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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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

Saturday period 4 – #Learningfirst conference @beyondlevels

So thought it might be appropriate for a small reflection on the rather excellent #learnfirst conference that I have been to today. There photo-1421749810611-438cc492b581were a couple of profound moments the second one was when was when Mick Walker (he the wise owl of QCA and curriculum) reminded us that the average age of teachers in the profession is 42. Though great to see so many today well under that age today. Hence his point that very few of them have taught without there being a national curriculum and an assessment system. They are ‘ after or during levels’ teachers  not ‘life before levels’ teachers. So for a very experienced (ie old teacher) like me who started teaching in 1981 we were reminded of the more creative ( frankly happier) days before the NC when it was up to us to choose what to teach ( how to teach) and what to assess although in secondary schools we still had to prep for O Level or CSE etc. A second moment came from a tweet from a  valued colleague who tweeted me in the middle of the afternoon “I hope you get time in the next few weeks to separate the lessons from the hollow truisms” it was a very important tweet and I think it’s a good reminder that some of the things we hear as teachers we know very well are true and in the twitter tweacher sphere can sound and probably are a bit trite especially to those not with you on a conference.

But there was inside that bubble a little key to a profound truth mentioned by Sean Harford and John Tomsett a reminder of what we came in the job to do and well worth us reminding those of us who are leaders why we still love the classroom. Shedding a light into the heart and soul of teaching, compared to “understanding employment law and cutting budgets”. But also a reminder to step back into the shoes of the teacher in the classroom. I did find myself feeling fairly optimistic in the morning because a number of comments and sessions just reminded us of the true purposes of being in a school and I think that was heartening mainly because so much of what I read and bother about even pick up from the odd conferences I go to, are focused on imposed “Stuff” appraisal, Safeguarding changes, OFSTED inspection frameworks, governance changes and yes budgets and employment law. I always try and talk with teachers and children every session every day to remind myself of our moral purpose. But hey ho  such is the nature of being a school leader there are a lot of sideline issues, so I was glad to just clarify my head space and start to think again about issues like the differences between marking, feedback tracking and progress. I am as committed as anyone to ensuring we minimise overload but t’s worth a fresh visit to the topic from a big vista not just the finer details, as we do need a system but no system should overburden classroom teachers. However teachers will need to record something after all. JT gave another great story to say he likes to ‘break the rules’ and that’s OK because he is the head and I am totally with him, as leaders we need to be able to say to a parent or even a child ‘we do have data but let me tell you a bigger story’. it is really bad that we ever let education get to become well this child is 4.3.2.1b – actually we didn’t but it sure let like that.  SH also made me think again about KS3 something I have done since publication of the Ofsted “wasted years” as to how we use KS3, and with every dept wanting more time for their KS4 we do need to look carefully. But Sean reminded us that there is no assessment at KS3 and thus KS3 should be more of an amazing curriculum adventure and not just the build up to KS4 I think that was a very helpful. I want our pupils to be inspired by passionate teachers in those three years between year 7 and year 10 and although I appreciate Shaw’s comments I do think we would need to start getting things prepared for KS4 because there’s just not enough time.image2

 

 

 

The final summary of this seemed to be that we should spend more time collaborating (agree) that we have to think how to engage those people that were unable to get to the conference ( agree – twitter is only a small world still for teachers, influential, growing arguably committed (Saturday conference!)) but we need to spread the story. Also that we should look to see if College of teachers would spur us all in the right direction ( again is the COT an issue dominated by twitter teachers?)

imageMost important I think to say that assessment has  got to put children first and children’s learning and if we get that bit of assessment right then it doesn’t matter on systems. That assessment helps us in classrooms and in pastoral work to show our children what to do next and as Mary Myatt reminded us to set high challenges. However at the other end of the school someone like me is going to have to be answerable to governors and to inspectors and perhaps others and then there is appraisal….So it’s worth just thinking what sort of system you set up in order to deliver those requirements. At least in school we can make our internal assessments suit our children and even if SATs or GCSE still feel like they are designed as something for measuring schools or measuring teachers we can grab back some control.

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I think it was very good to see so many governor colleagues there to hear the same messages and help us as school leaders to think about what information they need but also for them to see that some of the information we used to produce is unnecessary. I gave in and bought Marie Myatt’s book ‘High challenge low threat” and will resist the temptation to pass it on before I have read it thoroughly.  I love Mary’s commentaries and look forward to reading that and we’ll see if it makes any difference in our school. PS no reflection on Mary but I still have so much to read, dare I buy another without having applied all the ideas from the stack on my shelf?


