Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Comments on the "Teachers need to be Industry Specialists, they don't need to be a Qualified Teacher....."

And the battle now is on....

In one corner the PGCE QTS Degree Qualified Teacher, the other an "Industrial Specialist"

Firstly lets get down to facts.

  • Being a "teacher" is not all subject knowledge. Teaching is about progression, diversification and being able to project knowledge to students, all of whom are individuals with different learning styles, abilities and motivation.
  • Teaching is also being a designer of lessons and schemes of work which although sounds like the re-invention of the wheel, means that every time a syllabus is changed, your lessons need to reflect that.
  • A teacher needs to understand how to mark and give appropriate feedback.
  • A teacher needs to be technologically savvy to understand and use technology in a useful appropriate way.
  • Many teachers have come from Industrial backgrounds and have experience of the "big wide world".
  • A teacher needs to provide a safe forum for the students in his/her care
  • A teacher needs to understand child protection and safeguarding
  • A teacher needs basic first aid skills
  • A teacher needs to have the patience of more than a saint.
  • A teacher needs to have some understanding of physical and mental disabilities of those individual students.
And of course....
  • That teacher needs to jump through hoops depending on the Senior Management of the school
  • That teacher needs to attend meetings with curriculum, pastoral and parents. Mainly after school, with some meetings being meetings about meetings
  • That teacher needs to keep up with the changes of the subject matter
  • That teacher may have to use holiday times taking students away on UK or even Global trips.
So you see its more than just having the knowledge. I am a great believer in using "Industrial Specialists" to give talks or presentations to a class, but to suggest that they are as good as, or even sometimes better than a Qualified Teacher is just plain stupid.

As I have always stated:

"Think its easy being a teacher? 

Walk in a teachers shoes for an Academic Year and you will soon see!

Monday, 22 August 2016

New Year and New Start?

The count down has begun! 

In a few weeks the new Year 7's will be pouring into schools, some excited, some scared, some confident and some feeling like they own the place. 

In an ideal world all those students will be appearing in school uniform, neatly pressed and clean with a full set of pens, pencils and an open enquiring mind. In this world, all the students will be kind and compassionate to each other, be polite and well mannered. No bullying and no name calling and no leaving children to stand alone at breaks.

But we don't live in this ideal world. Schools throughout the country will offer totally different learning experiences. Some schools with unqualified teachers, some schools with no clear ethos on behaviour and discipline, some schools who have handpicked their students, some schools where its more about behaviour control and some brilliant schools. 

So how do you know that your child is going to have a positive learning experience?

Firstly a quick tale. I remember teaching in a school that quite frankly was scary. The students basically marauded like pack animals, others running in and out classrooms and the uniform was a joke. In one class I had two students who were polite, clean and both told me about how they were frightened at school. One of them told me that their parents believed that they should go to any school and that they would somehow be a big fish in a small pond. How wrong they were and how much I wanted to contact the parents and ask them if they genuinely cared about their children's education.

Anyway on a more positive note, here is a quick checklist! 

And although you may feel that some items are not important believe me it makes so much difference to behaviour and learning.

  • The school has a strict uniform policy
  • You have been invited into the school and have been given information relating to homework, discipline procedures and home/school agreement.
  • If your child has special needs, you have been approached by the Primary AND Secondary School to ensure support is in place at the START of the term.
  • That you can meet the SENCO - The Special Needs person in charge! - and discuss your child before they start.
  • That you know of the Head of Year and the team, with appropriate email and phone numbers.
  • The school runs various clubs and activities outside of teaching hours.
  • When meeting the staff, they appear approachable and friendly.
  • They have a strict bullying and harassment policy.
  • Make sure you attend all the preschool meetings, you need to know as much as your child does before starting.
  • Remember that it is a massive leap from students spending time with one or two teachers, to "travelling" from class to class to see different teachers. Expect that it will take some weeks before they settle in and they will arrived exhausted for the first few weeks.
  • Make sure you keep an eye on homework. Get involved! Help your child organise when they do homework and have an appropriate place to complete it. (Even though I personally don't agree with homework!)
  • And finally? Read the start of my blog on who to contact if a problem occurs!
And relax.......in another 5 years you will be thinking about Colleges......

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Technology & Using IPads in schools - Shucks!

Oh dear.

One of my favourite ever schools, I have just found out that all students are expected to "buy" a school I Pad.

I was dismayed to hear this.

Firstly, what about those students not in a family position to be able to afford such a thing? What about those students who do not have a safe place to keep them? Why oh why should teachers need students to have such a thing?

I am not disputing that there are some fantastic educational apps and that students can work, be tested and submit work via them. And that it reduces paper. But what is stopping the teachers having a supply of class I Pads that can be used for a particular lesson?

We seem to be moving away from the pen and paper skill... and lets just stay focused for the moment. 

Are all exams done on a computer? No. 
Do students still need to know how to write? Yes. 
Has ICT as a subject been diminished to the point that students are not taught exclusively in ICT lessons about Internet Safety? Yes.
Are main exams still pen and paper. Yes.
In the workplace will students use I Pads for work? Certainly more No than Yes.
Are Universities equipped to students using I Pads? No. (If anything Universities are still lagging behind when it comes to using technology.)
Are we seeing the end of textbooks? Yes.

So why should we expect students to use and carry these things around?

And another matter and this is a true story. A mother friend of mines daughter accidentally damaged her I Pad. She had been told that all the I Pads were insured. What she was not told was that there was a £50 excess which she had to pay. (And no it wasn't in the small print either!)

I am not suggesting that we should not embrace technology, what I am saying is that the Current Governments thinking on Computer Science and the dismantling of the ICT Curriculum does not play hand in hand with the use of I Pads.

I await a few years down the line when employers are stating yet again that we are not equipping students for a world of work.

I am truly dismayed.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Academy. The Strange New Government Invention

So what is an Academy?

Academies are state funded schools, funded by Central Government and moved away from the local authority. (And moved away from the expertise and local knowledge that the authorities had)

Although the day to day remains the same with a Head or Principal they are overseen by charitable bodies called "Academy Trusts" and could even by part of an academy chain. They have more freedom over the curriculum and don't need to follow hard fought teachers pay and conditions. Head Teachers may be paid on "bums on seats" so for some the larger the school the better.

