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Something that helped with…well, not very much, as it happens.

On the back of reading Bob Pritchard’s blog about his own teaching faux pas in Science, it brought back some of my own teaching moments that I now look back on and cringe over! Unlike Bob, we weren’t setting fire to tampons in a Science lab, but over the past 10 years, Key  Stage 3 English, has, in some areas, ended up as a bastardised version of English through the guise of ‘skills’. It became gospel that English was a skills based subject, not a knowledge based subject. I need to be clear here – I am not criticising anyone involved in the writing of curricula at the time. I have the absolute privilege to work with some of the most inspirational people going. But that merely serves to highlight, to me at least, that the bad ideas permeated far and wide. 

Top of the Flops 

Coming in at number 5 is an old favourite of many English teachers I’m sure  the Shakespeare soap saga drama! As was customary in the Dark Times, rather than actually teach students something about Shakespearean texts, instead, accepted wisdom was to develop their ‘skills’ through drama based approaches. A particular low moment for me, whilst teaching Romeo and Juliet, is getting students to re-create a scene between Juliet and her mother as a modern day Soap Opera perfect for the pre watershed slot on BBC1. Somehow, I ended up with a class of girls screaming ‘you’re not my muvva!’ with an equally ear drum bursting ‘YES I AAAAAM’. Whilst their drama skills were perfect for a Slateresque iconic moment, they had learnt precisely nothing about Shakespeare or Romeo and Juliet. 

 

Taking the place at number 4 was an incredible, innovative unit that I decided to teach to a low prior ability SEN KS3 group. Rather than teach them to read or write functionally, in one of my most wild moments, I decided that a unit of ‘learning’ (and I use that term lightly) on designing their own Theme Park would be The Thing that developed their English skills. Obviously, it didn’t. They couldn’t read or write any more fluently than when the unit started, nor did they know anything more about English. But they had designed their own ‘Love rollercoasters’ and ‘Chocolate Rivers’. Life changing, it was not. 

Rolling in at number 3 is the time I decided that turning my classroom into the Actual Harry Potter Experience would be the best thing ever for a low prior ability KS3 group. I went all out – I mean all out. On an NQT wage, I must have in excess of £50 on this one lesson. We had magic spells, we had potions, we made slime, I dress up as a witch – we had the best time! The lights were on low, the Harry Potter sound track playing in the background. The closest we got to learning anything was that spells aren’t real and play doh knackers the carpet when you mix it with slime and food colouring. As a wide eyed NQT+1, I even wrote about this inspirational lesson in a job application. In hindsight, having taught them something about English might have made me a better teacher to them. 

Runner up for the Top Flop, coming a close second, number 2 is a project I creatively named Playdoh Esio. Clearly, having not learned my lesson from the Harry Potter scene of horrors, my 22 year old self felt that getting my class to create play doh versions of the characters from Esio Trot would be world class teaching and learning. At best, there was a tedious link between what they had read in the book and the way they made the characters. At worse, they were making 100 teeny tiny tortoises because that’s what the book says. Great. What was I going to do with those? They ended up living in my room for months – which, coincidentally, left a permanent, blistering reminder that they’d learnt nothing about English. But they could make some tortoises shaped blobs. Awesome. 

 

Aaaaaand coming in at number 1 Top Flop* is an old favourite of mine – the ‘writing instructions clearly’ lesson. In the Dark Days of previous English GCSE specs, there were writing ‘triplets’ which, obviously, became bastardised into skills we had to teach all the time regardless of what knowledge they’d need to develop those skills. My answer to this was, of course, to teach them the skills of writing instructions accurately. The lesson started with a task ‘write a set of instructions on how to make a jam sandwich’. Then, with a desk coated in cut up black bin liners, I would whip out a loaf of bread, some butter, a knife, some jam and a plate. Students would then read out their instructions and I would follow them literally. ‘Put the butter on the bread’ became me shoving my hand into the butter, scooping it out and slopping it on some bread. ‘Use the knife to put the jam on the bread’ would be demonstrated by me ramming the knife into the jam, ensuring the whole thing was covered, and roll it around the bread. Eventually, the instructions would become more precise and I would be able to make a sandwich without getting elbow deep in some cheap butter. Happy days – outstanding learning. They had all made progress because they could write a set of instructions for making a jam sandwich by the end of the lesson. I remember delivering the lesson once and a group of visitors dropped by unannounced – they were all trainee teachers. I dread to think what impression I gave them of what they should be aspiring to as fully qualified teachers with jam smeared on my face and an errant crust stuck to my hair. Welcome to teaching. 

