A visit to Passmores – generosity and inspiration!

Below is a summary of an email I sent to my new school after Vic really kindly invited me to visit Passmores, a school which shares a similar profile and similar issues to the school I’m about to start working in. He gave me almost three hours of his time. His pride in and love of his school was truly infectious and his willingness to – and enjoyment in – sharing so many brilliant ideas has left me reeling with the possibilities! I focused on Pupil Premium (particularly in relation to attendance and well-being), Teaching and Learning, and staff well-being.

 

Pupil premium

Hard to identify one specific successful strategy, but here are some things they do at Passmores –

A big focus on mental health, which is an issue for many students (I really liked the fact that the ‘inclusion’ department, which includes learning support, a full-time school counsellor and support with literacy and numeracy is at the very heart of the school and that everything revolves around it.)

Many pupils on pupil premium are also on School Action or School Action Plus, and they have behaviour mentors who see them every morning to touch base – a sense of routine and stability.

Vic talked about NAF children – Need to Avoid Failure at all costs, so don’t try. Big focus on developing resilience, failure as part of the journey.

Vic points to vertical tutoring as a significant step in building self-esteem and peer relationships.

The school conducts a regular survey on bullying to keep this in heck.

For G&T students who are also Pupil Premium, there is coaching available.

The school has an Educational Welfare Office which is shared with other schools (greater efficiency).

 

Teaching and learning

Vic used to lead on this, but acknowledged that the best teachers in a school are not necessarily in SLT, and that staff are more likely to listen to their peers, who face the same day-to-day routines and challenges – he says adopting a bottom up rather than a top-down approach has made a big difference.

He started with short spots – ‘nano presentations’ in staff briefing in which staff were invited to share elements of their good practice with others – this was very inspiring.

This then developed into the appointment of five Leaders in Pedagogy from the staff body. Each leads on an area of particular strength. Examples of their work can be found here – together with loads of other brilliant ideas and resources!

 

http://www.passmoresfalcon.com

 

These ‘ped leaders’ lead on all elements of teaching and learning, and have had a huge positive impact – their roles in the school vary hugely, including one NQT+1 and a second in department. The work has been excellent developmental experience for them and puts them in a great position to apply for SLT posts. Passmores doesn’t have ASTs/Lead Practitioners, but uses this model instead.

There are also – I thought this sounded great! – student Ped Leaders, who come to staff CPD to talk about lessons they have found particularly powerful or memorable. 

He has two deputy heads, one in charge of ‘teaching’ and the other in charge of ‘learning’.

They have got rid of lesson objectives, lesson judgements (apart from one formal observation a year for appraisal purposes) and regimented, formulaic lessons, but students should always be able to answer the question: ‘how do you know you’re being a success in this lesson?’

Another great idea – they have a ‘buzz directory’, in which, as a result of (non-judgemental) observations, staff’s strengths are recorded and they can be directed to observe one another to build on good practice.

They are big on filming lessons and have invested in Iris connect – which costs £15k. Staff have responded very positively to this, on the whole (this is something I would be keen to work on, and would volunteer to film myself first…!)

For staff appraisal, in addition to one observed lesson, the ‘big picture’ is crucial, in terms of overall staff performance.

Students are rewarded through a voucher system, and vouchers can be exchanged for material rewards.

Students are streamed from Year 7, which may go against some of our liberal instincts, but is extremely effective in terms of closing gaps – and providing a ‘safe place’ for the most vulnerable.

Walking around the school, there was a real ‘buzz’ – students were out and about, using ICT stations for research, conducting questionnaires, studying in the canteen. There was a sense of real happiness and safety, in a context where risk is clearly encouraged.

Vic stopped to have a chat with all of them, and was continually in and out of lessons, which staff clearly saw as both routine and supportive. Being clear and visible and approachable – and really knowing his staff and students – is clearly a massive feature of his leadership.

 

Staff well-being

The school has set up its own charity called No Child Without, which staff regularly raise funds for.

The school has various ‘services’ it buys in for staff, including ironing, car valeting and a hairdresser.

Staff meetings are kept to a minimum, with 2 briefings a week, and a compressed school day on the day of the weekly meeting, so that staff are able to leave by 4.20.

 

 

Thank you, Vic. We are very lucky to have you!