And of course it starts off with money. They receive "conversion" costs and more money per student. It can "buy in" services that used to be provided by the local authorities.

So in a nutshell it's about privatising the Educational System. 

And the facts and fiction:
  • Students do not perform better in an Academy
  • Schools become less accountable as they are out of local authority control
  • Teachers potentially may be told that they may not join a union
  • Teachers may be paid less and the pay scales not recognised
  • Academies have a high rate of student exclusions 
  • Academies funded by narrow interest groups could choose to teach, for example creationism over biology
  • It may be that certain students are granted admission
  • A "teacher" may not have formal teaching qualifications in an Academy
And "Free Schools?" - Read on McDuff.....

Monday, 22 February 2016

How to Develop the UK Education System - If only they would listen to Teachers

We must surely build an education system that does the following:

1.    Creates opportunities for all students
2.    Reduces class sizes to allow teachers to be able to concentrate on all, rather than on those who are 'behaving'
3.    Consider reducing school hours. Consider moving hours, to take in later mornings, and longer afternoons.
4.    ASK the children and students, what do they want?
5.    Bring in more parent control. Allowing parents to come into lessons, and have more of a say in what discipline is used. (For example a parent may indicate that lines have no impact, but a Friday night detention would!)
6.    Move away from traditional classrooms, bring in more independent work, allow students and children to actively learn, and gain independence instead of being in a spoon fed mentality.
7.    Have School councils in every school that can present information to Governors rather than the Head.
8.    Feed the children! More compulsory breakfast clubs, more drinking water, and please someone invent a water bottle that will not spill. Or can be squirted!
9.    Examinations in cold dank sports halls? Have every teacher teach at least one lesson a fortnight in the areas that will be used for formal examinations. That does such wonderful things to shatter the fear that many students have during examinations.
10. Have music in schools.  Give teachers time to prepare brilliant lessons. Give them the time and resources to create proper learning opportunities within lessons. Use Teaching Assistants in every classroom. Another adult in the room can be instrumental into ensuring that ALL the children learn.

So much could be done. We need to ensure that all children have every opportunity. Get rid of the negative formality. Please someone listen!

And the saddest thing I have seen? A Year 7 student. He couldn't read or write, and he was sent out of every lesson. (In my time I have come across a few children coming into mainstream schooling from Primary School, unable to read or write. Why?!) Something in his eyes showed failure. If only someone had caught him at Primary School. If only someone had him on a one to one basis. His behaviour was pretty bad. But who could blame him? The answer? He was going to be sent to a Special School. He had no disabilities, physically or mentally, but somehow he had been missed. 

A school failure. 

Someone was to blame, and I do not at all think any blame should have been left with him.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

How Students Think & What Should be Done

Working within inner city schools really opens your eyes. As a teacher, you can spend your time babysitting, crown controlling, and getting completely stressed. Yet, within every nuisance class is always a section of students that want to work, yet you spend time dealing with the trouble makers. In a correct environment you do not have trouble makers. If the troublesome aspect was removed from a classroom, the level of learning would boom. It’s all very well saying that you should have behaviour management, it’s all very well saying that in an all singing and dancing classroom, children do not want to misbehave.

Different schools have different policies. One of the most successful was a school that operated a backup system, where senior members of staff toured the full school every lesson, picking out pains in the neck, and either removing them into a specialist isolation unit, or giving them a dressing down. That and the fact that the senior teachers were seen at the school gates, every break and dinner time had the effect that bad behaviour would not be tolerated.

Other schools have a system that a troublesome child can be spoken to by a more senior teacher. And eventually the talks get higher up the system and the children end up in a PRU. That's a Pupil Referral Unit in English! 

So you have a child that may end up in a school that is known as being troublesome. The media can sensationalize the goings on in a school, but it is not to say that an inner city school will necessarily be troublesome. A lot goes on with how you feel about a school, and what your intuition tells you! 

But what do the children say? In conversations with children, from 11 to 16 years, it does seem that the ones that have the major problems, are the ones with parents who do not support a school, and will openly tell their sweetie that school is not important, or that teachers are stupid. Discipline at home is another 'teller' the more rampant the child, the less home discipline is shown.

It is hard to listen to 13 years old saying that they can't wait for the weekend, so they can get mortal. Some even come into school with massive hangovers. Others in full evening make-up, no school equipment and haircuts that their parents know is unacceptable. Yet, amongst these children, most are well dressed in full uniform. But with a massive teenage chip on their shoulders. 

School for some is a complete waste of time, or at least that is what the children say! I'm bored with school. It’s too long, it should be less than five days, and the moans go on and on. Or is it moaning, and are we failing some children?

I worked for a year at a Further Education College, and one of my teaching classes was a group of older students over 21 years of age. They were on an Access course, and the successful students could use this qualification to gain University access. A mixture of students, some from abroad, some who had worked from leaving school, and some that had become parents. Some that quite clearly had been let down by the school system. It was meeting these students that opened my eyes to the current school system. The first assignment completed, I sat in the staff room with tears pouring down my eyes as I read and marked the assignments. The quality of the work in front of me was more than I could have ever expected. Extremely well written, well researched and with that panache that showed deep understanding. Two of these students are now graduates. They had no formal qualifications and had left school at 16 with nothing to show for all their supposed education.

When I had mentioned this to various Heads of Secondary schools the general consensus was that it was totally the student’s faults for not taking the opportunities offered to them. But what opportunities? In this case I knew that the students had attended what I would call a challenging school. They themselves admitted that they were not perfect students but that the teachers had considered them failures at an early age. As I had proved to them, this was not the case. So how many students left that school with the obvious potential to move successfully into University education? These questions seemed to have been brushed aside, and my own gut feeling is that we have many adults with the potential but not the opportunity to succeed as these students did.

Making a Happy Teacher - And Parents Rules!

Leaving the school during lunchtimes and breaks? Different schools have different policies, but if they have a no out policy during school hours, please remind your child that teachers sometimes leave the premises and can spot children from miles away, out of school. We can be so evil sometimes! Mind you, it is so funny when you do spot a victim, and drive past so slowly, giving the evils, then of course you report it, the child denies it,

So all fails, and your child has a detention. Make sure that you have been given at least 24 hours’ notice, and that your child should have given you some sort of correspondence relating to the reason why the detention has been given. (So don't fall for the “Oh I was late home, because Mr. So and So gave me a detention.”) If it is true, then you need to see the school immediately! Apart from the nasty 10 minutes after the bell, where we do not have to give notice, you have a right to be notified.  We hope that you will ground your child for the next year, is the reason why. Well maybe not that long, but......!!!

