Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Teacher is...?

In week that has been dominated by Twitter discussion on 'obedience' (Is it good? Is it desirable? Is it how you rule your class?), I was reminded today of an exercise I have done numerous times with numerous classes. It focus' around one of the most popular readings about love found in the Bible, indeed even I had it at my own wedding!

It is worth noting that St Paul was not writing about romantic love. I remember very little of my Biblical Greek (mainly as I got kicked off the course and moved to NT studies), but in the original translation of this passage the word ἀγάπη (agape) is used; a far better translation of this is 'charity'. This makes complete sense as Paul was writing to the people of Corinth, explaining how to live as a loving, charitable Christian community.

I work in a Catholic school, we aim to very much be a Christian community. As such, it makes sense that this could be our guide:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

This is all very nice, but the challenge comes when we instead change the word Love to 'A Student':

A student is patient, 
A student is kind.
A student does not envy,
A student does not boast, 
A student is not proud. 
A student does not dishonor others, 
A student is not self-seeking, 
A student is not easily angered,
A student keeps no record of wrongs. 
A student  does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
A student always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
A student never fails.

Is this the student we recognise sat in our classroom? Maybe some of them, some of the time. When completing this activity in the past, it has always brought up a good discussion about pride - good or not? 

The next challenge is to replace 'A Student' with 'The Teacher'. It's also interesting to look at another translation. I've used 'The Message' here (<link>), I wouldn't use this for scholarly articles, but uses a student friendly language:

The teacher never gives up.
The teacher cares more for others than for self.
The teacher doesn't want what it doesn't have.
(Except maybe the keys to the stationary cupboard, or a class set of iPads...)
The teacher doesn't strut,
The teacher doesn't have a big head,
The teacher doesn't force himself/herself on others,
The teacher isn't always “me first,”
The teacher doesn't fly off the handle,
The teacher doesn't keep score of the sins of others (colleagues and students!),
The teacher doesn't revel when others grovel,
The teacher takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
The teacher puts up with anything (well certainly a lot!)
[The teacher trusts God always, (for the theists)]
The teacher always looks for the best,
The teacher never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Is that you?

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Sharing: How Much?

At the start of half term, I got married. As this was to a colleague, it was BIG news. Also as a Catholic RE teacher (who by coincidence was teaching Y10 about marriage at the time), receiving a sacrament, it had added significance - I was finally "practising what I preached", as I was helpfully told by a student.

I think it is a testament to the school in which I work that this was very public knowledge, but without much hassle. The fact that many students attend the church where we were getting married, and it was published in the newsletter, made it very clear as to the date, time and place. Also staff were all aware and many students had relentlessly quizzed them, with small details, often accidentally, revealed. Our school provides itself on its family-like community, and everyone seemed very happy to be genuinely celebrating in our marriage.

It then became hard to work out what to share. Students had asked me to put a picture on the RE Twitter feed. In many schools, teachers would not dream of doing this, but after discussion with my new wife we decided that a few days after that we would publish 'the selfie' taken in the wedding car (see <here>), and one of us in the church walking down the aisle(<here>). These obviously got a lot of retweets and a large number of incredibly kind and genuinely lovely comments from the students.

I know many teachers would be hesitant to share anything of what could be a very private day. Many teachers would not want any students to know about their wedding. I'm not sure if it is the nature of my school, or the nature of my job, or the kind of person I am.

RE teaching lends itself to deeply personal stories. I have spoken about the highs and lows in the lives of my friends and families including the illness and death of my grandparents in lessons. It's hard to be genuine without being personal. It's one of the reasons that I love RE so much and I think Tom Bennett summed it up well in his article recently in the TES (see <here>); it genuinely is a subject like no other.

Already when teaching about marriage we have discussed in the class the marriage preparation and the 'compatibility test', but the question is now, how much more do you, or should you share?

Next year when I teach about marriage in the Catholic church, I have done it, and I'm happy to talk about it... however is my wedding video going to be the ultimate resource or a step too far?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

TeachMeet *PLUS*... (More Fun, More Useful!)

After the great success of TMHavering (read all about it <here>), we're at it again in July. This time it will be at my school, and in our new 'Old Chapel' building. It's a fantastic space and we're very excited to be using it. Find out more about the Chapel <here>:

The important question is, what do people want at an end of the year TeachMeet? I think fun and entertainment are important. Plus it is a time for trying out new and creative things as exam pressures are off. There will obviously be food (thanks to the fantastic Mike Bostock and 4Matrix) and maybe even some wine! Socialising and networking is an important part of a TeachMeet.

