Year 6 Blues

Teaching Year 6 is never going to be easy. Yes, we know that the whole school contribute to the Sats results but I have yet to meet a Year 6 teacher who doesn’t feel personally responsible for their children’s results. However this year the situation feels impossible.

This time last year, I knew which of my pupils were in trouble and what I had to do to get them to the required level. The govt said that parents didn’t understand Sats levels but teachers did. We knew what Level 4 and 5 looked like and we knew what to do and how much progress each pupil had to make. There were always children who were unlikely to make the grade but we never gave up and the excitement when sometimes one of those actually achieved that magical mark that gave them a Level 4 was fantastic.

However this year, everything is different. I can’t tell my pupils or their parents what they have to do because I don’t know. I have some lists of things that they must be able to do but very little idea of what this actually looks like in practice. Maths exemplification has finally arrived  but over half way through the year and we still have no idea of what Year 6 writing  should look like.

Who on earth thought that it was a good idea to get rid of levels before knowing what to put in their place? Yes, levels were flawed but at least we were all working towards the same objectives.

The current situation is not fair on teachers who are working in the dark and just hoping that they can cram in enough grammar and calculation rules to get the pupils up to the required mark. That is not good teaching and it is not fair on our 10 and 11 year olds who currently being used as a political football.

Please sort this mess out quickly so that pupils and teachers can have some idea of where they are going and how to get there.

7 things that I love

I read this blog today and was inspired to write my own list of the little things that make me smile or just generally feel good. These aren’t in any particular order.

  1. Lying in bed at the weekend and just watching the tree against the sky. I love the movement of the branches in the breeze and seeing the changes through the year. And that feeling of not having to get up is bliss!
  2. A chilled glass of white wine. I think that it is probably all the connections that it has in my mind with relaxation. Drinking it on holiday is even better. IMAG1435
  3. Watching the cat sleep. She takes sleeping so seriously and looks so peaceful that it always makes me feel good just to watch her.IMAG1437
  4. The anticipation of reading a new book. I love to settle down with a book especially one that I have been waiting for or looking forward to for a while.
  5. Sitting and watching the sea. The movement of the tide is so peaceful. I could sit and watch the sea for hours ( and do when on holiday). It’s even better when combined with Number 2. The problem with living in Leicester is that I am just about as far from the sea as it is possible to get in England so don’t get to see it as often as I would love to be able to .
  6.  2015-09-25 16.10.236. Friday nights eating out with my husband. The weekend always arrives with a meal out. No cooking or washing up and time for us to relax and enjoy each other’s company. If we can’t go out, then a take away is a good second best.
  7. Singing in a large group of people. You can’t beat the feeling that you get when you stand and sing together. I love choral singing in all its guises.

There aren’t any about my teaching which doesn’t mean that my job doesn’t make me feel good because it frequently does. However these are about the person who is more than just a teacher. The job tries to take over our lives and can sometimes succeed. These are some of the things in my life that prevent it from taking over completely.

Thank you to Alistair Lane for the inspiration.


Teacher 5 a day

I read all about this last year and have followed the different threads that have appeared on Twitter throughout the year. I have sort of tried to do some of the things suggested as I do feel that the ideas behind them are important. This year, I want to make a real effort and continue some of the things that I have begun already. There is a quite a bit of overlap between this post and yesterday’s #nurture1516 blogpost but I guess that means that the things are important and may actually get done.

  1. Reach out – I talked about this in my Nurture1516 post yesterday. I want to make sure that I reach out to the people in my department, go in and say Hello, check that things are OK etc. I also want to make sure that I don’t neglect my family. I need to stay in touch with my children and make time for my husband and parents.
  2. Exercise – Always have this on my New year’s resolution list. The aim is to do at least 3 bits of exercise a week, even if it’s only going out for a walk at lunchtime when I have ppa
  3. Take Notice – I want to start trying to photograph something everyday. I have set up a Flickr account and have made a start. We will see how it goes.
  4. Learn – I don’t think that this ever stops but I have stopped blogging about what I have done. I need to make sure that I do keep learning and practising new skills and also to post about what I have done. I also want to really and try and improve my drawing skills and not just read books about how to draw.
  5. Volunteer – This one is hard as my time is already so squeezed. I will run a gymnastics club at school this coming term which will hopefully appeal to some children who don’t normally take part in Games clubs.

I think that it is vital for teachers to be aware of themselves as other people and not just teachers. It is only a job but it can be all consuming and stop us being the other people that we need to be.

