My Teaching Day 31/11/2018 – Thoughts and Reflections

Lesson 1 – Set 7 (10 pupils- all SEND)

Straight Line Graphs continued –

We were in a computer room so I decided to have the first half of the lesson doing straight line graphs on Mathswatch to consolidate what they were doing last lesson. I estimated watching the video and answering the interactive questions would take about 40 minutes. I told them to revise for their test next week if they had completed the straight line graphs work as they have a test soon. They have a revision task on Mathswatch.

Some of the sillier boys decided to go on the wrong website completely and needed to be taken off the computers and given written work to do when they ignored my warning.

Most of the class worked well and I could see their understanding of the topic improved.

Lesson 2 – Set 2 (31 pupils)

Converting between fractions, decimals and percentages – 

I changed the seating plan based on the issues some pupils mentioned in yesterdays lesson.

I put all pupils that talk too much on one table at the front and then sat at that table. That worked well although I’m not sure how sustainable it is.

Put a puzzle on the board for pupils to do while everyone was finding their correct seat.

I put 6 conversions on the board and asked pupils if anyone thought they could answer any of the questions or, better yet, explain how to do a conversion. Through this I found that most pupils knew how to convert fractions to decimals and decimals to percentages.

Once those were on the board pupils quickly figured out how to convert percentages to decimals and fractions to percentages. We had a discussion around whether it was better to convert fractions to percentages by making the denominator 100 or by converting to a decimal first and then to a percentage. We agreed that it was sometimes more efficient but would sometimes be very difficult.

I was slightly surprised that they didn’t know how to convert a percentage to a fraction given what they did already know. When we went through that one of them asked whether they should simplify the fractions and we then did a quick recap of simplifying fractions.

Converting decimals to fractions was the only thing they found at all tricky so I really had to break it down for them and show them a few examples.

By this point we were 30 minutes into the lesson. I gave them some questions to do and put some ordering fractions, decimals and percentages questions on the board to do as an extension. That led to some interesting discussions about whether 0.33 was the same as 1/3.

This lesson went very well.

Lesson 3 – Set 1 (31 pupils)

Ratio –

I put some simplifying ratios question on the board as a starter. Most pupils remembered how to do it and quickly explained it to those pupils that didn’t. When we went through the answers the class said they were happy to move on to something else so we moved on to sharing in a ratio.

I showed them three different ways of approaching these questions focusing mostly on a bar modelling approach. I wanted to do that because I find that pupils in this school are surprisingly reluctant to use diagrams or drawings to solve problems. For some reason quite a few of them think it is beneath them to do so and I think that attitude disadvantages them.

About half the class used diagrams and by the end of the lesson they were all able to divide in a ratio correctly. The resource was just a screenshot of a pretty standard worksheet.

I put some extension questions on the board which combined sharing in a ratio with a bit of algebra and finished off with the candles problem from NRich.

This lesson went well but some pupils are showing signs of fragility when they find the work difficult. I think some work on resilience will help them. They are a bright class and some of them have not experienced struggling with questions much before. I need to help them experience the sense of accomplishment that comes from spending some time struggling with a challenge and finally succeeding.

Lesson 4 – Set 5 (16 pupils)

Scatter Graphs (continued) –

Asked pupils for examples of positive, negative and no correlation as a starter. Most pupils remembered the definitions. We had a discussion about outliers and how a correlation was more of a general trend than a rule in most cases.

Pupils finished off the exam questions from the previous lesson and then some completed an extension sheet. There were 2 parts to the extension. One was to, after discussing it with their group, sketch what they thought the scatter graph of various situations would look like. The other was to draw scatter graphs from scratch without the axis drawn for them.

Most pupils were well behaved today but there was some off task chatting and some silliness (taking each other’s stuff) which needed addressing. Had to give 2 tables more attention than others due to behaviour. I felt that the level of silliness started to rise unless either myself or the TA were in close proximity to them.

The TA (a different one to last lesson) was excellent. Very good at politely reminding pupils of what they were supposed to be doing. Lacking a bit of confidence in her Maths but she was capable and I think it will come.

All the pupils completed the main activity correctly and about 4-5 did most of the extension work too.

I was happy with how this lesson went but I will need to address the behaviour so that these 2 tables don’t occupy so much staff time in lessons.

Lesson 5 – Set 2 (31 pupils)

First 20 minutes- Revision booklet on basic Pythagoras and Trigonometry. Then Sine and Cosine Rules

They remember the bascic topics quite well. Main error was not reading the question. Class had forgotten what bearings are. They remembered what I said about labelling the sides and angles of shapes and what I taught them about avoiding rounding errors.

Then they worked on mixed cosine and sine rule questions. I used a screenshot from a worksheet.  I spoke to them briefly about homework and then circulated. Everyone was working well most of the time although a few pupils were a little bit chatty and/or silly once or twice. My “death glare” was enough to deal with the chatting and silliness.

They struggled with worded questions because they found it difficult to draw the scenarios and thy weren’t confident drawing bearings.

I lost track of time and forgot to put the answers on the board, so I will have to do that as a starter next lesson.

I don’t really want to do an entire lesson on bearings so I might weave in some bearings starters.

This is class is way behind where they should be in the scheme of work. I’ve only just started teaching them and while they are a bit weak and lacking confidence I don’t know why they are so far behind.

I thought this lesson went pretty well despite the classes surprising difficulties with what is a relatively easy topic. I expected the problems with the worded questions. I did not expect bearings to be what tripped them up.

Lesson 6 – Set 2 – (31 pupils)

Ordering Fractions –

The came up with 2 ways of ordering fractions on their own. I just put the title on the board and one said, “Is that when…” and another said “I think it’s when….” And they were both right.

I gave them 8 questions to do. They had to order the fractions by making the denominators equal and then check their answers (thanks to @bcoops_online)

I put the “How many squares on a chessboard?” task on the board with some scaffolding for pupils to think about if they were finished.

