Sunday, 10 May 2015

Twitter 5-love, cry, laugh, sing, live

I'll start with a nod toward keeping the rules.  Because I like Ross McGill such a lot and if I were to keep the rules for anyone it would probably be him.  I have been nominated for #Twitteratichallenge by @Kitandrew 

We had been tweeting for ages about edu stuff & then I wrote this one night when my husband had just come home from chemotherapy. 

Chris direct messaged me & we leant upon one another, just gently, with the perfect counterbalance.  Very honoured & glad to have him as a friend and to have shared a few real chats over coffees & glasses of wine as well as virtual ones. I know we will continue to be friends as we go forward into the future. 

Lovely link to the universe that Heather Leatt nominated him.  Another go to person for me, we have lunch or dinner most holidays.  Last time I took a friend with as he was having a tough time. You couldn't do that with many people, I knew Heather would be glad to have him along.  That's who she is, loves good hearted people. Sees good hearts in people. 

So now I've cheated & snuck 2 unofficial picks in, said I wouldn't keep the rules Ross!  

Also, it bothers me to be 'Twitterati' 

'I'm your biggest fan I'll follow you until you love me, Twitter Twitterati' 

I made a right idiot of myself earlier.  Worked a very simple % out completely wrong as I was doing 2 things at once. Didn't just tweet low profile. Tweeted Warwick Mansell & Laura Mcinerney.  Epic fail. Charlie Brown football moment. Well, we all know what pride comes before eh? I'm not 'Twitterati' I'll go with my dear departed Dad's definition: intelligent idiot! 

Right, so. Five people? Here comes more rule breaking.  Not all educationalists. If you follow all edu folk please branch out and follow some other folk. A person needs perspective. 

1. @conflictinbanno - a good time to mention as its my friend Gemma's birthday today, as I write this.  She's 25 somewhere out there.  I found out she'd died just after my husband went down to theatre for a biopsy to find out what level of cancer he had two years ago. I stumbled outside & thought the world might swallow me. Then Ben tweeted that the milkshake machine had exploded all over the person serving in McDonald's. It was a brilliantly worded tweet. The way he put it made me laugh my head off. I've thanked him already but here's another thanks.  The realisation that yes, at the moment this is terrible but somewhere else life is utterly hilarious and all of the universe is made of energy, moments, sadness, laughter. 

2. @arseburgers - a person I am very glad to know.  Gives perspective, opinion, courage and loyalty. Tells me when I'm wrong, in a way even I don't feel like arguing with. Stuck with me even when I went through a phase of watching a trash TV show that makes him feel sick. Gets me.  Has said I get him, huge compliment.  I appreciate it. 

3. @gwenelope - always on the end of the phone if I need to talk. Puts up with my crapping on, starting a story in the middle of another story then coming back to suddenly finish the first one.  Haven't been able to meet her & have had to keep cancelling last minute.  Always understands. The perfect Corwynt. 

4. @musicmind because she makes me happy all the time. She also makes me think because she is a sherbet lemon.  She made me laugh when I was crying when Andy was very ill with a video about a pizza :) 

5. @vicgoddard for an absolute ton of reasons that he knows.  Kept 'boyband' going too with supportive messages through a terrible summer when Vic was supposed to be on official R&R.  He listened to Vic, wouldn't have to me.  Then Vic got me through the doors to pick Andy up after last chemo as it was the date my dad had died in the same hospital. Vic gives a great team talk-sports science. Same as the two little claps :) 

More rule breaking, too many more than 5 to sneak in but @artymarty @raliel & @amandapalmer for helping me to feel that my individuality is to be praised.  School never taught me that, as a pupil or a teacher. 

Finally.  Sing.  Especially if you think you can't. Amanda Palmer sent us Patreon supporters a recent review that was one of the most painful, horrid, personal things I have ever read about her singing. She didn't tweet it as she didn't want the crowd retaliation. Her singing, music, words & art help and heal thousands.  There will always be critics, we can't affect that.  But we can keep going. We can keep singing.  

