85% Floor Targets

My laptop has been away being fettled or I would have written this sooner. I stumbled across a tweet by @farrowmister asking how the Dfe might respond to the fact that some primary schools can never reach the 85% floor targets. One response dismissed this as “excuses” and this made me just a little bit cross.

Let me explain why. I am a Governor at just such a school and have been since its creation 10 years ago from the merger of two existing schools. I am a community Governor and have no connection with any staff or pupils and I’m not a political appointee – so no vested interest. I found myself on the Governors, fell in love with the school and watched it grow. It will be a miracle if it reaches the 85% floor target despite the hard work and dedication of every member of staff from the Head to the site manager and all points in between. And I’m not about to make any excuses for this because there aren’t any.

Our Context

  • Our town is in the bottom 10% of all the indices you can think of and our school is in one of the two most challenged areas in that town.
  • Many of the children arrive at the nursery in nappies and some can barely speak.
  • We celebrate an increasingly diverse population  which brings both rewards and further challenges to address
  • Around 60 of the children are known to live with domestic violence.
  • Many of the families have no, or limited, wage earner.
  • Drugs and mental health issues are significant in our catchment.
  • Many of the children live in chaotic, difficult situations.
  • They have limited experiences because their families have no money for trips to the theatre and cinema and, often, no tradition within their families.

Despite that, the school’s results are fantastic and increasing year on year. They don’t match national – nor would they reach the 85% floor target – but they’re not that far off. Two Ofsted inspections recognised that the school can do no more. Behaviour is impeccable – Ofsted says so and so do we. When we started out 10 years ago behaviour reports to Governors ran to a couple of sides of A4. Now, we don’t even mention it. We have permanently excluded one child in all that time because he was a desperate soul who needed more than we could give him.

In addition to focussed, dedicated, good or better teaching, this is what we (and by that I mean they) do:

  • They all – at every level and in every area – work like dogs. At the last Ofsted we had part timers in on their non-working days without being asked.
  • They plan, teach like demons, assess, and analyse constantly. They have high aspirations for the children and never, ever settle for second best.
  • We invest in the staff and have high standards when it comes to appointments because only the best will do.
  • We have an extra teacher in each group to enable support, intervention, small group work…
  • Every class has at least one TA.
  • We have a dedicated mentor for punctuality and attendance who is out on the front and the estate every single day ensuring the kids are in school.
  • Our inclusion is second to none with a variety of groups to address the deficits in the children’s experiences and understandings including a nurture group.
  • We invest massively in providing experiences for the children. We have just invested in a beautiful music hub that looks like a Scandinavian holiday lodge and an additional music teacher to work in it. Every year our Year 5 works with Manchester Arts on a project that has reduced me to tears when I turn up for the final exhibition and performance – subjects covered so far: The Titanic, Elizabethan England and World War 1. Our children are also involved with a Shakespeare project at a local theatre every year.
  • Every year they are taken to the panto and the local cinema.
  • We have dedicated PE teachers who make good use of the outdoor provision which is, again, second to none.
  • We have after school and holiday activities which are well attended.

In short, we take every chance we can and cram our kids with experiences and opportunities. The school does its level best to make up for what the children are missing but, like all schools, it cannot overcome all of society’s ills.

We never say never but, in short, the challenges the children and the school face every single day make it difficult, if not impossible, to reach the 85% floor target despite their efforts and hard work because not all children are equal. They do not have equally prosperous or knowledgeable families with equal incomes and access to experiences and opportunities. And that is an issue for society not schools…but schools like ours are likely to be punished for it.

I feel humbled every time I walk through the school door and if I had a child of primary age that is the school they would attend.

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You can still have #teacher5aday even when you’re not teaching!

My #teacher5aday

When Martyn asked me to update my #teacher5aday, my response was “I will but really it’s cheating”.  Regular readers will know that I retired this summer and therefore I’m not a practising teacher any more – although I will always be a teacher. Lovely Martyn was having none of that! So, here it is.

#Connect

While I was still working this was mainly about connecting with colleagues. Well, guess, what, I’m still doing that. I’ve had tea with a couple of them and tonight I am taking my tecchies for tea and a catch up. In fact, this term so far has been one long round of catching up and having lunch out with former colleagues and friends. It’s a trial but someone has to do it. I’m still following and commenting on education stuff on Twitter and have even been asked for help and advice which I am more than happy to give. I think it’s important to use my experience for the benefit of others whenever it is asked for and can be helpful.

I’ve also been able to spend more time with the family without feeling under pressure or wishing I could just go on and get on with whatever happens to be pre-occupying me or squeezing time in between school obligations. I have been having my lovely grand-daughter for a day a week while her mum feels he way back in to work. It’s a joy – far better than when I was doing it for real with my children. Now I get to have fun and bask in the reflected glory of people’s admiration for my little blue-eyed beauty.

