Come on teachers – take back control of your CPD

Every teacher needs CPD.  Even the best of teachers can benefit from new ideas and techniques, I’m told “there is always room for improvement”. Unfortunately the demands of modern teaching mean that CPD delivered in INSET days is often linked to school improvement priorities (or worse, isn’t developmental in nature).  Even if you see a course outside your institution and your school can afford to fund it, you are often asked how it links to school improvement plan and if it doesn’t you can’t go.  To cut a long story short, teachers find it hard to get out of school for CPD.

With the school out of the equation it is down to teachers to take back this control.  Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need any – even the act of meeting other (science) teachers and the networking that comes with it can be a source of ideas and inspiration.

Join Twitter and look for twitter groups and chat that is linked to your subject – e.g. #ASEchat for science teachers, and get networking for ideas. Many people prefer to keep a separate Twitter account for this whilst others (like myself) prefer to maintain a professional manner at all times.

Next I would recommend you join a subject association and look for the courses they run.  Quite often you will find that they are available to members at a heavily subsidised rate.  Speak to your school coordinator about being released to attend the courses they run – you are more likely to be released for courses run by subject associations.  Some associations run events on a Saturday which means teachers can attend if prepared to give up a day on a weekend.  Experience of organising regional events for the ASE tells me that many teachers are prepared to give up time on a Saturday but getting word to them about courses proves to be very difficult (so make sure you sign up to any mailing lists to keep up to date). Science teachers check out the conferences organised by the ASE here – you don’t have to be a member to attend (although you get subsidised prices if you do!)  Speak to your school about them paying for you to attend weekend courses if you go down this route – many of the courses are far cheaper than a paying a supply teacher for a day.

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Yesterday I attended a teachmeet/tweet-up where a group of science teachers came together to share ideas.  Members of this group had three things in common

  • Most were members of the same subject association – the ASE
  • Many were known to each other in cyberspace through Twitter
  • All were prepared to give up a day (or longer) of their holiday for the chance to get together and exchange good practice (and spend some time in the local pub as well!)

Teachmeets are less formal/structured but free – and vary in location, duration and subject content.  Many are advertised on the teachmeet wiki and others through subject associations websites/newsletters.  Not only are they a brilliant source of ideas but they also provide an excellent opportunity to network with like minded teachers.  Exam boards often have network or hub meetings which can serve a similar purpose, although these tend to be more one-way.

So there you have three ways that you can take control of your CPD to help you develop as a professional but the I can’t finish without a word of advice to fellow school leaders.

  • Set directed time aside to allow teachers to take part in CPD.  Even cancelling the odd meeting would go some way towards easing the time pressures that teachers face and be seen as a measure of good will.
  • Don’t insist on all CPD being linked to school improvement priorities.  Yes this is where you might target the bulk of your resources but think of the impact of a course that moves a teacher from being a good teacher to being an outstanding teacher.
  • Set up a teachmeet style sharing session in your own school and get teachers sharing good practice – if you aren’t sure what a teachmeet should look like then send someone out to do some research.


This is how I went paperless #asechat #ukedchat

I’ve investigated online planning systems before but never found an off the peg solution that worked for me.  I moved instead to a combination of tools that allows me to work without paper – no paper diaries and worksheets are printed on demand.

Lesson plans/planning

I don’t write detailed lesson plans as I write my powerpoints (or smartboard notebooks) to be the lesson plan, leading me through the lesson and and acting as a prompt.  I write my lesson plans in my online calendar (I use my work Exchange calendar but any online calendaring system should work as well).  I set up a repeating lesson with an empty lesson plan template and then edit individual lesson plans with activities etc.  I have blogged about my system before.


Teaching resources

I create and edit my resources at home (my powerpoints all have a very similar theme with learning outcomes in the footer).  I often grab YouTube videos using KeepVid which guarantees that they will play when I need them.  I have Dropbox on my own laptop and Dropbox portable on an encrypted USB flashdrive so that each machine has the latest version of every resource.  We have a Sharepoint drive at work for all our school documents so I only use Dropbox for my teaching outsources.  An added perk of using online cloud storage platforms is the ability to share folders with other teachers when required.