Just sing 

I love you all.  Love yourselves this week. Promise? 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Another dot on the Raiseonline

Some may remember the last blog post I wrote about statutory testing for 11 year olds and the effects on pupils. Especially the most vulnerable.  I refer to Raiseonline which I'll translate now for you non educationalists.  A statistical document that analyses the test results of children age 7 and 11 for us Primary school folk.  Secondary schools have their version of this too.  Centrally produced by a team of Department for Education statisticians.  Yes, we pay tax for this folks.  It statistically analyses pupil test results from May tests according to vulnerable group, the time of year they are born, how deprived they were judged to be on the last census, whether they are deemed to have special educational needs and a number of other factors.  It also shows data trends for the school over five years.  It is the document that our inspectorate use to form their investigative trails. Our school has a pupil admission number of ten.  Each child represents 10%.  I can almost hear a number of business statisticians beginning to giggle. This year each child in our school is 14% (statistician giggles turn to incredulous laughter.) Two years ago the reportable number for league tables was reduced by the Department for Education from 10 to 5 pupils in a cohort, each pupil representing 25% of the data (statisticians go hysterical & have to be revived.) 

Anyway now that I have explained, here is the original post:

This evening I am once again in that angry and sad place where a vulnerable pupil, who has been through quite enough, is putting too much pressure on themselves over SATs.  Our staff try so very hard to make sure the pressure we are under as a school to achieve numerical targets isn't passed on to the children. But with booster classes going on and a lot of discussion about marks and scores it is inevitable that the pressure seeps through a bit. 

This pupil isn't like the last one I blogged about, but at the same time is. Same situation with home life.  Same late intervention in terms of better home life. Same amazing opportunity because of some talented foster carers.  But this one is also different as has bags of resilience, intelligence (academic and emotional) and aspires to become a lawyer.  This young person took every horrible, crappy thing that happened & built it into a resolve to grow into a successful person. 

Sadly, because of a skewed early perspective on life a successful person to this child is one that does well at exams, gets a good job (wants to be a lawyer) and earns lots of money.  So however we try to make statutory testing less pressurised, this child is suffering this week.  I guess the idea of not being deemed good enough because of your test score is really tough to take when for most of your life you were never regarded good enough by those that were supposed to love you unconditionally. 

The worst bit is that this child is a high achiever. Despite it all. But our education system is still pressurising & punishing rather than nurturing and rewarding. 

Every Wednesday afternoon a very talented counsellor comes in to work with the pupils that need it.  Our aim for this child is for it to be ok and safe to say how you feel & cry if you need to.  I walked past the room they were working in and the child was crying. For the first time since being taken into care. Didn't even cry when very young sibling was adopted.  Expressed gladness that young sibling would have a great life and not remember, even with the understanding of how unlikely it was they would ever see one another again. 

I felt glad, thinking that it was about home.  But no, it was about SATs and the fear of failing and not being good enough. 

The line we're given about statutory testing is that it's important so a good standard of education is maintained. It's good for pupils and informs secondary school.  What it actually does is pile a huge amount of pressure on everyone and predict age 16 results at age 11.  Is the only positive thing about SATs that they can break vulnerable children and teach them how to cry?  

'Life isn't fair, that's what she said so I tried not to care' Madonna 1989

I do care though, I'm burning this evening with unfairness & hurt for our fabulous young people, all over the country, that are feeling the pressure of next week. My daughter is worrying about whether she'll get level 6 (level 8 is B grade GCSE to put this in perspective.) I'm burning about staff putting themselves under pressure, about secondary school staff who will be hit with a stick from on high in five years when these scores will be compared to scores from a test that hasn't even been implemented yet. If it's even been properly invented.

I'm not going to stop keeping on though. It's all we can do. To keep supporting young people and nurturing them within such pressure is a skill that I'm proud of in our staff. It's everywhere in education. Because, unlike the political education directorate, we know who matters. 


Monday, 30 March 2015

Barriers and opportunities

I joined Twitter around five years ago whilst on maternity leave with my son.  He was a very calm, content baby.  A period of time we all remember fondly in our family! Anyway, that left me with a bit of time and I'd got to the stage where not only was the mood on Facebook  seriously getting on my nerves, but I also had a Facebook farm!  Disgusted with the person I had become and wracked with guilt about forgetting to feed my Facebook sheep I decided to give Twitter a go.

I can honestly say that Twitter has been the best source of support, friendship, professional development and interesting dialogue.  Online, over the phone and face to face whenever I have met people I tweet with.  The connections I have developed over that time have given me and our school opportunities we could never have dreamed of, much less afforded. 