 

Over the years, I have learnt just how little impact I had in the Dark Days on learning. In each of these examples, students learnt very little, if anything, about English. That honestly devastates me – English is such a rich, wonderful, diverse subject and there was I was dumbing it down to an Eastendersmoment. What I hadn’t realised then, a pretty fundamental thing, was that students learn about what they think about in lessons. If I’m making a tool of myself with a loaf of bread, they’re going to remember the time Miss made mad sandwiches. If they’re divving about pretending that Juliet and her Mother are on Jeremy Kyle, or an episode of Eastenders, they’re thinking about Jeremy Kyle or Eastenders, not about Shakespeare or the text that’s so beautiful that is deserves to be the sole focus of their learning. An inescapable fact that I can’t ignore in my Top Five horrific moments are that the classes quite often were SEN or low prior ability. At the time, I thought I was making English accessible to them – now, I realise I was crippling their education with low expectations. Our most disadvantaged students, and our lowest prior attainers, are the furthest behind. They should be doing the most work, the hardest work, the work that brings them up to speed with their peers. In mistaking engagement for learning, I made that impossible – my heart was in the right place, but my head wasn’t. 

Thankfully, things are changing, and with curriculum focus taking priority from OFSTED, and an increasingly evidence informed profession, I really hope that this ill-advised practice begins to be weeded out of education. Our young people deserve better. 

 

*Honourable mention to the following that didn’t quite make the cut:

 Plastic cup learning – I gave every student 3 cups a lesson and they had to move them around to decide how they were progressing. Had no impact on learning but a massive impact on packing up 90 cups per lesson. 
 Thinking hats – I had an actual display, with ACTUAL HATS, to help my students be better thinkers. Shock horror, the hats made no difference whatsoever. Teaching them stuff did.
• Treasure chest plenaries – gold coins everywhere, learning nowhere to be seen.
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Something that helped with caring for my voice as a teacher.

A few weeks ago, there was a lot of talk over on EduTwitter about the importance of the voice in teaching. Not the metaphorical one, the literal one; your actual voice box. Having lost the use of my own voice box for 3 years, I probably know the importance of this more than anyone. But I see so many teachers making dangerous choices with their voice, and sometimes I want to scream “no voice, no job”. I mean, I don’t, because screaming is bad for the old voice box, and the small but significant fact that I literally can’t, but internally I definitely am.

My own voice loss was complicated. For various trauma related reasons, I lost the ability to use my vocal chords at all. Although the root cause was a traumatic event in my teens, and I had to work through that, I still also had to learn how to use my voice again. In hindsight, although I could have done without the trauma in the first place, I feel really lucky to have had such expert, professional voice care that I feel teachers just don’t get, but absolutely need. So, if you’re interested in caring for your voice, here’s my top tips for keeping it healthy in a job that places so much demand on it.

1. If your voice is struggling, avoid the following: dairy (produces all kinds of mucusy crap, technical term, in your throat which is likely to compound the issue), spicy foods (even if they feel like they sooth it!), caffeine (I know!), alcohol (I know! But you’ll survive without it). Also, clearing your throat by trying to hack up throat gunk (another technical term) is also going to add further strain. Instead, you’ve got to swallow it down. It’s gross, but it’s literally why stomach acid is thing. All of these irritate the voice further, putting you at risk of more problems.

2. If you have a cold, the worst thing you can do is push through it. Sometimes, I see teachers whispering to counteract this. Big mistake. The actual worst thing you can do. Avoid. Instead, keep it hydrated with warm water.

3. Speaking of colds, cough sweets, throat sprays and cough medicines are the Devil’s work for your voice. They make it worse. If I could destroy something forever, I’d destroy these. They’re dangerous. Just don’t.

4. Your voice needs warm ups just like any other muscle in your body. When I was re learning to use mine, I had to moo like a cow. There are plenty of people who can attest to how good I am at being a cow. But aside from that, mooing or doing a Z hum can help keep your voice healthy.

