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

Here is the Link to a few comments on fb

Wednesday period 5 – Homework, trying to make it work better.

As a classroom teacher for a generation, I’ve always set homework, doable, purposeful homework. As a chemistry teacher my favourites involve some experiments at home ( testing pH etc) but I do like research too – it’s what we chemists do of course. Many a pupil having loved to ‘find out’ – they either tell you so or else their work is the proof. But frankly there is a lot of bread and butter homework too: finish this, annotate that, read up here, a test on that…..

Homework itself covers a multitude of activity and areas, the debate over primary pupils doing homework is likely to be different to those in key stage 4, so let’s try and be pragmatic. As a teacher I think there are lots of reasons for setting homework and they have to outweigh the hassle of ensuring its always done. My top reasons are to do with widening interest, bringing more enthusiasm and passion for my subject, getting a clearer understanding and testing that understanding and my worst reason is ‘following a school policy’. However as a senior leader I think it has to be articulated carefully to parents and children as to what they have this homework to do and a duty to make sure there is not too much, its active and manageable and support offered where necessary.img_3648

Our main reasons for setting homework are:

  • To establish good habits and in due time to help create independent learners amongst our students.
  • To complete activities and work that aren’t covered in a lesson or are carefully designed by teachers to enhance learning.
  • Because we think children can expand their horizons with some learning activities done outside the classroom.
  • There isn’t enough time in school (25 hours) to do everything and we like to offer as broad a range of curriculum as possible. So there really isn’t enough time
  • Homework works – it helps to deliver success.
  • The government and Ofsted seem to think it’s a good idea and actually so did our pupils too!Academic research concludes: “homework contributes to achievement at secondary level and the effect is stronger amongst older pupils”.
  • it might just help build self-respect and some resilience

So during the 2015-16 academic year we carried out some simple and definitely non-scientific research into an important aspect of our school life homework. this at a time when some schools declared NO HOMEWORK

imageWe began by asking our pupils a series of questions – we did make an important assumption that our community of parents, pupils and teachers see a value in homework so this wasn’t about forgetting or abandoning homework. It was more to pinpoint any stressful areas for each group and see what improvements we might make.

Understanding the importance pupils attached to doing homework was pleasing to read and we were even more encouraged by the number of responses and the ‘common sense’ shown by everyone. A few pupils managed to contradict themselves but the general message was ‘homework routines are about right’.

picjumbo.com_HNCK3576The following action points came from the pupils:

  1. Please set homework early in the lesson and not in a rush at the end.
  2. Please set realistic deadlines–sometimes all our teachers set homework with short deadlines.
  3. When we have two teachers in a subject (e.g. in Geography or in most sixth form lessons) please don’t overload us.
  4. Make it clear how we can get help in your subject.
  5. If teachers can do so, please balance harder homework tasks with easier ones and longer tasks with shorter ones.

We discussed these with teachers and most are achievable and manageable. However, for different subjects there are different issues for example, number 4 above, some pupils found it difficult to log onto a site in a subject, but some just found the content difficult, so they each need a different type of ‘help’. We were pleased to see there wasn’t very much moaning about ‘worthless activities’ which showed pupils value their homework and our teachers avoid time-wasting undertakings. We were proud that our pupils approached homework (and the survey) in such a mature manner.

Parental responses were high: 59% Y7; 70% Y8; 64% Y9; 71% Y10; 25% Y11; 17% Y12&13. We expected the sixth form and parents of older students to give a different response as their private study work is completely understood to be intimate with their work in lessons and a huge factor in any success in those very demanding post 16 lessons or in order to aim higher with success at GCSE.

imageThe following action points came from parents.

  1. Please could teachers spend some time explaining how to revise and study your subject?
  2. Can teachers avoid ‘research’ which is just a general “use the internet.” If possible give some specific websites to work from.
  3. If teachers know useful books or other resources please tell pupils about them.
  4. When there are two teachers in a subject (say in Geography or in most Sixth Form lessons), please do not overload the students. Communicate with colleagues if you share a class.
  5. Be realistic about the amount of time a homework task might take.
  6. Try not to overload pupils with too much holiday homework.
  7. Please try to turn around homework/give feedback fairly quickly but at least in a reasonable time.