Last week I got the opportunity to meet someone I have been in contact with on Twitter for all of that time. One of the first people I connected with actually.  I remember thinking his tweets were intelligent and immediately realising when I read his Twitter name and bio that he had been diagnosed with Aspergers as an adult.  Something a lot of people apparently miss.  That surprised me but I suppose perhaps it shouldn't.  Lots of people make the mistake of making life online two dimensional.  We also like lots of the same music and tend to find the same things funny.  

Over the years in several schools I have been special needs co ordinator, including in my current school.  The issue of labelling or not labelling children with a medical diagnosis has constantly cropped up.  The whole thing is a minefield for parents who often don't know what to do for the best and actually just want their child to be happy and valued at school and through their life.  It's also a hot potato for teachers as we are always mindful that we are not medical professionals but we want to help the child and family as much as we can.  Over the years I have come to use the term 'fixed thinking' when talking about behaviours that parents or medical professionals might feel need labelling with the term Autistic Spectrum Disorder.  After all, who are any of us to say that a person's thoughts are disordered?  What order are they supposed to go in?  My friend that I met last week has an IQ of 154, marking him out as incredibly gifted.  Presumably the order his thoughts choose to go in contributes to that intelligence.

'Arseburgers' as he calls himself on Twitter, put this very simply.  He explained that it means very little to him what the label is.  Hence his choice of Twitter name.  It has helped him very much to learn about the behaviours associated with the diagnosis though.  The way he described it to me was that he has to deal with a lot of extra peripheral stimulation.  Things I may tune out.  The colour of a passer by's coat, a car horn, someone else's tone of voice in a conversation over the road, he finds difficult to tune out. This can become over stimulating, exhausting and stressful. Over time he has developed the ability to filter out a lot of this peripheral matter.  There are also strategies that help him. He has lots of sets of pretty much the same outfit for example, cutting out the need to choose what to wear in the morning and limiting extra brain activity on matters that don't need thinking about. 

As we talked about this it became really clear to me for the first time after all these years as a teacher why children cope with some of this peripheral stuff better at school.  When parents have asked me that question, and I've been asked it a heck of a lot, I usually answer that school is more structured.  But it's more than that.  The innate culture of school is all about cutting down periphery noise and colour. As well as creating opportunities for supported active engagement and risk taking when learning.  Filtering for those too young to filter. School looks as expected, sounds as expected and smells as expected, every day.  Except at Christmas, and we wonder why some children struggle with that! In my school we favour quite traditional methods and children have the same teacher for two years.  It's quiet, it's calm and they know how the adult is going to speak to them and be, without having to think about it at all.  When I described that my friend said that is 'a luxury' to anyone that thinks as he does.  

School was not as positive an experience for him.  There was obviously a lack of understanding about his thinking and he was probably far more intelligent than most of his teachers.  Then there were the misunderstandings.  For example he was caned three times for refusing to call his teacher by her double barrelled surname.  He described his confusion over this 'I have one surname, everyone I had ever met had one surname.  I couldn't process the fact she had two surnames.'  After three encounters with the cane an adult eventually took the trouble to explain why she had two surnames and the issue was resolved.  I'm glad this wouldn't happen to a child now.  However the misunderstandings still do.  A parent recently told me that a pupil of ours thought all of the children at a holiday club they went to knew one another already.  The reasoning behind that was that they were talking to one another and knew one another's names.  They were wearing name labels.  We don't know always where there are misunderstandings because the pupils don't know they are misunderstandings.  That's just how they think.  

Professionally I have learned as much from non educationalists on Twitter as I have from educationalists.  Sometimes a non school perspective really helps, particularly as I have never really left school! 

And so to the title of this post.  How pupils think isn't always a barrier and is often a huge opportunity.  My friend is extremely successful and has had jobs most people, including myself, would admire.  Not many of us have a list of IMDb credits lets just say!  A parent recently showed me a photo of a chair her 9 year old had built out of scrap wood found in Grandad's shed.  It could have been the work of a skilled carpenter. I often encourage parents to embrace the opportunities at the same time as navigating the barriers.  The way the child thinks and the way we react shapes who they are.  We really need to spend time thinking about that and planning our behaviour as adults.  

Sunday, 29 March 2015

'Good' to the tune of 'Love changes everything'

Good, good changes everything 
No one slates your Raiseonline 
Good, good changes everything
far less planning, that's just fine 

Good, means space to innovate 
Less constricted, far less fear
Good means you can keep your job 
Fear of sacking, not so near

Good, is such a world away 
From such pressure, constant pain
Good, like when the clocks go forward
No more dark days, no more rain

Good means that it isn't true 
That our vision is just crazy 
Good means that it isn't true 
That our teachers are just lazy 

Good. It is to be enjoyed
Isn't easy, takes some steel.
Good, the chance to have some space 
Lead your school just as you feel. 

