Wednesday, 21 December 2016

My Desert Island Discs

On Sunday, it was a treat to listen to Bruce Springsteen on an extended Desert Island Discs (You missed it?! Find it <here>). His choices absolutely summed up the man: nothing obscure, pretentious or showy. With one eye on the holidays, trying to forget I still had school on Monday morning, I set about writing my own eight tracks to take to a desert island.  

After much deliberation, these are my picks:
  1. The Day We Caught The Train - Ocean Colour Scene
    • The day I started to discover my own musical taste after flirting with the Top 40 and odd songs I thought I liked (my first single that I owned was none other than Chesney Hawkes). This was the start of my love of all things BritPop and a 20 year plus love of Ocean Colour Scene. Still a great tune to sing along to with your mates after a few beers. Well worth going to see live still too.
  2. Last Stop: This Town - Eels
    • I owned Beautiful Freak, but it was this track that begun my 20 year plus obsession with all things Eels. We had "I Like The Way This Is Going" as our first dance. It backed up my theory that E has written a song for every possible eventuality in life. Rarely does an artist transform the band / setlist / theme of each tour as much as E. His autobiography is worth a read.
  3. Like A Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan
    • One of my picks that Bruce had on his list, "the first time I really heard him with this song, it just instantly started to change my life". I bought as many Dylan albums as I could when I was in my second hand CD buying stage; every time I found a new one in Golden Discs there was great excitement.
  4. Madame George - Van Morrison
    • Another of Bruce's choices. Astral Weeks is one of the best albums out there, and I agree with the spiritual nature that is identified on Desert Island Discs, "It made me trust in beauty, it gave me a sense of the divine. The divine just seems to run through the veins of that entire album."
  5. Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen
    • If you don't 'get' Thunder Road, I'd highly recommend reading Nick Hornby's joyful chapter in 31 songs. There is no other song that I have come close to listening to as much as this one. We also walked down the aisle to this after getting married. 
  6. A New England - Billy Bragg
    • The 'Bard of Barking' has written some of the best British political songs of the last twenty years, as well as some of the best love songs. This was one of the first songs of Billy's that I got to know. His gigs are part political rally, part music, but often all the better for that.   
  7. End of the World News - Tom McRae
    • "The son of two vicars.." as most write ups begin. I have made some great friends from going to Tom's gigs, beginning in the old days of 'the forum'. Tom deserves far more recognition that he gets, I'm sure you can buy his back catalogue cheaply - do it. This song was from the early days when we headed off to obscure venues around the country, drank lots of beer and JD and sang along. Actually I still try and do that as often as I can!
  8. Ennio Morricone - Gabriel's Oboe
    • Morricone's western scores are some of the best pieces of music ever composed. The theme to Once Upon A Time in the West is perhaps the greatest film music ever (Coincidentally, there Springsteen cover <here>). This choice is also wedding related... I had suggested Emily listen to some Morricone tracks for her arrival music, she dismissed it, but then came back a few weeks later with Gabriel's Oboe - a truly stunning piece of music, absolutely fitting for the moment.
As part of the Desert Island Discs format, you can take a book and a luxury item. My book has to be The Grapes of Wrath... Steinbeck is my favourite author, who somehow seems to see inside the human soul and condition in a way few other authors can. My item would probably be a guitar, so I can 'learn how to make it talk' to keep me busy.

What would your Desert Island Discs be and why?

I realised when I had finished that there were so many tracks missing. These are some that have also been pivotal in my life: Ben Folds Five - Best Imitation of Myself, Pulp - A Little Soul, Counting Crows - Mr Jones, Country Feedback - R.E.M., Neil Diamond - America, Amy McDonald - This Is The Life, The Avett Brothers - Murder in the City, Gaslight Anthem - '59 Sound, Joe Purdy - I Love the Rain Most, Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms, Crowded House - Private Universe, Taylor Swift - Teardrops on my Guitar, David Ford - State of the Union... 

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Imago Dei - The Foundation of Everything

Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam is situated in the Sistine Chapel. It documents the very moment of man's creation as found in the book of Genesis. It was only human kind that was created in the expressed image of God and the Latin phrase Imago Dei is used several times in the Bible: Genesis 1:26–27, 5:1, 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; Colossians 3:10 and James 3:9.

