If music be the food of love – it should be at the heart and soul of a school.

Why music? – aspiration, awe and wonder, incredulity, resilience, emotion, character, spirit, culture, humanity, civility, inspiration, opportunity, participation, perseverance, confidence education educate ….

“Without music, life would be a blank to me.” – Jane Austen

There has been and I suspect always will be much discussion about music in school,  from Ed Sheeran wondering why government does not want it on the curriculum when ‘musicians are “wealthy and pay their tax” ‘ to others like Mylene Klass and Julian Lloyd Webber, famous musicians saddened to see music slipping away from schools.

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Choir and Orchestra at Trinity Prizegiving

So here is the reflections of a science teacher and school leader in a comprehensive in Nottingham

Why teach music?      What?      Why teach anything?

I am a science teacher, 36 years in classrooms doing my bit to inspire my subject: chemistry, science to my pupils and students BUT recognising the bigger picture of what schools do. Contributing to the proper education of children and young people. Sure there is also maths and English and humanities, languages art, design and performance and there is extra curricular in sport and performance. There are the social and character skills of growing up leading to autonomy, independence and ‘mattering’ but leaders, heads CEOs and teaching staff should think big, be ambitious in the curriculum and with the opportunities provided in their school.

BUT 1. We are limited by accountability – progress 8 and attainment 8 and a desire for an EBacc with subjects almost chosen at random it would appear ( why no RE?). Music could wither because it just can.

AND 2. We are limited by resource – notably availability of teachers or costs such as peripatetic staff and frankly music is quite expensive but……read on

in my classroom my pupils did science, usually chemistry  some continued to A level and into HE

  1. Some were exceptionally talented and became > professional scientists
  2. Some needed chemistry in their work and became > medics, vets, pharmacists even physicists and geologists or physics or science teachers
  3. Others were good, could have been scientists but frankly could have been anything and are all manner of precessions and roles
  4. Others were just interested and merely wanted to be scientifically literate.

That’s what I faced in my classroom and taught them to my best ability, trying to get them from group4 to group 1; a challenge I loved.

But aren’t the same arguments true for any subject including music. Image result for the kanneh masons will become professional musicians, some need the music for their profession but almost all pupils love music, spend ages listening to music and being moved by music, or composing or going to concerts……

So beyond the value of studying music beyond that, there are amazing benefits: teamwork, aspiration, hard work, good mental health, peace, joy, comfort…where to start, if music be the food of love play on…..

0913-23At Trinity the curriculum promoted music. Orchestra, singing and instrumental work. Every year 7 learnt a musical instrument, we had music lessons lessons and orchestra on the curriculum. then of course GCSE and Level music, music tech, performance…. we had concerts, lunchtime recitals, liturgies and celebrations with music often at the heart and soul. we brought in our primaries, we visited our primaries, we showcased the school to pupils, to parents and to the community.

In Y9 the whole year gave a concert, yes everyone in  year 9 to all of year 7 and 8. 175 pupils, the biggest mix of ability you could imagine from some above and beyond grade 8 on an instrument to those still wondering exactly what those black dots meant. It was a highlight of the school year. It showed everyone, pupils and staff just what aspiration could mean, it showed when you do your bit, you contribute to an amazing event. Your little part alongside everyone else little part adds up to something bigger than the sum, massively so. It gave a message  “Do that in music and you can do so in sport (they did) in charity giving (they did) and in lessons.” Yes, in lessons if you contribute, join in, you too can increase the learning of the group which includes you, and includes the teacher. Be confident, be civil, find inspiration, become curious, realise reward and success. Did this contribute to an outstanding judgement? Probably.

 

As the Daily Telegraph asked and answered: “Can embracing the Arts help teachers broaden their students’ horizons?” A quick google search shows very many schools that can prove the benefits.

But you don’t build this and our amazing concerts and shows and prize givings overnight. A generation ago (1980s) Trinity school was heading for closure when the head Mr Bonner was appointed. He had a vision, amongst which every pupil would learn music, every pupil play or sing in a concert. One day every pupil in a concert and every every family, friend and relative present to watch. We just about managed it as he retired in 2005. So many pupils over that time headed to conservatoires, or to the royal academy, others became professional musicians others got involved in amateur music or church music or jazz music or music teaching……I can go on. Over that period even I got cross at times, I recall helping him unload some kettle drums, I think they cost a bit less than my entire budget “but john wait until you see the effect on the orchestra” – he was right. It became almost a standing joke that staff were not appointed unless they could teach a bit of music, e.g. an instrument or play in the orchestras. I wondered how I got a job! He appointed genuinely outstanding music staff, hugely dedicated and an incredible music lead. Such incredible talent, creativity and industry alongside the amazing ability to find music to allow a beginner to contribute but a star to shine. Peripatetic staff who could bring young children on, who could encourage them in their instrumental but also to take part in a brass band or a jazz group or a strings group, the chamber orchestra etc. Not only that but singing echoed that – proper choir singing, high standards but also music for the ‘ boys vocal group’.

