It’s been weeks since I’ve been called “Miss” – occasionally “Sir” or “Mum”.
I miss Briggo, Lambert, Hitch. I miss my daily natter with Claire and Sue. I miss my tutor group coming to talk to me about their daily dramas, believing I can fix it all just with a chocolate bar and a chat.
But rather than reliving all that I miss, I thought I’d look on the bright side, like I so often tell my students to do, and share with you some things I’ve been able to do while locked inside.
I’ve started writing again. I used to write all the time; poems, stories, I even started a novel when I was at university. I never got around to finishing it though. With the gift of time, I’ve written another fifty-two pages. Not all of it is very good, but I’m enjoying it all the same.
I’m making Tik-Toks. It wasn’t too long ago that the girls in my tutor group were laughing at me as I attempted to copy their moves, but now I think I could probably challenge them to a dance-off; I wouldn’t win, but I’d definitely get the moves right.
I have attempted baking. I realised how little my kitchen is equipped for these things, so cookies had to suffice. They were good actually.
I’ve spoken to people more than I ever would have done. I’ve spoken to friends I didn’t even know I had. I’ve called my little sister almost every day and have never felt closer to her, despite being so far apart.
I am reading. Always reading. When reading is such a vital part of your job, the idea of coming home to begin reading your fifth book of the day can sometimes seem more of a chore than a pleasure – I often succumb to watching The Real Housewives of Somewhere instead. In the space of three weeks I’ve lived so many characters’ lives and I have never loved it more.
So, yes, I miss KC. I miss my friends. I miss my students. But mostly, I just hope that no matter what you’re missing, you’re gaining so much too.
You probably don’t know this but I grew with you. I joined the school as a cover supervisor when you were baby-faced Year 7s and taught you during my teacher training when you were ‘those’ Year 8s. I kept those same classes through to Year 9 when I was newly qualified and you were just as colourful as you were the year before. We spent a year working hard (and laughing harder) and lots of you chose the subject at GCSE. Some of you ended up with me again in Year 10 and 11 – four whole years of History with Miss Kinsman. GCSEs were tough but you were tougher and, together, we made a great team. You are the first cohort of students I have seen the whole way through secondary school and that meant more to me than you will ever know.
When the news broke about the exams being cancelled I was angry and upset for you. I was bitter and felt you had been robbed of the opportunity to show the world just how amazing you are, but I was wrong. It doesn’t take an exam to show that because you show it every day, even in the most challenging of times. I saw you show compassion when you checked in on me after the news. You had lost your exams yet you cared enough to come and find me to ask how I was coping. You showed solidarity when you came together on the final day. It wasn’t the last day any of us wanted but you stayed strong and made the most of the hand that had been dealt to you. I watched you show optimism as you laughed and joked through those final days before the schools closed, even though the world as we knew it was flipped on its head. Despite all of the chaos we found ourselves in, you kept shining bright like the stars you are and you’re still shining now.
Please do not ask me about grades as you know I am not allowed to talk about them. However, ultimately, there is more to school than exams and there is so much more to all of you than marks and certificates. You are kind, hardworking, resilient and endlessly positive. You have proven this over and over again throughout your time at KC. These are just some of your many qualities which will make you ideal sixth form students or apprentices next year. One day, they could help you reach your full potential as amazing bosses, business owners, university students or anything else your brilliant minds dream up. These personal traits will stay with you for the rest of your lives and help you grow into the productive and phenomenal members of society I know you will be.
Dream big, work hard and stay humble. The world is yours for the taking Year 11.
Sitting down on Tuesday evening after finally getting my two-year-old to bed, I poured myself a glass of wine and turned on the television. As I scrolled through my list of recordings, I hovered over an episode of Topsy and Tim. Should I tune in to find out how the twins would react upon hearing they were sharing a room again after the birth of their baby brother? It was then that I realised, I had a problem.
My two-year-old had taken over my life.
It had started gradually, going for walks with the sole purpose of jumping in muddy puddles, singing songs about rainbows loudly in the garden, shouting “Motorbike!” every time I heard the revving of an engine, and it finally accumulated in a Facebook status questioning the motives behind the narrative of ‘Waffle the Wonder Dog’.
