Sunday, 30 November 2008

Meetings are a waste of time

Read this brilliant comment about meetings in the TES. I completely agree!! The number of pointless meetings I've sat through this year!

Saturday, 29 November 2008

75 minutes a month

The TES reports that just 75 minutes a month discussing your work with colleagues can transform you from a bad teacher to a good one, increasing pupils’ rate of learning by at least 50%.

Professor Dylan Wiliam set out a new way for schools to introduce Assessment for Learning (AfL) in the classroom at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) conference in Birmingham this week.

The deputy director of the Institute of Education in London first introduced AfL, which uses assessment to improve pupils’ understanding, with Professor Paul Black a decade ago.
Since then, the Government has taken up the idea. But Professor Wiliam and other experts claim ministers have debased the method by focusing on its least radical and easiest to implement aspects.

Professor Wiliam says that if teachers hold monthly meetings where they report back on their progress, hold each other accountable and decide how to try to improve before the next meeting, they can introduce the AfL approach properly.

The “teacher learning communities” he envisages would focus on AfL techniques such as giving pupils feedback instead of grades, getting pupils to check and take responsibility for each other’s work, and increasing the time teachers wait for an answer after asking pupils a question.

“It is actually doing these things that is hard,” said Professor Wiliam. “Most teachers are aware of the ‘wait time’ theory, but they find it takes six months of trying for them to really slow down. It’s like trying to change your golf swing in the middle of a tournament. The idea is that every teacher makes a commitment to continually improving their practice. There are a lot of teachers who don’t think they need to improve.”

Professor Wiliam has trialled the approach in 60 schools in England and claims it is superior to the five days a year continuous professional development teachers are entitled to, which “doesn’t really work”. “If teachers stick with this, we will have the potential to increase the rate at which pupils learn by a least 50 per cent,” he said. “It makes a really bad teacher into a pretty good one and an average teacher into an outstanding one.”

Friday, 28 November 2008

Pupils on best behaviour

British primary pupils are better behaved now than they have been for at least 20 years. They are more likely than their predecessors to listen to their teacher and to do the work assigned to them, according to a major new study.

Led by Brian Apter, senior educational psychologist for Wolverhampton council, they oversaw a team of 71 educational psychologists, who carried out observations in 141 classrooms. This was one of the largest primary school studies ever conducted.

The psychologists found that pupils were well-behaved and focused on their schoolwork for “an unexpectedly high proportion” of their time in class. Children concentrated on work for 85 per cent of the time: a higher rate than has ever been recorded before in British schools.

This improvement in pupils’ behaviour began with a dramatic rise in the mid-1980s, and has continued steadily since. The researchers attribute this to the fact that the teachers provided clear and detailed instructions, and regularly praised pupils’ work.

Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers’ Association, was not surprised. “Adults always say that it was better in their day,” he said. “It’s the golden-age syndrome. But I don’t think there ever was a golden age.
“Most teachers would probably say, ‘Yes, there’s more focused attention by children now than in the past.’ Lessons are better planned and pitched to individual children. There’s less opportunity for boredom, for being overstretched and understretched.”

The psychologists found no link between pupils’ behaviour and the size of their class, the number of adults in the room, the time of day, or the number of pupils eligible for free school meals.

But there was a link between behaviour and the size of the school: larger primaries tended to have better behaved, more focused pupils. The researchers suggested this might be because these schools offer higher salaries to their heads and benefited from economies of scale.

Read more in the TES.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

People can't use apostrophe's

(Before I get started, I deliberately put the apostrophe in the wrong place in the title!)

The Daily Mail reports that apostrophe misuse is among our most common grammatical mistakes and it is also the most annoying. Nearly half of those given a short punctuation test were unable to use the apostrophe properly. They were guilty of a variety of slip-ups. The first was a failure to understand that plural nouns in English do not take an apostrophe.

The commonest evidence of this transgression is on display in countless fruit and vegetable shops, with handwritten signs advertising apple's and pear's for sale - the classic greengrocer's apostrophe.

A second error is the failure to punctuate a possessive plural properly. Forty-six per cent of those who sat the test got this alarmingly wrong.

They were also asked which mistakes they found most irritating.

Replacement of they're with their was voted the most annoying, followed by the use of a greengrocer's apostrophe to denote a plural - as in the incorrect boy's instead of boys. Another infuriating howler was confusing its with it's - the first the possessive form of it and the second an abbreviation of the phrase it is.

