Schools shape the character of the nation

Mid – meeting Michael Cladingbowl made this powerful statement with possible attribution to Benjamin Franklin. On arriving home I attempted to clarify this but sadly it was inconclusive. I did however find this:

In the “Times of India” 31.1.2010 Dr Ved Prakash Mishra said…”the destiny of any country is shaped in the classroom”.. which is pretty close. He then went on to say

” schools are real breeding grounds for the students which shape their future and hence a teacher should try to inculcate courage, conviction and character in the students ”

Michael was talking here about the kind of future he wished for his own children  ……for them to be happy and live full lives and enjoy learning. Yes there are arguments which say we have to endure boredom but he put a definite emphasis on them ‘enjoying’ their time in school. Happily this view was shared by all around the table and for me was the defining moment in the meeting; it wasn’t about a bunch of teachers meeting the man from OFSTED, we were all educators together caring passionately about children and wanting the best for them!

Courage, conviction and character also shape the new OFSTED framework. Michael states he wants Ofsted to ” exercise curiosity…rather than demonstrate compliance” when inspecting schools and feels this is a fundamental shift in approach. Inspectors should be empowered to use their professional judgement and not hide behind the rule book; quality assurance needs redefining ….the right inspectors deployed on the right inspections.
This was very interesting because when it comes to PRUs the rule book needs tearing up! We are unique in that we don’t operate in quite the same way as other schools. We are or should be short stay assessment centres with an emphasis on managing behaviour; of course curriculum is important but this has to be viewed in the context of very challenging circumstances in which the dynamics of classes constantly changes as children move in and out throughout the year. Also the nature of our children has altered in that we are getting more and more with complex needs including severe mental health issues. Michael admitted he has no direct experience in our kind of setting but took the point that in such difficult circumstances progress in English and Maths is not top priority…that comes later.
I did mention that some PRUs had encountered difficulties due to lead inspectors lacking direct experience of working with challenging children and he said if that happens to please flag it up ! He appreciates credibility is crucial in a successful system. From September 2015 inspection teams will move in – house under the auspices of regional directors so this will ensure more cohesion, a renewed focus on training and better accountability. He stated that he wants to unify frameworks across the board.

So what might this new world look like? Others have explored what it might look like for classrooms in the future but I am more concerned about the present. We are about to enter life after levels and I for one expect Ofsted to land asap so what is likely to happen ?

I think the key to a successful inspection lies in confidence in the data. In our PRU we use PIVATS to assess progress and their continuing use has been approved by DfE. As assessment coordinator I can demonstrate good progress over time for all our students and can see how this can be further developed to show how well we are doing.
There was a discussion about being able to show three levels of progress but Michael feels that this can be unrealistic; he says it’s not about measuring progress/practice against a template.
Michael says it is important to have successful systems in place and I think this needs to be a starting point in PRUs ; good baselines are vital for us because we lack continuity which can be found in established schools. Uncertainty surrounding this issue has been a key feature in PRU questions for Michael but he endorses my thinking by iterating the need for a simple personalised way of measuring pupil progress…graphs and tables are too vague particularly when you have small numbers of children….this could be the subject of a separate blog; it would be useful to share practice.
If we can’t get hold of previous results we need to focus on making our own judgements very quickly…in any case we have found that information passed to us is often inaccurate! In the brilliant programme ‘Last Chance Academy’ the head admitted that it had been missed that a very able girl would struggle to read the exam questions! My advice would be to always check what the children can and can’t do as soon as possible!

In terms of curriculum, although the focus of inspection is progress in English and Maths, Michael feels broad and balanced should be our watchwords; one future change is to reverse a narrow trend which has been one of the unintended consequences of streamlining the recent framework. I did ask about PRUs who disapplied the national curriculum to concentrate on core subjects and he said that really concerned him. Our primary PRU offers a full range of subjects and he felt that that was how it should be; however OFSTED can’t prescribe what schools do. I think you would have to be able to confidently justify what you do and why you do it; just be aware that in future there may be changes which reflect his views.

