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.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Gone Fishing...

The new academic year is nearly upon us, which will be my 13th year of teaching. Hopefully not an unlucky one!

Last year was highly enjoyable, as much as it was challenging. Through my work at the Pendlebury Centre over the past year I feel my eyes have been opened to an aspect of additional needs in schools that had previous existed on the fringes of my awareness and understanding - specifically, mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders alongside social issues such as child sexual exploitation, childhood bereavement and traumatic family breakdown. I have also gained a greater insight into the potentially disastrous ramifications for young people with autism who do not receive identification and recognition until their final years of schooling.

Of course, all these issues exist outside of a specialist educational environment - as we have seen with Robin Williams, these conditions occur across human life (see the quote below for one of the best responses to his tragic passing). However, a year on at the Pendlebury Centre, I have deepened my understanding greatly of how to spot such  issues and how to try help the young person begin to unpick them in conjunction with families and external agencies (whilst continuing to recognise the limits of my role as an educational professional rather than therapist or psychiatrist). 

Source: https://twitter.com/JasonManford/status/498978178619408384/photo/1

As my second year at the Pendlebury Centre beckons, I will see my teaching timetable change quite radically all over again - gone will be subjects like Forest Schools and Food Tech, coming my way are GCSE English and KS3 Humanities. As much as I enjoyed delivering these practical subjects, seeing students learn in a different way and in a different context, I welcome a return to teaching subjects which are my strongest.

I will continue as Assistant Deputy Headteacher, relinquishing control of the PPR project (an early intervention initiative that will move to a neighbouring PRU), but being able to focus more in-depth on SEN and assessing / tracking progress (being the 'data bod' within the centre). 

As a centre, we are also gradually expanding our outreach programme, delivering CPD sessions to colleagues from a variety of settings. This, I feel, is vitally important if we are to help our partners in mainstream schools identify and act on issues that might in turn prevent students having the upheaval etc. of being transferred to a Pupil Referral Unit. The Pendlebury Centre has a new website and we plan to put some of our CPD resources on there.

On top of that I have also bought a house this past year and now have the added pleasure (sometimes pain!) of bringing it up to scratch. This is in addition to an increasing role in a local church community - mainly as a Christian Aid coordinator.

So, as I have switched off this summer and had some extended time to reflect, one of the questions I have asked myself is where does this leave this website? I will continue to upload resources and let followers know via my Twitter feed when I do so, but I also think it's time to declare an indefinite hiatus in my blog posts - or perhaps more accurately, openly accept that for all my best intentions it's just not hitting the priority list and hasn't been for a while.

I had intended to finish blogging with a reflection on working in a Pupil Referral Unit but it turns out there's already a good article on this out there - an interview with Tony Meehan, headteacher at the Latimer Alternative Provision Academy - which says more or less the kind of things I was planning to say.

All that's left is to say thank you again to all those readers who took the time and effort to get in touch. I will still be contactable - just a little less talkative!

Friday, 15 August 2014

A Few Quotes about Depression

Following the news of Robin Williams ending his own life, I've been heartened during this sad time that we have at least had people from all walks of life come out to affirm that depression is a natural, common and should be met with compassionate responses.

I always recall hearing a documentary on the late Kenneth Williams which noted his sheer brilliance as a performer on Radio 4's 'Just a Minute', a show which requires a particular kind of improvised, exuberant wit of which he was a leading light - yet his diaries, published posthumously, revealed he was perpetually tortured with doubt, frustration, resentfulness, loneliness and despair. It struck me that for all Kenneth Williams's eccentricity, his experience of depression behind closed doors seemed fairly typical.

Below are a few of the 'highlights' (for want of a much better term) I have come across this past week.

To the person experiencing depression:

“Depression is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you have been strong for too long." - Anon

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Lao Tzu

"If you’re going through Hell, keep going." - Winston Churchill

"Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies." - Mother Teresa 

“In moments of discouragement, defeat, or even despair, there are always certain things to cling to. Little things usually: remembered laughter, the face of a sleeping child, a tree in the wind … In fact, any reminder of something deeply felt or dearly loved. No man is so poor as not to have many of these small candles. When they are lighted, darkness goes away - and a touch of wonder remains.” - Said to have been found on a gravestone in  Britain

To the person who knows someone with depression:

"If you are the lucky one that doesn’t have depression, the three odd out of four that might not understand it and you meet somebody with depression, the worst thing you can do is say “Come on pull yourself together.” Just imagine that inside of their head they are just as ill as somebody maybe who broke their leg or who has diabetes. You wouldn’t say “Don’t take the insulin.” I mean you really have to believe that this is the real thing. When you hear their negativity or they might be abusive, or whatever you are getting from them, that is their disease talking, it is not them. Because they are still a human being and they will get better probably if they take care, or you help them take care. Now this isn’t catching or you know they can’t work or whatever because part of you is still healthy. But please respect the sick part and treat it like somebody who has really got something. Because it does exist. This isn’t your imagination. As a matter of fact your imagination is really ill. So think of it that way." - Ruby Wax

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn't a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. 

