Wednesday, 26 November 2014

ASTs - another great idea bites the dust.

So, yesterday I went on an outreach day. Since having attained AST status in 2001 I have been to dozens of schools and worked with many different teachers from trainees, returning teachers, teaching assistants, classroom teachers, middle and senior leaders, advisors, tutors- oh yes, and children; lots and lots of them!

It was with great sadness that I drove away from the school I worked with  as this was the last outreach I shall do as an LA AST.


One word- funding.

Funding for ASTs ceased three years ago, the end of the year marks the end of my role. My LA safeguarded until the end of the year and I have continued to support schools across the area during this time.

  I think of the schools I have worked with; would they have paid independent consultants ? Probably not with their ever diminishing budgets.

So, there must be something new to replace ASTs? Yes, of course- excellent teachers. Oh, no, they aren't funded for outreach work.

What about leading practitioners?
No funding for those.

Ah, SLEs, that looked promising; but they are to support school leaders. what is an SLE?

So, who is out there to support  classroom teachers now? The LA? Hmmm, perhaps not...

Of course, we are all supporting each other now in our clusters/federations/academy chains.

Or are we?

I became an AST as a career choice; I love being a teacher and don't want to lose sight of that.  Becoming an AST has given me the opportunity to develop my skills as subject leader, as teacher, coach and mentor.  Each outreach role I have undertaken has been successful.  I am sure that my experiences are replicated across the country by many other ASTs. And now, with a new curriculum and assessment without levels, no one out there to offer support. Publishers clamouring to sell their wares. The strength of ASTs was in their classroom role. Teachers doing the job with the understanding to offer support realistically.  To say that ending this role is to miss a trick is a massive understatement.

So where next? Well, I am looking into seeing if I can continue to offer support to schools I have built links with; not as a consultant, but as a class teacher, doing the job, but keen to work with others as well.

I'd live to hear from teachers (ASTs or others) who have managed to continue their role creatively. I'm fortunate that in working part time I have some flexibility to not affect my class time ...

Watch this space!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Science Museum, London

I took a group of year 4 and 5 children to the London Science Museum this week.
We were amazingly lucky with the journey both there and back so maximised the amount of time we had to spend there.

The museum is just an incredible place to visit. There is nothing like it in Dorset, @Bristol isthe nearest hands-on visitor centre.  The explora centre ( link ) that is hoped for would be of such benefit to the schools in and around Dorset.  It could also provide great opportunities for young people considering teaching as a career to work with children. In fact, a wonderful opportunity for anyone who has time to spare .

The science museum , London, has the launchpad area - totally hands on zone full of activities for the children to experience. Having been many times now, I leave the children to explore for the first ten minutes or so before directing them to different exhibits and talking them through the whys , hows and wherefores.  Staff at the launchpad are super enthusiastic, but far too few in numbers.( no doubt due to financial constraints and by no means a critcism to the great staff who are there!)   To raise impact further , why not iinvolve students from Imperial college (a stone's thow away) in outreach work? Ot trainee teachers in the area? I would have loved that chance as a trainee.

When the explora centre project is up and running, it could really make the experience for visiting children even better if there are plenty of people there to explain the activities to the children. Science is such a fun subject to teach. Many practicals can be carried out easily in primary schools, but budgetary constraints mean that visits to centres with super powerful microscopes, dry ice, large scale models , super strong magnets and pulleys, can bring small scale science experiences from class to larger than life experiences.

So, get to the science museum in London if you can; it is FAB! And , if you're in the SW check out the Explora website

Sunday, 6 July 2014

PSTT- what's it all about?


Nope, I am not trying to get your attention ; PSTT is the Primary Science Teacher Trust (formerly known as the Astra Zeneca Teaching Trust)

Read all about the trust, their work and history here

I was thrilled to become a part of this fabulous college in 2012. This year I was lucky enough to be awarded one of the Primary Science Teacher of the Year awards alongside many other teachers . All sharing the same passion and enthusiasm for developing science teaching in their schools. What a fabulous group of people to be associated with.