As Mick Walker concluded,  we need to face up to the fact that assessment isn’t a bad thing it has to happen, we have to see where children are and help them move on and when they can’t we need our creative minds and pedagogy, and we have to do a bit more formally at certain punctuated times in the year. The purpose should not be lost to help pupils as they make progress and therefore more important than assessment is what marking we do and what feedback we give but actually it doesn’t have to be onerous long written comments or elaborate : blue penguin 3.6, in red or purple pen kind of stuff. We do assessment all the time back in the lesson when we noticed a child not really listening that’s really assessment isn’t it and we challenge them and got them back on task to help make progress. It’s just we don’t record all that and put it in a spreadsheet and email  for the head of department or the head teacher or the governors  who then pour over it and comments come back down the chain but make no difference to learning.

As a teacher born of the 80’s and a trad kind of person it’s all a bit back to basics: spend time preparing, teaching, assessing and helping pupils learning by interventions from that assessing – record what you have to but use that to drive your planning, and in the middle talk to colleagues to find creative solution cause talking teaching and learning with colleagues is one of the best bits of the job.

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Few thanks

Dame Alison Peacock for organising and inspiring

Prof Sam Twisleton for letting us into Sheffield Hallam

Teresa Roche who sent me a ticket when I nearly missed out

All the speakers and those who prepped stuff and the loads of enthusiastic teachers and Ed people who continue to remind me the Ed future might actually be safe.

oh and twitter people, some of whom came to life!

Oh and two of  my favourite quotes

Ros Wilson – What you doing? Why you doing it? What will you do with it? If the answer is you don’t know -don’t do it.

Mary Myatt – “The word assess comes from the Latin assidere, which means to sit beside. Literally then, to assess means to sit beside the learner.” 

 

 

Monday period 4 – Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin

This is blog to put storytelling back into the heart of outstanding work in school. However you wrap it up much of an attention grabbing, motivating, challenging moment is – a story.IMG_0640

I can see it being a challenge in Maths but beyond that storytelling should be at the heart of great lessons, great assemblies and purposeful conversations with pupils and parents. If I am honest it’s what I will miss most when I eventually retire – telling a story and engaging learners to start their journey of Education. In fact for some may even evoke memories ( hopefully good ones) of storytelling times.

And a big thank you for a tweet from Gareth Williams (@gwill72)
“Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen suggested our genus should be Pan Narrans, the Storytelling Ape

 

Why?reading

  • Stories hook pupils
  • Stores fascinate pupils
  • Stories stimulate curiosity
  • Stories grab attention
  • Stories motivate
  • Stories allow the teacher to light up the classroom

Stories underline challenging learning, introduce it, develop it, help with recall and stories can be short and brief and pointed, they generate curiosity

In the classroom
time for learning is precious, literally every minute is important so as a teacher you need to justify the storytelling. I think there are plenty of reasons (above) but a few minutes of a well told anecdote and gripping story grab attention, fascinate, drive up curiosity and frankly are at the heart of learning. I do apologise a little as I think my subject (Chemistry) has the very best stories! In fact since 1992 I have taught my lessons by stories. Those are highlighted separately but as part of my plenary, part of my conclusions or as the meaty part of the lesson are *stories* to help understand, build knowledge, motivate and synthesise. I want to say a very daring thing – we sort of know what makes a bad lesson turn out bad, we know what needs doing to turn the learning around from inadequate to satisfactory ( hey I know Ofsted use RI but this isn’t ofsted speak this is classroom speak). What I am not sure about is making good lessons become outstanding but I reckon decent storytelling sits at the heart. Not only grabbing attention, but hooks to help recall of knowledge and also to challenge pupils – if X really thought that back in the 21st Century – who is doing that now. If Y discovered that, then so might I. If this solved a problem of drug development, then I might be able to do that. To me it adds a moral purpose too.

Chlorine-LAnecdote > Chlorine- saved incalculable numbers of lives by purification of water; ridding us of cholera and other diseases but misused in WW1 cost many lives too. We have got a story worth telling and with some Wilfrid Owen poetry brings us to a position where pupils listen all the more carefully to my lesson on Chlorine “it’s properties and reactions” – and remember it and may even challenge them into their future career directions, or choices.

Assemblies
I guess this is more obviously where a good story tells the message. Elsewhere I have written of the disproportionate effort necessary for good assemblies but at their heart is brilliant storytelling

Here are two examples:

1 During the Football World Cup I saw an interview with Gary Linekar saying he practiced penalty taking 50 -60 times after yes after everyone completed training. So while others tired and exhausted went for their showers, he stayed out maybe on his own, and the secret = practice = hard work. Check the stats on his penalty taking too! Wow I thought we can help children understand greatness cannot be achieved overnight but needs hard work and with hard work -who knows?FullSizeRender

2 I once read of a Uruguayan rugby team who were lost in the Andes and had to consider eating the flesh of the dead to survive.  “Alive” is a great story full of drama and tears, with a continuous unfolding of the. Story from the 70’s to date. This became the basis for one of my very favourite post 16 assemblies ” when is it right to do something which is wrong?”

