Want to be an even better teacher next year?

Thinking woman with question signs and light idea bulb above head looking up

Take time to reflect on these 10 things

The school summer break is in full swing and as a teacher you are hopefully easing nicely into rest and relaxation mode. Whatever you are doing over the summer holidays, be it catching up on household chores, doing the rounds visiting relatives, or binge-watching Netflix, some time for reflection should definitely be at the top of your summer agenda. Especially if you are determined to improve and be an even better teacher next year.

Teachers are under enormous pressure to perform and get results, sometimes sacrificing what is actually best for the children they are teaching. Reflecting on the things that went well last year and on those that didn’t will give you a head start when you are faced with the same pressures during the next school year.

Reflect on these 10 things while you can. It doesn’t mean you’re not already a great teacher. Reflection and personal growth are part of what makes you such a great role model for your students.

  1. What is the most awesome thing about you? How can you bring more of that to the classroom in September? Make your special talent a part of your teaching every day!
  2. When were your students at their best during the last school year? Why was that?
  3. What lessons didn’t go well and why was that?
  4. What is your teaching philosophy? How can it better serve you and your students?
  5. What can you focus on this summer to grow your skills as a professional?
  6. What do you do well (recall examples) and how can you make more of those skills during the next academic year?
  7. What don’t you do well (recall examples) and what resources or support can you access next year to improve?
  8. What things can you put in place to empower your pupils and make your job easier?
  9. How can you make your classroom more efficient so you can spend more time doing the fun stuff?
  10. What parts of your job do you love? And which are the bits you find difficult? Be honest with yourself and think about what you can learn from each.

In addition, ponder your failures and your successes. Think about how you can improve your communication with parents and colleagues. Think about how you can overcome challenges. Most of all ask yourself what are the most important things your students need from you and how can you make their learning experience a fun and happy one.

Reflect away and enjoy the summer break! The next school year is going to be great.

Life is so much more than numbers

Children Making Team Gesture

We can’t help but share this heartening tale from one headteacher concerning the recent Sats results and more succinctly the view that life is more important than numbers.

Brian Walton, headteacher of Brookside Academy in Somerset wrote for Tes (formerly The Times Educational Supplement), of his life affirming experience on Sats results day. It wasn’t from the results, but from the laughter and friendship of a wonderful school community remembering one of their pupils who had passed away.

Mr Walton argues that schools are so much more than year 6 outcomes. “Life is a bigger test than Sats. Children need more from us because there is so much that we will come across in life. Deep down we need school communities that are at the heart of this.”

On Sats results day Mr Walton took 59 year-5 pupils swimming at the local outdoor pool. That number should have been 60 with Callum. The school tweeted ‘We are here Callum.’ Callum was a valued member of the school community. Mr Walton described him as “a brave, strong and wonderful young man adored by all his friends and remembered with such love and companionship.”

Mr Walton writes that Callum’s family have been incredibly supportive of the school. Despite their tragic loss, they have been there for Callum’s friends and his class.

On the future, Mr Walton says, “We need schools to focus on what is right rather than “bow down” to politics that are so detached from the communities and the realities of school life that they lose sight of what really matters. When the UNICEF index of child wellbeing puts children in the UK at the very bottom, you would think someone, somewhere would begin to change this for the good. Instead, it seems we are still obsessed in ensuring that grades are high – even when wellbeing is low.”

A recent poll by Tes found that almost half of children are stressed by primary school tests and a YouGov survey of parents of 7 to 14 year olds found that 63 per cent of parents felt children were under too much pressure. Last year a National Union of Teachers (NUT) survey of primary school teachers found a widespread lack of confidence in the Government’s current system of assessment and accountability.

This head teacher’s story and the sad loss of a valued pupil reminds us of the importance of community at school. And as Callum’s mum reminded head teacher, Mr Walton, ‘Life is about so much more than numbers.’

Kickstart programme to teach primary pupils about finance

Boy counting money at a table

Leading City institutions are calling on the government to include financial education in the primary school curriculum, a report in the Guardian reveals. Twenty leading savings and investment firms in the UK have joined hands to set up a ground-breaking financial education project called KickStart Money.

The collaborative project is taking financial education to over 18,000 primary schools in the UK with the aim of catalysing “a movement to build a savings culture for the future.”

On the project, Lord Hutton, former Secretary of State for the Department of Work & Pensions, said,
“Learning about the basics of money is essential if we want to build a more financially literate nation. KickStart Money is an exciting and much needed new project aiming to help young students to understand the consequences of debt as well as the importance of saving and investing for their future.”

