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.

 

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)

The Chimp Paradox – why school leaders at all levels should read this book

chimp

I heard Professor Steve Peters speak at the ASCL conference about his work and his book.  As well as being a very entertaining speaker his ideas seemed to make sense, essentially a model for how your brain works and how to learn to work with the primitive aspects to the brain.

I’ll confess I didn’t read the book in the traditional sense but I listened to the book, read by Prof Peters himself (courtesy of my Audible subscription).  I find non-fiction books hard to read and thought an audio book would be easier than reading.  With a hundred minutes in the car each day the audiobook was indeed better than a paper copy although I did have a tendency to let my mind wander (probably because you don’t get the same kind of imagery in your brain as you do reading a fiction book).

The first few chapters of the book covered the material Steve used in his talk about the chimp, the computer and the human in your brain (SEN teachers will be able to relate to the concept of the chimp being in control!).  As well as giving a model to explain how your brain works, the purpose of the book is to train you how to program the brain, replacing the things that happen instinctively with things that you would prefer happen.  This is then extended into target/goal setting for yourself and for working with others.

The book avoids using terminology that would bamboozle readers and keeps things simple, explaining why you have to set and follow the strategies set if you want to succeed (and some excellent advice about finding a partner).  I would recommend this book to people from all walks of life who want improve their lives by achieving success, happiness and confidence!

 

When did I stop thinking of myself as a science teacher and become a school leader?

Coming back on the train from the ASCL conference yesterday I sat reflecting on my weekend with heads and school leaders and my own position in school.

ASCL

In the past I’ve always thought of myself as a science teacher and that’s how I’ve introduced myself.  I’m a regional secretary of the ASE and heavily involved in the promotion of good quality science education, I’ve blogged about science teaching and people associate me with science teaching.

I’ve been doing my current job (albeit with a number of titles and contracts) for nearly three years now so perhaps the change has been gradual.  I still teach science (my current teaching commitment is two days including PPA) and when I stand in front of a class I’m their science teacher.  When I sit down at the weekend to plan I’m a science teacher and my focus is on planning science lessons that allow my students to make progress.

So what’s changed?  What’s the difference?  I spend more of my free time thinking of whole school issues like data, Ofsted, curriculum and exams and I spend less of my time thinking about science teaching.  I’m also aware of the expectation that I lead by example so when I’m lesson planning I have high expectations of myself, higher when I was just a science teacher.   The biggest change is how I see myself rather than how others see me (they took less time to get used to the stripes on my shoulders!)

Does this make a difference to how I do my job? No but it does make a difference to how I use my time and in future it will make more of a difference to who I chose to follow and interact with on Twitter.  I’m still here to answer questions and I hope that people still get in touch with me as they always have if they want to ask me about science teaching and SEN.  Maybe my site will take a new direction as I am able to write about more of the problems I face as a school leader and how I’ve gone about tackling them.

 

British Values – what it looks like in my special school

We are expecting Ofsted soon so it may be that we spend more time thinking about our provision than other schools do.  British Values is a political hot potato at the moment, and I have heard confusion from teachers in other schools about what it actually means.  The good news is that a big chunk of the content just happens, delivered as part of normal schooling by conscientious teachers.  Of course that makes it harder to track.

What I’ve done is taken the British Values as defined in DFE/Ofsted publications and then added a few supplementary ones of my own (we are a special school and there are more values our students need to learn).  I’ve mapped our assembly programme against the British Values (although this is fairly fluid as assembly rotas change for a variety of unforeseen circumstances).  I’ve also mapped our PHSE days on the same grid, so that there is an at-a-glance view of where British values are planned for.

mapping

Of course there are lots of places in the curriculum where British values are taught, and it isn’t possible to map and evidence them all.  It’s easy to say where these values are being taught, but how do you know if you are being effective?  How do you measure impact?

Unfortunately it isn’t possible to see your students in the future, speaking on National TV about the minimum wage or visiting a polling station on election day.  You can hold mini-elections and debates, putting these skills into use but how do you know if what you see is down to  your teaching?

I’m a scientist and I work with data and evidence.  I’m also a bit of a SIMS.net geek which is where I get my evidence from.  I looked at the categories of behaviour linked to tolerance and respect and filtered out other types of behaviour (this is especially important in a special school where something as simple as a change in routine can cause an incident of non-cooperation to be recorded).  By adding a trend line to my data it is possible to see a downward trend in negative behaviour points, or in other words an improvement in behaviour.  It isn’t possible to say if this is down to our work on British Values or just a coincidence but I look forward to discussing this data with Ofsted should they ask about impact of British values.

trend

I would love to hear from others who have an interest in British Values.  If you have any questions or information to share, please leave a comment below.