littlemavis

Little_Mavis' rants and musings


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Conformity or Variety?

A very quick two penn’orth on the issue of criticising/praising schools.

For what it’s worth, and feel free to ignore me but, in my personal (& humble) opinion, it’s good to have schools with different ethos(es?). I doubt there is a single way that works for every child (assuming we could define what we mean by “working” for every child). And even if it did there will be teachers and parents who would find it morally uncomfortable to follow some practices whether they be strict discipline or too much freedom. Maybe we could just accept that different provision should exist for different requirements.

Some fortunate children will thrive in any circumstances because they are adaptable and have an enriching and knowledgeable home environment. These are the children that teachers describe as “a joy to teach”. Some will also thrive in any circumstances through sheer grit and force of will. On the whole, these are less well liked by teachers because they can make life uncomfortable but they are valuable because they can teach us something about ourselves and how we relate to those who do not fit our image of what a good student should be like.

Sadly there are others who need something different. Yes, the quiet children who might suffer because the classroom is too rowdy (by the way, if we are being really keen on developing “grit” shouldn’t we apply it to this group? – Not advocating this, just pointing out an odd inconsistency in some current ideas) but also the misfits who struggle to conform or to concentrate. They may need something different.

What I find worrying is the idea that if something works in a specific setting it should be applied everywhere and, if ever this then doesn’t succeed, it’s because people just aren’t doing it right. That may be the case, but it also may be that the idea isn’t universally transferable to elsewhere.

I’ve seen arguments/discussions recently about whether it’s OK to praise or criticise specific settings or people. I’ve seen concerns about obedience and conformity.

Personally, I’m not keen on obedience as a concept, I’d rather instil a knowledge of what is desirable or acceptable in varying circumstances and have children understand why certain behaviour is required and then do that because they want to. I’m also not keen on enforced conformity, which is odd, because I tend to conform. Maybe that’s why I dislike petty rules so much, because I can’t just do the sensible thing and ignore them when they get in the way of common sense. I need to fight them.

BUT

I don’t especially want to stop other people running their schools in a way I dislike. I just don’t want people trying to make all schools work the same way and I would be most unhappy if I had no choice but to send my child to one.

Just stop telling other people they have got it all wrong and you are right regardless.

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Girls’ Juniors

So. Junior school?

This is my post about infant school. And here, some background

Since my first school was infants only I moved at 7 to a school which had a mixed infants half and a Girls’ Junior half. (The boys went to a different school about half a mile away)

Garden-Street-School-Uploaded-by-Matthew-Spencer

 

This was uploaded to FB by Matthew Spencer

 

The building was much older, Old enough for my mum and aunt to have gone to the school as children and my aunt is now 89.

(I found this photo on FB) Stone built and the stones blackened by many, many years of

the residue of the coal fires used all over town. In fact, for many years I thought this was the natural colour of stone as it was so ubiquitous.

 

 

The playground was concrete or tarmac and we had no playing field or grass of any kind.

garden-street-playground

Uploaded to FB by Dean Cheetham

There was an outdoor toilet block to use at playtimes. I cannot remember if we had indoor toilets. The classrooms in the junior block were arranged around a large hall which could be divided into 2 or possibly 3 by folding partitions. There was one class per year. Also, no maypole!

I have a vague recollection that the classes were arranged in an odd way. We did a term in the first class then moved up at the same time every year, finally coming back to the teacher we started with.

Desks were arranged in rows and were wooden with lift up lids and inkwells. These were wooden holes in the desk into which small (ceramic?) inkpots made were inserted. I don’t remember when we started to use ink, but we had blue painted wooden pens which we dipped in the ink to write and we inevitably ended up with blue ink-stained fingers. We were taught italic rather than cursive which means I now have an odd style of writing that is neither one thing nor the other.

What did we learn? Well English and maths, obviously. Though Maths may well have been called Arithmetic. In Geography, I learned that tea came from India and Beef from Argentina. I may have learned other things but nothing else has stuck. I assume History, though I remember nothing at all of that. We did knitting. I started with a dishcloth in yr3/4, than a hot water bottle cover and finally a stripy cardigan. I was very slow and took so long over my hot water bottle cover that I was last to choose the wool for my cardigan so it was turquoise and orange stripes. We also did needlework, or basically, embroidery so I could/can do chain stitch, daisy stitch., blanket stitch, stem stitch. Odd that I remember that but not the history. I expect I did more embroidery at home.

