answer through the learning they did in the subject. This acted as a lens on the thing’s children would be taught. Question design is vital for us. If we got the question wrong, then the curriculum would become unfocused.  The core subject knowledge underpinning the learning would be the same regardless of the question (This is where Knowledge organisers fit for me creating the baseline of knowledge on which the deeper learning sits) but the choice then focuses that learning in to a certain area or aspect, creating opportunities for children to revisit, use and apply their learning.

In the Year 2 example below. The Question  ” Why was the fire of London so destructive?” was the curriculum driver and the learning focused to exploring and answering that question. We still make stuff, we encourage children to use that knowledge and apply. The fire below came after a significant amount of work exploring the factors. The fire helped children crystallise their understanding as is evident in the writing.

The other key aspect was to design clarity around an end-product. The creation of an end-product was very much inspired, stolen from the work of Ron Berger in his book ‘Ethic of Excellence’ an excellent book that has very much stuck with me since I read.

I believe that work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence. After students have had a taste of excellence, they’re never quite satisfied with less; they’re always hungry.

I want students whose work is strong and accurate and beautiful; [I want] students who are proud of what they do, proud of how they respect both themselves and others.

I believe that work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same.

Either way, my role as teacher is not as the sole judge of their work, but rather like that of a sports coach or play director: I am helping them to get their work ready for the public eye.  There is a reason to do the work well, and it’s not just because the teacher wants it that way.                                           

                                                                  Ron Berger Ethic of Excellence 2003

That could take many forms. Clarity around the product allowed us to clearly see the teaching sequence leading to that, both in terms of the knowledge and how we support children in achieving excellence. Sometimes it will be a piece of writing, a piece of art, a debate speech, a letter, a presentation. The product however reflects pupils learning and an application of their knowledge. Part of the teaching therefore is equally about how we support the pupil to create that product. This is still ongoing, allowing children to create work they are proud of, is a key part of the purpose. Effective use of modelling and precision teaching is equally as important. Teaching is the key. Expectation is part of it, pupil’s intrinsic motivation however is key.  Curriculum purpose (when we get it right, sometimes we don’t)  gives our children that in spades.

We’ve been working on this for a while, knowing stuff is one think being able to use it is another for us that’s the point.

Below is a snippet from our Ofsted last June. It’s a work in progress but when it works the impact is powerful.

One typical Year 5 pupil wrote a persuasive argument about the greatest scientific discovery that began: ‘Copernicus ‘theory of the solar system, Albert Einstein’s discovery of the speed of light and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution will be discussed. Upon evaluating the strengths of each discovery, an argument for the most significant will be presented. ‘This is typical of the high quality of writing that key stage 2 pupils produce across the wider curriculum.

Ofsted 2019

We’ve also been exploring how we get children to write in different subjects. This is helping to focus our writing.

Coming soon The Purpose…Part 3 (The Devil is in the Detail)

The Purpose…Part 1

 

 

The Purpose…Part 1

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Just going to say now I’m not a curriculum expert in the way many are. I do understand the need for structure and how a curriculum needs to build on previous learning. I also believe curriculum is more.

I completely agreed with Stuart Lock when he talked about conversations being focussed onto the core substance of the what we learn rather than the how, which has constantly dominated educational dialogue. I cautiously welcomed Ofsted’s focus onto the substance of a ‘good education’ and its new focus on the breadth of curriculum.

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The problem with How?

Thing is that we haven’t actually got away from the HOW at all. Conversation is now dominated by cognitive science, which while useful in helping us explore what works in our classroom doesn’t give us all the answers. Rosenshine has been turned into lesson observation tick-lists by desperate SLT’s trying to prove they’re doing the right thing. Again, Rosenshine is useful to help us think about the work but when it becomes a straight-jacket (and it is) then we are back in three-part lesson-territory. Research has its place, but teaching is more. Read as many books as you like, but there is and will always be that random element in our classroom (Children). Personally, I want teachers who are informed but not constrained by research. I want teachers who are responsive to the learning in their classrooms and can adapt that to meet the needs of the pupils in that lesson on that day. I want teachers with a broad toolkit of approaches which allow them to make the right choices. I want craftsmen and artisans rather than bricklayers (You do need to know how to lay the bricks though)

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Back to the What?