In the punctuation test taken by 2,000 adults, teachers were most likely to get the answers right, with more than 80 per cent getting full marks. Journalists and those working in public relations came second, followed by lawyers and civil servants in third and fourth places. Workers in transport and distribution came bottom. Women not only scored higher marks than men, they also claimed to care more about incorrect punctuation.

Londoners came out on top as Britain's best regional punctuators, getting 78 per cent of the answers right.

Surprisingly, the over-55s were bottom of the league. The 25 to 34-year-olds came top.

Professor Christopher Mulvey, an expert from the Museum of the English Language at Winchester University, said: 'To get it right, you need to look up the rules every time you think an apostrophe might be needed - and do this for the next six months in order to internalise the rules.'

I found the comment at the bottom of the Daily Mail article frustrating: I agree, I hate bad grammar - drives me mad. Why do they not teach grammar properly in schools anymore? This person has clearly not read the article properly - teachers are most likely to use the apostrophe correctly. I don't think teachers and schools are the problem for apostrophe misuse - it's the media and retail that show a complete disregard for correct grammar and punctuation. Teachers teach the rules correctly, but if this is not followed through by the rest of society it makes the process worthless. Unless children see a need to use punctuation and grammar correctly then there's no point in doing so. And if they see the mess that certain people can make of punctuation then they aren't going to see why it's important.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

£2.5billion spent and maths is still not adding up

Almost a quarter of children are leaving primary school with a poor grasp of maths even though spending on the subject has soared to £2.5billion a gear, public finance watchdogs have revealled.

Around 135000 pupils start secondary school unable to cope with their courses. This is little improvement on 2000 despite a 30% increase in funding over the same period.

About 66000 bright pupils are failing to make the progress of which they should be capable at primary school, while 34000 11-year-olds are no better at maths than most seven-year-olds. In a reversal of the usual trend, girls are falling further behind boys.

Tim Burr, the head of the National Audit Office said, "The rate of improvement in primary mathematics has slowed and almost a quarter of pupils are still not equipped with the understanding of mathematics they need to study the subject further, or to tackle subjects such as science once they start secondary school."

The £2.3 billion spent on teaching maths in primary schools works out at £572 per pupil and represents more than a fifth of the total expenditure of £10billion on primary teaching.

Although pupils in their final year at primary school achieved the best results so far in maths SATs last year, almost a quarter, 23%, failed to achieve the expected level.

I hope that the new framework will go some to to challenging this issue, but it still requires proper funding to train all staff to understand it fully.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

5-year-olds to tell teachers how to teach

The Daily Mail reports that children as young as five will win the legal right to tell teachers how they should be taught and disciplined for bad behaviour, it emerged today. Pupils will be handed an unprecedented say in the running of their schools - from the uniforms they wear to the meals they eat.

But the proposed new duty on school governors to 'invite and consider' children's views drew an angry backlash from teachers' leaders who claimed it would be 'open to abuse'. Ministers have also been warned that schools will be vulnerable to lawsuits brought by parents who claim their children have not been properly consulted.

The row erupted after the Government this week accepted an amendment to an education Bill currently progressing through Parliament. The Liberal Democrats tabled the amendment after a Ofsted survey suggested a third of pupils do not believe they are properly listened to by their schools.

Regulations detailing what schools must ask pupils about have yet to be drawn up but ministers hinted in Parliament they would be wide-ranging. In the House of Lords, Children's Minister Baroness Morgan said: 'As a minimum, schools should seek and take account of pupils' views on policies on the delivery of the curriculum, behaviour, the uniform, school food, health and safety, equalities and sustainability, not simply on what colour to paint the walls.'

Ministers have already issued guidance to schools saying pupils can have a role in recruiting staff and observe lessons to give feedback on how well they believe they are being taught.

But critics complained the advice was akin to 'the lunatics taking over the asylum'. Yesterday Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, criticised the planned legal duty as 'unnecessary' and warned it would undermine teachers' authority, driving them out of the classroom. She said some schools were already allowing groups of pupils to stand at the back of classes observing lessons without the teacher's agreement and to sit on interview panels for new staff. And she was aware of a recent case where a teacher had gone for a job only to find she was subjected to a 'speed dating'-style interview, which involved spending five minutes talking to a series of pupils sitting at individual desks. The teacher concerned had considered turning down any job offer because of the school's 'disrespectful' attitude to staff. 'The proper use of student voice can aid learning,' said Mrs Keates. 'We have no problem with student councils, and good teachers will always engage pupils. But it's a complete nonsense to make it a duty on schools; it will be open to abuse and is likely to lead to more bureaucracy. The balance of relationships between teachers and pupils is extremely important and this shifts the balance in the wrong direction.

