What NPQH doesn’t teach you

school-network-4The role of a Head Teacher is rich and varied. I would say that it is the best job in the world but you have to be prepared for a role that is complex, eventful, uncertain and memorable. My last week was one such week:

Sunday night (5.00-8.00pm)

Three hours of Twitter to support the Association of School & College Leaders (ASCL) campaign to highlight concerns about education funding. Search #WhatWouldYouCut for details.

I usually aim to get in to school each day before 7.30am to do some work before everyone else arrives; this sets me up for the day. As usual, my plans are waylaid as three different members of staff, who also arrive early, catch me ‘for only 2 mins’. I enjoy the fact that people will drop in and talk about things that are on their mind.

I start the weekly Staff Briefing where I get the chance to thank people for key aspects from the previous week and go through the week ahead. It is also a great way to provide a timely reminder of key practices.

The briefing always finishes with birthday cards for those staff with a birthday that particular week and a bottle of wine for the staff Star of the Week, nominated anonymously for a random act of kindness. The recipient was a Business Studies teacher who came into school on her day off to support her colleagues as we had an exam board moderator in school. This is a great way to share small stories that influence the culture of the school.

Meet Tyne Tees reporter/cameraman to do a piece on concerns about the National Funding Formula (NFF).

Teach a lesson with one of my Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) groups – it’s always great to spend time in class with the students. Best part of the week!

I always do the dinner queue as this enables me to memorise as many names as possible … but also causes delays in letting students through. I need to do better. New best part of the week!

After school
I accompany two girls’ football teams to another school for a tournament – this takes me back to my days as a PE teacher. This is now the best part of the week!

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How do we equip youngsters today to cope with the often quite pernicious effect of “fake news”?

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Kieran McLaughlin, Headmaster at Durham School

FACT! LIE! Sad! We can barely open our internet browsers these days without being swamped by rival factions claiming territory over the truth in the news. Diametrically opposed viewpoints argue their case with vociferous energy, castigate their enemies and fight for airtime on conventional news websites or the pages of social media outlets. We seem to be living in a world of confusion and combativeness, and it isn’t likely to change soon.


How do we equip youngsters today to cope with the often quite pernicious effect of “fake news”? Up to now, when we were faced with rumours or scare stories, it was relatively easy to combat them. Newspapers were the august records of the day; anything reported in The Times could be said to be authoritative and, whilst the relationship between the tabloid press and the truth could be a little more tangential, there was a journalistic pride felt in writing the history of the future. Television too would be studiously impartial, balancing both sides of an argument to an almost paranoid degree.

Today’s landscape is much more complex. Perhaps the effect has been heightened through recent political events, but the partisan nature of much news reporting is too readily apparent. More worrying is the role of social media in the relaying of news events. On the positive side, outlets such as Twitter provide a literally up-to-the-minute guide to events taking place. However, no rules of journalistic balance or, in some cases, integrity apply and there is often no corroboration of the “news” event being claimed. This was seen most powerfully in the American presidential election, where the effect of sharing of bogus news stories, manipulation of statistics and the telling of downright lies is only just becoming apparent.

Continue reading “How do we equip youngsters today to cope with the often quite pernicious effect of “fake news”?”

Let’s get Hygge with it

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Hilary French, Headmistress at Newcastle High School for Girls

The latest Viking invasion is the antithesis of the marauding pirates of yesteryear; the modern incursion into the UK comes in true peace, in the shape of the Danish lifestyle trend, Hygge.  It is so much easier to write than to say – Hygge –pronounced Hoo ga – isn’t actually meant to be translated; instead you’re meant to ‘feel’ it.

When struggling to find an English definition, Danish people say that the English word ‘cosiness’ is closest to Hygge but this is still not enough to convey its true and fullest meaning.  Hygge is cosiness, warmth, tenderness all wrapped up with wellbeing, family and friends – all rolled into one.

Hygge is the latest buzzword to hit these shores – it was runner up in the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year for 2016 and it has inspired thousands of lifestyle and home interior trends and even more Instagram hashtags and photos.

Unlike other interior and lifestyle movements, like Feng Shui or Shaker, Hygge is a trend that I am hoping to embrace wholeheartedly – I really am struck on Hygge and how it can help us all in today’s frenetic, modern world.  It is not all about the decorative art of beautifying your home with rugs, plump cushions and candle light – it is more about searching for a feeling, reclaiming time and striving and working at happiness, improving well being and switching off.

