Monthly Archives: December 2015

Just 3 teachers…


Some time ago, a conversation with my other half talking about an inspirational teacher of hers caused her to get quite emotional when she really began to think about the impact that one teacher had had on her life. And so, while I’m sure it’s not the first time it’s been done, I thought it would be an interesting blog theme (perhaps for bloggers more than blog-readers) to share a little more detail about their own inspirational teachers.

There are probably many who could be mentioned, so I’ve decided to suggest 3 categories, and maybe others will be minded to do the same?

1. The teacher I emulated

I don’t buy all the stuff about needing more men in primary schools as ‘role models’ or anything like that, but I also can’t deny that as a Year 7 pupil at middle school, Mr Perry was my hero. He gave us nicknames… he seemed interested in the goings-on of Year 7 life (including the latest news on boyfriend/girlfriend front that mattered so much), and he did that all-important thing of managing to make 11-year-olds feel mature. I even tolerated his sportiness (a quality I lack entirely) because he never once made my clear inability seem anything other than an amusing quirk of my personality.  I hope I manage to achieve the same positivity for pupils I teach who aren’t so sure about Maths!
Mind you, I don’t know what it said about us that Mr Perry later went on to re-train as cabin crew!

2. The teacher who changed me

Carole Lawless probably gets the credit for the work of a whole school on this one. As I moved into secondary school, I was a fairly quiet geeky sort who might easily have gone unnoticed in a 1200-pupil comprehensive. Over the next 6 years that place helped to change me into the more confident, opinionated, liberal-minded loud-mouth (geek) that I’ve since become. As a form tutor, humanities teacher, and even A-level History teacher, Carole brought a permanent sense that it was within our power – indeed, perhaps our duty, to try to change the world. Which strikes me as not a bad stance to take. It pleases me that Carol still teaches at my old school, hopefully still sharing the same messages.

3. The teacher who made me want to teach

I’m one of those teachers who always wanted to be one. I remember beginning middle school and deciding for myself (ironically enough, on reflection) that I wanted to be a first school teacher – presumably it seemed more fun? That couldn’t now be further from the truth, but it must be to the credit of my first school teachers that I felt that way. The one who sticks out in my memory is Mrs Fairbourn – the Y1 teacher I recall from my very first day at first school when I’d just moved into the area. As a newcomer to the school, I was invited to be the dentist for the day in the roleplay area – what an honour! Mrs Fairbourn is an experienced headteacher these days; I sometimes wonder how many other people’s lists she might be on without her knowledge…



Would that one day I end up on a similar list…



Twas the Week Before Christmas

Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the school
Not a person was teaching, in classroom or hall
The books were all stacked on the shelf, oh so neat
In hopes that there would be no marking this week

The children were bounding, from morning till three
With visions of presents all under a tree
And mine in their uniform, me in my class
Are struggling on, with the usual tasks

When outside the classroom there comes such a clatter
We spring from our desks to see what is the matter
Across to the doorway we fly like a flash
Throw open the door, to hear yet one more crash

The glitter all spread on the carpet below
Gave the lustre of twilight to the floors we all know
When what to our wondering eyes should emerge
But a group of the infants, engaged in a dirge

With their teaching assistant, so lively and fast
We knew in a moment: it’s that infant school class
More rabid than wolves, the hobgoblin ones came
As she hollered and shouted, and called them by name

“No, Ethan! Stop Lucas! Just walk, Ellie Witter
Oh Matthew, please stop from devouring that glitter!
Down the corridor into the hall we must go
To your parents awaiting the nativity show”

As litter around the school playground does blow
So the chaos of infants, to the hall, off they go
Down past the kitchens to the stage blocks they race
Wearing their tea-towels so deftly in place

And then, in a twinkling, we hear from the stage
The moment at which those young mites come of age
As we draw back our heads, we hear the first sounds
Of the music with which their young voices are drowned

And all dressed in fabrics that seem sure to catch light
An angel from heaven does hove into sight
A halo of foil, and some pink fluffy wings
The soloist four-year-old quietly sings

His eyes-how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
But what he is singing, there is no way to know

The Tiny Tears doll, he holds tight in his grasp
As the infant school teacher looks on, all aghast
As Mary’s round face, until now filled with cheer
Is suddenly turning to a face filled with tears

Then a chubby young Joseph, a quite naughty young imp
Laughs as he crosses the stage like a chimp
A wink of an eye and a twist of his head
Soon leads us to know that there’s trouble ahead

He speaks not a word, but goes straight to his work
And from Gabriel’s grip takes the babe with a jerk
And knocking the angel-boy sharp on the nose
Galloping back ‘cross the stage he then goes

He springs to his Mary, presenting the infant
The crying young maiden halts in an instant
But we heard her exclaim as she gave him a bite
“That’s not how it goes, you’re not doing it right!”