We did Singing Together from the radio so I still am able to sing some very odd tunes such as “Twankydillo”  and I imagine we did PE, though I can only remember country dancing and learning to waltz.

The headmistress was Miss Varney who became ill and was replaced by Mrs Swift. I remember it was though vaguely odd that a headmistress could be married.

Mrs O’Donaghue (Yr 3) Was quiet & pleasant and had the joy of dealing with me being sick all over my desk. That’s all I can remember.

Miss Hayes (Yr 3/4) had permed blonde hair and those strange upswept glasses that were popular in the 60s. She seemed stern and got very cross with me once when she told us we would finish off our arithmetic before doing needlework and I pulled a face. She threatened me with extra maths instead of needlework which would have suited me just fine as it was actually the needlework I was pulling a face at. Never assume you know what is going through a child’s mind.

Mrs James (Yr 4/5) was a motherly figure, who read us Just So stories and Puck of Pook’s Hill and was disappointed in me for getting a couple of maths questions wrong.

The year 5/6 teacher was Miss Davidson. Tall, stout, stern and wonderful. She also taught music and I remember her being very, very insistent that we should be singing “O Lord” and not “Oh Lard” in hymns. To this day I cannot stand poor enunciation. Looking back, I can see that the school was her life. We were her last class as she retired the Christmas when we were due to move into the top class and into another school as our buildings were going to be demolished. She cried, we cried. We knew where she lived and carried on visiting for a few years to chat and drink orange squash. We used to do weekly tests in the class and sit according to our results, top at the back, bottom at the front. The very idea makes me shudder now.

At Christmas we used to learn the parts from the gospels used in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College and I can still recite them from memory. (Also poems).

We still had the 11 plus back then and did regular practices, though I can’t remember there being the type of pressure there is now with either the current 11+ or SATs. The school actually did very well.

The Christmas of year 6 the juniors moved to another school.

The town had a Grammar School and two secondary moderns. Comprehensive education was in its infancy and there was a comprehensive in the next town. The Grammar school was moving to a brand new building and as a knock on effect, the secondary moderns were amalgamated and moved into the grammar school buildings. One of them from an old stone building, which was also to be demolished, and the other from a newer building that we were moving into along with the local boys’ junior school. So, after three and a bit years in a girls only junior school at 10 and 11 were moved into a school with BOYS!!! It was all a bit of a shock to the system. We got over it quite quickly though and developed small, unrequited crushes then got on with our work.

adwick road school2The school was newer and different. Our class was housed in a separate classroom with its own cloakroom and toilets. We still had only a tarmac playground, though bigger and not on a slope and still no playing field. This was my first encounter with a stationery cupboard. A few of us were allowed the immense privilege of organising it, sorting all the books, paper, art supplies, pencils, pens, rubbers, rulers. It was bliss.

Our new teacher was Mrs Thompson who had lived in South Africa for a while.

Finally a couple of school reports to show how short they were back then. report-7report-8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were only there for two terms before we moved on to big school. I, most of my friends and a few of the boys passed the 11+ and went to the (new, shiny) Grammar School, some who did well, but not enough to pass went to the comprehensive and the remainder to the secondary modern, the old grammar school)  just around the corner. I have to say, I never gave the kids who failed another thought.

Please feel free to add any memories of your own in the comments.


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Infant School

Infant school was a very different place when I was small.

My first school was Park Road Infants. This seems to be the only building left standing of the schools I attended.

feb8001-2I’m trying to remember what it was like but it’s a long time ago now. I think I would have started school in 1958 and things were different then. You may also need to take my memories for what they are, just memories. I haven’t checked the accuracy of any of these. My parents are dead and I doubt there are any accessible records.

The school was infant only and had 2 classes per year (I think) and possibly a nursery class. My first teacher was Mrs Swan who had long beautiful auburn hair and I remember as being kind. I remember nothing of the lessons we had, though I still have a few of the books my parents kept. If I can track them down, I’ll include photographs.

I’m not going to try to make this chronological, more a stream of consciousness recollection. I’ll note things down as I remember them.

Shape

The school was essentially classrooms off a single corridor. The hall stuck out the other side and the headteacher’s room was in the middle.

