Kalinski1970's Blog

My own personal view on UK Education and bits n bobs

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Exam Season

‘Study leave’ – or get rid to of the kids early…when I studied for my O’levels we were released from school at Easter so that we could ‘study’.  It is worth noting that I had only seen one exam paper by then and that was my mock.  No explanation on how to revise, or exam technique…just good bye and good luck

‘Study leave’ – students now stay in school until the last possible moment at Uplands.  This gives them the opportunity to maintain the contact with teachers, gives them the structure of revising an hour at a time on different subjects.  We also run booster classes for those who need extra help and support.  Students practice papers so they are used to the ebb and flow to them.  Teachers will take the paper with the students as practice, talking them through how they would approach each question in the paper.  We understand psychologically effective ways of remembering information, importance of rest, spacing of testing and we have begun to use research into how the brain works.  But more importantly the students turn up listen and practice.

Exams – from memory I had 8 exams

Exams – this year due to government removing the ability of students to resist, all the exams have to be taken in the summer.  This means courses designed to be modular are sat at one time.  A student studying triple science will take 9 science exams this summer alone.  Most of our student are taking more than 20 examinations.  Take a moment and think about that…each one needs preparation and revision, building a timetable to prepare for 2 exams a day for 10 days for many of them.  For them I would guess that only moving house will be as stressful (if they can ever afford one).

Hard-work – I remember my final year at school more for the long summer, which started at Easter (see ‘study leave’).

Hard-work – students work harder for longer.  Even with being at school optional, most classes are still full with students desperate to do well.  They have to, the pressure is huge to hit that first requirement of at least 5A* to C to even be accepted on to a level 3 course.

So when people ask me if exams are easier I agree with Mary Beard (Professor of Classics

Newnham College, Cambridge), who noted in a recent blog:

“Students aren’t smarter, but they work harder. And we probably teach them better too. But dumbing down?? No.”

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A question for the ASCL conference guests

In light of coasting schools and more guntothehead policy…this question is still relevant

Kalinski1970's Blog

as it wasn’t asked of Hunt, Halford or Laws I thought I would post it here…

Question for ASCL

I would really appreciate this question for all the panellists, but might be more salient for Sir Michael or Nicky Morgan

In light of the recent data that:

1.The new progress 8 measurethat schools adding valuing around the G-F and F-Ewill receive significantly less recognition, whereas those adding value in the C-B, B-A and A-A* will receive significantly more.

2.Those schools with a below average intake are far more likely to be judged RI or inadequate by OFSTED (seehttp://www.kristianstill.co.uk/wordpress/2015/03/04/what-of-outstanding-schools-have-below-average-ability-intake/)

Can the panellist explain how they are going to attract the HTs, School Leaders and great teachers to schools in difficult circumstances?

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A few days after the general election the tone from Nicky Morgan suddenly changed.  For the Secretary of State that was seen as a safe pair of hands leading up to the General Election; a politician who genuinely seemed to want to listen and engage with the profession.  We had the return to ‘gun to the head’ education policy.

The Sunday Times reported that “squads of headteachers” were going to descend on coasting schools and the existing head would be sacked.  As an esteemed colleague noted “it is a squalid little idea, limp in its thinking and destined to fail”.

Firstly, what is the definition of a coasting school?  Is it a school that is locally recognised to give its students a great education, but in terms of attainment could do slightly better?  Could it be that those students need to make slightly more progress?  Or is it a school with a good intake in terms of ability and therefore although they are doing better than the national average, they should be doing much better?  Is that steady performance, rather than stratospheric the issue?

Is it a school in a ‘leafy’ area that receives a Requires Improvement judgement?  Nicky Morgan stated that it wouldn’t just be an OFSTED judgement. This is welcomed as we can no longer be sure of OFSTED’s judgements about which schools are better than others.  But then who?  Is it Mrs Morgan herself that will make the judgements or the new Regional Schools Commissioners (RSC)?  This has issues at the RSCs have been tasked with converting more schools to academy status, so hardly have a neutral view on a schools performance.

Secondly, where are all these headteachers lining up to take on schools from which, if they don’t get it right, will be sacked?  School leaders are already in short supply, there are 182 vacancies for headteachers, currently advertised in the Times Educational Supplement.  The fact they are unfilled now means those schools will not have a permanent Headteacher in September.  In 2012 just under a third of headteachers were over the age of 55, so we need to find another 8,000 in the next few years.  Pronouncements like this will only make the recruitment crisis worse.

