How Not To Write Reports

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DISCLAIMER: Obviously I would never leave my reports until the last minute/drink whilst writing reports/have nothing to say about a child in my class. I would also never write a blog post about reports as procrastination from actually writing reports.

This internal monologue is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental… honest.

Right. Reports. Got my laptop, got all the snacks. Got my notes. Just a quick check of Facebook and I’ll be well on my way to starting.

report writing

OK let’s start with an easy one: Jessica – smart, hardworking, popular. Lovely, conscientious, easy-to-write-about Jessica. Done. Next?

Mustafa – smart, funny, excellent musician, lead part in our class assembly… God I really am nailing these reports. I am winning. I can probably get these all done in the next couple of hours. I don’t know why everyone moans about them so much when they’re really no big deal you’ve just got to get on with it.

Jasper – witty, intelligent, kind… Note to self: avoid writing reports that sound like internet dating profiles.

Right next one: Andy.

Why can I not think of a single to say about Andy? Has he definitely been in my class all year? *Checks class list* – is this definitely an up-to-date class list? Maybe he’s been away a lot…

I’ll get some wine. Wine will help.

*Gets wine. Does all essential phone checks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Gets drawn into an argument with a Twitter racist*

Right. Back to Andy…

*Opens work email. Feels chest tighten. Closes work email.*

You know what Andy… I think we’ll come back to you and move on to… Elan. Elan is… what is Elan…? Elan is lazy and thinks he’s much smarter than he actually is.

Can’t put that. “In order to meet his full potential Elan will need to apply himself to all lessons.” That sounds proper.

OK. Andy.

WHY HAS ANDY NOT DONE ANYTHING MEMORABLE THIS YEAR?

Wine.

*Instagrams picture of wine #wine #inspiration #reports #FML. Spends 10 minute choosing filter.*

Seriously Andy nothing – not even Scissor Monitor?

*Does all essential phone checks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Gets drawn into an argument with a Twitter racist*

DT! Bollocks I didn’t know we had to write about bloody DT! Who on earth has been finding time to actually teach DT?

OK don’t panic – they made those Christmas cards didn’t they? And those Eid cards. That was DT-ish. And those Easter baskets – that definitely counts as DT.

“Whilst working on her design project Amber was able to select tools that were appropriate for the task” (read: used scissors to cut out the cardboard template of the basket.)

Right a DT target for Elena: To use tools with increasing accuracy and care (only use the scissors for cutting paper – not hair.)

Who does Andy remind me of from my last class? What did I write for last year’s Andy? Must remember to keep all reports.

Wine.

Right – RE: Easter story – tick. Diwali story – tick. Christmas story – tick. The Eid cards again. Oh and the Rabbi came in and did that assembly – wonderful. RE = done.

Been working for nearly an hour now – must be time for a break soon.

*Does all essential phone checks* 

Art. Well there was the self-portraits that they did with that supply teacher that day I was on a course… They ended up in the bin…

“Eric has explored a range of mediums during our lessons this year”  although only if you consider “eating” to be the same as “exploring.”

Wine.

Oh and the Eid cards again. They were arty. Think I’m mentioning those too often now. Is that how you spell Eid? Eed. Ead…

Isn’t it funny how words stop looking like words when you really focus on them? Is this a word? I wonder what the funniest looking word is? What’s the word that looks least like a word in the world?

*Googles: What’s the word that looks least like a word in the world?*

No – mustn’t get distracted. They’ll be time for looking up words later. Back to Andy.

Andy is… a child… in my class.

What is the name for the study of words?

*Googles: What is the name for the study of words?*

Etymology. There will be time for etymology later. Now it’s time for reports.

Is “recovered from chicken pox” an acceptable comment for the achievements box? Chicken pox is horrible and it’s probably quite difficult to recover from. I’ll put it in.

Chicken pox. A pox of chickens. A pox on chickens? A chicken of poxes. Poxi?