There is no simple magic this is a long term project and the lessons were incredible but results proved so much QED was never so true. Music needs dedication and hard work (great our pupils learnt about dedication and hard work). The rewards are somewhat unmeasurable, but not unforgettable, pupils part of and integral to, the events many pupils remember – concerts, shows, special prize evening (dominated by musicians). Admiration of friends and family, yes the school s a community and as a Church community fulfilling its ethos, mission and and ambition. I believe music wiped away much bullying (yes we did still have some). After Sheku Kanneh Mason won the BBC young musician of the year in 2016 he returned to school on the Wednesday and as he walked through the gate almost the whole of lower school ran to the fence to cheer and applaud him. One night on bus duty I asked a sixth former how her day had been, incredible sir I’ve been getting into Shostakovich thanks to Sheku.img_1946

We need music in schools, the decisions are for school leaders and governors but also for government to ensure adequate funding and a sense of value and worth, music can’t be ‘the extra’ but it is expensive – staffing costs, peripatetic costs, instrumental costs.

Otherwise our secondaries will drop down to having a few part timers and a small music GCSE, group as few chose it in Y8 ( as more and more schools push options into year 8).

Did my subject benefit from music and performance? It’s a resounding YES from me.

….and here is another school in Bradford which has put music centre stage with amazing results, highlighted in the educational press recently (2018).

As John Rutter says

“It shames us in the UK as a nation. Music education isn’t a frill to be left to the private sector and open only to those who can pay, it’s at the heart of what makes us human and civilised. Any politicians reading this?

Some of our ex students – from groups 1 to 4, professional ones to those who just appreciated the opportunities have commented below. You may not see them without scrolling down especially on a mobile phone. They are well worth a read.

 

Happy New School Year – new beginnings

In a way it doesn’t matter if it’s a NEW week or a NEW term or a NEW year – or all three in one!

Schools start the new term with INSET and those slightly odd first days of admin and assemblies, but they will nevertheless ring out with their ‘year group assemblies’ and classrooms and numbers of teachers saying “It’s a new start“.

HP mark bkIt is so good we can give a fresh new clean start, some children really need this, probably some adults need it too. There is something special about the first page of the new book, the new uniform, the new shoes. Almost all the new year 7 will have had  a photograph taken at home before they came to school in their new uniform at their new school. Its a new world as well as a new beginning.’

Even staff love their clean, new mark book, new planner and new diary. I wonder when do they become those old tattered friends filled with details of lives? Whilst I appreciate what ICT can do for us, opening a new ‘Word document’ just does not have the same effect. As for my new exercise book – does writing on any page get better than that crisp new page at the front after writing “your name and subject”? In my career two pupils when asked to do this have actually written ‘your name’ and one pupil wrote ‘Fred Bloggs‘ after I actually said don’t write your name’ but write your name for example Fred Bloggs – hey ho I’m such a poor communicator.

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Of course it isn’t really a brand new start, unless you are Y7 or a brand new shiny teacher, but it is a new year. It is a chance to start afresh, staff have had a break, and the rhythm of school brings us full circle with a new intake and the school year has rewound to the start once again. I worked outside of education a short while and talking with friends it does not happen so clearly elsewhere, people holiday at different times and the ‘new’ does not happen. I know that some blog readers will not be believers but there is an echo of the church calendar. When a church gathers on a Sunday it’s the first day of the week, and some time is spent reflecting on the last week, seeking forgiveness before looking to the new opportunities in the week ahead. There is no doubt we need to reflect in school. My first teacher planners which I genuinely treasure are hand written with the left column my plan and the right hand column my reflection. A reminder how I sat with my ‘old’ planner to see what had gone well and what had gone badly, to do more of the former and none of the latter. Following the story of my lessons I can see (and still recall) sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t BUT it was vital in that important aspect: ‘ how can I improve?’

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A new journey starts here

Back to the new term, new opportunities, new ideas to try and and meanwhile forget the rotten, bad bits of the past, to an extent putting that behind us. This is also a time when we tend to think a little about what is really important to us as we begin a new year, you probably heard some of it in the head’s ‘Welcome Back‘ speech. Pupils often need a new start, and not always at the start of the new school year, a little bridge back into their school community and a new opportunity, probably not too many if the action plans don’t work but forgiveness might be important for some. They too will embrace the challenge of the new year, maybe the new school for Y7 or the new Y10 curriculum they had a say in choosing for themselves, or a very big shiny new Y12 confidently or with a big dose of trepidation starting those A levels ( hey it’s a big jump this new year). Fear and joy, it is just so exciting, well and scarey. Pupils need support and bags of encouragement – some secretly want to take part in the school play this year, learn a new instrument, take up a new sport, or even make new friends or just make amends. Parent and teachers can help them – or hinder them.

contemplationI always found the first full ‘normal’ week back quite hard, I’m not sure what the next class would bring into the room, I got a bit sick of the sound of my voice, the holiday had no bells and now they ring the lesson start and end. Nevertheless it is the start, it’s the beginning of an exciting new journey. Welcome back to the new term and being in the challenges and opportunities of teaching and learning.