Academic stuff? Any teacher worth his or hers salt will be impressed by effort and actually trying. The “I can't do it” scenario when the child can't be even bothered to try, is another ball breaker. (Ooops, excuse my language!) No teacher minds being asked to explain again, if, and only if, the child has been attentive and listened to the original information. And why is it that some children cannot follow written instructions? You write it out from A to Z, and still some children will not bother to read it, and immediately state, “Oh it's too hard, I can't do it!” (Another arghhh!!)  Instil in your child that they should try, getting it wrong, is better than doing nothing, at least the child will highlight that they have really not understood it, rather than not being bothered!

So I promise you one thing. Follow those steps, and I can almost guarantee, unless the teacher is a real case, that you will receive praise come Parents Evenings. Now that's another thing! Although different schools run different systems for parents and carers, there will be some evening where you can discuss your child, and you should receive at least one yearly report. Not seen it? Not heard about it? Asked your little darling, and they look blankly at you? Contact the school! You may just have found out that your child is a complete nightmare and is trying to avoid you finding out!  Oh and attendance? Please make every effort to attend. We on the whole are more than happy to re-arrange to see you at a more suitable time!

Planners or diaries too. Virtually every school I have worked in, has a diary of sorts that the child can write a lesson timetable and any homework that is due. Most schools expect it to be signed at home every week... I have seen so many faked signatures that I can only smile as I am writing this! Why? Because we can write in planners if your baby has been misbehaving, or has forgotten homework. So check, please! And if you have a forgetful child, ask them to let you know when they need a PE kit, or any equipment, including cookery ingredients. Another annoyance is children who forget these!

So have I been too hard? Am I expecting the impossible? Well no, actually. With the deepest respect dear parent/carer I have come across so many children who behave just like the above, and it is lovely!

But that does not mean that we run away from a challenge! And we, or at least some teachers, enjoy a difference of opinion, or in fact a child who asks questions. That tells us that the child is listening, and is interested.

But my final point or points is no one likes a bully.  That's you as a Parent or Carer as well as your child.  And racism. Even if you have opinions that could be deemed as racist, we know that young people copy the opinions of their elders. So not only are we disgusted with the child, we are disgusted with you too. So don't share them with your child!

So there we have it! A happy teacher is a productive teacher!

Thursday, 18 February 2016

What Teachers Like & How to Get on the Good Side of a Teacher!

Don't bother sending in your child with an apple for the teacher, it doesn't work!

Obviously apart from the being a nice child, doing homework, and following what I have written (obviously!), the key is to smile. Be happy! A smiling child who says good morning, or good afternoon to a teacher while entering the room is a great lesson starter. And saying please and thank you. Two of the most underused words, but good manners, which mean being polite, listening, and respect go a long, long way to getting on that A side!

Another way in, is the child going to the teacher at the end of a lesson, or session, and saying “Thank you! That was really interesting!” (Of course presuming that the lesson was moderately interesting!) We do love praise for our lessons!

As a tutor we need children that can team work, can equally work well without immediate supervision, are willing to volunteer to undertake duties, are willing to assist less able children, and bring in letters/money and so on, on time, without the teacher having to chase them! Not being late too, and if the child is late waiting at the door to apologise! The number of times I have been teaching and a late arriver just walks in and sits down without a care in the world, that's an immediate annoyance!

And during the lessons? If a teacher asks a question don't shout out! Putting a hand up is the best way, and then waiting to be picked. Not putting your hand up, means too, that the teacher is more likely to ask a child that they feel they would get the answer wrong..........but schhhhh, that's a teacher secret! 

Mobile phones is another! We know that even if a school bans mobiles, that children still have them. Make sure that your child is aware that they should not send texts in a lesson, read texts in a lesson, and the phone should be switched off, or at the very least switched to silent mode, and should be hidden out of view. I have of course had the excuse, “Oh miss, my auntie, grandma, distant cousin is ill, and my mum is letting me know how they are.” Or the “My dad is picking me up and I need to know where to go”. A simple solution that I use in that case is to tell the child that I will ring up their parents/carers and mention that they can ring the school at any time and a message will be sent to their child straight away, or take the phone, and state that I will answer the phone as it is urgent. Hehe! That usually works with a “No problem miss, I will turn it off for now!”

Jewelery? This is always an issue! If working in a school that has a limited jewellery rule, as teachers we are always instructed to remove the item, and put it in safe keeping with the administration team. But things do go missing, and having an irate parent at the door is not pleasant!  So, if it is valuable or sentimental do not let your child wear it, it’s just not worth it!

Uniform! Arghhhh!!! (Did I mention uniform before?!) Even we teachers know that buying uniform, especially specific school uniform, like a blazer or school jumper is expensive, and some schools insist on the children wearing that jumper rather than a generic one.  This is a battle that I have little advice for, other than asking the school if they have the facility to take in outgrown uniform that can be recycled. If they don't, suggest it! Even Private schools sometimes have that facility!  But don't forget to keep to the rules as regarding outdoor wear! So no hoodies or denim jackets please! Just on a lighter moment, I was once at a school were the Head used to hide behind a hedge and jump out on children wearing what he deemed inappropriate outdoor wear! While us teachers thought it very amusing, the school was actually one of the best schools in the region, so maybe that jumping was actually a good idea!

Is Your Child Being Taught by a Qualified Teacher?

Every teacher teaching a 16 and under must have a University degree. That every teacher should have a formal Post-Graduate teaching qualification, or that they are working towards that qualification. In times of need, there are teachers with a University degree, but without a Post Graduate qualification, teaching your child. In that case the responsibility lies with the Head to ensure that the teacher in question can teach effectively. Knowing your subject is only the start when it comes to teaching.

