Dismaland Review

Having spent a week trying to get tickets for me and my expectant 13 year old, I was finally successful yesterday morning. The only available tickets were for yesterday at 9pm, so I hastily booked a hotel for the night and to Weston-Super-Mare we duly headed.

Alfie, my son, was expecting a darkly artistic display of anti-establishment installations. I was expecting something worse – possibly a trick, played on the visitors, Banksy having us coerced into some sort voyeuristic, distasteful collusion with Britain First, consumerism or Conservatism. I’d heard about the refugee boats and the dead princess-paparazzi piece and was worried about distaste. I thought the joke would be on us.

I needn’t have, as it turns out, Alfie was right. Everything we experienced was thought-provoking, firmly anti-establishment and even comical in parts. The dead princess-paparazzi thing was mocking our shallow thirst for celebrity culture; the refugee boats at the cliffs of Dover our insular xenophobic nature as a country. Some of what we experienced went over my head, but most was accessible to a 13 year-old’s consciousness. And yes, Disney was slaughtered, literally, with Mickey Mouse having been eaten by a snake and Donald Duck rotting in a bin. The tiny souvenir shop was branded as a means for children to pawn their toys and use the facilities of payday lenders. Much that is wrong with our country was laid bare. The films and the graffiti walls were both entertaining and great tools to promote self-reflection.

The strangest thing of all was the people who worked there. The programme-selling lady looked as though she wanted to kill us, the rides sometimes cost varying amounts of money and other times were free. We were roughly dismissed from exhibitions, castigated for not knowing where things were and constantly being asked to stop smiling, or to go away. At first it was funny, but after 2 hours it became very sinister. On returning to our hotel and being served a glass of wine with a smile, I found myself thanking the lady, telling her how kind she was. It made me reflect on our usual daily interactions with people. Being treated with a lack of courtesy by strangers really is very disconcerting.

This morning I awoke early and found myself pondering the events and feelings provoked by last night. I deliberately hadn’t read any reviews, as I wanted to make up my own mind. It wasn’t a money-spinner, it was all very cheap and I wondered about the motivations. No-one seems to be making any profit from it. So really it was an art exhibition, a means for unknown artists to display their work to the public (there were many contributors). And I am left with the feeling that possibly, just possibly it was a work of intelligent altruism. It was most certainly an effective way of holding up a mirror to for each of us to reflect on the world we live in and our place within that. Go see if you can.


How Can We Share Good Practice in Closing the PP GAP?

This blog isn’t intended to offer ANY answers, but please let me know if you can help with some.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be able to present our successes (to date) in closing the PP gap at Tower Hill to a large group of governors from around Oxfordshire. Well, I say “large” group; there were 22 of them. A fabulous group, full of bright, well-educated people who all seemed to have a pretty good grasp of the issues from the outset, to be honest – so much so that I wondered whether I was speaking to the already-converted. They certainly were interested, engaged and I have no doubt that all of them will go back to their schools ready to pin the subject high upon their school’s agenda.

But ONLY 22? Out of 300-odd schools around Oxfordshire actually indicates a pretty poor turn-out. The event had been advertised widely enough; it was free, it was only half a Saturday and it was raining, so no mind-changing at the last minute had prevented any from coming. It was the first of its kind in the county and it was a good programme, offering a good variety of speakers and information.

Last November, Oxfordshire laid on a fabulous day-long conference entitled “The Big Challenge.” It really was a fabulous programme, including Sir John Dunford, Dr Kevan Collins and a handful of us local heads who had some successes to share. The turn-out was disappointingly low. The event was open to Heads, SLTs, SBMs, Governors, Inclusion/SENDCos, and any other interested parties and was held at an easily-accessible training centre in the heart of Oxford, with lunch provided. Turn-out? Around 70.

