a blog for the ambition literacy campaign in Nottingham

This was written for the Nottingham City Council campaign and is on the NCC intranet but it might get more publicity for reading out in the open

 

We are encouraging more children to read as part of the council’s new literacy campaign ‘Ambitious for every child’. We know that an early love of books and reading can help children to be more successful in the future. In this blog, our Education Director John Dexter reflects on his early experience of books and the impact it had on his life and teaching career…

The great children’s writer Roald Dahl said of reading: “I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.”

When I was a child, we had very few books at home, only one or two suitable for children, so I read those several times, but my Dad took me to the library every few weeks. I loved those trips, partly being with him, which was rare, and partly as I entered a new world every week:

  • Outer space, imaginary planets, inconceivable journeys, hideouts, far off islands, distant countries, danger…
  • The world of pirates, ancient peoples, Victorians, Romans, firefighters, commanders, heroes, ghosts…
  • Safely in a war zone, a baking hot African country, the freezing ice sheets of Antarctica, the beauty of mountain landscape, the enchanting Far East, the hill stations of India, an adventure with superheroes…

Sometimes escaping, often fantastic, occasionally scary, always learning. But so grateful for the world I entered. It’s not just about learning the basics of reading to access the modern world, it is about being literate, about learning and sharing, enjoying and getting ideas, or having ideas challenged.

As a teacher, you might expect me to say all this but I was never very comfortable with English, let alone English Literature (a subject I failed aged 16). Not until I met with Mr Scholar (great name for a teacher). As I chose to study science, my school insisted we had “extra” English lessons – I almost despaired but probably not as much as Mr Scholar. So we came to an agreement, there was no syllabus, no exam so why didn’t he tell us what he loved to read: fiction, non-fiction, plays poetry… that set me on the road to enjoying reading and that helped me become literate.

When I worked in secondary schools, I am proud of the literacy challenges we put in place: every Wednesday, 25 minutes of silent reading, save those who struggled to read helped by trained sixth form literacy coaches. This routine said:

  1. reading is important enough to have on the secondary curriculum
  2. there is a need for time set aside to read seriously and
  3. promoting discussion between pupils and between staff and pupils about reading, about books, about fiction or non-fiction is healthy
  4. ambitions can be fuelled by literacy

For me that was great, I honestly believed reading was just so undervalued. I once made my Year 11 Science class read aloud for a whole hour lesson. At the end, one student said: “I can’t believe how much I have learnt Sir, it helped me make sense of many of our lessons.” This said something about me, probably, but I just hoped he would read the rest of the book.0_Hoodwinked-book-bench3

I was sooooo enthusiastic to get my own children to read. But here sits a secondary teacher with no idea how to teach reading, so it was the obvious: read to them, read with them, listen to them, tell them stories, find stories, get them to find stories… and I remembered that’s what my Dad did too; he took me to the library and he took books out as well. Adults can model the importance of reading by reading themselves, set aside time, and help choose books or give them as gifts.

I am envious of the wonderful array of books available today, and at reasonable costs, but the Dolly Parton Imagination Library sending 60 books over five years to small children offers a great opportunity to start reading, start imagining, to relax reading and even to find a better balance in life. But most of all to learn and enter the funny, exciting and wonderful world Dahl describes.

Go on, be ambitious and give it a go.

If you wish to support Councillor Mellen’s big read, please do so here.

OR BETTER Still tell us all about a book you loved as a child, or loved reading to your children or grandchildren or would give as a gift?

Friday period 3 – Secondary schools – trust, thank and love your Primaries

As a new head I have been reminded of that infamous Donald Rumsfeld quote. Slightly misquoting him: “There are aspects about being a headteacher which I think I know about: teaching, learning, assessment, results, data, behaviour, systems, child protection etc Then there are some aspects I know I do not know so much about, for me these include primary transition, special needs, curriculum planning, budgets and HR. Then of course I have found things I never knew I was supposed to know about like counterterrorism, energy status, injections. Fortunately I have really good people around me helping me, as well as my own mentor. I decided to include in my first term a visit to the primaries associated with our school and meet the children and staff without being a nuisance. I already knew my primary head colleagues in our Trust were good people from previous meetings with them but what a privilege to see them in action in their own schools. It was also special for me to find many ex-students now teaching or being TA’s in those schools. Wonderful to see young people who we had helped through the sixth form with progress into HE and UCAS decisions and A Level stress who got into their chosen courses and now were proving to be great primary staff.