This week I was leading a day of inset for teachers new to working in Catholic schools. We looked at what it means to be Catholic, the history and politics of Catholic schools, the Mass, some of the challenges as well as the joys of working in a Catholic school. Towards the end of the day, I explained the concept of Imago Dei and how for those working in Catholic schools it is essentially the foundation of everything.

There can be theological discussion about Imago Dei and exactly what the term means: similarity? Counterpart? Dominion? Representative? Indeed the meaning is implicit and has been debated by theologians and scholars since the earliest of Jewish times. However the simplicity of a belief that all human beings are created in the image of God can help those new to, or outside of, the Catholic school understand what they will hopefully witness, experience and share in.

We believe that every member of our school community is created in the image of God, always.

This is incredibly powerful. Each child, each teacher, each member of support staff, each cleaner, each caretaker, each visitor. Every single one is created in the image of God and is a gift to the world. Each has a purpose, each has a role to play that no other has. Each has God given talents and skills that need to be discovered and developed. Every single person, all the time.

Many claim that it was the Puritan's that first developed the notion of human rights based upon Imago Dei some 50 years before John Locke, as during this time, some Christians were favoured over others by Charles I of England. Richard Overton, a founding Leveller, argued for human rights for all human persons, based on the idea of all men being created in the image of God: "We are delivered of God by the hand of nature into this world, every one with a natural, innate freedom and propriety — as it were writ in the table of every man's heart, never to be obliterated."

Many would argue the same basic principles exist in many schools; the Golden Rule is hardly unique to Catholics (see this great poster <here>). Indeed many secular humanists come to the same conclusions as Christians, that all are equal, but claim a basis of reason and belief in humanity. 

Therefore, does it matter if we base our rational on the belief in Imago Dei or simply equality and basic human rights? 

I think it makes a significant contribution to the ethos of a Catholic school. We treat people properly because it is the law, because it is right thing to do but also because we see the face of Christ within them as a child of God. This can often make you stop and reevaluate your position, I believe, in a positive way. When you stop and remind yourself that the student, colleague, parent, governor, member of the public, inspector, et cetera in front of you is created in the image of God, you speak a little differently. You might still come to the same conclusion, but you do it with love, compassion and mercy - that may well be a tough love though! 

Nevertheless, this is far from being easy, and can create real challenges: admissions policies, discipline (particularly exclusions), staff capability procedures, results/league tables, SEND etc. If all are created in the image of God, how can we reject or exclude anyone? How can we select? How can we stop offering opportunities for reconciliation? When we do we decide there is no more opportunities for improvement?

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. - Matt. 18:21-22
Sometimes, the leader needs to decide when '77' is up. In the gospels, Jesus suggested some, such as scribes and Pharisees, would be excluded from the Kingdom of God. They were given opportunities to be reconciled, and Jesus did not cut off the relationship, yet there was an expectation that they change their ways and conform. Jesus' inclusivity was neither simplistic nor generic. However, it was shaped by a clear vision of the kingdom of God and the priorities of his ministry as Messiah.

The inclusiveness of Jesus was exceptional (women, lepers, tax collectors, sinners). Yet, it wasn’t absolute. He reached out widely to sinners, but didn’t simply accept them as they were. He invited them to be transformed; they were forgiven and shown how to turn around their lives as they responded to the good news of the kingdom of God.

Therefore as we consider the belief of Imago Dei, and the impact it must have on our Catholic schools and Catholic leaders, this must be done in light of the Gospels. It's not straightforward, nor easy. It is the everyday challenge for all those working in Catholic schools.

If you do believe each and every person is created in the image of God, let it influence you daily: 
  • Smile and ask the cleaner about her day
  • Ask the caretaker if he needs a hand with those boxes
  • Pop into the school office and offer to man the phones so the receptionist can go to the loo
  • Hold the door open for students
  • Bring in biscuits to share, just because!
  • Ask your colleague how their family is doing
Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Friday, 18 November 2016

ARC Launch 2016

Aquinas Resources and Conferences, or ARC, is the work, or ‘work in progress’ of myself, Ant and Philip.

Our venture has been, in part, born out of necessity - the last two years have seen an unprecedented period of change in schools. New GCSEs, new A-Levels, new KS3 assessment systems, Progress 8, the EBacc...  is it any wonder teachers on the ground were reaching out for more help and support?