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Work in process

I have to blog about this right now, before I forget a single detail.  Taking a third of the school to sing at Wembley Arena yesterday was amazing enough, and then today.  I am being shown something alright. 

Some of you may have noticed that earlier in the week I tweeted:

'Been reading my last two days worth of tweets.  This job is brilliant, this job is terrible.  Ooh cute baby hedgehogs!' 

As all of us in the system, and indeed the public sector, know at the moment the job is a rollercoaster.  Lots of us in Education feel that we are battling on for children against a culture of failure, fear and blame.  But many of us have that moral purpose and need to do right by children. And, actually, that passion and love for the job. It is who we are, part of our nature, our humanity. 

I attended a conference about values and culture today in London.  The venue was Drummond gate, near the Tate Britain.  Because of the late arrival back at school yesterday, 2am, I was running a little late. There was then tube chaos. 

I know delays get frustrating for people but it always upsets me when I overhear the following types of comments from other commuters 'passenger incident? Hmph another jumper. Now we're going to be late.' I've heard it before and it bothers me around humanity.  You'd have to be in an incredibly dark place to jump.  As it turned out that was a rumour (another rather unpleasant human habit) but I was relieved to find it had been an accident and the person was ok.  

At that point I didn't know that though and I arrived at my destination slightly disappointed with humanity and late for the start of the session. I decided to wait until the next session. Then I remembered that this is on at Tate Britain

'Perfect' I thought.  I keep wanting to stick a plaster on my fears about humanity, and desperately trying to find one.  I knew this exhibition would not do that, but it's art would make me think deeply.  I intended to buy the book also and knew at that point I would be taking away far more than a better understanding of social, moral cultural and spiritual values from my course. 

Sadly I didn't have the time today for the rest of the fabulous art in Tate Britain, so I went straight for the McQueen/Waplington exhibition.  I have always been inspired by McQueen and was sad to learn of his tragic death. A loss to art and the world is worse without him in my opinion.  I didn't know very much about Waplington's work other than what I had read about the 2009 collection and that interested me a great deal.  

Every now and then the universe cuts you a break just when you need it and when I got up to the exhibition Nick Waplington was there and had just started to talk a group of visitors through the exhibition.  He is a fascinating man to listen to and I had the privilege of being able to listen to some of what he said.  I wasn't part of the tour and I assume they had been invited or bought tickets so I felt it would be rude to gatecrash and also was really supposed to be over the road working.  However, at that moment listening to Waplington talk through the reasoning behind the collection was far more important to me. Ideas around the political situation in 2009, the banking crash, recycling and infinite growth versus finite resource.  The haves and have nots.  The perception and depiction of women in society.  He also talked about his friendship with McQueen and how he was as a person.  And the tragic fact that this turned out to be his last big gesture.  His final flourish.  

I recommend that you buy this, it is available at Tate Britain  

Waplington's photographs of the 'work in process' toward the 2009 collection are fascinating.  They give an insight into the process, the creativity, the ideas and into McQueen himself.  

I don't know if it is available elsewhere I haven't looked.  I bought it and then had that moment where I knew if I didn't rush back & ask Nick to sign it I would never forgive myself.  So I did.  He very graciously did as I babbled away in a Hugh Grant film character type way about how dreadful the biro I'd given him to sign it was. His guests laughed with a mixture of pity & awkwardness!

I couldn't possibly have explained why it was so important to me at that moment. How the universe had sent it.  How this wrangling in my job as a Headteacher between what the system is becoming politically and what I know is morally right is so resonant with the tension that is present in McQueen's work.  The layers, the texture.  The infinite growth.  The finite resources. 

Both men, both artists, making us think about it through art.  More than that, feel about it.  

Lee Alexander McQueen on the 2009 collection:

Monday, 2 March 2015

Ofsted, the Cancer of our profession?

After about an hour of observing quite stressed behaviours this evening I plucked up the courage to ask my husband if he associates becoming ill with their last Ofsted inspection.  Sadly I hadn't put enough time into thinking about what I would respond with when he just put all of his marking down and said 'yes.'  But what do you say to that?

