Saturday, 23 July 2016

Time for a break...

So, that's the end of another academic year - one with its highs and its lows, but one I would say has been rewarding overall.

I have often shared the Channel 4 Paralympics videos on this website, believing them to be hugely inspiring, but here is a different perspective worth considering:


I've also just listened to an interesting interview, between Radio 2's Jeremy Vine and musician Professor Green. I can't help thinking he could have easily been one of my students, working as a I do in a PRU and as I have done in support departments within mainstream schools.


It turns out this interview is part of a wider series and I plan to come back to it, at least during the next month where spare time is more readily available.

~

I wrote in a blog post some years ago about how the school summer break could be looked upon as a 'sabbatical' rather than simply an extended holiday. This article makes a good case for sabbaticals across all sectors:


I actually think - for all the concerns over childcare, which for many are a real issue - most teachers, young people and their families do ultimately gain greater benefits from the summer holidays than simply not having to set an alarm. I think this is why the summer holidays have persisted since their original design, as a time for families to bring in the harvest. There may well be an argument for shortening them but I think we would all lose out if they were eroded away completely.

So here's wishing colleagues and students a safe and happy sabbatical - I suppose, if you want to, you can consider the above your summer reading and listening!

A snapshot from the iconic American daily cartoon series 'Calvin and Hobbes' - the creator Bill Watterson actively took sabbaticals to recharge before embarking on new,refreshed output.

Monday, 11 July 2016

What make Britain really great...

The Rio Olympics are coming soon and that also means the Paralympics. I absolutely loved the build-up and coverage Channel 4 gave to the Paralympics for London 2012 under the header 'Meet the Superhumans'.

Well, the superhumans are returning to the big screen. Click here for the amazing trailer Channel 4 showed tonight (Tuesday 11th July) about Ali Jawad.

And here's an older video if you want to find out more...



At a time when our nation is questioning itself, following the vote to leave the European Union and subsequent social, economic and political upheaval, the stories of people like Ali Jawad can help point the way forward...

Friday, 3 June 2016

Learning to study...

Over the past ten months I've been working with DK Publishing as a consultant on their new book, 'Help Your Kids with Study Skills'...


I should make it clear before I go further that I am not here to sell the book, I will make no profit from sales - my school received a payment for the hours I put in to the development of the book (the equivalent of supply cover costs) but that is all.

I have now had a look at the final copy and I do think it is a really good piece of work. I think it will prove to be a useful guide for parents and carers, form tutors, mentors and learning support teachers in terms of the overarching skills a young person requires as they reach the increasingly academic pressure-zones of Key Stage 4 and 5. It might also be something that would guide a Year 9 'Preparing for GCSEs' programme.

What I like about the book is that it is visual in its presentation which is good for the current generation of internet-minded readers. I am also really pleased that it takes seriously the emotional and social aspects of learning. These were priorities I pursued as I was sent page after page of briefs and drafts. I think the editor and authors have done a great job.

On a personal note, contributing to this project was an entirely new experience for me. I was contacted out-of-the-blue by DK Publishing after one of their senior editors, Carron Brown, had noticed my own attempts at study skills resources on TES. These attempts were a response to the fact I could find no 'school ready' books / materials on study skills out there to really direct and shape my tutor slots. 

I realise TES has now taken on a 'teachers pay teachers' aspect, a model which appears to be successful in the United States, but I have resisted moving over to this. This resistance is partly because I am naturally sceptical of commerce creeping too much into the teaching profession and partly because it is a minefield in terms of copyright and the taxman (read this blog post for more info). 

When teachers ask why I share my resources so extensively, I would say that it was initially simply 'just something I did' - an extension of my previous involvement in TES forums where teachers would habitually exchange resources by post. For my part, it usually involved me getting sent resources by more experienced colleagues, as I started out a newly qualified teacher.

One of my earliest memories of the benefits of resource-sharing was on taking over on a temporary contract from a History and Geography teacher, after he had been awarded a sabbatical as part of a government scheme in the early 2000s. I remember quite vividly helping him with his boxes into the car, as he explained he was 'off to do some research... and sitting in the garden'. There was a Zen-like air of calm about him which, in hindsight, was probably more relief than anything... What ensued was me trying to get to grips with some very rowdy classes, and with very limited experience in geography to boot - cue an SOS call on the TES forums!

In recent years, I have gained added motivation to share resources due to the encouraging emails from colleagues (new and old) who are taking things I have created, developing them further and putting them to good use - and the fact it brings along with it new opportunities such as this. I would certainly recommend teachers getting 'out there' online for these reasons - to borrow a well-known phrase...