It has also grown from what I term, “the new democracy” of the internet and social media. As Catholics, working in Catholic schools, we know we are answerable to our own Bishops and must work with our Diocese education teams. However support can variable, and sometimes it only linked to Heads of RE and not every teacher in the classroom. 

We want to be a resource for all those in need, and all those who are willing to share. We want to be a hub of good practice sharing the very best of what is out there already, and what will be produced over the next few years.

There is a spirit of collaboration in existence at the moment which seems unprecedented. The Catholic HEIs, the CES, NBRIA, teachers, schools working together. Surely only good can come of this? There is also more work than ever before with organisations such as NATRE and Culham St Gabriel’s.

We already we have nearly 500 followers on Twitter, over 200 likes on Facebook, there are nearly 450 members of the Catholic RE Facebook group - and posts are often shared on a group of nearly 5000 RE teachers called Save RE. Already this is a significant project.

Ultimately, we want to engage with all those working in Catholic RE, and beyond, to ensure the students get the best possible religious education. The best lessons, the best supported teachers, best resourced departments. RE is the core of the core and our provision must reflect that. 

I began the London RE Hub conference quoting Rabbi Hillel the Elder, “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?” - I think this mantra has inspired all of us. It’s why we have got involved in spec writing, textbook writing, hosting INSET, investigating the possibility of running student conferences, making videos, PowerPoints (Philip is the master). If this isn’t a vocation, I don’t know what is!

However we can’t do it all on our own - despite some people thinking we can! The more who come on board, the more we can achieve. 

Please visit the website, there are flyers about. Ask yourself, what can my contribution be? What can I offer? Ant always reminds us, the Holy Spirit is at work in all his. We do hope this project can bear much fruit.

Listen to the launch <here>

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

A Textbook FAQ: Catholic Christianity for Edexcel [OUP]

I had a book launch at Westminster Cathedral Hall on Wednesday 16th November 2016. Here was my short talk about the book:

I’d like to do a little FAQ before I head into my thank yous..

How did you end up writing a textbook?

I organised something called The London RE Hub in 2015 and lead a session on the Catholic Eucharist with a Norbertine called Brother Pius. Ant Towey then pops up… “I’ve got a PhD in this and…”. During the day he then must have been chatting to our main sponsor, Oxford University Press as a few weeks later we all had dinner and agreed to write a textbook.

Did you write it all yourself?

No - thankfully not! We had a wonderful author team, some of whom are here tonight. Paul Rowan, Cathy Hobday and Cavan Wood. I did write just over half of it though!

How did you find the time as a full-time teacher?

I don’t know. Essentially writing it as my first child was born and all that went with it was tough at times. Thankfully I was not alone as Ant became a dad to Bethany in the July, Tommy came long in the October. Our conversations were about both babies and textbooks. 

Did you already know all this stuff?

No - and thank you to Philip Robinson for making corrections and not pointing out my heresys too often. If you want your subject knowledge and ability to share that subject knowledge in an accessible and student friendly way pushed to the limits, write a text book. I have learnt so much over the last 18 months.

What was it like?

Incredibly tough. For those who didn’t know, Edexcel was not accredited until the middle of June. Somehow, in no small thanks to Julia Naughton, and the team at OUP, the book went to the printers at the start of August. This meant I had been writing a textbook for an unaccredited spec for nearly a year. I’d like to thank Ant, Philip and Peter Ward for their words of counsel during this period. I also totally underestimated the technical side of writing a GCSE textbook with focus on exam criteria.

The wider RE community who have been under incredible stress and pressure with the exam reforms came to me for help and advice. There was a great expectation that as a textbook writer you had all the inside info from the exam boards - I wish! It has been great working with so many RE teachers and I hope the spirit of collaboration will continue going forward.

Would I write another?

I have actually completed a Judaism Key Stage 3 textbook which was a real joy as I had complete freedom on the content - available May 2017 for those interested!

There was a great sense of accomplishment when I held the textbook in my hands for the first time, and it has been a real privilege delivering inset and helping other teachers prepare for teaching the GCSE. At a time when lots of teachers are writing books about pedagogy, planning, leadership and so on, I can’t imagine better professional affirmation than taking out a set of textbooks with your class thinking, “I wrote that” - on top of the fact, thousands of other students are also using it on daily basis.