I'm rarely speechless, I think he appreciated it! I responded with a lengthy silence and then asked how I could help.  I have helped him mark books.  I have fired questions about their Raiseonline.  I have helped plan his assembly. 

I would like to say Ofsted is not as bad as Cancer but actually I got much more stressed before our last inspection than I did when he had Cancer. I couldn't leave the house to buy milk at one point before our inspection whereas I never got like that when I was leading a school post Good Ofsted & nursing him at home during intensive chemotherapy. 

After the first day of their last inspection husband came home in tears.  The only other time I have ever seen him cry is when his grandfather died.  He was given outstanding but the school got RI & he felt it was an unfair judgement.  In the end our friend & mentor Nigel Utton, head at the time, decided to resign.  The pain of unfairness burns Andy and I very hotly. It's one of the many things we have in common. 

All of those feelings, less than 24 hours to deal with them. Alongside the prep & marking & Raiseonline. And checking in with colleagues to make sure they are ok.

Is Ofsted the Cancer of our profession? I have some wise Twitter Ofsted contacts who I have a good deal of time for.  But the Ofsted machine?  I think it's run it's course personally.  We have appraisal mechanisms & teacher standards that are far tougher than they were.  They ensure rigour. Ofsted is just causing rigor mortis. 

Ofsted causes the great teachers to overthink & feel too much pressure.  It does no more for bad teachers than us as school leaders can do. Except for scaring people into sacking a token case study.  It's inconsistent and fundamentally flawed in my opinion. 

Friday, 13 February 2015

Hands up, baby hands up for quality ITE

I think we're very fortunate in our area to have an excellent ITE provider.  Canterbury Christchurch University College produce fabulous teachers consistently. They are a respected institution. They have high expectations & standards of students and work well with us as schools but they also challenge us. They are full of professionals with research credentials who reframe our thinking in school about trainee teachers and where they are/what they need. They have an excellent blog at 

As a very small school I make trainee teachers a focus around every third year. We don't have capacity every year. We have two students when that is our priority and I throw myself into all things Chrischurch to make sure they get the best partnership between us and University.  I am passionate about trying to get it right from the outset so that the drop out rate improves among new teachers. I interviewed there for next year's trainee teachers this week and deviated from the set questioning on two points:
'How well do you deal with frustration about the system and why do you think so many new teachers drop out?' 
'Do you aspire to be a Headteacher?' 
I think these two questions are essential indicators of resilience now and of realism about our profession.  Of course I wouldn't expect most applicants to teacher training posts to see themselves as a Headteacher (I didn't!) but aspiring is different.  We need resilient, sparky folk who want to be in it to win it. I'm not saying everyone should be a Head either, of course not. To maintain life as a high performing teacher is as hard as the job of Headteacher. 

I also had the privilege this week of observing and interim grading our final practice trainee teacher alongside her University link tutor.  She is outstanding.  She is a joy to behold. She also has a work rate that is second to none and is reflective. She had graded herself cautiously and we upped many of her grades. 

The link tutor and I had a bit of conflict though over children putting their hands up.  Her point of view was that the trainee teacher shouldn't be asking for hands up.  I pointed out that we use hands up as a school strategy. That's not all we use, the pupils know we don't always choose those with hands up. There is a lolly stick mug so those that don't put up hands know that if the teacher is holding the mug they'd better try & think of an answer if their hand isn't up. But that isn't used every time. 

I see this dislike of hands up as another easy thing for people outside of day to day school life to take a dislike to based on bits of research. Children love putting their hands up! Why wouldn't you sometimes ask the child who has their hand up so much they might pop? Why wouldn't you occasionally give the child who doesn't like putting their hand up a safety break? 

It's quite obvious my childrens' school use hands up as on occasion my children raise their hands at home! They are an outstanding school, and not just in Ofsted terms. 

So, I fought my trainee teacher's corner on that one and won.  The link tutor is excellent actually and I know she is just balancing what our trainee may find in the culture of other schools once she is employed, where perhaps the show of hands has been vilified as ancient practice. 

I think this type of discourse is so valuable though and I worry that without a University provision and discourse between school and University link tutor the quality of provision for training isn't there. We have had our County ITE program given 4 by Ofsted recently

The teaching schools are all developing provision but, as yet, I can't see the comparison between them and an established ITE provision. In my view Christchurch have an entirely different mindset to that which a teaching school has capacity for, particularly when it comes to educational research and research based discourse with schools.