Useful things we learned from the #AskNicky chat tonight















In praise of the DfE

No, it’s not quite what it seems.

I am often the first to complain about ill-thought-through policies emerging from the DfE, and have on more than one occasion put the blame squarely at the department’s door for some chaotic implementation or other.

Perhaps its the Christmas spirit in me, or maybe the delirium of the approaching end of term, but I feel that a time has come to sing the praises of those who deserve them: the civil servants.

I remember as a child watching gameshows and the like where candidates announced themselves as “civil servants” and no more was asked – or often a comment made about no further detail being added. In some ways I like to think of them as all having worked for MI5. The life of a civil servant always sounded so exciting.

I’ve come to learn that my impressions may not have been fully-informed. And over the past few years, while I have repeatedly raised my concerns about occurrences at Sanctuary buildings and its outposts, I have learned two things:

  1. The civil servants I’ve come into contact with at the DfE are – to a man – reasonable, sensible and well-intentioned professionals;
  2. I couldn’t be a civil servant.

Just in the last few weeks, I have taken part in several Rising Stars conferences on the new national tests, in which representatives from the DfE have presented the department’s latest changes to assessment policy, and then opened themselves up to a barrage (volley? live round?) of questions from an audience. Many in those audiences – professional teachers and school leaders all – share a common frustration with the pace of change, combined with the meandering pace of information provision. Many have disagreements about the direction of policy. Almost all would like the opportunity to direct their questions to the political masters behind it all. But all the while, a polite, knowledgeable and helpful civil servant provides what information they can, while never once raising any personal viewpoint on the matter themselves.

That has been my experience of the good people who work inside the DfE. While you or I might have strongly-held views on what should be done -and I certainly make no qualms about expressing those views – the kindly civil servants within the department merely do their best to translate government policy (driven by the politicians) into practice for the system.

Can you imagine having to make every announcement by Mr Gibb or Ms Morgan into some manageable approach for schools? It must be a nightmare. And yet, despite the insanity of some of what goes on, never once has any member of the department stood up and said “No, I know… it’s bonkers isn’t it? That’s politicians for you.”

And how tempting that must be.

I wouldn’t last five minutes in the role.

And in some ways, that’s fine. I am quite happy if I am seen to be holding the collective feet of the department to the fire from time to time, or if my outbursts cause even a momentary pause or thought in the minds of those high up in the department. But if everyone were like me, ranting and raving, nothing would ever get done in government, I’m sure.

So let it be said, now: for all my frustrations, and all my ire, and all my thinly-veiled – and not so thinly-veiled – assaults on the department, I have no doubts that the majority of the staff working within those walls are doing their very best, in a very professional manner, to achieve the best possible education system within the remit given to them by the political bodies at the top of the tree.

And just imagine if those politicians were your boss? We think some SLTs are tricky…

More drip-fed information on moderation

They don’t like to overload us with information at the DfE, so today saw the quiet release of the latest instalment of information on statutory moderation requirements for 2016. Some key points to note:

  • Teacher Assessment judgements must be submitted by new earlier dates:
    • Key Stage 2 by Friday 27th May
    • Key Stage 1 by Monday 13th June
  • Schools will not be notified of any moderation visits until after the relevant TA data has been submitted
  • Schools will not be notified which children’s work will be moderated until the day before the moderation at the earliest
  • A sample of at least 10% at KS1, or 15% at KS2 will be used for moderation (minimum of 3 or 5 pupils respectively)
  • KS1 cohorts will have Reading, Writing & Maths moderated
  • In KS2 cohorts, only Writing will be moderated
  • The LA moderator will scrutinise day-to-day work, rather than portfolios, to avoid creating additional teacher workload.
  • However, teachers must “ensure that the evidence clearly identifies the amount of support a pupil has received” (presumably regardless of the additional teacher workload created)
  • Moderators “may wish” to speak to school staff
  • The moderator must feed back to the headteacher or a representative at the end of the scrutiny
  • The STA will select some schools for moderation; the local authority must choose the remainder, making up 25% of its schools, based on the usual triggers

The STA has published a guide for schools at each Key Stage, and a further separate guide for local authorities at each Key Stage. I have combined these into a single document for each Key Stage for ease. These can be downloaded here:

KS1 moderation guidance booklets

KS2 moderation guidance booklets