Do schools even use textbooks anymore?

Michael Gove, for all his failures, has ensured far greater academic rigour into the new GCSEs. This, I believe, is a positive challenge for teachers. A PowerPoint with a few pictures and bullet points is no longer enough, students need to be reading. Our OUP book also has an online version which our students love. There is a great need for high quality textbooks - and am I proud to have been able to be part of the team who have delivered one such book.

My Thank Yous

Lois and Minh-Ha from OUP have been real pleasure to work with. The whole team from OUP have been amazing and I really think our book looks stunning. Julie Naughton who worked so hard bringing the project together, and all those who helped with the editing, reading, suggestions… including Andy McMilan, and Ant and Philip. You may have worked out, they can’t say no to anyone! 

Thanks to Pauline my inspirational head of department at Sacred Heart of Mary in Upminster and all the team from the school who supported my writing. Thanks to my new team at St Bonaventure’s in Forest Gate who have welcomed “the bloke who wrote the textbook” into the school community.

Thank to my family and friends, many who have come along here tonight to join the celebrations. It my mum who kept me informed of the delays to the book as she kept getting her updates from her Amazon pre-order!

Last, but certainly not least, I have to thank my wife Emily and my son Tommy. There were lots of late nights, and sitting Tommy on the table in his bouncer chair, as I was writing. Hopefully they both think it’s been worth it.

Thanks for coming, thanks for listening.

Listen to all the presentations <here>
Forward to 9min 30secs to hear mine

Thursday, 3 November 2016

TMNewham: Lessons from Frank Skinner

I only realised in retrospect that I got my first nugget in meta-cognition from Frank Skinner. A few years ago he spoke about getting old and one of the ways he keeps his brain as active as possible is by imposing a rule of only Googling things he doesn't know, and not what he doesn't remember. This is essentially the practice of memory retrieval, a vital skill for our students. I spoke about this at TM Newham hosted by Jonny Walker at Elmhurst Primary on Thursday 3rd November 2016. 

Here is my presentation:

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Haters Gonna Hate (New RS Specs)

Here are some lists. What have I missed?

Some reasons people don't like the new GCSE RS specs:
  • Perceived 'dullness'
  • Too much religion
  • Not philosophy and ethics focussed
  • Too hard
  • Not relevant to my students
  • Just don't like it 
  • Painful
  • "It's killing RE"

Some reasons why people were never going to be happy regardless:
  • People don't like change (and teachers especially don't like change)
  • Old lessons need to be binned and replanned from scratch - costing time (something no one has in abundance)
  • Experts in exam questions and mark schemes are no longer experts
  • The vast array of resources available via TES, YouTube etc are no longer relevant

Some reasons teachers need to get on with it:
  • They are not going to change, probably for around 10 years
  • It is a primary responsibility of the teacher to make content interesting, engaging and relevant 
  • We are not alone - other subjects are not happy either - but every teacher will have a different view and there is probably little consensus anyway
  • Resources will come
  • Familiarity with the spec, questions and mark schemes will also come
  • If it is an option choice, your potential future cohorts depend on it 
  • Students are not stupid, they pick up on a teacher's attitude to a topic. It's even worse when teachers vocalise it... 

Reasons the old specs had to go:
  • Not enough actual content of religion and belief
  • Too much value placed on unjustified opinion
  • Agendas such Community Cohesion given too higher priority
  • It could be taught in half the time of other GCSEs

Reasons previous exam reforms didn't have as much negativity:
  • No social media

Some things I really like:
  • 12 mark evaluation questions
  • A body of 'core knowledge' for KS4 (DfE Annexe)
  • More indepth theology
  • Greater use of scholars and text

Somethings that could have been better:
  • More time at every stage of the process

Some things we as an RE community could do:
  • Stay positive - if we don't fight our corner who else will
  • Share and collaborate - add to Google Drive, upload to TES, write for publishers, host planning meetings...

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Accessible Research

Teachers are already busy. Calls for a 'research-engaged profession' can fall on deaf ears when there is quite simply already too much to do. At the of a long day, or when there are books to mark or lessons for a new spec to plan, the very last thing a teacher wants to do is start reading research, let alone do anything with it. Equally, even if there was the time, some teachers have no desire to engage with research - if we consider teaching an art, as many do, is this okay? 

