Wednesday, 31 December 2008

My 2008

It's been a really busy year both in my personal life and in work.

My own personal highlights of 2008 are:

  • Celebrating our engagement and making arrangements for our wedding in April 2009.
  • The birth of our beautiful niece, Emily.
  • The birth of my beautiful goddaughter, Florence.
  • Being asked to be Florence's godfather.
  • Being Best Man for my best friend's wedding in June.
  • Being Groomsman for my brother at his wedding in August.
  • Attending two stag dos, one at Stockholm and one in Prague.
  • Surviving a really busy year in school. The summer and autumn terms were particularly stressful - but I've done it!
  • Arranging the helicopter visit to school.
  • Surviving the credit crunch (so far!) It's not been an easy year financially as Lisa was not working for six months and we have a wedding to save for!
  • Discovering Twitter, Toodledo, Delicious and Zamzar - brilliant tools that I don't know how I survived without!

This blog has been viewed over 16,000 times in 2008 (according to Bravenet) and Monday is the busiest day for hits.

The best tunes of the year are:

  1. The Killers - Humann
  2. Estelle & Kanye West - American Boy
  3. Duffy - Mercy
  4. Kid Rock - All Summer Long
  5. The Outsiderz & Amanda Wilson - Keep This Fire Burning
  6. Taio Cruz - I Can Be
  7. Katy Perry - I Kissed A Girl
  8. The Ting Tings - Shut Up And Let Me Go
  9. Nickelback - Rockstar
  10. Calvin Harris, Dizzee Rascal & Chrome - Dance Wiv Me
  11. Alphabeat - Fascination
  12. Gabriella Cilmi - Sweet About Me
  13. The Script - The Man Who Can't Be Moved
  14. The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name
  15. Madcon - Beggin'
  16. Keane - Spiralling
  17. The Potbelleez - Don't Hold Back
  18. Razorlight - Wire To Wire
  19. Coldplay - Viva La Vida
  20. Kings Of Leon - Sex On Fire

Top Films of the Year:

  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  • The Dark Knight
  • Quantum Of Solace

Top TV Programmes of the Year:

  • Gavin & Stacey
  • Summer Heights High
  • Lost

Plans for 2009:

  • Have a wedding that Lisa, myself and everyone enjoys
  • Get fit
  • Get a more powerful computer
  • Get a better work-life balance
  • End 2009 in a better financial position than it begins.

I hope you have had a successful 2008 and I wish you a wonderful 2009. May the best of 2008 be the worst of 2009!

Getting Things Done by David Allen - a review

I have enjoyed reading Getting Things Done by David Allen. It is full of really practical advice for getting things done at work and at home.Its subtitle, 'How to achieve stress-free productivity' suggests the book will tell you how to get things done without worrying and getting stressed, and I really think if I followed the advice right down to the last letter I would achieve the goal of stress-free productivity. However, I get the feeling that the book is not really aimed at teachers. As a result, it doesn't really explain how to get things done in a stress-free way in between teaching a class.

I'd love to see a version of this book, or similar, aimed directly at teachers.

I have learned a lot, however. I need to plan my projects more carefully and make my to do list more effective by using subtasks (time needed to play with Toodledo here). I regularly go to bed thinking about things that need to be done, so I need to create better collection methods to store all of my ideas and tasks so that they don't buzz around in my head. I also need to realise that not everything needs to be done right now.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

15000 teachers call in sick each day

The Daily Mail reports that teachers are calling in sick at the rate of 15,000 a day. Almost three million working days were lost last year, up from 2.5million in 1999. Some 311,000 teachers took at least one day off.

Tories called the official figures 'very worrying', linking them with mounting bureaucracy and disruptive classroom behaviour.

The Government's school workforce statistics, which cover full and part-time teachers and classroom assistants, show the average number of sick days has risen from 5.1 a head in 1999 to 5.4 in 2007. The overall number of days lost was 2.9million. This equates to almost 15,000 teachers off sick on each school day. The total of 311,770 who took sickness absence is well over half the number working in English schools.

The rising levels of sick leave mean more pupils have to be taught by unfamiliar supply teachers who may not be specialists in the subjects they are teaching.