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Helping our students be READY

Lee Elliott, Head Teacher at Wolsingham School

The beginning of the Autumn term at Wolsingham School was no different to previous years. We, like many schools, had scheduled two days of staff training prior to the arrival of our students. However, this year staff, parents and governors started the new academic year considering one straightforward question, ‘what is the purpose of education at Wolsingham School?’ This marked the start of a new journey for staff and students at Wolsingham School, it was the first step in developing our ‘Ready’ curriculum.

The ‘Ready’ curriculum remained dormant in my mind during my time as a Deputy Headteacher and it was only when I was appointed Headteacher in 2016 that I brought the idea to life. As a parent, I appreciate the importance of academic excellence but also the development of the skills, values and character which enable children to be happy and successful.

The simple question ‘what is the purpose of education?’ threw up a remarkable number of answers and some heated debates. Answers included:

‘To ensure students are the best they can be. Providing opportunities and chances for them to face life’s next challenge’

‘To equip each individual with the transferable skills – academically, socially and holistically – for his/her future’

‘To recognise and maximise individual potential in all areas ready for life!’

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The secret art of staying in love with teaching

Kate Chisholm, Head Teacher at Skerne Park Academy

About 6 months ago I was sat in a conference for Head Teachers about the wonderful world of Ofsted. Now anyone who knows me knows that I am mischievous with language patterns and really enjoy noticing people though their choice of language and metaphor. I was fascinated whilst walking into the venue the impact 6 little letters (Ofsted) could have on a room of highly educated, resilient and passionate people. I hung back in the entrance and watched people walk in. The closer they got to their seat, the lower their heads became, the more rounded their shoulders and, as they sat down and glanced over the literature, certain key words became word popcorn throughout the arena. “Nightmare… awful… battle… up against it… unfair… enemy…stress… murder… deceives…”. I was fascinated, especially when the key note speaker, who was an additional inspector, started their spiel with ‘what an awful time to be a Head Teacher’. I was saddened by the room’s collective acceptance that they were going to allow Ofsted and the current climate to overwhelm their emotional state and in essence spoil their whole day. What a way to live.

I then started thinking about my own school. How do we stay so positive? Because my staff are the most positive bunch of people you will ever meet. Well, it’s not by accident I must admit. I became Head at a time when the school had been through quite a bumpy journey and for the last 5 years we have layered a programme of Emotional Intelligence. I remember one of the first sessions we had – we looked at the brilliance of Ofsted. Granted initially when I started saying how excited I was by the thought of Ofsted and how I was looking forward to enabling the staff to shine, my staff really did look at me with a bemused expression.  We wrote down all of the negative assumptions associated with Ofsted and all of the positive things which could come out of the Ofsted framework. Then we went into the playground (after school) and actually burned all of the negative mind maps and collectively agreed that the only language patterns that we would associate with Ofsted were positive ones. We stuck all of our positive mind maps on the staff room wall and practised visualising how we would be when Ofsted arrived. When the did come, it was commented on by the lead inspector what lovely, happy feeling the school had and how proactive the staff were in discussions with the team. We had no panics, no tears and everyone came out of the experience feeling good about the process of the day, rigorous as it was.

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New school term, new calendar year: what will it bring?

Bernard Trafford, Headmaster, RGS Newcastle

We already know what is on the agenda. There’s the whole of the Green Paper, Schools that work for everyone: and there’s a new boss at OFSTED, pledged to working with us to improve schools (well, that’s what she said!). We’re still phasing in new exams at GCSE and A level, and it’s anyone’s guess how much or little chaos will ensue in that quarter. And all of this is set against a backdrop of funding cuts in state schools.

There is, of course, the promise of a national (fair) funding formula: but, even if areas like the North East get a better deal, there still won’t be enough money to go round. Government cuts are biting deep, schools are hurting and it’s children who get the raw deal. Not only children, though: it’s a rough time for those who give their lives and careers to education and receive a lousy deal from government in return.

Our spirits might have lifted a little when we heard that Theresa May announced a new focus on mental health. She promised that, in 2017, teachers in a third of secondary schools will receive Mental Health First Aid Training. Something’s better than nothing, of course: but there’s nothing specific on the money for that training, nor any idea of how many members of staff in each school will be trained. Then there’s the bizarre idea that the need is only in secondary schools: primary colleagues across the North-East know the issues are almost as numerous and certainly as pressing in younger children as in adolescents.