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Who I am, what I do (or not, of course)

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I thought this was a brilliant idea from Rory from the outset and vowed to contribute immediately. I found it surprisingly difficult even as (or because?) I was inspired by the wisdom, profundity, starkness, humour and sheer brilliant of others.

How on earth to say ‘who I am’ at all, let alone on a public, all-seeing forum? Depending on the year, the day, the perspective, the mood, I can be many things. So here it is – from numerous perspectives, some amazingly perceptive, others deeply-held truths, others still grossly unfair or ill-informed assumptions. Who I am, what I do, unapologetically full of contradictions, silences and deliberate or accidental ‘truths’.

 

I am:

One of life’s do-ers.

A bit of a chameleon – different things at different times.

Exactly what you see – authentic to the core.

High-octane.

Utterly reliable.

Persistently, sometimes irritatingly optimistic.

Not a fan of routine.

A (sometimes tedious) over-thinker.

A believer in people.

Rather naïve.

A breath of fresh air.

Moody and unpredictable.

A leftie.

Of the opinion that Russell Brand’s views are dangerous and irresponsible.

Really rather eccentric (what’s she doing now?)

Fiercely righteous.

A bit needy.

A former cat-lover (til they started using the kids’ bed as a toilet)

A non-conformist.

Infinitely loyal.

Self-righteous.

Rather shy.

Fiercely independent.

A chatterer.

A never-giver-uper.

A bit skittish.

Stubborn as hell.

Rubbish at housework.

Always wiling to do what I demand of others.

Fundamentally happy.

A worrier and a brooder.

A can-do-er.

On it, Miss Man.

That teacher who understood.

A bit of a cynic.

Still in touch with students from a decade ago.

The person who ‘made [someone] a better teacher’.

A bit intense.

Passionate and enthusiastic.

Bare deep.

A grammar fiend.

Increasingly able to see the funny side, the darker the better.

Inclined to want people to like me and act accordingly.

One of life’s enablers.

Sporadically sporty.

A Radio 4 addict.

Hyper and lacking in an off-switch.

A worshipper of sleep.

An inspiration to some.

A crutch to some.

Mum to many.

Not as ambitious as I could have been.

Full of adventure.

Opposed to physical risk.

Vaguely musical.

Allergic to DIY.

A romantic.

A pragmatist realist.

Inept at singing and dancing.

More focused and centred with age.

Fiercely ambitious.

Passionately committed to comprehensive education.

Utterly accepting.

Garbled and verbose.

Thoroughly blessed.

Infinitely giving – not always to the right people at the right times.

Self-indulgent.

A nail-biter.

A fan of sparkly nail-varnish.

A hater of superficiality and artifice.

Rather silly.

Completely lacking in fashion-sense.

A lover of the city.

A Home Counties dweller.

Devoted to clothes which show me as I am.

A liability in high-heels.

A traveller.

Someone who hasn’t been beyond France since having children.

A bon-viveur.

Always first to skulk to bed.

Full of spontaneity.

A teenager at heart.

In possession of a few of my zebra stripes or a little wisdom.

A hater of a paper.

A bibliophile.

A rare-wearer of make-up.

A regular changer of hairstyle.

A people-pleaser.

An office-hater.

A Berlin-lover.

Happiest in direct proportion to amount of time spent with people under 18.

 

I am a mother, wife, friend and a teacher.

I am a  do-my-best and strive-to-believe-it’s-good-enough-er.

In memory of A. and amazing school trips

There’s no punch in the guts quite like hearing about the death of a former student. This was A. in 2004.

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When I had the time and energy, I planned a school trip every year. We did Berlin twice, Barcelona, Italy, Paris… This one was to the South of France, and was by far our happiest. Partly because we teachers were in our working-too-hard, partying-too-heard mid-twenties and needed sunshine and a reminder of why we did the job more than we realised. And partly because of the kids we took. On paper, it was a nightmare. Over two thirds of the 18 kids we took had a special need of one kind or another, and most had severe and complex issues at home. Being Central London in the mid-nineties, we tapped every fund available, and very few of the kids paid very much at all for what was a very expensive trip.