Ring out the old, Ring in the new.

Another year has gone by and the Nurture 15/16 posts are appearing in my twitter feed. I love to read people’s reflections on the past year and so often, their thoughts echo my own feelings or put my thoughts into better context. This time of year is a time to take stock of what is happening and to think about how some elements can be improved.

So here goes with a review of last year’s 5 points:

1- Being Positive

This started off really badly. I became more and more stressed and depressed with workload and school in general. A class of 36, increasing workload, pressure of needing to do much better in Sats and the prospect of things only gettng worse led to me very nearly handing in my notice. I was arriving home unable to do anything but cry and feeling that I couldn’t go on. If I hadn’t been doing a show which gave me something to break the cycle, I’m not sure that I could have carried on.

I had a long talk with my Head who was fantastically supportive as ever and managed to crawl out of the hole that I had dug myself into. Things did improve and although the stress is still there, it is manageable and I have not felt so despondent even though external factors seem to be getting worse.

2 – Sats

Our hard work must have done some good as our results were a huge improvement on last year. I was especially pleased with our Maths results in particular which included 5 children achieving Level 6. My favourite moment was going through the papers of the children who had narrowly missed out on Level 4 and finding a question incorrectly marked wrong. The paper belonged to one of our more problematic children and it was lovely that he did get a result that reflected his efforts.

3 – Holidays

Both my OH work incredibly long hours and sometimes holidays are the only times that we really see each other. We had 2 lovely holidays in Sicily and Brittany this year and also managed to squeeze in two weekends away, one in Hunstanton in September and another in Gloucestershire in Dec. They were lovely opportunities to just chill out, recharge our batteries and enjoy each other’s company.

All that sand on Brancaster Beach
All that sand on Brancaster Beach

4 – Hobbies

Singing continues to be difficult. I am currently supposed to be resting my voice in an effort to stop my throat hurting. It’s a real pity as I love to sing and doing Aspects of Love in January possibly saved my teaching career. The Hired Man was a fantastic show in April although, sadly, we didn’t get the audiences that we needed to cover the costs of the show. We also did Me and My Girl again in October which was lovely. This year will be The Full Monty which is very different.

5 – Reaching Out

I still love Twitter as a source of inspiration as well as all of my online friends in the PTRC forum. I haven’t been to Teachmeets at all this year but have had a termly cakemeet with twitter friends as well as meeting up with some of my PTRC friends. I really value the support that I receive from both of these places.

So overall, despite starting incredibly badly, 2015 wasn’t a bad year at all and so now it’s onto 2016

1 – Staying Positive

This has been so much easier since September due to a school reorganisation which has given me a class of 26, rather than 36. I feel that I have much more time to really connect with my pupils. I love my job despite everything that the government keeps throwing at our profession. The children are the most important thing about my job and trying to make a positive difference, no matter how small, remains my aim.

There has been a lot written about Mindfulness recently and I like the idea of savouring the moment and taking life more slowly. This has a lot in common with the Gratitude idea and being thankful for things. I did try to keep a positive things diary in 2014 but it only lasted until May. I’m toying with the idea of trying to keep a photographic record of moments and things that I notice this year such as the sunrise on the final day of term. Not sure whether this will take off yet.

Sunrise at school. Friday 18th Dec
Sunrise at school. Friday 18th Dec

2 – Sats and Assessment

As a Year 6 teacher, it is impossible to get away from this. This year feels so difficult as none of us have any real idea of what the results will look like in July. I hate the exam factory mentality but know that I owe it to all of my pupils to give them the best end possible to their primary schooling. I just hope that I can continue to make learning as interesting and enjoyable as possible and spark a love of something, art, reading, sport or whatever.

My real hope is that the current mess of assessment gets properly sorted out this year. We have currently have tests where no one knows what a good result will look like and interim standards for teacher assessment which are only for this year. Add to that, the continuing pressure to learn pointless names of grammatical rules that have nothing to do with good writing and the picture for Key Stage 2 assessment is fairly grim. Hopefully, by this time next year, things will be clearer and more positive.

3. Holidays

I realised this year just how important it is to actually switch off and reconnect with my husband and family. We have holidays booked in our favourite resort of Collioure down in the South of France as well as visiting the North West coast of Spain which will be totally new. I am looking forward to revisiting my favourite spots in Collioure and just chilling in the Mediterranean sunshine as well as exploring the Spanish coast. I also want to get away for a few weekends as we loved both of the short getaways this Autumn.

