This is one of several posts that I’ve started but never quite got round to hitting ‘publish’ on. Prompted by a tweet from Dawn Cox about the values we put onto children (and my recent thoughts about cultural capital) I thought it was a good opportunity. (Quick reminder that all our pupils are boys so when I refer to ‘the boys’ it’s because I naturally interchange ‘boys’ and ‘pupils’ when talking about work rather than me just stereotyping).
Also,do we put our own narrative & values onto children?Why try & get little Jonny to go to uni?Will it isolate him from family/community?
— Dawn Cox (@MissDCox) July 22, 2017
I started this post over a year ago in February 2016 after reading this Guardian article about white working class boys and university. I think by the time I came back to it the moment had gone and I never finished it. The article focuses on the aspirations of white working class boys and the role of universities in targeting underrepresented populations. One of the statements that caught my attention was “If these young men embrace academic success, they face entry into an unfamiliar and disconcerting world”. This is a theme I recognise regularly in our pupils.
I think for the majority of our pupils the experience they have of education is that it’s easier to fail than succeed. They know what to do when they fail – they know how to run off, know how to get told off, know how to respond in an aggressive manner, and know the sort of response they will get from adults. Quite often they find it very difficult to cope with praise (certainly open praise). If there’s a problem or issue at school or home, they will often try to get in a situation where they are stopped – physically or otherwise. It’s all about controlling a situation. They can deal with being picked on for not doing something right – can always fall back on kicking off.
As our school gets bigger there are more pupils that know each other, either from previous schools or their neighbourhoods (plus social media etc). I’ve noticed how this makes a difference to ‘showing face’ beyond what happens in school. We’re probably quite lucky in that it’s only fairly recently that the tentacles of social media have worked their way into our school – one of the benefits of having a couple of kids from each area of a whole city.
When it comes to aspirations though, why is university still seen as the be-all and end-all? There’s a massive rise in the number of apprenticeships – not just ‘trades’ now there are opportunities everywhere, but university’s seen as better. With rising fees and scrapping of grants, followed by questions about devaluation of degrees, there are legitimate reasons for not wanting to come out of university and be competing with those with three years experience for similar jobs (although I don’t believe fees and loans are any reason not to go and I do appreciate the earning potential stats). It’s not stereotyping to say that a high proportion of our boys will end up with a trade. We offer them vocational qualifications, and courses involving some sort of construction or motor engineering are pretty common next steps. It’s interesting that many of our pupils are likely to end up earning more in a trade professions than an NQT but are not likely to see themselves as our equals. So perhaps it really isn’t money that matters but education.
Something I’ve thought about is that despite the attitudes of our pupils, do the parents of these children – despite their background – aspire to university? Do these white working class boys that shun university for themselves want their own children to go to university? Anecdotally, I know of several people who I think feel they have to prove themselves to be just as good as someone who has been to university and it possibly gives them more drive, they’ve built up businesses and empires of their own, but they want for their children a ‘better’ life, and that includes university.
The discussion is one that has been played out before and will be again. The question of whether it is right for the educated, middle class to decide which values and experiences to pass on to white working class children is one that can be a minefield. Is it for us to decide what matters? Should we impose our own values on children? By thinking we’re aiding them are we curbing them? Either way, are we judging them and their backgrounds? We want them to study Shakespeare (the content of those final GCSE papers is class-blind) so taking them to see Shakespeare is part of that. Is Shakespeare OK but not opera? Is street-dance OK but not ballet? If we want them to learn languages is it OK if they go on an exchange trip? Not other foreign travel? Can we take them skiing at the Snowdome in Birmingham but maybe avoid the Alps? There’s never going to be an easy answer.
Part of our job is forcing our opinions on our pupils whether that’s the curriculum we teach or the language we use when we speak to them. I’m not going to oversimplify my vocabulary when I’m talking to the boys just because there’s the danger they’ve never come across a word before, I’ll explain it. I’m not going to apologise for wanting to build their ambitions – it’s a better place to start than not. Of course getting them reading and calculating (preferably maths, not crime) is the first step, but can’t we do a bit of both? I want us to open their worlds. I want them to ask questions and if nothing else, I want them to be really good at pub quizzes. I want them to know that whether they want to go into a trade or go to university, they are worthy of it. Some of them have dreams that we don’t think they’ll achieve and I want them to prove us wrong.
I’m not living in a fantasy world. I know what the future is likely to hold for some of them. At the moment I’m hoping that the future for some of them isn’t on the front of the Nottingham Post as they merrily go about their holidays, for others I’m hoping that come results day they get a couple of GCSEs. I suppose it’s not for us to decide where their limit is. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t judge them and do our best to get them to the next bit.
The role for technology in education, and the impact technology has on children generally, is a thoroughly embedded topic for debate. I’m sure if twitter had been around at its inception, the Casio Databank would’ve been the topic for a whole half-term’s Edutwitter ‘civilised’ discussion but there is an understandable increase in these sorts of conversations as we try to keep up.