5. Breathing is vital. That sounds pretty obvious – like, we’d be dead if we weren’t. But it’s about how you breathe. Pre speech therapy, it didn’t occur to me that there was a right way to breathe. There is – and it should be coming from your stomach. If your chest is rising, you’re doing it wrong. Place your hand just above your belly button – that’s where it should rise and fall, not your chest. This is probably the thing I come back to most. I’ll always have a vocal weakness – I can’t shout, and if I have any form of negative emotion, it manifests in my voice box, and I feel the bits in my throat trying to take over. It’s taken me literally years to be able to do public speaking. A combination of nerves, imposter syndrome and my screwed up voice box means it’s significantly harder for me to project and be heard. But stomach breathing is an absolute must for me in being able to do it with relative ease now.

Now, I’m far from a professional speech therapist, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m giving medical advice here. I’m not. I’m just trying to offer some pearls of wisdom on things that I come back to, time and time again, when my voice is struggling. I’m always going to have a vocal weakness – I’ve accepted that. If you’re worried about your voice, get straight to a GP. Get some proper medical advice on it. There’s a plethora of things it could be – I’ve been tested for pretty much all of them! Don’t delay it or just think that it’ll be fine.

When your voice is your job, it pays the bills. Look after it and treat it with care and respect. It’s the most powerful thing you have.

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Something that helped with killing the PRP Monster.

One of the biggest changes in the last few years in education is the abolition of national pay scales which teachers automatically progress through. As a result, and combined with government academy policy, schools across the country have vastly different methods, some of which require teachers to jump through crazy hoops for a minor salary increase. This can often mean that teachers are given numerical exam data targets to meet if they want to move up the scale, or it can mean lesson observations at a certain ‘grade’ – a practice which is vastly becoming outdated and generally accepted to show us very little about the quality of teaching, with observers often measuring poor proxies for learning rather than exploring learning over time.

In this context, then, I feel really fortunate to work in a school that is ahead of game in this respect. We dropped formal, graded lessons observations some time ago, and combined this change with a PPD (personal professional development) system of PRP (performance related pay). Our policy is project based, and asks that teachers identify, in around July time, an area of their teaching that they wish to improve, and to go off and try some things to see if they can improve it, followed by exploring the impact of said changes to see if they are worth implementing over time. It is as straightforward as that. In July, we hand in our ‘log’ of what we’ve been up to, which doesn’t have to be in a set format, just show what we’ve been doing. During the course of the academic year, we also check in with our line managers about what we’ve been doing and whether we need some support or guidance to help us move things forward. Throughout the year, we have calendared slots of 1hr 15 mins in which to work on our project. This is something that I think is crucial, to have that time earmarked for the work. There are 6 of these over the academic year. At the end of the cycle, in July, we share our ‘logs’ with SLT and governors and pay decisions are based on this. This year, my log was a purple and silver uniforn notepad, a folder with copies of the research papers I’d read and annotated, plus a copy of my blog post which I wrote following my talk at ResearchEd Oxford about the work I’d done in the last academic year for my PPD. I also included some copies of resources I had made.

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Unicorn book ‘cos pedagogy is real and magic just like unicorns.

Although I jest about the unicorn book, it did enable me to work in the way I work best which is another huge positive for me. You can see here the kind of stuff I had inside:

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Me using my note book to get my head around what my throughts were.
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Some brain blobbing I did to help me move things forward
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My notes from my speech at ResearchEd Oxford.

As well as the obvious love I have for the freedom of the log, there are plenty of other reasons this policy works so well.

First, the emphasis is firmly on teaching and learning, and creating some real, meaningful change to your practice. I remember the head talking when he first launched this policy and saying that having 100 teachers working on 1 improvement is far better than the same 100 working on a box ticking exercise; I couldn’t agree more. The PRP process can sometimes be completely devolved from your day to day teaching, whereas this method encourages us to try new things, read widely and experiment with confidence. For someone who like me, who lives and breathes this kind of thing, it’s heaven! Furthermore, the focus actually isn’t on whether or not the improvement actually works – that’s almost irrelevant in the wider picture. It is about the engagement with, and response to, pedagogy. As long as you’ve engaged with your idea, tried it and worked hard on it, if it doesn’t have an impact, then that’s fine so long as you learn from it.

Secondly, the timings of the policy are important in the wider culture shift. By having the deadline for submission in July, it prevents staff from using exam data and actively encourages us to evidence impact in other ways. This is a real stand out point for me in that it reflects that exam data isn’t always the best measure of teacher quality. The argument behind this is one I empathise with – improved teaching should, in turn, lead to improved learning over time, which will be reflected in whole data any way. It’s too early to tell this on a wider, whole school level, I suspect, but from my own practice, I know I have made some significant changes from which I see impact in the classroom regularly.