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” - Stephen Fry

To the person inclined to judge someone negatively for attempting suicide:

"Have you ever seen news footage of a burning building?

Fire ravages all floors of the building, the fire brigade are trying, trying so hard to rescue those trapped within. But the fire is moving too quickly. People trapped within the building have no escape. I’m sure all of you have seen news footage of someone jumping from a building in this situation. I’m just as sure that the image of it is burned into your head. For most people, something that traumatic is hard to forget. We all know that the people didn’t want to jump. But jumping in that situation was better than facing the fire. They had no choice. 

When you are suicidal, taking that jump is suicide, and the burning building is your whole world. You don’t want to do it. But the world is burning and you’re standing in the window and you look down and you know jumping will stop the pain and you know it’ll hurt people, but damn it! The whole world behind you is burning and jumping is the only way, the plan Z, the thing you swore you’d never do. Yet now, the pain is unbearable, the agony tears through you and there is no escape, no escape, no escape but the window. The fire burning behind is not your fault. It isn’t something within your control. You know it will hurt the people left behind. But jumping is better than facing the fire. You have no choice.

When, and only when, we acknowledge that suicide is not a selfish act will suicide rates fault.

When, and only when, we offer help without judgement will we stop losing loved ones." - Abbey, Life with Bipolar Blog

These are only words, and it hopefully goes without saying that for those suffering from depression, they need much more - however, as the late and great Robin Williams once said;

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Podding on...

I often seem to start posts for this website with 'Sorry for the quiet period, I've been busy...' This is likely to continue as I juggle the challenges of moving into a new house (including tackling a waterlogged, overgrown garden!) with day-to-day life as a classroom teacher and assistant headteacher. 

Since my last few entries, I have continued to develop schemes of learning for groups of KS3 students who attend shorter 12-week placements within our PRU network. I have taken the time to upload to TES a variety of resources for the excellent 'Private Peaceful' and resources for the equally excellent 'There's Only One Jimmy Grimble' - designed mainly for students working between Level 3 to Level 5 who need to be coached in reading and thinking skills.

Other bits and pieces uploaded include a short presentation on thinking through SEN training in schools. A preview of this is shown below, and for those wanting the accompanying notes, I have uploaded the PowerPoint (as a read-only file) to TES.

Recently I have also had the pleasure of taking a bunch of students to present at the final of the 'School We'd Like' competition, run by The Guardian and Zurich Municipal. The bad news is we didn't succeed in winning the £5000 prize to create a unique counselling and mentoring room called 'The Pod' which would have also include a multi-media diary-keeping feature. However, the good news - which far outshines the result - came in the form of seeing our students take to the stage. We have also since had some very kind offers from individuals and groups we already work with to help us complete the project. 

We are now one day into the summer term, in Stockport at least, and the next big focus will be on preparing our Year 11 students for the final hurdle in their GCSEs. For students who struggle to stay organised and/or struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance during the next few weeks, I do have some revision and course work planners which might be of use.

I do think, having worked more intensively with Year 11 students this year, that there is a question of how we maintain the confidence and motivation of those who are not set to gain C or above GCSE grades. There is so much importance placed on C or above from government downwards that, for some of those students who struggle academically or simply haven't coped with the emotional and social-institutional demands of school, their opinion that education isn't for them is confirmed by  what they perceive as 'pointless' grades. 

Finally, I thought I might share these inspiring photos of a new display in our centre, designed by the students and a teaching assistant - made all the more powerful by the fact the quote is from a poem written by one of our students.


Monday, 31 March 2014

Ahem...2 years today...

This is just a quick post to note today marks the 2nd birthday of HumansNotRobots.co.uk. The resources section recently hit over 400,000 downloads which is kind of hard to believe - especially so given less than a decade ago teachers were sharing resources online by posting requests on the TES message boards, getting each other's addresses and then popping off to the Post Office to send worksheets etc. to one another!

I wonder what things will look like by 2024? Or even by 2016?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Farewell Bev, and thank you

It was so sad to read today that Bev Evans, the ever enthusiastic and super supportive SEN editor of TES Resources, has passed away. This post is just my small way of saying a public thank you to her - the world of teaching has lost a gem.

My thoughts are with her loved ones - as Quakers say, we hold them in the light.

TES has published a blog here where people can leave a tribute.