Pupils
As a long serving teachers, SLT ( and many others)  have all seen pupils “turn it round”. Pupils that are a bit like the pupil sat in front of you: yes the upset pupil, the bullied pupil, the bullying pupil, the “I’m not sure any more about A Levels” pupil. The poorly attending pupil, the one with special needs not being addressed, the one with stuff happening at home. So have a story to uplift, to bring hope, to challenge and to help. It’s not the main discourse with the pupil that’s much deeper but the view that there was someone like you who….got through, made good, turned it around, found an answer….might just be important to this pupil.

Parents
The same is true of discussions with parents. This is more challenging but knowing your parents and their story it might help to have an anecdote and a story to hand. I try never to conclude a fixed term exclusion meeting without sparing a separate word for the parents. I don’t try and engineer a story but I do need to help them – I might need to challenge them, to tell them a home truth, to put something up to date before them and a story might help.

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Cover
I’ve never been much good at cover lessons. I feel bad for the children that their teacher is missing and so I always try and teach them, especially as a senior leader I think it is really my duty and only rarely with other stuff pressing down have I said “sit down, shut up and do this work so that I can get on”. Of course I try and do the tasks set by any absent staff where that has been left, but peppering with stories can really help bring a lesson to life which might otherwise be dull.

Personal Stories? Maybe
Can we share personal anecdotes, stories from our own lives or families? Well I guess this is controversial and its up to colleagues to be comfortable but the occasional story can help with engagement. I have told of stuff that has happened relevant to the lesson.Perhaps mostly about incidents in my own journey with Chemistry – where I inadvertently made a few crystals of explosive Nitrogen Triodide, or where I met a Nobel winner and nearly embarrassed myself.image 2(3)

So here are some headings I drive around my brain finding for Chemistry Stories and watch for a post with some of these in more detail.

  • Origins of chemistry
  • History of chemistry
  • The story of an element
  • Characters  in chemistry
  • The obviously famous chemists
  • The less well known chemists
  • The bad chemists
  • The controversial chemists
  • Preset frontier chemists 
  • Events in chemistry
  • Discoveries in chemistry
  • Inventions in chemistry
  • New products from chemistry
  • Changed ideas in chemistry
  • Prize winning chemists
  • Daft chemists

Some Questions

Q1 If you are a teacher does your subject have great stories? And do those stories bring a magical enchantment to your pupils in your lessons?

Q2 If you are not a teacher, do you remember lessons, or school or teachers and is any of that memory from stories or anecdotes ?

If you work in a church school

Proverbs 1:6.  –for understanding proverbs and parables (stories) the sayings and riddles of the wise

Matthew 13:13     This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘ though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Genesis 39:17 Then she told him this story

 

part 4 – from good teaching to great teaching



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I am deliberately avoiding calling this “Good to Outstanding”. Ofsted can do what they wish but I want to see great teaching and learning and do very often. We teachers always try and produce good lessons and positive learning but we have bad days, pupils have bad days; whole school stuff disrupts, SLT disrupt! However we can consider moving from good to great with a sustainable manageable approach, bringing inspiration, inspiration, inspiration – that get’s pupils learning by definition! Here are my top ten:

 

1 Great teachers know their subject inside out

Not only do they have good knowledge of their specifications, they have a wide grasp of their subject. They understand it very well, they can apply ideas and synthesise them. This is not about pedagogy (yet) it’s about wisdom in the subject. It’s about keeping up to date, reading, identifying interesting stuff in the news or other media. It’s about maintaining a network of contacts to follow the latest developments. It might even be about visiting places of interest like museums or going to lectures, of picking up podcasts. It might even mean rereading text books. Always try to find time to read and expose yourself to new stuff in your subject.

 

imagesCA5QXQ852 Knowing the tough topics and lessons

It takes time to suss out what pupils find hard and of course it varies by ability and age but this is the next critical aspect to make a sustainable difference. What topics pupils find hard and challenging ; what skills they need that prove difficult to develop. Its about knowing the best introductions to topics, the best conclusions, the most effective assessments ( formal or informal) that help build confidence and show the teacher what needs to be done next. Our big duty as teachers of KS4 and KS5 exams is to ensure our pupils know what they have to do to achieve a given grade and then teach them to those standards. Be absolutely clear what they must do to get that A* or that E whatever is appropriate. Phrases like “they need to work harder” or “just understand more” are probably correct but of little value to the pupil who is willing and works hard. However knowing what they need to know and do, we work backwards to build that into the day to day week by week lesson plans. I’m not keen on lots of past papers and exam practice I’m very keen on my students understanding my subject. This is a big challenge when we all face new specs but hang it we all face that – so look out for blogs, read exam boards support stuff and  well much won’t change – if pupils find equilibrium difficult now in the GCSE spec, they probably will next year with the new spec.
3 Maintain enthusiasm, humour and jazz