…Who drank all the wine?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Chief Inspector

hiring

This week applications opened for the new Chief Inspector of HMCI. If you’re interested you, and you’re not like Michael Wilshaw, you can apply here. I can’t help but think if we were more creative in our recruitment methods we might have greater success. So I’ve taken a leaf out of Jane and Michael Banks’ book (yes, the children from Mary Poppins) and I’ve written a short song…

Wanted: A chief inspector

If you want this choice position
Have a cheery disposition
Good ideas, a good sport
Work well, with all sorts.

You must be kind, you must be clever
And in time you should endeavour
To take on the government, give us hope
Help the teachers cope.

Never be mad or cruel,
Never forget the pressure put on schools.
Respect the teaching profession,
And end this data obsession.

If you will judge and intimidate us
Continue to undermine our status
We won’t teach your curriculum
Or play your games,
We’ll leave our jobs
For sunnier plains
Good luck, new chief!
All the best,
One more thing,
(Scrap these ridiculous tests.)

Grammatically Incorrect

Grammar
I don’t often agree with Michael Wilshaw in fact I often make a point of it. However even a stopped clock yada yada, Michael Wilshaw said something so spot on last week that I felt the need to mark this rare occasion with a blog post.

I took the 11+ the year after my youngest brother Blaine was born. In Kent it is still expected that all children will take the exam, along with SATs, in their last year of Primary school. My school was fantastic and didn’t pile on the pressure but I still remember a certain amount of anxiety surrounding the test that would decide my Secondary school. I have memory of saying to Blaine on a walk (he wasn’t walking) back from school, “It’ll be your turn one day.” My Mum laughed and said “Oh, I imagine the 11+ will be long gone before then.” That was over 18 years ago and in Kent, Buckinghamshire and Reading the 11+ is still going strong. In London there are a handful of selective schools that use the 11+ as a form of entrance exam but the Primary schools do not administer the test. There shouldn’t be much more to say about this test. The 11+ has ticked along relatively unchanged for decades now – so why the post? In 1998, the year I started at the local Grammar school, Labour passed a law that made it illegal to open up new Grammar schools. So that was the end of that.

Yet last year my home town of Sevenoaks hit the National Press with the news that a new Grammar school was going to be opened. The loophole they had used was that the new school was to be an annexe of an already existing school in the next town. Now this was big news for a town whose local paper had once published, “Town not ready for sushi” as their front page headline.

The Grammar school system as we know it was established in the 1940s with the noble idea of offering public school education to children from working class backgrounds. The schools would promote social mobility: rescuing children from disadvantaged backgrounds and offering them a route out of poverty. This all sounds wonderful – but has it worked? No is perhaps the short answer. Yes pupils that attend Grammar schools achieve very high results. However, very few of these children are from disadvantaged backgrounds.  In 2013 The Sutton Trust research into Grammar schools found that:

  • “Less than 3% of pupils in Grammar schools qualify for Free School Meals (FSM) compared to the average of 18% for non-selective schools in the same area.” For those not familiar with educational shorthand, Free school meals is a rather clumsy measure of poverty but it is the best we have at the moment. To put this figure into perspective in Haringey on average 29% of pupils are eligible for FSM.
  • “Children in selective areas do worse than children who go to comprehensive schools in areas where there are no grammar school.” This one is fairly obvious. If the most able pupils are skimmed off the top and sent to Grammar schools this leaves a whole school of less able pupils without role models or peers to learn from.
  • In local authorities that operate the grammar system, children who are not eligible for free FSM have a much greater chance of attending a grammar school than similarly high achieving children (as measured by their Key Stage 2 test scores) who are eligible for FSM.

These findings should not be a surprise. In 1959 the Conservatives commissioned the Crowther Report – interesting reading if you’ve got a free afternoon; there’s at least one future blog post in my drafts based on its findings. The report found that “the children of non-manual workers are much under-represented, and the children of semi-skilled workers over-represented” in Grammar schools. So we’ve known for nearly 60 years that the system doesn’t work.