The class’s work, effort and behaviour were almost exemplary. They all did the main task. Some of them had a decent crack at the chessboard problem and a few asked if they could finish the chessboard problem at home.

I know I’m tempting fate her but this class is already one of my favourite classes ever.

Lesson 7 – Set 2 (16 pupils)

Pythagoras and Trigonometry –

This lesson is only attended by pupils that have been judged to be underachieving or for another reason in need of some extra support. My group is full of lazy pupils with realistic targets, hard-working pupils with unrealistic targets and some nice, quiet kids that could use a confidence boost and a bit of extra teacher time.

Pupils struggled with understanding what some questions were asking them to do. This is partly because they don’t read the questions properly.

Once pointed in the right direction they can do the Maths. Much more practice is needed on exam style questions, but the problem is that they when they get stuck they immediately ask a peer or teacher, so they aren’t practicing figuring it out on their own. In tests most of them miss out any question they can’t understand immediately.

I’m not sure how to best address that problem but we’ll see if there has been any improvement when they do their mock.


To paraphrase, the meeting was:

  1. Here’s some detail about how insane your marking workload is about to get. We had a discussion amongst TLR holders and decided this is necessary. However if you can’t cope we will support you with it. (I think this offer is genuine but I can’t see anyone taking it up and asking for the support whether it is or not)
  2. Positive feedback about the quality of teaching in the department (which was nice)

My Teaching Day 29/10 – thoughts and reflections

I thought it might be interesting to periodically write about what I’ve taught and how I’ve taught it and reflect on how my day has gone. My primary motivation is that I think I might reflect more and think more about my teaching if I write my thoughts down.

I’m not convinced anyone else will be particularly interested but who knows.

Here goes:

Lesson 1 – Set 1 (30 pupils – very bright, lively, boisterous class)

Algebra recap

They have a test coming up. Movement between sets may happen after the test. They have revised the stuff we have covered this year but I suspect many have not revised anything they did last year (which may appear on the test).

I decided to recap collecting like terms, expanding brackets and factorising and then give them a task that was mainly about factorising.

Their recall of what they did last year was significantly worse than I expected. The resource I gave them to do was too difficult so I had to give some of them much more support and scaffolding than I expected to.

I was very pleased with the number of pupils that worked through the task independently or in their pairs despite finding it difficult. Quite a few of them didn’t notice the scaffolding I put on the board because they were focused.

I also gave them a sheet with 3 questions to answer (they had the option of answering anonymously) as a starter. The questions were:

1)     How do you feel about your learning in Maths so far this year?

2)     How confident do you feel about the test coming up soon?

3)     Is there anything preventing you from learning or anything that would help you learn more?

The answers were interesting.

1)     Most pupils felt that they understood the content and learned a lot.

2)     Most feel confident that they will do well on the test. A few said they were nervous about the test and were going to revise more.

3)     A few would like to change partner for various reasons. A few would like me to go through more examples or explain things more slowly. Some would like more “challenge” questions. The overwhelming majority put that working harder, concentrating better or revising more are what would help them learn more.

By the end of the lesson they could all remember how to expand brackets and most of them could factorise quadratics where the coefficient of x^2 is not 1. I was very pleased with that because despite the initial difficulty I was able to push quite a few of them beyond what they had done previously.

I feel very positive about the attitude of the class.

Lesson 2 – Set 7 (10 pupils- all SEND)

Straight Line Graphs

Started with substitution recap. They remembered how to substitute after a while.

Then on to drawing graphs by completing a table of values. We decided to always make x 0,1 and 2 in the table and then work out y. The boys found it difficult to connect this to the starter which I didn’t expect. If they got the starter I thought the transition to filling in the table of values would be easy. We got there in the end though.

Once they had worked out the value of y they found it difficult to understand what to put on the graph.

When I went through the how to turn the table into coordinates for a 3rd time it somehow clicked with the ones that hadn’t got it.

Half the class were able to complete the work and drew 4 families of graphs with either the same gradient or intercept on each page.

Half the class needed more support and completed one family of graphs. I sat with them and they needed constant reassurance and regular focusing back on the task as they were chatting about their half term holiday quite a bit.

On reflection I should have done more substitution. Perhaps consolidated working out a table of values rather than moving on to the actual drawing of the graph. I think there was too much going on in one lesson for the weaker ones and even though they grasped every step by the end of the lesson they were struggling to put it all together without support. However doing that might have bored the ones that were able to complete the work we did today. The range of abilities in this class is massive.

Lesson 3 – Set 5

Scatter graphs and correlation

I started off discussing correlation with the class and we came up with several example of each type. We then discussed what a graph of each might look like and drew some examples.

I then showed them the video on scatter graphs on the excellent justmathsonline website. While I had given them the log in details and shown them the website I wanted them to see how the videos differ from the Mathswatch and Corbettmaths videos they are more familiar with.

After watching the first two examples on the video (about 10 minutes as I recall) I gave them an exercise where they had to match scatter graphs to statements and then scatter graphs to graph titles.

Then I gave them some mixed questions on scatter graphs and told them to finish for homework. It’s a small class (20ish) so the TA and I were able to plenty of time talking to individuals and making sure they were on task and understanding the work.

The TA that works with me with this class is amazing. She has wonderful rapport with the class. She’s firm with them, keeps them on task but is so upbeat, friendly and fun that she lights up the lesson. She asks questions that pupils want to ask but for whatever reason don’t. She’s also very good with a very difficult young man that I taught last year whose behaviour I found very difficult. His behaviour has improved but her presence helps enormously because he doesn’t think she picks on him so he takes a telling off from her without whining.

We rounded up with a discussion of correlation is not causation. I was really pleased with how this lesson went.

Lesson 4 – Set 2 (31 pupils)

General number revision

I started this Year 7 lesson with the same three questions that I asked my 1st class.