And some questions for you to think about in the nouvou world:

Q1 When we and our pupils are so busy how do we find time to reflect?

Q2 I made my Y12 write themselves a letter about how their revision and Y 12 mock exams went immediately after they were over in the summer. We then opened them this week and reflected. What activities do you use to help pupils (and staff) reflect, in the busy routines?

Q3 Is there a limit to how many times can we give a new beginning before we say that really is enough?


and a bit more thinking about the mundus novus in Church schools:

Genesis 1:1     In the beginning …

2 Corinthians 5:17:    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Hebrews 8:13     By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Ephesians 4:24    and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.


You might like to read other posts from my timetable of teaching – each is set out from lesson in the school week, before or after school or at the weekends, appropriate to the time of day. I have also started a  class lists or “set lists” which was to answer the questions: “why be a teacher?”or “why have other responsibilities in a school?” Shortly I am starting a new area about progress from one role or experience in teaching to another with hints and tips about successfully moving on in the job and your teaching career.

Boot’s Blog

I am John’s trusty Lowa boots, however he doesn’t trust himself when we speed along (rightly, sort of his  ‘getting frail’ age) therefore he also uses his Leki sticks…sometimes. We covered 107km in 9 days walking but don’t get excited most was down mountain or at best along mountain and occasionally uphill.IMG_2457Lots of my walking was done on ice and rock, stepping stones. IMG_1970So this is the pearl of the Alps Saas Fee – beautiful save the glacier is recedingIMG_2350I was not stepping on these Alpine flowers I am just trying to show you their size. They are everywhere and very pretty, very.IMG_2454

Version 2IMG_1758IMG_1882I do occasionally put my feet up, stop for a rest or a view, we don’t do coffee. This looks steep, it was, I am pretty sure John was a scaredy cat, he walked but rarely looked down – he should have seen it from my view!IMG_2366This is an avalanche protection barrier, there was no snow above or on the paths today but there was another steep drop to the village below, good job John trusts me.IMG_2461The paths are well marked, well signposted but always marked in “hours”. These times were measured using local olympic walkers  so I had to add at least 50% extra time.IMG_1985See now there is a lunch stop view. John takes lunch, we would happily keep trekking. He can be weedy.IMG_2428and here is a close up of the waterfall into that Lake, notice that as the star I am still in focus.IMG_2105

IMG_1804This is John riding the cable cars. He likes it, as he gets up big mountains quickly, we Lowa’s think of it as – well cheating.IMG_2009This is a small glacial pool, which I crossed at just under 4,000m, and yes I did get wet but being a Lowa I’m Ok with that, as I am very waterproof. Mind it was cold, icy cold unsurpsingly.IMG_1864…..and these are the surroundings but the scale is tricky if you can enlarge the photo you’ll see those little dots at the top are climbers….IMG_1784This day we took him into proper ‘over 10,000ft’ snow and ice, notice the trousers, first time we’ve met them. This looks like sludge as it’s the bottom of the glacial snow line. We welched in this for about 200m, that is 200m more than the last time we were here, which is thanks to global warming. That Leki pole sneaked in – he needed that as the snow was, well slippery.IMG_2227Here is the snow plus marker pole, just beyond was a few thousand metre drop, visibility was either great or down to 5m. Shortly after this we were taken for hot chocolate, but JD drank it all. Huh promises promises.IMG_2287IMG_2288IMG_2482and this is us on the glacier underneath that top, it was a bit scarey too, made worse by rock falls which prevents us walking further…secretly pleased wethinks.IMG_2054Socks, we needed to pay homage to socks. Socks, thank you.IMG_1753

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Thanks you Inghams

What next after post 16? What August brings!

First Thursday in August, big day for 17/18 year olds their families and teachers. A Level and Btec results out and some decisions about the steps after school or college. Here is a bit of advice from my 20 years as a head of sixth form

Don’t muddle up two pieces of news: Results and Next Steps

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1 Well done on your results, even if you wished you had worked harder or had more luck, you have your results. Celebrate the success, even if, or especially if you found it hard and persevered, you got them.

