Deja Vu?

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Jobbing Teacher’s school is part of the PiXel club which is a large group of schools that are determined to up their exam results by any means possible and thus get Ofsted off their backs and gain the head of PiXel a knighthood (oops – bad dog – I’m being cynical again!)

Anyhow, to cut a long story short, PiXel have quickly dished out advice and systems for its club members to quickly put in place to cope with the sudden demise of National Curriculum levels. Surprise, surprise as Jobbing Teacher predicted, it’s flight paths and milestones. What is particularly amusing is that when a colleague in our Music department had a look at what is being proposed, she let out a gasp as the flight path statements were exactly what she had being doing twenty years ago. Now obviously, some bright young thing with an eye on Headship at PiXel has trumpeted, “Hey I’ve got a great new idea…”. My colleague even got out her old music level statements from the early 1990′s and low and behold – exactly the same, word for word!!

We had a good laugh about it with both of us saying that maybe the distant trumpet call of retirement was blowing in the distance but on the serious side we both remembered why this system had been ditched the last time around. Namely, it created a hugely burdensome tick-box culture that stifled all creativity and bored everyone to death within months. So here we are again. We will get it right this time around or will Jobbing Teacher be saying next year – I told you so!!

I warned my old friend, don’t put too much angst into this old girl. There’s an election next year and Michael Gove might have a different job. It reminds of the old saying from Ecclesiastes; ” There’s nothing new under the sun.”

Anyhow, it’s world cup time, it’s still painful watching England and the education world keeps rumbling on. Is it me or am I starting to sound like a grumpy old man?

Posted in Education Policy, Marking Policies, School Leadership

Marking and Feedback – what does it mean for your child?

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JobbingTeacher is in the middle of a marking frenzy! My school is currently enforcing draconian rules on marking that is meaning that most staff are spending most of their work time marking books. (some even in lessons where they are teaching!). This has led me to consider a number of points which I have raised with my Headteacher;

  1. What is the purpose of staff ticking pages?
  2. If staff are spending so much time marking pupil’s exercise books what are they not doing?
  3. Is all of this marking helping to create good learning?

The answer to question 1 is not easily answered at my school. I have had the rather lame excuse that ‘it shows the pupil that you have looked at their book’. Well woppy do!!

Jobbing Teacher is not against good quality feedback. Let’s face it, we all want to know how well we are doing, what we could do better and what we need to do next, but this can be delivered in a variety of different ways –  Not just via writing endless versions of the same phrase. It is truly mind-numbing for all concerned.

When you try to get to the heart of the reasons behind this sudden need to have large amounts of red pen all over an exercise book you very quickly get to the spectre of Ofsted. I have discussed this at length in previous posts, but suffice it to say that the Ofsted tail without a doubt is wagging the educational dog. The Ofsted Dementors drift into your lesson for such a short space of time the only way they can make a ‘judgement’ on progress and learning is by having a quick shufty at the old exercise book.

Saying that, everyone knows that they have already made their mind up about the school based on a narrowly focussed data set and observations are just a way of padding out the report. Jobbing Teacher predicts that very soon, they will not bother coming to the school unless results dip. Hence the current frenzy of smoke and mirrors around exam results. Jobbing Teacher is reminded of Jeff Goldbloom’s quote in Jurrasic Park; “life will always find a way’. Teachers will always find a way to get around examinations to get the best possible results by whatever means they can. Hence the eternal battle of education secretaries changing the exam goalposts every few years and teachers finding new ways around the hurdles and on and on it goes.

Michael Gove this week has bullied Ofqual into dishing the dirt on a number of GCSE examinations that he considers to be too wishy-washy. Jobbing Teacher has some sympathy with this, particualrly where subjects overlap. However, why it has to be trumpeted as another strike of the education standards sword I do not understand. Poor kids just dont know whether they are coming or going and how are the ones who already have these ‘soft’ subjects going to feel?

I am sure that Michael Gove must have had a tough time at school. Maybe one of the masters of one of these subjects took a dislike to young Gove or he failed the test to take up the viola or something?

For parents, well I think we just have to take it all with a pinch of salt. Education is like a ladder where our children just need to get to the next rung. They will find the correct height to climb for themselves with some guidance from us as parents, but at the end of the day it is ultimately their life.

Jobbing Teacher is starting to hear a few worrying noises from our local 6th form college where former pupils who have been spoon-fed through their GCSEs are coming unstuck when they are expected to get on with their studying under their own steam. Now is it me, or was this inevitable?

