A fortnight of visits
The last two weeks have been crammed with all sorts of exciting visits to different schools and academies to do a bit of site-specific learning. I would like to share a few reflections on each of these visits.
Back at my EP school, the senior staff were very quick to tell us that Ofsted have just graded them 'Outstanding' across every grading criteria, which makes them the fifth school in three years to acheive this. As I spend more time at this school I am starting to understand just how complex the inner workings of an outsanding school really are. I am meeting people in charge of creativivty across the curriculum, I am meeting people in charge of connecting the curriculum areas, I am meeting people in charge of PSHE and Citizenship across the school, I am being introduced to pupil voice groups that I never knew existed, I am meeting heads of years who are non-teaching staff and are on hand all day everyday to support the teachers. I am meeting people in charge of managing staff relationships, leaders, not teachers. I am realising that the assumption that every techer makes a good leader is bobbins. SOME teachers make good leaders and some leaders make good teachers, but what's wrong with having actual, proper, good-at-their-jobs leaders in school leadership roles?
This has all got me thinking about what really makes a school 'Oustanding'. Who defines outstanding? Well... we know Ofsted do, but surely 'outstanding' means so much more than ticking the boxes already put in place by Ofsted. I think it's about thinking outside of those boxes, and God forbid, maybe even building new ones. With the dreaded visits from Ofsted, where is the room for innovators to make some necessary mistakes and, in learning from those mistakes, still be making 'outstanding' contributions to the field of education? Let's not get stuck in a rut just out of a desire to tick Ofsted's boxes and then be given a shiny 'outstanding' label to paste all around the school. Perhaps we can think of an incredible idea that Ofsted have never come across before... what then!? What if there isn't a box designed for such an idea... Well then we'd be building new boxes. And that's what education needs. For a school like my EP school, they absolutely need to build some new boxes because, as we know, they've already ticked all the others... what now Ofsted? They'll be running around like headless inspectors.
In the morning, I was sold. The head was inspirational, I agreed with everything he said about education. I wanted to work for this man. The school system was like nothing I had ever seen before, 5 terms of 8 weeks, each with a two week holiday at the end. Two three-hour lessons each day, not defined by one specific subject but instead categorised into three different 'schools': 1) Arts, Humanities, Sport and Leisure; 2) Language and Communication 3) Maths, Science and Technology. This was closer to cross-curricular schooling than anything I had previously observed. My only issue at this point was that 'Arts' and 'Language' (incl. English) were in two seperate schools. Another ridiculous attempt to separate Drama from English. Shakespeare would be gutted.
I was sat in my chair in the gleaming, new, state of the art theatre thinking 'this is the fufutre of education' and then thinking 'GIVE ME A JOB! I'LL DO ANYTHING!" I even started making plans for moving my life to Birmingham permanently. But alas, as with many other things I show interest in, I got a bit carried away. My epiphany was quickly followed by a sense of sheer dissapointment when I actually went to observe one of these supposedly innovative three hour Opening Minds lessons. It was just three normal science lessons sewn together. It was like I was back studying KS4 Chemistry, only this time it was dragged out over half of a whole school day. This to me felt a long way from the innovation i had been sold in the morning. But a positive step in the right direction (I think...)
A Specialist School. A place of hope and possilibites and unimagined futures for those kids. A place that takes pupils who have been hurt or let down by mainstream education and allows them to flourish. A joyful place; the teachers actually enjoy their jobs!? I was so inspired by their 'can do' ethos. The challenges they face are different to mainstream schools but at least the pupils want to be there... Now lets work on the able-bodied pupils in mainstream schools who take their education completely for granted.
The day itself was fairly dissaponting, my highlights were being taught Polish by some lovely EAL pupils, having an hour of one-to-one support with a Polish Year 10 pupil and last but not least, the amazing lunch. The rest of the day I could have done without. For teachers who have already had one placement, most of the workshops were patronising and repetitive. These seminars would have been much more beneficial if they had happened before PP1. I wanted to observe pupils learning EAL intergrated into a mainstream lesson, as we only got to work with them in a withdrawal context. It is unlikely I will be doing much withdrawal when I'm teaching properly, so it would have been far more interesting to observe how other class teachers promote inclusion in their everyday lessons. However, it reminded me that inclusion is absolutely my responsibility.
The English language is SO complex.
"The ability to read s a greater predictor of prosperity that social class" O.E.C.D.
In talk-a-lot families (like mine) a child will have heard 33 million words by the age of three. They will have had over 1700 hours of stroy time.
In talk-a-little families (not at all like mine) a child will have heard only 9 million words by the age of three. They will have had just 25 hours of story time. My reflection: thank you Mum and Dad, you don't know how important our bed time story times have turned out to be!
In a recent survey, 60% of 18,000 teenagers said that texts were their most common reading. This is not good.
In the English language we have 26 letters (the Roman alphabet), 44 phonemes (the different sounds that these letters make), and more than 150 graphemes (the multiple different ways we write down the sounds that these letters make). For example, the letter 's' can make different sounds (phonemes) when placed in different words. But we make it harder for ourselves by writing the same sound in five different ways (five different graphemes): 's' 'ss' 'se' 'c' 'ce'. We take it for granted that we know which grapheme to use when spelling words, and which sound to use when reading spellings aloud. Our pupils cannot do this as effortlessly as us, so we need to make sure they really can access the writing we give them in class.
Isn't it amazing that an infant is able to learn such a complex language code? And doesn't make us realise what a tricky job older pupils have if they never learnt English by osmosis as a child, or didn't learn it well enough.
I am still learning. Thankfully.
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