2 The more complicated bit is what you do next and for that I think there are three likely outcomes:

a) You got your dream

contemplationAfter all the UCAS stuff or maybe the searching for the right apprenticeship or even the  world of employment, your grades opens that door of opportunity. Still some advice for you: if you are continuing in education you’ll need to carry on with more and improved versions of what got you to here. Ok you might be and should be excited about University or leaving home or having autonomy and independence. More thoughts about the opportunities of student life than the messy sinks of student accommodation. However you are off to study and so whatever you’ve been doing you’ll need to step it up. More reading, more organisation, more independent learning, more work and probably less feedback and support than school or college gave you. The latter matters, you need to be more of your own judge and set your own standards. I recall a good friend excitedly awaiting her first feedback on an essay which got a β+ ( that’s beta plus) and she asked her supervisor what that meant. ‘Well’ he said ‘its not as good as an α- ( alpha minus) but better than a β.’ She asked what she needed to do to improve he took the essay back and said ‘maybe work on the English’. For a young lady with full marks in AS modules for English she realised at that point she had to work out what learning meant in this new world. Vital to success here is to img_0962read, read, read and to discuss the standard of work with peers and those on your course but a bit older. Heck and start now, yes now, find a book or two on that dreaded reading list and….start…reading. My own two daughters got fed up with me saying “you are reading for a degree in” Of course the new world offers wonderful opportunities but the priority one is your learning because….that gets you to the next step….( but lets leave that for now).

Meanwhile if its apprenticeships or employment, get the details right..know when and where to start, what to wear and find out about expectations. Be prepared to throw yourself in, be polite, listen, ask questions if uncertain and speak to those who work close to you to ensure you do everything you can to get off to a good start too. Put all your energy in for the early days, be fresh and optimistic and make sure you learn what you have to do and do it with skill, if necessary with the same inge=redients of hard work, perseverance and being part of a team.

b) You just miss your dream but get a healthy second

This is a bit tough, maybe you knew the first choice was a bit over ambitious and you are ok with second choice, maybe the HEI offers an alternative. However maybe you never thought second choice would become your next step. Make sure you know what you are letting yourself in for here. Did you visit the institution, was it a positive choice or one to get the form filled and get a sixth form tutor off your back? Well you can and should still celebrate those results BUT think carefully now. img_0951Think, research and write a few advantages and disadvantages down and talk, talk talk. Talk to peers, talk to family, talk to teachers or talk with local careers officers ( Futures in Nottingham) even talk to the Institution. Oh and I realise you hate talking , this isn’t email, text, whats app territory this is picking a person to speak to…rest assured it will help, people like to help! img_0959Take a bit of time but clearing can be mad and busy and you will feel pressurised. Remember you are off to study for 3 or 4 years, you will be doing lots and lots of ( *subject X*). Remember all the research you did for choice one, do it now to ensure you are making a good decision. If you are doing all this to please great Aunt Ethel and who keeps ringing to ask what you are doing next, just stop, tell her and yourself it’s not that easy and simple. Never make the decision to appease family or friends – they won’t be sat there as you wonder why on earth you ended up studying sand castle building at the University of Little Piddle in the Paddocks. If necessary visit the place, that is vast if you have not already visited, yes that’s right, even if you have a holiday job get some time off, surely you won’t sign up for big expense, big commitment and your next 3 years without doing that, surely! That’s like signing for a big mortgage on a house without seeing the property because you are staying home to watch “Cash in the attic”.

As one Dean of admissions told me ” I fear some students spend more time researching their post exam holiday in Ibiza than they do their future degree.” and the next day I was pulled out of a lesson by an urgent request from two A Level students arguing about which flat, in which island in greece….you couldn’t make it up. A student who had a B in my subject (Chemistry) and an E in Maths and ICT, was refused his first choice of computing but offered Chemistry at the same University…”should I take it Mr Dexter?” Me “Do you want to study Chemistry for 3 years or still try to do software design?” Steve ” I honestly don’t really like Chemistry Sir”. QED. PS He now works in the creative IT industry.

Much the same applies to apprenticeships or employment…do your research especially if it’s a late change of plan. Be realistic, some apprenticeships are more competitive that HE places, get on that internet and get answers and do your research too.

c) You miss both plan A and B

It’s not the end of the world, not at all, it may feel like it but plenty of people have been exactly where you are just now. Ok so hold tight, first of all well one on those results, and you might need a good reflection on them. There shouldn’t really be any surprises, your teachers and you should have known quite closely how you were doing. You might have been very optimistic and thought you would do better but this is reality now.

Should I retake?

Rarely works in my view. It might if you had a critical incident, a family crisis coming up to exams, a health issue which is resolved etc But the reality is that you are looking at doing a year of study that you struggled with for various reasons and staring at doing it again, with few peers and maybe not a full timetable. Evidence would suggest retreading isn’t as effective as moving on.  imageYou might even think about doing one subject again in the summer without attending school or College…don’t. It’s also a very competitive market in some areas, so if your offer was AAA for a competitive course and you got BBB, don’t assume that if you redo the offer of AAA still stands. You need to talk to the HEI urgently. Reflect on the situation this last two years on your learning, be honest, talk with staff and family and make a plan.

Should I take a gap year?