 

Posted in Education Policy, Marking Policies, School Leadership, School Organisation

Exam Season and Marking Mania

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Jobbing Teacher has had a little sabbatical from writing this blog. This has partly been due to needing a rest, but also due to the increased workload of what is rapidly turning into marking mania at my school. As usual, this is mainly, if not totally due to Ofsted pressures. I suppose if you look back over time you can see that it was inevitable. At my last inspection experience last year, the lead inspector spend a total of 15 minutes in my lesson. Now how does anyone judge the quality of learning in that time? It does not take a rocket scientist to realise that an inspector is going to focus on exercise books as they are not in the classroom long enough to really judge anything else accurately. Schools have reacted in their usual hysterical way – overkill on ‘marking’. Elaborate systems are being rapidly put in place with the following diktats;

  • All written feedback should say what the child has done well
  • What progress they have made
  • what they need to do next
  • And indicate an improvement task to help the child improve what they have done (which they must write in green pen so Ofsted don’t miss it!)
  • The Teacher’s writing must be written in red pen! (again so it would take a very elderly and almost blind inspector to miss it)

Now this is all well and good and indeed a noble proposition. But, as always with these things, it is designed by people who teach maybe 7 or 8 classes per week in secondary school and not 23!! I sometimes cringe to think how easy it is for senior leaders in secondary schools to forget what it is like to be a main scale teacher Your average main scale teacher these days is spending so much time marking that they have either given up on any form of social life or they are not planning any stimulating lessons for their pupils. As Mike the Knight Wilshaw has given a green light recently for boring lessons with passive pupils to become the norm again, you can just see what is going to happen! Exam season is upon us. Study leave has disappeared as schools are scared to death that their pupils might not drive themselves into the ground to get the grades that the school needs to keep the Ofsted axe from falling. Y11 pupils must be absolutely sick of the whole process and I would not be surprised if it puts many off learning for years to come. As parents we need to keep a balanced view on this. Exams for our children are about getting them to the next rung of the Education and Training ladder that is right for them without destroying their thirst for learning in the process. We mustn’t forget that learning is a long game not the quick fix that is frantically happening in all of our secondary schools over the next few weeks. And then its the turn of Y10 – poor buggers!! Whatever your child’s school says, the exam results pressure is not about our children – its about the school and Ofsted. Don’t let any slippery-tongued senior leader con you into thinking anything else. For anyone with a pupil undergoing these educational ‘Hunger games’ my heart goes out to you. Hang in their, it will soon be over!!

Posted in Education Policy, Parenting, School Organisation

Force of Nature

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Jobbing Teacher visited a local Academy yesterday for a quick tour and met the Principal who you could only describe as a ‘force of nature’.

A large, brash man with it must be added, a cutting sense of humour, he strode around the school giving out commands like a four star general. Tough talk ensued to his audience such as;

  • I’ve told middle leaders that if results don’t improve this year, they can clear their desks
  • I sacked all the SLT when I arrived and the current lot are all on temporary contracts
  • The LA are crap
  • “I found a room full of luvvy-dovey, touchy-feely (sic) types (social services etc). I told them to sling their hooks and turned the room into a library”
  • I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks

 

All pretty impressive stuff if you were a CEO of a business in a cut-throat industry or manager of a Premiership football club, but a school?

Saying that, the transormation in the school generally is impressive and he has done some wonderful things for the children, including buying them all professional-looking PE kit, getting in top sport people to coach teams etc.

It definately reminded me of a previous headteacher claiming that running a school these days is like being a manager of a premier league football team without the huge salary.

Jobbing Teacher was left slightly in awe of this chap who when ‘googled’ can be seen to have turned around a number of failing schools. Maybe the answer is to forget that school is a gentle place of learning focussed on developing the whole person and go with the cut-throat, competitive bear-pit model of education (I am starting to sound like a Tory?)

Another story this week concerns my child’s Primary school and the new law making the school provide free school dinners to Foundation and Years 1 & 2 pupils. To achieve this laudable aim the school has had to get rid of the salad and sandwich bar. Now is it me or has the Healthy Schools agenda gone out of the window here?

One thing is certain, Jobbing Teacher’s child will not be taking advantage of this Government initiative – I’ve seen the proposed menus and it’s not chnaged much since my school days. I would not eat bloody pink custard then and I’m certainly not letting my child eat it in 2014!!

Posted in School Leadership, School Organisation

How to help your child do their best at school

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Jobbing Teacher has been reflecting on how parents can best help their children do their best, particularly at secondary school.

I am reminded of an ill-fated campaign by the Department for Education which produced a DVD starring the actor James Nesbitt.