Initially when we were first told about school closures, I had been relieved to hear that I wouldn’t be needed in school; it meant I could stay home and do my bit from the comfort of my own sofa. I’d imagined video calls and endless emails from the kids, reading and tweeting – all whilst my little boy amused himself with cars and his train set. Bliss. Then I started receiving emails from nursery helpfully suggesting some activities to do; homemade playdough, cutting and sticking activities, jolly phonics and the panic really began to set in, I wasn’t sure I was cut out for staying at home after all. I prepared myself in the best way I could but knew deep down that this was not going to be quite what I had imagined.
What I was not prepared for was how much this experience with my toddler could teach me, not just about myself as a parent but about myself as a teacher. If there is one thing that ‘lockdown’ has given us, it is time – something that was distinctly lacking in my life before.
Suddenly leaving the house isn’t such a big rush any more, and more time can be spent letting my son check wellies are on the right foot and letting him zip up his own coat which might take hours. The phrase ‘Theo do it’ has become something which rings out every time we get ready to go for walk and it might take time, it might take a demonstration, or me doing it for him first and then unbuttoning it so he can do it himself, but ultimately he can do it. Theodore is teaching me patience, to wait for something to be done, rather than jumping to sort the problem out before giving it a chance to work. He is willing to find the joy and imagination in things I haven’t seen before. When he found himself in a homemade racing car without a wheel, he went and got his plate and imagined that was one. I certainly wouldn’t have thought of that. His love for language and exploring new words is exciting and when I hear that dinner is ‘delicious’, I take pride in his newly acquired vocabulary.
In lots of ways, Theo has become the essence of KC for me at home. He dreams big, works hard and stays humble…most of the time. He is reminding me why I fell in love with teaching in the first place, he reminds me of the joy I get through accomplishment, the imagination it takes to plan a lesson or look at a text from an alternative perspective, and how precious words and vocabulary are to everyday life.
When I get back to school, whenever that will be (and let’s hope it is sooner rather than later) I’m going not going to let this time be forgotten. We are in unprecedented times and these circumstances are not what I imagined for 2020. However, in true KC style I am not going to waste a single second of this time, I am going to learn some lessons from my toddler and come back with true KC spirit.
Did you know that working in a pastoral environment is a hard job…? The day to day trials and tribulations of the modern-day Year 8 student constantly keeping you on tenterhooks. Will we have a moment of brilliance? Or will we get to the end of the day with head in hands not believing what utterly ridiculous remark someone made in that lesson period 4 that resulted in lunch time being taken away as you try and teach said student the error of their ways?
I want those days back!!
The first few days of thinking of a school closure you start to think, “Ahhhh yes, no stress for a while! No running to get that student for detention, no having to run data for inter-tutor competition, and all the other stresses of the general day to day life of a pastoral worker.”
Suddenly it hits you!
You’re now a week or so into isolation. You stare around in the haze. Your house looks like a bomb went off in hobby craft. Your sweet little 3 year old that you squeeze tight at night, that you are certain you would dive in front of a moving car for, has morphed into a threenager diva mad on lockdown power! She is currently now the reason you want to dive in front of the car.
Boredom has set in.
Even Disney+ can’t fix this debacle. WHY DISNEY+? YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO SAVE US ALL!
I try and set up a routine for my working from home. I’ve got my laptop, I’ve got my bed (wife has taken over the dining room table to teach her lessons from) and most importantly, I’ve got my phone.
The phone that is the gateway for checking in to the world that is my usual daily reality and my love and passion. My job working in a school environment and working to help and nurture some amazing students.
Suddenly you hear it: “Daddy!!! Daddy!!!”
“Yes, Amelia?” I shout down as I am just about to press call from the mobile.
As parents you will know this – silence with a toddler is never good. I go down to the living room. My wife has popped down stairs for 20 seconds to just answer an email from one of her students…
Disaster the crayons are out…. and all over the tv screen!
I wait for the wife to return.
The tv has been cleaned!
I trek back upstairs to my make-shift office,
I press call.
“Hello, good morning it’s Mr Heffernan calling from Kingsthorpe College. I just wanted to check i…… arggghhhh.”
“Sorry about that, my 3 year old has just dived round my neck and is using me as a climbing frame.”
Cue much laughter.