Some students think this option, especially made in a rush, allows for time to decide. How much time do you want? A year?img_3103 Planned gap years with mixtures of work experience, earning money, travel, new experiences can all be helpful, though as above they need thinking about. Don’t deceive yourself, the gap year isn’t  one big holiday, its work, new people new experiences, lots of challenge. I really like gap years, I think students get more out of their University experience and are a little wiser, I worked as a lab technician in a gap year so I am a fan. However don’t think you can ring a local company and get a job for six months, or ring the Raleigh Trust and build a health centre in Mongolia…you can but it needs planning and often fund-raising too – it’s all about commitment. If you are serious then find people ( from your school or college or community) who have done the very project. And if you are serious, well you had started some plans anyway, hadn’t you?. Lastly think if you are deciding to reapply, just how that works if you are abroad, not just interviews but that research, how will it be done?

So you are saying I’m stuck?

Not at all, you have qualifications, maybe A Levels or Btecs or GCSEs. You now need a rethink and support. Think if you really want to study and continue education, more of the last two years, or do you want a change, an apprenticeship or employment or a different sort of degree? There is plenty of choice, arguably too much so get the pen and paper out and do those exercises school or College made you do. What are you good at, what do you like doing, what are your skills, what do you NOT want to do? now talk to family, friends and professionals: teachers, tutors or take those notes to a careers meeting. Be patient and try to get it right but you are allowed to change your mind. Apparently around 40% of undergraduates try to change course and many drop out, so you are in good company.

So it’s a challenging and busy time – getting ready to leave home will be frenetic with activity and fitting it in amongst farewells is fun but keep a focus and priority. Unsure if you are doing the right thing, talk ( sorry not email/text but TALK). Uncertain about options seek professional help – HE staff, Careers staff, possibly your own teachers and family and friends.

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My best wishes whoever you are reader, and grab every opportunity by the horns, as sometimes they feel a bit like that but that too is your destiny.

 

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Amazing farewell

Amazing farewell send off from Trinity 2017. I don’t normally do the ‘remember this’ stuff but this is very special to me and involved about 1000 pupils, 100 staff, 40 support staff and secretive, large scale rehearsals for about a month – I had no idea. It was simply the best and deserves the full 7 minute version- skip through if you wish, join in with a singalong too, I did.
I still really miss that job, I miss the pupils and their families and of course my amazing colleagues after 28 years at the school, their energy, their commitment, their genuine love of children and their high skill and passion for their subject and the farewell flashdance epitomises the lot.
I consider myself to be most fortunate to be working in education in a really interesting, fascinating job for Nottingham City, where I am trying to make a difference.
If today I am just nostalgic and pining a little, you’ll understand but thank you.
If you wish to read my final words to the staff reflecting on 36 years a teacher , its called Making the world (or at least your bit of it) better

 

A slight rant over ‘Textbooks’ which I love*

“…a book that contains detailed information about a subject for people who are studying that subject”

1 I once wrote a Chemistry textbook – with two other great Chemistry teachers –

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Our Foundation level textbook

not examiners, not academics just plain Chemistry teachers. It was for the so-called less able or foundation GCSE pupils, labels I use but intensely dislike and I learned a lot win writing it and it was a fantastic challenge to help lots of pupils access our subject – especially those who find it hard – which is nearly everyone. It didn’t make us a fortune, schools bought lots of texts for the more able ( have a copy at home have a copy in school etc, but this was for the less able who were in small groups and often weren’t allowed to take a book home). Continue reading

Why be an Education Director?

A question in the mindset of Mrs Merton.

What first attracted you to the role of Education Director (part time) in Nottingham, after all the City now “runs” very few schools?

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Not so long ago this role would have been one of the biggest in education in Nottingham running secondary, primary and special schools, responsible for everything from admissions to outcomes and most stuff in between for about 41,000 children. As the ‘new world’ of academisation has emerged resources have passed from the local authority to the new trusts except for some statutory services. As the landscape no longer looks the same, the role of a City Education Director needs to change and I’m not sure anyone in any LA has worked out how, but we are well on the journey in Nottingham. Much of that is thanks to the pioneering work of Pat and Sarah Fielding and their excellent work in many areas pre-eminently with our City Primaries and with safeguarding. So how does it appear picking up the reigns?

