One Simple Way to Save Thousands of Pounds

Today I was at a conference with lots of other head teachers.  I was sat with my local authority group of heads when I spotted a lovely head teacher from another authority, Cathy, who had informed me earlier in the year about how we could use the primary accountability document to help try to make more accurate predictions about progress expected from our current Years 4, 5 and 6 at the end of Key Stage 2 (this was before I knew about @jpembroke’s value added calculator).

I made my way over at break time and said hello.  I told her that I had told other English leaders in Oldham about how to work out possible expected progress when she told me about her next crusade.

She had realised that in her budget she had a £9,000 deficit which she couldn’t account for it.  She looked and looked and looked but she couldn’t find where this money had gone.  Then she realised that it was because of the universal free school meals that all infant children receive.  Cathy looked at me with her eyebrows raised, clearly expecting me to understand.

I didn’t understand so she explained it simply to me!  If you have 90 children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 combined then, theoretically, you should receive £439 for each child to cover a school meal a day for the year.  Therefore you should get 90 x 439.  Cathy had increased her infants by 6 children this year, but her universal free school meals money had dropped by around £9,000.  She couldn’t understand this so she contacted her local authority and they informed her that schools do not receive money for the number of children on roll, but that they only receive money for the number of children IN SCHOOL on census day.  They take a mean average of the October and January census and this determines how many children you get funding for, so if you have 5 children off on the October census day and 3 children off on the January census day, your school will not be funded for 4 children to have the universal ‘free’ school meals for the whole year, even though those children will still need to have a lunch.  However, school will still have to provide a meal.  And where will this money come from, you ask? Why… your school budget of course! So those mean average of four children being absent will cost your school £1,748.

I couldn’t believe it.

My mouth dropped open and I covered it with my hand.

This couldn’t be right, could it?

I’m a new head and I’m sure I must have misunderstood.

Break time finished and I headed back to my Oldham pals.  I explained what Cathy had just told me and they were incredulous.  They told me that I must have got the wrong end of the stick and I was pretty sure they were right.  I occasionally misunderstand things and I was sure that this must have been one of those times, especially as these experienced heads from my own authority were telling me it couldn’t be this way.

But I still texted my office administrator and asked her to check if it was correct.  The office administrator got back to me and told me it was actually correct!  She had called the finance team and they had confirmed it.  My school will have to find £1,300 from our budget to cover the universal ‘free’ school meals because some children were absent on census day.

This is £1,300 that could be spent on:

4 coaches to take kids on school trips;

1,805 bottles of paint;

5 ipad minis;

93 Nike Pitch Premier League Footballs;

137 tickets to Chester Zoo;

10% of a TAs wage;

260 new library books;

108 tickets to see The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the Lowry Theatre.

My point is, that because some children are absent on 2 arbitrary days, the school gets punished.  As if budgets weren’t already tight enough, they are being squeezed again but in a very stealthy way.  And many heads might not even realise it.  I know that the experienced heads who I admire and regard very highly couldn’t believe it.  When I told my chair of governors she was aghast.

So this blog post is about spreading the word.  Census days are important.  I will be sending out a letter to try to ensure that these 2 random days have 100% attendance otherwise we will be punished as a school financially.  I will be explaining to parents an outline of this problem and urging them to have their child in school every day but particularly on these days.  And your school would be wise to do the same.  This is the simple way to save thousands of pounds – have 100% attendance on census days.

Finally, I would love to be completely wrong and I will modify this if someone can tell me that I am wrong.  I really hope I am.

@gazneedle

Come and Join Us!

primaryrocks-twitterprofileheader
*This post was written for http://www.primaryrocks.com*

 

 

 

 

Three years is a long time and this year #PrimaryRocks will be celebrating three years of non-stop primary focused edchat every Monday on Twitter from 8pm.  What started out as a tiny edchat between a few friends has spiralled into one of the most positive, supportive inspirational chats each week that has people actually looking forward to Mondays!  These are not my words but the words of the #PrimaryRocks community – have a look at the tweets above.

This is a loyal band of educators join in the chat every Monday and through the week post examples of good work and, in many ways more importantly, ask questions and help each other out.  They chat and joke, tease and probe, question and challenge each other to try to develop their own pedagogy and throughout it all, even though they may not agree with everything each other says, there is an unspoken bond and element of respect for what each other is saying.  This isn’t to say that there are not disagreements; there are and sometimes quite opposite views and this is very healthy.