Of course rather than this ‘gun to the head’ approach.  The Secretary of State could have said that she is proud of the work being undertaken in our schools.  That a million children more now attend a good or better school.  That she wanted to work with existing headteachers to create a scheme recruiting the brightest and best into leadership positions.  These leaders would be trained and supported to address underperformance and to lead schools in the most difficult circumstances.  That we would create a programme that would benefit the children of our country, to ensure that everyone had a truly great local school.

…well you can dream

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Bloody Kids

elbowlippykidsLatest column for Kent and Sussex Courier

Last week some of my students stepped out in front of a van turning into the car park next to the school.  The van slammed on the brakes and the driver gesticulated at the pupils.  One of the students decided to gesticulate back.  Clearly this is unacceptable behaviour.  However, what I end up receiving is an email expressing that all my students behave in this manner, and that I must get hundreds of emails complaining about the behaviour of the students.  Well…no.

Last week is a pretty good example.  I received congratulations on the efforts and performances of the students involved in the “In the Field” concert to mark the centenary of the Battle of Aubers Ridge where Wadhurst lost 25 men in one evening during the First World War.  I had emails from parents thrilled at the Sussex championship winning performance of our cheerleading team.  On Friday one Year 8 boy completed the herb garden he had been developing for our food technology department, in his lunchtimes.  Last week there was a number of fundraising events towards the Himalayan trip, where students have to raise the money for the trip themselves.  Our Duke of Edinburgh students completed their work on the use of mobile technology with the third group from the University of the Third Age.  One of those ladies took the time to tell me of her pride in watching our Sixth Formers, unrequested, go and buy cups of tea for those collecting for Remembrance Day on a particularly cold day.  One of our Sixth Formers will goes to the local nursing home to play music and sing to its residents.  The school has raised well over £15,000 this year for various charities culminating in the sponsored walk where the whole College, all the students and staff, walk the 13 miles around Bewl Water.

What I can tell you is this is no different from the work that young people do the breadth and length of this country.  What we do we feel is remarkable, but having worked in a variety of schools it is the norm.  Although, vilified by some, even those who occasionally react or mess about in the wrong ways, will still be those with the propensity for charity and good deeds.  One of our most troubled students comes alive when working with children from local primary schools.

So, yes some members of our community get it wrong at times.  Is there a section of society that doesn’t?  Should we really speak in terms of damning all over the actions of a few?  What I can promise you that day in and day out the young people we work with are truly remarkable.

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OFSTED the inadequate organisation



This week saw one of the most respected Headteachers in England, Geoff Barton, write a damning article about his experience of a recent inspection.  In his article he expressed what a number of us have felt about the inspectorate over the past few years.  That OFSTED are too data lead; have too many absolutes in their framework; focus in on narrower and narrower issues; do not have consistency in their inspectors, leading to too many inconsistent judgements; leading to too many Headteachers leaving or being told to leave their jobs and that they have lost their school improvement role.

We have also seen that schools with higher ability intakes, i.e. schools where the students arrive with better Key Stage 2 test results gain disproportionate amounts of outstanding grades.  Whereas schools that have lower ability intakes gain disproportionate amounts of inadequate and require improvement grades.  Partnered with the effect on a person’s career of a disappointing OFSTED means there is a shortage of teachers wishing to work or lead schools in challenging circumstances.

All of this has led to an overwhelming opinion from the profession that OFSTED is no longer fit for purpose.  Like all of my colleagues, I believe that there is an important need for accountability and for schools to be regularly visited.  However, there is no doubt that the current confrontational approach by inspectors has had its day and we now need a change.  Therefore my proposal:

  1. Outstanding and good schools

School Self Evaluation (SEF), peer review reports (where other Headteachers visit the school and observe its practice) and Improvement plan is requested by Inspector (HMI).  HMI reads these documents and looks at the exam results and decides whether a further visit is needed.  It will be needed, if a school feels that it has moved from good to outstanding.

Also, a certain number could have a follow up visit from an HMI to check consistency.  This would be simply for HMI to meet the Headteacher and Chair of Governors.   This will give OFSTED a clearer picture of best practice in certain areas or make small adjustments to the improvement plan, but grade is maintained.

If HMI disagrees with the SEF and/or the plan – differing levels of inspection:

Full visit – depending on the seriousness of the issues.

