Saturday, 30 October 2010

Undercover Boss

I recently enjoyed watching Undercover Boss. If you've never seen it, the idea is that the boss of a large organisation adopts a new identity for a week or two and goes to work with staff within the company in order to find out how it works.

It's a brilliant idea and it fascinates me how many bosses appear to have lost touch with the general day to day running of an outlet or a department.

It has given me ideas for when I am a headteacher. Of course it would be hard to go undercover in my own school, but I definitely want to make sure that I am always in touch with day to day running of all parts of the school. I would make sure that I spend time working with teachers in the classroom and find out about how a TA works with a teacher and wth the pupils. I would shadow the caretaker for the day to find out about how their role could be made more efficient. I would want to spend time with office staff and experience the demands of their role. It would be interesting to spend time with the midday assistants to explore how they could be more effective.

Unless you know how everybody works, how can you manage the school efficiently? It would help to maintain relations with staff and ensure you fully understand the demands on every member of staff.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School For Boys

I know that I am late in writing about this programme, but I guess that's Sky Plus for you!

I have just finished watching this excellent programme and wanted to share some thoughts.
  1. It was clear to me that the programme was not completely true to life. Of course the pupils and the school were real and the situations, but bringing in a new teacher to focus entirely on a smaller group of pupils, allow him to spend whatever money he liked and to do whatever he liked with the children is not really what can happen in real life. As I teacher, I know that, but I hope that the general public recognise it too.
  2. It highlighted the importance of role models for boys. It was clear that engaging the boys' fathers had a huge impact on the efforts of the boys. We all know that it is vital to involve parents in the children's education, but it really impressed me that Gareth deliberately targeted dads. It makes me think that we could do more.
  3. It showed that a creative curriculum can work. The head said, after analysing the results, “how we design our curriculum and the sorts of things we do, we put such emphasis on reading, writing and maths, the enjoyment has gone out of learning, if we can put enjoyment back in and they’re still learning, that’s what we should do.” We can all take something from that.
  4. The theme of competition kept recurring throughout the series. Mr Malone frequently told the boys that 'girls are doing better' or 'boys are not doing as well as the girls in this school'. I don't know if I'm entirely comfortable in this approach but it certainly spurred the girls on. This straight talking encouraged the boys and made them want to do better and to improve. I have said to my class that they need to beat the other class, but is it right to do this with boys and girls? Has else anyone tried this?
  5. The head set a target for Gareth's boys to achieve by the end of the process. They had to improve their reading age by six months. Whilst I was surprised that writing wasn't chosen for the target, given that this is an even bigger issue than reading nationally. I was really proud when it was revealed that the boys had reached their target and Gareth was justifiably proud too. But taught me the importance of setting targets. It's all very well to have an idea, but it showed me that it is important to expect a measurable impact. The head monitored the progress and discussed the initiative regularly. I need to set targets too.
This was the first programme that I have seen that was entirely positive about education. Instead of sensationalising an issue, it addressed it. It was a terrific programme an I hope that Gareth gets the chance to try other experiments!

Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School For Boys website

Gareth Malone's website

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Creating a Technology-Rich School by Terry Freedman

I thoroughly enjoyed teaching this book by Terry Freedman. It was, however, not at all what I was expecting. I guess I thought it would include guidance on the sorts of facilities a school should provide to make a school 'technology-rich'. Instead it focused on creating and leading the vision of a technology-rich school. Not that this is a bad thing at all - it gives lots of good advice in how to lead successfully.

A vision
The book explains how to create a vision - what you want the end result to look like. 'What makes a vision more than a mere daydream is that it is underpinned by a strategy, i.e. a systematic plan for achieving that vision... It has to be believed in, and wanted, by others: your immediate colleagues, the school management team, non-teaching staff and parents and carers.' Freedman explains good reasons why it is vital that these people are part of your vision.