And finally, in terms of teacher retention, this policy is, for me, one of the best ways to keep your best teachers in your schools. I have found it completely reinvigorating and I wouldn’t ever now move to a school that did things differently, such as exam data targets and formal, grade lesson observations. The impact on my practice has been significant. For example, during the last academic year, I focussed my project on using cognitive science to address the challenges presented in the new, closed book, English Literature GCSEs. In the end, this became the topic for a talk that I did at ResearchEd Oxford (which I blogged about here), and now a number of colleagues elsewhere have benefitted from the work that I had done as part of my own PPD project. Isn’t that just brilliant? The impact of one decision made in school, to enable our teachers to be creative and free, has led to change for the better in a number of other schools – it makes the alternative, ticking a few boxes for a 4+ headline figure, seem laughable, frankly.

This year, I’ve been working on strategies to make marking more manageable whilst increasing impact and I have some great ideas that will hopefully also benefit colleagues both in school and in the wider teaching community.

I’ve been more than spoilt by seeing how good things can be when schools unleash their teachers in this kind of transformative way and I have no desire at all to return to uninspiring tick boxes which have little bearing on student outcomes.

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Something that helps with managing workload.

Planning for low prior attainment classes can often present a number of challenges, especially in planning resources which fully target a range of different skills that learners are developing in an English curriculum. This can also present a significant challenge for secondary teachers when teaching students who are performing at lower primary levels. It can also be really hard to find quality resources instead of reinventing the wheel. Workload is higher than ever and finding things that help support staff on managing that is often a challenge of its own!

This is where Twinkl have come into their own. Recently, we’ve used their “Knights and Dragons” poster and prompt card back which you can find here

It worked really well for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we have a number of students in a nurture group who need to work on their fine motor skills and pencil control, and this resource is fantastic for that. It also helps them produce some beautiful work whilst developing these skills. Definitely a win for us on that point. But what was also fantastic about this resource is the slightly more challenging vocabulary such as “Knight”, “treasure” and “shield”. This has been really useful in teaching word patterns and spelling, as well as helping our students to have a growing vocabulary knowledge. They were able to use the words themselves having used this resource.

We’ve been really pleased with the resources that Twinkl offer in their website. In a profession where workload is at impossible levels, having a reliable and comprehensive website such as Twinkl at our disposal makes a huge difference in helping us plan quality learning in a time effective way. We’ve found having access to their primary and early years resources even more useful as it provides some inspiration and ideas for our lessons. It really is a fantastic service and if you are a HoD looking at ways to support your department and their workload, please do take a look at their offerings. We’re loving using their resources and look forward to exploring the rest of their site!

 

Disclaimer: Twinkl have provided access for me to use their resources. I am not obliged to provide a positive review in exchange – this is my own honest and personal view on their services.

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Something that worked with AQA Language Paper 1 Question 3.

AQA Paper 1 Question 3
This seems to be the question that worries everyone. Except for the monster that is Question 4 on Paper 2, it seems to have baffled students and teachers alike. For one of my groups, nothing I tried was working. At the end of my tether with it, one day, as I was modelling for what felt like the six thousandth time, out of nowhere came an idea. Much like those that arrive in my brain in the shower, it seems to be one of my better ideas. It worked brilliantly. I’d like to thank my brain for being 18 months late to the party.

One of the areas that seemed to be problematic for mine was in contextualising their comments and showing a clear understanding of the extract as a whole. To address this, I asked them to look at the first sentence of each paragraph, not in terms of its structure, but in terms of its focus and content. I used this extract, Chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby:



Starting with the first sentence of the extract, we identified the focus as being on the character of Gatsby.
We carried on, with the focus of each of the paragraphs. The next one revealed a focus on fruit. The one after, caterers. Finally, I asked them to identify the content of the last sentence.

This particular extract, combined with this focus, worked brilliantly in moving students away from the “makes you want to read on” that I was frustratingly accustomed to seeing from answers on this question.

We looked at the chain of events: the neighbour, the fruit, the caterers and the guests. By looking at the content specifically, students were then able to draw out an answer to “why”.