Again the answers were interesting

1)     Pupils feel they understand most of the work and have made good progress. Some want more examples and for me to go through things more slowly

2)     Quite a few are confident they know the material and most have revised but as this is their first big test aren’t sure how hard it’s going to be and are a bit worried about that.

3)     Quite a few are unhappy with who they are sitting with and feel some people near them talk too much. Most don’t feel there are any specific issues or barriers to learning. About 1/3 wrote that their learning would improve if they worked harder, concentrated better or revised more.

Most of them remembered how to multiply decimals but quite a few did not remember how to divide by decimals. Interestingly they did remember how to divide fractions so I showed them how a dividing by a decimal question can be easily changed into a dividing fractions question.

Quite a few struggled with converting fractions to decimals so I got some pupils who remembered how to do it to come up and do questions on the board for 5 minutes or so.

Some pupils got on to the extension work which was problem solving questions across a range of number topics.

I was pleased with how this lesson went as it picked up a few topics that much of the class had forgotten how to do. When I asked them about the things they had forgotten quite a few said they hadn’t revised those things because they were confident they knew how to do them so we rounded off the lesson with a quick recap of how to revise well.

My New Approach to Teaching Maths A Level

In previous years while my classes have done pretty well in Year 12 and 13 the workload for me has been unsustainably high. I have tried to figure out a way of reducing workload whilst keeping levels of pupil engagement and results high.

This was partly prompted by the new A level. It was decided that we would plan the new A level pretty much from scratch and I thought as I was required to plan all over again I might as well give some serious thought to how I was going to teach the new course.

I decided to try something new. Ordinarily I split each topic up and teach one or two things in each lesson over the 1 or 2 weeks the topic lasts for. This year for every topic I’ve taught the entire topic within the first lesson or 2. I then set them a mixture of exam questions, tarsias, risps and extension tasks for the remainder of the time set aside for the topic (or until I think we’ve spent long enough on the topic). During this time I pick up any misconceptions or bits and pieces that pupils have not understood. As I’m not doing any whole class teaching during this time I find myself with more capacity to work individually with some of the weaker and less confident pupils. In these lessons some of them work in groups, some of them prefer to work on their own or in a pair. Unless a pair or group has a very poor dynamic I let them crack on with it however they see fit.

For each topic I set them somewhere between 30 and 50 exam questions for homework. I mark 6-10 of these questions in detail and when I have done so I post the mark schemes online. For most topics I also give them an end of topic test that is between 40-120 minutes depending on how big the topic is.

For the first topic the homework mark and the end of topic test mark were both less than 50%. Since that inauspicious beginning the pupils are now averaging 70% with the weakest generally being 50%+ and full of silly mistakes rather than conceptual misunderstandings.

All the classes in Year 12 are mixed ability and were deliberately made as close to each other in terms of GCSE results as possible. In the test every class sat, on which the current grade on their winter term report were based, my class outscored the other classes by over 10%.

I have also informed the class of times I am available to help them outside of lesson time. Some of the weaker students have been frequent visitors before school, at lunchtimes or after school. Generally they want help with a specific question or 3. Mostly they want about 10 minutes of my time in any given time slot. This is a significant change from previous years where some students have wanted a great deal of my time outside of lesson time and “intervention” has been enormously time consuming.

In previous years it has taken a significant length of time for several pupils to realise that they were going to have to work to do well at A level. The kind of pupils who did well at GCSE without trying. There were always a few pupils who under performed because they never got that particular message. This year all but 2 either worked hard from the start or started working hard after the marks from the first homework and end of topic test were poor. I’d hoped that would be the case when I made the first homework and test difficult.

A downside of teaching a whole topic in a lesson or two is that when pupils are absent catching them up is more problematic. However I have found that what might take 2 hours with a whole class takes a lot less time to go through with an individual. Generally pupils find out what they have missed and teach themselves using the textbook, online resources or the materials I have put on the schools VLR for them. I get them to come outside of lesson time so I can ensure they have picked up what they missed and address any issues they might have with a topic.

Another downside of teaching in this way is that in a quarter of lessons there is a lot of teacher talk. A lot more than I’m used to, a lot more than they are used to and certainly a lot more than observers are used to seeing. This is probably why the initial results were poor. It is almost certainly why it is being suggested that I introduce more student led activities and group work into my lessons.

I would say that this class is comparable in ability with my previous Year 12 classes. I would say that at the start of the year their work ethic was comparable with my previous Year 12 classes. They are currently doing far better than any of the Year 12 classes I have taught in recent years.

This is partly because most of them have really bought into what I’ve told them about the value of hard work and practice. It’s partly because going through an entire topic quickly allows me more time to give them a real mixture of questions and that means more time when they have to figure out what type of question they are answering, which skills and knowledge from the unit they need to use etc but I think it’s mostly because they decided at a relatively early stage that I might just know what I’m on about when it comes to doing well in Maths exams. This has come as a pleasant surprise.

A genuine conversation I had about behaviour and root causes

I read a post @suzyg001 wrote about behaviour and root causes and something about made me irritated. I had then had a brief twitter exchange with @thepetitioner.

I then started wondering why I was getting annoyed about this. I mean looking at root causes is a pretty sensible idea if a pupil has behaviour problems. The more serious the problems the more likely the root cause is important. So why was the phrase annoying me so much.

Then it hit me. Many years ago it had been a source of much irritation.

This is my recollection of a genuine conversation with a member of SLT in one of my old schools. It was over 10 years ago so I can’t remember it verbatim. For this reason I have summarised the AHT responses. There was significantly more waffle in the actual conversation. The waffle at the time made the responses seem less callous. I appreciate that as written the conversation seems unrealistic. If you are questioning the realism of the conversation below then imagine a lot of additional, content free, waffle in the AHT responses. This conversation or similar was sadly oft repeated during my time in the school one way or another.