The reasons why children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to pass these tests are numerous and wide ranging. An article published earlier this week summed up it up quite nicely and it’s certainly been a discussion point in staff meetings for many years. When it comes to the 11+ access to private tutors is the perfect example of the advantages children from more affluent backgrounds have. A quick Google search will throw up the numerous options wealthier parents have for helping their child prepare for the paper.
In 2013 Buckinghamshire County tried to address this imbalance by producing new papers that were more closely linked to the curriculum taught in school with less emphasis on verbal reasoning. This way pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds would be covering the content in school. Sadly, analysis of the results showed that these new test made the gap in achievement between FSM and non-FSM even wider.
Social mobility (or lack of) aside, surely the strongest argument against the Grammar school system is that it labels children as failures at the age of 10/11? They see their friends pass and immediately draw the conclusion that they’re stupid, an attitude they take with them to Secondary school. A system that labels children as failures at 11 is not just unfair: it’s cruel.

#Teacher5aday Pledge 2016

fruit

Martyn Reah’s idea is a very simple one: If teachers are happy their pupils are happy. To achieve this wellbeing needs to be at the forefront of a school’s agenda and head teachers need to make looking after their staff a priority. However it is all too easy to blame a head teacher for our workload or your stress levels. The idea of #Teacher5aday is that teachers take responsibility for their own wellbeing by pledging 5 changes. if you want to find out more check out the original post here. Also, get involved on Twitter by following the #Teacher5aday hashtag. If you really want to support the cause you can contribute to crowdfunding the #Teaher5aday journal to guide teachers through a year of looking after themselves.

  1. Connect: Easy – spend more time with friends and family. Planning a wedding offers plenty of opportunities for this. Also, try and be more “present” in the evenings. At the moment I tend to get home and collapse onto the sofa and scroll through my phone or get lost in the internet. Time to turn off the screens and make the most of my evenings.
  2. Exercise: Normally at this time of year I would be signing up to a gym or buying a Groupon for 8 Zumba sessions, “this way I’ll definitely go because I’ve already paid for it” no, no it doesn’t mean I’ll go it means I’ve kissed goodbye to £40. This year I need to get real the only way I’m going to be more active is if I can convince my body it isn’t really exercise, like when we told my brother the homemade soup he loved so much was chicken when it was actually mushroom otherwise he’d never have eaten it. So I’ve invested in a Fitbit and I have a target of 10,000 steps a day which is about 7km. The stats get sent to my phone so I can track my progress. This way I’m just building more activity into my day-to-day life.
  3. Notice:  I’ve kept journals on-and-off since I was little and I’ve never been able maintain writing an entry every day. Some days I’m just too busy and others the entry would read, “Watched an entire series of “Orange is the New Black.” However I’ve got this book that I was given last year that requires just one line a day. Just one reflection. I can manage that.
  4. Learn: It’s my 30th birthday this year so it’s probably time to extend the repertoire of recipes I have up my sleeve. At the moment I seem to live off pesto pasta and that’s been the case for the last decade. I LOVE cookery books and have a shelf packed with everyone from Nigella to Nigel Slater. So to keep it manageable I’ll learn just one new recipe a month. Watch this space.
  5. Volunteer: I’m a moderately active member of the Labour Party and I’ll be volunteering my time to campaign during the run up to the mayoral election.  
Whilst this began as an initiative to support teachers I think we’re all prone to burning out and putting our mental health and wellbeing too far down our list of priorities. So whatever your job, think about how you can keep yourself happy and healthy this year. Write the ideas down, stick them on your fridge, scribble them on the mirror  or print them on a t-shirt. Do whatever it takes and remind yourself each day: my wellbeing matters.

Just 3 Teachers

three teachersA couple of weeks ago one of my favourite Educational bloggers @MichaelT1979 published this post. Since then other bloggers have jumped on the bandwagon and done their own version of the post – teachers aren’t as averse to copying as people think. The idea is you pick three teachers from your own education. One who you now emulate, one who changed you and one who inspired you to become a teacher. I really struggled with this as I was fortunate enough to be taught by so many fantastic teachers during my school years. But rules are rules – so here are my three.