The phrase knowledge-rich is bandied about all the time. Ofsted will ‘Deep-dive’ your curriculum to see if it is just that. Many school curriculums have become full of knowledge, crammed with facts to remember, overstuffed and bulging.  Curriculums that are packed with knowledge but are often far from rich. That is not the case with all obviously, but the Ofsted framework has left many scrabbling to get something in place. In many cases curriculum has been boiled down to its constituent facts. Facts and more facts but no rhyme or reason for what the facts are and why we want children to know that stuff. Knowing facts has become the endpoint rather than the starting point. In some curriculums there is no purpose knowing stuff beyond knowing stuff. The Ofsted framework has exacerbated this. Its approach has been boiled down to a soundbite…

‘Learning is alteration in the long-term memory’

Whilst Ofsted I’m sure would expect this to be more than memorising facts. The fact is that is what it runs the risk of becoming. Interpretation is everything. The problem is the soundbites rule. They are in your face, you remember them but not the substantive thing on which they sit, so SLT’s desperately try to get kids to remember more stuff. Deep dives ask children what they remember and that becomes all that matters

‘Knowing more words makes you smarter’ – I’d add does its shite!

With that sentence pointless wordlists decorate our classrooms in a shower of Twinkl. Knowing more words and the context for them and then applying them effectively might just make you smarter. I know Floccinaucinihilipilification, I’ve still never managed to use it in a sentence where it actually makes sense…until now. It doesn’t make me smarter. Words without meaning and context are just words. (pretty sure Ofsted will have said this.) However, the soundbite creates consequences.

Knowledge Organisers have become end goals for learning rather than the start point. The curriculum on a page. The learning as a memory task. Quizzed and tested on. I don’t have an issue with KO’s but surely, they should be a launch-pad for learning, the starting point, the foundation upon which a great curriculum is built not some law of diminishing returns endpoint.

The curriculum has become an amorphous directionless familiar rather the regal creature of border caves.  Full of stuff but without purpose, direction or focus. I think we need to add another question to the ‘What?’ and the ‘How?’ and that is the ‘WHY?’

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Tell me WHY?

I’m not talking about ‘to get a job’ or the equally spurious ‘to give children a seat at the top table’ nonsense that gets spouted often as the reason. Genuinely both are pretty poor reasons for learning stuff.  Instead surely the purpose for knowing is to give children the ability to think. The more we know the more we can think and challenge and discuss. I would say learning is thinking more and knowledge gives us the key to do that. Developing a curriculum that allows children to use the knowledge is tricky. How do we create a curriculum that makes them use the stuff they learn and truly think? How do we create purpose in our curriculum?

What does the purpose look like I hear you ask…well that’s for another blog!

The Purpose…Part 2

The Unsustainable.

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I’m writing this because I’m really angry. I’m writing this because I feel desperately sorry for parents of children with significant SEND. I’m writing this for the unwanted children who are passed from pillar to post as school after school look the other way. We’ve had one such case this week. The parents had visited another local school and in no uncertain terms had been made to feel like their child was not welcome, that the school was not right for their son. Then somehow our school was mentioned and they were directed our way.

In our town, we have a reputation for being the school that deals with special educational needs and disability. We are a one-form entry primary school with 8 high needs pupils below the age of seven and 14 high-needs pupils altogether (Our percentage is way higher than the national average).  A significant number of these children come from outside our school catchment. Some of the children are not yet on an education, health and care plan (EHCP). The process to getting a health-care plan can be lengthy. In the meantime school just have to make do. The pupils’ needs cover a huge range, including Down’s syndrome, autism, Rett syndrome, visual impairment, hearing impairment, foetal alcohol syndrome, and a range of communication, speech and language difficulties. We’re a mainstream primary school, we don’t have a specialist provision, we’re not a specialist provision.

Problem is the nearest specialist provision sits 25 miles . Unsurprisingly, no parent wants to send their child on that journey in a taxi at the age of five. Neither should they. So they come to us.

When a parent comes to our door and asks whether we can accommodate a pupil’s needs, we bend over backwards to do so. And parents knock on our door a lot.

For the first time I’m stuck, SEND funding is woefully inadequate and has a significant impact on our school budget. The only support staff we now have in school are working with children with significant need. It’s unsustainable.