Me: Pupil X is still touching girls in my lessons. When I challenge him he starts swearing at me. When I send him out he threatens me. I’ve reported this to you several times. I’ve given him detentions. I’ve phoned home. I’d like to know what you’ve done about it and what you intend to do about it.

AHT: We are trying to find out the root causes of his behaviour.

Me: Anything else? I was hoping you might try to get him to stop touching girls in my lesson now.

AHT: Until we figure out what the root causes of his behaviour are any intervention we make might be counter productive.

Me: He’s sexually assaulting girls in my lesson and I doubt he’s only doing it in my lesson. What’s your plan for stopping him doing that any more? What he’s doing is illegal. I could go straight to the police you know?

AHT: Firstly the girls are too scared of him to talk to the police or give evidence. Secondly, you know how we feel about talking to outside agencies without going through us first. I wouldn’t.

Me: So if you knew the root causes of his behaviour you would do something about it?

AHT: we are doing something about it. We’re looking at the root causes of his behaviour which will allow us to put an effective action plan in place.

Me: Excellent. The root causes of his behaviour are “…long list…”

AHT: We will have to establish that this information is correct of course. If it is then we will put plans in place to address his behaviour issues.

Me: Please keep me posted.

Thus the phrase “root causes” touches a nerve with me. I hadn’t realised, because I don’t often hear/read it.

Much of Sue’s post is sensible (although I don’t agree with all of it) and my response may have given the impression that I don’t think there is any value in finding out or dealing with the root causes of behaviour problems is a bad idea.

That is not the case. It’s more that my immediate, emotional reaction to the phrase “root causes” is to become furious.

Narrowing the Gap in progress between the most and least able

Throughout my teaching career narrowing gaps has featured prominently in the education discourse both within and beyond the schools I have worked in. Sometimes I am mystified as to why.

It stands to reason that if you divide a student population in any way it is highly probable that one group will have better results than the other. A few years ago I did a detailed analysis of the data of the school I was working at. The school decided to narrow the gap between boys and girls performance despite there being several more significant “gaps”. At that time there had been a more significant gap between left and right handed students for the last 3 years. Yet we weren’t intervening. There was an enormous gap between the performance of Vietnamese girls and every other group but we weren’t concerned with narrowing that gap (or indeed most of those gaps). I couldn’t get an adequate explanation as to why that might be. It appeared that some gaps were acceptable and some not. This was interesting to me so I gathered a whole bunch of data from the pupils by doing a huge survey. I discovered significant gaps all over the place. Surprisingly students that had an xbox 360 significantly outperformed those that had a playstation 3 and those that had no playstation. Also those with less than 2 siblings consistently significantly outperformed those with 2 or more. We did nothing to narrow either of those gaps.

Recently I read a piece suggesting that setting classes widens the gap between the most able (highest previously achieving?) and the least able (lowest previously achieving?). I was curious about this because I’ve taught maths in set and mixed ability classes. In my experience how pupils are grouped makes little difference in this regard. The gap widens regardless of how pupils are grouped, how the teacher teaches and almost any other factor to do with school and teaching that I can think of with a few exceptions.

This is because generally pupils that are good at Maths learn Maths more quickly than pupils that are not. Again there are exceptions but generally someone who understands or knows a lot of Maths will pick up new mathematical ideas more quickly than someone who doesn’t will pick up the same ideas.

The obvious exception is bad teaching. There is nothing like bad teaching for narrowing the gap. The quickest way to narrow the gap would be to either not teach able kids anything or teach them wrong. Obviously if the behaviour in lessons is so poor that listening and concentration are extremely difficulty then the gap will probably narrow as basic concrete maths often require less listening and concentration than complex abstractions.

Thus all other things being equal we can reasonably expect the better mathematician to learn maths more quickly and thus the gap to widen. We as a profession have long argued against the notion that pupils make linear progress or learn at the same rate. In my experience the differences in the rates at which pupils learn largely boil down to ability, motivation and behaviour.

It seems to me that this entire argument against setting hinges on the outcomes for “exceptions”. There are many reasons why pupils end up “lower previously achieving” which are not about their ability. EAL, poor behaviour, lack of motivation, problems at home, mental health, SEND and more can all result in pupils getting results that are not an accurate reflection of their ability. It is quite possible for schools to consider these factors when deciding which set a pupil should be in. It all depends on how pupils are set, how movement between sets is done and a variety of other things (It’s also worth noting that the longer an able students pisses about not learning for the less able they become in relation to their peer group. Mathematical ability is not set in stone.)

Thus the entire proposition that setting is a bad thing because it widens the gap between the most and least able is really an argument against setting done badly or an argument against the notion we can reasonably expect pupils that are good at Maths to learn Maths more quickly than those that aren’t.

I would argue that setting done badly is harmful to pupils that struggle with maths. That’s a separate argument to the one about widening gaps though. I would also argue that the only way to get pupils that struggle with maths learning maths more quickly than or even at the same rate as our best young mathematicians would require doing our brightest young mathematicians a massive disservice.


My experience of University

I had no idea just what a massive debt of gratitude I have towards my parents until I went to university. Having read blogs about other people’s negative experiences inspired me to write about mine.

My parents both had working class upbringings and were very well educated and well read. They both went to university and then worked in the public sector. They were both well traveled and multi-lingual. They had friends all over the world that would regularly visit us. When they came they taught us a bit of their language and culture. I regularly got to stay abroad with these friends to experience their cultures and learn a bit of their language. This took the place of family holidays which we couldn’t really afford.

I did some sort of sport most days. Cricket, tennis, football, basketball, athletics were my main sports. I also got dragged round a lot of galleries and museums. I went to the opera and the ballet a fair bit. My parents insisted that I read as many of the classics as possible so I had read 69 of the books on the 100 books everyone is supposed to read list by the time I went to university (although I have to admit I didn’t enjoy or fully understand all of them. I also hate reading Thomas Hardy with the fire of 1000 suns). He also got me hooked on Greek, Roman, Norse and Babylonian mythology. My dad was obsessed with correct grammar, punctuation, good writing and speaking “correctly”.

