This much I know about…how best to support our most disadvantaged students

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about how best to support our most disadvantaged students.

Sobering moments can hit you unexpectedly. I was privileged to speak to a conference hall full of Glaswegian teachers recently at Celtic’s football ground, Celtic Park. Apparently their fans call the hugely impressive stadium, ‘Paradise’. I was told that the average life expectancy for men living in the surrounding Parkhead area is 54 years. As Sir Kevan Collins – my co-presenter – and I reflected, if we lived within sight of Celtic Park, I’d have eighteen months to live and Sir Kevan would have already popped his clogs.

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Poor teaching perpetuates disadvantage. Here’s why we have to keep improving our performance in the classroom. The Sutton Trust Report, Improving the impact of teachers on student achievement, included this important finding:

The effects of high-quality teaching are especially significant for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds: over a school year, these pupils gain 1.5 years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers. In other words, for poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is a whole year’s learning.

It’s so obvious, isn’t it? My son came home the other day and asked me to print off a Biology GCSE Unit 2 exam paper so he could practise questions after he had revised. I had superfast broadband, a laptop and printer, I knew where to find the papers, I had a password to access the latest version. When I had printed off the paper, I even had a stapler… I went on to drop all the papers in an electronic folder for him and he proceeded to revise, asking me for help when he needed it. Any insufficiency in his provision at school is compensated for by the support he accesses at home. Not so for the boy from the estate whose parents don’t have such rich resources and insider knowledge.

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A modest proposal. If our most disadvantaged students are going to thrive, as school leaders we have to stop guessing about what works and lead learning from an evidence-base. Our teachers have to be the best teachers in the world. Period. It was particularly apposite to speak at Celtic Park to Scottish colleagues who work in some of the most deprived schools in Great Britain, with Sir Kevan Collins. The CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation was on sparkling form as he extolled the virtues of the Sutton Trust/EEF Teaching & Learning Toolkit which has been recently up-dated.

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Sir Kevan Collins on tour! If you want to hear Kevan speak, then come along to the Research School Regional Conference 2017 on 24 May where he and I are teaming up again! You also get to hear Alex Quigley… You can book here.

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Forget school structures…we have to improve the quality of teaching in our schools: it is the only thing that matters.

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This much I know about…modelling deliberate writing to a hall full of more than one hundred Year 13 students

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about modelling deliberate writing to a hall full of more than one hundred Year 13 students.

I write several times a week. It has fast become my favourite past-time. Writing with deliberate control is a hard-earned skill, which I am still learning. What fascinates me about the writing process is how much time is spent re-reading what you have written. To know what to write in your next sentence, you nearly always have to re-read your last. Re-reading whilst writing is fine when time is not a constraint, but when you have to write at speed in an examination, you have to re-read and write almost simultaneously. It is a skill students find particularly challenging to master.

Writing well in examinations requires a methodical approach which will withstand the pressure of the situation. I am teaching A Level General Studies this year. In the Culture paper students face a 13 mark question (Question 4) which requires them to discuss an issue and come to some kind of judgement about it. They only have 25 minutes to write the essay.  What is particularly important is the Assessment Objective for the quality of their written communication which attracts four marks out of the 13 available. Under examination conditions they need a methodical approach which will earn them full marks. Their mock examination contained the following Question 4:

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Out of my comfort zone. As a follow up to their mock, I modelled to the whole of Year 13 how to write, with deliberate control, a perfect answer to the same Question 4 . I have to admit, I was a tad nervous. I began with a short presentation which has Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language at its root and then talked through and wrote a full marks answer (with, admittedly, a couple of odd mistakes – near the end I say the word “without” but write the word “with” which makes the sentence mean the very opposite of what I intended. Thankfully I found the mistake as we read through, en masse, what I had written…). It proved to be another one of my lessons, albeit to a hall of over 100 Year 13s, where I fed back on their mock examination and modelled the metacognitive processes inherent in deliberately controlled writing. Below are the presentation slides and the full 35 minute video of the session. In order to make the whole event effective, you need a good lapel microphone and a high quality visualiser – when it comes to the latter I recommend the Ipevo Ziggy-HD Plus.

 

We need to model explicitly the mental processes involved in learning which we, as teachers, can often take for granted. Today, back in the classroom, the students wrote the answer to a completely new Question 4 to embed what they learnt from this lesson. The root of all this work is in the Education Endowment Foundation/Sutton Trust Teaching and Learning Toolkit. As a (head)teacher, I swear by it…

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This much I know about…whether mindfulness training has the potential to shift the adolescent population away from psychopathology and towards improved mental health and well-being?

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about whether mindfulness training has the potential to shift the adolescent population away from psychopathology and towards improved mental health and well-being?