Sharing and planning the implementation of your vision
There is lots of really practical advice for how to show leadership and 'pull' people into your vision. Freedman explains, step by step, how to share the vision, ensuring that the vision is agreed with all staff in the department. Then a strategy should be created, which includes a set of broad aims which will lead to the realisation of the vision. Each aim should then be broken down into SMART targets. The strategy must take into account legislation and 'environmental' issues.

Implementing your vision
Every meeting should end with a list of action points, each of which are assigned to a named person and has a deadline attached. 'Action points and minutes are of no use unless they are referred to, therefore one of the first items on every meeting's agenda must be to follow up on the action points.' There is good advice for leadership of 'the vision':
  • Leaders should set the tone and the vision for the school's ethos and philosophy (leading by example)
  • Leadership should be distributed throughout the organisation, because empowering people to take responsibility is a powerful way of getting things done.
The book is very clearly about 'creating a technology-rich school' but I have taken away much more from it. I have learned various leadership and organisational techniques which can be applied to any management role.

Creating a Technology-Rich School by Terry Freedman can be purchased from for £1.99+VAT.
You can learn more from Terry Freedman's excellent website ICT in

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


SpellQuizzer is spelling software for children that need help learning their spelling and vocabulary words.

I had a go at using the software over the last few weeks and I wanted to write my thoughts.

The welcome screen is really straight forward, and so I will use this to describe how the software works.

Quiz Me On A list
After clicking here you can choose a list of spellings to practice. I liked the simplicity of the quizzes - there's a space to write in the word whilst SpellQuizzer reads the word to you and a phrase or sentence to help put this into context. If the child gets the word right it moves on to the next word. The children commented that they would like a tick or something to show that they'd got it right. If the word is wrong there's no second chance, it will show you what you entered and also the correct spelling. I think it would be better if you could alter the settings so the children can have more than once chance to spell the word. Once the student has been quizzed on all the words on the list the results of the quiz are displayed. If the user spelled every word on the list correctly a "Woo Hoo!" sound is played and they are congratulated on a perfect quiz and are asked if they want to start over to practice the list again. If the user spelled one or more words in the list incorrectly then SpellQuizzer displays the number wrong and offers to let them try again on just the ones they missed. It repeats this cycle until the student has correctly spelled each word in the spelling list.

Create/Edit a spelling list
It's when you come to create a spelling list that the software comes into its own. It is very simple to add a new list and then add words (which can be edited later). You enter the word, add a phrase to help children to understand the word and then record the word and a phrase if you like. It takes a few seconds to add a word. I like the way that you can record your own voice - no American robot voices!! If you enter the word incorrectly then the software lets you know. I didn't get the chance to let the children make their own lists, but this would be very straightforward for them to do.

Import/Export a spelling list
Lists of words can be shared at I found that the words and word lists tended to be American based (e.g. names of the 50 states). But, to be honest, I preferred making my own lists anyway. It would also be good if a list of words could be imported using Excel, but this option isn't available. 

The help menu menu is very clear and there seems to be good support through the website.

The software is not all that cheap when you consider that there are free alternatives on the web. But the facility to record your own voice is very useful. 

You can purchase the software for the price of $11.95 (for a single licence) on Thursday 7th October which seems like a very reasonable price. Site licences are available from the site by enquiry. You can purchase the software at the special discount price at this link:

Monday, 4 October 2010

ICT Curriculum

Each of our curriculum co-ordinators has been given a day to explore the planning across the school. The idea is that we would like each teacher to record the progression in skills from the national curriculum and to keep note of the topics/areas of study for each year group.

This week is my turn to look at ICT. I was particularly interested in doing this as I had just read this blog post where the relevance of the curriculum and the QCA Schemes of Work for ICT in 2010 is questioned. The post mentions the evolution of the internet and Google in particular. It also mentions that the searching of CD-ROMs - does anyone use CD-ROMs any more? I can honestly say that I don't and I haven't done for years.

After looking at the planning from the teachers in the school, basing my progression on the National Curriculum, I began to realise that the skills, knowledge and understanding that is described is, in my opinion, nowhere near specific enough and also it doesn't reflect the variety of modern applications of ICT.