NUT acting general secretary Christine Blower said: 'Given the enormous pressures teachers are under, it is remarkable they have so little sick leave. The vast majority of teachers, sometimes unwisely, go into school, even though they may be ill, because of their commitment to the children. Unfortunately, too much stress is endemic to the job and it is the responsibility of not only the Government but the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats to explore ways of reducing the excessive numbers of initiatives faced weekly by schools.'

Despite record education spending under Labour, teaching vacancies have risen by a quarter in the past year - with four in ten new teachers quitting within a year.

Critics say they are weighed down with too many initiatives, too much form-filling and too much bad behaviour.

Mr Gove said: 'It's very worrying that the number of sick days has risen so dramatically.
'The Government needs to investigate the reasons so we can make sure there is as much stability as possible in every child's education.'

Whilst these figures are worrying, I wonder how comparable they would be to the private sector.

Getting Things Done: Advice

Other advice in the book:

There are seven primary types of things that you'll want to keep track of and manage from an organisational perspective:

  1. A projects list
  2. Project support material
  3. Calendared actions and information
  4. Next actions lists
  5. A waiting for list
  6. Reference material
  7. A someday/maybe list

Most common categories of action reminders:

  • Calls
  • At computer
  • Errands
  • Office actions
  • At home
  • Agendas
  • Read/ Review

Getting Things Done: The Five Phases of Project Planning

The process of project planning involves a series of steps that has to occur before your brain can make anything happen physically:

  1. Defining purpose and principles
  2. Outcome visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organising
  5. Identifying next actions

The Reactive Planning Model:

The unnatural planning model is what most people consciously think of as 'planning', and because it's so often artificial and irrelevant to real work, people just don't plan. But what happens if you don't plan ahead of time? In many cases, crisis! What's the first level of focus when the stuff hits the fan? Action - work harder, get busier! Finally, when having a lot of busy people banging into each other doesn't resolve the situation, someone gets more sophisticated and says, "We need to get organised." Someone then sits down and tries to organise the problem into 'boxes' before realising that this doesn't solve the problem. More creativity is needed and so brainstorming occurs. Eventually, the question needs to be asked: "So what are you really trying to do here, anyway." This is when the vision and purpose is agreed. The reactive style is the reverse of the natural model.

The Five Phases of Natural Planning:

Thinking in more effective ways about projects and situations can make things happen sooner, better and more successfully. These five phases must be completed:


It never hurts to ask the question, 'why'? Realising the purpose for the project gives many benefits:

  • It defines success
  • It creates decision-making criteria
  • It aligns resources
  • It motivates
  • It clarifies focus
  • It explands options.


In order most productively to access the conscious and unconscious resources available to you, you must have a clear picture in your mind of what success must look, sound and feel like. Purpose and principles furnish the impetus and the monitoring, but vision provides the actual blueprint of the final result. This is the 'what?' instead of the 'why?' What will this project or situation really be like when it successfully appears in the world?


Once you know what you want to have happen, and why, the 'how' mechanism is brought into play.


What are the things that must occur to create the final result? In what order must they occur? What is the most important element to ensure the success of the project?

The basic steps of organising are:

  • Identify the significant pieces
  • Sort by (one or more) components, sequences and priorities
  • Detail to the required degree

Next actions

The question to ask is 'what's the next action?' Decide on next actions for each of the current moving parts of the project.

Friday, 26 December 2008

What is black and white and RED all over... Children's work!

The Daily Mail reports that schools have barred teachers from marking in red in case it upsets the children. They are scrapping the traditional method of correcting work because they consider it ‘confrontational’ and ‘threatening’.

Pupils increasingly find that the ticks and crosses on their homework are in more soothing shades like green, blue, pink and yellow, or even in pencil.

Traditionalists have branded the ban ‘barmy’, saying that red ink makes it easier for children to spot errors and improve. There are no set government guidelines on marking and schools are free to formulate their own individual policies.