 

For me, there is still a rather wonderful, overwhelming desire by everyone I meet in the City linked with education, they want to improve the lives of young people. Whether I speak to people at the City LA : SEND colleagues, those working out how best to help refugee and asylum seekers with EAL issues, those working with the very special, children in care, they have massive professional and personal commitment to their roles. When I have spoken to headteachers, teachers and CEO’s of Trusts or governors, they always begin by talking about children, young people, families they are working with and only rarely and then usually a moan about systems and structures. Hang it I even found the same in my meetings with Ofsted inspectors, with the RSC and other ‘officials’ – what can we do to improve things – though of course some of the latter are stuck with their systems. There are actually good starting points from organisations like EEF, who are also keen to help Nottingham. I think we are also fortunate with our local and national politicians who are supportive, understanding and yet not afraid to challenge us all.

imageAs a chemistry teacher who has loved the job in the classroom, and on corridors, who was challenged and supported in school leadership roles I loved working with young people and…still do. At the heart for all of us is working with children to help them learn from all their opportunities and that is my hope, to bring something of that perspective to the role. Working in partnership and in collaboration.

pareto_principle_improveA key energy for us in the City is so-called school improvement, frankly I don’t really like the title and as a headteacher refused to have a SIP (school improvement plan). I wanted a “school development plan”. Schools are full of people trying to do their very best, and we can’t keep asking for more and more. Schools might be able to genuinely improve some parts of their work and service but they face almost constant and considerable change. As a teacher I might work to understand how assessment works for my GCSE students, how best to help them learn science, to achieve and how to motivate them and excite them – but then…aha, the content changes (probably not too much) and the assessment changes (probably a lot) and the way me and my school are made accountable for their progress changes. imageThen my next class have different needs, a child coping with bereavement, one struggling with domestic violence, one with mental health pressures, one just lost in the world and a fair few just confused by my explanations. In classrooms, in staffrooms and in head’s offices alongside governor meetings there are always discussions happening to see how to help the children learn. As well as staff having to manage the wider changes in technology, in policy, in society and in the world around us. For me improvement and progress are part of the school day, routines, habits not goals.  It’s not about forever improvement it’s about having the best job in the world and feeling you are doing a great job for young people because that’s why you came into the role, and we need to support each other and make it a sustainable rewarding job.

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So knowing classrooms reasonably well, understanding a good bit about leadership from long experience and something of the local educational world from most of my working life spent in Nottingham, you know what? I think I might be able to help make a difference working alongside you.

 

Sometimes it does feel impossible, even just in secondary our 17 schools are in 9 very different multi academy trusts, complex communities. We have great Universities, we have a revitalised FE sector wanting to help but they are big organisations. We have agencies like Futures and a voluntary sector, often with great ideas but struggling to get engagement as they see it. It feels impossible when data shows a disappointment, maybe a dip in achievement or progress or a bump in attendance. However, whoever I have spoken to, they are willing to roll their sleeves up look at the problem and try to find a solution. ( heck, we chemists are good at that too) …and the starting point – what can we do to improve this situation and improve things for those children. So I hope to bring partners together and improve the landscape, to eventually proved some agreed strategic direction, and to work with the Education Improvement Board to do just that….Improve Education.

 

imageNottingham is the 4th poorest City in England, we have some long-standing historical deprivations and some major lack of aspiration but you know what, we have a workforce and a commitment from the professions second to none, and a personal effort from so many showing time and time again a willingness to go the extra mile. We have some great young people, and large numbers who buck trends. At Trinity, I often spoke to the staff, children and parents about hope – ‘there is always hope’. It’s my hope to help make partnership work, have high levels of collaboration, to share good ideas that genuinely work, and to try and find solutions to complex problems in order to bring hope to the children in Nottingham and pride to their families, friends, teachers and themselves.

 

Here’s hoping you will be able to find some  time and energy to commit to working with us on the project!

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Sunday period 4 – *Packing the Head’s briefcase

Edit, upgrade, and made more generic

Mr John Dexter blogs about school

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Like many a teacher and many a headteacher I packed my bag as part of my rituals on a Sunday afternoon. Then started my thinking of the week ahead. Here is a light hearted list but with a hefty dose of truth.

1. A proper fountain pen and proper ink
IMG_1891Heads sign a lot of documents, contracts, policies, orders, cheques. Be prepared. there are also letters, lots of them but the best are my own letters. I often wrote to thank people for their work or contribution, if I was a banker of course that would be a £ cash  bonus but this is the public sector, people had to make do with a letter. However a letter with an additional hand written note from the head is good. We don’t receive many letters these days in a world of text, twitter and email so a letter or a postcard…

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Monday Period 1 – *New Beginnings

updating the blog, new images and more generic

Mr John Dexter blogs about school

in a way it doesn’t matter if it’s a NEW week or a NEW term or a NEW year – or all three in one!

schools will have INSET and those slightly odd first days of admin and assemblies, but schools will nevertheless resound through their ‘year group assemblies’ and classrooms with numbers of teachers saying “It’s a new start”.

HP mark bkIt is so good we can give a fresh new clean start, some children really need this, probably some adults need it too. There is something special about the first page of the new book, the new uniform, the new shoes. When asked, almost all our year 7 had  a photograph taken at home before they came to school in their new uniform before their first day at their new school.

Even staff love their clean, new mark book, new planner and new diary. I wonder when do they become…

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Make the world – or your bit of it – a better place.