So in order to help our staff to meet the demands of the curriculum, challenge the pupils appropriately and include the variety of skills that modern ICT can include, I have looked into different ICT progressions on the internet. I have found two which I think complement each other well which I think staff will helpful and the children will find even more exciting.

The first 'new style curriculum' is the Lancashire Progression. I like the way that the curriculum is split into phases rather than key stages. This means that skills are broken into what should be taught in Key Stage One, lower Key Stage Two and upper Key Stage Two. The progression takes each of the strands from the ICT curriculum and sub-divides them.
  • Exchanging and sharing information is now sub-divided into:
    • Text and multimedia
    • Images, video and animation
    • Sound
    • Electronic communication
  • Finding things out has become:
    • Digital research
    • Data handling
  • Developing ideas and making things happen is:
    • Datalogging
    • Logo and control
    • Simulations and spreadsheet modelling
I think that using these new strands will enable teachers to understand the diversity of skills that should be delivered. The Lancashire progression also features a Software toolkit which gives examples of the software which could be used to deliver the curriculum.

The other progression I like is the Herefordshire progression. Like Lancashire this progression is divided into phases and the strands have been sub-divided too (the names are slightly different but they mean the same thing). This progression gives ideas for the lesson, national curriculum levels and an APP-style grid.

I believe that with a combination of these two progressions our school will be able to deliver a modern, dynamic, diverse ICT curriculum from which the staff and pupils will benefit.

Something else which I have realised I need to learn more about now is the ICT provision in Early Years. This will have to be later in the year!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Learning from the Dragons: James Caan

In my fifth report about what I learned by reading the Dragons' Den book 'Success from Pitch to Profit' , I will share the ideas of James Caan and how they have relevance in education.

James Caan
  • James writes, 'I've learnt that if I want my child to do something, I need to make her feel that it was her idea. For me, this is the same when you are building a business.' I believe that it's so important to empower people by taking on board the ideas of all stakeholders, and especially the children's.
  • His tips for success are:
    • Observe the masses and do the opposite - Whilst I don't know if this is always the right advice, one message I took from this is that as a leader you should be creative and be brave enough to stand by what you believe in.
    • Presentation and preparation matter - We all know this is true. take the time to put yourself into the shoes of other stakeholders and see what they expect from your school.
    • It's the people who make a business successful, not the products - To be successful you must have the right staff.
    • You can - and must - learn from failure - Good advice which we often give to children, but at times in our profession we are so desperate for things to be perfect first time that we are hard on ourselves when things go wrong. Learn from such experiences
The book Dragons' Den: Success from Pitch to Profit can be purchased here: Dragons' Den: Success, From Pitch to Profit

Friday, 1 October 2010

Monthly Review October 2010

It's been a breathtaking month all in all! My feet have hardly touched the ground. My biggest news this month is that my wife is pregnant and that I am going to be a dad in April!!

  • Complete my 10K run - I managed to finish a whole minute faster than last year in 63 minutes! I was very pleased with myself! (One of my past pupils finished 3rd in 36 minutes.)
  • Play squash - Unfortunately I haven't achieved this target. My friend has been unavailable and, to be honest, I've been incredibly busy. Dammit.
  • Finish painting the front of the house - I was doing so well with this but then it has rained most weekend meaning that I still have window frames left to do. I really want to do this before the winter.
  • Enjoy teaching a whole month in Year Three - I've been so busy. I really have enjoyed it, but it has just been an intense start to the year. I haven't found the change easy, but I'm beginning to get into the swing of things.
  • Update the school website for my new year group - The page isn't finished but the children are using the blogs and forums so I am pleased with this.
  • Formulate a progression of the ICT on the school and put together a software map - I have been able to do this. Over the next few weeks I'll be introducing some new ideas to the staff when I try to implement the Lancashire Progression to try to develop standards further.
New Targets:

  • Play squash.
  • Finish painting the windows of the house.
  • Finish sorting my iTunes (editing the song information).

  • Introduce the new ICT progression.
  • Performance management reviews.
  • Sort out my office!