The educational programme consists of three 75-minute workshops with expert trainers from the charity MyBnk. Reports so far indicate that 70 per cent of pupils who receive the training continued to work towards a saving goal three months after taking part.

Findings are being presented to MPs and peers at Westminster. The KickStart programme organisers are hoping to convince policymakers that teaching children about money management will help a generation to become more financially literate.

According to KickStart many parents don’t talk to their young children about money, when in fact behavioural attitudes to money are formed by the age of seven. Co-chair of KickStart, Jane Goodland argues that while basic numeracy skills are helpful, being competent with numbers doesn’t necessarily equate to being good with money.

Earlier this year, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Just Finance Foundation argued that primary school pupils should receive compulsory lessons on how to manage money as part of the response to growing levels of financial insecurity and problem debt in the UK.

It is hoped the KickStart pilot scheme will be met favourably by government. Suella Braverman (formerly Fernandes), Conservative MP for Fareham and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) inquiry into the effectiveness of financial education in UK schools said:

“Financial education has the potential to transform people’s life chances by equipping them with the vital skills to manage their money well and plays an important role in helping young people to navigate these new financial and consumer landscapes. Kickstart Money is a great new project which will help children up and down the country to learn how to manage their personal finances, setting them up to deal with the financial challenges of later life.”

Supply teachers give the most honest account of pupil behaviour

Child with sling shot

Pupil behaviour is a perennial topic in schools. But reports on behaviour between senior staff and those on the ground vary widely. The government’s DfE behaviour tsar has said school Governors should speak to supply teachers if they want to know the truth about behaviour in the classroom.

Behaviour tsar, and Tes columnist, Tom Bennett said he had seen much evidence of poor governance in schools. He highlighted the fact that some governors do not visit their schools during normal opening hours at all, and many that do are led around the school and only shown good classes.

The Department for Education requires governing bodies of maintained schools (local authority funded) to publish a statement of behaviour principles for their school.

Mr Bennett is urging governors to seek an honest and truthful picture of any behavioural problems in their school so any issues can be reflected in future school behavioural policies. At the recent Festival of Education, he told the audience: “Go and see transitions. Go and see the start of the day and the end of the day. Go and see the NQTs. Go and see the supply teachers.

“Go to your local supply agency and ask them ‘what’s behaviour at my school like?’ I promise you, it will blister you.”

In an interview with The Telegraph last year, Mr Bennett spoke out about behaviour in schools, saying pupil behaviour in England is a national problem, which isn’t being taken seriously enough.

In a report Mr Bennett said teachers were afraid that telling pupils what to do would curtail their freedom. But he argued that expecting good behaviour is not oppressive and that pupils had to be taught “self-restraint or self-regulation” in order to be “truly free”.

Naughty pupils in class at the elementary school
The report carried out by Bennett gave an independent review of behaviour in schools. His paper, Creating a Culture: how school leaders can optimise behaviour was published last year. In it he states that how a school is run is an even greater determinant of school behaviour than any one of a number of well-trained staff working in isolation.

Why does behaviour in school matter? The way students behave in school is strongly linked to their academic outcomes. The culture found in successful schools included visible leaders, consistent practices, effective communication and high and detailed expectations, high levels of support staff, parental commitment and thoroughness in the execution of school policies.

Understanding that there is a behavioural problem in the first place is key in enabling schools to turn the tide. Governors should ask supply teachers for an honest account.

How to build empathy in the classroom

message of love

This month, on the 12th June it was Empathy Day. It was a great reminder to schools, parents and children of the need to focus on empathy so we can build a more caring society.

In our increasingly digitised world, we are in danger of creating a generation of disconnected children. Bullying, cheating and mental health issues amongst children are on the rise. Cultivating empathy in the classroom is now more important than ever.

Every teacher passionate about what they do is invested in not only teaching children the curriculum, but also in inspiring children to love learning outside of the classroom. Children need to be able to enjoy experiences with other people, visit different places and seek learning opportunities outside of school.

Teaching empathy is an essential anti-bullying strategy. It is also essential for diminishing social prejudices and encouraging social behaviour. What is more, empathy education has been shown to boost academic success. Educational psychologist, Michele Borba, has written a book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. It is a book that all parents and teachers should read.

Start your empathy building programme in the classroom with our 4 top tips.