1) The teacher I emulated – Mrs Woodhams

I sometimes wonder how different my attitude to school might have been if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to wander into Wendy Woodhams’ classroom at the age of 4.  Although my memories of Reception aren’t hugely clear I do remember that classroom being such an exciting place to be and being desperate to get to school every day. Wendy worked hard to give us real-life experiences so we had a real dentist’s chair in our role play area, god knows how she got hold of it. Our art work wasn’t double mounted and displayed on the wall, instead our classroom became “The Ghostbusters Gallery” (I can only assume we chose the name) that we opened to members of the public.

art gallery
5-year-old me curating at our Ghostbusters Art Gallery

We built a Berlin wall and kicked it down for our assembly. Learning was always fun and always started with what we wanted to find out. I think by the time I started school I was well on my way to reading and once I started I didn’t want to stop. Wendy was my very own Miss Honey providing me with her own books that I was allowed to take home.  She was endlessly patient, warm and always, always cheerful and I’m pleased to report that we are still in touch and she is still all of those things today.

2) The teacher who changed me – Mr Hall

Being born in Kent brings one inevitability – the dreaded 11+. Once the tests had decided I was capable enough, I went to a Grammar school in a nearby town. The problem with attending a very high achieving school is that it is all too easy to feel inadequate or imagine you’re failing when you’re not. By the time I was 15 I had decided I was terrible at maths.  This was confirmed for me when I was put in the lower set (because I was predicted a “B” grade at GCSE  and anything less than an “A” wasn’t worth mentioning.) The task of getting me that “B” grade fell to Mr Hall whose official title should be: “The Most Patient Man In Britain”. We went over and over the basic principles; he must have answered the same questions 498 times. Trying to motivate teenagers isn’t the easiest task but with good humour, patience and a huge level of empathy Mr Hall managed to keep us engaged (most of the time.)

I imagine it’s very difficult to teach teenagers, particularly teenage girls as they’ll make fun of any little quirk or idiosyncrasy. High pitched voice or regional accent? There are impressions of you going on in the Common Room. Your clothes, aftershave and the way you walk will all be scrutinised. It isn’t fair or any reflection on how good you are at teaching. However, there are a handful of teachers who escape this treatment either by being relatable, kind and good-humoured or just hugely respected.  Mr Mr Hall was one of them. We thought he was brilliant and he… well, he thought we alright too I’m sure.

It took two long years but somehow, amongst the boyfriend and friendship drama that seems to rule your life at 15, I got my B grade and, far more importantly, my confidence was back. I no longer find Maths intimidating or scary in fact it’s my favourite subject to teach.

3) The teacher who made me want to teach – Mrs Jennings

By the end of Year 6 I’d decided I was going to be a teacher (or a Blue Peter presenter.) I was lucky, I’d had two of most inspiring teachers bookend my Primary education. As I’ve already mentioned I started my education with Mrs Woodhams and in Year 6 I was fortunate to have another inspirational teacher in the shape of Mrs Jennings.

If Mrs Woodhams got me loving reading Mrs Jennings pushed me to the next level. She would always want to know what we were and what we thought about it. She introduced me to Tennyson, Wordsworth,  and Shakespeare. We were only 10 but Mrs Jennings made herself the tour guide as she took us into these new realms explaining the unknown words, providing us with the background knowledge we needed and answering endless questions so we weren’t intimidated by this literature. At the same time she read us picture books, nonsense poems and Roald Dahl. There was no such thing as the books we were “meant” to read – it was just important that we enjoyed reading. I wrote countless stories and poems that year and remember so clearly her positive and thoughtful feedback.

By the time you are in Year 6 you are far more aware of the system you are in and you can better appreciate everything your teacher does for you. I remember watching Mrs Jennings working with a small group of children in our maths lessons. It must have been in the run up to SATs or the 11+ yet there was no sense of stress in herself or the pupils. The group were laughing and working through things at their own pace with just the occasional gentle nudge from Mrs Jennings to stay on task. I remember thinking, “I want to do that when I’m older.”

What I haven’t included are all the teachers I’ve worked with as an adult. So many of them could fit these categories. From Mrs Redshaw, the class teacher I worked with on my first PGCE placement to Miss Noble who taught me to make sure every day is just a little bit magical for the children in her class to my current SLT who I learn from every single day. I’ve worked with the some of best teachers you’ll ever meet (I’ve not met all teachers but just trust me on this) and I’ve learnt from them all.

So – who would be your three?