3.5 Educational arguments which irritate me.

1. The phonic check, we’re told, ensures we spot the 20% of society who are functionally illiterate.

Yet one of the arguments against it says children who can already read make the nonsense words into real ones. Or, like Lucy Powell MP’s daughter, who can read really well, still failed the check. I’m told these children (despite any research I’ve read showing if children can read at 5 their literacy and academic achievement is likely to be excellent) have hidden phonic difficulties and will need to know the alphabetic code because there might be a really, really, really long word they can’t decode one day. Knowing the phonemes in the year 1 phonic check will stop this problem that isn’t actually a problem. If it is a problem, these students who can read but fail the phonics check are definitely not going to be in the 20% this check is designed to identify. Indeed they’ll be the students who can read and spell whatever method is used.

2. Those who criticise most vociferously OFSTED and its grading system because it criticises how teachers teach, seem to be the most critical of how teachers teach if it isn’t the way they want teachers to teach.

3. The ‘every second counts’ clan spend much energy telling us how students must be on task all the time and we can’t waste a second making puppets or posters; we will let the children down and they will be doomed for all eternity. Teachers who do group work are wasting children’s time which is precious, precious, precious. 

Mention private schools however and they’re all – marvellous, marvellous, marvellous. But private schools have longer holidays and sporting trips and drama activities which take time out of the curriculum. It’s not a problem to miss an afternoon’s school for a rugby match but I’m not allowed to make a puppet in a state school English lesson.

3.5 Similarly this ‘every second counts’ doesn’t seem to include the children who are excluded – they can be off as long as they like because they’re ruining the education for others. It’s also likely this cohort fall into the 20% functionally illiterate category but let’s not worry about that; someone else should be sorting that out.

Advice on botch jobs for DFE

I’m not a wise old owl but I am old and have some experiences. I’ve done lots of jobs and I’ve been a parent, I’ve moved around the UK and lived abroad a number of times. That does not make me an expert, I realise that. Over the years however, there are a few things I’ve learned, so I think I can offer some tips to the DFE which might help them refocus.

Tip 1 – Patience is a virtue
This is difficult for people who are naturally impulsive; they want to do everything and they want to do it straight away. They think of something during breakfast and announce it by lunch.
While occasionally making a quick decision is vital, particularly in a school, on a structural level taking time to think things through, ask for opinions, tweak things before finally launching an idea is good practice. The less you plan the more likely something which you hadn’t thought of but which seems glaringly obvious once it’s been pointed out to you will be pointed out to you, by the person you didn’t ask because you couldn’t wait. 
Fill in the DFE impatience initiative here…………………………………………………………………………………………
Tip 2 – Check details published online should be published
In a large institution, it should not be possible to publish anything online without it being agreed by various levels of authority. Red tape is annoying but it’s there for a reason.  
Fill in DFE error here………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Tip 3 – When lots of people are against an idea don’t become even more determined to implement it
OK, sometimes unpopular decisions have to be made. It may be due to money, due to a safeguarding issue, even a disciplinary one. But, when you force an idea on lots of people when it has obvious flaws and is even unpopular with your allies it might be best to back track a little or change. Stubbornly insisting an idea should go through backed up by dodgy reasoning does not make you look stronger, it makes you look like an idiot.
Fill in DFE unpopular and flawed idea here:……………………………………………………………………………………..
Tip 4 – Research is finite
Research can show varying results: it might show this, or it could mean this however other research says this. Weighing up all research is good. Using research to suit your own argument is bad. We all do it to a certain extent but when you have to make massive decisions, it is probably good to speak to people who disagree with you too and find a workable solution.
Fill in DFE research which has been cherry picked to suit ideology here………………………

Tip 5 – Take your staff with you. 
You can be a strategic genius but if you don’t bring your staff with you, you will fail. They have to carry out your brilliance; they have to make your innovative creations come to fruition. If you annoy them, don’t respect them and make constant changes they will eventually tell you to shove it and leave.  
Fill in DFE changes here:………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
And their poor treatment of staff here:……………………………………………………………………………………………

This post was originally posted fir @LabourTeachers


No Excuses

When I watch those videos from the No Excuses schools in the US, I am scanning the room for the type of children I teach. The ones who have sensory difficulties; that really isn’t an excuse.  In fact it’s probably one of the most research heavy areas in SEND.

I see the ones who look slightly bewildered; that’s not an excuse either. The pace of some of the teachers chorusing would not be helping those with slow processing  or developmental language disorder.