The recent conference, held this year at the rather splendid University of Manchester, was truly inspirational. You can read about the conference on the above website, but I thought I would share some of the more memorable parts here. The conference was so packed that it has taken me a couple of weeks to reflect on the wealth of information shared.

The conference kicked off on Monday morning (after a very enjoyable dinner at a local Italian restaurant on the Sunday where the new college fellows had a chance to meet) with an introduction from Kathy Schofield, college director and a virtual appearance from Professor Dudley Shallcross whose vision to grow the trust to reach across every school in the country is gathering momentum.

We heard about successful projects from existing fellows such as Growing music at Shaw Primary ( see here ) funded by the PSTT.

New members then had a chance to share what they are doing in schools- so many fantastic ideas going on in schools across the country; a side of teaching that is all too often overlooked by a negativity driven media  (IMO) andnot enough time given to share and celebrate the fabulous work that is happening in our primary schools.

Following lunch, we were treated to a key note speech by Tony Hughes from Huthwaite International  (here ) "Logic is not persuasive. Neither is being right!"  where he talked about how to recognise verbal and non verbal signals. To be honest the hour he was given wasn't really enough  - a whole day, several days in fact could have been taken up with this. However, there was certainly lots of food for thought. Only two pm and already so many ideas to take away and build on!

There were various workshops going on and I had to choose which to go to; I plumped for the Making it Practical option. This was led by Tara Mawby (website ) and was full of great ideas.
My favourites were odd one out starter questions to get the children thinking . For example I am going to try one with my class following our earth in space topic :

Really like the idea that there are so many possible answers; great way to encourage children to be confident about having a go.

We also looked at how to use easily available pocket money toys to stimulate scientific enquiry.
 This was a great way to make me think outside the box when it comes to our resources. The new, slimmed down , curriculum gives so much more time to devote to working scientifically. Pocket money toys such as the above can lend themselves to so many activities. Children choose an object adn come up with a question that they could then test out.

I then went to a workshop which focused on KS1 (but everything could go across both KS1 and 2)
This was run by Pam Waite and was FAB. One of my favourites from the session was this ingenious way to make a Cartesian diver:

and this way to make branching databases with children more accessible: I often use objects to make these but had not thought of doing it on quite such a grand scale; fabulous way to do it!


Goodness me- and this was just on day one!
Day two to follow

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Teaching, still a great career?

Teacher: a person who teaches, especially in a school.
"a history teacher"

This post was prompted by a recent blog , 'Would you recommend teaching?' ( find it here ) courtesy of @secretteacher6.

With 23 years of teaching , I feel reasonably qualified to express my views.

Yes, I would heartily recommend teaching as a career if you are:-

1) Passionate about your subject/specialism
2) Genuinely like young people/children and have patience and humour by the bucket load
3) Self motivated and very well organised
4) Thick skinned enough to cope with difficult patents/managers/colleagues/students but human enough to care
5) A risk taker and prepared to learn alongside the children
6) Adaptable and flexible

I could go on with this list almost indefinitely-I love those T shirts that you can buy which "sum up" what being a teacher entails e.g...

 Perhaps being a teacher is most like being a parent in so far as it is a highly complex, multi faceted, not a  one-fits-all but an ever changing role.

But, to address the question, is teaching still a great career?

Yes, in my opinion.

Hear me out- OK, there is a lot going on at the moment that isn't great and there have been blog posts a-plenty about those.

BUT, I honestly think that it is a privilege to work with children, the job IS ever changing but that is part of the appeal. No getting bored on the job allowed! (or possible)  I was on a course the other day and when asked how long I had been in my present post was asked, "Isn't it time to move on now?"  Um, well no. Not for the time being at least. It is the fact that the job does change so often that makes it fresh and exciting. (Yes, really) I couldn't imagine how dull it would be to drag the same old lessons out year after year. It's great if some themes/topics stay the same as I rally get to know all about them, but when things change it gives an opportunity to learn alongside the children and to model how to find things out.