One of the dangers of this is being too nice.  In an environment where people are very polite, the hazard is that no one wants to ask the difficult question, disagree with others or play the devil’s advocate to stimulate discussion and this is where I see my role.  As the facilitator of the chat, my role is to pose questions and then try to press and probe contributors to delve a little deeper than their original answer.  I will purposely take a stance that is opposite a contributor so that they have to think a little deeper about what they have said.  The tweets I send might not necessarily be what I believe but an alternative view that may be held by others which will challenge the thinking of people who join in the chat.  I don’t do this to be a quarrelsome, little twerp who wants to argue every point, but more to make people question what they do, why they do it and more importantly, to question if there is a better way to do something.

At #PrimaryRocks LIVE, when I asked speakers to present, the only brief I gave them was to make people reflect on their current practice and to give them something that will make them either change something in their class the following Monday, or give them something to think about and that will fundamentally change the way they approach their teaching.  This is no small order, but it is my one guiding light when I sit down on a Monday night with my ear phones in (to drown out the kids and the TV), with my pint of cordial and with tweetdeck open and ready to roll on #PrimaryRocks.

And the best feeling?  The best feeling is that sense when 9pm come and I realise that scores of people have joined in sending hundreds and hundreds of tweets during the hour and how, although we started small, this crazy edchat that was started to support primary teachers on Twitter, is doing just that, but on an even bigger scale than I could have ever imagined.  @PrimaryRocks1 now has over 10,000 followers and is growing each day.  If you are reading this, the likelihood is that you are one of the wonderful educators that come along and share your good practice with others, and for that I thank you.  If you have never joined in or are lurking just watching, search #PrimaryRocks on a Monday between 8-9pm and get ready to speed read if you want to keep up!

And finally, as this community grows, so does the expertise that we can call on.  Search #PrimaryRocks during the week and see if you can help someone.  Use #PrimaryRocks in your questions and see if anyone can help YOU.  And encourage others to use it.  Spread the word at your school, at teachmeets and down the pub with teacher friends!

Thanks for reading and sharing.

@gazneedle

Send Them To The Head!

Head teachers love it when you send kids to them for being great!

 

Neat handwriting? Send them up!  Fantastic maths? Bring them to me!  Someone who has made amazing progress and hit their target?  Let me give you a sticker!  An ‘invisible’ child who just does great solid work day after day and exhibits dream behaviour? Let me give you a big, old handshake!

Sometimes the head teachers office is almost seen like Barad-Dûr from Lord of the Rings with the head teacher as the Eye of Sauron.  If the head teacher is only used as a significant sanction then children can be fearful when they are asked to visit the head’s office.

So, brothers and sisters, I am calling you to action!  Send your superstars to the head.  When they are stuck in their office, looking at another bloomin’ junk email that they have to unsubscribe from or poring over numbers in a spreadsheet, the radiant smile of a little gem who has been brilliant in class is like a little oasis and will remind your head teacher why they are in their job.

Or even better, take them up and enjoy the celebration yourself!

@gazneedle

Help! I’m New to Year 6!

 

Imagine your Year 6 teacher has won the big time Euro Millions lottery and won £125,000,000.  They have told the SLT and governors that if they want to contact them, they will be on a Caribbean island, but here is some money to provide a supply for the term so they don’t have to give any notice.  You have been asked to step into the role of Year 6 teacher and you have never done it before.

I imagine that running through your head might be something like ‘Crikey!  What the blinkin’ heck am I supposed to do?  How do I get these little cherubs ready for the bloomin’ SATs?  What the heck are the best ways to teach in Year 6?  What don’t I already chuffin’ know?!” … or words to that effect.

Well, I have known several teachers in the last twelve months in this situation (not winning the lottery, but being asked to take Year 6 at short notice or having never taught in that year before) and I wanted to help anyone who has to go through this in the future.

I gathered together a crack team of Year 6 teachers from a range of schools – @mcmahonpaddy @MrTRoach @hil3494 and @crazycath1 – and christened them my Year 6 Avengers.  They would help me come up with some key points that all teachers new to Year 6 need to know.  We sat and chatted for an hour or so and this is what they came up with:

Don’t take anything for granted.  Start everything from the beginning and move on quickly.  Just because they have been taught it in previous year groups, doesn’t mean they remember it.

Go back and make sure that what should have been taught is secure.  Make sure with Year 6 SATs style question.