The latest story to hit the tech-debate radar is this one in the Toronto Star reporting that grade 7 and 8 students at Earl Grey Senior Public School are to have restricted access to their mobile phones during lessons. Now, I work in a school where the pupils have always handed everything in when they get to school – even before mobile phones were commonplace – so I’ve not really noticed the rise in personal tech use in classroom in perhaps the same way as other schools, but it still seems odd that this sort of ban (and not even for all year groups) would be newsworthy.
Screen-use in the classroom is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, so what concerns should we have with this? Carl Hendrick recently blogged about why the Internet should be kept out of the classroom, citing a 2016 study (Ravizza et al) looking at how university students use laptops in class reported the relationship between classroom performance and internet usage. They found that ‘nonacademic Internet use was common among students who brought laptops to class and was inversely related to class performance’. A recently published Japanese study (Kawahara and Ito, 2017) looked at the ‘Effect of the Presence of a Mobile Phone during a Spatial Visual Search’ and found that even without using it, the mere presence of a mobile phone can adversely affect cognitive performance. This offers an opportunity for us to look at the impact of classroom technology and how schools can use classroom technology in a balanced way.
In response to an open letter published in December 2016 over concerns about children’s ‘screen-based’ lifestyles, a second letter quickly responded, calling for ‘quality research and evidence to support these claims and inform any policy discussion’. Whilst worries over increasingly sedentary lifestyles and mental health issues are understandable, the letter argues that there is little evidence to support the concerns in the initial letter and encourages the government and research bodies to invest in well-founded guidelines.
The evidence around the benefits and disadvantages of technology for children is ever-changing. In 2015 the American Academy of Paediatrics reviewed their guidelines for early childhood screen time, mostly based on old research into television time, which previously recommended that children under two should stay away from screen media. They have now provided more evidence-based guidance as to how children should use screens, including for unstructured play and the positives of video chatting with distant relatives.
At our school a decision was reached several years ago to provide each pupil with their own laptop to use in school. As we started to expand we found our ICT suite with 6 laptops wasn’t enough for 30 pupils and they were getting damaged etc so we started to roll out laptops and now we have 1:1 from KS2-4. Pupils use these within all lessons – we run KS2/3 on a mostly primary model of class teacher teaching most subjects with some specialist teachers/swapping (KS4 is more specialist). Laptops move with the pupil throughout day/years – it’s easier to track use and damage etc. Obviously (perhaps) laptops aren’t used in every lesson but they are used a lot. They are also used during some reward times and some break times (probably why online games are still accessible).
Certain websites are blocked from use like social media/YouTube/keywords and as websites appear that we want to block (YTPak as a YouTube substitute for instance) we can inform our blocking people (although I did find recently that I wasn’t able to access websites using the word ‘edge’ in the URL. This was an issue as I was trying to look at the knowledge organiser blogs and ‘knowledge’ was banned). We also use software for managing and monitoring what the pupils are using live. Teachers can view (and control) pupil laptops which is useful for both instances of inappropriate pupil activity and in-lesson sharing of work on the IWB. If pupils are using the computers inappropriately then we have reward/sanction systems that are used.
Clearly this is different to other types of screen use in the classroom but I do have concerns that we, staff and pupils, can be over-reliant on the laptops. Whether that means a reduction in the amount of handwriting pupils do, ‘lazy’ internet research (we’ve all heard amusing tales of Wikipedia regurgitation), or a slightly more concerning impact on processing information as described by Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) looking at laptop vs written note-taking by university students. Our pupils don’t take a huge amount of notes in lessons, but if we over rely on using the laptops when they do, the chances are we’re denying them the opportunity to process the information in a meaningful way.
Even if we can’t do much about what they do at home, we have a lot of control over how much technology pupils use in the classroom. There are some great resources out there and the deeper debate over this is perhaps for another day, but how much of school-tech is driven by what staff quite fancy having a play around with over the genuine benefits in the classroom? It’s almost becoming a cliché to ask whether the 1:1 iPads are essential or could you do it another way and save thousands of pounds (seems old but I had this conversation a fortnight ago). In a desire for an easy ride, doing something different’, squeezing in some of those illusive ’21st Century Skills’, is it actually more revolutionary to go without?
More robust research will hopefully lead to better guidelines, but we need to use our professional common sense as well. We’ll never be completely on top of it but we do have some control over our classrooms and probably just as well because with last month’s speculation that Apple are set to introduce a ‘cinema mode’ for iPhones, it seems like it soon won’t be single screen-use we’ll be discussing, but perhaps multi-screen use as well.
The other day I was going through some possible reading materials for upcoming journal clubs and came across this in this (pdf):
The next day I was asked why I’d even consider looking at a paper from a computer science conference as a journal club text. I didn’t see this as a negative thing and I replied saying it was a case study of iPad use in primary (which the I assume satisfied as it was followed by the customary ‘like’), but it does throw up interesting questions about the types of reading we should be looking at in education journal clubs. My own stance is that the reading/s are used as a stimulus for conversation – this can be everything from discussing the ins and outs of current research in detail, to debating a wider topic (in this case I was thinking it might be interesting to compare how iPad technology was first introduced with how it is now), but I wonder how many people think we should only be looking at ‘perfect’, purely educational research?
