Sunday, 8 January 2017

Who and What to do,,,

Following my slightly esoteric previous post, I want to return to more practical matters. I have recently updated my TES account with a number of resources. These fall into two broad categories:

Assessment Tools - 'Life beyond levels - and beyond that still...'

Strategies - 'What can I do with the young person who...'

For a full list of all the resources I have shared to date, please visit the 'Resources Hub' page.

As you will probably know, TES now has an established 'teachers pay teachers' option. I have no great opposition to this, given this is where the 'market' in the United States has already headed - resulting in the first 'millionaire teacher' as far back as 2012 (according to the Daily Mail). However, I personally will not be selling my resources -  for a number of reasons but partly because many of the resources I share draw upon the influence of colleagues (if not their direct work, which I always try to credit). The resources I list above are an example of this, with some being authored by Jean Gross (to view her website, click here) and some being the work of my Pendlebury Centre colleagues.

What I will also say is whilst it is clearly a constructive act to share resources 'on paper', it is also important to share the 'real life' practice that goes with it - by explaining and demonstrating how such resources are used. In terms of the Pendlebury Centre, we have a thriving outreach programme which you can find out more about by clicking here.

I will be sharing more resources over the coming year - I tend to do this during the school holidays when I get a spare moment to organise and upload them. So please stay patient and stay tuned!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Hawks and Hares

We've now hit 2017 and this blog - and the accompanying TES account I use most frequently - quietly reaches its fifth year. I continue to update it from time to time, in between my day job.

In case readers were wondering, I continue to work at the Pendlebury Centre in a role that has some continuity (data, SEN coordination, day-to-day teaching and pastoral work) but also brings around new challenges - such as my growing outreach role, supporting our partner schools on specific aspects of their SEMH provision, and my recent role in contributing to the Pendlebury Centre's alternative curriculum at KS4 (drawing on the Duke of Edinburgh Award). And then there are our young people, who each come through the door with their own unique personalities and needs - and in turn form quite distinct cohorts, which change year on year...

Speaking to trainee teachers and NQTs, as I do from time to time - mainly via the University of Manchester, I always stress that a career in teaching is a constant journey (cheesy I know, but true). A journey that involves real peaks but also some real troughs - opportunities to grow as a person rather than just as a teacher. In my own career, I started off very much subject focused on being a teacher of history - perhaps narrowly so - before developing expertise in SEN and more recently developing expertise specifically in SEMH. It's been a journey of constant change and something I have recognised needs to be embraced rather than feared.

Mam Tor

Taking a brief moment out of 'the situation' last September on a windy, drizzly late-summer day under the shadow of Mam Tor - and looking around at how I was now taking part in an Outdoor First Aid course, roleplaying how we treat a disaster scene on the side of a desolate hill and working in a rescue team with a grizzled Afghanistan veteran from Durham and a fresh-faced, aristocratic 19 year old mountain climber - really summed this up for me!

I had a conversation a few years ago with a seasoned educational professional who asked how my new role was going - I started by saying, "It's proving to be a learning curve at the moment..." to which he interrupted (and rebuked me with), "I would question any professional who says they're not on a learning curve..." What I then tried to explain, as much as I agreed with this observation, was the period of starting a new role is a much steeper learning curve than usual - a bit like an aeroplane taking off (to borrow an analogy a relative uses when members of the family start a new role and find themselves feeling a little overwhelmed). On my fourth year in this current role, I am thankful things continue to change and provide new opportunities - but also appreciative of having some familiarity with the territory in which I operate.


One of my new year's resolutions - which I began at the start of the 2016/2017 academic year, rather than this calendar year - was to try to read more. I have not put any specific requirements on what I read except a desire to engage in some 'sustained reading' via the (apparently for some) old-fashioned method of books rather than relying on the scanning and skimming of online articles. 

A book that has really stood out is 'No Way But Gentlenesse - A Memoir of How Kes, My Kestrel, Changed My Life' by Richard Hines. Certain books come along and have an impact on you, lasting longer than that initial phase of reading them - sort of sitting there in the background, asking to be mulled over that little bit more. I would say this is one of them. 

Firstly, I have a natural connection to the book in that I hail from the same region as Richard Hines. Growing up in 1980s and early 1990s South Yorkshire, I was a generation or so removed from the time of 'Kes' but there is so much he talks about which resonates, especially in terms of the landscape which has not dramatically changed. I could relate in particular to the closeness of quite claustrophobic, hard-edged industrial town and city landscapes and the more picturesque, untouched countryside where you could escape and find a degree of freedom. This experience of getting out and 'away from it all' is something I have encouraged via my role as Duke of Edinburgh Award leader - and my students, living as they do in Stockport which sits next to the Peak District, gain greatly from it.

Secondly, Richard Hines was a teacher for a good part of his career but constantly took on new roles, through a sense of mission and curiosity rather than cold ambition, which eventually led him away from the school setting to new horizons. I am not ready for handing my notice in as a teacher but I appreciate his adventurous spirit and his sense of almost being a pilgrim (an unpretentious one at that).

Thirdly, although I certainly did not suffer from the harsh divide of the grammar / secondary modern system of the 1960s, there is something about the experience of Richard Hines and his time at school that I can relate to. Certainly the sense of drudgery and lack of aspiration or spark - the fact I also had to leave secondary school before I really found a love of education. That does not mean I have any real axe to grind against the school system, just as Richard Hines doesn't, but we have to face the reality that it is an experience many people have had and many young people continue to have - and it's something that should particularly motivate those of us who have had that experience yet have been brave (or daft!) enough to return to schools to work. 

Another interesting book I have read recently is 'Year of the Hare' by  Arto Paasilinna - a Finnish classic by all accounts - which was recommended to me having waxed lyrical about 'No Way But Gentlenesse'. It is a short tale of a somewhat cynical, 'weather-beaten' journalist who, having accidentally run over and injured a young hare on a routine journey home one day, takes a radically different turn. I enjoyed the book for what it is really - a relatively short, fanciful and funny tale. But, having said this, it was interesting to read reviews and analysis after finishing it (as I often do with books) - noting that the presence of the hare throughout the story is Arto Paasilinna drawing deliberately on the hare as an ancient symbol on the one hand of change and resurrection and on the other of been more 'in tune' with the flow of life. I don't intend to make any great proclamations of what this means personally, other than to go back to the earlier point that change is inevitable and can be embraced as a source of new life - be that in fits and starts as Richard Hines recollects from his own life just down the road in South Yorkshire, or in a sudden turning point as Paasilinna tells it via his fictional journalist and hare over in far-off Finland.

Coincidentally, it was during the mock rescue - with my fellow coursemates scattered across a field awaiting our help - that I saw my first Peak District hare, hopping along seemingly unaware of, or unconcerned with, the 'carnage' unfolding in the field next door.


Anyway, enough rambling - here's a slightly belated happy new year to all readers / regular visitors to this website - I hope 2017 brings all you hope for...

Saturday, 10 December 2016

A New Guide to Mental Health

A colleague recently shared this Public Health England document with me - 'The mental health of children and young people in England'. I recommend it - both for its comprehensive content and the readable way in which it is presented.

Click on the image or here to view / download.

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.