Soon I’ll be spending more time with the husband as he finishes his job as D&T technician at a local school at half term. I’m guessing that will be a good thing. Right?

 #Exercise

Flipping heck, I’ve done well with this. I’m quite the runner now in the sense that it is now my first choice of exercise. I would never claim to be a runner runner! The swimming has taken a bit of a back seat – all that lunching makes it hard to fit in! More than that running is much easier as I just step out the door and off I go. Here, I live on a common with a park just at the end of it so I have a lovely running track or I can go to the local lake or the canal which give me some variety and interest. I’m lucky enough to have a little place in Spain and I have devised a little track across the top of the village where I “live” and where there are not many people – who al think I am crackers anyway! I run across from side to side to avoid too many inclines and have views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains all around me. Running in the fresh air in picturesque surroundings – what could be better? And it does make me think about how important it is for colleagues still at the chalk face (so to speak) to find time for some kind of exercise however limited. I know only too well how hard it can be to get motivated after a tough day or week – believe it or not that happens to me when something downs me as it did on Sunday – but it is always worth the effort as I realise when Monday morning came around and I got my trainers. I felt instantly better and regretted not hoofing it on Sunday!

#Notice

I have time now – in theory – to notice all sorts of things but, flipping heck, I don’t know where that time is going to! I was lucky enough to be able to spend nine weeks in Spain this summer – I know, I know! – and I spent some  time with visiting friends taking them to see places I love and seeing them through their eyes.

We’re planning some work on our house in the New Year – mainly decorating and refreshing – so I’m suddenly taking notice of colour charts and room designs – all things I’m really rubbish at! Will that colour go there? Will that go with that? Who knows? Certainly not me! And the husband is no help. His mantra is “You’ll do what you want so there’s no point me saying anything.”  And, he’s right!

I still plan to take in galleries and exhibitions and whatever I can, actually, but it’s early days yet. I’m still getting used to the idea of not working and of having every day at my disposal – or that’s the theory!

#Learn

I’m always up for learning new things or generally having a go…well, as long as it doesn’t involve heights or whizzing through the air on zip wires which my brave (foolhardy) English colleagues did this summer. In those situations, I’m more of an I’ll-hold-the-coats sort of girl!

However, my focus remains Spanish – going well – and front crawl – going not so well!!

When I’m in Spain, I have to spend a lot of the day talking in Spanish and listening, of course, which is where I pick up a lot of new vocabulary and structures. My two friends who came out this summer were hugely impressed with my linguistic skills, but to some extent that’s a version of “in the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king” state of affairs. I am very lucky that I have a young friend and neighbour, Javi, who has adopted me and helps me with all sorts of things. He talks slowly to me and finds different ways to say things if I don’t understand. He doesn’t hesitate to chide me when he thinks my Spanish is feo (ugly) as he did when my friend returned to England. He was trying to explain something and I was unable to get the full drift whereupon he declared my Spanish was feo because I had been talking English all week! And he was right, of course! In truth he thinks my Spanish is good so I’m pleased.

The front crawl is proving rather more intractable! I did a bit of practising while I was in Spain and felt on some days that I made progress but it was patchy. The breathing still poses problems for me and I don’t really understand why! I can breathe perfectly well when doing breast stroke – head under the water and everything – but the front crawl has me panicking! I plan to give it a bit more of a go – if I can veer drag myself to the pool – and if it’s still defeating me, well, I’ll be happy with breast stroke.

#Volunteer

I’m sort of trying to avoid this one a bit because – and this will sound dreadful – I’m reluctant to let myself get pinned down too much as then I won’t have the time to do the things I fancy doing when I fancy doing them – even if that’s doing nothing!!

I’m still involved with my rugby team and recently spent a day helping to appoint our new coach – that was exciting and interesting. And I’m still involved with the primary school where I continue as Vice-Chair of Governors. That’s getting interesting as we are being asked to expand and have a Head retiring and a new one starting.

And I seem to have got myself a bit of a tutoring job! Last night my neighbour rang the doorbell and asked – with a lovely smile – if I would help his grandson with his English. Trust me, it was the sort of unassuming smile that meant I had nowhere to go! The boy and his mother arrived in the country last year following a marriage break down and his grandfather thinks he is struggling with English – which is not his first language. However, there might be something for me to gain in this as the boy arrived from Spain! He speaks Spanish and Catalan so English will be his third language in addition to Arabic which he reads. Apparently, his mum would love to be able to speak to someone in Spanish! Lucky me.

And my former Head of Faculty is mooching around looking for me to go and help out with Year 11 – not volunteering as such since I would be paid but volunteering to help and support her and my colleagues.

So, I’m busy -maybe too busy – but loving every minute. And what I have realised is that a balance in life is important whether you are working or not. It’s important not to get over-loaded and to have time to watch the stars.