Use resources like Test base to practice test questions for starters to lessons.  Show the children that these questions are nothing to be afraid of.  Make them everyday occurrences and reduce the fear and anxiety.

Use the White Rose planning.  The problem solving and reasoning tests are great preparation.  The ‘Maths no problem’ books matches up with the White Rose planning.   It has a text book and workbook for guided practice/independent work.

Target Maths has differentiation included in it and is useful for pitching work at the correct level.

Single stage assessments from Assertive Mentoring are useful.  They have end of year expectations and this can be used to teach anything that is not understood.

Get through the whole curriculum before Easter then do revision in the weeks after Easter and before the tests.

Pitch and expectations

Find texts that challenge the best children in your class and pull the others up to that level rather than easier texts.

Answers HAVE to be precise and exact.  In the past, techers would be able to say ‘weeeeeelllll… I kind of know what they mean’ and give them a mark.  Now, answers have to be exact, precise and detailed otherwise children will not be given a mark.  It is a tough love that you must administer, but it is better to be honest with your class and practice being exact.

When using comprehensions, write complete sentences.  Children have to be very specific.  They are not allowed to just be able to get the ‘gist’ of the piece of writing now, they have to be accurate.

Have a read of Reading Reconsidered  by Doug Lemov.

Use RIC (Retrieval, Interpretation, Choice) with high quality, difficult texts daily to encourage detailed answers.

Read different genres: newspaper articles, biographies, interviews, magazine articles, etc.

Use the question stems from Maddy Barnes to generate questions at a suitable pitch: http://bit.ly/gazneedle02

Use the appendix from the Natonal Curriculum for grammar.  Look for these aspects in ALL year groups.  Make sure other year groups are teaching what they are supposed to be teaching.  No longer can the Year 6 teacher be expected to pull it out of the bag as has happened in some schools in the past.

Grammar should be taught in context with a high quality text.

Model your writing so that it includes everything that is needed (use the interim teacher assessment frameworks as your guide), even to greater depth.  Don’t make a simpler text.  All children are expected to be at least at the expected standard.

Don’t differentiate texts.  They all have to take the test at the end of May.

Writing – find out what the kids like and aim grammar and writing through that so they are engaged.  Use videos from the literacy shed to engage and develop their writing.  Use hard texts with complicated sentences to show them how they should be used for effect.  Practice sentence games, for examples, the ones in Pie Corbett’s Jump… series of books.

Write every day.

Progress for all children is more important now than ever before for teachers and schools.  Schools are being judged more on progress that children make so every child counts.  Use the primary accountability document and @jpembroke’s value added calculator (http://bit.ly/gazneedle1) to know exactly what each child is expected to attain.

Your class time table should stay as similar as possible.  You need to get the English and maths into other areas of the curriculum.  Use the other areas to stimulate the children.  Get grammar into art!

TESTS, THE RUN UP AND SATs WEEK

When planning to do practice tests, block out a week at a time, like a SATs week.  Always complete them in the in the mornings when children are at their most alert.

Always complete a test before Christmas so the children don’t feel over faced with taking a test.  Mark the maths test and SPaG together with the children so they can see how it should be answered.  Complete a test at the end of the half-term after Christmas and, again, mark with the children.  Complete 1 or 2 tests in the half-term before Easter depending on the length.  Complete the final practice test 2 weeks before the SATs.  In the 4 day week before SATS (which is always a bank holiday Monday week) just do revision on the topics that your class have found the trickiest to remember.

Use the carrot of ‘summer is going to be great’.  Keep your class on board.  Make sure you build in breaks in English/Maths and try to keep some ‘creative’ subjects.  The children need to have that down time for the maths and English to embed.

Make tests as comfortable as normal for the kids.  Do the tests in the classes they are normally in.  Don’t decamp to the hall.

Application for extra time in SATs opens on 23rd January.  Make sure you fill in the application form correctly.

In some schools, teachers (not TAs) come off time table for SATs so that kids feel comfortable with them.  The classroom is divided into quarters and teachers are assigned tables so children know which teacher will read to them and don’t have to wait for a long time before anyone gets to them.  This is to reduce their anxiety.

Do something off topic in SATs afternoon so your class can relax.  Don’t cram in the afternoon.  Try cricket, PE, art or any ‘fun’ activities to keep the mood light and to remind your class that school can be fun.

Give your class a flapjack and some juice in the morning during SATs week when they come in so to relax them.

