The importance of the curriculum – thank you Amanda Spielman

Last week the new Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman spoke at the ASCL conference.  She was setting out her stall as one of the most influential leaders in the world of education, and she told the conference of school leaders “Vitally important though a school’s examination results are, we must not allow curricula to be driven just by SATs, GCSEs and A levels. It is the substance of education that ultimately creates and changes life chances, not grade stickers from exams.

She also told her audience “I am determined to make sure that the curriculum receives the proper focus it deserves.

It’s hard to point the finger of blame at school leaders who, anxious to avoid being labelled coasting schools, have done everything they can to boost their progress 8 scores and EBacc results.  Fortunately, the governors at my school had the foresight to put the needs of the individual first when we built our curriculum so we aren’t pushing students through inappropriate exams to boost our school results.

Last week  I attended some CPD with the Institute of Physics discussing how to encourage more girls to follow a STEM career.  Whilst the advice they were giving wasn’t anything that you won’t have heard before it does make you appreciate the effect that teachers and the curriculum have on the long-term life chances of our students, regardless of phase or socioeconomic background.   Much of the language we use in class and the way we run our lessons could potentially have long-term implications for our learners (Stonewall give similar messages about gender neutrality which can influence attitudes from a very early age)

A fortnight ago I was part of a discussion with the 11-19 committee at the ASE talking about combined science vs triple science.  The options path decided at the end of KS3 (year 8 now in many schools) can determine, for better or worse, the life chances of students who may either choose or be guided towards an option that isn’t appropriate for them.  This decision could be made on experience in previous lessons (bringing us back to the message from the IoP) or could this choice could be restricted based on a flawed assessment system at KS3.    Those of you interested in the combined vs triple debate will be interested to read this article on education datalab.

My point is that the curriculum you offer, whether it be at departmental level or at a whole school level, will have long-lasting repercussions for your students and it is important you’ve got it right.  For this reason I commend Amanda Spielman for the tone she has set as she takes up the mantle of Chief Inspector and look forward to seeing the discussion about the curriculum develop as she continues in office.

 

The secret of #terrificscientific

We’ve just taken part in our first BBC #TerrificScientific investigation at the academy where I work.  We received a pack of test strips through the post and decided that we had nothing to lose by giving it a go.

My KS4 students were the most enthusiastic and were keen to take part in the experiment.  I’ve got plenty of plastic ‘test tubes’ with lids so students took one home and brought a sample of tap water into school, meaning we could all compare results and rank in order of water hardness.

It wasn’t only the students that were motivated, one member of staff brought in a sample of water from Barnsley, and because we have a huge catchment area we were able to test water samples from a large geographical area.

So what was it that caught the attention of the students and made them want to join in?  Whilst students knew about the interactive map they didn’t seem too bothered about it, but they were keen to find out something about their life and home.

Science is best taught when students can relate to it and see the relevance to their lives, whether it be a fuse in a three-pin plug or how magnetic field lines are useful for navigating with a compass.  Science is a wonderful subject to teach and the BBC have given us another tool to engage our learners – I’d recommend checking out the #TerrificScientific project.

Does holding a degree in your subject really not affect pupil outcomes?

Just before the holidays, the TES reported on research from the DfE that suggested that there is no discernible effect of non-specialist teaching in science.

I’ve been a science teacher for over 20 years now but because of my setting, I find myself teaching AQA Additional Science for the first time ever.  This means I’m having to teach some content that I’ve never taught before in mainstream or special education.  The amount of time I have spent prepping these lessons is considerably more than I usually spend as I have had to do plenty of research as I go. Fortunately, there is a wealth of support available and combined with the fact that my students have target grades well below a C they are unlikely to be affected by my lack of subject knowledge.

I do a lot of background reading so that is likely to influence my teaching, as is my willingness to go the extra mile as well.  There is overlap between the disciplines of science so I suppose that stands me in good stead but I wouldn’t like the thought of facing a group of top set science students without the appropriate science knowledge to draw upon.

One certainty is that we are going to have a lot more data to draw on in the not so distant future as the number of physics and chemistry graduates entering teaching continues to fall.  I also wonder if I should be suspicious these research findings are released at a time of teacher shortages?

For those readers who would like to read the research paper you can find it here.

 

Building staff resilience and promoting good mental health

Schools are challenging places to work – those of us who work in schools are aware of the challenges faced by everyone in the education system.  As a school we spend a lot of time looking after our students but we also have to make sure we look after our staff.  On our inset day before the Christmas break we bought in the Nottinghamshire Educational Psychology Service (EPS) to run a session on staff wellbeing and resilience.

Whilst I don’t want to repeat all their content here (that wouldn’t be fair to the EPS) I have summarised some of the key messages in the hope that they will be of use to others.

If you don’t look after yourself you won’t be able to look after others.

In air safety drills you are always told to put your own oxygen mask on first – the same applies with mental health.  We get so wrapped up with the problems of others we can neglect ourselves.

Find strategies that work for you

Not everyone is the same.  Different people find different strategies work for them – be prepared to try more than one.

Diagram of emotional intelligence

 

Emotional intelligence – know your emotions and how to manage them. Strong emotions are very powerful – recognise the stages in your emotions – the assault cycle provides a useful structure/explanation of what is happening.

Learn relaxation strategies 

Find time to unwind and relax.  I find that a long drive to work coupled with an audiobook or music (depending on my mood and energy levels) works for me. Some people do yoga or meditation – find something that helps you to unwind.

Challenge unhelpful thoughts (Cognitive behavioural therapy)

Try to change your default thinking (for those that read my post on The Chimp Paradox this is a similar idea to reprogramming the computer in the model by Steve Peters). Ask yourself questions like “is it really that important?” or “what would happen if I didn’t let this thought bother me?”.  You then try to replace the negative thoughts with more positive ones.  There are plenty of sites on the internet with more details – google is your friend here!

Find outside interests- FLOW

Immersive hobbies (like sports, cross stitch or even candy crush soda saga in my case!).  From Wikipedia:

Schaffer (2013) proposed 7 flow conditions:

  1. Knowing what to do
  2. Knowing how to do it
  3. Knowing how well you are doing
  4. Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
  5. High perceived challenges
  6. High perceived skills
  7. Freedom from distractions

Peer supervision – looking for solutions (focus based circles)

We were shown a technique for looking for solutions to problems that you can work through as a group.  Searching the internet reveals many variations on this technique – this is most similar to the version we tested. The version we tried had someone present about a problem for six minutes – during which only the presenter can speak (even if they run out of ideas the six minutes keeps running).  In our first run we discussed the problem of getting staff to put their pots in the dishwasher (photo above). The second step sees the presenter being silent for six minutes while ideas are brainstormed.  There is then another six minutes of dialogue and the final stage is to discuss the first steps for another six minutes (you are able to sum up or seek clarification outside the six minute windows).

This is a really useful technique and provides a very useful structure for discussing a problem.

Don’t give up

Remember that each time you face a problem, it will be easier to face a similar problem in future.  After twenty years in special education I subconsciously use several of these strategies and they do work.

Further reading

Look on the internet for Martin Seligman (video below)