So when this family contacted our school, looking at how stretched we are both staff-wise and financially we realised that we can’t meet need. It breaks my heart to admit that. I’m proud that our school is inclusive. We are however at breaking point. I have no staff capacity and no money. There is no way I can meet need.

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What angers me is that some schools, just push these children away.

In the primary sector, more and more schools seem to be saying that they can’t meet pupils’ needs. Some of our pupils are with us because the parents were told that their nearest school “couldn’t meet the need” or even worse just be made to feel that the school doesn’t want their child. (often that is all it takes). Parents want to send their child to a school that wants them.

Financially supporting a child with high needs has become an increasing burden on schools. It shouldn’t be. The data impact for some schools is there motivation to  guide these children elsewhere.

Accessing funding is challenging, as getting an EHCP is challenging. Sometimes I just wish the people making the decisions would come and see the children in school. The system seems set up to put barriers in the way of us getting the funding the children need.

That said, I know full well we can’t hit all the specific needs of some of our pupils, however much we try. In some cases a truly specialist provision is required. Equally, as the children get older and the gap widens, addressing specific needs can become increasingly challenging

If this sounds like a moan, that’s because it is.

However the fact that we are an inclusive school is a source of huge pride. . To watch the pupils playing together is a huge confirmation of the positives of being inclusive. Our children are tolerant and understanding of others’ needs; they are supportive and caring.

For us, inclusion isn’t a choice, but even if it was, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Sadly we’re now at breaking point, for the first time we genuinely can’t meet need.

Lip Service (All surface, No depth)

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I see lots of stuff about curriculum, in fact since the introduction of the EIF (new Ofsted framework) it feels like this is all that we see.

Much of it is shiny, and beautifully designed (it must’ve taken hours). Aesthetically pleasing but with the depth of a thimble.

Knowledge organisers in some places sit at the core as the be-all and end-all of the learning rather than the foundation layer for developing knowledge and understanding.

Quizzing is the new assessment, recall of the facts is all.

Ofsted suggests “Knowing more words makes you smarter” and a thousand vocabulary lists are printed, laminated and sent home before the sentence is even finished.

The current simple view of education seems to be that this will make the difference.

Don’t get me wrong I think curriculum is the answer to practically every question, but I think getting a curriculum right is an on-going complex process. Ask anybody who’s really put in the hours in getting curriculum right for their school and they’ll tell it’s blummin’ tricky.  I truly believe the hours spent developing ‘The What’ are worth every minute.

Engagement is an educational swear-word associated with poor lesson design and poor learning. I’d argue it sits at the core of great learning. I suggest engaged pupils truly remember what they do, we just need to make sure they remember the stuff they need.

Meanwhile we seem intent on stripping ‘The How’ of teaching back to its barest bones. Ignoring the power of good teachers and creating a model that all can deliver. (Maybe that’s what you have to do when you can’t get enough teachers of the quality you want).

Genuinely I feel for young teachers, there is no time to learn. If I were to look back on my formative years in the classroom, they were literally littered with mistakes. I however was lucky, I worked with great people who helped me develop. Do we give the next generation the time to be good. I see lots cast on the scrap-heap without a second glance. There is no time for losers. Be good or be gone. Have we forgotten our responsibility to develop the next generation?

Behaviour is regularly seen as a massive issue in schools. Yet we seem to have forgotten to teach children why and how they should behave. Equally we seem to not bother teaching teachers about classroom management.  Instead we create systems where we wield sanctions like a ‘cane of Damocles’ and all children are expected to behave.  Those who for whatever reason can’t quite reach this halcyon standard are discarded for the ‘Greater Good.’

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‘Think of the 29’ is the clarion call. I don’t disagree that we should remove disruptive children if they are stopping others learning, in-fact I completely believe we should. I also believe we have a responsibility to the 1. How are those children supported…taught. Sadly it seems that some are happy for there to be a few educational casualties cast by the wayside as societal detritus for the benefit of the many. A decision that will come back to haunt those communities forever more.

We seem to have lost our role. Schools should be sat at the heart of a community, increasingly the community is kept at arms length. For all the government’s talk of parents having a greater voice in education, increasingly in this age the voice of the true stakeholders has been mightily diminished.