1 – Connect with new people and places

It is partly through connecting with different people and places that children can be exposed to new ideas and perspectives which help to break down barriers and build empathy. One school, based in New York, uses Skype and Google Hangout to connect pupils with museums and other professional places students wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to visit.

Another way to connect your students with new people and ideas is through a charity. Get involved with a local charity. Get the charity to come into the classroom and talk to the children about what they do.

2 – Random acts of kindness

Set up a set day each week or each month where students are encouraged to show a random act of kindness to a teacher, caretaker or peer at school. It could be something simple, like thanking someone for help or for the great job they are doing.

3 – Encourage listening and sharing

Group Of Elementary School Children Working Together In Computer Class

Listening and the sharing of views without casting judgement is fundamental to growing empathy. Create spaces within the learning environment for children to have their views heard. Encourage listening. Understanding how others feel is an important part of building empathy.

4 – Provide collaborative opportunities

Project work where pupils can share ideas and get a sense of others perspectives is a great way to teach empathy. The ability to collaborate is a life skill that children need to succeed and to function and participate in society. Just like any other skill, how to collaborate can be taught and will help children to grow empathy for other people and understand their different points of view.

Why we need more male primary school teachers

Arts and crafts in school

The Huffington Post recently reported that head teachers are calling for more men to join the education profession, particularly in early years and primary schools. Male primary school teachers support the call and argue that children need more male role models to reduce gender stereotypes in career choices and to more frequently encounter role models where they may be lacking.

According to the most recent government statistics, just 15.4 per cent of nursery/primary school teachers in England are male. And just three per cent of teachers in early years education, who teach two to five-year-olds, are male.

The NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers) trade union and professional association is calling for the Department of Education to acknowledge the low numbers of men employed in early years and want the government to work with the sector to identify ways to encourage more men into the profession.

Talking to Schools Week, James Bowen, head of the school leaders’ union, NAHT Edge section, said, “Early years education is one of the most vital moments in a child’s education, and the point at which attainment and life chances can be set.”

“A diverse early-years’ workforce can help children, especially those from deprived backgrounds, to visualise their futures and fulfil their educational potential. It’s important for all children to experience positive male role models, and to understand that men can be interested in education, science or reading, just as much as in football.”

According to Schools Week News, the NAHT’s early years sector council has participated in a government task group, conducting an in-depth review into the shortage of male teachers in early-years education.

Sally Bates, head of Wadsworth Fields Primary School in Nottingham and a member of the council, said, “Young children need male role-models, boys need to see education settings as reflecting their interests.

“The problem of society being suspicious of men working in this sector means that recruitment is low and this perception needs to be loudly challenged at every level.”

Adam Robbins, deputy head teacher of Roding Primary School in London, also states how important it is to promote interests beyond stereotypes, such as sport. Robbins explains, “My school has a male in-house storyteller, artist and musician. This gives all children in the early years, but particularly boys, more diverse examples of all the things men and boys can be interested in.”

A recent BBC report identified four ways to get more men teaching kids, stating:

1 – Challenge the stigma – early years teaching isn’t just for women
2 – Early Years Teaching salaries need to rise and government needs to offer more bursaries
3 – Government should act on gender diversity targets and offer more training
4 – Change the job name – ‘nursery nurses’ should be changed to ‘early years professionals’

Speaking to the BBC, Patrick Foley, head teacher at Southborough Primary School in Kent, said “Men should be encouraged to join these professions and the barriers to men making these choices should be investigated and removed.

“More men in these key roles would improve outcomes for children in their early years, which would have tremendous benefit for all children.”

Storytime at Nursery

5 things schools can do to help children’s mental health

Mental Health Foundation Stress Banner

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and this year the Mental Health Foundation is focusing on stress. According to the Mental health Foundation “two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this.”

Tes’ mental health columnist, Natasha Devon, argues that schools can help Mental Health Awareness Week by sending an unequivocal message that mental health matters, not just during Mental health Awareness Week, but all year round.

The Guardian recently reported that “The number of referrals by schools in England seeking mental health treatment for pupils has risen by more than a third in the last three years, according to figures obtained by the NSPCC” (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children).

Research indicates there is a growing crisis within children’s mental health and that leaves many teachers having to deal with an increasing number of pupils suffering from stress, anxiety and panic attacks, as well as depression, self-harm and eating disorders.