The end result of this was that I turned up at university able to speak 3 languages well, with a decent knowledge of Greek, Latin (not brilliant but good enough to blag it). I was very well read and very well traveled for my age. I had a lot of cultural capital (although I didn’t know it at first and had no idea what cultural capital was).

I had the good fortune to make some wonderful friends that I am still good friends with now, over 20 years later. Some of them told me about difficulties they were having with feeling excluded (particularly the ones from the midlands and up north on reflection) but I didn’t really understand where they were coming from because I had not noticed anything of the sort. Once it was pointed out to me and I started paying attention I noticed things that I had not previously paid attention to because they did not upset or affect me and didn’t make me feel excluded.

When people talked about their holidays somewhere exclusive I would simply say things like “That sounds lovely. It’s a shame it’s so touristy. If you want to see the real “insert country” you have to go to “place where my friends live which is not touristy at all”. Have you ever been there?” and then hold forth at great length about how wonderful, down to earth and real everyone there is.

When someone chucked a bit of random latin into the conversation I would talk exclusively in latin until someone asked me to stop. I’d say things like “I do apologise. Perhaps we should all stick to speaking languages everyone here understands.”

For me there were few conversations or environments from which I felt excluded. I would have breezed through university without really considering that other people might be finding it difficult for a variety of reasons (had I been less drunk I may have been more observant I suppose) had some of my friends not pointed things out to me.

While I didn’t always enjoy the reading, ballet, galleries or opera I’m glad my parents exposed me to them and made me pay attention.

I fully intend to annoy my kids in a similar fashion and I’ve already started.

My daughter is a prolific reader and has already started on some of the more appropriate classics. She’s read The Iliad and The Odyssey but she prefers David Walliams and Roald Dahl.

She’s had a good go at football but got fed up with being excluded for being a girl. She’s now into her martial arts, tennis and cricket. She also likes walking and climbing.

She’s been to loads of galleries, museums and plays.

I’ve not done so well on languages so she only has a smattering of Italian, French and Spanish but not as much as me at the same age. That’s because we don’t have the procession of foreign visitors coming through our house.

I hope I send her to university with as much cultural capital as I had when I went.

Me and Brexit-My views before and after

While I was depressed I considered writing about Brexit repeatedly but I couldn’t face it. I also suspected that my views might not go down to well (particularly with the tone police) and I couldn’t be bothered with the argument.

My view on Brexit before the referendum:

I didn’t really care one way or the other. I had no strong feelings about Brexit. I strongly suspected that Leave would win but I didn’t really care.

I looked at the claims being made by the Leave camp. A bit of research led me to the conclusion that most of their claims were nonsense. I found most of their claims of what would happen following Brexit unlikely. I was highly skeptical about whether they could or would do most of things they were saying they intended to do.

My personal viewpoint has always been that the EU is institutionally racist, impoverishes the poorest countries in the world as a matter of policy, puts the needs of finance and business above the needs of poor people and workers time and time again and is pro-austerity. Thus it, at the very least, needs significant reform. The necessary reform is unlikely to happen given the mechanisms for change and thus it probably should be dismantled and replaced.

I looked at the claims of the Remain camp and was highly skeptical of the doomsday predictions. I think there will be short term pain due to uncertainty in the markets but because markets can change so quickly I have little confidence in the long term predictions regarding the economy. That being said the benefits of free trade to the UK economy should not be understated and I think it will hit the UK economy hard in the short to medium term if a good deal is not negotiated. I have little faith in the government to negotiate a good deal.

I then looked at who was leading the campaigns and found the people leading the Leave campaign marginally more objectionable. Pretty much everyone in both campaigns was pretty terrible in my opinion.

I concluded that the referendum was essentially about deciding which thoroughly objectionable bunch were making which decisions and about whether increased sovereignty was worth taking a possibly massive hit to the economy in the short/medium term.I decided that I didn’t know enough to make an informed decision and that I was unlikely to any time soon as neither campaign was saying much that was plausible to me. I was concerned that if the Leave campaign won there would be an increase in racist nonsense but I hoped it wouldn’t be too bad.

I eventually decided that I came down on the side of Remain (barely). This was mostly because of the race-baiting from elements within the Leave campaign. There was sensible arguments on both sides and I didn’t feel equipped to weigh them in the balance. The news was no help at all. What I did know was that I didn’t fancy my kids going through what I went through as a child where racist abuse and violence were very real. I strongly suspected that racists would be emboldened by a Leave win and that life would get worse for visible minorities as a result.

My view after the referendum:

What I feared would happen has happened. If there is a positive so far I must have missed it. Markets have fluctuated and a lot of waffle about what that means has been written and spoken. I’m none the wiser as to whether this is good or bad. So what has happened that I do understand?

  1. I have either been personally involved in or witnessed over 20 incidents of racism. Most of these have involved verbal and physical aggression. Ordinarily it’s 3-4 each year. (I am not including minor irritants like people assuming I’m a Muslim or assuming I’m an immigrant and the many other things of a similar nature that I deal with as a matter of course in those numbers)
  2. Anecdotal evidence suggests I am not unique in experiencing and witnessing increasing levels of racism.
  3. The number of people I can’t abide has grown enormously.

Number 3 is probably the most problematic for me and the reason I have given some thought to the possibility of leaving the UK.

You see I am angry now in a way that I wasn’t before the referendum.