The recent opening of Chartered Collage of Teaching membership, particularly with its free access to 2000+ journals has excited many on my timeline. I’ve got my own jealousy that I can’t join in with that part but it seems to have worked to change a few people’s minds and soon after the announcement I saw tweets suggesting people are wiling to join just for the access. I do have some misgivings about how useful journal access in itself will be but I think (presume) there will be different benefits of membership for those who aren’t interested in journals so I know it’s not all about that.
The way people use research in education is a recurring topic for debate and recently renewed. If teachers are thinking they’ll be able to search for papers that tell them ‘x is good, y is bad’, the chances are they won’t (and if they do then I think they should be cautious). I still believe that most people won’t have time to look for information in detail and if they do have time, wading through what’s out there can be hard and end up with cherry picking and sweeping assumptions. My choice of papers for journal clubs won’t always be a shining beacon of quality educational research or perfectly relatable to what we’re looking at in school (with or without access) but that’s an important part of the discussions we need to have.
I think the role of Research Lead now has an even greater chance to be pivotal in helping to translate research and point colleagues in the right direction. Journal club discussions can help with this of course and allow people to dip their toes in; but even for more rigorous investigation, knowledge translation is going to be important. I’ve delved into the world of Knowledge Mobilisation for various things recently and I’m convinced that there are exciting directions this can go in, whether that’s research summaries, brokering or bespoke investigations.
Increased access to research will be great for sharing original sources and following up of ideas. It will be used by some for deep academic study and inevitably by others to try and find a quick fix, tick-the-research-informed-box activity. It’s a brilliant opportunity for teachers but it’s also an opportunity to put guidance in place so that everyone can really make the most of it. I think it’s important we remember that just because something isn’t presented as ‘education research’ it doesn’t mean we can’t call it out for saying touching a screen with more than one finger is a ‘natural means of input’ and that this will motivate students, and recognising that something isn’t perfect is good for us too. In fact, I’d argue that’s exactly what we should be doing with our widening engagement with research.
For me, as I don’t suspect I’m going to have access to thousands of journals any time soon, I’ll just have to continue using the wealth of open and free access articles for starting discussions and helping focus ideas.
So one minute you’re planning which cheap package holiday to book for half term and the next you’re flippantly replying to a tweet about an educational research conference in Washington DC. ‘Do they want to know about Journal Clubs?’ you ask. ‘Keep going…’ comes the reply.
So Portugal turned into Washington DC, and a tour of a local church turned into a tour of the White House. There are a lot of people who have done a lot of unexpected things because of researchED, but walking round the White House is pretty epic even by rED standards. It came at the end of a fairly intense week as we decided we’d go to New York for a few days before DC and it essentially turned into 7 days straight of open-topped bus tours which is hard-core even for us. To be honest, one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to write about it is that I’ve not quite come down from the whirlwind. The downside of this is that now I’ve had more time to process it, I’ve got so much more to say.
Other people have written about some of the sessions I went to like Kate Walsh’s and Ben Riley’s, and they’ve covered Dylan Wiliam’s brilliant keynote in varying amounts of detail so I won’t repeat that, however I did love that some of his themes were picked up throughout the day and this made for a unifying thread among some challenging ideas.
My favourite session by far was Ruth Nield‘s session on ‘Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships’. One of the reasons it’s taken me so long to write about #rEDWash is the amount of time I’ve spent looking through and getting sucked into her links – there’s some brilliant stuff out there! I went to this session partly because of a project that I’ve been working on with the School of Education at the University of Nottingham around collaborations between schools and researchers and I’m always up for new ideas (‘What Matters‘ – I’ll probably write about another time), and also to hear more about the wider picture of research use in schools in America. The day before we had been hosted by The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning at St Andrews Episcopal School for lunch and one of the questions they were asking us was about how to widen the scope of education research in American settings. I got the impression that there are lots of pockets of activity and it’s a question of how these can come together – perhaps easier with the smaller scale of the UK – but also the more limited use of social media with practitioners in the US.
Turns out there’s quite a bit of stuff going on with the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) (apologies if I get muddled with this, I wrote my notes furiously and interpreting my special shorthand a week later is proving awkward). Ruth set out the different strands of work they are doing and it sounds amazing – if the College of Teaching wants research to be at its core then they could do worse than looking at what’s going on here; the US may be behind in regards to practitioner involvement with research, but it’s all there for the taking. Their work is independent and covers a range of practical approaches, much more than just RCTs.
She started by discussing the value of education research, the disconnect between schools and researchers (something we’re all familiar with) and how their researcher-practitioner partnerships (RRP) are aiming to address this. Researchers and practitioners work together over time to co-construct agendas of work for mutual benefit. This allows them to work on research that is more relevant and hopefully more likely to inform practice; they are able to form long-term working relationships and both sides can develop professionally. To support these partnerships (which can be in cities, states, cross-state, cross-district) they have Regional Education Laboratories (REL) working with”Research Alliances” of education practitioners and policymakers. They identify areas of need and work together to analyse data and conduct research to develop and test strategies. The IES provides seed-grants of around $400,000 to develop projects for which they can go on to apply for further funding if required. Projects mentioned included one that created software to track progress and now has a national audience.