Some schools use Cover Supervisors. These members of staff are meant to stand in for a qualified teacher, and support the class with work left by a teacher. While some do have a teaching qualification, or a degree, most do not. Effectively it means that an unqualified person is supporting your child. Now before I am ambushed by a mass of Cover Supervisors, I do know that some do an amazing job. However, I have that teaching qualification. I worked hard to become a teacher. And I would be ridiculing my position, I would be stating that I didn't need a qualification to become a teacher if I agreed with the use of Cover Supervisors.  It is far cheaper to a Head to use a Cover Supervisor than a qualified teacher. However it is YOUR child that will be influenced. I leave you to make up your own mind.

And Supply teachers. Do not consider that these people are not real teachers! They are! Qualified people that do not have, or choose not to have a permanent position in a school. Most do have a Post graduate qualification, but some exist with just a University degree.  If your child has a Supply teacher, make sure that your child is still being taught, still working on the subject that the absent teacher would have taught.  Ask your child, and if not happy ask the school! Most good Supply teachers are aware that they are obviously interrupting the continuity that an existing teacher provides, and part of the position is to provide as little interruption as possible.

At this point I should mention teaching staff turnover. The better the school the less likely teachers are to leave, and the more continuity it provides to your child. Ask the Head about the percentage of staff turnover from year to year. The answer will provide a useful tool for you to decide which school your child should attend.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Sorting Out the System to Work for You and Your Child - Positivity!

How can I assist parents and carers help their child get the best from the school system? How can I promote good learning, and successful outcomes?

Well, I can provide the tools but ultimately it is up to your child and you. It is about conversation, it is about being aware of what goes on, not treating school as a convenient babysitting service. Talk to your child. Do not accept the response of what happened today at school, with 'Nothing'. Something did happen today, your child should have been provided with nuggets of information, perhaps a deeper understanding of a subject. Perhaps a new piece of information, something that when they set off from school in the morning, that they did not know about. Each day is a new day. While that new day builds on existing knowledge, it should also provide new topics, and new learning. Ask your child. And listen. Ask about who their teachers are. What are they like? What subjects did they do? How did the lesson go? Set these questions from the start, or even if you start to ask, each day your child will become aware that you are interested. This in turn will motivate your child.

Forget about your experiences that may be negative. Do not let the negativity of your education continue in your child. You may feel that school did nothing for you, and was a complete waste of time. Say that in front of your child, and you are giving that impression to your child that they can play truant, can mess about in class, and take the experience lightly. Think about what you say. While you are thinking, try to remember the positives of your education, perhaps a teacher that inspired you, a lesson that made you want to find out more, even the ability to read and write, to understand those words. I can promise you that if you try really, really hard you will be able to remember something. That new thing that you didn't know in the morning that you set off for school. That is what your child needs to know. It’s exciting, it is! Everyday gives the opportunity for new knowledge, for new information, for new understanding. And that is why good teachers do the job of teaching. We accept our responsibilities that everything that comes out of our mouths could influence a child.

I once read some research that stated every adult took something that happened at school, and carries that for the rest of their living days.  In my case, it was a Maths teacher telling me that had I sat the 11+ examination, I would have failed. It was not said in a shouting fashion, but just matter of fact. While I do not use this as an excuse, I walked out of school with only 5 'O' levels, and climbed trees at Sixth Form College. I did not return to education until my late twenties, and finally completed my degree and post graduate teaching qualification in my thirties. It was not until this time, that I could think about what this Maths teacher had said to me, and I could say, 'No, actually, he is wrong'.

It is this that makes teaching such a responsible profession. That knowing that we as teachers can make such an impression.  That anything negative can and is taken into the grey matter of the children we teach.  We sometimes do not get it right, we make mistakes, but every teacher should remember that every word that we speak can influence a child for life. As parents and carers, it is our responsibility to ensure that only the positives influence our children, and if we are not happy, or aggrieved about any teacher, that we go into the school and question that negativity.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Special Needs and the SENCO

Out of any topic I have covered this is the one that is closest to my heart. Apart from my experience as a teacher, I also have a son with ASD. Autistic Spectrum Disorder. It has been a long, long road, of fighting, letters, meetings, but finally I am able to see the fruits of all the rage, tears and heartache.

The first thing to realise is that as a parent or carer you have to accept the situation. However, while you can listen to what the school has to say, remember that you know your child the best. Always, always remember that. Do not let so called professionals label your child with any medical diagnosis, unless they are of course in the medical profession.  Even then though, remember that you need to keep a very open mind.  I have come across teachers who, using a check-list downloaded from the internet, have attempted to diagnose children. This is itself is very disconcerting! 

If your child does not have an obvious physical or mental issue, the first contact will be from school, usually from the Tutor or Classroom teacher. Accept what they are saying, and ask to speak to the nominated SENCO, that is the Special Needs Co-coordinator of the school. At the same time make an appointment with your GP, and ask to be referred to the appropriate body, in order that a diagnosis can be made. This is harder than you may think but it is so much easier to work towards the future with a diagnosis, a label of your child's condition.  I can still remember the Psychiatrist stating that my son had ASD. He shrugged though and said he was unsure if that was an appropriate label, but that he knew that we needed that label!

The school should offer observations from an Educational Psychologist, or trained staff who can bring together reports, reports from observations, and so on, that can help to put together a picture of the issues, and the ways that they can be assisted in school.

There may be a time that you need to consider a Statement of Educational Needs, but remember that no one can tell you what is best for your child.....you know best!  You may need to consider a Mainstream school, or Special School. What I will say that in my case, I knew that my son was clever, but he needed support. The Special schools in my area did not appear to cope with such children, so I took the decision, in my case, to fight against any move towards Specialist Education. I must point out of the sterling work done within Special Schools, but with personal experience of the children who attended the various Special schools, I knew my son was not suitable.

During my sons time at Primary School he spent an unfortunate year with a teacher who could talk the talk, and turn on the tears, especially in front of the Head.  This teacher associated my son’s behaviour with his being naughty, and could not cope with him in a full primary class of 30 children.  Rather than asking for assistance she stated in his school report that he was not capable of accessing the National Curriculum. I found out at a later stage that she spent hours shouting at him, to my son shouting is just noise, and that he had been instructed to stand with his head towards a wall, with his back to the class.  The damage this teacher did will stay with my son for the rest of his life. Please therefore ensure that your child receives as much support as possible. Within a large class, with one teacher, the pressures are enormous. While this is not an excuse for this teacher’s behaviour, I can understand the pressures as a teacher she was under.  Asking your child what happens during their day is the first step to ensuring their emotional and social safety.  Although I did used to ask my child, the mixed messages I retrieved from him, and the fact that this teacher could do no wrong in the eyes of the Head meant that I did not push enough to sort out the situation.  This stays in my memory, and I never allowed a situation like this to happen again.