Many saw this parent improvement film as highly patronising and it sank without a trace. However, beneath all the glitzy presentation, there were some good pieces of practical advice for parents worth revisiting;

Getting involved in your child’s learning

If you are a parent or carer of a child in secondary school, you can make a difference to your child’s success at school by doing small things at home. These things may seem small but make a big difference.

 

Top tips to help your child succeed at school

  • try to provide somewhere quiet, preferably with a desk or table, for your child to do their homework
  • keep pens, pencils and calculators handy, and make sure your child knows where they are kept
  • keep a dictionary handy for checking meanings and spellings. It will help your child fund things out for themselves
  • help them but do not do their homework for them. If you ask them for an explanation, it will encourage them to think things through more clearly
  • every so often look through their books with them and keep an eye on teacher’s comments
  • go out and about and enjoy learning together. Use everyday activities like going to the shops to brush up on basic skills (for example, at the till ask them to work out how much change you should get)
  • watch out for TV programmes that have something to do with school
  • breakfast gives pupils energy to learn
  • educational games, books and things to do on the internet make learning really enjoyable
  • try to attend parent’s evenings. The teachers are there to help you, not to test your knowledge

Now, you might be thinking that I’m trying to teach Grandma how to suck eggs but if a small number of these tips were put in place at home I can think of a number of my erstwhile students who would immediately benefit!

What do you think?

 

Posted in Parenting

21st Century Learning

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This is a theme that both interests and worries me as a teacher and as a parent. I have been a teacher for 25 years and throughout this time I have noticed that ‘industry’ and the world of work intermittently tells us what they are looking for in our young people when they leave education to start their careers. This list of skills and attributes usually contain some, if not all of the following;

  • Self confidence
  • Creativity
  • Ability to self manage
  • Ability to work in groups
  • Ability to solve complex problems
  • Resilience
  • Compassion for others
  • Open mindedness
  • Honesty

Then further down the list we usually see;

  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • ICT capability

I have reflected on this for many years and do believe that if we can develop these skills and abilities then our children will enter adulthood with a good chance of living a happy and successful life. I try to encourage these vital skills and attirbutes in my own children.

However, when I go to work I see a completely different focus;

  • rote learning of facts
  • the learning of a large number of skills that have little relevance to general 21st century life
  • a focus on academic progress
  • emphasis on the passing of exams in an increasingly limited range of subjects, often little different to a 19th century curriculum
  • virtually no contact with the world outside of the very insular school environment except for two weeks of ‘work experience’ when they are 15 years of age. 
  • a totally manic focus on measuring pupil progress and producing lots of fairly meaningless data that takes no account of the individual child

As a teacher, it dismays me to see what we are doing to our children. We hear Government telling us that we need to be more competitive and our children do not do as well as those in other countries. But no account is taken of social and cultural differences between countries and a sort of simplistic comparison is used to play politics with.

As a parent, I do worry about my children. They are getting increased pressure at school to achieve a narrow range of success criteria virtually as soon as they walk through the school gate. Sadly, most parents I know who do not have an education background have absolutely no idea that this has nothing to do with their child and everything to do with judging the school, its staff and enabling education secretaries to further their own careers.

Many parents I know have even started using the ludicrous jargon of levels of progress not knowing that it is really meaningless for large parts of a child’s learning and future prosperity.

What is the solution?

When Professor Ken Robinson wrote his highly influential report for Government in 1998 called ‘All Our Futures’ he pointed out that culture,creativity and education are fundamentally important in developing a thriving society and economy in the 21st century. He passionatly believes that the modern world is the product of the ideas,beliefs and values of human imagination and culture that have shaped it over centuries. Also, Professor Robinson believes that education has an important role in helping us to achieve our potential, but that the processes by which we currently assess ability were designed for other times and for other purposes. He has consistently called for more innovative approaches to teaching, training and development that will increase our opportunites for economic, cultural and human survival.

As usual, Government ignored this brilliant thinker so Professor Robinson left the UK and went to work in America where he is now a highly rated thinker and guru to the American Government and business. Typical!!!

What can we do as parents?

  • Try to see our children’s potential
  • Promote and encourage it at every opportunity
  • Give our children opprtunities to experiment
  • Give them opportunities to come into contact with the best of what humanity has created
  • Adopt the view that every child is an artist (regardless of what their school says!)

What do you think?

Posted in Education Policy, Parenting

What is happening to our beloved NHS?

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There is lots in the news at the moment about Government shanninigans around closing services in one NHS Trust to sub a neighbouring one. This all sounds a bit like Del Boy Trotter territory to Jobbing Teacher. The big issue is being fudged and that is QUALITY of service/care.