I am angry with;

  1. Racists
  2. All the people witnessing the racism and doing nothing about it. Every single incident I have seen and been involved in has been very public. When I have witnessed abuse I have been the only person that has intervened. When I have been abused nobody has offered any support during or after the incident.
  3. The people who told me to “calm down” and “stop being so aggressive” when I got angry with the 2 guys screaming abuse at me. I was more angry with them than the main racists. Each and every one of those people that treated me like I was the problem can go **** themselves.
  4. Anyone who thinks the increase in racist incidents is made up or not a thing.
  5. Anyone who thinks the increase in racism is not important, nothing to do with them or nothing to do with Brexit.
  6. Anyone who lectures immigrants and visible minorities on how they ought to feel or what they ought to think.
  7. Anyone who tells me or any other visible minority or immigrant that they are wrong to feel the way that they feel about this.
  8. Anyone who gets defensive and feels the need to give a lecture establishing their “not a racist” credentials. I know not everyone that voted leave is racist. I know lots of people that voted leave that are staunch anti-racists. I don’t want or need yet another tedious lecture on who is and is not racist.

For me the bottom line is simple. I feel less safe now than I did before the referendum. I am hyper-vigilant now in a way I haven’t been since I was much younger. Despite being born and raised in this country I feel less like this is my country now then I did before the referendum. I feel that it’s a matter of time before my kids are faced with racist abuse and I hope that it’s not violent when it comes. I feel that too many people do not or cannot empathize with people like me who have experienced a fair bit of racist violence in the past and find the recent rise in racist incidents anxiety provoking because they are too busy lecturing us on what we ought to do/think/feel or going on about how not everyone that voted Leave is racist or going on about how they aren’t racist at great and tedious  length to actually listen. I feel that things will get worse before they get better because when article 50 is triggered I think the economy will take a hit in the short to medium term. As usual immigrants and anyone who looks like they might be an immigrant will get the blame from some quarters.

In short my view post referendum is that I have no idea whether Brexit will be good for the country or not but I can say for certain that, thus far, it hasn’t been great for me. I still don’t have strong feelings about whether leaving or remaining is the better option. I simply don’t know enough to know which will be better long term. I do wish that the government would get on with it whatever they decide to do.

Rant over. If you made it to the end of this post then thanks for reading my stream of consciousness and apologies for the length of the post.

I’m better now. Hopefully for good

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on Twitter for any length of time or blogged. I thought I would write about why that is. This probably won’t be the best written thing I’ve ever produced

I decided to write about my mental health because I have worked with colleagues over the years that have suffered from problems and been afraid to say anything or ask for help. It remains difficult for many teachers to admit that they are not coping. Some believe it will be used against them in some way or that they will be judged. I have seen this clearly through my union work over the years and it’s as much the case today as it has ever been. I would argue more so.

So what brought on my depression?

Having too much on my plate is the simple answer.

One of my kids was critically ill for weeks when they were newborn. They had to be fed through a nasal-gastric tube for over a year. On one occasion they stopped breathing for 5 minutes and had to be rushed to hospital. We spent a lot of time in hospitals worrying but we managed somehow. The school was very supportive at that time. I was enjoying my teaching and I thought I was doing a good job.The school seemed to agree. It was around this time that my partner (who suffers from anxiety anyway) went through a period of crippling anxiety that is ongoing. It results in very controlling behaviour and frequent angry or upset outbursts.

The results that year both in the department as a whole and my Year 11 class specifically were not what the school wanted. I had been given an under performing middle ability group and while they had made good progress that did not make enough to get the C grades we were looking for.

OFSTED came in and criticised the department (somewhat harshly in my opinion. 76% A-C is hardly a disaster). As a result we had a horrible year of constant observations, scrutiny, changes in policy and increased workload. I felt that the school had a low opinion of me and my teaching during this time. I felt that I was blamed unfairly for the results of the class when they had been hugely underachieving when I started teaching them.

Learning walks became more critical and more focused on compliance with things I view as trivial and not relating to learning. During this period my youngests health improved but multiple special needs started becoming more apparent. Global delay, language delay, behaviour problems, ongoing feeding problems and more. We managed to get through that year with enormous difficulty. The combination of my partners anxiety issues and the special needs was and remains extremely challenging. My inability to make this situation better led to my thinking I was a bad parent and/or a bad partner. I started to blame myself for not being able to solve the problems we faced.

The results were much improved though and I thought things would look up. Last year I thoroughly enjoyed my teaching. All of my classes were great. Sadly the learning walks got worse. The feedback more critical and negative. I didn’t and don’t understand some aspects of the marking policy. I don’t feel that I can do it properly because I don’t understand it. Towards the end of last year I was informed that because the school was not happy with my learning walk feedback I would not be teaching the key class I had been given and in fact would not be teaching year 11 at all this year. Nor am I teaching year 12. This is the 4th time in the last few years the school has decided, having given me something to do, that the something is too important for me to do and thus should be done by someone else.

I spent the whole summer wondering if they were right. Wondering how I had become a bad teacher that can’t be trusted to do anything important. Wondering if my inability to understand and follow certain policies meant I should do something else instead of teaching. Wondering what that might be.

During most of this time twitter and facebook were my escape. That ceased to be the case when Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party. You see I know Jeremy Corbyn. I know him well. He was my MP growing up. My parents were very politically active and he supported every cause we were involved in when I was growing up. I would say he became a friend of the family. I found the personal attacks and vitriol towards him taking up a huge percentage of my timelines intolerable so I largely stopped going on twitter and facebook. I didn’t mind the reasoned arguments why someone else would be a more effective leader. I found the abuse flying around in all directions depressing. This is especially true because the people hurling abuse my way are going to expect me to support and/or make common cause with them when the dust settles after Corbyn is gone. Whereas before I had ignored things I didn’t like I started taking denunciations of “Corbynistas” quite personally. That’s when I stopped engaging with twitter.

The good news is all of my exam classes got fantastic results. The school has repeatedly assured me that I am a valued member of staff. My teaching is going well this year. I still don’t understand several of the school’s policies and I’m pretty sure I’m not doing them properly but I no longer doubt my ability to do a decent job.

Things are going better at home now. We are working towards getting a full diagnosis and an EHCP so the much need support will be there in reception. We have had several referrals and have a much better idea of what to do and how. I feel much better. Life is still very hard but I feel more able to deal with the ups and downs and more importantly I feel like things are going well and looking up.

