Wednesday 5 January 2022

The return of almost normal by Johanne Clifton

The return of almost normal

Written on 3rd November 2021


Ask any teacher about the best part of coming back this year. I am confident they will say ‘being back to almost normal’. Hearing children out in the playground, opening doors in the morning to children simply walking in as they arrive and being able to work in groups again. Teachers can even go to the staffroom instead of communicating via screens from their bubbles. I was moved when a head told me a boy asked where he could play. ‘The whole playground of course’ was the reply followed by an excited shout as he ran out across the field to join a group of friends - together. There have been Autumn fairs, plans for Christmas performances and the return of choirs and music lessons.


Quite simply we have missed the joy of being together. Covid-19 brought with it the unique cruelty of making dangerous all that we love and gives us hope. To sing together, play music, dance, simply run across the playground and be with whoever you want. Each of us felt like we had the potential to be dangerous, toxic to those that we love the most. I met one child afraid to go outside when there were others in the street. No-one can bear the return of all of this. I know headteachers will do all that they can to rally their communities and try to keep them safe. But this time, it is different. This time we know what we can do.


Throughout the past 18 months we have worked creatively to find ways to connect and share. On our return, we have continued to use technology to develop innovative ways of teaching. We have maintained rich relationships with parents and carers by sharing open ended tasks that they can upload to school platforms and so be more equal partners in their child’s education. Many of us have taken the time to interrogate our curricula and develop new, more interesting plans by thinking more deeply. Teachers have owned their professional development and followed their interests to bring back new skills to the classroom. Artists have led digital creation through film, story, dance and music and this, in turn, has upskilled teachers in their knowledge of what is possible. Schools have made links across regions to share celebrations, including an academy trust-wide dance to welcome the giant puppet, Little Amal, on her journey from Syria to highlight the plight of refugee children.


Our biggest worry in schools continues to be for our most vulnerable. Children with special educational needs and disabilities have suffered most in this period. Services have been variable and many have not had the vital support they need. All schools are reporting that there are high levels of need in the early years, in a way that they have never seen before. Again, the arts can show us what is possible. We plan to work with Open Theatre to learn the skills of non-verbal communication. One way in which we can improve how we work with our young people in a way that we would not have known about before.


You see, we have hope and we have learned so much. We know that things will change and get better. The arts help us to grow around our losses and value what we have learned. It moves me to tears even now hearing children sing together. Such a simple thing but it reminds me that we know what is important, even when the world of schools feels too much. We know that we need to keep thinking big and looking beyond the horizon, not staring at the ground chasing short-term intervention and catch-up programmes. The arts sector are our real partners here, ready to show us what is possible and how we can get there together.

Johanne Clifton

Head of Curriculum and Virtual Learning

Elliot Foundatio

Wednesday 9 June 2021

The new Early Years Foundation Stage Framework by Alice Francis

Another brilliant idea by the government entangled in a web of confusion and increased workload

The decision to become an early adopter school was an easy one for us at Pinkwell. We knew that a year of ‘playing around’ and speaking to other early years professionals would be beneficial in order for us to get our heads around the new framework. 

As the government suggested the changes to the framework are being made in order to

  • Improve outcomes at age 5, particularly in early language and literacy and especially for disadvantaged children
  • Reduce workload and unnecessary paperwork so you can spend more time with the children in your care.

These aims sound wonderful! Just what we all have wanted for a long time in the early years. But, does this framework really allow for it? If so, how? 

This year we have had to change our mindset and focus on formal observations, ensuring that formal observations on our children are only captured when they have mastered a new skill or an emerging skill. For years we as early years professionals have had to prove our knowledge and assessment of the children in our care by endless paperwork, observations and assessments, but now we are having to trust our own professional judgements and judgements of our colleagues of our children in order to assess accurately and correctly. 

As the assessment bandings have increased for example from 8-20 months to 0-3 years, 3-4 years and Reception, we have had to shift our finite view of child development from a narrow to a more broad perspective. Trusting that we are able to competently be able to verbally explain the broad ranges of child development in each band. 