An example of this is a recent encounter with the NHS and Jobbing Teacher’s youngest son. To cut a long story short we turned up to meet a new Community Paediatrician who seemed on the surface to be very nice. However, the first warning bell struck when we immediately noticed that she did not have my son’s medical records with her. This led to another protracted ‘history’ being taken from scratch. This was done in good faith though.

A week or so later a letter arrived from the said consultant which detailed the meeting. This letter was shocking in the extreme as it was littered with inaccuracies and even sent to the wrong GP!! To make matters worse a copy of the letter was mistakenly sent to my son’s Nursery teacher, which is in itself a serious breach of confidentialty

This left the Jobbing Teacher family pondering whether to make a complaint to PALS or whether to accept that this is just the way the NHS is today; sloppy, incompetent and staffed with people who really should be doing a lot better.

After much pondering though it is clear that there are many truly outstanding people working in the NHS under very difficult circumstances. The main concern is the way that it is organised with too many ‘managers’ and not enough people at the chalkface (as us teachers like to say). My son’s medical notes should have been sent for and available for the meeting.

Anyone out there got their own scare stories?

Posted in NHS, Parenting Tagged with: ,

What’s happened to school trips?

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Our poor children don’t even get to go on the school trips their parents used to regularly go on because of the paranoia in schools about missing lesson time. It is such a sad state of affairs that the kind of broad, enjoyable and indeed community-enhancing trips that we used to do as school children are been denied to our own children in the name of academic rigour and the avoidance of ‘slippage’. Trying to run a trip during the school day is almost impossible in schools today, particularly at secondary level.

So what has driven us to this state?

Well for starters, schools now are so obsessed with ‘progress’ and academic success that many have lost the plot in terms of the broader picture of what education is all about. Schools, that used to be outward-facing and closely linked to their local community have become closed bastions of academic progress, constantly fearing the next Ofsted visit or change in policy at the Department for Education.

What is the value of school trips?

Children get a lot of experiences that enrich their learning. But of cause, these are not easy to measure!! I have been lucky enough to take some really life-changing trips for children during my career. To see children look at famous monuments and visit historic places in real life has often brought my subject to life far more than any interactive whiteboard can ever hope to do. I’ve dug soil pits and helped children to see and understand the history of the land right in front of their eyes. I have stood on the coast and watched children throw oranges into the sea to demonstrate long shore drift and then shown them how their local coastline is eroding on a weekly basis. These days, I have to do all of this in the classroom in case my trips make them miss valuable school time, particularly in a core subject (Maths or English) Heaven forbid if a child misses one of these subjects, even for one lesson.

I have gone on trips abroad and experienced the fantastic learning experiences that this offers, not only in terms of the curriculum but also in terms of social development (oh, the government doesn’t really recognise this as it can’t be measured yet!!)

What can we do as parents?

I think because of the present education climate, we just have to do the best we can and money permitting, try to take out children to local places of interest. A visit to our local church to look at how the building is constructed, how old the gravestones are can generate lots of historical awareness. If you have countryside near you, a weekend walk looking at the natural environment can stimulate interest that can help learning at school. My young children love collecting bits of twig, stones and discarded bird feathers and we then spend time discussing them when they return home. Often this can stimulate fascinating questions and even art work. My 5 year old loves to stick what he has found on paper and use paint to create some imaginative collages.

We spent a wonderful few days over half term visiting the local coast. The children had to wrap up warm but we scavenged on the beach, built sandcastles and decorated them with what we found lying around. We talked about everything from castles to fossils and different types of sea fish – it was just what education should be about – spontaneous, exciting and child-led (and not a National Curriculum level in sight!)

These are all the kinds of things that schools used to encourage years ago, but sadly not anymore. I’m afraid its up to us as parents now.

So, the next time a letter comes home about a school trip, think how lucky you are that your child’s school still values trips!!

What do you think?

Posted in Education Policy, Parenting Tagged with: ,

Levels out, Milestones in?

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National Curriculum Levels are history!

Recent musings and mutterings from the Department for Education seem to suggest that after countless hours of brain-mulching by schools in working out complex data systems to prove to Ofsted that their children are making progress, education mandarins are going to not just shift the goalposts, but actually demolish them and replace them with something completely different!!

Levels are going!!

Now Jobbing Teacher has never been a huge fan of National Curriculum levels, mainly due to the fact that in many subjects they are just not fit for purpose and were designed to be broad, end of key stage benchmarks and not to be used in the way that schools have been using them; namely to grade every tiny bit of work that a child manages to do in class. I hate to say this, but for once I think common sense has the the potential to prevail.

However, I am not counting my chickens yet as common sense does not often lead to common practice, particularly in our glorious education system.