I miss my office. I miss the maths department staffroom. I miss my team and amazing colleagues. I miss my students. I miss FINE and lunchtime detentions.
Sang to the tune of Queen’s ‘I want to break free!’
I want to be in KC
I want to be in KC
I want to break free from the toys
You’re always so unsatisfied, ok I’ll feed you!
I’ve got to break free
God knows, God knows I want to be in KC
I’ve fallen on Duplo
I’ve had enough of Disney and craft time!
And how you never want to eat your meals!
I’m losing my mind, yeah
God knows, God knows I’ve had enough
It’s strange but it’s true, yeah
I can’t get over the way you’re starting to bug me like you do!
But I know that I’m sure
When I walk out that door
Oh, how I want to be in KC, baby
Oh, how I want to be in KC
Oh, how I want to be in KC
But life still goes on
I can’t get used to working without you, working without
This week, as I sat waiting for my printer to work its way through almost 200 sheets of coursework for marking, inching its way through the printer and mocking me with its incompetent speed, I realised how quickly Christine would have done it.
I knew that when the doors closed 2 weeks ago I would miss my job, I love teaching. What I didn’t realise was the numerous silly things that I would begin to miss as the days ticked along, and hoping to raise a few smiles, I thought I’d share a few.
I miss starting my day hearing Kinsella remind everyone at 8.41 “You’re late! Get in your tutor rooms!” It’s a ritual and I like it. At 8.41 this morning, there was no such ritual, but I did set an alarm just for a laugh.
I miss the endless supply of cake in the staff room. With the lack of eggs in the supermarket at the moment I have had to make a cheesecake. It is not the same. Especially when it’s not shared with friends.
I miss the feeling of dread when the phone rings and it’s Helen. We love her dearly, but she puts the fear of God into us when we have a free on a Friday period 5. For the record, I’d happily cover one of those today.
I miss pain au chocolat during Year Team meetings on a Tuesday morning.
I miss hearing Fran & Kinsella singing ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ at anyone attempting to go the wrong way down the English corridor as they smile when greeted by a chorus of ‘turn around’. I am utterly convinced that children come towards them just for their vocal skills.
I miss Stuart wrangling the Year 13s to my lesson as they come up with their latest excuse for why they’re late or where their folder is – especially when one of those excuses was, “I’m late because there were a lot of pigeons by the door and I had to walk round the long way”.
I miss my newly found feud with the Maths faculty and the incredible musical collaboration that has been put on hold.
I miss being able to call down to the ladies in Student Services and know that whatever random thing it is I need, they will know where it is, what it is and why it is and they never judge me for being useless at using the printer.
I miss emails at night from Jennie asking us to pull off some sort of miraculous feat the next day and then grouping together and nailing it anyway.
I miss going through the Inter-Tutor Group competition each week to check we’re still on top, even if we’ve had a rocky week and know there’s work to be done.
I miss Year 11 telling me how much they hate Macbeth but that An Inspector Calls ‘wasn’t that bad’. I miss telling them how proud I am of what they’ve achieved. I said they’d be a class that goes down in history – this wasn’t entirely the way I had planned though.
But what will continue to push me through is the sound knowledge that one day, not too far off, we’ll get this back and we will be all the more thankful for it, because wherever we are: we’re KC.
With schools currently being closed to most students and staff, we find ourselves adapting to a life of working from home on a daily basis. I’m sure most of my fellow teachers are already used to completing a large amount of work from home after years of practice but this is certainly something very different. No need to rush to beat the Boughton Green Road traffic in the morning, in fact no real rush to do anything. A massive contrast to everyday life in a modern secondary school.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who found the idea of working from home somewhat appealing when it was first proposed; although of course we would all much prefer if it was under contrasting circumstances. The chance to complete your daily tasks in your living room armed with just your laptop, wearing whichever comfies you fancy and having constant access to the food in the kitchen (I’ve certainly taken advantage of the latter…)
Now I’d certainly be lying if I said the first couple of days were not enjoyable and particularly peaceful. I set a slightly later alarm for the morning and my daily run was a few miles longer to make the most of my daily allowance of one session of exercise; my two huskies were very pleased about this! I didn’t have to start my day by questioning my tutees about any behaviour points they may have received the previous day or quizzing anyone about why they were late. There was no need to rush my breakfast (the first one or the second) and I was feeling fresh and ready to get started on the tasks on my list. After logging into the school system and addressing the numerous emails from students the work could begin. My productivity levels were through the roof, I was typing away, creating resources, inputting data and finally getting the feeling that I have enough time to complete the work I need to; it was very unusual. The next couple of days followed a similar pattern and there have certainly been numerous benefits to this new way of life, particularly the amount of work that can be completed when you are completely uninterrupted and fully focused. A week later however, it’s clear that this kind of daily routine is certainly not why any of us got into teaching.