Schools should consider carefully how best to impose anything new, particularly something as time consuming as engaging with research. Some schools have appointed specific TLR post holders to filter down the key findings that are useful for teachers. Others have incorporated it into CPD sessions or the appraisal process. This integrated approach may work in some schools, but requires time (again), money and an interest.

I remember David Cameron (not that one) saying at Northern Rocks 2015 along the lines of, "teachers are already spinning lots of plates, we need to work out which are Ikea and which are Wedgewood". If we are adding more, we need to take something away. We can't keep adding more.

Lately on Twitter, I've noticed a few quick wins:

1) Use Chris Moyse's 'Research in 100 words' posters. Download <here>
Put them up around school and rotate:

2) Use the Learning Scientist posters. Download <here>
I made an A5 booklet for 6th formers, I am going to make a display for the corridor and have suggested printing and putting student study booths

3) Share 'The Science of Learning'. Download <here>
In less that 10 pages, staff can have a complete overview of the best we currently know about learning. Cancel a meeting, extend a break time, provide a time to read it

4) Advertise ResearchEd conferences. See <here>
Pay for staff to go - they are on a Saturday!

5) Buy a couple of books for the staffroom/staff toilets. I'd start with <this> and <this>.
And if you can get Nick or David to come and do some INSET

6) Set up a time and space to discuss the opportunities and the challenges. 
Make sure there is free lunch, tea and cake.

For me, we need to work out what makes good teachers good so that we can help others grow to be even better. We know a lot more now that we ever did. Surely it makes sense to try and use it?

“Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.” Dylan Wiliam

School leaders just need to create and provide the time, space and resources to make it happen.  

Further suggestions received:
1) Join the EBTN <here> [There is a cost...]
2) Sign up to the Best Evidence in Brief email <here> [I don't always find this accessible or practically useful]

1) Research should not be elevated to a status above all else
2) Age and wisdom are INVALUABLE 
3) Teaching can never become technocratic - we always have context
4) Pedagogy can never be uniform - we always have context and need individuality 
5) Discussion is always needed to engage with the research - we always have context
6) We always have context
Thank you to Michael Merrick

Image courtesy of Animal Photos

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

GCSE Textbook Book Launch

The Aquinas Centre at St Mary's University are hosting an event to launch three new GCSE textbooks for the AQA, Edexcel and Eduqas specifications.  This will take place on Wednesday 16th November 2016 at the beautiful Westminster Cathedral Hall (see <here>). 

Philip Robinson (CES), Ant Towey (St Mary's) and Andy Lewis (St Bonaventure's) have worked hard over the last 18 months to ensure that the new Catholic GCSE specifications are authentically and accurately resourced. Each will be presenting a short talk on their work, while officially launching the textbooks:
There will also be the official launch of ARC (Aquinas Resources and Conferencing):

This is a project to create, source and share the best resources available for Catholic RE teachers working in England and Wales.

Read the press release from St Mary's <here>
Book tickets direct <here>

There will be an 'after-party' in The Windsor Castle (see <here>)

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Battle for Ideas 2016: Battle for Education - Religious Education in a Secular Age

Religious Education in a Secular Age
Sunday 23rd October 2016
12-1pm - Frobisher Auditorium 2

It was a privilege to be invited to speak on a panel about RE at my first Battle of Ideas hosted by the Institute of Ideas. Here I share my opening remarks in full, I deviated slightly, but not by much. I will also include my responses to some of the questions and comments as best as I can recall. There will be a video eventually...

Opening remarks:

Firstly I would like to make it clear that I think there are several potential different debates here - and it is not unusual for people to try and mix them all into one. There is one on the place of RE and a separate one on collective worship. There is also a perhaps complex, legal debate about the place of RE as part of the 1988 Education Act, alongside the GCSE and A-Level subject of Religious Studies. Finally, the place of faith schools also often gets involved.

As an RE teacher, straight out of the classroom and on half term, I am going to focus on some of the practical issues surrounding the study of the subject in schools in England at this very moment in time.

We do not have a clear or shared purpose in RE. Some would say it is as simple as teaching about religion and beliefs, a phenomenological approach as it is sometimes labelled. They feel that this academic, objective approach is likely to be most successful in meeting its wider aims. However, there is an increasing move towards a more sociological approach. Personally, I feel this has a place as part of a much wider study, but we do not simply want to simply give our students of a ‘religious landscape of 2016’. Finally there is a call for students to be ‘more religiously literate’ - yet we are not entirely clear on what this means just yet.