Now as a part of the Senior Leader Team at Pinkwell, I do understand the importance of tracking progress and attainment across the year, however, how can you track and measure progress if children stay within the bandings over the course of the academic year or a term? Does this mean there has been no progress? Of course not! But that is what it will show on paper…...unless you change the bandings and make them less broad…. Just like they were before!! This lovely cycle of reflection, change and adaptation we are so familiar with in education. 

Overall, would we change our decision to have been an early adopter school? No, why do you ask. Because without this time we have had this year to reflect, change and adapt it would be hard to support our trainee teachers and NQTs next academic year. 

Alice Francis- Assistant Principal EYFS- Year 1 Pinkwell Primary school 

Tuesday 18 May 2021

“Why,” said the Dodo, “the best way to explain it is to do it.” - A blog by Sarah Edwards, Cavalry Primary School

The Elliot Foundation Academies Trust -  East Anglian Schools Create and Design Reflection.

The journey so far...

  • How are you working as a trust to deliver Create & Design?

Through the appointment of an Arts Ambassador in every TEFAT academy in East Anglia, we are working as a Trust to deliver the inspirational and exciting ROH Create and Design programme based around the ballet of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  The Create and Design CPD training delivered by Sarah Waterman (Project Manager) and Ruth Paton (Designer) has provided the vehicle through which our schools are working hard to put the Arts at the very centre of our curriculum offer.  

Each academy is on an individual journey to achieve the various levels offered at Artsmark (Silver, Gold, Platinum) and the project has provided invaluable CPD opportunities including how to approach designing for the stage with children.   In addition to this, the 10 week unit has given teachers a model delivery sequence for their pupils; one on which future projects can be based. 

As a Trust a particular emphasis is placed on aspiration and how to develop this in all our young pupils.  All levels of this project offer authentic insights into the range of roles within the ROH company, promoting the many career opportunities within the arts.  In the eyes of our pupils and staff, it makes the impossible feel possible!

  • What are the intended outcomes in working in this way?

The aim of this work is to develop an effective approach to collective working. We believe that by working together we can increase arts opportunities and develop cultural capital for children; engaging their families and developing teachers as arts leaders.  The work with Sarah and her team has meant we have felt supported every step of the way with the programme being reviewed and tailored to match the developing creative needs of each school.  Arts Ambassadors from the different East Anglian settings meet regularly for peer learning opportunities and to share the creative practice which is taking place in each academy.

  • What are your early experiences of working on the programme so far? 

The programme has inspired the development of an Arts community within our Trust which is being used to provide an effective way to share resources, knowledge and expertise.  As the various units unfurl, teachers are (to borrow the words from Alice) going further and further ‘down the rabbit hole’, becoming more and more inspired to make cross curricular links within and outside of their classrooms. Colleagues have been so inspired by Alice’s Adventures that they are extending the theme into creative writing sessions, music, PSHE and dance to name but a few. 

The creative and flexible nature of this programme has meant it is very easily accessible to all pupils. Differentiated outcomes have provided low-threshold, high-ceiling learning opportunities and, as a result of this, awe-inspiring creative designs are flowing from our young people. 

In conclusion, this amazing journey into Wonderland has provided our children with the opportunity to become ‘curiouser and curiouser’ when it comes to the Arts. Watching the children’s excited reactions to receiving the commission letter for the set design brief from Kevin O’Hare, listening to the ballet music tell the story for the first time or standing proud independently presenting their stage model to their peers is absolutely priceless!