So there are plenty of issues on which we might wish to do battle with government. Given that even the mental health initiative seems to be a lightweight solution to a very heavyweight problem, we can be pleased that our own SCHOOLS NorthEast Mental Health Commission is getting down to work this month: perhaps some of our findings will render government better informed about the scale of the issues and difficulties to be faced, and the size of the response that is required.

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Ensuring a broad and balanced curriculum for all

Suzanne Howell, Deputy Head Teacher at Sacred Heart Catholic High School for Girls

We are very proud to be the first North East secondary school to achieve the prestigious Platinum Artsmark Award, and what is most pleasing, is that Sacred Heart Catholic High School has been recognised as a regional leading light for our work in the arts.


So what is Artsmark and what does it entail?

It is the Arts Council England’s flagship programme; a tool that enables schools and organisations to evaluate, strengthen and celebrate their arts and cultural provision. Artsmark is endorsed by Ofsted, the Department for Education and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It involves auditing provision, developing a whole school agenda and sustaining long term purposeful partnerships, as well as completing a statement of commitment and a case study. Like everything worthwhile in this life…you have to work for it!

Our Artsmark journey began at the Forge in County Durham, an arts education organisation, contracted by Culture Bridge North East, to deliver the Artsmark award across the region. The Forge, Culture Bridge North East and Arts Council England all firmly believe that ‘great art and culture is for everyone’. As a school looking to maintain its already wide ranging curriculum offer, securing the highest award seemed to dovetail into our whole school plan. And, achieving it has opened up an even wider array of opportunities, which now afford us the privilege of choice for our students.

Professional partnerships

We have continued to develop our already strong relationships with a range of companies like Northern Stage, Theatre Royal Newcastle and the Royal Shakespeare Company. We are proud of our association with these professionals and hope that our new platinum status will further strengthen our links with the best in the business, and allow us to continue to share our practice with partner schools and beyond.

Platinum status is testament to our amazing students and staff who go above and beyond in so many areas of our school; our students, who have the passion, drive and desire to allow their teachers to unlock their potential, and our staff, who work tirelessly to develop students’ character and talent, ensuring all benefit from our high quality arts provision. Platinum status rewards the fact that we constantly deliver excellence and plan new and exciting ways to increase our arts offer, in a current climate where some arts subjects are being squeezed out of the curriculum in other schools.

Current pressures

In some schools, this does seem to be the case, where the pressure is on to align that curriculum, fill that EBACC bucket and increase that overall P8 score, and in some cases, certain subjects are falling by the wayside. We must ensure that our students are able to access all areas of the curriculum. Our girls excel in Physics, Chemistry and Biology, we have record numbers of students wishing to study Medicine who go on to secure that vital Russell Group university place. Equally, they take up prestigious places, most recently with the Brit School, Ballet Rambert and LAMDA. We feel it is our duty to make sure that the very best opportunities are offered to the students of Sacred Heart and our Artsmark Platinum status is already allowing us to honour this promise to our girls.

Suzanne Howell

Deputy Headteacher

Sacred Heart Catholic High School for Girls

Find out more about Artsmark visit: www.artsmark.org.uk or www.culturebridgenortheast.org.uk

Recharging the Batteries

Jon Tait, Deputy Head Acklam Grange School

You’d be forgiven for thinking an article titled like this at this time of year was related to needing a constant supply of AA batteries to meet the power demands of the children’s new toys that Santa brought. However, it’s the physical batteries of our most precious commodities that require recharging the most.

I hope that like me, you have refrained from school work for the majority of your time over Christmas and have enjoyed a well-earned break with your family and loved ones. But with the rapid development of modern technology it can become too easy and tempting to check your email, reply to the odd message on your phone and even be tempted into remoting in to your desktop from the comfort of your own home to complete those tasks that simply can’t wait until you’re back at your desk!

The irresistible need to be ‘always on’ has been fuelled in recent years by advances in modern technology, enabling communication to be so much more accessible and instantaneous. In many ways this has been a significant shift in how we communicate and has increased our productivity as teams in schools and organisations monumentally. Our communication is now unrecognisable from what it was when I entered the profession only 15 years ago….but so, unfortunately, are the demands on us during our ‘out of hours time’.

Evenings and weekends are now regularly punctuated by the sound of an incoming email from school that you feel you must reply to immediately. The knowledge that everyone knows you get your emails on your phone can make you feel powerless to not reply during your special day out with your husband, wife, or children for the fear that you may be seen as not as committed to the cause as everyone else. Even when you make the stance to not reply straight away and leave it in your inbox, you sometimes get that text message saying ‘Did you not get my message’? And for some couples, what was historically marked on the weekly calendar as ‘Date Night’ has now turned into ‘Data Night’, pouring over an Excel spreadsheet rather than a movie.