Crofton Junior School, in Orpington, Kent, whose pupils range from seven to 11, is among those to have banned red ink. Its Marking Code of Practice states: ‘Work isgenerally marked in pen – not red – but on occasion it may be appropriate to indicate errors in pencil so that they may be corrected.’
Headmaster Richard Sammonds said: ‘Red pen can be quite demotivating for children. It has negative, old-school connotations of “See me” and “Not good enough”. We are no longer producing clerks and bookkeepers. We are trying to provide an education for children coming into the workforce in the 21st century. The idea is to raise standards by taking a positive approach. We highlight bits that are really good in one colour and use a different colour to mark areas that could be improved.’

At Hutton Cranswick Community Primary School in Driffield, East Yorkshire, the Marking and Feedback Policy reads: ‘Marking should be in a different colour or medium from the pupil’s writing but should not dominate. For this reason, red ink is inappropriate.’

Shirley Clarke, an associate of the Institute of Education, said: ‘Banning red ink is a reaction to years of children having nothing but red over their work and feeling demoralised. When children, especially young children, see every single spelling mistake covered in red, they can feel useless and give up.’

But Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘Banning red ink is absolutely barmy. Common sense suggests that children learn by their mistakes and occasionally they need upsetting to teach them to pull their socks up. Self-esteem has to be built on genuine achievement, not mollycoddling, which only harms children in the long-run.

‘Red ink is the quickest way for pupils to see where they are going wrong and raise standards. I give teachers who have ditched their red pens nought out of ten. They’ve failed.’

A lovely cliche there, Nick. Is this really such a newsworthy issue? I remember being advised during my training at university (advised, not instructed) to use green pen rather than red as green is less agressive. I'm sure that psychologists have researched the impact of different colours. Therefore, avoiding using red pen is probably good advice. But as far as barring the use of red pen in a marking policy - surely that is up to the school itself.

Although recently I have used a few different colours for marking after being given a pack of different coloured pens, I usually mark in green. In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find green ink pens in the shops. Maybe there are quite a few teachers who are avoiding marking in red...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Are SATs in doubt?

The future of SATs was thrown into doubt yesterday as a damning report blamed a culture of complacency among testing officials for this year's marking fiasco. Two exam chiefs were suspended and a testing quango was scrapped as an inquiry into the late and chaotic delivery of results to 1.2million children revealed that the system runs on the mantra 'it'll be all right on the night'.

The peer appointed to investigate the marking shambles warned that tests for 11-year-olds next year would be 'difficult' to administer efficiently and welcomed a Government review of the testing system. Ministers scrapped SATs for 14-year-olds in the aftermath of the marking fiasco and have indicated that the current arrangements for 11-year-olds are not 'set in stone'.

The inquiry into the problems, led by Lord Sutherland, uncovered a catalogue of 'massive' failings by the Government's testing agency and the U.S. outfit it hired on a £156million five-year contract to organise marking and the delivery of results. But it also prompted calls for Children's Secretary Ed Balls to apologise and accept some responsibility for the fiasco after he repeatedly claimed it was at 'arm's length' to ministers.

Suspended exam chief Dr Ken Boston told the inquiry that Mr Balls' department was 'in no way' kept at a distance and was in fact intimately involved at all stages, from the granting of the contract to the setting of the tests.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Primary pupils lead the western world in Maths

The Daily Mail writes that primary school pupils lead the western world in maths skills, according to a new survey. Our ten-year-olds have outstripped their peers in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand as well as the rest of Europe, including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden.

But the news from the international comparison of 425,000 youngsters was not all good. English children have been passed in their turn by youngsters from Kazakhstan, the former Soviet Republic portrayed as a nation of barely-civilised simpletons by Sacha Baron Cohen's comic creation Borat. Experts said a traditional curriculum and a belief in the importance of maths and science were behind Kazakhstan's success. Though poverty is widespread in the oil-producing country, it has an emerging middle class keen on rigorous academic education.

The improvement among English children follows the introduction of a daily numeracy lesson in primary schools, which put renewed emphasis on times tables and arithmetic.