And I see the eye tracking.  Eye contact is very difficult for some students with autism (also not an excuse) and I often ask teachers who say a child is never listening whether they’ve checked by asking them. Some students (often with ADHD in my experience) might be concentrating when they are not looking at the teacher. Others are really listening while playing with Lego or fiddling with play doh. In fact,sometimes I think that when you ask a child to look at the teacher it might be when she is listening the least: have they noticed the mole on an eyebrow? Are they looking at the detail of a patterned shirt?

And then I see the students who are not following the words to the songs, and the chants and the recitals because they can’t remember the words; they are pretending by moving their mouths but they’re out of sync with the rest. These are the ones that are just about coping. I wonder however about the ones who have walked out, sworn at the teachers, won’t sit still, won’t keep quiet, I wonder about them – where are they? They exist, I know they do.  

What makes it better for children who struggle is a differentiated curriculum, an understanding of their needs, strategies to recognise why they blow and places to go when they do. Reasonable adjustments are not excuses.  

Correlation and Causation – PX and Prison 

Correlation doesn’t equal Causation 

I had my first holiday Twitter spat on Saturday (I know I couldn’t even last one day). 

It was on permanent exclusions. After a tweet from the Prison Reform Trust arguing the case for criminal leniency for children in care, I drew a comparison with the fate of students excluded from school. 

Lord Laming who undertook the report, was on Radio 4 earlier this week with one example of the police being called because a child in care had taken food from a fridge without permission. 

This story horrified me; I look at my kids who have all done much worse and weep at the idea of them in the care system if my husband and I died. Statistically I know they’re likely to be separated as there are four of them; I know my son at 13 will be the hardest to place and having identical twins, they’d be kept together surely? But if they weren’t, the separation would be doubly damaging, so strong is their bond. 

I also know if one of them had SEN it would place further pressure on the care system and any behaviour issues (two are feisty, two compliant) would be dealt with more severely than we would at home. My goodness, if it’s food out the fridge; I may as well have 999 on speed dial. 

A criminal record for children in care, Lord Laming argues is assuring a future burden on society.

Back then to my Twitter spat; I claimed 47% (although probably a higher proportion as this includes non care system kids) of them, if excluded, were likely to end up in prison. This is the percentage of the prison population who have been permanently excluded from school. 
I was picked up here (probably fairly as I jump on anyone blaming parents for language and literacy difficulties using correlation as cause) because it doesn’t necessarily mean that those 47% wouldn’t end up in prison anyway and that schools may have done everything they could to prevent the exclusion. Fair enough, mea culpa.

My point though was that the label of being permanently excluded is as damaging as the criminal record Lord Laming was criticising. He’s not asking these to be lifted for dangerous criminals but for the petty  instances, allowing care children the best start in adult life.

Many excluded children have: 


experienced bereavement 

witnessed domestic violence

been sexually abused

been physically abused

There is a similar pattern for prisoners and with whopping percentages of language and literacy difficulties among the prison community.

Yet, we may not see these children as victims and neither will society when they have a criminal record and permanent exclusion stamped on their forehead before the age of 16. 

Can’t we do better for these kids? Find models known to work and replicate them? These children matter and are society’s responsibility.

http://troublesofyouth.pbworks.com/f/occ71-exclusion.pdf (75% of excluded pupils end up with a criminal conviction)


We’re teachers not Demigods

I’m tired of teacher bashing. As far as I can see we self loathe ourselves enough without others having to do it for us.

Bennett’s criticism of posters, group work, DVDs and role play in a recent tabloid article has won hands down this Easter for irking me.

It was easy pickings journalism. Adding stereotype to anecdote to take another swipe at the beleaguered teacher. This was no better than OFSTED grading my lessons, no less frustrating than having Gove call me an enemy of promise. Yet again teachers were being judged on their classroom practice.

Criticising posters particularly smacks of perfectionism – this is similar to the perfect parenting fetish. ‘Don’t use forward facing buggies your child will have speech difficulties’, ‘dummies will ruin your child’s teeth’ and ‘never sleep with your child, it’s unhealthy for their emotional resilience’. These judgments are there to make us feel guilty, no wonder we all feel crap especially if we’re parents and teachers.

Society bombards us with images of perfect parents and the media expect similar perfection in teachers. Not only do we have to get our children to learn efficiently every second of the day, we have to do it while looking amazing and rocking a BMI within the average range.

The most damaging issue I see in schools is having to use supply teachers. Drafted in for long term sickness, usually linked to teachers becoming stressed and exhausted from having worked too damned hard and having been set up with unrealistic expectations.