Thursday 25 March 2021

Sometimes cracks let in the light

19th December 2020 - The autumn term came to an end and once the structures and routine of work fell away it quickly became apparent that I wasn't very well. Three weeks previously I had discovered some fairly sizeable cracks in a house we bought just 4 months prior. This led to me experincing a difficulty breathing, which quite literally floored me and took me 20 minutes to pull myself around from. Later I discovered that this was in fact a panic attack. I arranged for a builder to come and inspect them (we'd already had a full structural survey) but I immeadietly started catastrophsing. Rationally I couldn't reason why this affected me so much. I'm not some sort of wall fetishisht who couldn't bare the thought of imperfect walls. I had every confidence in the structural survey we'd comissioned. Yet none of this was enough to prevent me feeling like it was the end of the world. 

20th December 2020 - Very quickly it became apparent that I was in crisis. Throughout the night I had alternated between holding my breath to contain the panic and further panic attacks. At 5 am I got out of bed, rang my GP and a mental health hotline. By 9 am I had a plan. 

23rd of March 2021 - Fastforward three months and I'm feeling much better. A combination of medication, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, phenomenal support from colleagues, friends and Michaela (my wife) and the fact that I'm sheer bloody minded when I set myself to something, means I have managed to change my thinking. 

With time and space to reflect, I realise now that this had almost nothing to do with the cracks. It was just the last problem in a long line of problems which led to me not coping. Priortising the wrong things meant that I had neglected myself and my wellbeing. Consequently my resilience was virtually non-existent. 

Without the cracks I would have never have glimpsed the light. I wouldn't have realised that it was possible to behave differently, to think differently, to feel different. At first, I kept pondering when I would feel like my old self again. Then one day I felt good. Really good. Better than I had done in six months. Maybe longer. But not like my old self. And then it hit me: I was never going to feel like my old self. But that was a good thing. I'd been through a crisis and it had changed me, for the better. It wasn't a pleasant experience, in fact at times it was genuinely terrifying. However if I can apply what I have learnt as a result of it, it will have fundamentally altered me for significant long term benefit. 

Our education system has been through a crisis. The cracks are visible to anyone who has spent the pandemic inside a school. Despite this enormous stress, we've adapted, sought support, supported our communities and coped remarkably well. However I'm terrified for myself, for my colleagues but most of all for the children that we're striving to get back to where we were. For school to feel like it did. If that's what we aim for, I have no doubt that we can achieve it (we're a very determined sector). However that would be a further tragedy.

Through hard work we have strode bravely in a new direction. We have embraced technological and pedagogical change in weeks and months that might have taken years under normal circumstance. All around the country all teachers have been engaged in discussions about curriculum, relationships between school and home hae been strengthened or where necessary forged anew. We're becoming increasingly comfortable with being uncomfortable due to the rate of change we've endured.  If we lose this then we will have lost our best opportunity in many generations to reform our practice. Not just what we do tomorrow, or next week. But that we look to the horizon and embrace the technological and pedagogical developments that best support or learners. 

The stress of the situation has revelaed and widened the cracks that were (mostly) already there. However they've also let in the light. We've glimpsed how different it can be. We've glimpsed what it is like when the reach of our learning transcends the traditional structures that have typically defined what a school is. Let's not resort to filling the cracks. Instead lets look to build new structures and systems that are inherently more resilient, reach further than our school drives, that are firmly embedded in our wider communities and as a result are less likely to crack in the future. 

Tuesday 16 June 2020

I 'do', We 'do', any chance you could 'do' too?

Cast your mind back to the 19th April this year. A difficult and somewhat unpleasant task I know, many of us would rather not look back and face the stark reality of just how long this situation has been occurring for. On this date the DFE announced ‘Laptops for the disadvantaged’. Looking backwards is really the only direction to turn in if you want to see them, as they are conspicuously absent from the present and it’s unclear whether they’ll ever make it into the future.

Cast your mind back a bit further, this time to Sept 2017, and the fairer funding formula review. A reformation,  long overdue, that was designed to address the geographical disparities in funding and replace it instead with a formula that took account of the context and characteristics of the school. Paralysed and conveniently distracted by Brexit (nice one Mr Cameron), as of yet this is still yet to be fully implemented; a cap on percentage change to overall funding still remains in place, further disadvantaging our school and its community.