This is from memorypark-road-plan-jpg

And this is the school now

park-road-school

Teachers I remember

Rec     Mrs Swan

Yr 1    Mrs Gelder, Mrs Batty

Yr 2    Mrs Seagrave

Head  Miss Fletcher

 

General memories

  • No uniform. I don’t know of any primary schools that had uniform then.
  • The school day was generally 9am to 4pm with 1½ hours for dinner. Lots of children went home for this.
  • We had to put our heads down on our arms on the desk after dinner for a while
  • We sat in rows. At desks. I can’t remember what we kept in the desks. I don’t remember playing. Except at playtime.
  • We were given halibut oil capsules to take with our milk. They tasted vile
  • We had a maypole & learned dances  like these. It had red, blue, yellow & green ribbons. Boys held blue or green, girls held red or yellow.
  • We had a May Queen, though I only remember this in the first year I was there. I have a photo somewhere I’ll dig it out.
  • There were cupboards at the back of the hall with things to play with. I think we only got them out for wet play which was in the hall (maybe). These included wooden stilts like these or others made from Golden Syrup tins with strings through, hula hoops etc.
  • I seemed to spend a lot of time in year 1 standing behind the blackboard as a punishment for something (I really can’t remember the details but I think it was to do with disagreements with another child)
  • The year 2 teacher took a slightly different approach & punished the other child too. I remember being very pleased about this – I suspect, though again cannot actually remember & I’m basing my conclusions on what happened when I was older – I was asked if I hit her & I would have said “yes”. She was asked the same & said “no”. My downfalls over the years have often been because of my ridiculous level of honesty.
  • We learned to read with Janet & John books – no idea if it was phonics. I just learned.janet & John
  • We did an infant nativity. I was Mary. I had to sing a solo. I remember the headdress being hot, itchy and uncomfortable. I kept taking it off then putting it back on again so I’d look like Mary. I cannot remember the song. At all.
  • And at the end of three years, they sent home a report.

infant-report

I feel it is important to note that I actually only got one question wrong in Maths (¼ mark) They docked me a whole point because I spelled my name wrong at the top of the paper – I was excited!!

That’s it by the way. That’s all my parents got to inform them of progress.

Is it better now? What was it like when you were in Infant School? Can you even remember?


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Do you explain, or just tell?

I got annoyed today. I get annoyed quite often really. There is a pattern to the things that annoy me. It’s acts of selfishness or thoughtlessness for which I cannot imagine any mitigation.

  • Cars that park on double yellow lines and cause long queues of traffic. As far as I can tell, usually so someone can go in a shop without the inconvenience of walking ten metres from somewhere it is safe and legal to park.
  • Finding someone has bunged a bag of rubbish in your bin leaving not enough room for the  two full sacks you need to put in (actually what triggered this blog).
  • Noisy smelly barbecues that mean you cannot leave your windows open or your washing out on warm Summer evenings (fingers crossed eh?).

If there is a good reason for inconveniencing me, I can live with it.

  • An elderly mother recovering from a broken leg needed to call in to buy some wool.
  • You were clearing out your cupboards and thought I was away for the week so you could use the space in my bin.
  • Sorry. No excuse for barbecues but you should at least warn neighbours!

What I’m building up to here is a plea for thoughtfulness and a bit of consideration, obviously, life would be smoother if we were all a bit nicer, but also, if you are going to do something that is potentially annoying, tell the person you may annoy why you are doing it. Don’t assume it wont bother them. Don’t assume it doesn’t matter.

And if you’re a teacher, explain rules, especially those that seem initially pointless to the students. They won’t all be convinced, but there will be some, who were initially resentful who will have second thoughts and cooperate rather than sullenly comply.

I know there are many teachers who feel no desire to “justify” themselves to students. They believe fact that something is a rule and the teacher is in charge is enough. I have some sympathy with that desire. It would make life so much easier. Maybe my problem is that I identify too much with the kids. I can remember getting cross at pointless annoying rules. But I still think cooperation is preferable to sullen resentment. Just try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.


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To SAT or not to SAT?

Given its prominence in the news and on social media this week, (is that a fronted adverbial btw?) I’ve been thinking about SATs, exams in general, boycotts and children “striking”. I’ve gone round and round in circles and the best I can come up with is “It’s complicated”. For one thing our view will be inevitably coloured by our own experience and that of our children.  If we, or they, sailed through with no ill effects, it’s hard to imagine what it might be like for others who may have had an entirely different experience or had similar experiences but reacted in an entirely different way. It’s emotional and consequently really hard to look at things like this objectively

I’m breaking it down into several questions.