imagePupils love a teacher who knows their stuff, they enjoy the relevant anecdote or story telling and they like a touch of humour. (Great teachers do not grow old they just lose their class) They like to try and distract you and …you know it. You have taught for a good while now, so you know what works, what goes down well and you should milk it for all it’s worth. Hone and refine the skills – you should feel like the conductor of the orchestra.

4 Know your pupils inside out

G0414677Some of the older pupils you taught when younger or came across in your football team or orchestra, maybe even had a run in as a head of year. You might well have taught an older sibling. So you understand the dynamics of the family and you know how they are likely to respond and for those you don’t know so well, you know your school community better. You also know how to handle the reactions. If you have to call home about homework there are after all only a few responses from parents: “thank you for telling us/so what/we don’t have any issues from other staff it must be you”. So you know what to say in response, you know who else to mention on the SLT if necessary. Exploit this to raise standards, to flush out more work and better quality work. All that investment in the craft of the classroom over recent years should after all bear fruit. It really isnt a blank canvas. You should know the G&T the SEND and more-so you should know what works and what doesn’t, so take it in your stride.

5 Systems

You know all ISS_Flight_Control_Room_2006of the school systems such as those for behaviour management and discipline those for reporting problems and those for reporting achievements and awards and merits etc. You know when reports are due and mocks or tests come along BUT by now you should be able to work a system which suits you and your subject. No whole school assessment system can suit every subject, so where do you need to branch out? When do you need your own mock, when do you need an extra assessment. You also know the rhythm of school and seasons, for example it’s not a good idea to leave a really difficult 3 week topic to mid winter; you know when illness is at its worst and can sort out work around it. You have a sense of the need for a really really outstanding lesson to lift spirits ( yours and theirs). You know what to do about ill pupils, about those who get stuck ( see me after the lesson? – not really going to work is it; what does work?). So within this class this group add a layer of your own systems to supplement the schools

6 Confidence and Resilience image

You can be confident in the classroom, a confident teacher, a confident behaviour manager, a confident leader. Ooze that confidence to your pupils and ooze it so much that your pupils pick it up. They need more confidence and resilience, make sure you pass that on to. How? Well by inspiring their progress and pointing out how far they have come -as much as the distance they still have to go. Help develop them as independent learners; it wont be easy and it definitely wont be less work but it will likely be a greater impact on their state of mind. Tell them -this topic is tricky and tell them when they’ve got it and of course when they have not got it. They need to go into your exam full knowing a) this subject is tricky b) I have to work hard but I have worked hard and c) I have been well prepared and can perform. It’s no different to the big football game or England vs Australia for the world cup ….oh hang on.

Then there is resilience, the ability to cope with stuff thrown at you and designed to throw you. You cope quite well with that, have a think how you do so, think what wisdom has brought you to the point of coping better now than the last time you faced that issue. You need to bottle this, not least for yourself ( see end of post) but also to start to work out how to pass this on to those pupils who need to develop it all too.

7 Activities and resources

You have plenty now, as above you know what works and what is still weak. Look ahead if that Powerpoint didn’t work last year it needs a tweak. That lesson which was rather boring and lost the pupils, does it need something extra. SOmetimes though, be frank the topic is boring the lesson can be boring and this bit of learning is boring that’s how it is but you should know this now.You alos know the subtle bits, you know sometimes that some content isn’t covered so well and needed more time but it’s now time for revision. OK you are the wise professional balance the time carefully for the pupils. When they say ” have we finished the spec yet?” reply confidently “not quite yet but we will and more importantly how do you feel your understanding of the spec is going?”

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8 Talk, converse, chat, discuss…..

I have taught for 34 years but I still love chatting Chemistry to my colleagues. Still asking what I might do to improve. Still observing an NQT or a student and thinking that is clever. Still talking about classes. I recently had a Y13 who were very quiet and so I spent much time with a colleague discussing what we might try to do, even discussed them with other subject staff. Talk to SENCO, talk to HoYr talk to parents and most important talk to the pupils. Check you spend as much time talking children and subjects as you do moaning about me (the head/SLT) or the government or the weather. However do have a moan. we all need that.