4 – Non Teaching Stuff

I’m not sure what’s going to happen with my singing. I have always sung and can’t imagine life without music but it may be that it becomes a much smaller part of my life.
I continue to read as my main relaxation activity. I have read over 200 books again this year although a lot of them were rereads of favourite novels which is fairly lazy. I want to try and do other things rather than just switch off with a book but also to try and read more widely.
I also want to develop my ability to draw. I have a couple of sketch books and try to practise but I need to do this more regularly. I have spent lots of money on ‘How to draw’ books  and I now need to try and do it rather than just read about it. I loved following #teacher5adaysketch and even submitted one of my own so I have made a start.

Some of my collection of How to draw books
Some of my collection of How to draw books

5 – Reaching Out

I still feel that this is really important as teaching, even in a school where you are surrounded by others doing the same job, can be very isolated. I have tried to make sure that I reach out to the other members of staff in my school and visit classrooms just to say Hello on a regular basis and will continue to do that. If I feel isolated, then it is probably likely that others do too. I also want to make sure that my online presence is less passive. It is easy just to read posts, tweets etc and agree internally without responding. I want to make more effort to actually reply to people and say why I agree with them (or not) but at least to let them know that they have made me think. I like it when my blog posts are read and my tweets commented on and I need to share more of that. My experience of Twitter is a positive one and I need to make sure that I do my bit to ensure that it stays that way for other people.

So that’s my Nurture post for 15/16. I don’t whether I am being totally self indulgent but I enjoyed writing it and the process of setting out my thoughts in some sort of order.

Have a happy and successful 2016 everyone!



Is writing being sidelined?

Am I being overly pessimistic by the lack of any mention of writing in the government materials for next year’s Sats?

I have just watched the newly released video detailing the changes to tests for Years 2 and 6 and it all seems very depressing. 6 and 7 year olds are going to be given a decontextualised grammar and spelling test and there is no assessment of how well they can actually write. At KS 2, the grammar test is going to focus on the children’s understanding of grammatical terms, not how well they use them, just that they can remember what each wretched thing is.

The move to a score for testing seems to be the death knell of any proper assessment of children’s writing to me. You can’t give a score out of a 100 to a piece of writing and I think that increasingly, the teacher assessment of writing will be devalued and the only thing that will matter will be their score in the grammar test. No one is going to care that a child has a fantastic imagination and can use words to create a real picture in the reader’s mind. All that will be important is they know what the past progressive tense is and can spell a range of words that they have never actually used!

I had a child who scored really well in the last grammar test with a high level and yet his own writing was barely level 4 as he could not apply the rules that he knew. Then there were other children who wrote really well but did not do well in the grammar due to dyslexia affecting their spelling score. Interestingly, the government still seem to have no idea of how teachers are supposed to assess children’s work.

Which test more accurately reflects a child’s ability to write? A grammar and spelling test or an assessment based on a bank of work? A poor speller can get their work spell checked, MS word sorts out your grammatical errors but I’m not aware that there is a programme for turning a bit of boring writing into a fantastic piece of work.

Increasingly I feel that the things that I value in education are being sidelined and we are being pushed to educate a class set of robots.

Luckily, children are not robots and so the joy of actually teaching a class of children still remains the reason that despite everything I love my job.

I can only hope that the tide will turn at some point and the powers that be will recognise the value of creativity, imagination and flair. It isn’t going to be any time soon though.

Girls and STEM

There has been a lot in the media lately about the lack of girls studying STEM subjects at A level and beyond. This has also been the time when I have been hearing about the experiences of some of my ex pupils as they go to university open days and wait for offers.

I have been struck by how many of my girls who were able mathematicians and scientists have abandoned those subjects completely and are concentrating on performing arts or media subjects. I have heard several stories from parents who have been accompanying their daughters up and down the country to auditions for heavily over subscribed courses in drama or musical theatre. The stories are sad as over and over again, the girls do not get offered a place at their chosen college. However, having made their subject choices at GCSE and A level, their options now are severely limited. EVen those who do get a place do not have any sort of secure future. Of the five girls that I know personally who have graduated from drama college, all of them have now gone into teaching after not being able to break into the theatre business.

Why is it that so many girls are lured into theatre as a future career and reject options such as Science or computing? Is it because they are lured by the celebrity culture and want to be part of that? Or is it that they were turned off the other subjects at some point in their secondary school career?