Whilst the machinations of government and their subsidiaries have been doing...? (Answers on a postcard if you can tell me what we have achieved as a nation in the past few years.) Schools have been a hotbed of reformation and adaptation.

Whilst Social services undergo their umpteenth restructuring (in our area anyway) in an attempt to mitigate their lack of funding, schools continue to evolve into another emergency service. We are the agency that coordinates, with others,  taking action for the educational and welfare concerns of children and families. During our current circumstances this has come into sharp focus because, unless I am missing something, we appear to be single handedly providing safe and well checks and food (working with food banks and local businesses) to our community’s most vulnerable members and doing so with a smile.

The reformation of the school inspection framework has meant that every school has had to focus on their wider curriculum, developing an approach and content that embodies their community’s values and needs. Schools seemed to have welcomed this significant undertaking with open arms and I have been privileged enough to have heard some incredible stories of the care, thought and love that has been poured into this for the children. 

My colleagues and I have been working tirelessly to enable meaningful learning at home, made possible through digital tools, as have many of our educational institutions across the country. With our fundamental belief that children are entitled to continue their education in a meaningful way during this pandemic, we have aspired to create and implement a system that enables us to continue to provide high quality pedagogy. We have then researched, reviewed, evaluated and revised, striving to raise the standard of this provision. This hasn’t been born out of coherent, considered, central strategy, nor is it the result of the fear of accountability. It has been achieved through solution focussed optimism and the willingness school staff and leaders to go above and beyond for the children in their care.

So Mr Hind/Ms Spielman, we will continue to demonstrate our ‘Can do’ attitude, exemplified in a growing body of evidence, despite underfunding/a government paralysed by Brexit/a total lack of coherent governmental policy during a crisis. Is there any chance you could encourage your colleagues in government to engage with the ‘do’ element of your comments and set a considered example for us mere mortals to aspire to by delivering on the actions you’ve promised in a timely fashion?

Thursday 11 June 2020

Revisit 'old' ideas and get them out there. (Thanks Rune)

In 2016 I wrote about transition from Yr 6 into Yr 7  in the TES, this was a re-visiting of an idea I had written about in TES in 2003. Now its 2020. During Covid lock down, transition has become even more critical. I am calling on everyone to question their habitual transition practices, are they helpful and useful for our children?


Why it’s time to transform transition

The removal of levels has given us a chance to transform how we manage primary-to-secondary transitions, says the founder of an educational charity, who also explains how we can make the most of this opportunity

By Caroline Whalley

04 July 2016 - 16:05

In the world of life after levels, there is a true opportunity to put aside the stereotypes and differences that exist between primary and secondary schools to make transition easier for the thousands of children who move into Year 7 each year.

I see this as the perfect chance to adopt a more coherent approach across key stages 2 and 3, ensuring that tests, data, curriculum and personal knowledge are all shared across primary and secondary phases in a way that will help teachers on both sides of the transition process.

Here are some ideas for how we could align the phases to better support both children and teachers.

Question the benefit

A primary teacher will usually spend a minimum of 30 hours writing transition reports for a class of 30. But how often do secondary teachers actually refer to these reports? Let’s make explicit use of transition reports − or accept that they aren’t useful and stop doing them. For any tasks related to transition, we need to ask the following questions: Do we really need to be doing this? Who is it benefitting?

Avoid lost time

Use May onwards as three months of learning opportunities for Year 6 students to mature into Year 7 learners, either within their primary school or their new secondary setting. Where secondary schools are already working closely with their partner primaries and progress is being made, the schools don't worry about where that progress happened or who it is attributed to.

Build mutual respect

Create a connected, progressive learning pathway from Year 6 into Year 7 by respecting and understanding the strengths, expectations and pedagogical approaches of each phase. Information on primary years’ achievement should be believed and should not require re-testing. Build a rich data set that all phases have confidence in and use digital technology to support data-sharing.