9 Data, pupils or surprises

imageYou must know by now there is a lot of data for you. FFT (new)  Sims, prior knowledge and especially exam board performance data on question level etc etc Use it but not without care or discrimination.  Your own analysis of previous pupils performance tells you a lot – do they do better on exams or coursework; this bit of this unit is really challenging. When you check how your pupils performed on Q3 of paper 1 last year that was to inform you as to what to do this year – the same or different. Yes maximise those marginal gains. Data should show no surprises. I had a conversation the other day ” We were disappointed not to get more A*”. Should some pupils have got A*? Did they get A* in other subjects? Were their various targets A*? If the answer was their prior performance  predicted no A*, like everyone be the optimist and sure “aim high” we all need that. However stop beating yourself up, be realistic, be of sober judgment, sure aspire, we heads love all that but the job needs to be sustainable and enjoyable as well as all the inflicted pressures – try not to add to that yourself or on your colleagues. However more important then being level 5b or blue ladder 6 or smiley face yellow is “you know this, understand that can do the other and NOW to improve you need to do this….” Knowing pupils not knowing data is critical. Data should avoid surprises – I had no idea she was that good/bad/struggling etc

10 Inspire, Reward and Challenge……and honesty

You teach a great subject, yes? You teach generally great pupils yes? You know how the classroom heart beats yes? Good, good, now capitalise on all that inspire them, praise them and when they slip challenge them or when they get it challenge them even further. Oh and you make a few mistakes, the odd idea doesn’t work – you are big enough now to admit it, share it and sort it, not under the table but on the table.

other responsibilities

My last point isn’t advice but challenge. My guess is you also have responsibilities three

1 Family – don’t neglect your rightful duties to families not just children but parents and grandparents too and friends who need you. It’s a challenge

2 Other responsibilities in school . After 4/5 years you might well have other responsibilities: pastoral as a heads of year or academic as a subject lead or other jobs like student mentor etc etc. You need to fulfil these duties swiftly, clearly and deftly but the key difference you make is as a classroom teacher and that is in the day to day in the classroom.

3 Yourself. I’ve seen too many people who end up burnt out, or cynical or the poorer in the job. It’s never simple to say why but make sure you look after yourself. Personally this is the one I find hardest. Getting to the gym, taking enough time off, reading for pleasure etc etc check out the #teacher5aday and enjoyreading what others are thinking about and doing and check yourself. Why not get a critical friend to help you? My previous head often emailed me at 10pm saying get off that **** computer and talk to the family.

imageAND be uplifted to be a GREAT teacher isnt even rocket science you can do it and be the great teacher you can be.

 

 

 

part 3 – from NQT to RQT

This is a bit new, even to me, the term RQT presumably a “Recently Qualified Teacher ( as opposed to retired, or rare, reformed, regular, revolutionary , and hopefully not yet a regretfully ..this could go on.

So with a full year (or maybe two) under the belt, what now?

1 Improve your teaching

You should be confident by now that you can sort out basic issues with learners. Like behaviour and background disruption. these are never going to go away but the mistakes of PGCE/training and even the odd error of judgment last year are put behind. By all means read, research, listen and then try new things but the basics of classroom craft should be learnt. Now ask yourself ” is there a better way to teach X or Y”. Relentlessly try to improve your teaching.

2 Improve the lot of learnerspareto_principle_improve

You have many resources, you might have a Y11 class following  their Y10 time with you and therefore new content but a majority will have been taught once. Get those reflective planners at the ready and where you put *** Must improve this if I ever do it again then…improve it. Oh you didn’t do that annotation, shame! Still revisit and re-edit and talk to experienced staff. You have tried one activity in the classroom to help learners on this unit/topic, so what else might work? Really work out what works in your classroom for different groups: SEND Gand T, PP, EAL after all you know the acronyms and know the children so sort out even better learning experiences for them. You are the true professional now…nearly.

Oh and another important matter, you have taught some of these youngsters before. You know their family a bit but you know them well, you know what they find hard or easy; a richer information than any data number – so really rock and roll in pushing their learning. It will not be easier, if anything it’s harder but it’s much much more effective teaching.

3 Keep even better records

Plan, annotate, add resourceIMG_2499s and spend a bit of time searching for new ones. Talk more with staff and pick their brains. think and plan ahead, ask around, join twitter or the TES forums and networks, get to a teachmeet. Hey throw that weight around and move from good to great!

 

 

4 Share

You felt like you were the end of the queue, and you were but you aint no more, so share your idesparkleras of what worked too. Do that in department meetings, tutor team meetings and mostly just in conversations in the staffroom. build some self confidence as a teacher professional in helping others. I had a great RQT colleague a few years ago and she showed me some new resources and ideas….yep teach the old dogs in school, new tricks.