This is a version of a farewell evening celebration with colleagues, ex colleagues, support staff, and ex students, perhaps 200+. It was a wonderful occasion thanks to my amazing colleagues, fantastic students and supportive parents, there is no attempt to capture the atmosphere at the National College on Friday just my musings shared with an audience used to my storytelling.

I did my training in Oxford in 1980 to 81 before the majority of you were born, starting teaching in Witney, Oh hang on, no in 1981 I got married and could never have survived without the huge patience of my wife! Wood Green was a rural comp a great school to learn how to teach with wonderful colleagues. Secondary modern teachers who could and did teach really well, I learned the craft. My most telling moment at the end of Y1 invited to the options meeting when lists came out with those who chose our subjects – remember no national curriculum so anyone could do anything – we just had a few rules like ‘you should all do a science’. I picked up the chemistry list and was looking over it. Sat next to me the PE teacher who was hoping to introduce CSE PE. He was huffing and tutting and the deputy boomed “hey Tony what’s the matter?” He was shaking his head….”well I’ve got a right bunch here look Richard Smith, he’s useless he can’t even swim”. I thought to myself gosh I would not like a chemist who say couldn’t write well,or manipulate apparatus and the deputy boomed out. “Tony hey Tony You’re a bloody PE teacher, teach him to bloody swim. ***Colleagues now and again forget Ofsted SLT and heads and ‘bloody teach them’.

Back in 1981. I wanted to teach and inspire children with Chemistry, and science and I saw education helping people escape the black and white dull world of car factories and dead end jobs, maybe even failry dead end existences, where I had grown up. ( …”have life abundantly”)Escape into a bright new colourful world of opportunity, learning, culture, and moral purpose- sorry but I was the idealist “make the world a better place” All very grand.

When I moved to Nottingham I got a shock I arrived in 1985 to find the children were all a year older than I was used to. My Y9 were as streetwise as the Y10 in rural Oxfordshire. I learnt a lesson ***TRY and keep pupils young, help them enjoy childhood as far as you can, allow them to be excited and curious by discovering the world not by inhabiting their pre-adult dream or what is in fact a nightmare. I also met City kids and parents,  having harsh words with Angus, who no one seemed to  control, a colleague asked about my day, I related the story , it had been fine save this bad behaviour. My colleague asked what I was doing now… a class and then a club…”No John you go home, his Dad is …well he lives nearby, he’ll be here soon, you just go home, the last row resulted in 2 staff with broken noses.

I didn’t like the 80’s industrial action meant no one around before or after school or  lunch and no after school events. No chance to talk about my subject my pupils, their learning. Schools became black and white and not what I wanted. It was my lowest point and a time ready to leave the profession.

I looked to one last go at teaching as GCSE came in but felt a need to move school because the head wouldn’t let me teach my preferred GCSE syllabus. The one I felt would be best for our children “will it get us better results Mr Dexter?” How on earth would I know, we didn’t even know at that point know what grades would be used, we had a draft spec not proper ones – sounds familiar! So eventually I came to Trinity moving from County to City in 1989 with one small baby and another on the way Hannah – heck where have those years gone? They are both Drs now.

Bernard Bonner, the headteacher, told me I would be trusted, I could decide what to teach, and how to teach; that I would deliver or I would be sacked. He told me how wonderful the school was – others will recall it wasn’t quite so. We visited a feeder school St Augustine’s to speak to Y6 and one parent turned up, many Catholic families sent their children to non RC schools because…well they were better. In my first y12 lesson after 3 simple questions half the class (3) burst into tears please can you stop asking such hard questions! Literally and metaphorically OMg. They were great years in the 90’s working with other fantastic staff and making science work in the school, lots of innovation and fantastic science colleagues, and helping build a better experience for children more widely.  Introducing Salters’ Chemistry bought me and the pupils wonderful opportunities and results and a chance to travel to Canada and Sweden and to write a book. I wrote a chemistry book for the less able, that’s an old fashioned word ‘less able’.  So when we came to choose new textbooks for the double awards, I got a deal for the head of science, he came back to me I’ve ordered 120 of the texts for the ‘most able’ a copy each and a set for school. And I’ve ordered 10 of yours John they don’t take them home and it’s small classes – that earned me 30p x 10 = £3.00 ( less tax) and a five sides of paperwork about pecuniary interests. I am deeply grateful to those science colleagues who have always looked out for me and put up with my busyness and never moaned about having me in the dept – well not to me anyway!

I have really enjoyed my jobs over those 36.25 years- I’ve taught 7250 days less the 4 I’ve been off sick, so very fortunate with my health. I think that’s about 26,000 lessons plus  a few covers and for my fist 10 years a hell of a lot of parading up and down invigilating. A good few assemblies BUT as head of sixth form they were recycled, well evolved every 2 years, though some moved from using acetate to PowerPoint. I’ve worked with about 300 teachers and loved working with all of them …except 2. And I think I’ve taught just over 5000 pupils, well I say taught we’ve all shared the same space for a few hours – I think great lessons are still a mystery, magical, planned but brought to life. My favourite days were in the sixth form and grateful to those who were tutors with me and deputies. Sixth formers who need a good kick and a good love to get them through.