Teaching and learning are the focal points of inspection and he believes that this is right. Too many schools deliver a ‘mediocre experience’ in his opinion and there need to be checks and balances in place. However he has made it explicit that teachers are not to be graded on lesson observations.The box will stay on due to cost factors but quality of t & l should be part of a narrative across the school; he states there should be equality in teaching. He envisages feedback could be delivered to groups rather than individuals and I actually think that’s a great idea because it should be about sharing ideas of what is working well and what needs to be improved; it shouldn’t be a backslapping or naming and shaming exercise!
Book/work scrutinies form part of the evidence collecting but he feels we shouldn’t get too hung up about this….talking and listening to children are just as, if not more, important ( I’m really liking this man! ) However, be warned, his pet hate is scrappy, messy
books ! He does feel that teachers should be more confident about what they do, which is encouraging!

Something that was stressed throughout was the importance of relationships. In a PRU setting they are paramount and obviously form the  main plank of behaviour and safety. We were discussing the Leap unit in ‘Last Chance Academy’ and what struck us the most was the quality of interaction and nurturing care shown by staff towards pupils. I said to Michael that is exactly how it is at our school and the head and myself are a necessary, visible presence throughout the school .
Michael wants quality relationships between OFSTED and schools….it should be a dialogue in which the school explains what it’s about and the inspector says ‘show me’. He acknowledges that it is much more difficult to lead/ teach in disadvantaged  schools and for them to demonstrate good results and progress but he strongly believes that we have to do the very best we can. There is a lot of passion in the highest reaches of his department for vulnerable children hence the emphasis on how the pupil premium is used …high standards
should be rigorously pursued and he makes no apologies for schools which don’t at least try to deliver on this.

I’m drawing towards a conclusion but just want to share a few thoughts about the direction OFSTED is travelling in. The good news is I think we are all on the same journey. Michael retains all his educator instincts and this gives him validity in my eyes. He has shown us a vision of a supportive framework which acts as a critical friend rather than being ‘the enemy’. He is refreshingly honest and down to earth; I suppressed a smile when he said he feels that educational research is ‘flaky’…I know many Twitter colleagues   will disagree! He feels that the grading of schools is too convoluted; if he had his way there would be just two: effective and ineffective. He doesn’t actually like the use of ‘outstanding’ and the way schools emblazon it along the front of the building! He also dislikes the way that OFSTED is used as a legitimising process..head teachers take note please!
In the immediate future ie Autumn term OFSTED is going to be in consultation with heads, governors, schools, unions, their own inspectorate, anyone with an interest in education about future changes. He was blunt in saying that in times of change there will always be casualties. But he is going to ask and discuss….which has got to be good!

My overall impression of the meeting was extremely positive. We felt appreciated. We felt involved. We felt valued. And this is only the start…

I want to finish with a definite quote
from Benjamin Franklin who said

              Tell me and I forget
              Teach me and I remember
              Involve me and I learn


All Aboard for the Ofsted Dambusters

This is such a good post on our visit


Sometimes there is a moment in time, a chance to create substantial change.  You either grab it or wave it goodbye and the opportunity passes you by.  It may not look anything special at the time but hidden beneath the grit is a pearl of great price.  Carpe Diem.