Monday, 11 April 2016

It's been a while...

This is a quick update to let viewers know I am still online (mainly via my Facebook page), still teaching, still creating and sharing resources (mainly via TES), still working with students with special educational needs...

I even got a mention some months ago in the national press (no invites to 'Celebrity Big Brother' yet though). Oscar Quine, a journalist writing for The Independent, visited the Pendlebury Centre during the Autumn term as part of research into pupil referral units and alternative provisions judged to be 'outstanding'. In turn he wrote this article:


I am pleased Oscar Quine draws attention to the fact 24% of PRUs are judged 'outstanding' by Ofsted compared to 11% of mainstream provisions. As much as I think Ofsted judgements are simply one measure, and in an ideal world shouldn't be viewed as the be-all and end-all, I hope it goes some way to challenging stereotypes that these places are 'youth clubs' rather than important educational provisions. 

Such stereotypes are quite widespread and I even had one friend once question whether I was a 'real teacher' because I worked in such a setting. There are more positive responses but again, they tend to stereotype all the same. Usually when I tell people I work in a Pupil Referral Unit (and when they look puzzled, then go on to explain it's a specialist provision), the response is one of admiration tinged with the 'problem kids' fear - "oh, it must be so tough working with them kids..." I'm sure as they say this, in their mind's eye, the daily scenario being played out is not far from this:

From the film, 'Clockwork Mice' (1995)

The truth is it's not like this. The way I describe behaviour in a PRU when asked is that it is in fact ordinarily much calmer than most mainstream schools (this is deliberate, as many of our students have sensory sensitivity) - but the speed with which students become stressed is much faster and the way students then express their state of distress can be, occasionally, more extreme.

The truth also is, yes, the students I work with do come from complex backgrounds - sometimes it feels like you are 'wading through darkness' as you unpick particular situations. But again, most pastoral staff in mainstream schools will be able to identify at least a dozen students with similar stories. Perhaps the difference in a PRU is the intensity.

To work in a PRU, you definitely need a level of emotional literacy and resilience matched with a sense of perspective, a sense of humour and a sense of mission - it's not a job you can ever just show up to and go through the motions (which teaching job is?). But to speak plainly, in a well-led provision, the job is not any harder than mainstream teaching.

Oscar Quine observed my lesson and noted in particular the lack of behaviour issues - which he puts down to my ability to engage the students. This is high praise, I guess, from an outsider and somebody clearly skilled (as a journalist) in observing people and situations. But this should not be judged as a reflection of my individual skill as an entertainer or enforcer - what it in fact reflects is the wider culture of our alternative provision. 

I have worked in a number of 'behaviour provisions' (I hate that term but we'll go with it) and at the Pendlebury Centre, there is a lot of 'background work' to ensure teachers and students have the right platform in which learning can take place. There is not really a magical formula I can list but, for me, the key features that make our particular PRU work include:

> There is a focus on Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs (SEMH) rather than Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (SEBD) - this shift in terminology has taken place nationally now but at the Pendlebury Centre, it has been an real and ever-present ethos for the past twenty or so years. Recently, it has manifested in a significant investment in the Duke of Edinburgh Award, with a view to providing opportunity for students to achieve a well-respected alternative award for their CVs but, crucially, also with a view to actively broadening horizons and building resilience (see here for a good report on this aspect of education).

> There is a well-kept balance around 'behaviour management'. There is a compassionate perspective on 'acting out behaviours' - understanding the individual has an unmet need - alongside an assertive stance that the wider school community requires protection. What this looks like, in practice, is the use of a consistent, graduated and communication-focused behaviour policy. We don't make excuses for unacceptable behaviour but nor do we take a simplistic view that 'these kids just need sorting out' through overly-punitive measures.

> There is a high expectation around achievement and a pressing focus on the future for our students. This involves strong partnerships with mainstream schools, to enable students to access a wider variety of subjects and, wherever possible, keep our students engaged and experienced in 'mainstream life' - because the reality is this is where roughly 95% will eventually end up longer-term. This also involves, in the PRU, a constant focus on learning - from detailed assessment to unpick how our students learn (and identify any underlying difficulties) matched with, as Oscar Quine notes, engaging and productive lessons.

> Finally, there is a strong focus on working with families through multi-agency working - that the job doesn't start and finish at the school door. There is ongoing liaison with CAMHS, social care and other agencies. We also are fortunate to have a very good PCSO. This work is relentless and it has to be, as there are no quick fixes.