In addition to the RELs, the IES has the What Works Clearinghouse (how had I not seen this before?) which ‘reviews the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education’ and hosts intervention reports, reviews of individual studies and a series of practice guides that they are now seeing schools adapt and use for their setting. Tom Bennett came in to the session towards the end and drew similarities to the EEF in the UK; this is so much more than that; it’s sort of like a cross between the EEF Toolkit and the Literacy intervention review Tom Sherrington talked about at rED15, but it’s nicer to look at with simple infographics (including a lovely representation/summary of the setting for each intervention). You can see effectiveness, improvement, and my favourite bit – you can compare interventions. Something that really impressed me was that all their reports go through peer review before they are released (see picture for questions). Ruth was clear to point out that they aren’t just interested in the ‘gold standard’ of research – they publish a cross-section of work, summaries and of course RCTs.
On top of all this they have ERIC – the Education Resources Information Center. I did know about this one and they’ve recently changed the website to be a bit more easy to use. ERIC is a digital library of education research and other information – in their words ‘ERIC’s mission is to provide a comprehensive, easy-to-use, searchable Internet-based bibliographic and full-text database of education research and information for educators, researchers, and the general public.’. How can we not be excited about this? Perfect for Journal Clubs too…
One of the issues the IES, and research engagement in US schools generally, seems to have is with ‘reach’ and I asked how they get their message out to schools. They use social media, professional associations and each REL has a governing board with regional commissioning officers that work in their localities. I’m sure there could be more. I was already following one of the IES twitter accounts and have since followed more, but when I look at how many followers these accounts have or how many RTs/Likes the posts have they are no where near the amount that similar UK accounts have. This is a bigger issue than the IES of course; one of the things that stood out to me and others was the low number of classroom teachers at rEDWash in comparison to the UK events. I’m certain that if more teachers engaged with this work, the impact could be massive. I don’t know that I have any answers to the questions this throws up, but I’m sure researchED has a part to play.
There’s so much I’ve not written about yet, just with Ruth Nield’s session, and I’m at a ludicrous amount of words already. I’ve not talked about my session, the people we met, the pub, what’s next for me and research. This has been an amazing, crazy week and I’ve thought about researchED a lot – as always it’s about keeping up the momentum and sharing ideas. I’ll have a think and write about it more next.
A theory I’ve had at the back of my mind for a while now is that there’s an emerging ‘2nd Generation’ of researchED goers. I’ve increasingly found that discussing the day with people I’ve now spent time with (both during conference and in pub afterwards) at several events is quite different from some of the conversations I’ve had throughout the day with people who were just starting to engage with researchED.
When researchED began in 2013, no one knew quite what it would be like but it looked like it’d be a good day out. I’d had a year without studying and I was eager to see how I could keep my foot in with all the research stuff I’d slaved over for three years. On the day there were people you recognised, a wide variety of sessions to attend, and there was nothing to lose. It was grass-roots – but not yet a movement. I felt the same way I did after my first MEd tutorial – there were all these people interested in the same things and I wanted to do it again. I scribbled notes for my first blog post as we drove back up the M1 towards home, and so did other people. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to do it again – there was a hunger for more. We all took different things away from the day but we’d gone along to take part and be part of that day.
There was a rhetoric at the first couple of Research Leads events that centered on the need for head teachers and leaders to have a ‘vision’. The vision to drive their institution forward and properly engage with research on a whole-school level or it ‘wouldn’t work’. The message seemed to have shifted from engaging individuals, to ‘how do we familiarise people with research’, to the requirement for a ‘whole school vision’. I don’t think anything is wrong with this. I agree leadership need to be on board of course, but I think there is now a group of people who have skipped the first bit and are aiming for the last. They may have been sent to a researchED event by their Head in order to bring back the magic bullet, or be that Head looking for ideas. They want to know how it’s all supposed to work in practice; where the common ground lies between schools and what the bigger picture is; what the point is. The theory sounds great but it’s turning into a big job.
At one of the events Tom Bennett made a comment about whether researchED was the new Brain Gym yet. There does seem to be a reflexive reaction to the growing interest in research in schools, “that looks good, we’ll try that, Ofsted will love it”, throwing everything into ‘research’ without stopping to think about what it means and what will work for your individual setting – perhaps heightened by Research and Development as one of the ‘Big Six’ key areas of focus for Teaching Schools. I’m part of it myself I suppose. I asked for the Research Lead role because I didn’t want anyone else to get it. I’m still happily moving along, picking up ideas and things to try out. I’m in a different situation to a lot of people though; our school is small and think there are quite a few things that aren’t suited to us so I’m not so worried about figuring out how we’ll fit it in. I’m happy to cherry pick and try to work out what we can try whilst I continue to meet with interesting people and build connections for us.
Jude Enright used Pasteur’s Quadrant model of scientific research in her session in Cambridge. Our group discussion about where the Research Lead lies within the quadrant was interesting. We pretty much decided that we can flit from place to place depending on what we are engaging with. I like to think that even though I’ve got a responsibility as Research Lead to consider how research is relevant and used, I can also delve into research for the sake of it; it’s like the indulgent me-time of research. As Research Leads I think a lot of our work is helping others find their quadrant and supporting them. Be that individually, as a whole school or perhaps as part of a TSA. I understand that schools don’t want to be left behind, and I really understand the need to be part of this – it doesn’t mean it has to be about finding ‘the answer’ all the time though. People can be nominated to do the role but there needs to be an element of personal interest.