The survey, known as Timms (Trends in International Maths and Science Study), is held every four years. Our ten-year-olds were 17th of 26 countries in 1995 but seventh of 36 last year, while 14-year-olds were seventh of 49 - up from 25th of 41 in 1995. Among ten-year-olds England was decisively outperformed only by countries on the Pacific Rim, including Japan and South Korea.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Primary curriculum overhaul

The Daily Mail reports that the blueprint was drawn up by former Ofsted chief Sir Jim Rose following a request from Children's Secretary Ed Balls. It amounts to the biggest shake-up of primary schooling since the Tories introduced a national curriculum in 1988. The national curriculum was organised around 11 subjects - an arrangement that has broadly continued to this day.

The Conservatives last night warned the plans, likely to come into force in 2011, would lead to a 'further erosion of standards'. They pointed to similar 'child-centric' reforms of the Sixties and Seventies which experts say led to a collapse in literacy and numeracy. Tory education spokesman Michael Gove said: 'In adopting this throwback to the 1960s, the Government is denying the highest quality of education to children in the state sector. The experiment with this kind of ideology - moving away from facts, knowledge and rigour - failed 40 years ago and will fail again.'

Under the plan, history, geography and religious education will be merged into 'human, social and environmental' studies. Other areas cover communication (English and modern languages), science and technology, maths, physical health and wellbeing, and the arts.

The aim of scrapping distinct subjects is to allow teachers to introduce them in other parts of the curriculum, for example teaching literacy or history through design and technology.

However, 69-year-old Sir Jim, the Government's key adviser on primary schools, insisted that some subject- specific teaching would remain, saying: 'High-quality subject teaching must not disappear from primary schools.' He added that he was not advocating a return to the 'vagaries of old-style topic and project work'.

Computer skills should be given more importance

A report at Becta says that today's increasingly computer-literate youngsters are improving their ICT skills so fast there is a strong argument they should be taught secondary school knowledge earlier at primary school.

This insight into the fast-developing skills of England's techno-savvy minors by education expert Sir Jim Rose is one of the key findings of the interim report of his independent primary curriculum review published on Monday, 8 December 2008.

He says in his report that primary and secondary ICT needs to be reviewed "to provide a better fit with children's developing abilities" so that English education does not get left behind by the technology revolution. He wants ICT to be given as much priority in the primary school curriculum as literacy and numeracy.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls, responding to the interim report, said 21st century schools needed to adapt to the times and make the most of technology to improve our children's learning.

Examples of the kind of things our hi-tech high-flyers might do at primary rather than wait for secondary:

  • Using podcasts in their studies or making their own radio programmes
  • Using ICT to produce well-presented essays and presentations on screen that they can share with the class or whole school
  • Uploading their artwork on computers
  • Testing rules and values by using formulas and spreadsheets for science and maths
  • Discussing the use and impact of technology on society
  • Analysing different sources online, e.g. for history subjects
  • Helping their research skills for different topics, eg world geography, maps and weather forecasts
  • Using the internet to share projects with other schools.

Sir Jim Rose said:
"Good primary teaching deepens children's understanding by firing their imagination and interest in learning. One highly promising route to meeting the demand for in-depth teaching and learning is undoubtedly emerging through ICT. The primary curriculum needs to be forward-looking. Advances in technology and the internet revolution are driving a pace of change which we could not have imagined when the National Curriculum was introduced twenty years ago."

Ed Balls said:
"We can sometimes under-estimate children's knowledge of ICT and that can be a missed opportunity to raise standards at primary schools. As Sir Jim's interim report points out, by age 11 children could already be using their computer skills to boost their studies across the curriculum. In maths, primary children are advanced enough to use technology to improve their learning rather than just play computer games, for example. Parents of our generation probably don't realise how fast children are picking up computer skills today. In our day computers were probably a novelty for older children in secondary school children whereas today they're commonplace. Teaching and the curriculum need to move with the times. We need 21st century schools which make the most of the opportunities technology offers to improve our children's learning."

Stephen Crowne, Chief Executive of Becta, said:
"There’s no question that technology plays an increasing part of our everyday life at home and school. Clear evidence shows effective use of technology really does boost a child's achievement."

Sir Jim Rose says in his report that ICT has the unique capacity to develop and enliven learning and in some schools ICT is not "working hard enough" to support learning and provide value for money. He believes that much of the ICT currently taught at Key Stage 3 in secondary school should be taught in primary school instead because it is "well within the capabilities" of primary children. Instead, by the time children reach Key Stage 3 they should not only be able to show ICT skills but also be already able to apply these skills across the curriculum to advance their learning.

