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

This much I know about…why Geoff Barton should be ASCL’s new General Secretary

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 Geoff Barton should be ASCL’s new General Secretary.

It is time for the Association of School and College Leaders members to elect their new General Secretary…I will be voting for Geoff Barton.

I could have written a lengthy post explaining why I think Geoff Barton should be ASCL’s new General Secretary. Instead, I thought it best to let Geoff demonstrate his experience, honesty, courage, humility and eloquence in this short video:

Posted in General educational issues, School Leadership | 4 Comments

This much I know about…’The Ladybird Book of Edu-Twitter’ (with apologies to @primarypercival)

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 Ladybird Book of Edu-Twitter’ (with apologies to @primarypercival).

A bit of fun which became, for just a couple of hours this evening, all-consuming…

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Posted in General educational issues, Other stuff, School Leadership | Leave a comment

This much I know about…a new concept of headship in a MAT-centric school-led system

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 new concept of headship in a MAT-centric school-led system.

An ego-free Headteacher is a rare beast. To be a Headteacher you need to have a certain self-confidence. If you are going to be in charge, you need self-belief in spades. And a new Headteacher usually assumes that he has to come into a school and make his mark. Schools are notoriously vulnerable in the wake of regime change. A new Headteacher can lead to a significant modification of the values and educational philosophy of a school. And perfectly good systems are suddenly abandoned for the new boss’ favoured alternatives, without a shred of evidence that in his new setting his old favourites will work. So, out goes setting, in comes mixed ability; goodbye SIMS, hello BromCom; exit Year Groups, enter Houses. And the rest of the staff just have to suck it up and watch whilst what worked stops working…

A Headteacher often has an inordinate impact upon the school he leads. The opposite is true at Toyota, one of the most successful companies over the past three decades. In their brilliant book, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense, Pfeffer and Sutton point out that Toyota’s success stems from its great systems, not stunning individual talent…one study showed that Toyota was the only major automobile company where a change in the CEO had no effect on performance. The systems are so robust that changing CEOs at Toyota is a lot like changing lightbulbs; there is little noticeable effect between the old one and the new one. In the world of a MAT-centric school-led system, maybe there is something we can learn from Toyota, where its robust set of interrelated management practices and philosophies…provide advantage above and beyond the ideas or inspirations of single individuals?

How many Headteachers want to give up their decision-making powers? Headteachers whose schools join a MAT have to give up a certain level of power over the decision-making process, and anyone who claims any different is not being completely honest. Selecting one Headteacher to be the CEO of a new MAT inevitably leads to the other Headteachers feeling their authority is undermined. No wonder the DfE is outlawing the practice and insisting that Trust Boards are Headteacher-free zones. If we are going to create a new school system in England then we have to accept a different concept of headship, one which has Toyota-like features.

People like me need to get over ourselves. Schools which have lasted centuries have always been based upon a set of educational values, enshrined in a Founding Charter. Imagine creating a MAT whose Founding Charter was so firmly established that what the founding members believe about how students should be educated shapes the direction of the school decades, even centuries, into the future. A new Headteacher appointed to lead a school within such a MAT would be employed to be the guardian of the MAT’s/school’s educational philosophy and values-system, rather than someone given liberty to take the school in a quite different direction. Headteachers like me would come and go, but what matters – the education of children – would survive us all.

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Posted in General educational issues, School Leadership | 10 Comments

This much I know…about improving the impact of Teaching Assistants during a budget crisis

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about improving the impact of Teaching Assistants during a budget crisis.

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Our human resources matter most. There are 380,000 Teaching Assistants in English schools – a number that has trebled since 2000. There are more Teaching Assistants in Primary schools than there are teachers. If Teaching Assistants were cut from schools at a stroke, many schools, and countless thousands students, would suffer greatly.

We are in the midst of a budget crisis with a ‘flat cash’ hole in our budget. At Huntington, we spend nearly a quarter of a million of our budget on Teaching Assistants. Schools on average spend about £200,000 on Teaching Assistant provision. Writ large across the country we spend £5 billion on Teaching Assistants alone; this is more than the nation spends on roads and social housing! It comes out as the largest singular investment of schools’ Pupil Premium funding. With huge figures like that every school leader knows the role of Teaching Assistants in crucial. We therefore have a moral obligation to deploy our vitally important Teaching Assistant colleagues well.

‘It ain’t what you do it is the way that you do it’. Steve Higgins, author of the Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit, has shared this wise ‘Bananarama principle’ and how it applies to schools.  The evidence may show that employing Teaching Assistants doesn’t, on average, have a great deal of impact on students’ outcomes, but of course, such averages can obscure individual examples of high impact. We know from large scale trials that deploying a Teaching Assistant to undertake structured interventions, like the ‘Catch Up’ programmes, the REACH programme and more, makes a significant difference. It proves money well spent in frugal times.

The ‘Velcro problem’ of Teaching Assistants and student progress. TAs Teaching Assistants are often highly skilled professionals, but how they are deployed stunts their impact. Too many Teaching Assistants have long-since been allocated to a tricky class or a difficult student but the real problem of tackling how well students are learning goes unsolved. They are encouraged to act like ‘Velcro’ – sticking to the tricky student and helping them along. Paradoxically, such an approach may stop that child thinking for themselves. It comes back to good pedagogy and quality training. Teaching Assistants can encourage and foster independence in our students or they can inhibit hard thinking…it is the way that you do it, remember!

Teaching Assistants’ deployment, high quality training and the golden thread to student outcomes. It is the responsibility of school leaders to train and deploy their Teaching Assistant teams effectively; for our students and for our bottom line, we can ill-afford not to do so. Our Huntington Research School is running a high quality, evidence-based programme for schools in Yorkshire and the Humber on supporting leaders to train their TAs Teaching Assistants. The training focuses upon selecting the right structured interventions and engendering independence in the classroom, whilst sharing our best practice across our schools. Spending a fraction of what our Teaching Assistant team costs to ensure our Teaching Assistant colleagues are well-trained makes sense to us; I hope it makes sense to you. You can book your ticket here: https://www.huntingtonlearninghub.com/product/making-best-use-of-tas/.

 

Posted in General educational issues, Research, School Leadership, Teaching and Learning | Leave a comment