We seems to be shifting back to benchmark or ‘milestones’ type of assessment systems where teachers will have to decide what an average Y8 child for example should be able to do by the end of the year. Like much of the current pre-school assessment systems that are actually very good in Jobbing Teacher’s  view, you then decide whether a particular skill is;

emerging

developed

achieved

This makes a lot of sense. However there is one huge fly in the ointment that pre-schools don’t have to deal with yet – league tables!!

Our obsession with league tables means that whatever system is put in place to monitor our children’s progress, schools will untimately usurp it by trying to find loopholes and shortcuts to get them further up the government’s latest league table.

What does this mean for parents?

In theory, if schools get it right, parents should be much more able to understand what their child can do and more importantly, whether this is what they should expect for a child of this age. This will be so much better than being told your child has moved from a level 4b to a 4a. (whatever that actually means!)

For teachers it means another massive change and ‘head in hands’ moments due to the realisation that the monumental amount of work that has been put in place in recent years to create data systems around NC levels has been trashed at the drop of a hat.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that common sense might just start to become common practice for once!!

Posted in Education Policy, School Leadership

My Lovely Son’s Chromosome Deletion

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By Jobbing Teacher                        Follow me on Facebook

My 3 year old son has a 2.1 Mb microdeletion of chromosome 12 (region q12), and a number of medical issues including long-sightedness, squint, astigmatism, bilateral inguinal hernias, abnormalities of the renal system and short stature, soft dysmorphic features and eczema.

Deletions of this particular chromosomal region are very rare and there is limited information about the implications of this specific genetic mutation. However abnormalities noted in other children with deletions of the same chromosomal region include global developmental delay, impaired communication and delayed language, learning difficulty necessitating a statement of special educational needs and 1:1 support at a special needs school. Behavioural traits noted include good sociability, poor sense of danger and ‘generally well behaved but shouts or cries if you stop him doing what he wants, take him somewhere he doesn’t like or make him do an activity he doesn’t want to do’.

He has been found to have developmental delay in several areas, including gross motor and language. A formal developmental assessment was carried out by the community paediatrician using the Griffiths developmental scale at 31 months (He is now 38 months) and he was found to have an even developmental profile with an estimate of skills range of 24-30 months. A Griffiths scale has since not been repeated. My son’s preschool keyworker  has observed him and noted areas of concern with particular regard to communication, language & speaking and understanding. At age 36 months my son was assessed to be within the range of 16-26 month stage and borderline 16-26/22-36 month stage for literacy/reading.

All in all, we are worried about how he will cope in Primary school, particularly when we see how his elder brother (aged 5) is being pushed in a reception class of 30 children. In particular we are very concerned;

  • That he is currently unable to fully access the range of educational opportunities available to him.

My son has a limited range of interests which he seems highly fixated on (eg trying on shoes/bags, playing with keys, the family car, the CD player at preschool!). It is difficult to successfully divert his attention from these areas and engage him in other activities (eg looking at books, singing).

 

  • Delayed development of his language and communication.

My son has a wide range of words, but immature speech and sentences. He often gives incongruous answers to questions (eg Mum: ‘Did you play outside today?’ Son: ‘Go in our car’). He seems to preferentially use non verbal communication eg eye/finger pointing, nodding/shaking his head, grunts/cries, pulling/pushing. My son has developed an intermittent stutter over since Oct/Nov 2013.

 

  •  Difficulties with following instructions and conforming to behavioural expectations both at school and at home.

 My son is capable of understanding and following simple instructions (eg please go to the buggy and put your hat on). However he often chooses not to obey simple instructions and instead pursues an activity of his own choosing. When this behaviour is challenged he becomes upset and shouts/cries, throws himself on the floor and often cannot be persuaded to behave as desired! Recently my son’s class performed a Chinese dragon procession for the parents at preschool. He was unable/unwilling to join in the activity, didn’t take the cues from the other children to be part of the activity and instead wandered around the setting following his own interests.

My 5 year old child is mature, well behaved, supportive and loving towards his younger brother. My 3 year old learns a lot from being with him but we have noticed that he doesn’t pick up the behavioural cues from his brother (eg he often doesn’t come to the table to eat tea, even when we have asked him to and his elder brother has already followed the instruction).

 

  • That his level of understanding and comprehension is difficult to judge, but seems not to be convincingly age appropriate.

My son often answers questions with inappropriate answers unrelated to the question asked. He cannot count numbers and is only just beginning to consistently name colours.  We are very concerned that he will be unable to cope at Primary school without a high level of support and attention.

Does anyone else have a child with a similar chromosome deletion and/or similar experiences? Any advice would be greatly appreciated

JT

 

 

Posted in Chromosome Deletion, Parenting Tagged with: , ,