I know the Leads events are more focused on what we can actually bring back to do in schools, the national conference has a broader scope and I’m glad it has continued to be that way. One of the best things about researchED is that it’s a hobby; I’ve seen people at teachmeets getting a bit haughty about research – feeling like they’ve got to question things for the sake of it. It turns people off and spoils it. A speech from Tom Bennett is never complete without astonishment that so many people are giving up their Saturday to attend. We’re doing it for fun, it’s enriching but it doesn’t feel like we’re at work. At least that’s how I see it.
My advice to the 2nd Generation, for what it’s worth, is you don’t need to worry about rushing to find the answers. Take the opportunity to see what other people are achieving and think about how you can adapt it to fit. That’s part of working our what works, right?
I’ve not seen many blog posts about rEDYork and to be honest as I’ve not got anything down for a week I did wonder if it was worth it, but I quite often use these sorts of posts for my own reference so I’ll go for it.
It’s been an unusually long time since I went to a researchED event – well, September, but that feels like a long time especially with the frequency of rED events popping up around the globe. It’s felt like a slightly slower year generally researchwise for me too I suppose, but this looks like it’s picking up with a few bits and bobs on the horizon.
This was the second researchED event at Huntington School in York, the first I’ve been to. A much nicer balance of Research Lead focus and ‘things people have tried’ I think, and it sets it out as different to the national event. I had the usual dilemma of what to see and I realise I now have the added conundrum of whether to see things that catch my eye or things I think might make for a good piece in Relay (the Learning and Development bulletin I diligently churn out every half term with no idea how many people are reading it). I pretty much went with catching my eye I reckon. Here’s the list anyway:
- Keynotes: Estelle Morris and Philippa Cordingly
- Leon Walker et al: ‘How RISE helped develop an enquiry-based approach to curriculum development’
- Gary Jones: ‘What would a curriculum to develop evidence-based practitioners look like?’
- Lisa Pettifer: ‘Teacher-led professional learning’
- Carol Davenport: ‘Unconscious bias in the classroom’
- Alex Quigley: ’10 things a busy teacher needs to know about research evidence’
It was the sort of day I’ve become familiar with and was starting to miss. It was good to see some familiar faces and meet some new ones, with interesting conversations as standard. Not going to describe each and every moment but I’ll pick out some bits that have particularly stuck with me throughout this week.
It was great to hear about how the RISE project is going down at Meols Cop Hight School. Realising that the job of leading things was too big for one person (and having responsibility for the school timetable), Leon Walker has passed on some of the responsibility to subject leaders and we heard what was being done in English, Maths and Science. The one that caught me here was Jen Filson talking about their Maths trial based on a research paper she was given. I did pinch this as an idea for Relay so if you’re interested you can read a summary here (pdf), but it was a brilliant example of taking an idea from research and using it to spark something, and having the opportunity to do so. My absolutely favourite thing from the day was slipped in at the end by Leon who revealed in the list of things they’re doing next year that in his timetabling duties has pre-set parallel groups into the structure of the school in order to make enquiry easier. Blowing my mind timetable style.
It’s worth a bit of detail on Lisa Pettifer’s session. I almost didn’t go to it because I’d forgotten what I’d circled earlier and was getting swept away with the dining room crowd – glad I did go, she’s a guddun this one. Lisa talked about her role in the school’s Professional Development Department – how this sits in the school and how the school sits within their community. I loved how professional development is very much an interwoven part of school life and not an after thought (or a tick list of certifications we all need to do). I loved that there are no senior leaders in the PD team. I loved the range of opportunities they help provide. I loved the diagram of their PD model (I got to scribble it in my notes and I took a photo with my shoddy phone camera. Bonus points if you can make it out*). I really loved that they were taking the opportunity to bring PD in-school, achieving ‘success through collaboration’, and I would like to explore how we can get some of all this going at our school.
Last one I’ll go into detail of is Carol Davenport on ‘unconscious bias’. This started with a breakdown of the reasons we have unconscious bias and how it can be useful (don’t misjudge a tiger for the wind) as well as problematic, before focussing more on the example of gender. I think working in a school where we only have boys, we are both more guilty of bias and more aware of it. I think for us, bias towards ‘boy stuff’ is often the easier option – football breaks, superhero themes etc. and there are reasons we generalise this stuff, the majority do like it. We do try though to move beyond it and consciously provide alternatives, whether that’s in exam courses like BTEC Hospitality alongside Motor Engineering or crafty options for lesson 6. Away from the ‘gender’ biases though I think we can be biased in other ways. Our boys come from very different backgrounds to most of our staff – culturally, economically, socially. We need to be careful not to pre-judge them and avoid self-fulfilling prophecies. This is something I’m particularly aware of as I baseline new pupils for next year. All our pupils have some sort of background that looks awful on paper and we can’t afford to focus on this too much.
