Is it a winnable fight?

Grumpy Old ManMaybe I’m becoming a bit of a grumpy old man, but my perception of the world around me is deteriorating badly. My cynicism knows no bounds.  Constantly on the lookout for things sent to test, I often find them not far away. Fortunately, this outlook is fleeting, though regularly recurring, and I am able most of the time to maintain a balanced viewpoint on the future of mankind.  However…

I was visiting a school first thing this morning and, as I strolled through the hoards of parents and children making their way towards the gates, one thing that struck me was the number of scooter-riding children who were having early-morning strops.  It took more than the fingers of one hand to count the number of children lying on the ground or jumping up and down protesting about something or other.

Along the same street was a young boy, who must have been about 6 years old, being led by the hand by his mother.  His other hand was holding a large mobile phone playing a clip of something from YouTube, to which his eyes were firmly glued. Fair enough, he was being delivered to school on time, but at what cost?

Just outside the school gates is a zebra crossing, and as I was entering the playground, my attention was drawn to an altercation.  I hadn’t seen what had happened, but it was enough to cause a middle-aged man to get out of his car, which had stopped just before the black and white markings, and yell a profanity towards a woman who was by now walking away.  He actually got out of his car to yell.  This, in front of young children, is just completely thoughtless behaviour.

I must balance these observations by saying that my time spend inside the school gave me a much nicer feeling.  The same is true for many, many schools, where the adults go over and above the call of duty to meet the wide and varied needs of children, fighting against the out-of-school environment.

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Are Heads Relegated from Leaders to Managers Upon Academy Conversion?

warning academy So the school where I’ve become a governor is under threat of academisation because they’re in Special Measures, and whereas a couple of years ago there might have been  a possibility of getting out of that category and carrying on under our local authority, the government’s plan to convert all schools less than Good into academies has made this much more unlikely.

I visited one academy trust today, and was treated to the sales pitch.  A feature of the pitch was ‘if you don’t want to join our academy chain, we don’t want you’, which is fair enough, but they then went on to say ‘but then the trusts available to you when forced to academise will be limited to just one’.  Now this reminded me of the parking ticket I got last month.  The council parking department said I could lodge an informal appeal, which I did, but it was rejected.  They then informed me that I could lodge a formal appeal, but if it failed I would have to pay £70 instead of £35.  It didn’t sound like a soft-sell to me.

During my visit, I spoke to the boss of the trust and also the Head of one of the schools.  I was expecting to hear all the benefits of converting to an academy, with some accurate claims peppered with a bit of exaggeration.  I was most impressed by the opportunities to move staff around the trust’s schools, providing CPD, allowing for the sharing of expertise and giving greater flexibility to all the schools in the Trust.

However, one of the drawbacks that my questions threw up was the reduced control that the Head would have.  In one example of this, the Head of School I spoke to described a situation where she had a vision for the school which required specific staff for specific roles.  Unbeknown to her, though, the boss of the Trust had organised for a key member of staff to go to another school, replacing her with someone less experienced. This ended these particular plans at this time.

Another drawback described by the Head of School was being overruled by the Trust, for example on priorities for the budget.  This again was worrying.

The picture I was getting was of Heads of academies becoming managers rather than leaders, and this alone made me question whether this was a good move for my school.  Would the real boss of my small, rural school be best-placed in a city miles away, or in the heart of the community which they serve?  If we were an academy, how much say would the Head have?  This is especially important as our school faces particular local issues, and I’d want someone who really understands those issues to lead us in the right direction.  Do we want the Head of our school to manage it or lead it?  These are the questions I need to get my head around.  Anything else?

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Attachment Disorders

When a child doesn’t make a good attachment to their primary care-giver, they can be said to have an attachment disorder.  This may take many forms (and have a variety of labels), and can be for many reasons, but the symptoms can be treated in the same ways; the child can be supported in the same ways.

Here are some strategies I use when teaching children with an attachment disorder:

  • Theraplay activities
  • Relationship with key adult
  • Special time
  • Attending and noticing
  • Promise cards
  • Sharing good work to home
  • ‘wow’ wallet/book
  • Transition objects
  • Notes from home/school
  • ‘What we Like’ Certificates
  • Why/Why or ABCC charts – communicative function of behaviours
  • Private specific praise
  • Having a manageable responsibility
  • Use of low emotional tone
  • Verbalise child’s emotions
  • Hand of options
  • Recovery plan
  • Emotions scale
  • Checklists for each day/lesson

I’m currently reading Building the Bonds of Attachment, by Daniel Hughes, and I’ve just finished reading What About Me?, by Louise Bombier.


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ADHD – Behaviour Management Strategies

Next week I am expecting a new child in my class.  He comes with a diagnosis of ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – so these are the strategies that I intent to adopt in one form or another, in order to help his integration be as successful as possible – please feel free to add to this list.

