All posts by nancy

About nancy

mother, teacher, writer, ranter Writes for TES, Teach Primary, Bloomsbury.

A Tale of Gloucester

For seventeen years, I lived not far from Gloucester. Like many English cities, it has a river and a cathedral; like all English cities, it is a city of contrasts. If you went there sightseeing you could come away with an impression of a majestic and historic settlement. You’d start at the cathedral (taking in a bit of the Harry Potter gloss and marvelling at the fact that a couple of mediaeval kings and their close relatives are buried there), travel along the Via Sacra, admiring the mosaic tiles installed by early 21stCentury City Bigwigs, passing through the newly developed docks (very posh) and fetch up at the museum. There, you’d learn about the Emperor Constantine (very big statue) and have the opportunity, should you arrive at the correct hour, to go back in time to visit the underground foundations from the Roman era. There’s even gold coins in thin pull out drawers to examine, treasure found in Gloucestershire fields.

If you went shopping, you’d have a very different experience. You’d have to make your way past the empty shops, the e-cigarette place, the tatty looking party shop and the smokers outside MacDonald’s on your way to H&M. It can feel as if all the money has been sucked away, diverted to Gloucester’s wealthier neighbour, Cheltenham. The mechanical clock and beautiful mediaeval architecture don’t quite make up for the litter and the hanging around, down at heel air of the centre of town on a week day. When you drive behind County Hall on your way to the car park, you can see the peeling paint and shabby interior of the office block behind the grand steps and columns of the imposing façade on Northgate. It’s a bit of a metaphor for the place.

I worked there for four years, more or less. Like the city of the past, Roman at its founding, the Gloucester of today is full of people who have travelled there to settle and seek a better life. I enjoyed working in such an interesting multi-cultural setting, one with well over a hundred languages spoken, teaching children whose families had, not so long ago, come from all over the world. They often brought home to me that so much of what I took for granted was particular to my own experience, growing up in a different time and place.

I remember one lunchtime, standing at the window with a group of Year 4 children, goggling at the rain and the enormous puddle that was rapidly forming in the playground as the drains were overwhelmed. Never one to ignore a teaching moment, I commented in my best teacher-of-young-children voice, ‘goodness me, it’s a good thing Dr Foster isn’t visiting today’…only to be met with a sea of blank faces. While Dr Foster and his visit, during the rain, was a part of my cultural upbringing, it wasn’t a part of theirs, even though they lived in Gloucester itself. I’m not sure they really enjoyed me teaching them the nursery rhyme, but I gave it a go anyway. It was a privilege to play my part in helping these young children to make sense of the world they now found themselves in.

If you were to visit Gloucester for a day out today, you’re most likely to find a cultural monument to a fictional mouse (a Tailor of Gloucester gift shop I believe – or there was, anyway – in the overhung lane that leads from Northgate to the Cathedral Close), rather than the good doctor. While you will find a rather grand bronze of the Emperor Constantine on his horse, you won’t find a Dick Whittington, with or without his cat or all his worldly goods, tied up in a red spotted handkerchief and hanging off the end of a stick, off to make his fortune in the city where even the streets are paved with gold; London.

So what is the point of all this tale telling of a place I no longer work, no longer visit for a quick dash to Clarks or Marks and Spencer because the parking is easier and I only want to pop? Well, you see, there are those who would like to claim that mobility, socially and economically, is a new thing. It’s a product of the EU or education or a post-war government policy or neoliberalism or globalism or something and it is contributing to a breakdown of the family and we should all get back to the old ways.

But it’s not a purely modern phenomenon. We might have travelled up and down the east coast of England, following the fishing fleet in the 19th Century. We might have gone to hiring fairs, to indenture ourselves for a set period in the 14th, or signed up as an apprentice, or gone to someone else’s castle to learn how to be a knight. In the Olden Days, we might even gone to London a poor boy and ended up as mayor and spawned a legend.