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Lumley pupils take on FA

We have been totally overwhelmed by the response to our pupils’ letters to the FA. The whole thing came about as part of our enrichment writing week held 21-25th November. Each year we choose a topic to inspire our pupils to write for a purpose and this year’s theme was ‘Football and Gender Equality,’ an idea designed to introduce our pupils to work on becoming an ‘Educate and Celebrate’ best practice school. We regularly refer to equality in school and knew pupils would immediately recognise gender as one of the protected characteristics of the Equality Act.

We like to start our writing week with a shocking event and this year was no exception. Monday morning’s assembly was interrupted by our Business Manager handing me a letter in front of the children and making a big fuss over the contents. The letter had been totally fabricated by me, indicating that girls were no longer permitted to play football on County Council property.

To begin with, children were naturally suspicious, especially when they realised it was writing week, but we managed to persuade them that we had actually planned a week based on animal captivity in zoos. They actually asked us if they could write to the Council and produced some very effective persuasive writing. The activity worked well for our work on Rights Respecting Schools as the children immediately realised some of their rights were being withheld, and included this in their letters.

At the end of the day, we told the children that the letter was a mock-up, designed to inspire them to write. This was why when we produced the FA recommendations, the children immediately assumed this, too was a fake.

During my research for materials to use during writing week, I googled ‘girls and football’ and came across the document ‘Considerations for increasing participation in women and girls’ football (12+).’ It is a national FA document which comes up as a PDF to download. As soon as I read it I knew it would be perfect for our work on gender equality, as many of the suggestions included stereotypical assumptions that all girls like pink, gossiping and don’t really enjoy sport.

Although aimed at girls and women slightly older than our pupils, we considered it appropriate to use with the Year 5 and Year 6 pupils. It provided a great opportunity for comprehension work, where pupils were able to use their inference and deduction skills. For example, when they read, “Most of the time, girls only want to play with other girls. Players with more ability may be willing to play mixed football,” children quickly understood this to say boys are better than girls at football! Pupils responded to the FA document in a variety of ways of their own choosing. Many wrote letters to the FA, with some being formal letters of complaint but others making suggestions as to how to make the document more gender neutral and offering ideas about how to encourage more girls and boys into football. Because this writing had a real purpose, I told pupils I would send some of the letters to the FA. Pupils were disappointed that I did not send all the letters, but I felt a package of 80+ scripts would be a little over facing and may end up straight in the bin! So I chose three well written letters, included a covering letter from myself and posted them to the CEO of the FA, Mr Martin Glenn.

The news coverage came about because we had invited a local BBC journalist, Philippa Goymer, to talk to the children about journalistic writing. At the end of the week we held mixed gender football matches and the children were going to write reports about the games. During her visit, some of the pupils talked to Philippa about the FA document because they were so outraged by it. Last week, Philippa contacted us to ask if she could interview some of the pupils and myself about our reactions to the document for a Radio Newcastle broadcast. This was recorded on Friday and went out on Monday morning at 7am.

Incredibly, by 8am we already had voice mails left on the school phone from journalists wanting to come to school for a report. By 9am Tyne Tees television had contacted us, and for the rest of the day the phone never stopped. The pupils were eager to share their views and loved being recorded for the different shows which all were on TV on Monday night. Despite already having permission from parents for media photographs etc, we contacted every family whose child was to be on television for additional consent before the children were filmed.

Naively, I thought the visits would be quick and fairly unobtrusive. However, there was a major impact on the day including me being out of class for most of the day and children being moved out of their classrooms to free up areas to film. Some TV channels (I won’t say which ones!) were in school for nearly two hours. We had journalists queuing up to interview the children. Happily, they took everything in their stride and enjoyed all the attention.

Throughout the afternoon, new reports would appear online and by the end of the school day, pupils had seen their story online in every major newspaper. This created a fantastic buzz in school and we had the opportunity to discuss how the media had selected just the quotes they wanted to create a sensational story. Much of what I said in interview was disregarded and I was particularly disappointed that our male pupils had been left out of the reports – they had had just as much to say about the FA document as the girls.

The story spread incredibly quickly – by the afternoon we had reports from a relative in America that the story was on the international BBC news for example – and snowballed into a huge wash of reports. I counted at least 100 different websites/newspaper where the story had been published including the Nigeria Daily news and, incredibly, Wales Farming! The media storm continued into the evening when we received requests to appear on live breakfast TV. After consultation with the head teacher, we both agreed that we would prefer not to take on any more interviews and that we would decline any further opportunities to be interviewed about the letters (of which there were many!)