To me that is one of the great aspects of the job. Seeing children progress, being there when they grasp a new concept, hearing them at play time, hearing about them when they have moved on to secondary school and beyond. Making a difference, no matter how small that might be, makes teaching what it is.

Recently someone spent a few weeks in our school , uncertain of what career path to take. Being in school, talking to the children and teachers, made that decision easy. He has just been accepted for teacher training. Fab :)

I am not deluded, not wearing rose tinted spectacles, not bonkers. But I AM passionate about being a teacher. Helping shape the children of today into the next generation. It is tragic that so many teachers leave in the early stages of their careers (see here )

Does the job get easier with experience? Not easier, you have a larger bank of resources, are less fazed by change, have a bit more patience, but no, it doesn't get easier. And I can't see myself being effective at 67 to be honest, or that the children will feel they can relate to teachers of that age (ha, I feel that now sometimes!)
I have had enough of the constant negative media . Social media all too often degenerates into negativity. I can moan as well as the next person and if I could wave a magic wand there are plenty of things that I would change (see previous post here ) but life is too short .

Warts and all, teaching is my career of choice, I am still excited, challenged, daunted,thrilled, scared,optimistic... by it. I look forward to the next ITT student that I work with and hope that I will be able to prepare them for a career that is incredibly rewarding. Hard work. Oh yes, more than words can ever get close to saying, but worth it.  Yes.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Advanced Skills Teachers. RIP ?

Back in 2003 I went through the (rather gruelling) process to become an Advanced Skills Teacher. The idea was to give teachers the opportunity to stay in the classroom doing what they love plus work across a range of schools. Also for their salary to be enhanced and their school to have extra funding to allow this to happen. RESULT!

(HERE is some information about the AST role also here .)

I had decided  that I was not looking for a management position so I was very excited about the prospect of outreach and working on collaborative projects. The idea of making a difference beyond my school was an extremely attractive one.

So began a series of requests and work in schools across the county. Somewhat hit and miss with some ASTs being used extensively whilst others were used less widely and a strategic long term plan did not materialise.

Fast track to 2014, a new curriculum starting in September.  Funding cuts across local authorities have led to the cessation of the AST scheme. (read more here ) and there are fewer and fewer  subject advisors across the country. I'm one of the fortunate ones in so far as my LA agreed to safeguard my salary until the end of this year. And I have NEVER been busier with outreach work than at present. Funny that!

Few courses being offered by the county, no subject specialist at county level. Just me. Since becoming a member of the pstt ( I have been lucky enough to receive some valuable CPD which I have been able to cascade to my school and others. But what about all the schools who don't have access to this?

How short sighted is the present system? Teacher training in schools, teachers teaching teachers- this is what the DFE are telling us should be done. (lots of details here ) but WHO is going to train the teachers ? The government have said how important it is to have good CPD , the opposition have muted their ideas (here) but nobody is saying who will provide the CPD (or who will pay for it!?)

Or is this part of the plan to kick teachers out after a few years (see here and here ) I'm all for getting new teachers into the profession- I love working with trainees and NQTs and they have heaps to offer a school, and can certainly provide up to the moment advice , but what about the teachers who have been in the profession for a long time (+20 years = me. Still loving it)

How are we meant to be trained? It's all very well expecting us to train each other- but exactly how and when?

Oh yes, silly me- in our own time of course. Well, that's what a lot of teachers already do- twitter has certainly helped with that- teachmeets growing in popularity.

BUT why oh why end the AST scheme? Other than to save money.

BOOM , without wanting to sound cynical, why else?

And, how short sighted is that?

There is a new scheme to "replace" ASTs- see  here

but there is a problem with that...MONEY!!