We are going to keep to the 5min/2min presentation format as it worked well last time. Even 7min feels a little long in the summer! However I am trying to work out what else we can do to make it more fun as well as more useful.

I'm going to try "Bring and Brag" as I have seen at TMLondon on two occasions. This is when people not confident enough to present can simply bring one item or one simple idea and share from the comfort of the floor.

I also think a second badge with your subject/specialism/expertise is in... or maybe just bigger name badges with all that on! This way you'll have a better idea of who to introduce yourself to.

Lastly, I'm going to do TeachMeet bingo. What words do we need? 'Gove', 'Hattie', 'OFSTED', 'iPad'...

I'm blogging to ask for more ideas... over to you!

Please have a look at our website (<here>) and book up your tickets now!
Strict limit of 100 tickets for this event.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Section 48 Inspection - Part 3: Outcome, Feedback & Reflections


Following the Section 48 inspection, we are delighted that, once again the school was rated as ‘Outstanding’.

The inspectors were highly impressed by the quality of teaching in the RE department as well as the learning outcomes for pupils. Furthermore, they praised the prayer life of the school, the sense of community and strong family ethos and the high quality of pastoral care that the girls receive.


I know OFSTED are currently moving away from rating individual lessons, and indeed I have blogged about it <here>, but I hoped to get at least some feedback from the Section 48 inspectors about my teaching. Unfortunately this wasn't to be. I have no idea what I did right, or indeed how I could have been better. However from the comments made to the Subject Leader during the feedback meeting, all three of my lessons were rated as Outstanding. This is obviously pleasing but I have no idea what I did particually right. Of course, I must have 'ticked all the boxes' of their criteria (found <here>):

"Standards pupils achieve in Religious Education are very high. Attainment indicators for the final key stage are almost all significantly above average. Progress is at least good in each key stage for different groups and is exemplary in most. Most pupils concentrate very well and are rarely off task even in extended periods without direction from an adult. They have developed an enthusiasm for tackling challenging activities. Their keenness and commitment to succeed and ability to grasp opportunities to extend and improve their learning are exceptional."

That is obviously pleasing to know, BUT, I always want to be better. I want to know what wasn't quite perfect so I know how to move forward. I'd even swap this for the 3 shiny Outstanding badges. To be observed for 3 lessons and get not a word of feedback is frustrating.

I hoped the report may give further insight after 7 lessons were observed, yet of the 6 page document, this was the only paragraph dedicated to it:

"Progress in religious education is outstanding. Pupils work with application and interest. They enjoy their religious education lessons and work very well together. They are eager to participate in activities and keen to do well. They have a good knowledge of the Catholic faith appropriate to their age and abilities. Workbooks are very well presented, show coverage of the curriculum and indicate a varied range of tasks. Standards of attainment exceed national expectations."

Again obviously very pleasing but after such preparation and the hours spent ensuring lessons, lesson plans, data, marking etc were ready for the inspectors, it feels a little short of the mark. The feedback in the meeting was that marking was "not bad" but could be further improved with more student feedback on marking. This basically echoed our OFSTED Section 5 report. They then made it clear that our marking was good, but could be "even better".


I was obviously incredibly pleased with the outcome of the inspection, as was the subject leader and the rest of the department, as well as SLT. However I do personally feel the report nor feedback fully appreciates the hard work that went into the inspection. At least with OFSTED some time is set aside for inspectors to meet with staff, even if the feedback varied. I felt like someone came to my lesson, made copious notes, and I have no idea what they say... good, bad or ugly! I presume I can write to the Diocese and make a request under the Data Protection Act like I did with OFSTED, but I think that wouldn't be great for me or my school politically.

Many staff, as they congratulated us, said there is no way their department would have survived such intense scrutiny and come out well. I'm not sure if Department OFSTED inspections still happen, it's hard to keep up, but they can be the only thing that comes close. Additionally so many of the outcomes are whole school, yet so much falls on the shoulders of the RE Department. 

My thanks do go to the inspectors for recognising our hard work; we are an outstanding department in every respect. We constantly challenge ourselves, keep moving forward and work incredibly hard. It is great that has been formally awarded the Outstanding badge, but I still feel a little short changed.

NB I may add to this later... plus report has been published but is not online anywhere yet. I will link as soon as I can! 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Section 48 Inspection - Part 2: The Day

The Night Before

We took all our department documents down to the headteacher's office. This was over 10 folders including all schemes of work, department handbook, open evening folder, intervention folder, support and monitoring file... literally everything.

Additionally there were about 10 books from each Key Stage 3 year group, 10 Key Stage 4 folders and 10 Key Stage 5 folders. They had asked for 'top-middle-bottom' and, as much as was logistically possible, we provided this.