This confusion of purpose is clear in the wide and varying names people have tried to give the subject in their school's: Philosophy and Ethics, Social and Cultural Studies, Beliefs and Values, and my favourite Cultural, Religion and Philosophy - or CRAP for short.

History and Geography do not have this problem. If anything, like Business, we simply need to encourage parity by dropping the Studies or Education and just be Religion. We also don’t need to focus on the students and their beliefs. The strength of Geography is that they study things beyond their local area, and History focuses on far more than just things students can immediately relate to.

For me, part of the problem lies in the colonisation of PHSE, Citizenship, the Community Cohesion agenda, SMSC, British Values, Sex and Relationship Education and even Prevent by RE departments. In the desperate desire for curriculum time and status, RE has watered itself down into some hybrid, confused subject.

RE teachers have tried to rebrand to make their subject sound more relevant and engaging; personally I feel this has been damaging. Some full on hoodwink their students - I have heard of students believing they had the wrong certificates on A-Level results day as their qualifications said Religious Studies not Philosophy and Ethics.

These names are no longer usable. GCSEs require the study of two religions and A-Level one religion or New Testament studies. Some people are upset. It is the job of the teacher to make whatever content they are teaching relevant and engaging. By this I mean, accessible, challenging and with clear purpose not fun and games, and linking to other topics and other subject, not ‘down with the kids’.

The new GCSEs have forced RE teachers to teach more religion. The first unit for many has included the Trinity, Creation, Imago Dei, the Paschal Mystery, eschatology… and this has divided the RE community. Some claim this has destroyed the subject, making it dull and irrelevant to students. Others have celebrated as they are able to really do some actual study of religion, some theology, some proper critical analysis. I have heard of one teacher who has abandoned this section on beliefs and teachings to skip to the ethics to get students on board. How are they going to go back? And what value is the ethics without something to underpin it? It will be just student opinion. Sadly, there is a real knowledge deficit in many departments, especially those with non-specialist teachers.

The EBacc has been hugely damaging to RS, it does not enjoy the same status of its humanities counterparts, despite being in the ‘3rd bucket’. As such, students have often been expected to get through the course in half the time of other GCSE subjects. With the old courses this was possible, but now near impossible. Headteachers often don’t understand the legal status of RE, and the relationship with RS, nor the new qualifications.

We are in a period of unprecedented change in RE - driven primarily by the new GCSE and A-Level. I firmly believe we need to teach students more, not less religion, and the fact we may or may not live in a more secular society is somewhat irrelevant. If anything, we should be desperately trying to teach our students as much as we can about religion as it still holds a huge cultural value, and is vital in the understanding of a significant percentage of the global population.

The 2011 census tells us only 25% of the UK population have ‘no religion’, while the global figure is said to be around 15%. It is absolutely right we teach about these non-religious beliefs in schools, but long before the BHA forced a change in law, this was happening in most schools. A 14 year old will be very quick to point out that they don’t believe in what you are teaching about, usually by saying “I’m not becoming a priest, what’s the point in this?”

Interestingly, it is often experts on religion who argue we need less teaching of religion in schools. It’s like they want to keep that cultural capital to themselves. I think that would be very damaging to the young people I see every day in my classroom.