Our department is now as well-resourced as I can remember; we’ve had the opportunity to refine systems and finally got around to completing those tasks that we’ve wanted to for months but have never had the opportunity to. I’m sure everyone has more energy and is not feeling quite as exhausted as everyday teaching can often leave us. I do believe however, that this period away has reminded us of the thrill that draws us back to school every day. The daily interaction we get with our students, those lightbulb moments that we see when a new concept is fully understood after a period of struggle and often many mistakes. The unpredictable and often amusing comments and questions that our imaginative students come out with and the humour and energy that the young people bring with them every day. Even those times when you think you’ve given yourself ten minutes to eat your lunch after setting up for the next lesson only to be visited by a student who needs some help with their homework or is having issues with a friend and has come to you for some counselling. While these things do take up a large amount of our time and energy, none of us ever think twice about prioritising the needs of our students. There’s no point developing the best resources in the world if you don’t have the opportunity to share them with enthusiastic students on a day-to-day basis.
These are very challenging times for everyone but there are also lots of opportunities with this unusual way of working. Teachers and students alike should finally get the chance to catch up and even get ahead on much of the work that may have been mounting up. Many of us may even have some extra free time, and this can certainly be utilised to do something that you may normally say you don’t have time for. You can learn almost anything in the modern world with just a quick internet search so take some time to learn or practice something new. Spend an hour or so on a video chat to that friend who you keep meaning to contact. Spend some quality time with your family, maybe even play some games or do a home workout together and improve your fitness levels.
What this very uncertain time will hopefully do for many of us is allow us to reflect on what is important in our lives and why we love teaching. Although we do sometimes feel the urge to complain about certain classes or student behaviour, the daily interaction and unpredictability is what makes this job different to anything else. So, enjoy the extra free time you may have, the more relaxed and peaceful days, and the opportunity to broaden your daily activities and when this is all over, we can start again with renewed enthusiasm and gratitude for the job we’re very lucky to have!
Brought to you by Briony de-Wit, Post 16 Lead Practitioner
6 school weeks left with our lovely Year 11s, 5 years of nurture, sweat and tears (mainly yours!) comes down to the examination period this summer. However, have you considered what your Year 11 students are aiming to do after the exams? What grades are needed for them to succeed, to have the choices they want in life? How can we use data to ensure they are on the right pathway as they reach a cross-road in their academic lives?
The process of using KS2 data to hold schools to account through progress measures is one that is familiar to most. 62% of secondary schools use this data to set challenging KS4 targets for individuals. Our next step at Kingsthorpe College is to replicate this for Post 16 options choices when students are joining us by using FFT (Fischer Family Trust) bench-marking.
The balance between getting students through the door and having them sitting in the right classroom is a close call to make. Using FFT bench-marking will show the challenging estimates that could be achieved by our students, within our educational setting to help advise option choices will raise the standards and quality of education by reducing dropout rates and the need for major intervention later on.
The estimate provides no limits to our students – as ever we only want to show them what they are capable of, it is merely a minimum expectation. GCSE results show students the outcome of their hard work and input at that stage and using this data to help inform choices only outlines what they are capable of with the same level of input.
Data. Progress. Two words that can fill teachers with fear at certain times of the year. But when data is used coherently it can provide opportunities for schools and individuals to grow and be challenged, becoming a powerful tool to ensure that all students achieve. Utilising data to improve the quality of education raises the bar for students and schools. Kingsthorpe College are rightly prioritising opportunities for pedagogical discussions and celebrations on a regular basis – a combination that is providing a platform to identify student and subject knowledge support to give our students the best possible experiences with us.