The headteacher had kindly given over her office to the inspection team for the day so they had a spacious and central location in which to base themselves. We got it all set up and left for an early night... (well I went to #TMLondonBus!)

The Morning

As per usual, I was in just before 7am. I double checked my last few books and took them down to the headteachers office... as I was returning to my desk I noticed that at the front door was the lead inspector and his 'shadow' (who was undertaking training). It was just before 7.10am and they were here and I was on my own!

I welcomed them and showed them to their base, made them coffee and offered them toast. They were happy enough and they sat down to discuss the final timetable and start going through the documentation. At this point it became clear that the other inspector would be observing further lessons and I had expected two observations but now had three...

Before school various short meetings happened with the RE Subject Leader and Headteacher followed by the chaplain and link governor. The lead was thorough in getting his understanding of RE and the ethos of the school before going near the RE classroom.

All three of the RE staff had PPA during period one, so there was a little breathing/panic time!

My Lessons

Being observed three times in a day creates an unimaginable stress. With OFSTED there is that adrenalin pumping wondering if they will arrive or not... with S48, you know in advance; it's an unavoidable inevitability. Having experienced both, I'd prefer OFSTEDs surprise method, especially as statistically you are still more unlikely to be seen than seen!

First up was my lovely, lovely Year 7 class. They got seen by OFSTED and of any class I teach, they just sparkle and buzz in all the right ways! In my nine years of teaching, they are one of the classes that stick out in my mind as being a joy to teach and I always look forward to their lesson. They were properly prepared, even trying out the room where we going to have the lesson (we had several room changes as I teach in 17 different rooms all over the school).

The lesson was based on the early Church, post-Pentecost, looking at the actions of the disciples, the healing of the lame man by Peter and some of the repercussions for early Christians. The lead inspector arrived for the second half of the lesson (25mins) and spent his whole time looking at books (he must have looked around 20 out of the 30) and spoke to a large number of students about the lesson, about RE, about their prior learning, about their enjoyment of the subject and so on. The students were brilliant, as they always are in our lessons. I really wanted to make it clear that this was so typical... their behaviour, focus, enthusasm was just the same as normal. Plus my lesson was actually exactly the same as I taught it last year. The only difference is that I had a pack of data for the inspector that he took away to scrutinise. Also Section 48 still demands a lesson plan and copy of resources.

The lesson with my Year 10 Set 2 was a new lesson I devised purely as the media questions on the EdExcel spec needed further time spent on them. It was an odd set up whereby I had been given additional TA support, plus inspector, plus shadow inspector, plus 30 students. This made it a little cosy! The two inspectors were there for the full 50 mins and literally left "no stone unturned" in regards to folders, marking and student opinion. We had some great discussion, good reflection on the role of the media and it's portrayal of families, particularly religious ones. Everyone made great progress and I was happy. As predicted, again, the girls were brilliant: focused, charming and involved.

Period 4 was CP (Citizenship & PHSE) and it was my House Feast Day, so we had Mass. One of the inspectors concelebrated which was a nice touch. The other visited Y9 and Y8 lessons, arranged only at break time, delivered by non-RE staff. This was the warning that been given to all staff the day before; "it could be you" for CP.

The inspectors spent lunch in the dining hall with students and then meeting the school council and, other groups of students. The rest of the Department breathed a slight sigh of relief as their two observations were over. I had my third and final one to go with Y13...

Given the inspectors both being priests, I decided to add some explicit Catholic links to my lesson on Donovan's article from the Implications unit. We had just finished the section on intuition and knowledge and we looked at the example of Bernadette at Lourdes. Considering it was something new, it worked very well and I'll definitely be using again. The girls really showed themselves in the best possible way, giving articulate, high level responses to every question I asked. The inspector was in there for 35mins from the start, a little longer than he planned... He apologised as he said he was so engrossed in the lesson that he forgot to leave. Always a good sign.

Y11 Set 1, period 6; the inspectors had said they weren't coming in to this lesson, however things had already changed a few times during the day. I finally let my guard down at 3.15pm, 15mins of the day to go. The only lesson of the day that didn't get observed! (It was a good one on the 10 Commandments, prepared regardless, just in case.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Section 48 Inspection - Part 1: Pre-Inspection

For an RE teacher in a Catholic school, OFSTED is naturally stressful (see my blogs on the visit <here> and the feedback <here>), but in reality when everyone else breaths a sigh of relief, the RE department go into overdrive.