ASTs could have (should have) been an incredible support across the country which should have been better managed, better publicised and continued. Excellent teachers supporting others, learning form each other, working together

I'm not bitter about it, I always suspected that it would be a finite thing (there's that cynicism again) and it was good while it lasted. I can't help but think that in the future, someone somewhere will come up with a fantastic idea. "Let's give great teachers the chance to share good practice with others and work together, and let's help to facilitate that by giving schools funding to allow that to happen."

It IS possible to make these schemes work, just need to be well managed and have a purpose. What a pity that this did not happen. But, the future is not set and I shall certainly continue fight for such roles to be values and continued.  How about a secondment basis? One per cluster? See, not that difficult at all, just that little problem with the funding. Ah well, back to the drawing board.

"Opportunity, sooner or later, comes to all who work and wish."
Lord Stanley

Monday, 17 March 2014

Guided reading. An approach that works for me (for now at least!)

Always a topic that promotes animated discussion . Guided reading. How many groups? How often? What do the other groups do? How do you ensure progress? How do you manage it?

We have guided reading sessions daily, 20 minutes. That's a lot of the week when you look at it in its total. So it has to be meaningful to justify that amount of time .

I read an interesting piece this week which you can find  here courtesy of @prawnseye

 There are so many strategies being used out there for guided reading.  I was observed in our recent Ofsted for an entire guided reading session which had good feedback so I hope that you can use some of the ideas.

(My class are a muxed year 4, 5 class. All classes follow a similar format in KS2 )

There are five groups which rotate throughout the week. Children are grouped according to their ability and moved into different groups if appropriate during the year.

Group activities:

1)     Guided reading- with an adult (teacher or TA) using a range of fiction and non fiction texts concentrating on AFs . We have various resources which suggest questions to use for the different AFs. We use some commercial guided reading scheme books alongside sets of books both fiction and non fiction. For example this term I using Michael Morpurgo’s Butterfly Lion with one group and The Hodgeheg (Dick Kng Smith ) with another. Records are kept each session to record responses (AF linked) which is used to assist tracking.

2)     Reading Journals- each child has a reading journal in which they keep activity sheets. These were produced by a previous LA advisor and tie in to AFs. We also have various “take your pick” activities for non fiction and fiction which the children complete independently. Sometimes this might be an activity linked to a class read. (For example during Ofsted this group were writing a first person account linked to the class story “The Indian in the Cupboard- Lynne Reid Banks. The inspector had asked me later why I had not scaffolded the work as it was fairly challenging and I explained its purpose was to establish their understanding and had been specifically designed to be an independent task. Positive feedback given.) We devote two of the sessions to reading journal time.

3)     Spellings/Handwriting The children use this time to practice their weekly spellings and to complete handwriting exercises. Each child has a folder for this.

4)     Independent reading. This time is for the children to read ANYTHING of their choice or to listen to an audio book (I am slowly building a collection) They don’t have to write anything at all J

Some children who have difficulties with their reading have more time on guided reading , but all children have time to read books of their choosing. It takes a bit of setting up at the start of the year- even though we do it all the way through the school the start of the new academic year is always like starting again from scratch! However, the initial effort is well worth it. Children make very good progress with their reading and the vast majority enjoy reading.

The new curriculum wont necessitate a huge change in the way we carry out our guided reading sessions. 

One of the most useful tips I can pass on is that I always write down the questions/AFs I am going to focus on a week in advance. This makes for far more structured and focused sessions. I also trained up my TAs by working with them to begin with so that they could take groups as well; this frees me up to hear readers or talk to the children during some sessions. Throughout the year groups change so that I will have worked with them all at some point.

Thanks for taking the time to read; I’d love to hear your views/opinions on this.

Some resources and ideas on pinterest here
A "how to " guide for the children here
More views and ideas here

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Lesson Observations

This morning I read the latest blog post by The Primary Head (find it here : )

It was a very interesting piece following on from the recent discussions on twitter regarding lesson observations and to grade or not to grade. 
( Find it here: )

So I thought I would add my thoughts to the mix .