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Looking back

This post is inspired by @chrishildrew who recently posted a letter to his NQT self. It made me think…what have I learnt from a quarter of a century of teaching…and what nuggets of wisdom could I pass on to an NQT ?
My first job was in a primary school as an EAL support teacher and it was a 12 month contract. At the interview I blagged a couple of questions on ethnic  minorities and later discovered that the HT was a highly respected expert in the field with several books under her belt!
Rule 1: Do not pretend you know something that you don’t. .you will quickly be found out!! ( fortunately she was very kind about it and gave me a job)
I learnt an awful lot that year and some of my preconceptions were turned on their heads! One thing forcefully hammered home was that racism is not confined to  particular groups of people! One poor child who was different to the rest had his food spat in daily by others and eventually left the school. Sadly, this is a lesson which is being played out across the globe, with devastating and fatal consequences!
I also discovered my limitations in terms of classroom management but had some good role models to teach with and learn from…I learnt that not everyone will love you and it’s up to you to be positive, upbeat and able to rise above brickbats in the pursuit of bouquets.
My second job was in a medium sized primary school in a mixed catchment area.
Rule 2: Be a diplomat and keep your head whilst all about you are losing theirs!! In this school there were many competing factions which wasn’t helped by the geographical separation of the school building into three discrete areas overseen by competitive and diametrically opposed members of the SLT! You needed the wisdom of Solomon to navigate these treacherous pathways; my advice today would be to keep your head down and get on with your job…involving yourself in inter- necine rivalries can only end in tears!
These years were categorised by learning the art of negotiation – with pupils, parents and colleagues. Initially I was overwhelmed by positivity from all the above..which leads me to..
Rule 3: Nothing lasts forever. Don’t rest on your laurels when things are going well. Don’t assume you’ve cracked it. This may sound negative but I have learned the hard way…The minute something goes wrong everything goes wrong. In my case it was an OFSTED. It was in the days of the clipboard inspection…frowning miseries who, in the words of one of my Y2 children, were ‘scary’. I had, as perceived by teachers and parents, the ‘class from hell’ and boy did they play up when the inspector came to call!! People may moan about TAs but then there were none! You were on your own in classes of 34+!! So there was no one to fight your corner…or deflect…or remove..! I nearly had a nervous breakdown after a distinct lack of support from those who should have known better! They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and thanks to supportive friends/colleagues I came back from the depths…not forgetting supportive parents who showered me with gifts at the end of the year! This all happened the term after my mother unexpectedly died; I would like to think no one would have to go through this now but I have heard of horrifying recent incidents. Rule 4: NQTs. …Please,  please join a union!!
Since then I have had a variety of experiences which have made me the person I am today. So how have these shaped me ? Well, at my third school, a lovely little village school, I really found my feet. I had a fantastic head who believed in me and wonderful colleagues who I still see today, six years after leaving. My head gave me so many opportunities to develop and try new things.I became an advocate for SEN and built links with a local special school; I promoted gifted and talented, parents as educators, better reading, early years’ play….and on and on.  Ofsted loved us and thought we were outstanding. I also completed my NPQH and was told I was an outstanding candidate for headship…which has eluded me….but has proved a blessing in disguise.q
During this period I was seconded to a large school as deputy and worked with challenging children. Again I had preconceived ideas about behaviour and the sorts of children who presented issues.
Rule 5: Learn a range of strategies which encompass the needs of all your class. I was regularly called upon to address difficult children in a particular class; I was seen as a ‘saviour’ by the teacher but this wasn’t a healthy strategy. Yes, SLT have a role to play but it shouldn’t be a ‘rescuing’ model unless it’s an emergency. Some families can see this kind of tactic as excluding and one mum saw my championing of her child as extraordinary and gave me an angel figure because she saw me as her son’s ‘guardian angel’.
This brings me on to my current role as DHT of a primary PRU. Here we have to be large scale ‘guardian angels’ because our children operate on the fringes of society.  Since I have started blogging I have received a particularly poignant message from a secondary teacher who I feel is relatively new to the profession. This was following the ‘they love us really ‘ blog in which I outlined the anxieties of children who were about to leave us this summer. The poster said she was going to try particularly hard next term to engage her more challenging learners because she felt the angst of those who struggle in our system. My blog had brought those difficulties home to her. I sought to reassure her that you can only do what you can do but this can be disingenuous.
My final thoughts are these: my early years of teaching have been constructed from trial and error.  I am not a natural ‘wonder teacher’ like some. I am not a product of academic brilliance like @daisychristo. I have not written a book -acclaimed or otherwise – or written for TES like @tombennett71; I am just an ordinary member of my profession. As a tweep I do not expect to be heralded for fabness or greatness but I do hope to transmit a little piece of what I am about. My advice for today’s NQT would be to be yourself. Be professional,  productive, passionate and stand up to be counted.  Good luck!