Mrs Keates said it could be appropriate for schools to seek pupils' views on disciplinary sanctions, but added: 'Where pupils have been consulted on behaviour policy they are usually more draconian than the teachers.'

Meanwhile Dr John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, representing thousands of secondary heads, said: 'This is crazy.
'I'm a strong supporter of pupil voice but schools are increasingly consulting pupils because they think it is the right thing, not because Government tells them to. I am furious that yet another in this continual stream of legal and educational duties is being placed on schools. They all bring unintended consequences.'

I love working with our School Council and they have made a really positive contribution to our school. They are becoming more and more involved in important decision, e.g. how the Friends of the school spend the money. Later this year, they will take their first role in the interview process for a new member of staff. But I'm not sure it is right to give children the legal right to tell teachers how they should be taught. Whilst I welcome them explaining the views and ideas, surely this idea could become very damaging for staff morale?

There is also a very interesting interview with the head of Holland Moor Primary in Skelmersdale who have a very effective school council. Read it here.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Getting Things Done: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow

Chapter Two
Adapted from David Allen's Getting Things Done

No matter what the setting, there are five discrete stages that we go through as we deal with our work. We

  1. Collect things that command our attention;

  2. Process what they mean and what to do about them; and

  3. Organise the results, which we

  4. Review as options for what we choose to

  5. Do.


In order to manage the different tasks that we collect, we need to create 'containers' that hold items until you have a few moments to decide what they are and what, if anything, you're going to do about them. Then you must empty these containers regularly to ensure that they remain viable collection tools. What we're talking about here is making sure that everything you need is collected somewhere other than in your head.

There are several types of tools that can be used to collect your incomplete tasks:

  • Physical in-basket

  • Writing paper and pads

  • Computers, e.g.

  • Auditory capture, e.g. answering machine or dictaphone

  • Email

In order to make these in-baskets work:

  • Every open loop must be in your collection system and out of your head.

  • You must have as few collection buckets as you can get by with.

  • You must empty them regularly.

If you don't empty and process the stuff you've collected, your buckets aren't serving any function other than the storage of amorphous material. Emptying doesn't mean that you have to finish everything. It means that you have to take it out of the container, decide what it is and what should be done with it, and if it's still unfinished, organise it into your system.


This flow chart shows the basic structure for effective processing.


This stage refers to the categories in rings round the outside of the diagram, resulting from the processing of your stuff. Together they make up a total system for organising just about everything that's on your plate, or could be added to it, on a daily and weekly basis.

For nonactionable items, you need to trash, incubate and store for reference. If no action is needed, you throw it, to incubate you hold it to reassess later, or you could file it for reference at a later time. To manage actionable things you need a list of projects, storage or files for project plans and materials, a calendar, a list of reminders of next actions and a list of reminders of things you're waiting for.

Projects: A project is a desired result that requires more than one action step. If one step won't complete something, some kind of stake needs to be placed in the ground to remind you that there's something still left to do. You don't actually do a project, you can only do action steps related to it. When enough of the right action steps have been taken, some situation will have been created that matches your initial picture of the outcome closely enough that you can call it 'done'.

Support materials and reference files should be kept out of sight, but close at hand.

Calendars: Calendars should be used for next-actions. Three things go on your calendar: time-specific actions, day-specific actions and day-specific information.

  • Time-specific actions: This is a fancy name for appointments.
  • Day-specific actions: These are things that you need to do sometime on a certain day, but not necessarily at a specific time.
  • Day-specific information: Use your calendar to keep track of things you want to know about on specific days - not actions you'll have to take, but rather information that may be useful on a certain date.

Daily To Do Lists: These don't work, for two reasons:

  • New priorities reconfigure daily work so consistently that it's virtually impossible to nail down to do items ahead of time.
  • If there's something on the list that doesn't absolutely have to get done that day, it dilutes the emphasis on the things that truly do.

Next action lists: You action reminders go here. Any longer than two minute nondelagatable actions you have identified should be tracked here.