What was interesting to me was that I have worked in much worse schools and situations before without becoming depressed. I’ve faced far worse criticism without becoming depressed. I’ve faced down bullying for a number of years without becoming depressed. I went through capability without becoming depressed (and without doubting for a second that I am a good teacher). I think I was tougher back then. I didn’t take everything so personally back then. All of the stuff I’ve had to deal with at home has made me very thin skinned so I’m going to have to work on that.

Can a pupil (or a small group of pupils) ruin the chances of the rest to do well?

Recently I read a blog by @iQuirky_Teacher which I thought was interesting. During the ensuing debate someone said something along the lines of “No student ever takes too much”. In response I gave some examples of students that I thought “took too much”.

That phrase is open to interpretation so I should explain what I mean by that. I mean that the presence of those pupils in my lessons took up so much of my time that the education of the other students in the class was significantly damaged.

It was then implied that the behaviour of those pupils was my fault, the schools fault and that if a pupil was damaging the chances of others then either the teacher or the school was rubbish.

I then had a brief sensible discussion with @JulesDauby and @rachelrossiter (both of whom I really like) about whether the “1 child ruins 29 others” happens and why it might.

I said I would blog about it so here is my blog…

First of all I should say that the person who implied that the behaviour is my fault, my responsibility, that if that occurs the teacher is rubbish and/or the school is rubbish could well be right. I make no great claims to being a brilliant teacher. I have worked in some awful schools. Some of the things I will describe happened in schools with awful inclusion policies (in my opinion). All of that is besides the point. The point is that in those schools, in those environments, in that context the presence of those pupils in lessons was hugely damaging to the other pupils in the class. Should it have been? Probably not but we must deal with the world as it is not as it ought to be or as we would like it to be.

If someone says the presence of some pupils is damaging the education of the rest then there is little point in telling them that they’re wrong. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way. Maybe they are rubbish. Maybe their school is rubbish. Maybe it would all be different if they were different or worked somewhere else or perhaps they are a good teacher doing their best in trying circumstances who does not need someone with no awareness of their situation judging them. Being unpleasant to them certainly adds nothing to the sum of human happiness.

Secondly I should say that most pupils I have taught who have significantly damaged the learning of the other pupils in the class have not had any diagnosed special need or disability. It has mostly been the schools behaviour management systems that have been at fault in my opinion. Of the pupils who have had a special need in the opinion of the school many have not been statemented and in my opinion have either been misdiagnosed or labelled special needs when they should not have been (as challenging behaviour is not always indicative of a special need or disability). I blogged about this previously here:

This does not change the fact that their presence in lessons has had a significant negative impact on the learning of the other pupils in the class.

So, on with the blog…

Recently a young man was moved into one of my low ability classes from a higher ability class. This was done as part of the school’s strategy for dealing with his behaviour and was done at his parent’s request. His statement was for ADHD. The reasons given to me for this change were:

  1. He has an appalling attitude to women and his teacher at the time was a woman.
  2. He doesn’t listen during explanations. In his current class this means he is unable to do the work causing him to misbehave. In a lower ability group he might be able to do the work without having listened thus minimising his poor behaviour.
  3. Of all the teachers he could have moved to my style of behaviour management was best suited to dealing with him.
  4. His current class was a large class and he was damaging the learning of all pupils in that class. All attempted strategies to change his behaviour had failed so they wanted to move him to a smaller class.

He knew about the change in advance and had already told the other pupils in my class before he moved. The came to me to complain before he had even been in the class once.

  • If he’s in the class I won’t learn anything.
  • He’s in all my classes and just mucks around all the time
  • None of my teachers can control the class if he is in it

are some of the complaints the pupils made. I told them to wait and see and have confidence in me.

I was told that he had an exit card which allowed him to leave the lesson and go to the SEND department if he felt he was not coping in lessons or was about to get into trouble. This was a strategy that was supposed to allow him to pre-empt difficulties with his behaviour in lessons. I was told to challenge his poor behaviour, to suggest he use his exit card if I judged him unlikely to cope in the lesson and to send for a senior leader should his behaviour be unmanageable if he declined to use his exit card.

In most lessons one of the following things happened:

  1. He would arrive late, enter the room rapping at the top of his voice and when challenged use his exit card.
  2. He would arrive late, enter the room rapping at the top of his voice and what challenged either verbally abuse or threaten me. He would then attempt to use his exit card and when informed that the purpose of the exit card was not to get him out of trouble when he had misbehaved threaten or abuse me some more before being taken away by a member of the senior leadership team.
  3. He would arrive late, forego the rapping and instead wind up or abuse other students until he was either set detention or asked to leave the classroom. If either of these things happened he immediately became abusive and/or threatening. He would then be removed by a member of the senior leadership team.
  4. He would arrive late, do some work but spend most of the lesson either singing or winding up other students. If set detention the inevitable response resulted in him being sent out. If not then he would ignore all warnings and requests to stop singing and stop disrupting others until it was suggested to him that he might wish to use his exit card.

Why was he always late? I quickly discovered that before coming to my lesson he was going to disrupt the beginning of the lesson of his old class (presumably to upset his previous teacher and/or see his mates).

I also found setting him a detention to be difficult. You see he didn’t turn up to detentions. His form tutor couldn’t get him to attend or keep him behind. Nor could his head of year. All the escalations achieved nothing in this regard. It took quite a few attempts to establish this. Getting him to actually do a detention invariably involved getting a member of the senior leadership team to collect him. I would then go to their office, tell him why he had detention and then leave immediately before he had the opportunity to start arguing or being abusive. The leader would take it from there.

He did have a teaching assistant with him some of the time. He did not want one. He was appalled by the notion that he needed one. He was invariably abusive towards them if they tried to support him in any way. I put this partly down to his attitude to women and partly down to his attitude to special needs students.