Or a shorter visit to inspect one area of the SEF and/or the Improvement plan

  1. Schools moved to, or are Requires Improvement or inadequate
  2. a) HMI that inspected and gave the grade becomes the school improvement partner and works with the school over the year. This gives consistency to the school and allows the inspector to judge improvements.
  3. b) Next inspection: HMI who has been working with the school provides a report on the distance travelled and makes a recommendation to the next team. Next team judge on a visit using SEF, Improvement plan and recommendation of supporting HMI.  This gives the next grade consistency as you have the opinions of the original HMI.  This also allows the school to work with one clear support partner.  It also allows OFSTED to quality assure.

What we agree on, is that the current framework and inspectorate has lost the confidence of educators and it is now time to change.

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Schools and headlines (making big numbers small)


1017311_664284926917985_479111536_nThe first point to note is that there are approximately 8.2 million pupils attending 24,372 schools in England.  That includes all state schools in England.

When seemingly large pots of money are bounded around by politicians it is worth referring yourself to the above figures.  Recently, Nicky Morgan announced £4.5 million to help schools and local services to offer support for students with mental health issues.  Although welcome, it means that the government is funding 54p per pupil or £184 per school. This wouldn’t fund a counsellor for one day.   Another example is a £5 million innovation fund to help schools deliver activities that instil character and resilience in children, such as debating clubs and sports coaching.  Of course this is again welcome, but it equates to £205 per school.  I can tell you that this doesn’t pay for much coaching.

Then when you have shocking headlines, such as “Hundreds of pupils caught with drugs at school, police figures reveal” (TES 23/04/2015).  It is always worth stopping to consider what that means.  Well the article goes on to say that “illegal substances seized in more than 2,000 incidents and offences over the past four years.”  It also mentions children as young as 8 have been found with drugs at school.   Referring back to the figures at the top of this comment, that means there has been less than one incident in each school in the last 4 years.  No quite the alarming issue that the headline spoke of.  Not even one a year.

However, one headline from the last week of campaigning did make school leaders look up. “Clegg’s £5bn school pledge: Lib Dems promises highest education spending”.  That could mean around £200,000 extra funding for each school…only trouble is that will only pay for half of the increases in staffing costs I spoke about a few weeks ago.  Big numbers at times, sadly, only have a small impact.

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Can we have an evidenced based profession?

NTEN-logoIf there is one over-riding theme that has emerged from the profession over the last 5 years, it is that we should be investing our time ensuring that the methods we use in the classroom have an evidence base.

There have been many fads over the past twenty years and although most of us knew they had no basis, we dutifully trod down the paths of a number of ‘snake oils’.  Learning styles, green pen marking, left brain, right brain, hydration and Brain Gym have all found their way in, to a greater and lesser degrees into our classrooms.  We all knew that there was something wrong with them, but we followed or compelled to follow them.  What was damaging was the way in which some of these became policy of schools and teacher training providers; I still look at learning styles on a lesson plan and despair.  None were proven, and most were pseudo-science.  Some had an element of usefulness, for example in the case of brain gym, exercise was good it just didn’t stimulate certain parts of the brain.

So the last five years has been about trying to make the profession evidenced based.  Ben Goldacre, author of “Bad Science” wrote a paper about what evidence based practice could look like.  The paper was well received and actually brought ‘real’ research methods into the language of teaching.

He also explained the virtues of randomised trials and how they could be useful.  Scientifically valid, yes.  But morally right?   Ultimately you would be interested when a significant impact was found.  Meaning that one group could do significantly worse or one group significantly better.  But, which group would you want your children to be in?

So the profession has continued to act cautiously, especially when Education theory heavyweights such as Dylan Wiliam points out:
1.      Research can’t tell you what could be
2.      Research is rarely clear enough to guide action

As Tom Bennett noted in his TES article:

“Teaching can — and needs to be — research informed, possibly research augmented. The craft, the art of it, is at the heart of it. Working out what works also means working out what we mean by ‘works’, and where science, heart and wisdom overlap and where they don’t.”

So schools, like Uplands Community College, are working with other schools to see how we can start to be more evidenced based.  As members of the National Teacher Enquiry Network we are into our second year of Lesson Study.  This is a process of working with other teachers to investigate how to ensure students make better progress in their learning.  You can find out more here http://tdtrust.org/nten/lesson-study/what-is-ls/