  1. Are tests in general good or bad? – I’d say neutral. Frequent tests (Americans call them quizzes which sounds less threatening don’t you think) help reinforce what you’ve learnt and show you what you haven’t. If they’re a regular part of learning and don’t carry huge significance I can’t see they’d do harm. You just need to make sure kids don’t use them to bully those who do exceptionally well or poorly.
  2. Are externally set and marked tests at key points in a child’s learning needed? – Possibly. It kind of depends on whether or not you trust teachers to assess accurately and fairly and that in turn depends on whether or not teachers are put under undue pressure which might lead them to manipulate the results. I’ve been under that kind of pressure and resisted. But it made me ill and led me to leaving the profession so this is obviously a big factor. I think we need to decide what these tests are for. GCSEs, and in some places still the 11+ are high stakes exams that affect the student directly. They determine progression routes and they have a stake in them. SATs are to measure the schools and teachers. I’m not convinced they do it well. Most? Many high schools re-test children when they arrive (or even on taster visits) as they don’t really trust the SATs results anyway.
  3. Do schools handle the SATs well? – Obviously many don’t. We hear stories of weeks or months of drilling in Literacy and Numeracy in year 6, or even before. We hear of the narrowing of the curriculum where Art, music, humanities are barely covered and of multiple practice papers being completed. Does it need to be like this? No. But I can see why schools do it when under pressure. Looking at some of the papers it seems as if they are designed to catch kids out rather than to assess what they know. I used to teach IT to 16yo which was assessed in part by a multiple choice test. The first time I completed one of them I barely reached a pass nark. You had to understand what they meant by the questions and what was required for thge answer so I had to teach test technique if I wanted my students to pass. It wasn’t enough to know your stuff, you had to know how to do the test too. I know there are some schools out there that teach a broad and balanced curriculum and still get good results. I understand the argument that if you deliver the curriculum fully and well that the children will do well in the assessments anyway. I also understand why many schools feel unable to do this, especially when there is a virtual sword of Damocles hanging over them with the thread being the results of their year six children.(And thinking about this, I’d not be especially upset if I thought that any heads and teachers who suffer because a year got poor results were all bad teachers/heads but I’m far from convinced that’s the case)
  4. Do the SATs test the right things? – This is where I really start to struggle. Somewhere in the loft I have a few of my primary school exercise books. I’ll look them out one day, but I’m fairly sure we didn’t cover some of the things now covered by the KS2 National Curriculum, especially the Spelling & Grammar element. Now, I went to school in the 60s, took the 11+ and went to Grammar School. I took Latin O level so I was at school in what I suspect Gove and I suppose Morgan and Gibb think of as the golden age of education. Tests on a regular basis, tables, class ranking, corporal punishment but definitely not grammar to anything like this extent. And as Michael Rosen is currently telling us, supported by people I would consider to be genuine experts such as David Crystal, much of what is being tested is not especially good grammar and may well be damaging rather than improving children’s writing.
  5.  Oh and finally. Are children unreasonably stressed by this? – Lots of discussion today (I’m looking at you @TomBennett71) about how children wouldn’t be stressed if parents and teachers weren’t stressing them. Not sure that’s really the case. Children pick up on tension whether we try to hide itr or not and some teachers are so stressed by the whole affair that they can’t help but let it seep out, though I grant you that some don’t seem to try very hard. I wasn’t stressed by my 11+ and my kids (now in their 20s) weren’t stressed by SATs. But we all did well and were expected to do well with no pressure. I’ve worked, as a TA with kids who got very stressed and some who just didn’t care. I suspect it’s down to basic character as much as anything.

 

So. What’s my overall conclusion? It’s complicated. Tests aren’t bad, maybe accountability tests aren’t bad but the content, how we are using the results and the subsequent narrowing of the curriculum is bad but understandable under the circumstances.

Solution? Who knows? I doubt I can be convinced that the current content of the SpaG or the Writing requirements at KS1 and especially KS2 are sensible or needed. I think the way heads and teachers livelihoods can depend on how well children do in these tests is unfair and dangerous. Rationalise the content, remove the threat to teachers/heads and it may settle down. But yes. Really look at the content. I think that is what has really prompted the current actions by parents.

And please ignore any SpaG errors, I’ve not proof read or revised.


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The kids know!

