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. 

Monday, 6 August 2018

An internship

This summer I have completed an 8-week internship with The Elliot Foundation. As a University student in my penultimate year, I had two priorities: to gain an experience within the charity sector and to be based in London. So when The Elliot Foundation offered me this internship, I jumped at such an opportunity.

Upon arrival I was inducted into what I would be doing for the next 8 weeks.  A clear and structured schedule was laid out before me. I would spend time in each Central Office department. Human Resources, Governance and Policy, Estates and complete a social media project with the CEO. Each Director met me and kindly gave me an overview of the Foundation and their roles within it. Most importantly, I was made aware of what motivated each member of staff. It was the desire and drive to ensure that as many primary children as possible were allowed to thrive and fulfil their potential. As Hugh Greenway (CEO) boldly said: ‘The thing is Tanera, it’s all about the kids’.

In the weeks that flew by I undertook such tasks as collating a report for the Trade Unions, amending HR and Governance policies, updating The Elliot Foundation social media presence, communicating with many of the 27 Academies and taking minutes for the important Board and Trust meetings. I gained a valuable insight into the workings of a Multi-Academy Trust and the relationship between the education sector and government. At a more ground level I gained a face value experience of the many raw and real challenges which children, parents, staff and schools face in the UK. Challenges which The Elliot Foundation strives to overcome on a daily basis.

I immediately felt like I was part of The Elliot Foundation ‘family’ and that my presence was of a genuine value to the organisation. The warmth and generosity of the working environment was unparalleled. The Elliot Foundation runs on the mutual support of its staff, it is a place whereby each and everyone, intellectually and personally, motivates the other.

I will be honest, I came into this internship with a keen interest in the charitable sector but lacking in a clear understanding of the educational and primary academy sector. Now, on my final day I can reflect on the wealth of knowledge which I have attained from The Elliot Foundation and the shared experiences of all the staff which I have had the privilege to work with and learn from. I leave with a deeply fond memory of my time spent with The Elliot Foundation and a great appreciation of the work that this Multi-Academy Trust accomplishes.

Tanera Scott