5 Volunteer

You might have a label RQT but most pupils think you are a wise, experienced and knowledgeable member of staff. SO get stuck into some new things this year, take on a bit of responsibility that you are genuinely interested in. it could be extra curricular, sport drama music. It could be within the dept, there is plenty to do: use of data, work with EAL or SEND pupils. help with the planning of a new GCSE or a new  A Level. It might be within the pastoral work? are their seeds of your first promotion in getting to know much more about…..x, then get on with it.

6 Stimulation

The last two years had pressure now it’s you as an autonomous teacher ploughing ahead in the fields to plant in the minds of enthusiasm sat before you. What challenges do you need for yourself? Which classes have had a bit of a raw deal from you? tackle them. Check out the teacher standards, identify your weakest three areas and sort them.

7 TransparencyimageAll of us feel there were things we just about got away with, what were yours and what do you need to do about them? Did you not prepare for a parents evening but fortunately they were mainly pleasant. Did you let a pupil off but they didn’t bring any extra issues? Did the head ask for something and you forgot but heck so did she? What things must you do better?

8 Challengechallenge

Teachers can be professionally socialised by their schools. You have probably been in the same school for a this year and NQT year. There were things surprised you – the Y7 data collection came very early, you wondered why but obviously kept your mouth shut last year. Maybe you jot down a few questions like this to help improve the school. Share with an experienced colleague or even the SLT link you know best. Dont be afraid for a asking a sensible challenging question. there may be a good sensible answer but you might just have asked a really good one.

8 Keep talking

talk-clipart-RTAk5EqTLThe PGCE or training courses (remember them) have structures to support and help and encourage you. So too, NQT year BUT now you have made it to RQT and they all disappear. No more meetings about you it all becomes informal ( save number 9 below). So please keep talking to those you have found helpful or found as critical friends.

 

 

9 Performance Management

You now come under the appraisal umbrella. Chat to others about how it works, read the school documents. Do not see it as a threat, just find out what others do, prepare for you first meeting with an appraiser, who will hopefully know you well. Maybe look at what I said in 6 above and ask for some extra training in an area, or try and spend a lesson observing someone to fit the direction of travel you have set. Oh you haven’t set a direction? Shame cos in the rough and tumble of teaching if you don’t choose, the winds will blow you around.
storm

Monday period 3 – Qualified Teachers – What exactly do we mean by qualified?

There has been much discussion about qualified teachers and unqualified teachers in schools. Let me start off by saying I am qualified I have a degree in chemistry from a reasonable RG University (at the start of the river Thames)  and I could probably be a Masters but I never paid my £15. I have a PGCE and I did my NPQH. So I am I qualified I think.

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So does that mean I’m a good chemist? I hope so or at least I was.

Am I a good teacher? I’d like to think so.

Am I a good  headteacher?Well that remains to be seen.

  • There is a distinction between a qualification and the practice and ongoing CPD or training so I was glad to do my PGCE before I got started as a full-time teacher. However it didn’t prepare me for every eventuality. By the time I finished my first year I knew that I could survive in a classroom, I could manage behaviour and yes I could teach pupils some things if not most, but some parts of my subject I could not teach very well. In my second year I taught some things again and inevitably they were a bit better but it was in my third year where I really thought I could do with doing my PGCE again. There were some aspects of Chemistry and some children I just couldn’t manage to teach.

graduation-caps-in-airI hadn’t taught these topics or children successfully  in the first year or the second or third time and I faced up to “I really don’t think the class are going to be able to get this topic and I don’t know what to do about it” – and there was no internet, blogs or twitter.

During my NPQH I quite enjoyed the reading and research it was good to revisit and understand some proper educational research however during the whole of my time I didn’t meet a practising secondary headteacher ( save my own) only a lot of aspiring headteachers. There were aspects of headship I was worried about such as the competency regulations or managing budgets weren’t really touched upon but more than that. I was looking for some inspiration some passionate headteacher who would tell me that the job was better than the job that I was doing, a job which I thoroughly enjoyed .image

Well we aren’t strictly qualified for many things we have to do in school:

  • I have had to do pastoral work in areas that I’m a little uncertain about and whilst quite experienced now (=old) so I have seen most things but in my early days I worried about some of the sessions I had to lead on relationships/news and sone questions were bounced away.
  • Sometimes I had to cover lessons in fact I think I probably covered every subject I’m not really qualified for every subject so some of those cover lessons were not very good. My favourite cover lesson was an English lesson, I went in and the work set was carry on reading the novel. the pupils duly took out copies oftake a copy of the Wolves of Willoughby Chase. imageI sat down to do some marking I looked up all the class was staring at me, what was the matter. One boy said we don’t really read the book on our own. My next suggestion was to read around the class. “Why don’t we start with you Robert you can start reading.” Nothing happened. “OK ” I say so I started reading a little bit of the book with a view to asking them to carry time in due course – “No! Sir, you have to do all the accents.” This polite young teacher “Oh shut up and read quietly!”
  • Sometimes I’ve taught other subjects which for me includes Biology – I have no qualification in Biology. At my school (all boys ) we didn’t do O-Level Biology! Ok so I’ve read it up but it’s just not the same, I’ve no idea how important basics are in fact unsure what basics are. I’m a little better at Physics but when we had a shortage of ICT staff and I taught that I was literally two lessons ahead of my Y8 class. I have an ability to kill interest in any other subject – compared to what I genuinely feel I can do in Chemistry. It’s now 2015 and a long long time since I did my PGCE, so I do hope and so do my pupils- that I have moved on since 1981, after all I only had chalk, blackboard, and a delightful banda machine and a few textbooks – no IWB No internet, mind no data, no microchemistry and little contact with other teachers.image 2(3)
  • Sometimes I’ve spotted a gap in my lessons of a pupil’s literacy knowledge or maths skills; maybe these are not done in the other subjects  or maybe they are done badly maybe not understood or more likely finding it difficult to apply the ideas in a different room with a different teacher. I’m not a qualified mathematician but I sure can teach the Maths my way to help my Chemists. ( Something very important in the new world where we have 20% Maths in Chemistry BOO)
  • Most of my career I’ve been a “head a sixth form” and over some 20 years and many a time I’ve said to myself I think I’ve seen every scrape a post16 person gets into, then just before I finish that sentence a situation will present itself which I’ve probably never had to cope with . No qualifications help but experience, some little wisdom and a good instinct is what we rely on.

So it is more than just qualifications, but dont get me wrong  I’m a headteacher and I want qualified people – those with a subject they love and a passion for young people.

My best teachers were my Mum and Dad they had no formal qualifications and at home we had very few books or resources, I have blogged elsewhere about going to the library weekly with my Dad. So my parents fostered curiosity, integrity, discipline, character, diligence. They set high aims and ambitions – I wish I knew how. They seemed to produce a son interested in Chemistry and Science yet they had no scientific background at all. How? Well I suspect that was about partnership my parents and their attitudes and my teachers with their “expertise”. My classes at school all had 32 boys in – the same 32 every day every year but at home it was just me and Mum and Dad and their questions and interest in me. That made them very special teachers – we can all learn from people like that.

Mr Dexter at the RSC EIC 50th. School chemistry over 50 years

Mr Dexter at the RSC EIC 50th. School chemistry over 50 years

Questions

Q1 As it is obviour we cannot be prepared for every eventuality in a school, do we rely too much on “qualifications” ?

Q2 Are qualifications overrated? The most highly qualified person might not be the best teacher, let alone be able to communicate with the pupil who finds the subject very challenging.

Q3 Design the qualifications necessary for the job? – or get proper investment in CPD?

For those in a Church school

Daniel 1:3,4: Then the king ordered his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.

Hebrews 5:12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!

Proverbs 5:13 I would not obey my teachers or turn my ear to my instructors.

 

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.

Tuesday period 6 – “How was school today John?”

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This is my Mother who sadly passed away in March 2016 having just turned 96. I am very proud of her, and although she was a little more frail in her final days, she was as sharp and good humoured as I can ever remember. I spoke to her every day, and our conversation had a reliability about it. She always asked me ‘how was school today?” it’s a question I have heard from aged about 5 to 18, and it re emerged as I started my PGCE back in the 1980’s. It’s a genuine question about me, about the day, about the children I teach and the colleagues I work with. In some ways it epitomises my Mum and perhaps a good parent. It didn’t end there, at tea time, oh No. Any spellings or vocab was tested to destruction, my books were looked at, not checked just read with a genuine interest, delight and conversation. Of course as a very little person I was read to, and listened to with glee, with enthusiasm and with endless patience. She did of course have to tell me off occasionally but I’m sure for every harsh word were a hundred of encouragement and hope. She was the eternal optimist and there was always bags of encouragement to me and my friends: ‘never mind pick yourself up, there is always hope’ there spoke a survivor of the Coventry Blitz.