Recently the law has moved forward as regards the equality of all children regardless of mental or physical ability. As it stands laws exist that state that schools, mainstream too, should provide equal access to all children, regardless of disability. Some Heads will discourage you, as the school itself has to fund any building works to accommodate the child. So be strong!

One issue that I remind myself that I was correct was that in the initial stages of my son's diagnosis it was deemed that he had behavioural problems. Had I not insisted he would have been enrolled into a Specialist Behavioural School. (I am trying to be politically correct, I hope you know what I mean!) I knew that the issue was more than behaviour, and my words, over my dead body were used on more than one occasion.   

Parents and Carers have a big sway when it comes providing school with the finance to provide support via Teaching assistants for their child while at school. At this stage the local Council are requested to provide funding to allow a staff member to support a child in school. Apart from attending endless meetings, write in yourself too, the more pressure you place on the system, the more hours of support you will receive.  Schools will sometimes match that funding, so say for example you 'win' 5 hours support, this is actually 10 hours of one to one support. Schools and the SENCO will generally decide how the hours are spent. A big warning though, please make sure that the Teaching Assistant works with YOUR child not the full class. I have been in many situations where the child with the given hours is not supported, but that the class he or she is in, is. Also make sure that the hours are being used. You have fought hard for them, so make sure your child benefits from that support.

Other aspects of Special Needs are, make sure your child has been placed in the right class. Time and time again, I have seen children with specific special needs placed in smaller classes. Sometimes a smaller class means that those children within that class are of a lower educational ability or troublemakers, which could mean that they are in a disruptive class, or a class that receive teaching to a lower potential grade. This really should not, but does happen, and is another example of disability discrimination which occurs.

And me? It took a long time for me to accept that there was a problem. To me, my child was perfect, and I could not accept any statements to the contrary. When I did accept the problem that was when issues started moving forward.

My thoughts are with you. Fight for what you believe is right. :)

The Pressures of Being a Teacher (And what an Ofsted inspection means!)

Ok I hear you say....long holidays, 9.00 starts, 3.30 finishes, long dinner hours, five day weeks, and PD Days – Personal Development Days. (Or Teacher Training Days)

Imagine being an actor for over 5 hours a day, for five days a week. You have five plays to act in each day, you need to be as word perfect as possible, have all your props prepared, and be totally prepared for any eventuality.  Teaching is hard work!  On top of that you may have up to 30 children in a class, have responsibility as a tutor for 30 children, write hundreds of school reports a year, desperately trying to make each one as individual as possible, mark school work and coursework, mark school and mock examinations, have after school meetings, before school meetings, dinnertime meetings, lunch duty, break duty, attending school trips and events, organizing sports events, and every term have someone come and watch you performing.

Each lesson needs to planned, needs to be linked to the subject examination curriculum, needs to be all singing and dancing, be linked to the abilities of each individual child and each lesson has to be linked to a Scheme of Work, which is a term, yearly plan of each subject.

Now there are some short cuts, for example using another colleagues resources, but most teachers like to plan and produce their own. VLE's, or Virtual Learning Environments, computer thingies that allow resources to the made and then accessed through computer pages by the students, have made life a bit easier. And of course they can be reused, although will always need updating as examinations change, and what they need to learn alters.

Being a teacher really is hard work! But most of us love it really!!!

So be warned, don't tell a teacher they have great holidays!!!

So what is life like for a teacher? It’s strange but we have to be so good! Being spotted falling out of a pub is a no no, even worse, imagine visiting a pub and spotting a 16 year old you teach drinking in the pub? That has happened, and the only thing to do was to tell the Bar Manager, and watch the child being removed from the premises. My job was too important to me than to risk knowing that an under-age child was drinking in a pub. (Not that I ever drank under-age, not!)  So, no hangovers at school, always appear to be a good citizen, and positive role model! And if you live in the school catchment area......it is amazing how you will get children walking past your house for no reason at all.  Perhaps it’s to see if we go to sleep upside down from the rafters!

And the Head. I do not care how much teachers say I am wrong, but Heads of a school do not have other teachers as friends.  Only friends that are used as methods of extracting information. As I mentioned, nearly all teachers I have met are scared of a Head!

And Ofsted. Well this good team of people are there to ensure that schools are running appropriately. That they provide good value for money, that all teaching is excellent, that the school supports the emotional and personal needs of all its children, that the school supports the community, that the Head and the Management of the school have correct administrative systems, that data collection of students is effective, and that the data collected is updated to ensure that children progress while at school.

Teachers are terrified of Ofsted. Before they arrive, everything is double checked, new systems suddenly produced, all teachers have the most amazing, and fantastic lessons planned, and those plans fitted into a brilliant Scheme of Work.  They work night and day, I promise you that, to produce the best! And those teachers who state well, it should not make a difference, are those that hide, or go off on the sick when Ofsted call! And then Ofsted send you as parents and guardians a questionnaire asking what you think. The returns of those questionnaires is so low, as to be ridiculous!

When Ofsted leave they tell the school how well they have done. If they are overall 'Outstanding' then the school can state they are an 'Outstanding' school. Schools are closed, go into special measures (This means that the  school is monitored and receive specialist outside help to improve), when they find massive problems, when results of GCSE's are under a certain percentage, but schools still have ways of dodging the issues. No Head wants to stand in front of a failing school. So teachers get up and dance, disruptive children are suddenly on a course, or suspended, new systems are brought in, bad teachers are hidden from view, and the game goes on.  Ofsted arrive for days, or even a day, checking on various systems as the School Year progresses.

Should Ofsted let a school know its arriving? Perhaps it should turn up unexpectedly to get a true picture. This is why I am writing this book, this is the truth but many a teacher would hate me for stating that. 