The interim review report also says that ICT should be used more by primary teachers to give the required "depth" to lessons, so teachers can meet the pace and appetite for learning of the most able children and they are not held back.

Jim Rose makes a lot of sense here and it's about time someone said it. The ICT curriculum urgently needs updating and I hope it happens soon. Computer skills are essential in today's world.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Attitudes to maths fixed by age of 9

Children decide by the age of nine whether or not they like maths, and teachers will find it difficult to persuade them to change their minds after this age. This is why large numbers of pupils leave primary school unable to complete simple maths problems, according to research for maths tutoring website

The site revealed that more than 90 per cent of children between the ages of six and eight said they liked or loved maths. But this did not last: between the ages of nine and 12, fewer than 70 per cent liked or loved maths. And almost 15 per cent disliked it.

These attitudes were accompanied by a general indifference to their achievements in the subject. More than one in 10 pupils believed it did not matter whether or not they were any good at maths.

A spokeswoman for said: “The older the child, the less their feelings towards maths, and towards their own ability, are prone to change.”

Richard Marett, chief executive of, said: “Being poor at maths is seen as okay in the UK, among both kids and adults. It’s much cooler to excel in arts subjects than it is in maths. This attitude does nothing to raise attainment.”


Friday, 5 December 2008

SATs revision already?

A survey carried out by Manchester University suggests that more than 350,000 Year 6 pupils have already begun revising for next summer’s SATs. A survey of 465 teachers and headteachers found that 60 per cent of schools now begin test preparation in the second half of the autumn term.

Professor Bill Boyle, of the Centre for Formative Assessment Studies, found that 38 per cent of schools were already spending up to an hour a week on practice papers or revision lessons by the second half of the autumn term. A further 14 per cent spent two hours a week on test preparation, and 9 per cent spent three hours or more.

By the second half of the spring term, two-thirds of primaries spent three or more hours a week drilling pupils for the English, maths and science tests.

Professor Boyle said: “Why are we still doing this? Why do we have this obsession with tests? These figures are far too high. But teachers will keep on while the system remains in place.”

The survey was carried out in the 2006-07 school year. Three quarters of schools said that the time they devoted to test preparation had increased over the past 10 years.

A study by The TES in 2002 found that only one in seven schools started test preparation in the autumn term.

Professor Boyle’s survey also found that time spent on homework had increased. The proportion of schools asking pupils to spend two or more hours a week revising for tests at home rose from 9 per cent at the beginning of the school year to 30 per cent by the Easter holidays.

Almost nine out of 10 teachers said the curriculum had been narrowed by the focus on tests, 69 per cent thought moderated teacher assessment would be a reliable alternative, and 32 per cent would like to see the key stage 1 model of teacher assessment informed by KS2 test results.
David Tuck, head of Dallow Primary in Luton and past president of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “As far as we’re concerned, we start booster classes after Christmas. We have children coming in sometimes on Saturday morning or lunchtimes. The focus on tests does create a very narrow curriculum and we have to ask if this is the best thing for children.

“One researcher was asking children about their levels and a boy said to him, ‘You don’t want to know my level, I’m a nothing.’ What have we done to children? Where are we going? We need to instil confidence.”

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Gaining authority and respect

I enjoyed reading this article in the TES about becoming a line manager in school. Here is some good advice from that article:

Listen to others
People value the opportunity to have their say. You’re also more likely to make a better decision if you’ve canvassed the opinions of your team.

Delegate responsibility
People remember the leaders that let them take on extra responsibility, as it prepared them for being leaders themselves. It’ll also lighten your workload.

Be clear and fair
Relationships are transactional in nature: make it clear what you expect of your team and what you’ll provide in return. Never expect somebody to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.

Accept it when you’ve made a bad decision
People respect honesty - even if you’re telling them that you made a mistake. They’re also more likely to support you next time if they know that you’re prepared to admit when you’re wrong.

Don’t forget the small things
Praising and thanking your team for anything they do right, rather than focusing on what they do wrong, will encourage them to do more of what they’re doing right and engender respect along the way.