Clearly, many schools are well ahead in gap-closing and been successful for a number of years. Others appear to have recently discovered what this extra pot of money is all about. But however far down the road a school is, SURELY it must be a high priority? Do we really have all the answers already? (No) Are we doing the best we can for the disadvantaged children in our schools? (No) Have we closed all of our gaps then? (Well, obviously not.) So why such a poor turn-out? Isn’t this a HUGE issue for our pupils? (Yes, yes, yes.)

So please, if you have read this blog and can point me in the direction of a local authority, or Trust, or group of schools, or region who has successfully managed to engage their schools in this agenda, let me know and hopefully we might be able to follow suit.



Searching for Great Practice, Mr Gove?

Having just listened to Mr Gove speaking at the NAHT Conference, I was interested by his phrase “Ofsted needs to find great practice and share great practice”. I couldn’t agree more. Mr Gove, look no further. This letter is intended to assist you in your endeavours, not to criticize them.

In my capacity as NLE/LLE, I visit many other schools. That is how I KNOW that my own school, is “great.” It is schools such as mine that you are looking for – to hold up as an example to others. It is the kind of school that, given its’ successes against all odds, would leave all others with no excuses other than to set the bar high; would leave no room for complacency. We are the kind of school that should be a teaching school, should be leading CPD, should be giving the lessons.

In a nutshell, Tower Hill* serves a disadvantaged community, 31% FSM, 34% SEN, high proportion of GRT children, unemployed and vulnerable families. Attendance is a big issue. Our children come to us WELL BELOW national age-related expectations and leave school WELL ABOVE them. Children are happy and teaching is great. I know this because I am also a parent at the school. In just 1.5 years my own son arrived at the school on the SEN register and is now predicted Level 5’s for the SATs that he took last week.

Yet the system failed other schools in Oxfordshire last November, when they deemed us to be Requiring Improvement. That judgement meant that we could NOT be part of the new Oxfordshire Teaching School Alliance. That judgement meant that new parents did NOT want to send their children to our school. That judgement meant that my MOST talented practitioners are thinking of applying for jobs elsewhere. We cannot wait for Ofsted to come back and re-inspect us. By then though, it might be too late.

There is a small village school in a neighbouring county, which is upheld as THE example for everyone to follow, because about 7 years ago it was given a label of Outstanding. It probably is. Countless schools in difficult circumstances since then have been told to send their teachers to that school, “to see how it should be done”. Yet those I have spoken to have left dismayed, wondering how that school equates in any part to their own. It is easy to have good results in a school such as that. I know this because I was Head of one. We did too, it was easy.

And this year, my school, Tower Hill, is expecting 100% at Key Stage 2 SATs. Across the board. I know this because I teach those children. We cannot wait for Ofsted to return. I have spoken to our regional HMI who assures me a quick return is likely, if a conversion to “Good” is imminent. I am wondering whether we may even be Outstanding – if not us, then who? And these results are now set to be sustained, repeated, year on year. With my talented staff, we SHOULD be a teaching school – we already work in this manner with the schools I am supporting. We should be a reference-point for all other schools in the country – if WE can do it, everyone could.

We may well get our recognition in the autumn term. My worry is, if my talented staff, still disillusioned from the previous Ofsted have left by then, it will be too late.

*It may be worthy of note that we are the most disadvantaged school in the Prime Minister’s constituency. He visited us last July and could see for himself what a fantastic job we were doing. Mr Gove, you are also most welcome to visit the school.

Time for the Post-Christmas Trauma

Tomorrow our children will return to school pale, anxious, tired. They will be longing to return to their ordinary school routine. Christmas, long-awaited and now a distant memory, will have brought trauma and uncertainty to some of our children and their families. Families that will have been torn apart again this Christmas by rising debt, depression and dependency. We are bracing ourselves.