People have always travelled in search of a better life; they have always taken a chance and left their family and friends behind, taken the sadness of missing loved ones today in the hopes of a better tomorrow. It’s not easy, and I guess whether it is good or bad depends on what you are leaving.  But let’s not pretend that we have, like teenagers discovering sex, invented something new, or worse, that you can only live close to care.

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Part Timer

Oh dear. I’ve done it again. I’ve read something in the newspaper and it has made me cross. It seems that Our Great Educational Leaders have come up with the solution to the teacher retention crisis. Go part time! This is it, experienced ladies, this is the solution to our employment woes! Use a sort of part time teacher dating site to find your perfect partner and wit woo! Retention crisis solved!

Because working part time is the solution, isn’t it? It’s got nothing to do with class sizes at all, has it? Nothing to do with marking 30-odd sets of books for each subject every day, just to keep on top of it all and do the right thing by your class, has it? Nothing to do with full timetables and learning all those names or working full tilt all day every day and not enough time to drink any water or go to the loo or lunchtime meetings or running clubs or anything else that must be squeezed, somehow, into the working day.

And it’s got nothing to do with the increasing complexity of the children who are served in mainstream schools at all, no no no. Nothing to do with the filling up of special schools and the spill-over to mainstream that nobody trained you for or told you what your legal responsibilities were. Nothing to do with increasing demands on schools and teachers to fill in the gaps where social care should be and a lack of time to support them when they do. Let’s not talk about the impact of incidents, whatever they might be, on teaching staff held accountable for the outcome of lessons, not rescue. Nooooo. Going part time’ll sort it out.

And while we are at it, working part time, that’s the solution to planning good lessons, isn’t it? Especially if we provide some model lessons (what, QCA? Oh, nobody looks at THAT any more, after a while everyone got bored and it was dry as the dust on the shelf where it was stored in its fancy set of coloured folders). Oh, no one looks at planning any more (do they? Do they?), but, you know, with the new focus on curriculum, we could all do with a bit more thinking space, couldn’t we?

Of course, for those with young families, working part time will make those child care problems easier to sort out, won’t it? It’ll only be two or three days that a person has to find care from 6am to 6pm, and, instead of planning and marking til late at night and allowing it to gobble up Saturday or Sunday, part timers can take a bit of pressure off and catch up on their days off! Hurrah! More time for everyone!

Don’t tell anyone about the impact working part time has on pensions though. We’d rather not that everyone thought about that. 67 is yeeeeeears away (and with any luck they’ll die before they can collect much of it). It’s not worth them thinking about at this stage, not experienced teachers, no no. They should be concentrating on their young families. Then we can concentrate on all the pension savings we are going to make while they are off at toddler group or coffee mornings or something. No one looks that far into the future anyway. And definitely look the other way when part timers question whether or not they will get that pay rise, that movement up the scale, especially with performance related pay on the bargaining table. Definitely don’t talk about that, especially if they work in SEN.

And let’s not look at house prices, or working miles away from where you live or the lack of affordable decent childcare or any of the pressures of modern life where you have to be all things to everybody and do it all with a smile on your lipsticked face. (I believe these might be called structural issues.) There’s nothing we can do about those, especially when we have Brexit to sort out.

Let’s not do any of those things. After we figured out that we can’t afford all those teaching assistants any more, let’s relieve the pressure by going part time. Yay.

EDIT

And let’s not look at the impact of Ofsted on everyone’s lives. Let’s DEFINITELY not do that.

Happy Birthday Darling

The day I was 18 it was overcast. I’d like to say I remembered the day vividly, but I don’t. Snatches jump into my memory; cards and presents at the start of English, my tutor, Roger, smiling and rolling his eyes, a pizza lunch with my mum and my friend Liz. Alcohol was probably involved somewhere, but I really don’t recall. Right before my A levels, I was in a frenzy of excitement and anticipation. This week, my firstborn, my S, was 18 too. Equally frenzied, like me, he went out with friends, not interested in staying home.