To the question about the inclusion of humanism:
  • As someone who has worked hard to include Non-Religious World Views in my new GCSE textbook, I think it is important to make the distinction between humanism and secular humanism. Much of the study of secular humanism involves science, literary etc (as demonstrated by the proposed GCSE annex) which could potentially further confuse the content of RE. It is impossible to cover religion without reference to NRWV, and the content is still relatively new to some curriculum. It will be interesting to see how the study of NRWV grows and gets incorporated into RE curriculum, but for me the primary aim is still to teach about religion and religious beliefs.
To the question about the abolition of RE:
  • In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins outlines 129 biblical phrases that English speakers may use and not realise their provenance. They include: the salt of the earth; go the extra mile; I wash my hands of it; filthy lucre; through a glass darkly; wolf in sheep’s clothing; hide your light under a bushel; no peace for the wicked; how are the mighty fallen (See <here>). Everyone in the room has an interest in religion through some kind of RE, to deprive future generations of this would be to give ourselves an educational and cultural privilege.
To the question about the image of RE:
  • Things will not change overnight. Teachers need to be delivering great lessons, and then our students will do the PR themselves. They will go home and tell their parents how great and interesting RE is.
To the question about development of western culture and the study of the Abrahamic religions:
  • Firstly, I don't think there should be absolute privilege for Abrahamic religions, and the suggestion that there is little space for eastern religions is wrong; there needs to be some balance. To the suggestion that Islam has contributed nothing to western culture, you are wrong - I'm glad you recognised your prejudices.
To the question about getting teachers of faith to teach each religion:
  • We don't have enough teachers, and certainly not enough RE teachers. Let's sort that out first! I am still not sure that people of the faith are desirable or necessary to teach their own faith. Faith speakers can be invaluable and this is the role of SACREs in my mind.
To the question about renaming RE:
  • This debate is a total red herring until we have sorted the aims and purposes.
To the question about the narrow curriculum of faith schools:
  • There was insufficient time for this, but in short, with more than double the curriculum time, many Catholic schools actually spend more time on different faiths to other schools. Obviously the aims of RE do differ, and I still believe that RE in the Catholic school can be confessional, yet academic, rigorous and critical. 
Thanks again for the invite. See you again soon...

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Re-Establishing Yourself

The most daunting thing about starting work at a new school is re-establishing yourself. I genuinely believe it is why many some staff end up as 'lifers'; in a stressful job, being an established member of staff takes away a whole lot of hassle. In a new school, you are a great unknown with no past, no legacy and no reputation. It's not that different to being the new kid in the playground.

After 5 years growing from a 22 year old NQT to established teacher and Head of House in my first school. This job had provided a steady learning curve, dealing with many challenges and difficulties; thankfully I learnt many behaviour management tricks and tips. The longer you spend in the classroom, the better you get. Even if you believe some people are born natural teachers, put them in front of a tough class and they no doubt struggle.
I moved schools for a promotion to second in department, and later had the opportunity as a Head of Year. However, my first year in my second school was tough, I had particularly difficulty KS4 classes who were not universally challenging, but certainly were in my lessons. I was doing everything that I believed (and still believe) to be right, but the students were trying me out.

Several staff said, "the girls here always give new staff a rough ride". I'm not entirely sure of their intention with this. I'm also not sure about the (supposed) Bill Rogers quote I've been told on numerous occasions... "They are just testing to see if you are good enough to teach them" - I always wonder why can't they do this by waiting, listening and evaluating? Why do they have to do this by shouting out, humming or refusing to work? 

The point naturally came, eventually, when behaviour management became far less of an issue for me. It was an all-girls school, where there is always the opportunity for low level disruption, distraction and non stop chat. There was also naturally instances of outright defiance and rudeness. However, once I was established, these issues became far less.
I had set out my ground rules, not just in my first lesson, but over a longer period of time. Students knew what I would tolerate and what was not acceptable. Even if I had never taught them. Crucially I also knew all the 'characters'. By the time I was HoY 11, they were usually 'my characters'. I built a reputation of being fair, but firm. Relentless, but forgiving. 

They also knew me. They knew my wife (who also worked in the school), they had met my little son, knew I had met Pope Francis, supported Southend United, loved Bruce Springsteen, enjoyed watching Westerns, went to St Joseph's parish church... These things matter. This comes from working somewhere for five years and putting a little of yourself into your lessons and having normal human interactions with all that you encounter. 

Sadly too often you don't realise exactly how established you are, or what you mean to students and colleagues until either they leave, or you leave. I've always found it a humbling and emotional experience. Leaving a school, and your position of establishment, often gives a great sense of affirmation and realisation - you have done, at the least, a decent job and positively influenced the lives of those around you. 

It was one of the things that kept me up at night during the latter stages of the summer holidays. It's certainly the reason that many people don't move schools. How do I start again? How do I get back to where I was?

I think first of all, you need to realise that it will take a while. I'd suggest at least half a term to fully establish yourself with your classes, perhaps best part of a year with other students (and of course new colleagues). Students are creatures of habit (Do your 6th form always sit in the same seats even though you have no seating plan?), and like to know exactly what the boundaries are - even if they still then kick back against them. 