What you will note is that these things are in many ways 'common sense' and are not things that cannot be undertaken by a mainstream school - and it's clear from my previous work experiences and through continuing contact with mainstream colleagues, that many mainstream schools are doing this already. It is work that can't always be measured in the way governments would like (see here for a good critique of this) - but those of us working at grassroots level, seeing first-hand the breadth and depth change that can take place in young people, it's a big part of what helps us get up in the morning.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Millionaire status!

I received an email on Friday just gone which took me by surprise - it turns out my resources on TES have now reached over a million downloads. Naturally, I have since wondered, 'Hmmm... if I just had a pound for every download...' - or for that matter, even a penny for every download!


This news of a million downloads certainly makes the days of teachers using the TES forums to get in touch and then posting each other envelopes of resources - as it was back in 2004 / 2005 when I first started sharing resources - feel like a lifetime ago!

Although I haven't updated this blog in terms of actual posts for some time, I do continue to share resources. I've also tended to make more use of my Facebook page to share articles on education I find interesting - please do look it up and give it a 'like'.

I also appreciate the encouraging emails I receive from teachers out there - it is good to know that others are benefitting from my resources. More generally, I think the share and share-alike culture that has developed amongst teachers - still largely non-commercial and altruistic - is something our profession should be proud of.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Revision Time...

I've not given this website any TLC for a while but plan to have a blitz on uploading resources in the summer term, after my students have made it through their GCSE exams.

In the meantime, I recommend the website - 'Get Revising' - to anyone else trying to get Year 11s through this intense period of study. I hasten to add that although the website has a pay-for section, this is not an advert - I simply like the website and the free section seems to be enough.

These revision and coursework planners, a more paper-based resource, might also come in handy over the coming weeks.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Education for Social Justice

This week I had the pleasure of delivering a one hour talk at the University of Manchester as part of the 'Education for Social Justice' Conference. I promised those colleagues attending that I would put the presentation online as soon as I had chance. So here it is:

 

The presentation can also be freely downloaded here - and viewed with animation here.

One of the questions I was asked by a colleague - which I loved for its simplicity and ability to cut to the heart of the matter - was,

"Do you like working in a Pupil Referral Unit?"

Since leaving my last post as SEN Coordinator in a large Catholic comprehensive, I've been working back in a Pupil Referral Unit setting for nearly 18 months now and so far it has proved to be both an enjoyable and enriching experience. So the answer, in short, is 'yes'.

Life in a PRU has its particular pressure points. A big one, in my role as English teacher, is the task of guiding each student through their GCSEs in a much shorter time.  Another is the constantly changing social dynamics as we take in new referrals whilst at the same time having to let 'fledge' those students we have come to know so well, as they reintegrate back into a mainstream setting.

As the presentation hopefully shows, the common areas of 'social, emotional and mental health needs' I come across, and am challenged by, on a day-to-day basis are:

- Antecedents - The events, developments and situations that have taken place before a young person arrives at our door. This tends to involve family upheaval and/or a bad experience of school (due to a variety of factors). It also involves the emergence of 'in born strengths and weaknesses' - frequently autism, ADHD and/or processing difficulties.

- Attachment - The extent and manner in which a young person can build and maintain relationships with peers and adults - patterns of interaction generally rooted in their early childhood experiences.

- Anxiety - The levels of nervousness, open-mindedness and resilience a young person presents with - having roots in their personality, day-to-day family life and their history, not least their previous school experiences.

Having said this, there are also many plus points of working in a Pupil Referral Unit. In my experience, there is greater opportunity of getting to know your students better in a PRU due to the much smaller cohort compared to mainstream settings. This also goes for the staff you work alongside with, as part of a smaller, more close-knit team - every colleague is known by name and face (and football club affiliation!), rather than having a whole bunch of colleagues who you only connect with via email.

And obviously, there is the lasting sense of fulfilment that comes with seeing students go on to find success in their studies and more generally in life, when so often at first the picture looks bleak. When things go well, we often declare (with tongues firmly in our cheeks) to one another in the staff room, "Welcome to the Miracle Factory!" - but as cheesy as this may sound, often you do find yourself marvelling at the transformation happening before your eyes.

PRUs can sometimes get a bad press but what is heartening, as I found talking with trainee teachers and newly qualified teachers this week, is that there are many young teachers out there gunning to give it a go, wanting to know how they might get a chance to work in this kind of setting with our most vulnerable young people - teachers with a genuine thirst for pursuing social justice through education, not just a career, not just the pursuit of their chosen subject.

I think it has been a tough few years in schools as a whole - largely due to Michael Gove's tenure as Secretary of State for Education - yet it is heartening to see a passion for the fundamentals of the job alive and kicking amongst so many.