Incubation: This is where you store your ideas for projects that you might want to do someday, but not now. There are two types of systems:

  • Someday/ Maybe: It can be useful and inspiring to maintain an ongoing list of things you might want to do at some point but not now. This is the parking lot for projects that would be impossible to move on at present but that you don't want to forget about entirely. You'd like to be reminded of the possibility at regular intervals.
  • Tickler file: This is a system that allows you to almost literally mail something to yourself for receipt on some designated day in the future, e.g. your calendar.


  • The item you'll probably review most frequently is your calendar. It's a good habit, as soon as you conclude an action on your calendar to check and see what else needs to be done.
  • Then you'll check your Next Actions list.
  • Each week you need a weekly review.

Weekly Review: This is the time to:

  • Gather and process all your stuff
  • Review your system
  • Update your lists
  • Get clean, clear, current and complete.

What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip? You clean up, close up, clarify and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others. I suggest you do this weekly instead of yearly.


There will always be a large list of actions that you are not doing at any given moment. So how will you decide what to do and what not to do and feel good about both? The answer is, by trusting your intuition. Apply these four criteria to help you decide:

  • Context: A few actions can be done anywhere, but most require a specific location.
  • Time available: When do you have to do something else?
  • Energy available: How much energy do you have?
  • Priority: Given your context, time and energy available, what action will give you the highest payoff?

Sunday, 9 November 2008

What does your tie say about you?

Research has explained what your tie reveals about you.

MEN should take care when choosing which tie to wear, for it could reveal more about them than they realise.

A purple tie might look just the thing with a lilac shirt but, psychologists say, it gives the impression the wearer is envious, arrogant and vulgar.

Other colours to steer clear of include green – which suggests greed, jealousy, and bad luck.

Yellow, on the other hand, suggests individuality and reliability, while a red tie shouts passion, strength, energy and ambition.

Even worse are novelty ties which, researchers found, are worn by people trying to appear more significant, sexy or outgoing than they actually are.

Psychologist Dr Ludwig Lowenstein, who carried out the study, said: "When one considers the nature of the person wearing a particular colour of tie one must also take into consideration other aspects of the personality such as whether the person dresses to impress, wants to attract, control or look superior. Colours have been used throughout history to denote power, fear, anxiety and to have many other symbolic characteristics. Many people are impressed by colour and how and when it is worn. Be careful as you may be judged on what you wear rather than who you are."

Navy indicates calmness, coolness and confidence, while Dr Lowenstein, who runs Southern England Psychological Services, in Hampshire, suggested brown shows reliability. His research also shows that pink ties should be left in the cupboard as they suggest soppy romantics looking for sympathy.

But Kevin Stewart, fashion stylist at Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh, said that it was more important to be in season."Choosing a tie should be about what you, as an individual, like to wear. This can be quite tricky. "As men have become more fashion conscious they want to choose the colours and styles of the season. I would agree that novelty ties should really be banned, but I don't think it matters what colour of tie you wear as long as you like it, it enhances what you are wearing and you feel good wearing it."

David Walker, of tie makers Peckham Rye, which commissioned the study, said: "Skinny ties are understated and subtle without being too showy. A bit rock and roll, shows you're a bit savvy and edgy."

Other advice includes never wearing a spotted tie with a striped shirt, while a plain bow tie with a checked shirt says creative, eccentric and very swish.The scarf wearer is trendy and very with it, coming across as more intelligent with an air of elegance about them.

And while having an open-neck shirt can look cool if you are under the age of 45, for those over 45, researchers warn, it can look a bit "Sasha Distel", conjuring up images of a hairy chest and a suntan framed by a cheap belcher chain.

BROWN: Considered to be a solid reliable colour. Abundant in nature, earth and for genuine people.
NAVY: Symbolises unity, harmony and tranquillity. It indicates calm, cool and confident types.
RED: Suggests strength, passion, energy and ambition, as well as leadership power and anger.
YELLOW: Appears solid, earthy and reliable. For out of the ordinary people who are very much in control.
PINK: For someone who is a soppy romantic, perhaps looking for sympathy or craving admiration.
GREEN: Gives the impression of greedy, jealous individuals who are generally unlucky and gamblers.
PURPLE: Envious, arrogant and gaudy. Purple suggests superior vulgarity and should be avoided.
NOVELTY: For people who are trying to appear more significant, sexy or outgoing than they actually are.

I have worn every one of these colours at some point - I shudder to think of the messages I have inadvertently given out!!