The Importance of Play

Today is a celebration of all things ‘play’ so I thought I would blog about its importance in our PRU.
My teaching background has its roots in early learning so right from day one I have learned about the importance of play in a creative curriculum. Others more qualified than I can take you through the research side; I wish to focus on its practical and emotional effects.
Some people are surprised to learn that we get very young children with behavioural problems coming to us either on dual placement or following permanent exclusion. Anecdotally we seem to be getting more and more referrals for early intervention with children as young as 4 yrs old and two referrals to one of our panels were for nursery children to come straight in at FS! I have recently had several other conversations with schools who are worried about their intakes next term. Obviously there is something very wrong with a system which sees a PRU as a suitable place for a young child new to school! Once I had a child who was accessing one hour a day in school and school wanted to send him on a forty minute taxi ride to us each way on top of a six hour day!! It’s nonsense and fortunately we found another, better way!
So what is happening out there? Well one issue is the same as ever, children with difficult home lives who struggle to accept the rules and boundaries of school. Secondly, some schools are better at providing for diverse needs than others and thirdly- and this is becoming increasingly common- children are presenting with complex needs. They come with autism and adhd and sen , sometimes all rolled up together and poor behaviour is the icing on the cake. I don’t want to divert to the shortcomings of funding and provision here but the reality is they come and we are here to help them.
Our FS/KS1 classroom is very nurturing  and play is key to the success of the provision. Children learn to build relationships through play; co-operation and teamwork are fostered as they are up and down classrooms across the land, but obviously this becomes even more significant in our setting! Children come in as individuals who struggle to socialise and who often display extreme behaviours. Free and structured play gives them a chance to safely explore their emotions and act out their issues and difficulties with supportive adult supervision. Only then can they begin to build up positive relationships with each other, relaxed, reassured and secure.
And it’s not just the young ones who need play. Many of our older children come with a variety of attachment and other issues and have missed out on important developmental milestones. I remember a few years ago I had a very difficult Y6 boy who found it hard to engage in learning and enjoyed being disruptive. One particular day he was helping me do some jobs as a way of staying calm and we were doing some washing up. He filled the sink with hot soapy water and spent ages playing with the bubbles; it moved me almost to tears because it was his job to care for mum and younger siblings at home.
All our children benefit from playing games together; at lunch times and in free sessions they can choose to play chess or cards or outdoor games and activities and you can see it working! For some of them it is the first time they are interacting positively and their self confidence grows! Their learning and attitudes improve as a direct consequence. Relationships with family often get better and volatile behaviours start to calm! It’s not always perfect but it is a start and leads me to this revised saying (sic)..’the family that plays together stays together’ …which seems a nice thought to end this blog on!


In Support of SLT and ‘Outstanding’


This week on twitter I have read several posts and tweets containing sweeping generalisations about SLT. Twitter is on fire with its condemnation of Senior Leadership Teams. Some of the criticisms levelled at leadership are justified, I have to admit. There are still some who sit in ivory towers and deliver very few lessons. They then sit in judgement on others when observing and give advice on how to improve their teaching. Hardly fair. Some do still grade lessons and thereby damage a teacher’s confidence. Some remove non contact time and expect teachers to cover for absent colleagues despite this being against all the rules. I’m happy to say that none of the SLTs I know are like this. I want to make that clear.

In particular this week there has been much tweeting and blogging about the ‘Outstanding’ grade. Why are SLT still doing this is the cry. Why…

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