I have just read an interesting blogpost about some STEM subjects needing to do more to encourage girls

However I also feel that more needs to be done by secondary schools to make sure that girls are not switched off by physics, maths and computing lessons. They should see those subjects as the exciting areas that they are and areas that could be potentially a lot more rewarding than not quite making it as an actress or singer.

This isn’t knocking secondary teachers who I know work hard at attracting all pupils to their subjects. However secondary schools do bear a responsibility for educating their pupils for adult life and a career. There are too many girls who are wondering what they are going to do now after having spent 2 years concentrating on dance and drama only to not be offered a place at any college. Performing arts classes have mushroomed but I don’t think that there are many more opportunities out there for pupils to get their big break.

My Five a Day

This is not my idea at all but one that I discovered through Twitter and I think that it has made a real difference to my pupil’s retention of Mathematical ideas.

5 a day image

I spotted the idea one morning on Twitter. The excellent @corbettmaths posts daily 5 a day tasks for GCSE students at 3 different levels. I noticed that the numeracy level was well within the capability of my Year 6 pupils and used it as the starter  for that day’s maths lesson. The children enjoyed it and it made a good start to the lesson as they could get going as soon as they came in. I created one of my own for the next day and made it slightly prettier (being a primary teacher:-) ) and the children again responded well.

I realised that it was a really good way of keeping lots of different concepts alive in their heads and the children quickly got into the routine of completing the questions quickly. Going over the answers is quick and reinforces methods on a regular basis. I choose a whole variety of different questions and it allows me to revisit tricky topics more frequently than I have done before. This frequent revisiting keeps the topics fresh in my pupil’s minds and helps to embed methods into their long term memories.

My teaching assistant and I have noticed a real difference in the children’s retention of methods and ideas and the pupils themselves like the idea of 5 a day for their ‘maths’ brains.

In our recent mock sats, I was really pleased by how well many of them did compared to their previous performance and I really feel that the daily 5 a day practice has had a real impact.

Thanks @corbettmaths!

What’s the point?

Lovely news this morning as Nicky Morgan announces that all children must now know their tables up to 12X. This piece of earth shattering news has made front page and radio headlines today. Strange as i thought that particular objective had been in the curriculum for a while now.

However, it is slightly more than that this time. Ms Morgan has decided to make absolutely sure that the children know all their table facts, can carry out complicated multiplication and division, write a short story etc. She is going to do this by threatening schools and heads with forced take overs if they fail to ensure that 100% of children can do this when tested.

100% – yes, that’s every child in your school no matter what their background or ability is. No matter what their problems are.

I firmly believe in high aspirations and have agreed with a lot of the thinking behind the new curriculum. However to suggest that my job or that of my head teacher is going to be on the line when we fail to meet this new objective is simply crazy. Children are not robots and come in many guises. Some have real, profound problems that prevent them learning and no amount of support is going to make them able to jump through conservative party hoops.

We currently have several children at school who have difficulties in learning. Their steps are very small but no less real for that. They are challenged and pushed but no amount of support is going to make them suddenly able to deal with complex multiplication. We educate them to the best of their ability but it is a fact that not all children can absorb facts and methods at primary age. Sometimes there are pleasant surprises when children do things that you did not think that they were capable of but there are also disappointments.

I am nearing the end of my teaching career and had been considering teaching past my retirement date as I love my job and feel that I do make a difference. However increasingly, I am beginning to feel that there is no point.

We currently have a shortage of good head teachers and this new initiative is simply going to make matters worse. Why would any head teacher take up this challenge?

Is it too much to ask for a coherent education policy that wants the best for all of our children while still recognising that they are children and not simply empty boxes to be filled?

Spider Searching

scissor searchYesterday we started our new computing unit of work. The children were quite puzzled when I told them that we were doing computing but wouldn’t be using any computers. We were looking at how search engines such as google carry out their work and used the planning provided by Phil Bagge on the cas website

I began the lesson with a short video about search engines to get them thinking

I asked them what they thought that the most important thing that they had learned from the video was and they all said that it was about making your search specific and we discussed what that actually meant. Then we carried out the Spider search activity where they had to hunt for and locate all the pairs of scissors in the classroom. They were very thorough and even found a pair that I didn’t know that we had!

Logging all the pairs of scissors
Logging all the pairs of scissors

As an extension activity for those who finished quickly i asked them to think of another classroom item that they could search for and this led to some really good discussions between the children that linked directly with what they had taken from the video. Some of them decided to search for specific items such as rulers or rubbers however one pair of boys decided that they were going to search for books.