I feel chuffed when I look at the young man he is become. When he was that tiny baby and we were so worried the fact that he would one day be 18 was inconceivable. Toddler, small boy, stroppy teen, stages he has passed through (OK, so he might still be in the stroppy teen phase), the inevitable passing of time, the fascinating transformation through the ages – none of them have prepared me for my amazement at this birthday. It feels strange to have an adult child.

It hasn’t been easy, getting him to this point, and neither do I think my job is over. (I am currently huffing and puffing at the idea that I will have to apply to the courts for permission to assist my own child, but that is a story for another day.) There is plenty to be getting on with, but in some ways I think I can cautiously congratulate myself on a job well done.

This is not to say that it has been easy. Much of parenting, and you can multiply this for any sort of disability parenting I reckon, is hard work, from the almost mindless drudgery of wiping noses and arses to the withstanding of tears at bedtime and the constant turning things off. The ‘no’ word can become the hardest word, and sometimes it feels as if you, the parent, the adult, must have nerves of steel and a heart of stone.

To be honest, the disability thing doesn’t help. As a little one, S was the supreme example of cuddliness. His low muscle tone and a winning personality made him irresistible to many. His eyelashes have never had a problem working, and neither has his smile. Small in stature, especially when he was young, it was easy to kid yourself that, somehow, he would defy time and stay a child forever.

Like motherhood, there is an aspect of disability that is played out in public and Other People, every one of them with a different understanding of your child and most of them with the best of intentions, get involved (lots of them professionally). If you’re not careful, before you know where you are, your hard work is undermined by an ugly combination of opinion and pity.

But here’s the thing. Heartstrings are all very well but in the end there is a job to be done. In the end there is a challenge to be laid down and lived up to. That tiny baby, that little boy, he didn’t stay that way. He grew and grew and I am grateful for all the adults who did not give in, for all the grown ups who gently but firmly said, ‘no’ and, ‘hands to yourself’ and, when he said, ‘I can’t’ replied, ‘you can.’

The winds of change

Ahh, it seems that Ofsted have been busy bees and produced a new guide as to what they are looking for when they come calling at English schools to tell us which schools are good and which are bad (on a four point scale). Whether it is hoops or goalposts that they have been moving, who can tell; what we do know is that there has been a Change of Focus.

Now, I’d like to make something clear: I have not read the latest iteration of the Inspection Framework, and neither do I intend to (I am on holiday until the end of the week, after all, and, after an intense Autumn Term where I finished , not on the Friday, but the Saturday, I intend to get the most loafing I possibly can out of it) for the time being.

I am, however, very much interested in the focus of the change – the curriculum – and I am interested to see the direction we all take on the matter (I suspect it will go the same way as planning, lesson structure and style and marking, if I’m honest). Just how good will the curriculum offer of our schools be? What will a Good-or-Outstanding One Look Like? I am agog.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of knowledge. It is power, after all, and, apart from anything else, learning about stuff and things is interesting. Knowing about quite a lot of things helps you to understand the world around you and your place in it. Lots of stuff and things in schools gives lots of children the chance to find out which stuff and things they are really interested in, and which they might like to study further, if any. Being alert and interested in what is around you helps to make you less of a victim of circumstance and more able to have at least some sort of illusion of control over it.

But, as ever, there is a thing. And it’s such a big thing that I have felt the need to put some words on this page and do some Pointing Out. A curriculum offer is all very well and whoop-de-do, but what if there are a number of children/young people in the learning community who aren’t getting much, if any, of it? I hate to point out the obvious, but isn’t it all a bit like window dressing, or worse, stage setting, the reality of which is sleight of hand and one-dimensional fakery, if it isn’t available to all?

I mean, leaving aside the shrinking curriculum that is down to economics (I’ve got a child who is looking at A level choices, I’ve been investigating sixth forms) and the reduction in options thanks to accountability (don’t get me started on Year Six, we’ll be here for weeks), until Ofsted start looking at the offer for SEND, which includes curriculum, I’m not going to be thinking it’s anything much different to what has gone before.