Plan progression

We should call for a national transition entitlement to bring much-needed planned progression from KS2 to KS3. At local level, local authorities and primary and secondary schools of all types should agree an annual programme of synchronised visits and wider activities. As a minimum, teachers need to be talking to one another across the phases.

Support vulnerable pupils

The primary teacher must brief the secondary form tutor on aspects of vulnerability and emotional wellbeing, as well as the particular and specific needs of pupils. Contact should also be made between Sendcos from the different phases to plan for learning needs in more detail. Children who are “at risk of exclusion” must be identified and continuation plans put in place for their support.

Brief the children

Primary children must, at the very least, get a briefing on expectations of behaviour, punctuality and homework, which should build on similar expectations from their primary schools. They should also receive an orienteering session to gain a sense of the geography and size of their new school, where they can also experience taster lessons and meet their new tutors. If possible, pupils should also have the chance to be taught by secondary teachers within their primary school and to have lessons in laboratories and other specialist spaces before they move up to secondary.

Caroline Whalley is the founder of educational charity The Elliot Foundation and a Trustee of SHINE Trust."

Monday 8 June 2020

There and hopefully not back again... Or how I hope that the flavour of radical change is pervasive

And just like that, everything changed. Issues that have challenged and frustrated me both personally and professionally were transformed rapidly. Not solved entirely, and probably only temporarily, but significant change occurred, more rapidly than I can recall at any other time. Homelessness was an active political priority rather than a convenient community drum that’s banged by MP’s in the run up to a by-election (albeit because the potential for scenes of the bodies of homeless victims would have been political autocannibalism rather than for philanthropic reasons or out of any sense of community to our fellow humans). The welfare state was rapidly, but temporarily expanded to provide those unable to work with the means to a financially viable life. Many fell through the cracks, but the impetus for change was seized and acted upon rapidly.

In our educational setting we experienced rapid change with the adoption of digital tools to facilitate learning at home during the suspension of attendance on site for most children. Again, this hasn't been perfect; some institutions are focussed on providing ‘tasks’ (the ‘what’) and are still grappling with the mechanism to do this effectively. Others however (us included) were more prepared (fortuitously) and have been able to consider how we provide meaningful instruction and facilitate a dialogic approach. 

With the protraction of the situation, which went from ‘How do we keep Year 6 SATS ready?’ to ‘How do we provide relevant learning opportunities for all?’, the cycle of rapid deployment of solutions has abated. A more pensive, considered cycle of planned change is unfurling in the context of us all trying to become comfortable with accepting that we in fact have little to no control - of anything. This new paradigm enables us to consider the ‘why’, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, without the need for immediate implementation. And this is where I have found a new anxiety (it seems I’m always looking for another). 

Now that we are not required to pull solution rabbits from the hat of circumstance twice daily and thrice on Sundays, I am concerned that we will lose the radical element of any change. Contracts are potentially ending with hotels and many find themselves faced with the prospect of homelessness once more. The furlough scheme is scheduled to dissipate leaving in its wake a trail of the newly unemployed. Both of these have the potential to leave a system shaken up and with, at the very least, the newly formed. green shoots of reformation visible. New relationships forged with hoteliers and landlords could see unoccupied spaces generate an income, but more importantly generating hope and chances for the unfortunate and disenfranchised. The welfare state had the mirror held up to it, and the reflection was that the current system doesn’t provide people with the ability to support themselves and their families adequately. Only the passing of time will highlight whether my unconscious cynicism or the optimism I force myself to project will be right. 

And Education? I suspect we may have a period of grace. Whilst we grapple with the quest to fully reopening, the all-seeing machinations of judgement may be sufficiently distracted that we may may be able to forge some lasting change that enables us to reflect on this period in the future and recognise it as a turning point for our system. Or at the very least it might mark a sizeable shift in thinking, the echoes of which will still be heard  when we’ve all achieved herd immunity, are finally innoculated or are living underground.