My suggestions:
  1. Seek out the behaviour, and reward, systems. What sanctions can you use? Use them early, but wisely. A few detentions shows you mean business. Send a student out, call home, write an email or two. Show your students your expectations are high. Don't escalate everything too quickly though. 
  2. Explicitly give your expectations. A first lesson that has part of it dedicated to copying down a set of rules / expectations is time well spent. Revisit as and when necessary. That may be every lesson to start with. 
  3. Deliver the best lessons you can. Poor behaviour is not always the result of the teaching, but if you can show you know your stuff and you are willing to put time and effort into your lessons, it will get noticed.
  4. Follow things through. Always. Don't let a student get away with not turning up to a detention, or it will be hassle for the rest of your time in school. Equally, don't turn a blind eye. Students will work out your weakness and exploit them. 
  5. Be a visible presence. Volunteer for lunch duty, get out in the corridors. Challenge uniform. Confront behaviour. You will become known quickly.
It's not easy, but it will get easier. You will make mistakes, but you'll get most of it right. Don't give up, and ask for guidance and support. Some things will be out of your control, but lots you can try and sort.

If you have new staff establishing or re-establishing themselves, help them out. Don't undermine them, or patronise them though. Find out who is causing the issues and do something about it. Behaviour management is a team game. It's important to be playing together, and all with the same goals.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

#BlogFriday - A Year of Blog Sharing

Last September, inspired by meeting Rory Gallagher at Northern Rocks 2015, I started a SHoM #BlogFriday, emailing all staff with a blog post to read each Friday morning. This was not part of any official T&L role (but I did run it past the T&L AHT first).

Blog Friday. An easy way to introduce colleagues to the wealth of information, thinking and resources available on the blogosphere, and a good way to connect with people, to start a conversation, to wish them a good day, a great weekend... (Rory wrote <here>)

I hope that staff found it useful. Some provided feedback, and as I said in my final email (for 14/7/16), if one post changed the thinking of one person, it's been worth it. It was interesting when through reading blogs some staff realised things like 'Brain Gym', 'Learning Styles' etc were not a thing anymore - and that actually we would be better off focusing on the more recent work of educational psychology and the 'science of learning'. 

Some of the blogs were ones I had seen that week, others were favourites I had read a while before, some were reactive of staff mood, some were ones I just wanted to share. I tried to use a variety of 'voices' and styles of blogs, just to expose staff to some of what was being thought and written about in wider education circles.

One of the hopes I had was that staff would consider blogging themselves, and my final #BlogFriday was one encouraging staff to blog themselves - starting on Staffrm. Who knows if anyone will take up the challenge? 

I am moving on from my current school at the end of this year. Once, I have settled in my new school and got to know staff, I may suggest starting a St Bon's #BlogFriday. In the mean time, here is the 2015-2016 #BlogFriday roll call...

Also available:

SHoM #BlogFriday
11/09/2015Last Night REsearchEd Saved My Life
25/09/2015Putting Family First
02/10/2015Science for Learning
09/10/2015Good to Great Teaching
16/10/201510 Silver Arrows
23/10/2015Achievable challenge: walking the fine line between comfort and panic
06/11/2015Pupils are uniquely stressed these days
13/11/2015Modelling Good Speech
20/11/2015Great Teaching
27/11/2015Social Media and Staff
04/12/2015At what cost?
11/12/2015It's a Wonderful Job
11/12/2015The Mystery of Learning
18/12/2015Love Teaching
15/01/2016Revision Sessions
22/01/2016OFSTED Myths
29/01/2016What if you never marked another book?
12/02/2016In trying to do so much we do too little
26/02/2016Thinking Hard - Practical Solutions
11/03/2016Knowledge Organisers
14/04/2016How can we help the weakest catch up?
21/04/2016Is effective teaching more about good relationships than anything else?
29/04/2016A Few Quick Tips For The Overwhelmed Educator’
20/05/2016Student Effort
27/05/2016Weak Arguments and Conspriacy Theories
10/06/2016Assessments: Simple but not simplistic
17/06/2016Why Mental health is too important to get wrong
24/06/2016Is it Love?
01/07/2016Do Nows
08/07/201612 Points to Great Teaching
15/07/20167 Reasons to Blog