Every professional needs a to-do list.  I’ve tried all kinds of stand alone systems like Wunderlist but these didn’t work for me.  Instead have two lists – my inbox and a tasks list in Outlook.  I prioritise tasks to help manage my workload, marking tasks (and emails) for follow-up within a specific time frame.  I always aim for inbox zero but tend only to achieve this at the end of term as I catch up in the holidays.

I sync this list using the Reminders app on my iPad and using Nine (my exchange client) so that I can always add tasks as they occur to me.

Teaching ideas and articles

evernoteI read a lot of teaching blogs and articles in the media.  I’ve blogged before about using Feedly to keep up with blogs but I do follow other sources like the Guardian and the TES.  Some teachers use Pinterest or Google+ to bookmark interesting sites.  I did used to rely heavily on but I have concerns about the longevity of this site and so I have come to rely on Evernote more and more.  Evernote is hard to summarise in one sentence but I think of it as a sort of notebook and data storage/organisation system.

I store interesting articles into Evernote so I can find them later.  I also store seminar notes in here, for example notes I took at the ASE conference together with handouts and accompanying resources.

Advantages of being paperless

I’ve mentioned that I use my work and own laptops (I prefer my own as it has a higher resolution screen).  I also use an iPad and my phone.  The beauty of running a paperless system means I can access my documents on any of my devices.  Being paperless means all my resources are kept securely (with 2-Factor authentication protecting my accounts) and backed up by the companies who host them.


Do TV programmes like the Undateables and Special Needs Hotel give false hope?

I love to sit down with my partner and watch TV programmes like the Undateables and Special Needs Hotel.  For me I see lots of familiar personas and traits similar to the ones I might see at work.  For my partner it is light entertainment with some loveable characters. However you look at it these programmes are TV gold for the production companies but are they selling false hope to people who have special needs?

large_size_1024x576I’ve worked in special education for many years now and taught students with a variety of special needs.  It is great to hear from students who left us years ago, some even pop in to say hello.  When I hear from ex-students I’m always interested to learn about what they have done since leaving school, although too often this isn’t much.  Jobs for adults with special needs are in short supply and tend to be offered by people who have a personal connection to someone with needs in their own life.  The special needs hotel is a fantastic venture and one that needs replicating over the country but with recent cuts to government spending you would be lucky to get daycare provision from social care, let alone a sheltered employment or training place. We make a big deal of the qualifications we offer, and the development of employability and life skills because it’s a big world out there and there is competition for every job that comes up.  In an ideal world there would be a job for everyone, which is important not just for a earning an income and a sense of self-worth but also for mixing and developing those social skills further.


Boyfriends and girlfriends carry the same sort of desirability as mobile phones. Most of my students know they want one but they aren’t really sure what they are for and don’t know what to do with them if they get one!  The Undateables follows the romantic endeavours of adults with learning difficulties but this time they are looking for love with a special needs dating agency.  Dates are set up between matched partners and are chaperoned to make sure there is no inappropriate behaviour. Again the way the programme is edited does nothing to suggest that agencies like this as extremely rare and that the majority of special needs adults might not even leave the house or have friends, let alone go out into the big wide world on dates.

As a teacher who deals with special needs students I have mixed feelings about these programmes.  On one hand they serve as a source of inspiration to adults with special needs and their families that they can have a normal life and the things the rest of us take for granted.  On the other these programmes can give the impression that everyone can find a date or a job for them, which is far from the case.

I’d be interested to hear from readers of my blog what you think but in the meantime I will continue what I’ve always done, making sure my students get the best education they possibly can which includes academic qualifications and the best life skills education we can possibly offer so they can lead as independent a life as possible.

Why you need to read the final report of the commission for assessment without levels


Only a few days ago the Commission for assessment without levels published its final report.  I’ve written recently about assessment without levels and I know schools are struggling to come to terms with the next steps.

I would suggest that teachers at all levels read the report, because replacing levels is going to require a system that works from teachers at the chalkface, through middle leaders and up to school leaders.  There is much in the report to take on board.