Here are some of the points my group made, word for word:

• The focus on the neighbour at the start of the extract could imply that he is an important character to the narrator.

• The change of focus from the neighbour to the fruit could show the extravagance of the character because it’s the next thing that the narrator focuses on, it could be that as soon as you see the main character, it’s like their extravagance is the first thing you notice about them and it could be that the narrator is almost fascinated by this as well, which is why it’s positioned in this way.

• The focus then changes to the caterers and when they arrive, which is often “At least once a fortnight” which could show that the narrator is often watching these events as an outsider and because this is the third focus, it might be that the narrator is not involved.

• The final sentence ends with a focus on the guests. The focus is on his criticism of them, which could suggest that the extract is building up to this. The narrator mocks the people who are attending and by building up towards this, he emphasises he feelings towards them.

Now, I’m not saying these are perfect, but they are a great deal more contextualised than previous attempts they’d done. Time and time again, students weren’t contextualising their comments on the effects of the structural choices, and this really helped them to tweak this. Their marks were moving up, from Band 1 responses to some Band 3 responses. It also meant that students were able to comment more on the extract as a whole, summarising how it develops, alongside making analytical comments as to the effects.
From this, I’ve been better able to develop students’ answers more. They’re thinking less about how to make contextualised comments, because they have a clear model and process to follow. Having a process to follow has, I think, eased the cognitive load and allowed them to be able to focus more on their analysis. Previously, I’ve been guilty of bombarding them with structural terminology. A step back from this has renewed their focus on how they could approach it in the exam. I think AQA have been really clear, recently, that phrases like “focus” and “shift” can be used in answers that score highly. Their clarity on this has helped me strip back the approach – it’s about what’s said, where, and why. Using “What, where and why” is refreshingly simple and proving effective for my students on this question. I’m certainly seeing far less of the “the writer makes you interested so you read the next bit” comments. And that can only be a good thing, right?

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Something that helped with learning quotations for the new GCSEs. 

At the ResearchEd English+MFL conference in April, I spoke about how I have used research based ideas to rise to the challenge of the new AQA Grade 9-1 GCSEs. I wrote about it for the fabulous #teamenglish blog and it seems right to use it now that I’ve created my own blog.

One of the main reasons I engage with research is to ensure that there’s evidence behind choices that I make in the classroom, and in my wider practice. For English teachers up and down the land, the new GCSEs have meant we are making more new decisions than even before, often where we don’t have any concrete evidence. Arguably, one of the biggest challenges many teachers have had to rise to is the closed book element of the English Literature GCSEs. Students have to study 3 texts, alongside a hefty anthology of poetry. And, if they want to do well, they need to learn many, many quotations to use in the exam this coming Summer.

As my year 11s progressed through the course, and sat their first formal mock exam in November, it became increasingly clear that a major factor in under performance was the lack of quotations some students had used in their exam answers. I knew I had to do something to fix it. I read around the research on memory and on retention. On David Didau’s blog (http://www.learningspy.co.uk/) , I saw he’d referenced a paper by Cepeda et al (2008) which proposed optimal intervals for retaining information. He shared this: 

This image is what lead me to the Cepeda paper, which is freely available here: http://laplab.ucsd.edu/articles/Cepeda%20et%20al%202008_psychsci.pdf

The paper suggests that in order to retain information for 6 months, which is what I needed for my GCSE groups, a study session for the information should take place every 3 weeks. From this, I devised a programme of study for my year 11s, all of which would be undertaken as homework. They would have 5 tasks a week for learning quotations for each of their literature texts, and, after 3 weeks, these would be gradually replaced with recap tasks each week. It looked a bit like this: 