If you have never heard of a Section 48 Inspection, there is information from the DfE, complied by @ClerkToGovernor <here>:

"If a school has a religious character, as determined by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, denominational religious education and the content of collective worship are inspected under section 48 of the Education Act 2005. The inspectors who conduct section 48 inspections are appointed by the school’s governing body in consultation with the appropriate religious authority, and are normally drawn from the relevant faith group’s section 48 inspectorate (for instance, the Catholic Education Service in the case of Roman Catholic schools...)"

Our inspection was carried out by BRES, but due the national shortage of trained Section 48 inspectors, our lead came from outside the Diocese.

Time Frame

The time-frame varies hugely and other schools in our local area had their visit 4 to 5 weeks after OFSTED with approximately 3 weeks notice. Our OFSTED was in early November and so by this rational, we would be inspected the week before Christmas. We were in two minds, we wanted to get it over and done with, but equally didn't want to review our usual Christmas schedule of lessons. The call never came.

Nor did it in January and I was getting personally quite conscious, given I was due to get married on the 15th February. Finally the call came on Tuesday 11th February, ready for 'the visit' on Thursday 13th March.

Now, with OFSTED you get the call at lunchtime and you are physically limited by what you can 'pull out of the bag'. With Section 48, you know exactly who you will have with a great deal of notice. This is not as great as you think:
  • You can't plan the lesson until nearer the time. This sits at the back of your mind... shall I do this? Shall I do that? Will they be ready for this?
  • When you do decide, you plan, replan, over plan, panic about the plan... (and Section 48 in our Diocese still want to see the actual plan!)
  • Your marking becomes solely focused on the classes they will be seeing that day. Other classes get pushed to the back. This isn't right and I am now in the process of giving them my undivided attention!
  • And this is just the lessons.... I am second in department and no chance to shirk responsibility!

The SEF was sent off the day after the phone call. Every electronic document that existed for the Department was requested including SRE policy, PHSE curriculum, pastoral care policy etc. It also included every scheme of work: Key Stage 3 to 5. These were all emailed to the lead inspector, as requested, on Monday 3rd March (my 30th birthday lunch was postponed due to amount of documents that had to be collated and emailed off!). This gave the lead a week to digest them before his pre-inspection visit on Monday 10th March.

At this meeting the lead inspector thanked us for all the documentation before meeting with the Headteacher and then later the Head of Department. We hoped to finalise an inspection timetable, i.e. who would be seen and when. However it later transpired the timetable we made was only for his visits and not those for the other inspector...


Most staff still see Section 48 as just for the RE department. Yes, largely it is, but it is still a whole school inspection. Our Citizenship and PHSE curriculum was definitely on the agenda; all staff contribute to that. Plus inspectors always scrutinise form rooms in which RE is taught... not necessarily the form rooms of RE staff. Also they attend any assemblies or collective worship. Finally they look for evidence all around the place for your ethos and all the extra curricular things going on.

Needless to say, the rest of the week was spent chasing around various staff making sure all the fine touches were in place. Again you are limited when OFSTED call, with Section 48, there can be no excuses!

Part 2: The Day coming soon...

Monday, 17 March 2014

A-Level RS Dropbox

A-Level RS:

Want to be part of the SHAREVOLUTION? Teach A-Level Religious Studies? Come join...

I already facilitate a RC Dropbox for Catholic RE teachers and chaplains. This is a 'slow burner' with people joining and having a look around and gradually adding things. One day, I hope the CES take me up on their offer to help share resources better!

However, in an moment of decision on Twitter this evening (18/3/14), I've decided to set up an A-Level RS Dropbox. If you don't already have an account with DropBox, please sign up <here>, this link gives more free storage to the account. Please them email me <here> and I will add you to the DropBox, you can add more people! 

There is some other keen RE resource sharers out there.... see <here>

Friday, 14 March 2014

#TMLondonBus 12/3/14

Photo (c) ictmagic

When I first heard there would be a TeachMeet London on a bus, I'll be honest I was excited. I have no idea who had the idea in the first place but it was one of the most fun TeachMeets I have been to (and I've done a few!). The concept was brilliant, and the wine helped... it was also the perfect antidote to the stress of a Section 48 inspection happening the next day! Many many thanks to all those who joined in.
  • Martin took some excellent photos <here>
  • Keep an eye out <here> for Ross' next event... I'd like a boat please!
  • Leon blogged about it <here>

My presentation was called, "Cut the chat (+ have some fun) @ A-Level". During it, I talked about 3 ideas that I use in the classroom... two of which have come from other TeachMeets!
Thanks again to Ross, Martin and Paul for organising and sponsoring such a brilliant night. Also great to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Next time, when I don't have 3 observations the next day, I'll will drink ALL of the jelly shots!

Photo (c) ictmagic