Many teachers are feeling overwhelmed by the challenges they face as a result of the rise in mental health problems in children. But there are things schools can do to help. Here are five ways schools can help support children’s wellbeing at school.

1 – Start talking about mental health

There is still a stigma about mental health in mainstream society so it’s really important that schools open up a dialogue about it. At the very least more open discussions will increase understanding and reduce stigma around some of the issues children face.

2 – Address bullying in school

Students need to feel safe at school. Educating children about the effects of bullying and having a positive anti-bullying policy in school will help children to develop respect for each other.

3 – Support staff well-being

Staff can only improve the support they give to pupils when they are feeling supported and healthy themselves. Wellness at work will have a positive impact on the school environment and will definitely filter down to pupils.

4 – Offer training in mental health

Last year the Guardian reported that more than half of primary school teachers say they do not feel adequately trained in supporting children with mental health problems. Early intervention is crucial for children’s wellbeing and for that to happen teachers need adequate training to identify any issues. With many schools having to cut their pastoral and mental health support services because of budget pressures, it is up to headteachers to demand mental health training for all new teachers.

5 – Run after school social activities and mentoring

Extracurricular activities have been shown to have a positive effect on children’s wellbeing. Equally, peer mentoring and staff mentoring for vulnerable students provides an extra layer of support for those struggling with emotions and the challenges at school.

Controversial test for four-year-olds unveiled

Group Of Pre School Children Answering Question In Classroom

The government has unveiled plans to roll out the testing of all four-year-olds in their first few weeks at school, says a report in The Guardian. Ministers say the new tests will enable schools to measure progress in primary education and thus give a better measure of a school’s effectiveness. Critics argue that this measure will lead to some children being labelled as low ability.

More than 700 academics, early years experts and teachers have signed an open letter opposing the new national tests for four-year-olds that are due to begin in September 2020. They say the tests are both pointless and unreliable.

Despite opposition from teachers about the scheme, the government are pressing ahead and have announced that NFER (National Foundation for Educational Research) have won the contract to begin testing in 2020. The rationale behind the testing is to make the accountability of primary schools fairer. It puts the spotlight on progress, rather than the ability children already possess.

The government attempted to introduce baseline assessments for reception classes in 2015. The DfE insisted on using several private providers, but research showed the different assessments were incomparable, so the scheme was scrapped.

Now the reshaped testing scheme is back on the agenda. However, it’s not without considerable opposition from teachers and education experts. Even assessment experts who ran the previous baseline scheme are speaking out against the proposals.

In a report on baseline testing published by TES, academics and education experts opposed to the scheme say “The tests risk children’s wellbeing and confidence by interrupting the crucial early period when they are forming relationships and settling into school.

“And many schools will teach to the test so that early years education will become more narrow and formal. This is not good for children.”

The baseline tests involve a 20-minute one-to-one assessment. The scheme will cost up to £10 million to develop. The largest teaching union is urging teachers to boycott pilot schemes to test children in the first weeks of starting school.

The More than a Score coalition, an alliance of parents, teachers and educational experts, which covers 16 teaching and early years’ organisations, argues that the proposed baseline tests will not produce valid results, and that there is a danger schools will play the game and lower baseline scores to make it easier to show progress later on. The group is also concerned that children will be streamed into sets too early on.

Speaking to The Guardian, Madeleine Holt of More Than a Score said: “There is no research evidence that four-year-olds can be reliably tested. The government has certainly not produced any.

“The score that the baseline test produces will not be a true picture of what children can do – yet it will be used to judge schools seven years later to assess whether they have enabled children to make enough progress.”

A 7-step plan for teachers gearing up for KS2 SATs

Stressed Schoolboy Studying In Classroom With Teacher

With the Easter break over, year 6 primary school teachers up and down the country are gearing up for the KS2 SATs tests fast approaching in May. With just a few weeks to go, revision should be in its final stages and a plan for the primary national tests already in place. It’s all about the preparation if you want to get through SATs week without a hitch. To ensure you and your class are prepared for this year’s SATs, read our 7-step pre-SATs plan.

1 – It’s not too late to recap topics, but keep it simple

There are still a few weeks to go before your children finally sit their SATs tests, so there is still time to recap essential topics. Tes (the former Times Education Supplement) has a number of useful KS2 resources if you need some fresh material.

At this stage, it’s important to keep lesson plans simple and not overwhelm your pupils. Last-minute panic revision will send the wrong message. Revise in short bursts. Target individual support and aim to boost confidence in perceived weaknesses.