In our thrust for ‘education’ we seem to be forgetting the role of ‘Schooling’ and the role of Schools.

 

Bedtime Library books…a starter list.

Here’s a starter list of brilliant bedtime books, I’m sure you can think of loads more. They’re  not necessarily books to use in a classroom (though lots are brilliant for use in the classroom)  but they are all fantastic to read and share.

I want my Hat Back by Jon Klassen (I’d recommend all the hat books and the shape books with Mac Barnett as well, just brilliant)

Horrible Bear by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah O’Hara (Ame is one of my favorite got picturebook authors for read aloud brilliance)

Stanley’s Stick by Jon Hegley and Neal Layton

Grumpy Frog by Ed Vere (Huge fan of Ed Vere all his books are wonderful to read and share)

Is There a Dog In This book by Viviane Schwartz (Another read aloud superstar)

Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett

Dogger by Shirley Hughes

The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak

The Disgusting Sandwich by Gareth Edwards and Hannah Shaw

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Schaeffer(Always reliable brilliant to read aloud, most of Julia’s book are fantastic bedtime reads)

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd

King Baby by Kate Beaton

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

The Last Noo-noo by Jill Murphy

The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood and Don Wood

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

Hansel and Gretel by Bethan Woolvin

Not Now Bernard by David McKee

Wild by Emily Huighes

Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski

Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr

The Bad Seed by Jory John and Pete Oswald

On Summer Hill by Linda Sarah and Benji Davis

The Storm Whale by Benji Davies (in fact any of Benji’s books)

Sun by Sam Usher (all his season books are great)

This is not a picturebook by Sergo Ruzzier

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stern

My Big Shouting Day by Rebecca Patterson

The Night Pirates by Peter Harris and Deborah Allwright

Oi Frog by Kes Gray and Jim Field

The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith and Katz Cowley

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

This Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton (I’ve read this book at bedtime more than any other in the world ever!)

Traction Man By Mini Grey (Mini is another bedtime read superstar)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

We’re Going on A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Shaeffer

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

Peace at Last by Jill Murphy

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

Oh No George! By Chris Haughton (in fact any Chris Haugton books)

 

Enjoy!!!

 

Please comment with other suggestions

The Bedtime Library

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This is just a quick share of something that has really worked for us.

We wanted to develop children’s love of story and build that breadth of language that children have. We found that a number of our youngest children were not being read to at home and in-particular were not being read bedtime stories. We found that children were not seeing the joyous side of reading. Reading at home had become a trawl through a phonics related book (this was very much our fault).

For many these books were uninspiring and we realised they missed the essence of reading together, they missed the joy of talking and discussing a story, they missed the rhythms and patterns of great stories, they missed the prediction, the anticipation, the moments of revelation, they missed the creativity of language. (That’s not to say children don’t practice their reading at home as well.)

Because of that we set up the bedtime library for our youngest children. (it now goes all the way into year 2).

Essentially it’s a library of great children’s books (mainly picturebooks) to read and share at bedtime. The quality of the books is important.

It’s about putting great books in the hands of parents and children and helping them share them together. Let me say that it’s not about the children reading them to their parent, it’s about the parents reading them to their children. We have also run workshops with parents to help them, for some of our parents this is daunting that is why we always focus it on them and their child. Ultimately, it’s about a parent snuggling with their child and sharing a great book. It’s about creating bedtime routines, structures and special time.

It’s not rocket science. Children borrow the books for a week and then change it. Reading and rereading the same story is part of it, sometimes children don’t want to bring it back they love the book they have so much.

It takes a little investment to get the books, (my charity shop trawling has really helped with this) and we’ve found that we have to not be precious, if a book doesn’t come back, that doesn’t mean they child doesn’t get another one.

That’s it really…it really is that simple. We have a 95% uptake with our Reception children which is just fantastic and Year 1s and 2s are equally as keen.

Reading is so much more than decoding, it’s important we don’t lose sight of that.

(Now if somebody would like to offer us some books or money to expand it that would be great ;-))

Here is a list…that might help.

Bedtime Library books…a starter list.

Writing…Honestly, we need honesty.

This is a very quick blogpost.