Ours is a medium-sized primary school, serving a large proportion of a disadvantaged community. This time last year my office became inundated with anxious parents and children who had woken up at the beginning of 2012 to face rising debts, un-meetable  payday loan deadlines and relationships strained and torn apart under the weight of it all. Children, who had been besides themselves with anticipation when we had last seen them, found themselves berated for not exhibiting enough gratitude for their Christmas gifts, for falling out with their siblings, or having grown too much to fit their uniform, found themselves blamed for the latest round of arguments or parental breakdown. Parents, who had attempted suicide, returned to drug dependency, lost their jobs, hadn’t any idea where to turn next.

Not all of our families are unemployed. Many work unbelievably hard, but find their jobs too poorly-paid to support their families. Recently, schools like mine have become family support units, social care workers, relationship counsellors, behaviour support experts, play therapists, mental health specialists, health workers and police support officers. We were becoming used to this; hardened even. But finding ourselves more recently the dolers-out of charity…..of Christmas food parcels, of free uniform, of breakfasts, of shoes, plimsolls, of financial assistance for trips time and time again, brings home the cruel hardship so many families are facing all year round.

My school lies deep in the heart of West Oxfordshire. People find this difficult to believe.

Is there a meaningful correlation between lesson obs grading and pupil progress?

Last evening on Twitter, the question was posed among tweachers, as to whether or not there was a direct link between Lesson Observation gradings and class performance progress. I joined in the debate, stating that there is a direct link in my school and that I have the statistical evidence to support my judgement.

One of my esteemed colleagues pointed out that there is a distinct lack of empirical evidence in this highly contentious area; after all – what is the purpose of lesson observations, often highly stressful for teachers, if not to support and enhance learning? As Dr Mark Evans @teachitso has so eloquently pointed out, there is a need for evidence-based learning in our profession, as we search and scrabble around ourselves for solutions. Should we be VAK-ing? Brain-gyming? And is there a real purpose to lesson observations? The end here needs to justify the means, surely.

During half term, I’ve conducted a careful analysis of pupil progress data and the results DIRECTLY reflect lesson observation analysis – and here my judgements have been backed up by an external consultant, so I am assured they are accurate and not swayed by my personal understanding of our pupil progress data. And this being my first year at this school, I am free from preconceptions. At this point, I could chart the data – copy and paste – (and would share if asked, if evidence were required for research), but suffice it here for me to maintain some anonymity, to spare my teachers’ blushes……

My most effective teacher has added an average of 5.5 APS over the year to their pupil’s progress – a stunning result; needless to say, their’s are the highest lesson judgements – always good/outstanding – and I do mean always – learning walks, drop-ins etc. This is a class full of SEN/FSM children with many ongoing TACs. In Maths alone, 35% of the pupils entered the class “on-track” performance-wise; now 90% attaining as they should (in line with National expectations).

Teachers that have been judged “good” throughout the year have added value to their children’s progress – a little over the average expected progress, thereby closing gaps and ensuring their percentage class APS score is now in line with national expectations, having begun the academic year below them.

My satisfactory teachers have added the expected amount of progress – not more, not less.

So we share – we operate a collegiate approach – peer observations, practice-sharing, pupil progress meetings – my effective teachers, Maths specialist teacher and myself make ourselves available to take colleagues’ classes whilst they observe – always with time for detailed analysis post-lesson. The list of ways to share outstanding practice are endless….but I would maintain that any Head should undertake such analysis in their school – after all, if good progress is evident, if outstanding practice is evident, it NEEDS to be shared and tapped into, to ensure even progress throughout the school and fairness for our children.

Next blog….what constitutes effective teaching/learning? How do we rate our teachers and when can we give an outstanding rating?


Welome to my blog.

This is new to me, so PLEASE leave feedback if you have any – all will be gratefully received. Please let’s also use the comments boxes as a forum for discussion…..otherwise what’s the point?

It’s an opportunity for me to share some of my ideas and thoughts, particularly about the world of education, but I may throw in the odd book review too, or general thoughts on life….

Just so you know….professionally LLE and HT at Tower Hill Primary in Witney, Oxfordshire – love my job.

Personally Mum to 2 wonderful boys, cat-owner and reader of books – love my life.