Repeatedly tell your class to just do their best.  They have nothing to worry about at all.

Do not, under any circumstances, pass on any anxiety that the staff may have to the children.

Test technique is imperative to teach to the children.  Show them explicitly how to answer specific types of questions; find and copy one word; you can turn the paper for geometry questions; make sure pages are not stuck together; watch the clock; check and check and check your work again.  There is no place for someone sat idle in a test.

If children are taking five minutes on any question, leave it.  Move on to the next question and come back to it if you have time

Focus on the easy questions and easy texts first.

AND FINALLY:

I asked each teacher, if they had some top tips for teachers new to Year 6, what would they be?

Top tips:

  1. Gather evidence from writing early
  2. Keep children focused and motivated in light of the end of Key Stage expectations
  3. Get the balance right
  4. Don’t presume things that have been learnt are still understood
  5. Teach them test technique
  6. Make tests as comfortable as possible for children
  7. Pitch work as high as possible – higher than your highest children and pull others up
  8. Find out what the children can’t do and plug the gaps
  9. Write every day
  10. Expect the highest standards in their work
  11. Continue to teach PE and art. Kids love it.
  12. Don’t be alone. Speak to other teachers and SLT.
  13. Be honest: with SLT and parents so there are no surprises.
  14. Routines are key. Get them right at the beginning of the year and use them throughout

After reflecting on this conversation with some great teachers, I think that many of these principles can be applied across the school.  High expectations, writing every day, not presuming previous learning is still understood and developing good routines are not just for Year 6.  These, and many more of the key ideas from this conversation, can be, and SHOULD be, used throughout school.

To finish, I would like to borrow a metaphor from @moonmaddy she said that Year 6 teachers should be lighting the candle on the cake.  To explain further: EYFS should be making a list of ingredients and going to the shop to buy them, KS1 should be mixing the ingredients and baking them, KS2 should be taking it out of the oven and placing the icing and sprinkles on top of the cake and Year 6 teachers should be lighting the candle on top.  Without the support of the whole school, Year 6 teachers cannot light the candle.

If you find yourself in the position of being thrust into Year 6, good luck and my final piece of advice would be ask questions, of yourself, of your staff and of the children.  And if you need any help, just ask…

@gazneedle

 

So I Became A Head Teacher This Week…

So I became a head teacher this week.

A big week for me.  There is part of me that wonders if I have done the right thing.  I love teaching and still want to teach, but I can feel the pull of making an even bigger difference and driving a school forward with my own vision for education.

This post is about the interview process.  I’m sure there make be a million others like this but I thought I would share my day.

I was the only candidate to be interviewed.  I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing.  If there were more candidates, perhaps I would have come under less scrutiny because of time constraints.  Perhaps, because I was an internal candidate governors were hoping I would get it.  I’ll never know so I suppose it is a bit pointless to speculate.

The day started at 9:00am when I walked over to the parish centre next door to my school where the interview process was to take place.  I set up the projector ready to share my vision for our school and the chair of governors arrived.

I shook hands and warmly welcomed her before heading back to school so that the panel could have initial discussions before I arrived for the interview proper which was to take place at 10:00am.  This gave me plenty of time to reflect and try to prepare for the day, but I was too nervous and instead went around the school to pop my head into classes.  I have been the acting head teacher for the best part of almost 12 months now, 10 of those months still teaching in Year 2, so it was nice to have a little familiarity before the start of a long day.

I was called early, at 9:45am, and made my way to the large room where my interview process was to take place.

I was introduced to the panel: 9 people in total – 5 governors (including the Chair of Governors, Vice Chair of Governors, Chair of the Finance committee and Chair of the Standards and Curriculum committee), 2 representatives from the Local Authority and 2 representatives from the Diocese as we are a Catholic school.  The parish priest joined us after lunch so I ended with a panel of 10.

Then it was my turn… I presented my vision for the future of our school.  This was a great opportunity to reflect what I wanted for our school and what I believe in.  I started out with my BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal): my goal is to make teaching and learning at this school so incredible that teachers and leaders are desperate to come to our school and see what our secret is.  I tried to encompass my desire for the best education and my belief in sharing best practice to improve.  I had fifteen minutes to get this across and the night before, in my practice run with my wife, it had taken 30 minutes!  I had set a silent alarm on my watch so I knew when 13 minutes had elapsed and I had 2 minutes to go.  This was invaluable!  I then had about 15 minutes where the panel questioned me on my vision and they scrutinised in depth.