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As a young teacher I was a little scared about parents’ evenings, I had all my facts and wondered what I might be asked. I soon found and continue to find most parents want to know the same things wrapped up in many a question, it boils down to: how their child is progressing, how well they are doing ( just compared to where I think they should be) if their child is trying and what they as a parent can do to help – I need my Mum there to tell them! Over many years of such evenings and other meetings with parents I think this is what most conversations distil out at. Of course for some they really do want to know “what they can do” with something of an air of despair – perhaps about behaviour, or effort or attitude. Then there are a few who just want to have a go at the school, if not me personally but very few.image

Once I had got over my fears of meeting parents I moved into the rather arrogant place of wanting to tell some parents just what to do! I still hear some teachers say ” wait until I see the parents of ‘ ‘ and I’ll certainly let them know what their child is like and what discipline is necessary. I rarely hear this from teachers who have their own children. Once I got one of my own to bring up I understood how tricky, how tiring and yet rewarding and challenging is the whole parenting thing.
I have a little theory that many children behave better at school than they do at home and we might work on the assumption that the smaller indiscretions or bad habits in school, the more that will be on show at home. This means parents, often without the backup of a big organisation ( no tutor to refer to, no head of year, no SLT, no green referral system no access to sims) their tasks are even more difficult.

imageI am a strong believer in the vital link between pupil, parent and teacher. I am also keen on the support of the wider community, it’s one of the best bits of working in a faith school. However it just isn’t easy bringing up children, even now with my two grown up I keep thinking I’m glad not to be doing that bit again, especially in this generation ’twas ever thus’. However schools must work closely with parents, we must communicate sensibly with them. We have lots of data and lots of jargon – some of it we find confusing. Think of the word ‘target’ we might wrestle with ‘predicted’, ‘actual’, ‘FFT’ (which one again oh D) in school I do hope staff are clear but we need to keep it simple for parents. This goes against some of my other blogs where I argue a complex organisation like a school should not be summed up in a word or a number. Our reporting must be simple BUT not just data never ever just numbers – ‘oh she is secure level 3′ perish the day. I think it’s why parents get fairly incensed when they sense teachers use phrases from a bank of sentences on reports. I think they understand it must be difficult writing 30 or 60 reports etc but they really want to know we care, that we know their child and we can show that to them in an annual report and at a parents’ evening or if we bump into them

I realise there is another post here about dealing with awkward parents (awkward in being unsupportive and awkward in being helicopter parents) but I’m considering the majority, those who want to see their children do well and genuinely trust the school. They really want their child to succeed, discover their interests for themselves turn from children into young adults. They probably know there will be a few bumps in the journey, they will probably take their child’s view more often than we would like ( it’s our job to help show them there are 2 sides). It’s also worth reminding ourselves how intimidating school can be for some parents, especially if the school has had to have ‘a word’ with them about behaviour – already scared to come up to the school, they now expect an evening of ear bashing and don’t come.image

Key to me is the relationships built up with parents from the year 6 welcome evening to Year 11 or Year 13. Formal stuff like parents evenings, letters, emails, web stories, local media stories, imageand informal at the school show, or on the touch-line for sport or after the concert. In fact I think it even goes beyond Y11 (Y13) beyond that. We should ‘keep in touch’ not formally but as opportunity arises, a kind of ‘once a X school parent and pupil, always a part of the community’

imageEx pupils and parents are the future parents and grandparents, maybe the future teachers, or support staff, or governors, or political leaders. That’s why community is important, and ethos and expectations. Year 6 welcome gets easier when a majority “know” what a school stands for, and expects of their children and of them. They might want help too on bringing their children up – help with e-safety on substance abuse, on bullying etc. A headteacher visit from Brazil recently told me he had school part 1 and school part 2 where parents went to school in the evening for basic skills ; literacy, numeracy, IT etc I know we are beyond that but the school commitment to parents was a vital part of the role.

Our recent visitors from China wanted to know how we communicated our ethos into our children and I found it difficult to explain – we just do! In thinking of an answer I realised again the importance of considering the parents and carers and remembering they too have bothers, concerns and stuff happening in their lives. I’m not saying we compromise behaviour because of what happens at home but we need to consider it, support, help and educate.

Parents please engage, schools can help, pupils can grow in confidence. Last words to my Mum “How was school today John?”

I first wrote this on a Friday in February 2015 and sadly on Saturday night/Sunday morning my Mum fell in her flat and broke her hip. We spent most of the day being wonderfully looked after by the NHS – thank you Queens Medical Centre. After an ambulance ride, A and E, assessment and onto a ward, they decided to get her a new hip ASAP. So by Monday lunchtime she was with the surgeon and by the evening she had a new hip and was sitting up in bed chatting away, drinking tea and guess what? Yep she straight asked me “how was school today?” 🙂

Some questions to consider

Q1 Do young staff need specific training in speaking with parents’?

Q2 What do the most effective schools do to engage parents who are scared of school, hate school or are not so interested in their child’s education?

Q3 Do parent teachers make better teachers?


 

If you work in a church school:

Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Colossians 3:20  Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Exodus 20:12  Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Proverbs 6:20 keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

 

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.