I’ve pretty much decided that the next issue of Relay will be a sort of research focussed issue. I’ve tried to avoid it being too ‘researchy’ and give a broader selection of things so far (I don’t really want to bias it towards myself probably), but I think there’s so much going on everywhere that it would be a good opportunity to give a round-up of a bit more.
I’m proper excited for the National Conference in September now.
*Lisa Pettifer has fabulously provided the actual diagram which is very much less blurry 🙂
I vaguely followed the Michaela debates on Saturday, picking out bits from the people who were there and the conversations that took place for the rest of the weekend. A topic that seems to have caught wider attention is ‘“No Excuses” discipline’, with lots of Twitter activity and a few blogs setting out thoughts. Since then I’ve had a think about where our school sits in all this and actually I’m not sure it’s quite where I would’ve said it was on first thoughts.
My initial thoughts on ‘No Excuses’ are that it sounds great for some, but what happens to the ones that have to move on? I’m not the only one to think like this and I’ve seen references to SEND, family crises etc. What happens to the pupils and families that don’t ‘fit’? Where do they go? As Rachel Humphrey asked on Saturday, can the ‘No excuses’ setting only exist because there are others that will take the fall out? Quite often in these discussions, people put special schools to one side – “of course you’ll be different, you have different/ extreme circumstances” – but actually, as an SEMH school, all our pupils have all come from mainstream where they’ve left behind just as many pupils that could be here. We can’t afford to have strict ‘No Excuses’. We’re the end of the road. If I was asked during the debates, I would have said that we operate flexibly around our pupils’ needs. Having thought and read though, I think we do have ‘No Excuses’. We don’t let our pupils make excuses, but we do understand they have reasons.
Reading Jonathan Porter’s speech in favour of ‘No excuses discipline works’ I was struck with how much I agreed with – and how much of that we do. I wouldn’t have said it was ‘No Excuses’ but it seems to fit. I suppose it’s how we sanction pupils that’s probably different. Jonathan mentions the understandable points of uniform, time keeping, equipment. We have an awesome Attendance Officer solidly enforcing the expectation pupils are in by the 9.00 bell, so we get that one. Uniform’s not quite the same as it’s not compulsory, but they do get randomly rewarded if they’re in it when the Head does a spot-check and most of the boys wear it. As far as PE kit and equipment go, we recognise that there may be issues with these and so we’ve taken the problem away by providing (and washing) it all. No arguments over forgotten kits or swanky pencil cases. No excuses.
I recognise the tale of ‘Tom’ all to well. Our pupils come with chunky files and muliple agency recommendations. Very often there’s a history of sporadic school attendance and often a request for phased introduction. I’ve baselined kids hiding under tables, brandishing weapons and screaming their hearts out – some are being properly naughty, most of them are just scared. They’ve heard all sorts of tales, they’re pretty much de-schooled and I’m sitting there asking them to reveal the how embarrassed they are about their reading levels. We don’t have them start part time. They come in full time and if they have a tantrum we sort it out and get them back in class. That’s where the vast majority stay for most of the time.
So it seems like we’re actually a lot more ‘No Excuses’ than I’d thought we were. Some of this is probably to do with how my idea of what ‘No Excuses’ means is perhaps a bit harsher than the reality, but I keep coming back to this idea of ‘Reasons’. We have our fixed heirarchy of sanctions, and obviously if there’s something violent or seriously disruptive there’ll be serious consequences, but we if we can understand the reasons for a behaviour, we can help solve the problem. For that reason I’m much more comfortable with John Tomsett’s approach.
If a pupil doesn’t take their medication in the morning, we don’t let them use it as an excuse not to behave. We deal with the behaviours as they happen, but if they reveal half way trough the day that they haven’t had their morning dose, it goes a long way to explaining why they’ve been up in the air and we know there’s nothing more serious* going on. We’d much rather they tell us first thing that they’ve not had their tablet – not as an excuse, but as a reason why they may need a few minutes out or be struggling to focus.
*I saw Sean Harford commented around safeguarding and ‘No Excuses’. This is another big niggle I’ve got going on. We know our boys. We know the patterns of behaviour they have and this is really important for spotting safeguarding issues. I worry that ‘No Excuses’ means that you can miss the reasons and miss what’s going on in a pupil’s life. They change so subtly and it’s for us to spot these things. this isn’t a special school thing, this is an every school thing.
One of the points in favour of ‘No Excuses’ that I read was how you can’t have different things for different people or it all falls apart. I agree with this for the majority of the time, but I also think there are occasions where it is acceptable, and even beneficial to other pupils, to allow for concessions. I think it can be good for them to see that other people get different things sometimes. They don’t always like it at the time, but I think it can be important for pupils to see that sometimes things get in the way and consideration is given, whether that’s not having homework because they were kicked out of their home in the middle of the night, or Year 11 allowed to go off site for lunch and the others not. The way we deal with and explain it to pupils is important.