In preparation for this, I spent some time explaining this to my groups, and talking through the methods to recap their work. All of this work would be done in “homework books”, which I would check weekly, to ensure students were learning high quality quotes. And so, in January, off they went.
I knew I needed to measure how well this was working. After all, the need for retaining quotations was high, and the impact of it not working was really quite risky. Still, I have faith that evidence based findings should, in theory, be replicable. By March, I had done a range of activities in lessons which showed some indication that it was working. Random recall starters and 5 a day starter activities (a frankly brilliant idea put forward by @TLPMsF https://thelearningprofession.wordpress.com/) suggested that students were retaining new quotations. However, I needed to test it out in more robust detail. 3 months after their mock exam, my groups sat another. Their initial mock was on Romeo and Juliet so I decided to use the same text, and only have 1 exam, rather than one on each text. The reason for this was to be able to measure the improvement in marks, specific to one text. They hadn’t sat a mock on the other texts, and so I didn’t have a reliable benchmark for these, despite their quote learning tasks being on all 4 literature texts.
The findings were surprising. In the initial mock exam, a total of 3 different quotes had been used. In the second, 40 different quotes were used. I was delighted by the increase, especially as it was a no notice mock. Not only had the variety of quotations increased, the amount they were using increased too. In their first mock, an average of 1.2 quotes were used. In the second, that went up to 3.0. Their marks went up, too. 96% increased their mark (on our internal grade boundaries). With this, 22% saw a 1 grade increase, 29% a 2 grade increase, 19% a 3 grade increase, and 6% a 4 grade increase. I was really very happy with their progress, especially in light of the fact that our curriculum plan meant that I hadn’t recapped or revised the text with them at all in the time between their first and second mock.
There were some other, more incidental things that I learnt from marking their second mocks. Earlier on, I mentioned that I’d used Rebecca Foster’s 5 a day starter idea. In students’ work, I saw that some of the quotes that they’d used best were those that had featured in one of these activities. When I do this as a starter, I follow it with modelling what I’d pick out of the quotes, what analyses I’d make, different interpretations, subject terminology and how I’d make contextual links. Students were transferring this very well. When I repeat this quote learning journey next year, one thing I will plan far more closely is that my staters follow up what students have done the previous week, to build their knowledge of the quotations in more depth.
I’ve also thought long and hard about the right time to start something like this with students. I think one of the reasons it worked as well as it did is down to it coming after the students’ first mock exam. Many were disappointed with their result. They needed some firm guidance with how to improve, and this provided just that. Rather than simply providing “Learn quotes” as their area for improvement, they had a simple programme to follow to achieve that. Equally, by using the 5 a day starters to test their recall, students could see that it was working, meaning they were more likely to buy into it as an idea. I think, had they not seen an improvement, their buy in might have weakened and it would have been less effective overall.
And so, my top tips for enabling students to adequately prepare for the English Literature exam would be:

• Design the programme for them.
• Make it compulsory

• Use starters and in class activities regularly to enable students to build their confidence

• Introduce it at the right time – they need a motivation for it

• Don’t leave it too late. Students have a lot to learn for this exam, alongside their other subjects.

I have uploaded all of the resources mentioned in my talk at ResearchEd into a Dropbox. You’ll find the PowerPoint slides from the talk, as well as research papers and the homework resources in here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/wh7az8vp2kw88j9/AABt1Gw-_VyKXeotz1bLOhLua?dl=0

You can find me on twitter @amforrester1 where I’m more than happy to take questions you may have.

Reflections on a bonkers year

This time last year, I had just secured my first permanent Head of Year job. Being a Head of Year is something I had wanted for so, so long, I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. I’d been a deputy HoY before and had the privilege of learning from the best in that sense. I thought that was me set for the next 10 years at least. Spoiler alert: I was wrong.

As I look back on this academic year, it’s been one hell of a ride. I wanted to spend some time reflecting on that and sitting on a train on the way to Rebecca Foster’s (@tlpmsf) hen do seems like the perfect time!

In March this year, it was a real privilege to be invited to speak at the Leading learning conference at West Lakes Academy. It’s a cracking school and the conference they put on was incredible. I co presented with my Headteacher, Rob Petrie and we spoke about the way our school operates performance related pay and CPD. I honestly believe we have this cracked and it was a real pleasure to share this practice.

The best part of invites to speak at conferences for me is the other sessions you get to go to. I genuinely couldn’t believe that I was going to get the opportunity to hear Amanda Spielman speak at a conference all the way up in our little Northern isolated place. For a HMCI to come all the way up here to Egremont is so impressive and shows a commitment to an OFSTED for all schools/cohorts/catchments. Amanda is, without doubt, one of my biggest inspirations in education. She’s fierce, tenacious and driven by all the right things – children and learning. I left her talk feeling really inspired by the changes she’s making. 10 years ago, OFSTED terrified me. Now, they inspire me. That’s down to wonderful people like Amanda, Daniel Muijs and Sean Harford. I feel genuinely excited about the direction education and the inspectorate are headed under their leadership.