Teachers need to pace themselves, allow time for marking and slots where they’re not continually teaching from the front. 

Consistently mediocre should be the new excellence – anyone who thinks teaching is like Dead Poets’ Society is part of this fake idealism. Students need a teacher who is present, consistent, knows her subject, can engage students to learn it and ensure progress is made: that’s it. We all do this differently. 

Of course be inspirational if we want to be but not every lesson – spread our  brilliance out evenly and give ourselves a break. We’re teachers not demigods.

Image from ActiveApparel 

Segregation – a collection of responses

Edu blogging and edu Twitter can be extremely rewarding at times but also nail bitingly painful. When you work in SEN, it can be difficult reading ignorant comments and hearing views from teachers who clearly believe students should be elsewhere. These ‘outclusionists’ have less idea where they should go just ‘away from me and my class’.

When  QT wrote a blog post claiming to be playing devil’s advocate, I thought actually, it was not provocative just prejudiced and in poor taste. So I wrote a rather ranty blog. I also questioned how ‘normal’ you have to be for mainstream a while ago.

What happened next was better however: the Titans of SEN began to respond. I’ve used this image before; over the brow of the hill came the voices and it made me burst with SEND pride that such professionals champion those with the least resources available to them. Here they are: 

Nancy writes beautifully but harshly on ‘Rose tinted spectacles’ giving some statistics which we should all read.

Simon writes an excellent post challenging the views that we all find ‘like minded’ people and suggesting teachers should be looking for solutions to mitigate difficulties.

Chris tells us how children can be learning opportunities for teachers and that investigating options as a teacher is rewarding.

Jarlath responded with an aspirational blog lamenting how some dwell on the deficit model of SEN rather than seeing students who have a lot to give and achieve. 

New to me is  Kate, who writes a positive post on inclusion based on real experiences which was a pleasure to read.

OldPrimaryHead ‘s stonking blog sums up the problem but also the solution – a decent head who believes in inclusion past test results.

And Sue reminds us, of course, that #Everychildmatters.

Lena writes an interesting post encouraging more understanding and commitment to inclusion. 

Why is inclusion so important? Read Jude ‘s post – it brilliantly destroys the prejudiced arguments in favour of segregation.

A post from Liane on how teaching students with SEN has made her a better teacher is one which will resonate with many.

Beth reminds to to look for triggers behind the behaviours and that segregation could be yet another knock back for some vulnerable children.

Cherryl gives some examples of students in special school and asks the question; should all children be in mainstream?

JordyJax tells us SEND is not going away and gives some very practical advice on spotting SEN in students causing difficulties in school. 

Rob compares the lack of funding for flood defences with inclusion and how the subsequent fall back costs far more – he’s right, we need more money and more accountability for students with SEN – provision is currently a lottery.

Bennie has written a fantastically moving tribute to teachers on why we teach  – the stats are shocking too.

Maryisherwood, a special school headteacher writes how inclusion is personalised and inclusion for one student may mean a special school and for another mainstream.

Matt, a parent should have the final Words which are in the comments section of QT’s post.



Segregation and Stereotypes 

is trying to be controversial. – so was Toby Young when he called pupils with SEN troglodytes. 
But when does controversy actually become plain offensive? When does controversy perpetuate stereotypes of students with learning difficulties? 

And when does controversy forget that the group they are offending are children? And children with the least resources available to them? Children who may not be able to fight back? 
In my Speech and Language Base (students who access SALT and English but otherwise are educated in the mainstream) are learners who are quiet, studious and tremendously hard working against all odds. Despite the fact that school runs in fast forward for them, some of my students’ attendance records are excellent, behaviour exemplary and they crave quietness so they can concentrate. Yet to QT they are lumped with chair throwing pupils. Let’s be clear; they’re are many neurotypical chair throwers too.
So if we are to segregate by quiet and studious what is the other group? Loud and unscholarly? And are these all people with SEN ? I struggle with opinionated rugby players can we have a separate school for them?
Where does segregation begin and where does it stop? I find people often agree with such ideologies until they or their children are excluded. 
Worst of all, as segregation really is just the inclusion debate between mainstream and special school, no, worst of all is the gross generalisations made about those who the author wishes to segregate. Anyone who has agreed with the blog is complicit in reducing children with SEN to derogatory stereotypes which border on the grotesque. If you’ve met a child with SEN you’ve met one child. 
So no I’m not with you QT and I’d be really disappointed if anyone were.