Teachers stand to lose so much from a negative Ofsted classroom inspection. Mostly from the wrath of the Head! It is interesting though to be in a school after an inspection, and see how the school makes use of the report. Alike true researchers they highlight the good, and only use the bad areas to slap at the teachers. You will find that you will have aspects of the report included in newsletters, but the not so good parts? You will have to wait until Ofsted publish the report on the website!

Oh and you can look on the Ofsted website, search for the school and download and read reports that have been written about the school. While it is apparent that in writing the reports that they do use word banks (Sorry Ofsted, but I have read enough reports to see that!), you can gain an insight into how the school is run, and how it operates. Another way of retrieving information, is the simple question to your child's teacher.  “Do you enjoy working at this school?” “What do you think of the Head?” If you watch the teacher, and listen to how they answer this question, you can gain a useful insight into how the school is run! A happy well run school, has happy and content teachers! Simples!!

How School has Changed Since your Day

Not a lot! Apart from the fact that we can no longer beat your child! The day is about the same, most schools run on a five lesson a day – In Secondary – five day week. Dinner in the middle, and the odd break thrown in.

If you remember Grammar Schools and Technical Schools, Comprehensive Schools too, Secondary Schools have replaced them all. Some Local Authorities still have Middle Schools, but the Years 1 to 11 still exist, but in different buildings! High achieving gifted child? (Yes, I know all our children are gifted and talented!) Schools have gone through many styles of streaming children, clever ones at the top, not so clever lower down. Streaming is one term or being put into sets..  How they decide the class a child is in, could be by using information form the Primary School, setting the children tests to decide, keeping them in tutor groups, until the teacher can decide the ability, or sometimes it’s just luck! What should happen, is that the lower the group, the less children in that group to assist the teacher in providing more support. It is important to mention that labelling a child   is helpful for the teacher because they are teaching to relatively the same ability. However, it is also useful to have both clever and not so clever in the same class, in my experience it helps the not so, and if carefully managed can benefit all the children in the class. But that's me!  Sometimes it seems that a child in one set for English, for example, is placed in the same group for Maths.  Which is great if they have the same ability, but the school should provide some flexibility to move children up and down. Insist on it!!

Back to Gifted and talented. Schools should be able to locate those children with gifts and talents in individual subjects. Those children should receive additional support to make sure that they work to their potential.  But if you feel that your child should be included but is not, ask why!  On the other hand the school should also be aware of those children needing additional support. (Please see my chapter on Special needs)

I would love to say how teaching has developed, and I suppose to the most part it has. However, I still remember really interesting lessons while I was at school. (Commonly known as the Dark Ages!) Teachers are more aware of how children learn, of how boys and girls learn in a different way, of providing a positive learning environment....Well at least most schools are.

Different schools will have different ideas. For example one school I worked at had all the desks in rows, facing the teacher. The Head had a longing to get back to the old days of traditionally run schools! Other schools have desks in groups, others in a boardroom style. Horses for courses.

Punishments? You would have thought teachers would have thought of new evil punishments! Lines, yes still used, detention, during school and after school....although we do have to give at least 24 hours’ notice. But we do have an evil short detention, officially we are allowed to hold children for ten minutes after the final bell.  It’s a great threat, and can be a great bad behaviour deterrent. We can prevent children from attending trips, prevent them from taking study leave if work has not been completed, even put them into isolation.   However no beating! 

Mind you the new school rumours? I nearly fell over when I realised the one about heads being flushed down a toilet was still going about! Reassuringly, I have never come across any child having it done to them! Mind you I still remember being terrified when starting school that it was going to happen to me!

And showers? I have yet to teach at a school were children are expected to shower after PE. Thank goodness! Even though it produces some slight smells, I remember hating showers! It was always the most humiliating aspect of school for many children! So at least less time for showers means that it is an improvement!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

What REALLY Annoys a Teacher!

As you might of gathered teachers are a strange breed! As teachers we have to ensure that children learn, and half of that battle is won when we have attentive children. That is not to say that we all want little singing and dancing robots, some teachers actually like lively children, but the one, one thing that is guaranteed to get the blood pressure raising is a class that will not stop talking! Trying to start a lesson, trying to help other children, even, heaven forbid, turning to write on a board....and the noise, continuous noise of talking children is a lesson breaker. While we of course have our tricks to try and settle a class, teach your child to be quiet when asked, will sort out so many problems. An annoyed teacher is not a productive teacher!

Ahhhh and equipment! Even in this day and age, I still find it incredible that children attend school without basic equipment. A pen, pencil, rubber, ruler, for starters would be so good! Time spent handing out and collecting equipment that quite frankly costs pennies, eats into productive time. An annoyed teacher is not a productive teacher!

Uniform. We all know when we grow up, that we realize that not having to decide what to wear every day, would be bliss. Uniform may make those amongst us adults think that it smacks of Big Brother, but it does serve a very useful purpose, honest! One that all the children look the same regardless of the social class they belong too. Two, taking children on a school trip? It is so much easier to keep an eye out for groups of students, especially if they decide to wander!  Three, discipline. Believe it or not, the better the school, the better the uniform is monitored. So, it is not all about turning children into robots, but the discipline in keeping to a uniform is part and parcel of developing children into good adult citizens. So if your little prima donna insists that 3” stilettos are allowed.....think again! Oh and do a quick check in the school bags...I have caught many a child re-dressing out of a parents view!

Make up. If I could have a pound for every time I have asked a child if full evening make up is appropriate for school I would be so rich, teaching would be a distant memory. Keep to the school rules. No make-up, means no make-up. Teachers have a handy box of make-up removal gadgets, and purposely are usually the cheapest possible brand. Done on purpose of course!

Back to the classroom, children who express an opinion are mostly accepted. (Remember there will always be those teachers that do not actually like children expressing an opinion!) Some of the topics we need to cover are boring. We try. Honestly. We try so hard to make areas that we need to teach as interesting as possible. A child who turns around to a teacher who has spent hours trying to make a lesson as interesting as possible, stating “Oy that was boring”, is the most devastating opinion that can be spoken. Not helpful, and the child should remember that annoying a teacher that marks coursework, or homework, is not a pleasant idea. We have ways of getting our own back, and most of the time we do!

It is not possible thought to provide a key that will stop a teacher getting annoyed.  Teachers are human, we are individual, and have different morals, personalities and characters. However hard Heads try to turn us into clones, different things annoy different teachers. While the above is important, it is up to your child, and you to establish what 'sort' of teacher they have for a class teacher, or individual subject teacher. 