We aren’t perfect. There are times where we need to be more consistent and I would argue there are probably times where we could’ve been more flexible. We are facing the challenges of a fairly rapid school expansion within a building that doesn’t expand at the same rate. We have staff with 20+ years service (at our school) and staff fresh from a mainstream setting. There are more voices and opinions of how things should work than ever before and we need to do the best we can for our pupils. We are good at reviewing our systems regularly and understand that what works for KS4 one year might be totally inappropriate for the next. We’re small and can afford to make changes, but as we grow it is becoming harder.
Ultimately though, pupils like boundaries, they like to know where they stand and quite often ours come from a home life where the boundaries don’t exist. We can’t offer a ‘No Excuses’ environment where if a kid, or their family, doesn’t tow the line then they can go elsewhere. We are the end. We are it. People are surprised when they see how our pupils behave and what they achieve. We don’t let them use their backgrounds as an excuse not to do well, but there are reasons why they have a place with us and we need to recognise that.
I would love it if all my boys adored reading and shunned the real world as they opted to bury their heads in the pages of their imagination…
There are a few who are like this, but they’re more likely to be up until the early hours playing XBox online with some kid in America than up until the early hours reading books with a torch under the duvet. I know that’s the case with a lot of children, not just my rock-hard behavioural gang, and it’s certainly not a new issue. I’m not sure what the statistics are for the amount of books children have at home, but I do know that quite a few of ours aren’t likely to have a duvet, let alone a bookshelf, so it’s one of our priorities to give their love of literature a boost.
I work with various literacy interventions, but the most structured one I use is Catch Up Literacy (EEF project here). We’ve been running this successfully for about 8 years now and the impact on pupils who receive this intervention goes beyond learing how to read. The EEF report highlights improvements to pupil motivation and attitude to learning, as well as confidence and enjoyment – certainly something we’ve found as well. Quite often our pupils crave attention and recognition from adults, and dedicated time for 1-1 interventions gives them that. I generally have a whole lesson for a 20 minute intervention and the luxury of that extra time means I can focus on a particular target, work on other skills or look something up that they’ve been reading about. If they spot a book in the room that they’re interested in I’ll let them have a go no matter the level and give them a hand.
They’re eager to read. They see it as something mature and aspirational. They want to read about Biff and Chip because it’s safe and familiar, but they’re aiming for books with a spine and no staples because they’re ‘proper’ books (doesn’t matter whether there’s one word on a page, that spine makes a massive difference). It’s hard when they’ve got bits of knowledge. They (like many others) have been in and out of school (sometimes several) picking up the occasional topic; great with graphs, not so hot on shapes; learning about ‘igh’ but no idea what to do with ‘th’. We’re gap filling and when they think it’s too ‘baby-ish’ their enthusiasm can wane.
One of the things we use to combat this is rewards. We have a range of different reward systems throughout school and with Catch Up it’s stickers. Simple enough; each of them has a bookmark that they pop a sticker on after a session and when it’s full they get a prize and certificate. I like to think I’m fairly well versed on the ins and outs of rewards and motivation, and I know that the ultimate aim is for each and every one of them to be intrinsically motivated to participate. To be honest, most of the time they are, but that 16mm square sticker and the thought of a funky pencil at the end can be the most wonderful carrot when necessary. Intrinsic is great when they’re in a good mood, but we all need a bit of extrinsic now and again whether that’s a shiny sticker or a pay cheque.
Actually (this is the researchy bit) quite often they forget to put their sticker on, or we don’t quite keep track of how many blank squares are left, so all of a sudden we realise it’s prize day and it all gets very giddy. This of course is a great way to do rewards – my own disorganisation turns a spot of fixed ratio/fixed interval reinforcement into variable ratio/variable interval. Brilliant. Also, as a point of interest that I should probably re-investigate, when I was researching rewards and behaviour during my MEd, I found various bits of evidence that whilst extrinsic rewards/token economies don’t necessarily have the impact most teachers want, they do work with pupils with SEN. Wildly searching through old notes and a rescued hard drive, things I’ve found that may support my crazy statements are below. They may or may not be of use:
Capstick, J. (2005) ‘Pupil and Staff Perceptions of Rewards at a Pupil Referral Unit’, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, Vol 10. No. 2, 95-117
Hufton, N. R. and Elliot, J. G. (2004) ‘Motivation Theory and the Management of Motivation to Learn in School’ in Wearmouth, J., Richmond, R.C., Glynn, T. and Berryman, M. (eds) (2004) Understanding Pupil Behaviour in Schools: A diversity of approaches., London, David Fulton.
Witzel, B. S. and Mercer, C. D., (2003), ‘Using Rewards to Teach Students with Disabilities’. Implications for Motivation, Remedial and Special Education, Vol 24, No. 2, 88-96
So is reading its own reward? Most of the time I think it is. Sometimes things need a bit of a boost to get going and I’m happy with the system I’ve got. But what do we do on a wider scale, once we’ve taught them to read? How do we encourage them to read widely and for pleasure? Part 2 will look at some of the things that we’re trying in order to get them going.
The ‘Nottingham-Shire, a Voice for Education event held at The University of Nottingham, organised by Howard Stevenson, was part of the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science and billed as an opportunity for ‘students, parents, those who work in education or are simple interested in education’ to discuss and explore how we can ‘rediscover, reclaim and reinvent democratic public education’ in Nottingham City and the County. Intentionally broad, it covered all phases and interests. It was free and lunch was provided. Worth a shot.