In case you haven’t noticed, I am interested in improving mental health in our schools…

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On 24 April, the Pathfinder TSA based at Archbishop Holgate’s School, York is hosting the totally free “Let’s Talk About Mental Health” conference; to register please click on the logo below:

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At the conference I am running a workshop with Liz Lord, the School Liaison Officer for the MYRIAD research project based at the University of Oxford. What follows explains MYRIAD and invites schools to help answer the question: Does mindfulness training have the potential to shift the adolescent population away from psychopathology and towards improved mental health and well-being?

If you would like to join the MYRIAD research project please email: myriad@psych.ox.ac.uk

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MYRIAD research project – University of Oxford

Opportunity for UK secondary schools

Here at the University of Oxford we are looking for Headteachers, senior leaders and teachers to take part in a national research project funded by The Wellcome Trust, looking at the effectiveness of introducing mindfulness in schools.

Adolescence is a time of significant change and development, and around half of all people who will go on to suffer from mental ill health will first be unwell during these years. Learning skills that promote flourishing, build mental strength and wellbeing in adolescence could help people be healthier in the long term. The research question The MYRIAD project will address is ‘Does mindfulness training have the potential to shift the adolescent population away from psychopathology and towards improved mental health and well-being?’

We are looking for schools to work jointly with us to ensure the highest quality research will take place, helping us understand more fully young peoples’ emotional wellbeing and resilience and whether a mindfulness approach can help with this and promote flourishing for all pupils. We will compare good quality social and emotional learning already being taught in schools, to a class based mindfulness programme. Half of involved schools will continue teaching as usual and the other half of schools will be trained to deliver a mindfulness programme to pupils. All related training costs and supply cover will be provided by the project. We fully appreciate that each and every school will have different approaches to support resilience and mindfulness is one approach that is showing potential. We need good quality research to investigate this in detail. The project, called MYRIAD, is currently recruiting schools for a large scale randomised-control trial which is hoping to gather data from 25,000 pupils in 76 schools across the UK. We are looking for schools who would be committed to excellent research and have no prior experience in providing a mindfulness programme.  It will be a fantastic opportunity to develop links with Oxford and to help raise the profile of scientific research within your school.

You know your own schools the best and we would work closely with you to support your school through the research process. We would ask for a main contact, a research lead, who would navigate us through the complexities and the practicalities of working with your school setting. This person, ideally a member of SLT, would help us in all aspects of the research and advise us in all dealings with your school. This would be an excellent CPD opportunity for someone interested in schools-based research and being part of a large-scale school study.

Participating would enable your school and especially your pupils to gain valuable insight into high quality scientific research processes and be an opportunity for your pupils to see ‘research in action’.

For more information about the project please visit www.myriadproject.org. We would like to hear from you if you are Headteacher or teacher at a secondary school who is interested in the question of how to promote emotional health and wellbeing in your pupils. We are expecting a very high demand for places on this project so please register you interest as soon as possible.

Please contact the MYRIAD team at: myriad@psych.ox.ac.uk

The MYRIAD project is a collaboration between teams at the following universities:

The University of Oxford: Professors Mark Williams & Willem Kuyken

Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge: Professor Tim Dalgleish

University College London Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

King’s College London

University of Exeter

We also have international collaborators including Penn State and the University of Minnesota.

Posted in Mental Health in Schools | 1 Comment

This much I know about…teaching Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “War Photographer

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about teaching Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “War Photographer”.

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It doesn’t take much to make me feel like a dinosaur these days. I contemplated purchasing a new SLR camera a couple of years ago. However, the shop assistant made me feel so hopeless in the shadow of his overwhelming expertise that I decided instead to tidy up my twenty-eight year old manual Minolta, buy a couple of reels of black & white film and stick to what I know.

The trouble is, what I know isn’t what my students know. When I began teaching at Eastbourne Sixth Form College in 1988, the Art department had a small dark room. I became addicted to printing my own photographs. As soon as teaching had finished for the day I would lock myself in the dark room and get lost in the DEVELOP:STOP:FIX:WASH:DRY process of producing black and white prints. I may not have put in my 10,000 hours, but I won’t have been far off! Recently, a number of my English department colleagues were kind enough to invite me to teach a guest lesson on Carol Ann Duffy’s “War Photographer”; however, unless you are familiar with how photographs came into existence pre-digital, you cannot fully comprehend this poem…

 

WAR PHOTOGRAPHER

In his dark room he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.

He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands, which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.

Something is happening. A stranger’s features
faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man’s wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.

A hundred agonies in black and white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between the bath and pre-lunch beers.
From the aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns his living and they do not care.

What is the main moral conflict of the poem? So, if you are teaching this poem, here are four videos to help, which can be used in the Powerpoint presentation below as indicated on the blank slides. One video illustrates how to print photographs; the Dunhill video introduces Don McCullin, the war photographer Duffy’s poem is based upon, and his moral conflict as he takes shots of people dying; an extract from the documentary, McCullin, gives a brilliant account of him working during the Battle of Hue in Vietnam; and the last one, from CNN, sees McCullin question the worth of everything he has done as a war photographer.