Just sat here tidying up my hard-drive (in other words, procrastinating and avoiding work). And I found this. It  was written in a SATs test in 2004. No success criteria, no feature list just what he carried with him internally…

Before people get critical I know it’s not perfect, but what it was, was honest. 45 minutes, pen down, packaged and sent.

queue

 

“Mam,” I said tugging on my mam’s arm, ”Can I go and get my new trainers now? Please!” She just ignored me. Like how rude is that, it was as if she was trying to wind me up. I know the next good thing I see, I’ll plead for her to get it for me. She’s bound to fall for it. So off we went down the heaving high street. “LOOK!” I screamed, “ Look at that game. Mam please can I get it. Please!” I put on my best sad face. She bought it, she bought the act. Yes, yes, yes. I’m getting the best game ever. “But Ben darling there is a big queue,” Mam told me, “So lets get in it,” I replied.

As I stood there it was then I saw this girl, this wonderful girl, this beautiful girl, she looked perfect. I looked at her and smiled. Seconds seemed like hours, me stood there grinning like a loon. Then just as all hope faded, she smiled back, she smiled BACK, BACK AT ME! I was  over the moon. I shouted “Hello,” down the line towards her. A huge grin spread across her face “Hi I’m Jenny,” Jenny, Jenny,  the most excellent name ever. She looks like an angel, a god sent angel. I was oblivious of everything around me, the sound that had grown louder and louder to a deafening roar.

Suddenly without warning the big double doors swung open and I found myself carried away on the wave of people. I tried to back away then realised that I wanted the game and dived back into the ruthless sea of idiots clamouring to get through the door. I saw Jenny disappear through the doors ahead of me. It was like squeezing through the eye of a needle, squashed so tight I almost couldn’t breathe. Then I was through, popping out like a cork. I ran for the games stand, full pelt, straining every muscle. Almost there just a daft lad in the way I barged him out the way and I was there. There at last. I grabbed the last game on the stand, just as someone else did.I tugged hard at the game then looked up. Just as I did so did she. Jenny, Jenny was there, the most wonderful girl ever was staring right into my eyes. I let go of the game and so did she. The stupid game bounced off the cold hard floor.

“You can have it!” I stammered. “No you,” she smiled. Just then a little kid darted between us and grabbed the game “Sorry,” I whispered. She grabbed my hand. “Do you want to get a drink?” she asked. My chin hit the floor, she was here, holding  MY hand! “Yes!” I mumbled. This was the best day of my life. I’ve been sort of asked out by the girl with the cutest smile ever. “Hard luck darling,” sighed Mam. “Shall we get you those trainers?” The trainers, the game, nothing mattered. Just Jenny. “I’m alright thanks Mam,” I smiled as me and Jenny wandered away.

Michael Clark aged 11

Why not give it a go? See what your children do. It could be interesting, maybe we could post some up and compare?

Now I’m not advocating writing tests before people get irate about that, but I am suggesting we give children opportunities to write independently and use that to judge our children’s writing. Not what they can  do with a structure, a success criteria and a checklist but what they do when it’s removed. Truly independent writing.

I am writing this in frustration really… as I look at comparison tables.

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data-2

The first thing that jumps out particularly with writing is what a waste of time the data is. The second and I hate to say this is the dishonesty of teacher assessment.

Ultimately though it comes down to this…

honest

How do we get honesty I wish I knew but these are the challenges as I see it you can probably add many more in your contexts.

Internal (Barriers to Honesty)

  • Performance related pay and performance management
  • Accountability
  • Fear
  • Lack of support
  • Lack of moderation
  • Poor CPD to develop understanding of Assessment system
  • Targets set by Heads/SLT
  • Use of systems and algorithms to decide whether pupils are there or not.

External (Barriers for schools)

  • Ofsted (Not through want of Sean Harford’s Myth-busting)
  • Fear
  • Raised expectations, ever-changing goalposts
  • Lack of consistency in application of framework
  • Threat of academisation/ floors standards/ coasting schools
  • DFE
  • LA
  • MAT
  • League table

I know this is not a very optimistic start to the New Year, but we are in the same place as we were last year with regards to writing, just more time to jump kids through the hoops.

That’s the real challenge for our school system this year and moving forward. How do we create as assessment system that is about improving and supporting the children’s journey through education rather than measuring schools.

If you have an answer please reply,  at the moment I’m out of ideas.