So, we want atmospheres of keen learners, children who actually listen in class, shut up when asked, have perfect uniforms, no make-up, equipment and are grateful that teachers try to teach as best as they can.

Ha!  One of the most interesting conversations I had was with the mum of a child who was a real pain. He would interrupt in class, shout, do as he wanted, and at every opportunity complain about everything. In the end, I asked the mum to look through the window while I was teaching him. (Well-hidden of course!) Without actually seeing it for herself, she would never have believed what I had said. I of course, was told off by the Head for doing such a thing, but it did work. So, if you don't agree with a teacher, ask to see for yourself!  I believe that so many problems would be diminished with allowing parents time to come into schools and watch their offspring being taught. Hello, Government, are you listening?!

It is though pertinent to mention that not all teachers are sane, level headed individuals.  But as in wide society, children will have to deal with all sorts as they grow up. But, if you feel that your child is being 'picked on', appears to be switched off, appears to not have regular teachers, comes home stating that they are not being taught, do what you have to do. Complain. If that does not work, then go up the ladders to the Governors. And if all fails try contacting the Local Education Authority, or even the local press! You have a right to make sure your beloveds receive the best education possible, Insist on it!

This is actually true. (And I hope diminishes the 'I am being picked on by my teacher', sometimes it is true!) At Primary School I spent two years being bullied by the Head. Honestly! This person would take any opportunity to humiliate me, shout at me and call me names. But he was a Head? Who would believe me? I eventually told my parents, who of course thought I was imagining it all, and making it up. It was not until a brave Form Teacher actually told my parents what had been happening. As I am over 30 (clears throat!!) this was in a day that the Heads word was law. (Actually little has changed!) This brave teacher did her best to shield me from the Head, to the point of hiding me as he strode into a classroom, but as my parents believed nothing could be done, this bully was never challenged. Now I am not some special person, but the reason I have told you this, is that you should listen to your child, I am sure nine times out of ten it is your child's imagination, but there just might be a grain of truth.....

How the School System Works - Part Two

Different scores need to be looked at. One, that shows the number of students achieving 5 or more GCSE's are grade C or above. Another which shows those 5 GCSE's, but to include Mathematics and English. Others that show GCSE results from A to G. GCSE's are graded from between A* to U. U being unclassified. (So G does not stand for great!)

Usually A*, to C are classed as passes, D and below fails. Yes, I know me saying that may make me unpopular, but its true!  Some Further Education Colleges will accept D's, and E's. Schools will do anything up to exam time to help move those children predicted D's to move to C's, and will make some effort to help those genius A* students. So make sure your beloved takes makes every effort to go to every opportunity offered!  And it is also exam style which is important not just subject knowledge. It is really important you keep your child focused, let them go and socialize, but this time is so, so important. Oh and by the way, keep praising them. It does work! Negativity and you are a time waster type conversations only help to lower self-esteem. (Look I am a teacher, I know these things!)

So in general, your tinker gets 5 or more GCSE's, between A* to C, including English and Mathematics. That opens all doors. Some schools have played with qualifications that gives children say four GCSE's for one qualification. ICT – oops sorry, that's Information Communication Technology, working with computers – mostly using software! - has a qualification that gives students if they pass all the 'parts' more than one GCSE. Which does help those five GCSE targets that schools are desperate to reach. However now throwing in needing to have Mathematics and English within that five has stopped a few schools in their tracks!! So what happened? Some schools have found courses that are easily taken, and marked online – that means doing it on the computer, and the computer marks the work....who needs teachers? Huh? - In Literacy and Numeracy. That's another name for Math’s and English! And guess what? It helps boost the GCSE count.

So while statistics are really important, if you wish to be a naughty parent, ask the school what qualifications are used to report statistics? Could be interesting!

But don't get me started on SATS exams, in Primary Schools and Secondary Schools...that would take another book! (And yes, your child will be coached within the schools to produce the best results!)

So. Make sure your offspring behave. Tell them to be nice to the teachers. Even if they get on their wick, they are the ones that will help them pass. If you as a parent are not happy, go to the school. Insist. Insist that your child has the best opportunity to pass. Oh and I hope you read the earlier chapter first. Now remember that bit where I said go to the Form Tutor first? That is your way in! Use it!

And I must add about choices. No doubt you will be in a situation when your little rug rat is moving from Primary School to Secondary School. Now for me it was an easy choice, I only put one choice on the form! But that was my situation, and as a teacher I do know the different schools in the catchment area and which ones I would home teach them rather than let them go anywhere near those schools! So how do you find out? Apart from making friends with any staff member in the school, the key is to make sure that you attend the open evening, remembering that of course they will tell you lies too! Another idea is too hang around the school when the gates open and on an afternoon when the children leave. (Be careful not to look too suspicious!)

Do the children run out screaming? Is there teachers near the gates? Do the children come out of the school smartly dressed? Are the children hanging around outside the school smoking? (A decent school would not allow that!) Are the teachers smiling? Look for clues, apart from the obvious ones, like school results. Ask parents that you see waiting. Think of it like a project, your detection will gain results, promise!

Friday, 12 February 2016

How the School System Works - Part One

In my day, you started in Year 1, then started again in Year 1 at Secondary School....but now it’s all changed! (Unless you are a younger version!!)

So how does it all work? The time your child is in the school system, from 5 to 16, which are broken up into Key Stages, Key Stage One, from 5 to 7 year old's, starts children from 5 to 7. This takes them into Year One, Year Two, and Year Three. Key Stage Two, Years Four to Six, then onto Secondary School, with Key Stage Three from Years 7 to 9, and finally Key Stage Four, Years Ten and Eleven.

Now normally, children select options in Year 9, and start working towards their GCSE's in Year Ten, but this does depend on the individual schools. Some school start GCSE's (That the new term for O ‘Levels!) in Year Nine, in some schools children (now did!) take GCSE's early in Year Ten.  So, keep abreast of what your school do!

After Secondary School comes Key Stage Five, which could be Sixth Form College's, and Further Education Colleges. Now, I may be unpopular in saying this but, if your child does well at school, do not be persuaded by the 'we do A levels' at Further Education Colleges. In my opinion, Sixth Form Colleges produce better results, unless your child is determined to follow a particular career and decides to do a course at a Further Education College. Want good “A” levels? Go to a Sixth Form!

