Starfish….it’s a big ask

In my latest post for WeeklyBlogChallenge17 I want to address the challenge for schools in meeting the needs of children with SEND, diagnosed or not. 

As I have previously said, the schools I visit really want to help their challenging children without resorting to exclusion and they are keen to take on board strategies and advice which encompass medical referrals as well as visible behaviours. However I am noticing many barriers to helping the pupils who struggle in terms of outside forces and influences and these are impacting on all our youngsters actually. The demands of the curriculum, OFSTED, SATS, funding and services cuts and the general high stakes driving our school  improvement are, or should be, enough to make us weep.

When I was at the PRU I saw child after child come in with nothing having been put in place, but now, on the other side of the fence I can see why – schools feel overwhelmed by need! So many children are being failed by our systems and it is no wonder education professionals are leaving in droves and potential candidates are less than lukewarm about replacing them! 

On twitter I am seeing despair and heartache in many quarters with much talk of ‘broken systems’ and pressure, but actually the signs of  disintegration are more prosaic. Over the last few months I have seen or heard about the following snapshots in primaries:

……A young (very good) teacher who spends every lunchtime in her classroom preparing for afternoon lessons as she has so much to do

……Long mornings of proscribed lessons for upper KS2  ie English split into poetry, spelling, reading with no let up, a late playtime (short) and then Maths (long) with much teacher talk; kid I was observing had a massive kick off!!

…… KS1 children expected to sit and concentrate for long periods with a pared-down version of upper KS2 lesson

…….Children being kept in at lunch time to complete SATS practice because they are ‘slow’ ( teacher frustration by the way not deliberate cruelty!) A good job they didn’t have my son….it would have been home time! (fortunately he missed KS2 SATS by a year)

…..Lots of chalk and talk (pacy) and lots of teacher confidence and expertise on show but not a lot of heart I’m afraid! 

And that is NOT the fault of staff…it is what is expected now….headteachers are under the cosh and there is not much room for manoeuvre …..I heard someone say there is no place for mavericks….and that is true for teachers and children. It is no wonder that we are seeing the de- professionalisation of teaching with unqualified staff creeping back in…I have never seen such an over-regulated, mis-trusted group of people as I am seeing now. I remarked the other day I am so glad I am not at the beginning of my career….I would not last five minutes in the present climate!

However this makes me more determined to get out and help for as long as I am needed….I am reminded of the boy rescuing starfish stranded on the beach; when it was pointed out that it was a hopeless business he picked up a creature, threw it in the sea and said ‘ well it’s made a difference to that one’

I guess I will just carry on saving my little starfish…..and sprinkling fairy dust!


My Snowdrops

This is my third blog for #WeeklyBlogChallenge17….a day late!

A few posts and blogs full of light and shade this week on twitter and facebook….hope and despair but with hope trying to push through like the shoots of precious snowdrops pushing through icy snow and iron hard ground.

I have already blogged about the challenges I am seeing for schools as I travel round and the age old problems of OFSTED that seem to rear their heads despite the best efforts of Sean and others….but this week I saw some green shoots in my own little professional patch of garden. My schools are keen to help their children and they are delighted to get the right support to do this.Yes there are budgetary constraints but most heads have their pupils’ best interests at heart. I had a lovely email from a school last week praising me for my help and support and yes, I know it is not all about me, but when you work on your own it is rather a big deal!

On Thursday I had some of the best CPD ever….training from Emotionworks which is based in Scotland ….fab for whole school PSHE and great for children with ASD as it has a very visual system using cogs. Lynn McCann from @ reachoutASC has done a fabulous blog on this  and was instrumental in bringing Claire and her amazing system down to England….super! We were all so enthused on that day and, speaking to a young teacher, she reminded me that teaching is a vocation and our love for the kids and desire to help them is something we never lose! I reflected on this later and reminded myself that this drives what I do at the almost end of my career; the young and the not so young with a passion for children. The feeling still flowers brightly within me with the purity of the buds of my youth. My snowdrops are blooming with as much vigour as they ever did!


New Year thoughts

This is my second #WeeklyBlogChallenge17 and I thought I would record a few impressions of the New Year to date.

On the positive side I am still really enjoying my new role and being as busy as I want to be, and feeling very touched by schools who want me to carry on working with them despite finances being stretched.(I am very reasonable for this reason!) I have just started a one day per week mainstream SENCO role covering a temporary secondment and was made to feel very welcome by the head and staff. I have worked with the head quite a bit whilst at the PRU and was headhunted for the job; I feel hopeful that I can bring something fresh to the school and already staff are asking me questions which is good after one day!