2 – Model a positive mental attitude

Keep your SATs preparation simple and maintain a positive outlook. You want to create an air of calm in the lead up to SATs week. How you behave will rub off on your pupils, so being prepared, organised, positive and calm will create the best environment possible.

3 – Don’t panic

It may seem obvious, but don’t panic. There’s no point trying to cram in revision of everything you’ve covered in the year at this late stage.

4 – Dispell scaremongering about SATs

Last year The Guardian reported that more primary school children are suffering stress from SATs than ever before. Fear of failure could be affecting some of your pupils. Keep a close eye on your students to support and encourage them through a potentially difficult time.

Try to keep fun and creativity at the heart of the learning process. Dispell any myths about SATs and reassure children that SATs only test a part of them. Praise your pupils’ ability in subjects not tested in SATs too. Be explicit in positive messages.

5 – Keep parents informed

It’s likely you’ve already held a meeting for parents to explain what is involved in SATs week. Send a reminder letter or email to parents to remind them about what SATs week entails. Simple parenting tips about how to help children relax in the run-up to SATs week can be helpful.

Remind parents about the importance of exercise, such as trips to the park, getting children to bed on time, and to offer nutritious food and snacks, before and during SATs week.

6 – Don’t forget your own well-being

SATs week can be stressful for all involved if you let it. It’s extremely important you look after your own well-being, as well as encouraging parents and children to do the same.

7 – Be organised with the essentials for SATs test days

It’s not just the learning prep that needs to happen for SATs tests to run smoothly. Be clear to your class and helpers who is going where for the actual tests. Some children may have additional time allocated or have a reader assigned to help. Ensure all involved know where they need to be and how it will work.

Make sure you have your school’s DfE number to hand for test papers, and ensure you have all the equipment you need, such as pencils, rulers, protractors etc. Always have spares to hand.

9 easy steps to develop growth mindset

Boy with binoculars on a scale of books

All teachers will have heard about growth mindset. Most teachers will have had training in it. But how many teachers are actually getting it right in the classroom? Read our latest blog to recap the basic concepts of growth mindset and follow our 9 easy steps to develop growth mindset attitudes in your primary classroom.

What is growth mindset?

A growth mindset refers to an individual who believes they can develop intelligence. The term was coined by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, who noticed during research that children who believed intelligence is learnt are better at solving problems than those children who think intelligence is innate and fixed. In growth mindset pupils there is an understanding that through effort, good teaching and persistence, talents and abilities can be developed.

Want to do more to develop a culture of growth mindset in your classroom? Follow our 9 easy steps for getting growth mindset right.

9 steps for developing growth mindset

1 – Train teachers and pupils – children need to understand the growth mindset concept as much as teachers do.

2 – Integrate growth mindset into the curriculum – it’s a mistake to teach growth mindset in isolation as part of PSHE or in an assembly. It’s important the growth mindset philosophy is incorporated into the whole curriculum.

3 – Praise a student’s thinking – subtle cues will mould a child’s perception of intelligence. Saying ‘you are so good at maths’ reinforces a fixed mindset. Instead, offer praise about the learning process to encourage a growth mindset – ‘you worked really hard to find the answer.’ Correlate success with effort, not intelligence.

4 – Embrace the word yet – failure is an inevitable part of the learning process. Failure provides pupils with a chance to reflect. Research suggests that utilising the word ‘yet’ can shift the thinking of students from ‘I can’t do this’ to seeing problems as growth opportunities.

5 – Teach pupils to embrace failure and celebrate it – part of developing a growth mindset is in celebrating failure rather than fearing it. Letting pupils struggle a bit so they can solve problems on their own is an important step. Teach pupils to embrace mistakes and see them as part of the learning process.

6 – Encourage students to take risks and love challenges – create a culture that fosters risk taking. The more students take risks and love challenges, the more they stretch themselves and make mistakes, which leads to growth and learning.

7 – Pupils must experience success in small incremental tasks – when pupils are struggling to succeed, tasks should be broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks to help the student experience success.

8 – Work with parents – invite parents into school to learn about growth mindset. Fixed mindset language may be used at home, such as ‘oh don’t worry I was rubbish at maths.’ Educate parents about this.

9 – Plan lessons to support growth mindset – consider these three key growth mindset questions in your lesson planning:

  • Does the work provide the opportunity to learn something new?
  • How can I give meaningful feedback?
  • What strategies can I use for struggling pupils?