Just out of interest, A Levels are still in fashion! Only in the first year they are called AS's, the second year A levels.

Now it is prudent for me to mention that there are exceptions to my generalisation. Some Local Authorities have Middle Schools, Some have Secondary Schools called Community Colleges. Some schools are re-branded, usually the failing ones, and given new titles! Your point of call is to check each individual schools Key Stage Four results.

At this point, have a sit down. (That is if you are not already doing so!) I am always amused when working in a more challenging school, for want of another word, when I see great children, amongst terrors. I want to run and find their parents and ask them if they are suffering from some sort of delusion. Statistics do exist! Regardless what the media states, sending your child to the school with the highest GCSE results is always going to be better. Don't listen to the claptrap of how statistics are manipulated! Yes, of course they are, and all schools do it! Which means that those with low scores, are, very, very low!

Secret Teacher - The secret world of teachers

I once worked in a school that had two areas within the staff room. We called one the staff room, the other, the area for cool people. In amongst us teachers were some of the administrative and computing staff members.  We loved our breaks and despised being disturbed! So, do not disturb a teacher during breaks unless it is a dire emergency or you have been asked to attend the staff room! Most teachers consider breaks sacrilege and feel the need to not be around students!

Despite that most students consider that we spend most of the time talking about students. That could be no further from the truth. One of the most common statements from students is “Oh Miss, I saw you in a shop at the weekend!” It is as if we are 24/7 teachers and we do not leave the comfort of a school ever, enjoy sleeping at school, and on a weekend stay within school walls. It is surprising to some that we have children, actually go to a pub – we really do try not to go to any pubs within the school catchment area! - go shopping or even have the audacity to walk down a road outside from school. Oh and teachers really do not want to talk about your nearest and dearest in the middle of a supermarket. We might pretend to be interested, but we would much rather just do the shopping and get back to more important things.

Never be in awe of a teacher, or when in a school as a parent, go back to short trousers.  Try to remember you are an adult too. I have met some parents who are actually scared of teachers! Unlike your child, we can never put you in detention, or give you homework. (Unless we are in a particular foul mood!)

And those holidays! Imagine working as an actor for up to 30 hours per week. Providing individual scripts and plays, providing exciting resources to stimulate your loved ones brains, and keep them from boredom, filling in registers, writing reports, sometimes in their hundreds, and attending meetings. Sometimes meetings about meetings. Sometimes meetings about meetings, that are about meetings. Some schools have very meeting orientated heads!  We need those holidays! One to refresh ourselves, but also to work. I do not believe any decent teacher does not spend some time at home, on an evening, or weekend, or during school holidays doing school work. So do not make jokes about holidays and teachers, we just don't like it!

And who is in charge? The Head. (With the exception of one school I worked at that the Administration team ran the school, but that's another story!) Unless it is very, very, very urgent or mega important do not go directly to the Head! Your best way in is through your beloveds Form tutor, or Primary teacher. If you do not get what you want, then go higher. In the case of Secondary Schools, the Head of Year, or Head of House – some schools have both, then if you need to go higher, try the Assistant heads. It is important to note that in some schools, they have turned heads of House into administrative positions, of people who are not teachers. OK? Then the Deputy, then if you have to.......The Head. Now the Head. Do not be scared of a Head. They may appear to your child as being the Devils own spawn, but most are approachable. Kind of. And don't forget that most teachers are terrified of the Head anyway.

If all goes belly up, then your point of contact is the school Governors.  Now they are an interesting group of people. What should happen is that they dictate what happens in a school. But some are just puppets of the Head.

If it is subject based, then go to the teacher. Then the Head of Department, then the Head of Faculty, then the Assistant Heads.

Some schools do differ from this, or use more fanciful titles, but remember it is all done to give teachers some prestige, and make it more difficult to get through the maze!


The best way of contact is through the telephone. Make sure that the message is taken, you do not have to say what it is about, but that you want to arrange a meeting, and you wish to be contacted when this has been arranged, the best time is straight after school, which gets a teacher out of a meeting........, or before school starts. Say after 6 pm when you finish work, then forget it!  (Told you teachers and meetings!!)

If you cannot get through on the phone, try writing in your child's planner or school diary. Do not accept from your child that they do not have such a thing, or that it is only for them and the teachers. Most Form Tutors will read a child's planner. Unfortunately notes and letters can be mislaid or lost. In Primary Schools try attaching a letter or note to the child's reading book. Or even posting it to the school!

Oh and don't get annoyed with the Admin staff. Most are under paid hard workers, make them a friend, and it makes your life as a parent so much easier! Be nice to them, and then they will make sure the message gets through. Oh and don't ask to speak to a teacher during school hours, the chances are that they will be teaching or in a meeting. (I once worked in a school that four out of five days a week, the staff were expected to attend meetings after school....) Meetings. Not a nice word for teachers.

Write down what you want to say, and questions to ask. Do not think anything is inappropriate or silly. After all it is your child you are concerned about. Not happy? Then go further up the ladder.

That said there are schools which are run by such dictators, oops I mean Heads that you are encouraged to go straight to the top. But be warned. This tactic is generally to gather information about the teacher themselves. Which is used bully the teacher about, so be careful what you say! After all it is not the Head that will teach your child........

And there are teachers, and there ARE teachers. Some teachers, even other teachers wonder why on earth they have chosen such a profession when they appear to hate working with children. Then there are the ones fresh from University, and then others who have had working experience in the big wide world, then go into teaching. Teachers will have various motives for becoming teachers, some that is what their family has always done, some that they think that the pay and holidays are great (Hmmmm...), some that the have been influenced by a great school teacher while in school, and decide to follow the profession, and some that actually enjoy being with young people and children, and enjoy the challenge of actually teaching, and assisting children to learn. I can promise one thing. That while your child is in the educational system, you will meet all of these. Some good, some bad, some who are a waste of space, some who say great things, but perform badly as a teacher, and some truly inspirational amazing teachers.

So the best policy? Be nice. We have our ways of getting back at children whose parents get at us.......

And alike the Queen, we all go to the toilet........