A., notorious in the classroom, was quiet on the trip. Quiet in an overwhelmed, focused, seeing-and-trying-new things kind of a way. We realised that most of these kids had never left London, let alone lived in tents on a beach in the South of France, trying watersports of all kinds for the first time. The instructors initially weren’t sure what to make of our multi-racial, expressive and raggle-taggle bunch, and there was one particular expression of alarm when A. and his friend decide to stage a mock-fight whilst far away from the shore in a sailing boat… But we ran the tightest of regimes (acutely conscious of our own misdeeds on school trips), and they were impeccably behaved. The one plot to infiltrate the girls’ tent fell short when they failed to realise that canvas is not soundproof. They did us proud.

A. died of leukaemia last week, aged 23. He was proud of his job as a bouncer, adored his Mum (I never understood why ‘your Mum’ was such a cuss until I worked with these kids), and the six-pack of which he was so proud belied how ill he was. Rest in peace, lovely boy.

Moving on: The things I’ll miss

Those who know me, and those who’ve followed me closely, will know that there are a number of very valid reasons for me moving on from my current school to a new exciting SLT challenge at the end of May. As the time approaches, I’m increasingly aware of the things I value where I am now, and, partly as a tribute to a place that has played such a huge role such a significant period of my life, and partly by way of catharsis, I’d like to record them here.

 

1. Inclusivity in action

Not just in terms of our provision for a huge range of students, including some of the best provision for deaf and autistic students I’ve ever come across, but in terms of the total acceptance of every member of the community, regardless of background, education, colour, religion, dress-sense. We don’t just tolerate diversity, we celebrate it at every level. (Though OFSTED would be most sniffy about our dress-down Fridays.) Our dramatic, colourful musical extravaganzas bring out talent in all, and two of our most recent ones have starred students with significant learning difficulties and seen them genuinely shine.

The community extends to our families, and even our pets. Small children, dogs, guinea pigs and kittens abound. My own children are experiencing a genuine sense of loss, as the students, the staff, the shows and the parties formed a significant part of their upbringing.

2. Part of the furniture

You know that bit when, five or six years down the line, every face is familiar? Most recently, my year in SLT resulted in me also knowing every single member of staff. It’s a great place to be. It could almost go on for decades. I’m having anxiety dreams about enormous, labyrinthine schools where nobody knows who I am!

3. The class that kept me awake

You know the ones. And yes, thirteen years into my career, and during my stint on SLT, I will admit that they did indeed reduce me to tears at least once. Tears of sheer frustration. The sheer unpredictability of Year 9! Raging, volatile girls, childlike, over-excitable boys. And guess what? Nearly all of them chose my subject for GCSE, so we’re still together. They are marginally more predictable, still take a vast amount of work and consideration, but they love the subject (frequently to the point of over-exuberance) – one which is traditionally seen as difficult and frequently as pointless – and they are doing really well. And their Year 11 future is still very much in doubt terms of a teacher – the chances of them getting a specialist are minimal.

Telling them I’m going is one of my biggest dreads. I’m not going to launch into the melodrama of ‘how will they cope without me?’ Of course they will. I genuinely believe that none of us should be indispensable – it doesn’t make for a healthy school. But I hope they realise I’ll remember everyone one of them, by face and by name, and that, just as I have remained in contact with dozens of students from earlier in my career.

4. Yes, we can!

I’ve got this idea! Go on then – do it! This has been the mantra of our school for the last eight years. Anyone, anywhere in the school is actively encouraged to run with an initiative or idea. There are obvious down-sides to this approach (which are not for here), but for staff well-being and a sense of being valued and nurtured, it’s priceless!

5. Constant challenge

Linked to the above – not just I, but each of my colleagues, have been offered constantly opportunities to grow and flourish. Again, practical setbacks, of course, but I can’t imagine another time or another place where I would have embarked on a Doctorate with as much determination and enjoyment as I have.

6. My safe places

Good people, unconditional affection, places to rant and rail and rage. The wonderful Autistic unit with its aura of absolute calm, absolute acceptance, absolute ok-ness where I could hide any time it all got a bit much and talk – or not talk at all.

7. Flexible working hours

The oh-so-precious opportunity, to work first three, then four days a week, and still pursue new challenges and opportunities, which have in turn put me in a position where I could get a new SLT post. But boy, will I miss my blissful Thursday mornings with my books and my studies and my lovely quiet house, then my post-nursery cuddles and playdates.

I will find new safe places and inspiring people. I will experience – and, I hope, create – new challenges and opportunities to grown and flourish. I will have an impact on the lives of a whole new set of young people. It’s all good. But these elements of my current school have become part of my teacher identity, and for this, I am proud and I am grateful.