This year sees a robust set of subject based expectations and minimum GCSE grades needed to gain entry at Post 16, and whilst this sets the minimum requirements it doesn’t give an insight into what chances that individual pupil has of achieving different outcomes in subject areas, within the context of our school setting.
Flight paths are commonly used up until KS4, by 68% of secondary schools in fact, but as with first wave SEND, quality of education, expectations and all other areas of school life, Post 16 needs to be part of that journey. As we are acutely aware the motivation and required teacher input doesn’t decrease once they have hit the golden hour of GCSE exams – our students need sustained, and even increased support as they navigate the jump into Post 16 expectations. A holistic approach which considers outcomes as well as knowledge of students’ career aspirations needs to be fostered through analytical subject choices. Bench-marking allows our students the recognition and support that they deserve to help them understand their readiness for the next level of challenge.
This time of year provides us with the perfect opportunity to have conversations with our students about their dreams and ambitions; knowing individuals and being able to motivate them with the knowledge that their GCSE outcomes are only the start of where they will be ending up is a privileged position to be in – dream big!
By providing students with data driven choices we are allowing them to have the best opportunities to succeed. It enables teachers to be more secure (barring the expected outside influences of life) in the ability of the students sat in their classrooms to access the challenging material that they are presenting students with. Ultimately, we aim to give our students the best life chances and opportunities to flourish. Having well supported, successful students is the nature of our beast.
Brought to you by Louisa Broughton and Kate Hayward-Pretty
The Bigger Picture
The percentage of pupils with a statement or EHC plan attending state-funded special schools has seen a year on year increase since January 2010.
Special educational needs remain more prevalent in boys than girls.
Pupils with special educational needs are more likely to be eligible for free school meals.
Overall, in January 2018, 3.0% of White British pupils had statements of SEN/EHC plan compared to 2.7% of minority ethnic pupils.
55.5% of children who had been looked after continuously for 12 months in 2017-18 had a special educational need.
One of the challenges we face this year is in ensuring that our SEND students get the best possible experience at KC. This challenge is not new to us; its roots lie within differentiation which has always been a part of our educational landscape. Regardless of our ‘teacher age’, we will have read hours of blogs and research, attended CPD, been observed, observed other people, and tried things out at the coalface. Yet we may still only have a surface level understanding of how to differentiate for SEND students, not really knowing about the barriers they face every day.
Every major brand spends time investigating and analysing their target audience and working out how to deliver what they want and need. They would be silly not to. Although the frequency of delivery is much higher in schools, we should always have our audience in mind when we plan lessons. It is not enough to recycle content or activities that have worked before without giving thought to the suitability for the students who will be on the receiving end. We should always consider how best to deliver learning so it can be accessed by everyone. This is not the same as making it easier – it is about bringing everyone with you – even when it gets hard.
When working with SEND pupils in the classroom, it can be easy to overlook some minor changes that can lead to major wins. Whilst not all of these will work for the specific needs in your classroom, these will help along the way.
First and foremost, emphasise the positive. It can be something as subtle as a thumbs up or as grand as a whole class mention. Either way, they need to see you champion their success.
Secondly, to avoid unfinished work help the pupil to complete core elements of the work. They may not find it easy to keep up with the pace of the class so pick out the ‘must dos’ and ensure that they are completed. To help with this, use realistic timed targets to promote engagement with a task. You can also use these to monitor pupil progress to finish tasks within an allotted time; e.g. outline the amount of work you expect a pupil to complete in this time and then check. This really helps pupils with ADHD, anxiety, and those who struggle with time management. It gives them clear boundaries and can then be referred to in a conversation discussing the work.
Scaffolding is everyone’s friend! It can be something such as definitions, key points, diagrams, or questions on labels so that key words can be correctly defined.
Finally, keep it simple and do it well.
Always read the SEN profile and passport. The recommended strategies aren’t a wish list – they are essential.
Know who they are and what they like. A little bit of knowledge about their hobbies and interests goes a long way. Use this as you greet them on the door – they’ll feel happy talking and thinking about something they enjoy which makes them more likely to learn.
Talk to your colleagues and share ideas. When was the last time you visited our SEND department to access the wealth of knowledge and experience at KC?