They both took a look around the classroom and decided that searching for books wasn’t going to be practical. A very animated (or even argumentative) discussion then took place about how they could change their ideas. Eventually they agreed that they would search for reading books which would narrow down their list a bit. After a few minutes,, they very quickly decided that even reading books was too wide a criteria to use. This time they were able to come to an amicable agreement that they would search for Wimpy Kid reading books and proceeded to do that.

When we discussed the findings about the scissors and compared this to how a search engine actually works, I told the rest of the class about the discussions that the pair of boys had taken. It was clear to the rest of the children that what the two boys had done was exactly what we need to do when we search online. They all agreed that they now have a much better idea of how a search engine works but also how they can make their own web searches more effective. We looked at common searches on google and saw how refining the search very quickly reduces the number of results but makes those results more useful.

Thank you Phil for a really accessible way of introducing this part of the curriculum even if we did go off task slightly!

Nurture 14/15

After yesterday’s mammoth review of what I wrote last year, this is my actual contribution to Nurture 14/15. I’m glad that the rules or guidelines have changed; finding 5 things should be a lot easier than 15!

5 highlights of 2014

1. My family which is a constant source of happiness. I did manage to see a bit more of both my children last year and it is great to see how they are progressing in their careers. Then there is my husband who has been there for me always. He’s the one who picks me up when I feel that everything is just getting too much and copes with me when I am grumpy. Some of my favourite highlights of the year have been evenings out when we just take time to go out and have dinner and chill out together.

2. Leading Year 6
Last year we were less than half way through our first year 6, now we are in our second year. I think that I can justifiably feel proud that I led the year and implemented a lot of the plans. Having the freedom to create a new scheme of work was exciting as well as nerve wracking. However, now we are teaching things for the second time, we aren’t changing very much as mostly it worked which is a good feeling. I know that the Sats results weren’t what we hoped for but in all other respects, I think that we had a really good year.

3. London
Taking year 6 to London was fantastic. The weather was amazing and it was so lovely to see the children’s reaction to all of the famous landmarks. Some of my favourite bits were the low key bits such as having a picnic lunch outside the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square and watching the street entertainers. Taking them to see Matilda was a great experience too.

4. Holidays
Love taking time to go away with my husband. We have had some lovely times away this year. La Rochelle was probably the best as the weather was absolutely perfect and we had an amazing week.

5. Singing
We did Kiss Me Kate in the Spring which was good and then I did Aspects of Love which I really enjoyed at the end of the Summer holiday. It was completely different to any show that I had been in before but the cast and the production were great. I’m looking forward to repeating it at the end of January in Derby. Also watched my daughter and my husband perform in Fiddler on the roof although they were in different productions which meant that I saw the show twice in 8 days!

Hopes for 2015

2014 hasn’t been a great year for me at school. Our Sats results were not as good as we had hoped and there are other changes happening at school too. So here are my hopes for the new year which I hope will be better.

1. Feeling Positive
This was my resolution for last year which fizzled out around May and had disappeared completely by the Summer holiday. I need to try and not dwell on things so much. I let things get to me and they go round and round in my head which helps nobody. I need to sort things out into the things that I can deal with and do something about them and try not to worry about the things that I can’t do anything about.

2. Sats
After the disappointment of last year, lots of different things have been put into place and hopefully we will see positive results in July. The thing that is hard is getting the balance between getting the children to work as hard as they can and not stressing them out.

3. Holidays
We  are already counting down the weeks until we go to Sicily in May. I am really looking forward to just sitting and watching the sea as well as exploring more of the island. Then we are driving to Brittany in the Summer so hoping to bring  back lots of wine and Breton cider. No plans for October yet so that will involve evenings trawling the  internet as we decide where to go which is half the fun!

4 Hobbies
Singing and teaching really don’t mix and classroom management has a negative effect on my voice. Also, after 40 years, it might be time to work on something new. I want to learn to speak Italian I bought a book/CD in October which is still in its wrapper. By the time we go to Sicily I want to be able to be able to have a basic conversation at least

5. Reaching Out
I  will hopefully continue to develop my Twitter network. It is a constant source of ideas and inspiration. Not only that but I love the random conversations that you can become involved in. I can be feeling totally fed up but something on my twitterfeed will make me smile or even laugh out loud. Thank you to everyone who has shared their ideas and parts of their lives with me and I hope that you will all continue to be there in 2015.

I don’t know if anyone will read this but Happy New Year to you all.