Once again we think these are all manageable and we are pleased so many parents are involved checking books or checking diaries and of course giving support and help on occasions. Most homework is communicated to our parents via a child’s contact book even if that says“science homework–see exercise book”. We understand sometimes as a school we seem to say homework isn’t complete and that a parent may not know what it is the child hasn’t completed. Occasionally parents ask us to email the work. In very exceptional circumstances we might consider that but it is quite onerous and we are in danger of the pupil being left out. It is the pupil who needs to be clear and if he or she is struggling we should attend to those reasons which might range from confusions through lack of understanding to…laziness. There are several ways we think parents can  help:

  • encourage a good attitude to learning the value in doing some further study beyond school lessons
  • helping with routines to do homework, a space at home or a time and of course a look over books and an interest in the work being done
  • support the work – don’t do it for them but for example if a pupil is stuck often it is follow up work from what was done in the lesson have a look over the material a few pages earlier in exercise and text books
  • help pupils to see homework enhances what they did in the lesson.

Finally, in our survey/research we put these points to staff and had about 80% response:

  1. They agreed there could be inconsistency across subjects about how much homework is set (e.g a subject seeing pupils once a week might not be able to set homework every week).
  2. There is a workload issue – we try to turn work around in a reasonable time but it can be a challenge at certain periods e.g. If a teacher has other classes who are preparing for exams, or when we are writing reports. We don’t want to ‘not set’ work.
  3. A lot of teacher time goes on chasing up homework – often it’s the same pupils and often despite sanctions.
  4. There is extra help available during lessons or lunchtime and after school–quite a lot of pupils don’t take up the opportunity.
  5. Homework often looks like it’s been left to the last-minute and is rushed.
  6. Some of our pupils need to see their homework as important, shown by:
    • Handing it in on time.
    • Understanding there is less help if we are chasing you, more help if you try to more progress that way too. No one was ever shouted at for not understanding.
    • Not being rushed.
    • Being properly completed – including being well presented.
    • Not being just copied and pasted from the internet.

image

We will be trying to make sure teachers explain clearly what to do if pupils are stuck with homework. We have a homework club after school each day Monday to Thursday from 3.30 to 4.30 with staff and Sixth formers supervising,there are even refreshments. This club operates for Y7/Y8/Y9. For other years there is a similar arrangement  but students work on their own and in silence using the facilities in the School library. Again research shows attendance at school based study support is associated with positive effects.

Overall, it was good to see a general confirmation of the processes we use and a common understanding of the value (and snags) with homework. A big thank you to everyone who contributed.

….and for the few cycnics check out this story of the boy who did homework by the light of a local McDonalds in Cebu the Philipines_84190737_daniel

Some Questions

Q1 How does your school encourage pupils to engage in homework?

Q2 Are there other benefits to setting homework and are there other annoyances?

Q3 What other ways might we help young people become lifelong learners?

Friday Period 6 – 10,000 hours or 25 Years -> Greatness?

25thannWe said farewells at the end of term just a few, six colleagues we waved goodbye to BUT we also celebrated three reaching a grand milestone – 25 years. Three highly respected colleagues who just completed 25 years at one school, ours, Trinity.

 

So 25 years ago what was happening – well lots: Labour hated its leader, one Neil Kinnock and the Tories were on a “back to basics” campaign with Mr Major. More important PC world opened its first shop and Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web. So schools themselves look very different today but in a way they don’t – we had great teachers then and we need them now and the tools of the trade might change but the craft and trade do not.

berners-lee-570x366

Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the WWW

When teachers join any school , experienced or not they are still new and these three join five other colleagues who have also completed their 25 years -thats 8 of us nearly 10% staff. It is a very special achievement and I’m delighted that our governors understand that and reward those colleagues for their commitment. It is not exactly equivalent to a testimonial for a loyal footballer but it is a recognition.