When I was a head of sixth form it was obvious to me that we benefited post 16 from all the work staff (including me!) had put into the pupils in KS3 and KS4 – not just their learning but also their attitude and behaviours. Why had I never thought about that in the same manner when considering our primaries. So here are some reasons why I love our primaries:

1.Managing Change. imageThere may be different sorts of change in Primary schools but they are still having to work hard on stuff like ‘life without levels’, like SEND. Whilst I know they don’t get so much PP time I had overlooked staff are not necessarily part of big teams for support, help and sharing. They may do so with other schools but it is still time consuming and like us they are all committed to delivery in the classroom. This means it can feel lonely managing change – but they get on with it!

2.The bread and butter work imageThe basic are no different, teaching, learning, behaviour, attendance, etc The pressures might be a little different (Ok so no difficult teenagers) but I had forgotten the issues as my own children are now grown up and they have to cope with the usual ups and downs of life but meeting issues of ill parents, or bereavement perhaps for the first time. I’ve not written much about our buildings, just to say we lost our bsf and have had very little capital investment but done our best to look after the site even with a road in between. However these might fade to be less significant compared to some of the issues with little people and their facilities. So often I was reminded of my favourite quote from a colleague. Better to be a good school in poor buildings than be a ……

3. Know your children. In our primaries the heads seem to know all the children, the children so look up to them and are so pleased when the head notices their progress which they do often.Well hang on I have the same aim, I try to ask pupils how they are getting on but looking again at my intro I have people to help me with budgets, HR, cover. They have help and they might be smaller but I was still impressed they keep such a high priority on the learning going on. They are also fairly expert in everything – I’m quite good at science and reasonable at maths and ICT and a few other areas but a bit clueless on others like Art ( despite my efforts) – back in the KS2 arena they seem to know everything. I was reminded just how great are great primary teachers.

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4.The work. I saw so many enthusiastic children and teachers and all working really hard, I was literally blown away by what I saw going on and by what was in the books and indeed the marking and feedback. My previous admiration of the primary teacher moved up a few notches. I met some Year 0 children searching for photos on the computer, copying and pasting, I started by being impressed and then was a bit scared about what they will be like by age 11 when we get to see them in a secondary.

image5. The ethos. If reader you have seen my blog about Chinese heads visit they kept asking me how we got the school ethos over to the children, a question I continue to think about and wrestle with answering. Well here was something to help my thinking – it starts in Primary. This might be because we are faith schools in a RC MAT and so the ethos of an RC school is fairly clearly defined, we have priests who work with us all, we even share our chaplains. Whether it’s that or something else I can see just how much we benefit from the way our primaries are bringing up their children.

So here I am bowing down to the empire of the Primary sector, the Kings and Queens and the foot soldiers and saying thank you for all you do. It confirmed for me the best reasons about academisation was working even more closely together with the primaries to serve our community. A community where the little people I met asked me if I knew their older brother or sister at “your school” – some I did but some I didn’t; a confession none of those heroic heads would be ignorant about. A community where many of the primary staff went to our secondary or have children at our secondary or worship in our parish communities. I so thank you for allowing me a glimpse into your world, thanks for all you do, keep it up. You have helped me with my vision, I hope we can continue to work together over transition and in the future I suspect we might find ourselves working even more closely together. In every sense we really are in this together!

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Here is a challenge- work with a feeder primary organise teacher visits maybe half a day – see their job; planning, teaching, marking, assessing, feedback see how little people tick. Then swop, and let them see you. Have some time discussing with each other what you find out about the job. I bet it leads to school improvement – bet!

Questions

Q1 What ways can we help each other without any patronising or unnecessary attitudes?

Q2 What ways might we improve transition, especially with the issues around admissions?

Q3 Closer ways to work together for primaries and secondaries in the future?

For those in Church schools

Ephesians 6:2-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth”. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

1 Peter 2:17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God and honour the emperor.

Acts 24:3 Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude.

Ephesians 4:16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

 

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.