At the heart of the report is the notion that whatever replaces NC levels is a new system and not just a replacement for levels in all but name.  It is a little disingenuous to suggest that despite being intended only for use in statutory national assessment that too frequently they were used for in-school assessment. I daresay that every teacher who reads this post could tell you a story of Ofsted coming in and expecting to see this, and despite the report assuring us that Ofsted is only one part of the national accountability framework, we know they are the one that wields the most power.

The report goes on to say that too often levels became focussed on thresholds and getting students through them.  With government policies like the catchup premium it isn’t fair to pin this blame on schools – and this legacy will live on through the inspection of impact of this money.

There are lots of points in the report that teachers will agree with:

  • The use of formative assessment and the clarification that formative assessment as a teacher intervention does not necessarily have to be recorded.
  • That your assessment policy should be clear that data should only be collected where necessary and ensuring effective communication of outcomes to stakeholders.
  • The commission observed that most teachers found data entry and management burdensome and time spent that could otherwise have been used in the classroom.
  • Schools should not devise a system that they think inspectors will want to see but instead should have one that works to support the achievement of pupils.
  • Assessment should be inclusive of all abilities (it’s a pity that Ofqual didn’t hear this advice when they came up with the new 1-9 GCSE grading system)
  • Levelled pieces of work are not good practice and the award of these levels subjective and open to interpretation.
  • Levels should not have dominated lesson planning and their use in discussion with pupils/parents/carers could lead to a mind-set of fixed ability.
  • The report includes a page [p17]on mastery (which is proving to be a definition many are having to get to grips with for their assessment systems) and is worth a read.
  • The report is clear about the distinction between assessment for formative purposes and in-school summative assessment and the need to make sure that the primary purpose of assessment is not distorted by using it for multiple purposes.
  • “Measuring pupils’ progress over a short period is unlikely to be helpful or reliable and it should, therefore, not be necessary to conduct and record in-school summative assessment for monitoring progress more than once a term. Ofsted does not require progress to be recorded with any particular frequency”

I would be interested to hear about examples from schools who are ahead of the game and have a system that meets (or perhaps doesn’t meet) the aims of the commission.  Please feel free to leave comments below (you don’t have to sign in or register to post)


Assessment without levels – where are you now?

Along with the new National Curriculum came the news that the levels were to be no more.  Of course we know that they were far from perfect, but many teachers have known nothing else and the thought of replacing them with something unknown strike fear into the hearts of the most experienced teacher.

Last year we decided to stick with national curriculum levels while we investigated a replacement.  I had a good idea what I wanted my assessment structure to look like (based on ideas from Activate in science) but life is rarely that simple.

We wanted a system that looked similar across the school, and then we had an additional consideration – we needed a structure that worked across the whole of the trust.  That is a system that worked across a mainstream secondary and secondary special school, with the possibility of working with a mainstream primary school as well.  On top of this we need a system that allows progress to be rigorously tracked and analysis of data to be done.

I recently received an email from Capita with the following infographic.


The infographic paints a depressing picture and it shows that schools have had difficulty making use of the new freedoms given to them by the government.   I’d guess that other schools have been faced with many of the same considerations that we have (the phrasing of the questions suggest that this data doesn’t include academies)

During the summer term we decided to buy into the system that Capita had developed to run in SIMS.  We played with the primary version but were waiting for the secondary version to be released to see what that looks like.

I paid more attention to the science system than maths and English since that affects me directly as a science teacher.  The primary science system has a bank of statements that teachers made a judgement against, with 4 different grades.  It will be interesting to see what the secondary science system looks like where the content is less tightly prescribed by year group.  What seems evident at the moment is that assessment windows will have to be looser with teachers inputting data when appropriate rather than at tracking windows, and that a lot more data will be collected (rather than a single level and a prediction).  Of course SIMS will do some computational magic and turn our statements into a numerical value that we can do whole school analyses with.

I’d be interested to see where other schools are up to at implementing a system to replace national curriculum levels.  Please leave a comment below