It did make me Unknownthink about Matthew Syed’s book ‘Bounce’ which has been all the  rage in schools, and incidentally well worth a read  – I actually met a headteacher who bought it for the whole of his Y11, then moaned that the girls performance improved but the boys didn’t and then apparently Ofsted had a go at one of their ‘gaps’ getting bigger. Thankfully whether true or anecdotal we are in new Ofsted framework. But back to Syed who seems to say put in 10,000 hours hard work and you get to be really good.  Some have pushed that idea for learners maybe coupled with a bit of growth mindset and Dweck. However it got me thinking about teachers – 25 years must be well over 10,000 hours, nearer 18,000  of teaching in same place and I think he is right these teachers have become experts, really good, both at teaching and at teaching in our school and in leading. People who stay a course like that make the school effective these are the characters in my school who have helped understand the ethos, mission and moral purpose and yet also help create the ethos and therefore also help to sustain the ethos. These are the people colleagues turn to when somebody comes as a new teacher ( well and also old teachers and even older headteachers) and when they wonder ” Is that what happens here? Do they really do that?” for better or worse the answer is known.  The colleagues around say yes that is what we do, it is delivered by an incredible level of consistency. They are without doubt respected by pupils, parents and colleagues. These are the colleagues who have  helped establish traditions, activities which over many years we have evolved and some we changed if they’ve not been effective, some we’ve dropped if they’ve been ineffective. We’ve redone ideas and modified them and we have a rich seam of curricular and  extra curricular whole school activities.  We like new and young teachers, don’t get me wrong, we like their passion, enthusiasm, ideas and approaches and we like to learn and try things out but we also have a bit of an instinct as to what works and what doesn’t. As a church school that includes our whole school events like Masses or liturgies but it includes sports days and swimming galas, music concerts etc it includes prize-giving and it includes a discussion such as ‘should  we run prizegiving this way or that way’. What do we stand for, and how do we live that out? Reliability, longevity, tradition, stability, consistency …outcomes – I think that’s what we get.

Our school has done well in outcomes and it is an outstanding school, it’s also very popular with parents and I could not help thinking the contribution of longstanding wisdom is pretty critical.  High turnover at the top of other organisations including the DfE is what we often see across educational landscapes maybe the lack of longevity brings a lack of stability and contributes to an occasional lack of depth or a frequent lack of understanding and frustrations, maybe even a lack of progress, the fact that the standards are not as high as they should be. My other favourite book Collin’s ‘Good to great’ would lead to a similar conclusion. In my early days (80’s) of teaching you wouldn’t expect any responsibility point or pay increases until a couple of years worth of Y11 exam results were under your belt – prove yourself at the sharp end.gd to g8

Fast turnover might make a business more efficient and it might make a company run better but whether it actually gives better outcomes I don’t know,  but one thing I do know is that these long lasting teachers  hold something very special in their hands because it’s from their hearts, possibly their souls. They have invested a huge amount of time and their life  in the school. It might be why our retainment remains pretty high? We always say to young teachers that rules for discipline are important and they must be applied consistently and clearly, when you’ve got people at school for such a long time, the consistency  is probably second to none. However it is also about accountability for me – whilst I’ve written elsewhere about accountability to governors, to the diocese, to OFSTED, to parents and pupils, there is a greater daily accountability which is to those respected colleagues. As well as being accountable to them for day to day decisions, we have to make the decisions together and these are the supportive conscientious peers, if they make a criticism it is a genuine criticism, it has to be heard because they have given so much of their time energy and yes their life to the work of the school. I just wonder if anybody out there really understands the huge effect of stability and longevity. Our leadership team has now completed 133 years at the school 77 of them in leadership.  I can’t help thinking if something of the success of the school is not down to the fact of the commitments and longevity of those people. I do hope it continues and I do hope stability that we enjoy is something that others can consider in their organisations. Oh and PS we bid farewell to an unsung hero in our office, a secretary retiring – after 27 years with us.

imageTwo years ago I came to teach a lower ability Y10 class, never taught any of them before and as I called the first register I had taught an older sibling or parent of 21 of the 26. When I set them their first homework everyone handed it in save one boy lets call him Ryan –

“Your homework wasn’t done Ryan” Ruan’s shoulders shrug.