  • small chunks of work with rest/reward on completion
  • use of visual timer to communicate time-limited activities
  • use of visual timer for turn-taking and forewarning about transitions
  • instant feedback where possible
  • regular time to be active
  • calming down activity on transition from active to working time
  • provide opportunities for productive physical movement
  • consider structure of the day, with more demanding activities scheduled for the morning, and more active subjects in the afternoon
  • sit away from distractions – at the front, looking at the board, away from windows and distracting displays, away from the main pathway through class etc.
  • cue in by saying name first
  • give short, specific and direct instructions – ask pupil to repeat in own words
  • use of ‘Hold that thought’ with card to hold
  • visual cues for everything throughout the day
  • provide a check-list for the lesson, or for the day
  • be clear about the aspect of behaviour that is unacceptable, as well as the acceptable replacement
  • clearly defined rules and consequences visually represented around the room
  • rewards and sanctions delivered immediately, consistently and tangibly, making them more effective
  • rewards may lose their reinforcing affect, so will benefit from being changed frequently
  • monitor ABCCs for antecedents , signposting potential environmental changes
  • monitor ABCCs for resulting consequences to identify the function of the behaviour
  • determine whether the pupil is able to fiddle or do things whilst still listening effectively
  • reflect behaviour back to the pupil – ‘how did that affect others?’
  • help the pupil plan for unstructured times
  • make the days as predictable as possible
  • keep in mind that some days will be trickier than others
  • explain to the class ways they can help their new classmate to succeed
  • there is a regularly-updated pinterest page here (not mine)
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Rewarding Bad Behaviour?

I don’t believe any schools have a policy of rewarding bad behaviour, but this TES article suggests that firm boundaries and sanctions will be enough to fix the problem. While there are many children for whom this will be true, there are many other children, for a plethora of different reasons, who need a bit more than sanctions to help modify their behaviour.

These could be children with mental health conditions, or those for whom life so far has been far from normal; children who have suffered relational trauma, for example. If you want to have a truly inclusive school community, you have to accept that there will, by definition, be children who do not fit the norm. What would happen in these situations?

Of course, schools will have behaviour policies which will detail rewards and sanctions for different types of inappropriate behaviour, and it’s important that these take into account the effort that individuals are putting into changing their behaviour; listening to the adults and making more good choices than bad.

These ‘ipad games’ and ‘special jobs’ are not just short-term tactics to get through the day. They are invariably part of a wider plan to help bring the child into line with social expectations within the school environment. The aim might be to build relationships, or rebuild bridges, in order that the child becomes more able to learn new skills, to help them cope better in the future.

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Tips to encourage lie-ins (in early-waking children)

So these friends of mine are having trouble with their son’s sleep patterns. He is a real live-wire and expends so much energy running around throughout the day, which, together with his dietary restrictions and lack of sleep, makes his parents’ lives less than straightforward. The situation has been ongoing for some time, so it is not seasonally affected; the bright, early mornings have got nothing to do with it. One difficulty the parents have is that the child won’t always follow instructions without a lot of effort on their part, and so even if he knows that it is too early to get up, he would still continue to do as he pleased. They’re working very hard on rectifying this situation, but feel it’s linked integrally with his sleep and dietary issues.

5 o’clock is the usual time the young lad gets up.  He will return to bed sometimes, whereupon he will read books or play games. On other occasions, he will venture downstairs or into his parents’ bed. He very seldom goes back to sleep, unless someone lies with him, which is a pattern nobody wants to get into.

I’m popping round tomorrow to see them and thought I’d try to give them some starting points. Thanks to the many helpful responses from people on Twitter who have experience and insight in this matter, I have a bundle of ideas to share which will hopefully help to make life easier for the whole family. These ideas are listed here in the hope they may help someone else in the future.

  • The first thing I’m going to recommend is to go to Scope and check out their time-to-sleep training.
  • Although it’s not necessarily a seasonal thing, they could try blacking out the windows.
  • Someone suggested using a heavy blanket or duvet, though they tempered this advice with a warning about being careful with little children.
  • A programmable clock that detects movement and issues advice/warnings/threats if it’s too early might be fun.
  • Turning the thermostat down could be just the ticket for keeping kids in bed.
  • They could teach him how to use a CD player/ipod and buy interesting story/factual CDs to listen to in bed until someone comes for him, though the stories should ideally send him back to sleep.
  • Look at putting in place some sort of incentive for the boy to work towards for staying in bed until a certain time.

Thanks to these fab Twitter users: @DdR333 @nancygedge @reachoutASC @clyn40 @JulesDaulby @padraig48 @cherrylkd @ajcorrigan @alicecrumbs @lennyvalentino

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Assessing Without Levels

The levelling system to record and report children’s levels of attainment and progress is being removed because:

  • it’s complicated and difficult (for parents) to understand
  • it restricts teachers to thinking about a pupil’s current level, rather than what they can actually do
  • such a prescribed system doesn’t fit with the new curriculum freedoms

The DfE has stated that Ofsted’s judgements will be based upon whatever pupil tracking data schools choose to keep, but apart from the benchmarks set by national tests, how will schools continue to compare levels of attainment across schools? Russell Hobby of the NAHT has said “Just because the government ceases to regulate something does not mean the profession must accept fragmentation”. Others are even of the opinion that just because we have the freedom to move away from levels, it is not implicit that we must do.

Any new approaches to formative assessment to support pupil progress and attainment might well make reference to the new programmes of study, which set out what pupils should learn by the end of each key stage. However, these lack any kind of detail and will need schools’ judgements as to the levels of graded criteria to include.

Whatever system schools move to, I think some kind of national comparative is essential, but showing progress both in lessons and over time doesn’t require levels, and maybe this is the bit that we should really leverage this freedom on. Make the changes that suit our own schools’ needs precisely in order to drive progress by identifying next steps more clearly; changes that allow schools to explain their approach to assessment for all stakeholders to access and understand.

(to be updated…)

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