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Project based learning: Jez Maurice Smith from Arnold Hill Academy says ……

Heads up

“Remember to lift your head and take in all that’s going on in the classroom”.

A frequent piece of advice that I give teachers that I work with. It’s all too easy to get stuck head down moving from group to group with questions, guidance and intervention. In doing so the needed help and direction can so easily be missed. So just like on an arduous hike, don’t forget to take your eyes off your feet and take in the vista.

Last June I was challenged to design and deliver a Learn2Learn, cross-curricular course taught by a mixed team of subject staff. All I knew was that I didn’t want to simply deliver a set of worksheet driven, skills sessions. The learning had to have a reason... Keep your head up.

By chance I came across the charity Friends of Chernobyl’s children. They foster children from Belarus for a month long medical respite visit for 5 years. A month in the UK is life extending to them as they grow up in a country affected by a disaster 30 years ago in a country that wasn’t their own. Head down and looking at my feet I might of missed this. Suddenly the course was born. We had a reason and a purpose. Y7 now study their situation and their circumstance through all the different curricula. We’ve learnt about the radiation, debated the ethics of nuclear power. Explored historical sources, learnt some Russian and written poems about the disaster. Why? The answer is simple because this is the life of the 13 ten year olds that we are raising money for. The 13 that want to spend a day in our normal lessons in June. The children whose life is so very different to our own.

The teachers of Project Based Learning are not experts in all, they are role model learners. My teachers take risks, learn with their students and endlessly amaze with their creative delivery of the course. They love it.

Half full or half empty that my favourite and most challenging learning and teaching should come from a cataclysmic disaster. Whichever, my message remains simple. Keep your head up and find the learning opportunities around you.

Jez Maurice Smith

Enterprising young people

Last night I attended the Nottinghamshire final of the annual Young Enterprise competition at Nottingham University. I try to go every year. It’s an inspiring evening. Rushcliffe has reached the final – as they do most years. They didn’t win this year but did earn the Environmental Award. The Sixth Formers involved had come up with the idea of making candles with special messages at the base and these messages only emerge when the candle has burnt down. Ingenious.

The overall winners were The Minster School. They had a similarly clever idea which involved creating a selection of jars with different contents in them. Very clever. The Becket School team had produced a book about the different foods that can be found in Nottingham- “Flavours of Nottingham”, Nottingham Girls High School were marketing a mug which could have messages written on the side, East Leake Academy set themselves up as Urban Gardeners and Ashfield School had set up a system which meant mobiles could be charged easily. Splendid ideas.

I was particularly impressed by the way the students approached the whole experience. Their very professional presentations explained how the idea had emerged, how they had worked as a team/company, how they had overcome problems and how they had learnt new skills. Each team was excellent. Any of them could have won. Once again I was left with a feeling that when young people are given the chance to do something demanding they respond superbly. This was a real life challenge and the students dealt with it remarkably well. The future of our society appears safe in their hands. And thanks to the advisors – the two Davids who give up lots of time but they want to. It’s appreciated.

Phil Crompton

Victoria Wood RIP

There have already been a lot of high profile deaths in 2016. Johan Cruyff was probably my biggest sporting hero. Sad to see him go. However the announcement that Victoria Wood has died aged 62 is particularly upsetting for me. The fact that she was one of the most famous Lancastrians – along with Morrissey and Freddie Flintoff – is part of it. It’s always nice to see someone from the same neck of the woods become successful.

But the thing I really liked about Victoria was her ability to help us smile and laugh at ordinary things. I first recall her in Wood and Walters in the early 80’s playing the part of a disaffected Liverpudlian school girl. I’d just started teaching and it all rang so true. Later I saw her in concert a couple of times. She was hilarious in a very self deprecating way. She was able to tell us about how she saw the world and the amusement that it brought her. It was rarely the big things – usually little things that might pass by unnoticed.

I’m not suggesting we should go around laughing at life all the time. There are serious things to be done and decided. However, the passing of Victoria has made me further appreciate the value of a bit of humour in making life more enjoyable for the deliverer and the recipient. The process of change that we are going through in education requires a sense of humour at times. I hope we can all remember that amid the tension.