I came to Trinity and we had less than 1p per pupil per lesson to spend on chemicals; no worksheets copied, a few bandas for very special lessons but a very colourless world in  text and  a few simple diagrams in textbooks. Not much data, just my mark book, and lesson plans. I knew my classes inside out – much like colleagues do now. When I started Trinity had 2 telephones, 2 secretaries a somewhat absent lab tech but great teachers, and a great ethos which many staff, parents and pupils have bought into, experienced and have helped develop. It has been important to me and others to understand that ethos, to work at it, to help children and parents to see it – a moral purpose and a Catholic Christian faith.  I have no doubt those purposes are safe as I leave –Trinity should always help children to aim high, work hard, persevere, participate collaborate, and challenge. It will carry on , I hope we’ve embedded it very deep.

I’ve spoken enough to the staff so I don’t need to pass on any advice it’s been ignored enough already  🙂 but *** please use your teacher instinct your classroom nouse to deliver great lessons. ***Do not allow paperwork and data to get you down. Get a grip – better to know Johnny boy struggles with “this”, and will react well to “the other” and can learn this bit, than to know he is level 8.4.3 and to get to 8.4.4 he needs to cross his t’s, oh but hang on he’s slipped back by forgetting to dot the i, oh right back to FFT he’s now 8.3.4 and heck we must get it written on his progress sheet in purple. Where’s my purple pen? Sometimes educational policy feels mad!

  • I have some proud moments – winning an RSC medal and a nominated for a Salters award were good but the best bit was Bernard Bonner speaking to the press – “I’m amazed John won those, I’ve no idea how he did it.”
  • I am proud of the badges we won from external visitors – Ofsteds, HMI, Diocesan peeps though we have never greatly trumpted them, and  I am most proud of the letters and emails and conversations with parents and pupils over the years., and in recent days. We do the job to help children and families not to impress Ofsted – that’s why over 600 families want a  year 7 place this year.
  • I’ve been proud of the schools achievements for music and sport – sixth form county cup winners was a highlight, Sheku at the Barbican was an incredible moment but I’m just as proud of the child who, when the whole of Y9 play in concert to Y7 and Y8, I asked if he was excited to play and he said “sort of, I’m a bit scared”…go on I said…”well Sir can you remind me what those different black dots mean” then he played his part lifting the standard. I’m glad some of my sixthformers got to decent Universities, sad for those who ended up at Cambridge ( speaks a St Catz man) but just as delighted to hear of them being happy with family life, with voluntary work and especially wanting to send their children to Trinity even when they didn’t necessarily have a good experience themselves etc. Twitter brought to melots of ex chemists including one, now a director at CAFOD, email brought me an ex student winning East Midland entrepreneur of the year – he told me I run it like Trinity – I recently appointed a bloke who didn’t interview well but he’s been transformed because we gave him a job and believed in him.

 

I’ve been in leadership a long time 20 years sometimes thrust upon me because I wanted things to be done a bit better but maybe never quite managed that as colleagues will testify.  Many years with experienced wise and very passionate, sometimes too passionate colleagues, hilarious moments, difficult moments, Thank you for all of them. The heads job can be taxing – whenever a leader comes in and the sentence starts “I need to tell you about…” I take a deep breath – great leaders that they are, they nearly always also bring a solution along with a problem but not always and I have often thought —-how do I solve this if those clever, sensible experienced people can’t. Trinity has experienced, wise, hard working leaders, I’m sure staff get frustrated with us at times but we too have the heart for Trinity and a heart for the job you all do. I have to thank each of the 6 of them for tireless work, great personal support and a friendship which of the many aspects I will miss when I leave will be the most difficult for me. Between us 140 years at Trinity

Tuesday was Y7 parents evening two Y7 were awaiting their parents, one said to me “I think I know all the teachers names Sir”, and the other butted in “I think I know your first name Sir its John”….just a small reminder what a big big thing it is finding the teachers name. Then the first said “well that’s obvious it’s printed on the wall there by those photos. Why are those photos there Sir?” Me”well they are the school leaders” “what do they do ( such a good question!) me “they tend to go grey early and earn the most money…and  we try and run the school. Oh I see just like a family then, grandparents, parents…. How perceptive!

 

All of you have had different roles in the Trinity family- I hope you enjoy or enjoyed your time in the family, I hope you will keep in touch and most of all I hope you younger staff will keep that family atmosphere and the high ambition and in time pick up the baton. WE have created something special and I am very proud to have worked so long at Trinity and to have changed lives usually for the better and sometimes in the most unlikely of young people. That’s why I started in in 1980 and now in 2017 I might finish with QED > what we set out to do. “make the world a better place”.

I’ll add a few photos  later

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