I got into a conversation one morning at the end of last week about dealing with stroppy year 6s.  Ultimately, I suspect, my main problem with them the previous day was that I was tired and a bit irritable so that fairly minor poor behaviour was irritating me more than usual. The main point still stands though. Currently Year 6 children are attempting to throw their weight around. SATs are done. They haven’t yet had results and many of them believe that there is no point in any of their work they are doing now, however interesting or ultimately useful it may be.

Some children, maybe most, will still want to learn, simply because they always do, some are naturally co-operative and obedient but there are always those few who just keep pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour.

In general, I like to look for the cause of poor behaviour and tackle that. I reason rather that threaten or punish but some children seriously test my resolve. The ones I find most difficult are the arrogant ones who seem to genuinely believe they deserve special treatment, that the rules don’t apply to them. They are the child equivalent of adult drivers who park in disabled spaces or double yellow lines because they are “just popping in”. You have all met them. They perfect the art of sighing and eye rolling well before the rest of the kids and always have a (totally ridiculous) excuse.

These are also the ones who are most acutely aware of the hierarchy that exists in schools. They will modify their behaviour for the head and somewhat grudgingly for the deputy or senior staff but not so much for newer, less experienced teachers and if, like me, you are support staff, they regard you as irrelevant and unimportant.

I used to be a teacher in sixth form. I have taught all kinds of students from level 1 to A level, and, although classroom management wasn’t in all honesty, my strong point, I wasn’t routinely ignored when I issued instructions. Even there the hierarchy was evident. The most graphic illustration of this was in one of our very rare assemblies. A student was talking as the Principal was about to speak and did not stop quickly enough. The Principal asked her to leave.  In typical student fashion she argued and insisted she would be quiet now, he was having none of it “You either leave this hall, or you leave the college. Your choice.” No-one else could have said that! In turn Department Heads or Programme Managers were known to possess more power than classroom teachers. The students know this! They will adapt their behaviour accordingly. If students play up a teacher but behave for someone more senior it may not be that the senior teacher is that much better at behaviour management  (It may be of course but that’s a different issue).

But, back to support staff. As a TA working with the top group on their weekly mental maths I had a pupil argue with me about the the answer to a question on percentages. They firmly believed they were right and I was wrong (I wasn’t), but it was indicative of the general regard in which we are held. I also work, as many TAs do, as a Lunchtime Supervisor. These are the members of the school staff who are apparently the lowest of the low. We are routinely ignored when implementing the (minimal) rules that are in effect at lunchtime. Our initial sanction is to put miscreants “on the wall” for a limited period. (Is this universal by the way? – Standing students next to the person by the entrance to the school). If this is not effective the next step is to send them to stand in the dinner hall or to the Deputy Head which is really simply relying on a higher authority who may not always be available and, in all honesty doesn’t seem to have any real long-term effect. It can make for a very fraught hour some days.

I suppose, ultimately, this post is simply asking you (especially senior staff) to note that if you believe you have behaviour in your school sorted, check with your support staff to see if they are still having issues, make sure you have systems in place for them to use and make sure you back them up in practice.

In some ways it can be tough down at the bottom of the school hierarchy.

 

Oh. And if you do have advice for dealing with especially arrogant children I’d be delighted to hear it.


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The Wrong sort of Grit

Like many others such as @Sue_Cowley here and @debrakidd here I am a little concerned at this new-found enthusiasm for developing “character” or “resilience” or “grit” in children.

Leaving aside such considerations such as whether this is desirable, or even possible I am puzzled by the inherent contradictions in this when viewed alongside the similar enthusiasm for obedience and conformity.

The desire to have children persevere in the face of discouragement and failure in order to eventually succeed seems to be in direct opposition to the desire to have them dress in a specific way as dictated by the school or indeed, in some cases to raise their hands, or even sit in class in a precise and specified manner as described by @HeyMissSmith. Sadly I cannot show you these because the training videos she linked to are now set as private.

You see. I’m not convinced that you can expect children to show “grit” (or resilience, character, determination etc.) in certain, preferred situations but not in others. If they are expected to persevere in the face of failure or discouragement when it comes to solving maths problems, aren’t they also going to persevere with wearing their tie in the way they want to in the face of the discouragement of regular detentions or isolation?

So much of our current policy seems to want children to be quiet, conforming and to do what they are told without question. But, we now want them to persist in their efforts in the face of discouragement and opposition. Haven’t they noticed that is exactly what some children have been doing, and what they have been doing their level best to stop?

I suppose it was just the wrong sort of grit!