I have also had a variety of work coming in ranging from preparing EHCP paperwork to working with children, including specialist teacher work. I am also keeping up with CPD and have got an Emotionworks training day booked for next week. Then I have some book article editing to do and am looking forward to delivering at the #PrimaryRocks day in March! My life is very varied and interesting and I am in control of my own destiny work and leisure wise! Long may it continue!

On the negative side, apart from getting over a nasty virus still, there seems to be a lot of unhappiness amongst colleagues, both on and off twitter, relating to workload, wellbeing and the looming demands of OFSTED and panic about finances and staff cuts! We seem to be moving in completely the wrong direction as a profession and those in charge seem incapable of steadying the ship or even knowing whose hand is on the tiller!

 Sean Harford is doing the best he can at OFSTED within certain constraints, but ridiculous things still keep happening which erode confidence in the inspection process. A two form village school near me failed OFSTED due to safeguarding failings regarding the single central register. Okay, that is bad (although the report stated no children were put at risk)….but the report then went on to slate GEOGRAPHY at KS1 and 2….it went on and on about it!! I alerted Sean who went off to investigate and he took my point about it looking like the report was seizing on everything and anything to put the school in a bad light…..why? Surely it could have stopped at safeguarding if it was so heinous!! Other schools could be forgiven for thinking that OFSTED was on a mass drive to root out failings in foundation subjects now, as if there wasn’t enough to worry about with English and Maths!! It was a poor report (and actually in September how much geography were they expecting to see ???)  and undoes the good work Sean is doing on myth busting. Then, in a further little twist, two heads I know went on a safeguarding course after school…..and had to take….their single central registers!!! Sean says this is very odd but hardly when you can be put in special measures for making mistakes!

I’m not even going to comment on DfE nonsense except to say that the reports about funding are extremely worrying and I know schools locally who are having to make stringent staff cuts….TAs are in the firing line coupled with a rise in the numbers of vulnerable SEND pupils, including those in danger of exclusion….not a good picture.

So not the brightest start to 2017 but we have to try our best for the sake of our children and hope for a resolution before crisis point hits us…..we might not be able to effect national change but the kids in our schools need us and we have to believe we can make a difference. Happy New Year!


Bear Hunt

Well what a fab Xmas holiday (not) ! Unbelievably I am in the second full week of a mutating virus which has thrown at me nausea,  fever, chest infection, vomiting, hacking cough, stomach and chest pain, and sudden periods of unconsciousness! There has been no escape and I’ve had to get through each episode in pure survival mode. Hubby has also been very poorly but managed, bless him, to drag himself around and look after me to boot over the last few days. I don’t think we have been so ill since we caught a hospital norovirus when my dad died eighteen months ago … has been horrific! However we are turning the corner now and slowly getting better….but it has made me ponder on how things can change in a heartbeat with drastic consequences. 

I remember when OFSTED came….the mutating virus pales into insignificance….similar symptoms but with a feeling of unreality and the desire to burst into tears every few seconds! The unreality was compounded by my dad’s death and it was at that point I decided to throw in the PRU towel….I was exhausted by living on my nerves and following a timetable to oblivion thoughtfully designed by the LEA. Yes it has been a period of uncertainty but this has been outweighed by a sense of being in charge of my own destiny and proving myself on my own ability…..and I love it!!

Over Christmas I watched the beautiful animation of Bear Hunt which culminated in the rather sad end (for some) of Bear trudging back to his cave on his own. And yet to me this was entirely right….Bear represented fear of the unknown and encouraged that delicious childhood  safety blanket of hiding under the bed covers. Only one child came close to meeting that fear half way but the adventure proved too much and ended in time-honoured fashion, safe in the bosom of the family.

But this is not to dismiss the trials and tribulations faced and conquered along the way.There were rivers and mountains and swamps which could not be circumnavigated….”have to go through it” rather than over and under it! And faced cheerfully too!…. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared!… And this is a message for education as well as life, surely? I fled in fear….from OFSTED, from failure, from outside forces, from anything that I felt I could not control! But fears need to be faced…and we need to go through it….those of you who are stronger, maybe younger and more energetic ….need to go after that bear and enter its dark lair, because there are no easy answers or ways forward or indeed heroes to conquer bears on our behalf! 

I have chosen to hunt bears on my own terms and draw out my own battle lines ….I have forsworn the safety of my bed now and remain in the open. You will have your own ways of hunting and staying safe but we do it for one purpose…for the sake of our children. Have a beautiful day.