The cult of average in the national picture:
Pupils with SEN achieve, on average, over half a grade lower per subject than other pupils with similar prior attainment nationally.
For those who continued onto Post 16 study, 30.6% of pupils identified with SEN in year 11 achieved Level 2 including English and mathematics by age 19 in 2017/18.
Pupils with special educational needs (SEN) account for just under half of all permanent exclusions and fixed period exclusions.
We are anything but average here at KC. There are no glass ceilings on what our students can do. Let’s buck the trends and show them what we’re made of.
In 2019, 27% of pupils began secondary school in England without having reached the “expected standard” in their Year 6 SATs reading assessment. Research undertaken by Oxford University Press found that the word gap caused by these issues represents a significant and widespread challenge to secondary schools and it is only getting bigger. As we evaluate our curriculum design and appropriateness at KC, this is something we have to be acutely aware of. After all, how do we ensure that we offer challenge and subject mastery if our students cannot decode, comprehend and use complex texts?
Vocabulary affects students’ achievement and progress throughout secondary school, and the results affect the entire school. It means that students have difficulty working independently and following what is going on in class. As a result, students make slower than expected progress in all subjects, not just English. We need to build a foundation of language understanding to allow more students to access learning which is especially important for our disadvantaged and SEN students. Sharing these words is a great start but students need to be using them rather than just reading them in isolation.
Our KC Word of the Week (WOW) is featured in every bulletin and tutor time PowerPoint. Each term, it is based on a different Latin root word to encourage students to start thinking about etymology and morphology so they can make links between different words and their meanings.
More widely than this, we need to consider how can we use Through the Door tasks to:
Share key vocabulary before our students encounter it in lesson activities to avoid overloading their working memory. To support this, each subject has been provided with a list of subject specific Tier 2 language.
Allow pupils to hear and practice correct pronunciation of words.
Encourage them to read! Do we encourage our students to read within our subject and for pleasure?
Develop a culture of talk and discussion.
Research from the Early Intervention Foundation showed that children with language difficulties were four times more likely to have reading difficulties in adulthood, three times as likely to have mental health problems, and twice as likely to be unemployed when they reach adulthood. Developing our students’ vocabulary will not only make them more successful in school, but it will also make them ready for the world and opportunities that await them.
When I was at secondary school, my Principal stood inside the door every morning greeting us. She was a stern lady with an occasional smile which was hard-earned; she meant business and we knew it. We were a small school with a small staff and she knew us all by name. We got away with nothing from the moment we arrived. Each day, she reminded us of this by standing on guard making sure we were dressed properly and on time. I expected this and it set the tone for the day. A smile from her went a long way as it never came easily. Years later I find myself teaching at KC where each morning, we too greet our students on the gate as they arrive at school. Instead of my experience however, we offer a smile and welcome for all (as well as the inevitable reminders about tucking in shirts and removing earphones!). For every ten times we say good morning, we rarely hear it back and yet we persist as we know they have heard us.
The stark reality is that for some children, we could be the first people to notice them that day. They may never admit it, but children are creatures of habit. We know that they need routine and consistency especially if it is lacking in other aspects of their lives. We pride ourselves on our relationships with children; for many staff at KC, these have been fostered over several years. We are significant role models in their lives and so we keep smiling and saying hello even if its not returned. It offers warmth. It sets a tone. It offers reminders about expectations. It builds relationships. It makes a difference.
Lesson starts should be no different and a simple greeting is one of the highest impact, lowest implementation strategies in our toolkit. You will have your preference of course for what this looks like, be it a handshake, a smile, a quiet word of praise for some, a raised eyebrow pointed toward an untucked shirt. Or even just keep it simple by knowing and using their names, make eye contact, ask how their day is going. No matter what it looks like for you, keep doing it.
Research shows that academic engagement can improve by almost 21% if students are exposed to routine formal greetings. Additionally, disruptive behaviour incidents are reduced by almost 10%. Our challenge therefore is to embed formal greetings in our practice. Build the routine and our students will come to expect and need it. It’s what they deserve.
Further reading Cook CR, Fiat A, Larson M et al. (2018) Positive Greetings at the Door: Evaluation of a lowcost, high-yield proactive classroom management strategy. Journal of Positive Behaviour Interventions 20(3): 149–159