I don't mind being observed, in fact, if I am going to get some helpful feedback to improve my teaching then it's a good thing. Do I need to be given a grade? Not really. What I need is feedback and reflection. 

 An excellent post on this can be found here:  
 where the school do carry out regular observations (often in pairs) and the feedback is well structured and focuses on development.

I would love to know how schools are able to fund this; I work in a small (6 class) primary and have few opportunities to watch my colleagues teach and to be watched other than the performance management/maths/english monitoring cycles. I'd be more than happy to have a lesson videoed and used as a discussion point (especially if I could have my hair/nails/face done as part of the deal!!- OK, that's probably not going to be part of the process!)

That way would save release time for other staff and the video could be used in a staff meeting to focus on questioning/more able/TA support...the list goes on. 

I would love to hear from schools (particularly primary) who have successfully implemented this. I know that some of my colleagues would balk at the thought of being videoed but it's not going to be put on youtube (!) 

Lesson observations are an integral part of a teachers development. Grading an individual lesson (or worse still just a part of it) does not, in my opinion, do much good for anyone. What teacher does not want to do the best they can to provide the children in their care a stimulating and productive learning environment? Strategies to improve teaching and learning are always welcomed. The day that I wouldn't want that would be the day I leave teaching. I am an experienced teacher and have many opportunities to observe NQTs, trainees and to support staff in my role as an AST. What I would love the opportunity to do more of is to watch examples of excellent teaching from experienced teachers and have time to reflect on the lesson with others. Budget always seems to get in the way of this, but I will continue to strive for this to happen.  

Should I be in the position to make such decisions in the future I would strive to have a model of collaborative observations to allow all staff to observe/be observed and discuss openly where the teaching is most successful and WHY that is. As teachers we constantly model to the children; something we too need for our development.

** I have just read this excellent post  This is exactly the sort of model I would love to be a part of. ** 

Monday, 3 February 2014

I wish...

Now, stop; just for a moment ...
If wishes could come true here is what I would wish for today (not including the obvious ones like health, happiness, world peace etc)

An education system that was run by education specialists not civil servants.
An education secretary who had spent time in school teaching or at least shadowing teachers (for years not one off media stunts).
A system where the state and private schools were funded equally (or even just narrowed the gap).
A system where qualified teachers taught our children yet supported experts in their field to work alongside them.
A system where sports coaches and music teachers could take children for after school clubs IF THEY WANT TO! (the children that is!)
A system where the teaching profession was respected and trusted.
Schools which had their leaks and cracks fixed.
Headteachers who were trusted to bring the best out of their staff and pupils.
A system which limited class sizes and funded schools so that they could use staff where the need is highest.
A system which recognised the essential contribution made by teaching assistants.
A validation system which worked in partnership with schools to improve learning for children and provide CPD opportunities for teachers.
Secondments available to teachers (with a range of experiences- not just SLT) to get involved at LA , region or national levels  (hey, while I am wishing why not INTERnational levels too)

To be honest, the first one alone would have  (IMHO) a huge impact. The others... It is good to dream.

Of course all children are entitled to the very best education that we can give them; and that is what the vast majority of teachers are trying to do despite the never ending obstacles which stand before us.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Ofsted- notice to improve

My previous post gave an idea of the process, this one is my views!

The report is out, we are still deemed to be a "good" school.

During the process however, we were not so sure. The inspectors were too quick to jump to conclusions without enough evidence.

A lot has been written about lesson observations and ofsted. Here are some posts which I have found of particular interest:

I agree 100% with removing individual lesson grades. The new guidance for inspections does seem to be moving in the right direction (See )

This is how I think Ofsted should operate:

1. Understand that there is a lot more to a school than the data. Don't come with all the answers.
2. When carrying out observations talk to the head or other leaders before jumping to conclusions based on a brief time in a lesson- Whatever the view of  the lesson is, ask if that is a fair representation. If you don't see something, don't assume it never happens. Similarly, if you do see something ask if that is common practice.
3. Talk to the children! Lots!
4. Remember that what you say can have an enormous impact.