 

 

 

 

Going beyond the obvious. One of the key conflicts in the poem is explored in the final stanza: the decision for the Sunday supplement’s editor as to which photographs s/he selects for his/her readers. When I began teaching A level Media Studies I recorded a programme on this very decision, a VHS recording which is long lost. The picture editors of the Sunday Times and the Observer were discussing why they had chosen two different photographs to accompany their respective articles on the American Air Force’s carpet bombing of the retreating Iraqi army on the Basra Road at the end of the first Iraq war in 1991. The Sunday Times had used a long distance shot, the picture editor arguing that he did not want his readers and their families to be upset at the breakfast table by graphic shots of the human cost of the US attack. His readers, he argued, could imagine what it must have been like:

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The Observer had taken a different approach, printing Kenneth Jarecke’s famous picture of the “charred Iraqi” soldier. The Observer magazine’s picture editor was utterly certain that he wanted his readers to understand as clearly as possible the pure horror of war:

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Neither of these two shots was taken by McCullin; however, I have included them in the middle of this Powerpoint to stimulate debate amongst students.

Lately, I’ve been working on the clarity of my explanations. In the final video below, you can watch how I present the two images to students. Note how I build the images up, clarify the decisions made by each picture editor and warn the students of the graphic nature of the Observer image to engage their critical faculties.

Posted in Teaching and Learning | 2 Comments

This much I know about a simple way to monitor our pupils’ mental health.

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about a simple way to monitor our pupils’ mental health.

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This coming week, the 6th – 12th February 2017, is Children’s Mental Health Week.

In 2017, the aim of the week is to encourage everyone — adults and children alike — to spread a little kindness.

We’ve all known someone going through a tough time, and it can be hard to know what to do to help, especially where children are involved. It may sound simple but in these moments, small acts of kindness can make all the difference.

Find out how you, your school, or your organisation can get involved and support Children’s Mental Health Week here.

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When I interviewed Natasha Devon for my book, Mind over Matter, I asked her what one single piece of advice she had for teachers. This is her reply:

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So, how might we make a deliberate effort to acknowledge that all our students have a mental health? It can be difficult, for a form tutor, for instance, to keep his or her wellbeing radar on for all the children in her form group. In the following extract from my book, I suggest a simple way – inspired by Victoria Agpar and Atul Gawande – for a form tutor to monitor his or her 30 tutees ’mental health:

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Posted in General educational issues, Mental Health in Schools, School Leadership | 2 Comments

This much I know about…why subject specific key words are not enough for academic success

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about why subject specific key words are not enough for academic success.

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The following are all based upon genuine post-exam conversations with Year 11 students at Huntington:

You might know what the word “theme” means in relation to English Literature, but you cannot answer the question, “Was Lennie and George’s dream always futile?” if you do not know what the word “futile” means.

You might know what the word “provenance” means in relation to the reliability of evidence in history, but you cannot answer the question, “Was the second World War inevitable?” if you do not know what the word “inevitable” means.

You might know what the phrase “high tensile steel” means in relation to Construction, but you cannot answer the question, “How do contractors liaise with the customer?” if you do not know what the word “liaise” means.

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Build from the ground up. We are working with our partner primaries on small scale enquiries about the best ways to teach hand writing, spelling and vocabulary. If you struggle with hand writing, you will find spelling a challenge and so you will settle for short, simple words. Consequently, your vocabulary – your word-hoard – will always be limited. Here are three research papers, sourced by our Research Lead, Alex Quigley, aka @HuntingEnglish, which explore that relationship between hand writing, spelling and vocabulary. They are well worth reading:

Posted in Research, Teaching and Learning | 3 Comments

This much I know about…the School Funding Crisis and the National Funding Formula.

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about the School Funding Crisis and the National Funding Formula.

It is time to put my head above the parapet regarding school budgets. We have had a real terms cut in our school budget of 10% since 2010, and don’t let a politician tell you any different. Using the Bank of England Inflation calculator shows that we should have £800,000 p.a. more  in our budget, if we had just kept up with inflation since George Osborne delivered his Comprehensive Spending Review in October 2010!

The view from here. BBC Radio York’s Sarah Unwin and the BBC cameraman Peter spent an hour with us on Friday to produce this report for the Yorkshire & Lincolnshire edition of Andrew Neil’s Sunday Politics Show on BBC1. I promise it’s worth 3:55 minutes of your time to watch:

 

Investing in our schools is obvious common sense. What wasn’t included in the report but which is the ultimate consequence of not funding our schools properly is a deepening of the recruitment crisis. If working conditions and teachers’ pay worsen because of the cuts to school budgets, then we will struggle to entice our brightest and best into the classroom. We are already at a point where the highest-achieving A-level students are least likely to apply to teach. The teacher recruitment crisis is not about just numbers, it is about quality too, and if our best graduates reject teaching as a career due to the impact of real terms cuts to school budgets, the very future prosperity of our nation will be threatened.

Posted in General educational issues, Other stuff, School Leadership | 1 Comment