I also got to hear some incredible talks from David Weston and Rebecca Montacute Which have really given me food for thought as I look ahead to thinking about whole school improvements from a pastoral angle.

Next up was Blackpool ResearchEd, arranger by the incredible Simon Cox and Phil Naylor. They have done such an incredible job of bringing world class speakers to the North and, for this, the North is really lucky to have them! It was a real pleasure to speak here – Rob and I spoke about our whole school systems for pay progression and it was brilliant to have so many school leaders in the room who were committed to making changes in their own schools. From this, we’ve been able to work with a number of schools to support them in implementing similar systems. We’ve also had some schools come and visit us to find out more and I have thoroughly enjoyed spending time with other school leaders working in this area.

A few months later, my school advertised what I have always felt was my dream job – leading on pastoral care and behaviour at KS4. Its always daunting putting yourself out there in a school where you work. I spent a long time trying to talk myself out of applying, thinking I’d only really been a “proper” HoY for a few terms and it was too soon. Luckily, I was wrong and I talked myself back into it and went got the job. The scale of the challenge ahead is huge and I’m prepared for a rocky ride. I’m really excited for September and I can’t wait!

As if this year hadn’t been good enough, I was then offered the opportunity for writing for the TES next year and having a column on behaviour. Another dream come true pinch me moment. I remember when I was applying for teacher training and running out to a shop every Friday for my copy of the TES. I devoured it. The writers and experts were my inspiration so many times. I never, ever thought in a million years that I’d be doing that myself one day.

What I’ve learnt from all of this has been really key. One theme that runs through it it is putting yourself out there. It’s properly terrifying because the fear of failure is ever present. But what I think we all need to realise is we can’t let that hold us back. In teaching, we encourage and guide our students to take risks, find out who they are and explore the world. We need to do the same so that we can speak with experience and confidence. If you have the time and capacity, say yes to everything – you have no idea where it could lead you to!

My year wouldn’t be complete without a few well earned thank yous.

Firstly, to my GC girls, Sarah Barker, Sana Master, Rebecca Foster and Grainne Hallahan – you inspire me every single day and I proud to call you my friends.

To the Team English crew who are always on standby whenever you just need to talk about English teaching or pizzas – Chris Curtis, Caroline Spalding, David Bunker, Patrick Cragg, Stave. You’re such a great bunch of people.

The LUSM lot who are a constant source of intelligent, academic, informed chat – Deep Ghataura, Ruth Walker, Lou Aron, Adam Boxer, Pritesh Raichura And Bob Pritchard – you’re the brightest bunch of people I know. And also the stupidest when sending pics from the gym. Bloody good eggs.

My girl squad Sarah Bedwell And Emma. Sarah is one hell of a strong woman and has been so supportive of Emma and I as we have set up TheSafeSpace, a support network for women who are on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviour online. Emma is one of the most genuine, gorgeous, committed and inspirational women I’ve met in a really long time and there is no one else I’d want to work with on this project!

In school, to my HoD Cheryl @misssequin who puts up with me at work when I am, occasionally, very hard work. Cheryl is one hell of a Director of English and I am so lucky to work with her. She’s smart, switched on and pedagogically on it. She also trusts me to do my job the way that I believe is best. I couldn’t ask for better.

My Headteacher, Rob, also indulges me when I sign us up to talk at conferences and is always really supportive of me. He also puts development at the heart of what we do and I’m forever grateful for that as does my line manager Michelle who I’ve learnt so so much from this year. She’s a beacon of good practice in leadership, management and teaching and learning and I’m a better professional because of her. There’s also the incredible Rachel who also puts up with my weird behaviour around teaching, learning and research. She’s an incredible director of Research and she always has time for me if I want to talk about a random paper I’ve read or rage about crap stuff I’ve read elsewhere. Our school are so lucky to have her.

And to the shady Tory dark lord Mark Lehain who puts up with my random messages picking his brain on everything from sourdough to education policy.

There’s a load more people that I have the pleasure to work with in the day job but I’d be here all day. Roll on September 2019.

Tes Education Resources: An Open Expression of Concern

This post has been agreed by several teachers and is shared across several blog sites. 

In the last couple of years, we have openly expressed concern at the approaches taken by Tes Education Resources to plagiarism and copyright violation, theft of resources, and the selling of resources that violate copyright. This is not a blogpost intended to cast disapproval on those who sell resources. It is a simply an open expression of concern at the approach taken by Tes Education Resources, when these incidents are uncovered. We also wish to make clear that this is not about an individual or anybody working for Tes Education Resources. We believe that this is a systemic problem that should not fall on one person to solve.