There are a lot of pupils that I could have used an example but I have chosen this one because he joined the class part way through the year and thus how his presence impacted on the learning of the class was very visible to me, the other pupils and the school.

Could the school have dealt with this pupil differently? Absolutely. Would the impact of his behaviour have been lessened if he had been dealt with in a different way? Possibly. That is beside the point.

There are far more extreme examples I could have used as shown by my tweets but for several reasons I think this example illustrated my point better. However if anyone is interested in the context of the schools where I was frequently dealing with sexual assaults and confiscating knives then they can find several posts on this blog relating to those schools. These are probably the most relevant:


Our new marking policy makes me feel stupid

When OFSTED came it was a bruising and unpleasant experience. This was particularly so for the Maths department. We were singled out for criticism because the Maths results were not as good as the English results. Enough about that because that’s a subject for another post/rant. What’s relevant to this post is that they said the quality of marking/record keeping and the systems for demonstrating progress was inconsistent across the school.

This resulted in our new “one size fits all” marking policy.

Before I continue I should say that this is not intended to be a rant about SLT. I like my current leadership team. They have been very nice to me. They run the school pretty well and are generally competent and well intentioned. Whenever I have had personal problems I have got a very human and sympathetic response. I would say that there are 3 members of SLT that are excellent. The rest are what I would call “a safe pair of hands” in most regards (damning with faint praise perhaps but then I would describe myself similarly).

I also do not completely hate the marking policy. It suits some departments very well. It is a genuine attempt to reduce workload and for us in some regards it has (Ks4 for example) in Maths. Some departments say it has made an enormous difference to their workload.

I’m only going to write about the problematic bits of the policy as it applies to Maths.

There are several problematic areas for me. The first is the sheet on which the pupils are supposed to record the evidence of their progress. Imagine an APP grid on which pupils are supposed to record what they can and can’t do and write where the evidence that they can do these topics can be found. On these grids they are supposed to record their test results, transfer or summarise my written diagnostic feedback from their book to the record sheet and RAG each topic.

My first issue with this is the time consuming pointlessness of most diagnostic marking in Maths (blogged about here: )

This is compounded by expecting pupils to copy this feedback onto a separate sheet (although it does, I suppose, ensure that they have looked at it).

The second issue with this is pupils recording with RAG what they can and can’t do. The problem is that this is not set in stone and is fluid over time. Let’s say for the sake of argument that all pupils do their best to fill this in properly. If they record something in green at the time of learning it there is no reason to assume they can still do it when they come to revise for a test. There is no reason to assume they will still be able to do it when the inevitable learning walk or book scrutiny comes round. In my experience there is no compelling reason with a lot of pupils to assume they will still be able to do it next lesson.

The Head of Maths to his credit has decided that the best way to address this is to test pupils on a topic a few weeks after the topic has been taught and fill the grids in on the basis of those tests. This does rather go against the intended workload reduction element of the policy and does not address all  the problems but it’s better than nothing. SLT said that 1 question can constitute an assessment. This my well be true in some subjects but personally I would find giving  meaningful grade or level on the basis of one maths question problematic.

Different people in the department are filling in these grids in slightly different ways so we have had several meetings to try to get some sort of consistency across the department.

My classes end up with a grid containing:

  1. A list of the topics they have studied this year broken down by term- useful
  2. Where a revision resource for that topic can be found- useful
  3. Where the evidence that the pupil can do this topic can be found along with my feedback- not sure what the point of this is
  4. RAG for each topic- merits of this are dubious in my opinion.

In the meeting I asked who these grids were supposed to be for. Initially I was told that they were to benefit us as teachers. When I queried this I was told that the grids would make it easier for teachers to show all the good practice they are doing when SLT or inspectors observe them. I pointed out that if the purpose of this is to benefit me then I ought to be able to opt out if I can’t see or don’t understand these benefits. Apparently not. I asked if I could opt out if I don’t really care about showing observers my amazing practice. No. I asked if I could opt out if I felt that the benefits were significantly outweighed by the extra work. No.

The meeting then moved on to how these grids benefit the pupils. To be perfectly honest I didn’t understand this bit either. I understand why having a list of topics is beneficial. I understand why having where to find revision materials would be useful. I have been through the arguments for why it’s beneficial for pupils to fill in the rest of the grid several times now. I still don’t get it.

I asked what the minimum effort I could possibly put into grids without anyone hassling me is. I was informed that if I did the minimum it would look bad when I was observed as I would inevitably be compared to people doing their best. I did not get an answer though.

In my experience of using this a significant minority of pupils struggle to read, understand or remember what the topics are based on the list. This means they either don’t fill it in correctly or it requires a significant amount of my time to get them to fill it in properly. The pupils could be spending this time learning something. On top of that I have checked pupils understanding of previous topics during lesson starters and found what they can and can’t do does not match what they have recorded.

Only a tiny proportion of pupils appear to be benefiting at all from this. It takes up quite a lot of lesson time for very little benefit as far as I can see. It is also deeply tedious and results in unnecessary confrontations with pupils as they have to be made to fill it in (and often made to do it again when they yet again fail to do it properly). Despite my efforts lots of pupils have not filled it in properly.

The obvious beneficiaries of this new system are observers. They can look at the front of any book and see pages of assessment results and diagnostic feedback. This seems to be used as a proxy by which whether people are doing their jobs properly are judged.  They can also see whether teachers are doing what they’re told or not. One box given to them by OFSTED can be ticked.

Every time I get feedback from a learning walk or observation the grid not being filled in properly is one of the main opportunities for improvement. I’m doing it wrong. I can’t do it right because I don’t understand the point of it. Having used it I understand it even worse than I did when it was hypothetical because it quite clearly is not doing what it is supposed to.

The people pushing this policy are intelligent people. Maybe my inability to understand this marking policy means I’m not as smart as I previously thought.