The day was orgainised around four workshops that were presented in the morning and repeated in the afternoon, giving an opportunity to attend a couple of options. The opening thoughts centred around four themes:
- Community – Forming a community based on collective values and our position in society amongst others.
- Creativity – Challenging traditional notions of ‘activism’ (including the style of events like this one).
- Connections – People are often triggered to come into something by being against it. We need to connect being ‘agianst’ with being ‘for’ something.
- Co-construction – Challenging the notion ‘there’s nothing you can do about it’.
It’s easy for people to adjust to the environment they’re in and narrow their expectations. We should promote the idea that there’s ‘no such thing as no alternative’, a concept Stevenson illustrated with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
Whilst I am a member of a union, and I do think it is important that we stay up to date and challenge things that threaten education (whatever the sector), I am not by any means an ‘activist’ in the common sense of the word. I am interested in the idea of how we can work together across education and in collaboration with wider society to establish what we need. Particularly how once we have come together over what we are against, we should work on what we are ‘for’.
Don’t get me wrong, unions are an important part of the collaboration. They are experienced and hold a high level of knowledge and skills needed to bring people together and have their collective voice heard. I can’t be the only one though that can feel intimidated by loud opinions that seem closed to debate, or presume that everyone has the same thoughts (something Martin Robinson wrote about in May), and I worry that there is public and education sector fatigue with repeated campaigns. To hold onto the proposal that we need to revise our notions of ‘activism’ and think creatively, I am encouraged by the enthusiasm for getting a wider community together – alongside unions – to challenge decisions but also to put together solutions.
Developing Collaborative Alternatives in Schooling
The first session I went to showcased the successful collaborations that have gone on in Leicester firstly to resist the acadamisation of their schools, but as a result of that, their city-wide reading initiatives including the ‘Everybody’s Reading Festival‘. I have two pages of notes about this session which are pretty much crammed with ideas – from Storytelling Week and Author Week, to bookmarks with tips for parents and reading champions in schools. Elements that stood out for me were the combination of CPD, networking and sharing ideas; schools bidding for ring-fenced literacy project funding; the potential uses of data collected from the (required) survey completed by each school; and the spread of this beyond schools and into the community. I am very jealous of what they’ve got going on there.
Due to a small train hiccup, the keynote speaker, Hilary Wainwright, was a little late so her talk was after lunch. She spoke about how we need to break the idea that change isn’t possible (using Jeremy Corbyn’s recent success as an example) and deep notions of democracy as people working together to achieve this. Having already heard about how unions can bring a community together, I wondered about the idea that unions could have a role as co-ordinating drivers for change – rather than simply focus on wages and conditions for members, a wider social role?
The Action For ESOL Campaign: Protest, Professionalism and Pedagogy
For my afternoon session I went to hear about the Action for ESOL Campaign. The particular subject matter isn’t something I have anything to do with but as a very specific section of education I can see some parallels with special education, and when it comes to fighting for funding and resources, I wonder if there are lessons to learn from their success. Through the coming together of professional, national and local networks (outside of a union structure although there was involvement), they successfully fought to keep provision accessible.
Analysing how and why this worked is of even more importance now as the renewed threat of cuts to the FE sector move closer. Earlier in the day we had discussed as a group what our ‘ideals’ in education were and points about access, valuing education and lifelong learning were central to this. It seems to me that we all need to have a greater awareness of what is happening in FE at the moment because for something that encompasses all the things we value about education, it’s not being valued elsewhere.
Seeds of a Nottingham Campaign For Education
The round up of the day included space for some local campaigns and initiatives to have a say and a break of into groups to discuss some of the issues arising from the day. I joined the ‘City’ group to discuss how we felt we could respond to the current consultation into the 10 Year Plan for Nottingham City. The consultation period is only a month long which seems woefully short, particularly as there doesn’t appear to have been a great deal of promotion around it, and our group felt that whilst the proposals were reasonable, they weren’t particularly ambitious or joined up with other work being done nationally around issues such as teacher recruitment and retention. There was a suggestion that we could put together a Citizens’ Jury to bring together the community and build an idea of how our whole community feels and what it needs.
It was certainly an interesting and thought-provoking day that I’m sure will be repeated, and even with a small toilets-not-working issue (which Tom Bennett having fixed a few of those during researchED events would probably see as standard), there was definitely a spark of something that I am keen to see develop and bring together the whole community, creatively, to challenge those that tell us what we need with what we know we need. If there’s a next-time, I think it would be good to encourage more parents (other than teacher-parents) to attend and there is definitely space for the research slant on things. We’ve got two big universities in Nottingham so why not take advantage of that expertise. Having mentioned researchED, I also think there might be an opportunity for Howard Stevenson to present something about this at one of the conferences.
Incidentally, a tweet from Tom Sherrington in February started doing the rounds again on Saturday morning. In many ways I think this fits brilliantly with the message that was being shared and it’s something we should keep in mind as we think about where we want this to go.
More information about the day all these things can be found here: https://nottsvoiceed.wordpress.com/