We feel that the following issues need to be properly addressed by Tes Education Resources:

  •         The fact that people upload and sell plagiarised resources, which have been clearly copied from free shares on Twitter, Facebook, and sometimes from colleagues.
  •         The fact that although Tes Education Resources offer ‘goodwill’ gestures to those who give public challenge, and offer compensation when they recognise plagiarism, the onus is on the victim of theft to report and prove the theft.
  •         The fact that customers are being advised to buy resources to check the content if they suspect a theft has occurred, and then claim the money back.

These issues need addressing because:

Plagiarism can constitute copyright violation, which is covered by legislation in both UK and EU law, as well as being a feature of international treaties and agreements. We believe that this is not being taken seriously by Tes Education Resources, who provide a platform for the sale of resources which have been taken, copied, and presented as original resources by the thief. Tes Education Resources describe themselves as ‘one of the world’s largest peer-to-peer platforms for teachers to trade and share digital teaching resources’ (Tes Education Resources Ltd: Annual Report and Financial Statements – Directors’ Report 2017). We feel that a company of this scale, regardless of financial status, should not be placing the onus on individuals to identify instances of copyright violation.

A goodwill gesture is something given on a case-by-case basis. It means that those with the time and tenacity to challenge instances of copyright infringement are being offered compensation, but there are victims who are unaware of the issue, or perhaps who do not have the time and resources to prove the provenance of the resource. We believe that the Tes Education Resources could and should ensure there is parity here.

Tes Education Resources have conceded that only 5% of their resource downloads are purchased. The rest are free downloads. We appreciate this valuable resource, but feel that the 5% are being prioritised over the 95%. It is understood that the 5% is the download, rather than the upload, figure – but the point still stands – 95% of people downloading from Tes Education Resources are downloading free resources.

We also believe that asking people to buy resources to check for copyright issues, in order to then claim a refund, is an unfair and illogical request.  Perhaps most pertinent is the fact that all of these issues are contributing to our workload. The Tes recognise this too. In fact, they have an entire section of their website dedicated to this issue – you can read this here:https://www.tes.com/news/hub/workload. In refusing to adapt their practice, either by demonetising the site or by taking further steps to prevent these incidents, teachers are being forced to spend time searching the site for their own resources. When teachers locate stolen resources, the expectation that they buy their own work and prove its provenance is onerous and frustrating.

What Tes Education Resources Can Do:

          Have a long-term aim to demonetise the site and subsidise it, to enable an entirely free sharing platform for those working in education.

In the meantime:

          Improve checks on resources to identify plagiarism and/or copyright infringement.

          Allow for full download with retrospective payment, rather than asking people to buy resources simply to check for copyright infringement.

          Enable reviews of paid content without purchasing – so that copyright infringement which is clearly evident in the preview pane can be challenged in a review.

What you can do:

          Avoid downloading from Tes Education Resources until the long-term aim (above) is fulfilled.

          Use your Social Media account to inform your followers that you are doing this.

          Share your resources through Dropbox and any other suitable medium.

Northern Education Forum: You In?

Northern education is talked about frequently. Northern educators, on the other hand, are talked to rather less frequently. We are regularly told about the deficiencies of the education we offer; we are less regularly listened to about the challenges that shape the education we offer.

This is unjust.

We do not deny there are improvements to be made. We do not deny that change needs to happen. But we reasonably expect to have a voice of our own when discussing how these things might be achieved.

We are as skilled, as passionate, as well-informed as our colleagues in other areas of the country – we deserve to have our voice heard. And too often it feels as if it is not, with discussion and access always based far away from the villages, town and cities that we teach in.

This needs to change.

And so, we propose the creation of a Northern Education Forum. We’ve put together a Google Form for those who may wish to register their initial interest in being involved. The details of its remit, its membership, and its role will be fleshed out over the coming weeks.

But in the meantime, we have one simple question:

You in?

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1ImkL-uZmqqtvbbvr1rhyL6zgMzxa46rG3uNP2QHdR1g/viewform?edit_requested=true

Sarah Ledger

Amy Forrester

Rebecca Stacey

Lisa Pettifer

Michael Merrick