This was then followed by a short break before being presented with the RAISEonline from a different school.  My task was to analyse the document to find the strengths of the school as well as identifying areas for development and further investigation with reference to how I would move the school forward in these areas.  Luckily, I had been on RAISEonline CPD a few weeks previously with a consultant called Chris Pickup www.chrispickup.co.uk (he is excellent, you should really get on one of his CPD sessions if you can) and this was invaluable.  Through simply highlighting any major deviations from national figures, it was clear to see the issues in the data and present the findings to the panel.  I had forty-five minutes to complete this exercise and I thought that would be plenty.  Again, I set my timer; this time for forty minutes so I knew when time was almost up.  The panel had given me A1 sheets, post-its, pens of all colours and I had anticipated making some cool images to share.  In actual fact, I only just finished analysing the data and clarifying my ideas on next steps for the school when my alarm buzzed so I presented my findings verbally to the group.  This was then followed by questions such as how would I present RAISEonline to governors so they could digest it easier and what would happen if there was no improvement in the areas identified after putting resources in place to address any concerns.

Lunch was next and I headed back to school to spend some time in the lunch hall chatting to kids and catching up with staff, who were all eager to find out how it was going.  I honestly had no idea!  I thought I had done OK, but who knows?!

After lunch, I was interviewed by the school council.  They had surveyed children in the school asking what they would like to ask the new head teacher and they were not told it was me.  It was a slightly surreal experience as my son is on the school council!  (I did declare a pecuniary interest!) He had the first question and began by saying,

“Mr. Needle… how would you make money for the school?”

I had nine questions from the six children including:

How will you make our school a better and safer place?

Why do you think you are the right person for our school?

What will you do different to run our school?

What do you like about our school?

What kind of reward system will you use?

Why do you want to work here?

What type of activities will you provide?

If you got the job, what would be the ONE thing you would change?

Some of these were very tricky because I had already been in post, but I think I got the seal of approval from them as I got a fist bump from each of them on the way out!

Finally, it was time for questions from the interviewing panel.  This time flew by.  We started at approximately 1:30pm and it continued until around 3:00pm.  I am reading ‘Black Box Thinking’ by Matthew Syed at the moment and he evidences several cases where people in stressful situations lose track of time.  I was sucked into this scenario as I thought we had talked for about half an hour!

Questions included safeguarding staff and children, procedures around allegations against staff, the Catholic dimension of our school, managing staff relationships, governor relationships, attainment and progress and what the school priorities are.  Finally, the parish priest had a question.  His was more of a Warner style interview question which was:

“I have heard a lot about education today and lots about the school.  What I want to know is: what about you?  What is it that makes you tick?  Tell us something about yourself that we might not know.”

And then I relaxed.  For the first time that day.  And I told my story of how I have taken up walking and the associated health benefits I have felt.

To end the day I was asked if I had any questions and I asked about how governors would support me through periods of change and with my work/life balance.

And before I knew it, it was done.  3:00pm had arrived and the day was over.  I returned to school and 5 minutes later, the panel came across to a room in school where deliberations were to take place as the parish centre was being used for another purpose from :315pm onwards.

I waited in the staff room and had a chat with some staff about the day.  Our staff room affords a good view of the entrance to the school through the glass panels in the doors and I was a little surprised when I saw the local authority representatives leave after 10 minutes.  I wasn’t sure whether that was a good sign or not.  The Diocesan representative left soon after and the Chair of Governors came to the staff room to invite me to the room where the six governors were waiting for me.

It was good news!  I was offered the post and I breathed a long and heavy sigh of relief.

Staff were gathered together at 3:30pm and were told the news.  I felt like a celebrity!  The amounts of hugs and kisses and handshakes I received was amazing!

When I told Twitter that night, I couldn’t keep up with the well wishes and congratulations.  Some were even from enormous edu-twitter names!  People who I didn’t even think they knew I existed!

And now the adventure really begins and I am leading a school and a staff and a community to strive towards perfection, knowing that we will never reach it because nothing and no one is perfect, but in our strive for perfection, we will attain excellence… (I paraphrased that from Vince Lombardi!).

I haven’t written this as a self-promotion blog, but as an example of what happened during my selection process.  This might be completely different to what others go through.  I know a friend who went through an even more demanding 2 day process for a deputy head post, but this is my story and I hope it helps someone in their preparation for their interview for headship.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Gaz

@gazneedle