“Why not?” said I, “should I ring your older sister?”

“No Sir please not Rebecca”

“Ok your older brother”

“No No. He’ll be very cross ”

“Ok I’ll call on your Mum on my way home. Ryan:”

“Sir ……can I give it you at break”

Gosh the job just got a little easier.


For those in a church school

2 Samuel 14:20 Your servant Joab did this to change the present situation. My lord has wisdom like that of an angel of God—he knows everything that happens in the land.”

Proverbs 4:6 Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.

2 Timothy 2:2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.


Some Questions

Q1 What is the right balance in schools of new ideas and older wisdom?

Q2  Is it possible to avoid complacency in the search for constancy?

Q3 What is your experience of the wisdom of elders?

Q4 A qestion raised after a twitter conversation with Jon Thompson @poachermullen  just how will the profession adapt as it ages and as teachers have to work longer? How do we ensure those wise experienced staff remain enthusiastic and able to do the job? How do we plan for that? Looking after each other? How? Secondments during the career? What do you think?

Why be a PGCE Student Teacher?

By Chris Hall @chrishall1204

 

contemplationWhy would you want to do a PGCE? It is often a question that gets put to me by many of my family and friends, as well as people I’ve just met, on an almost daily basis. Many people see the headlines in the newspapers and the media portrayal of the teaching career is one which may scare many potential student teachers out of teacher training. So why should people consider it?

Tutors and Mentors

Over the course of the PGCE you will assigned a university tutor who is responsible for the ‘university side’ of the course, such as delivering lectures, seminars and marking assignments. These wonderful individuals are experienced teachers in their own right and are there to support you over the year. The university tutors will also have the opportunity to come in and observe you at various points throughout the year and see the progress you have made since the previous observation.

During the time at school, a ‘mentor’ will be your point of contact at the school and will observe your lessons and from that, help you improve as a teacher. Approximately two thirds of your time spent on the PGCE course, will be within school and intertwined between these periods will be days spent at university which give you the opportunity to reflect upon your progress and practice as well as share ideas with your peers and experienced tutors. It’s safe to say the personal and professional skills you develop over the year is phenomenal!

Peers

imageAs touched upon earlier, other student teachers will play an important role in your year! The friendships and professional relationships you develop with each other is another exciting element to the course, and by supporting and helping each other, the time spent on the PGCE course will go by even faster, on a course in which the weeks already fly by! Another advantage of developing lasting friendships on the course is the sharing of good resources between each other. This will not only help build up a ‘bank of resources’ which you will find useful for your NQT year, but also help to reduce the time spent on creating resources, helping to create a better working-life balance.

The Children

The main reason why people decide to take on a career in teaching is to make a difference to the next and future generations and have the opportunity to share your passion for a subject which you love (and hopefully they students will love too!). It is safe to say that not one day of teacher training has been the same with each day offering a different combination of challenges and rewards. Some of the words students come out with are enough to make roll on the floor laughing out loud and the relationships you build with the students will ultimately determine how involved you get during your school placements.

Surviving

It feels a shame to have to mention ‘survival’ on a post which is littered with positive aspects about doing a PGCE but I feel it should be done, and may give some prospective teacher trainers a few tips!

  1. Leave work at work – try to get into a habit of leaving the majority of your work at school. As a PGCE student you will be on 60-70% of an NQT timetable. This will result in you having an hour or two a day at school as well as time after school in which you can mark, plan or maybe observe a few other teachers. Get a routine, a timetable if you will of work you need to do and make sure it is manageable!image
  2. Don’t try and re-create the world! As a PGCE you are bursting with ideas about how all your lessons are going to be revolutionary in the world of teaching, however, outstanding lessons take a long time to plan and resource and the fact of the matter is you will burn out rather quickly if you have other roles to do on top of that, so as I touched upon earlier, use your peers to come up with resources together, swap them, and make your life (and your friends) lives easier!

I am writing this blog for John after the last day of my PGCE course, and write it with both sadness and excitement! It has been an emotional, tiring and rewarding year in which I have come out the other end a better teacher and a much more resilient person!

So why do a PGCE course? Because there is no other job quite like teaching!