We have to be accountable- I have no problem with that, but I long for a time when the leadership of the school is trusted to do that effectively through non-judgemental  observations, peer observations, coaching and reflection. The role of the external agency should be to support schools in areas that they need, not just tell them what they already know. There will always be areas to be improved. A culture of support will be far more productive in the long term.

HMCI berates teachers for leaving the profession and "moaning" (
Tristram Hunt wants teachers to be licenced ( so they can be recognised.

As teachers we nurture the children we teach, we build an environment of praise and reward to encourage them to reach their potential. Surely we deserve the same?



One word that, all too often, strikes fear into the heart of teachers.
The inspection that we recently went through has certainly given me plenty to think about.

I have written two blogposts. This, the first, gives an account of the process through the eyes of a class based teacher with leadership responsibilities.  There are lots of Headteacher blogposts about Ofsted such as but I thought it would be interesting to give a teacher's eye view. Note that this is purely observational; have not added my personal thoughts or opinions. The second piece which can be found here
  is my "Notice to Improve" or "Steps to Success" regarding the process itself.

As always, comments welcome.


Lunchtime following play rehearsals , headteacher asked all staff to go to the staffroom where we were told that there would be two inspectors arriving Tuesday and Wednesday. Stunned silence (our  previous inspection was less than 18 months ago where the outcome was good. No drop in results and totally unexpected!)

Part time staff contacted.  Mass tidy up following the Christmas Fayre that took place the Friday before. Rehearsals for next two days postponed. Lesson plans needed to replace the play rehearsals that had been planned. Subject leaders printed out data from the school's tracking system and SENCo distributed most recent PP list to add to files.


Inspectors arrived at 8am. Introduced to the staff and straight into meetings with the Head. Lesson observations followed with the lead inspector carrying out joint observations with the headteacher whilst the additional inspector carried out observations. Feedback from the head to staff observed given in front of the lead inspector for monitoring. Observations lasted no longer than 20 minutes.  Inspectors heard children read and met with the Rights Respectors. There was a governor meeting after lunch and more observations and looking through children's books.  They looked at the parent view and also received a phone call from a parent to tell them what they thought of the school. Questionnaires were given to staff.

After school feedback was offered to observed teachers followed by meeting with SENCo , Maths and English subject leaders. (Both subjects seen at the same time.) This was followed by the Inspectors meeting with the headteacher. Head then fed back findings of day one to us. No clues as to who/what will be observed the next day. Initial judgements not in line with school's judgements and inspectors agreed to swap roles for the next day (lead inspector had been in KS2 with Headteacher, AI in KS1) with the Head carrying out joint observations with the lead inspector.


Inspectors arrived at 8am . Met with EYFS leader and TAs.
Lesson observations (2 in KS2, 3 in KS1) plus learning walks and noting displays, looking in books. One inspector attended the whole school assembly.  More observations after lunch followed by paper work and meetings with head teacher. Final feedback to senior staff at 3.30 then Ofsted had left the building. 

I was observed twice on the second day- for guided reading and for maths. Not all the classes were observed but inspectors spent time in all classes looking at displays and books and spent sometime sitting in central areas (we are an open plan school)

In a 6 class school, 5 classes had observations. Books from all classes had been made available but not all were looked at. They did not want to look at class planing files, assessment files or other paperwork. It was down to the Subject leaders and SENco to put them in the picture for that.

So, that is what happened on the two days- just the facts.

Please read my next post for my feedback to Ofsted...

Ofsted:Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. We report directly to Parliament and we are independent and impartial. We inspect and regulate services which care for children and young people, and those providing education and skills for learners of all ages.