The only exception to this was when CBBC Newsround contacted us on Tuesday. We felt it was a great opportunity for the pupils to be on a news program specifically for children, and were able to set up a FaceTime interview which was recorded for that evening’s show.

On Tuesday afternoon I was contacted by Sue Campbell, Head of Women’s FA. Martin Glenn, the CEO of the FA, had asked her to respond to our pupils’ letters. I was able to pass on the good news that the FA have decided to review the document.

All in all, writing week had an amazing impact on our pupils. No one could have imagined the huge impact from the media about our letters. However, it was a great chance to tell the children how powerful writing can be if you do it well!

We never set out to take on the FA. All we want to do is educate our pupils to become responsible, understanding pupils who believe in equality, can voice their opinion and stand up for their rights.
The events of this week have certainly done that!


Carol Hughes

Deputy Head Teacher

Lumley Junior School.

Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed

hilary-cooper-1-284x300Do you remember your first week as a teacher?

It was probably a while ago but hopefully significant enough that it was memorable. Quite possibly, if you are old enough, it was also a bit of an “in at the deep end” experience because induction was still to be invented. In my case it involved 28 children, a classroom with three walls and cupboard dividers between my territory and the neighbouring group who were being taught by the Deputy Head. I didn’t have anything at all – and I mean nothing: no desks, no chairs and certainly no equipment: that arrived over the first couple of days.

You might think it would have been supportive to have a very experienced teacher so close to learn from but it was soon apparent that wasn’t to be the case. Her teaching style involved many hours with the children on the carpet being talked at and as she didn’t like Maths that was a once a week event – if they were lucky! Oh and it also soon transpired that she didn’t like me much either but I don’t take that personally as it was a default position.

None of this mattered. I was doing the job I had always wanted to do and I was loving it and I was allowed to muddle through on my way to becoming a good teacher and actually that joy never went away.

So why do I mention this? Well this year I am doing some work with NQT’s and it just strikes me how well prepared they are to take on their new roles. At the moment they are bright eyed and bushy tailed and full of enthusiasm. They get extra time to plan and prepare, they have their own programme of CPD to help them settle in and someone on the staff specifically allocated to support them. The understanding that the group have of planning, preparation and assessment is far beyond their experience. Their expectations of the role show that they know how many hours they are going to put in.

It ought to be utopia and it ought to give us a supply of staff who are going to make a very long career in education and yet statistics still show that the drop out rate from teaching is too high and after only a few years there will be many of this talented group who will be a statistic. I went to the bank and both the staff members I talked to were teaching drop outs. One of my ex colleagues, a potentially outstanding teacher, is working in admin for an academy chain. Another young teacher is working for the RSPB for a much lower salary but with much less stress and greater personal rewards.

So what goes wrong and how can we put it right. This is crucial to the well-being of the profession and the development of the children.

Now “in at the deep end” has a new meaning and far more judgemental overtones. Our new teachers have to achieve the same results as the rest of the staff. If you are brave enough or, some might say, foolish enough, to put them in year six your whole school data may depend on them and them alone. As they approach the end of term 1, I am busy encouraging them to make sure they are well on the way to meeting teaching standards to keep the DfE happy. You are working on the termly pupil progress meetings and about to hold them to account for progress in their classes which is probably more about Ofsted than the DfE .

So what can we do for them? Seems to me we really need to cherish this generation of new teachers and help them to be both fantastic educationalists and to keep a balance in their lives. And before you say “But of course we do this” maybe we need to take a hard look at the messages we send out. Are we reminding them that they need to meet all the teaching standards or are we so overwhelmingly concerned with making the school great that we lose our supporting instincts and chase Ofsted grades? Are we showing them how to live long and prosper in the profession or are we looking over our shoulders so much we lose humanity? When did you just chat to the NQT about nothing much at all just to check out they do have times still of doing nothing much? Now I am a fringe participant I look back at the RI to Good journey I led my school on and know that there were times I did things I didn’t really believe in and didn’t really want to do. I can justify it by saying it was for the good of the whole but I am not sure it makes me feel good.

At the moment the NQTs are still bright eyed and bushy tailed and long may that remain. They are our future and it is up to everyone to make sure they stay just that way.

Hilary Cooper, former Head Teacher at Barnes Junior School