Here end Radio 4 Thought for Day!

Phil Crompton

Hold the press: Phil Crompton agrees with a Secretary of State for Education

Now this is rare. But it’s true. Nicky Morgan spoke sense to the NAS/UWT last week. No, it wasn’t when she tried to justify expecting the planning of new GCSEs without the appropriate sample questions or even syllabuses being prepared. And I didn’t agree when she made no attempt to back track on the A level changes which take us backwards rather than forward. And as, for each school/academy/trust being told to make its own arrangements for the so called life after levels – well, no sympathy there either. And the increased emphasis on grammar seems to be seen as crucial to Ms. Morgan and Nick Gibb. I don’t see it as a major factor in holding back the country so I didn’t agree on that one either. Forced academisation? I’d rather see schools opt in rather than be told they have to do become academies. There’s so much to question because it does sometimes appear that changes are less than well informed or thought through. However, I do recognise that they are the elected government and are, of course, entitled to make decisions. I wouldn’t have made the same ones and I find it hard to agree with some of those made.

The Secretary of State did, however, have a point when she said that the unions and the profession as a whole should be more positive about itself. Instead of focussing upon the mysterious thousands who are apparently abandoning the job I think we should spend more time talking about the hundreds of thousands who turn up every day to teach, support and lead in schools and academies. Sometimes it appears that we are own worst enemies in telling the world that the workload is unmanageable, the inspectorate too demanding to, the working hours too long, the children too badly behaved and so it goes. It isn’t always easy working in education. But then which satisfying job is easy?

I see so many people working at our three academies and seeming to find the work rewarding. I think they enjoy the camaraderie, the chance to make a difference and the sense of purpose. I hope they feel they are supported whatever their role in the organisation and I hope they feel appreciated. A few don’t and they try their hand elsewhere. I certainly don’t see any signs of masses running for cover in other jobs and professions. Thank goodness for that. There seems little to be gained in dwelling upon what’s wrong with the job. We should listen and adapt if we can when issues are identified but for the sake of everyone let’s not be embarrassed about the positives. Let’s be proud to work in education.

Arnold Hill, Farnborough and Rushcliffe have 400 members of staff. Wherever you work and whatever you do please talk positively about your job, your place of work and the trust. If we don’t then who will?

I hope everyone enjoys the Spring Holiday. It’s well earned.

And I hope Nick Gibb isn’t too appalled by the standard of my grammar!

Phil Crompton

5 countries and 5 different education systems

Last Friday we welcomed Leonie and Irene from Apeldoorn in the Netherlands. They were keen to find out as much as possible about the way schools operate in England. They spent a morning at Farnborough and an afternoon at Rushcliffe. The word “inspirational” was used. It was good to hear. Earlier this term I met Erik from Aarhus in Denmark. He had been supervising two Danish students who had a school based experience at Arnold Hill. He felt it was important that anyone training to be a teacher had as broad an experience as possible. Two teacher trainers, Fredrik and Evon, from Belgium spent a morning at Farnborough and were delighted by what they saw. And the Rushcliffe/Madrid exchange continues to thrive. Last week the Spanish students came to England. They noted the differences to their own school – and appreciated them.

The English system has many critics. The PISA League tables apparently show we are hopeless and that children underachieve compared to other countries* . We are told that the Swedish system is to be admired and the Finnish approach used a model. Singapore is special and what goes on in Shanghai is a thing of wonder. Sometimes I wonder why we bother. And yet I see great things happening across our academies and visitors from overseas use the word “inspirational” to describe our work. Perhaps the English system somehow manages to do a pretty good job despite the constant confusion that is imposed upon it from above. Maybe decent people trying hard makes a difference wherever you are in the world.

God Påske Vrolijk Pasen Felices Pascuas Zalig Pasen Happy Easter

*please note that even the boss of PISA Andreas Schleicher says this is a misinterpretation of the tests.

Phil Crompton

Academies everywhere by 2022

This week’s announcement by George Osborne – why him? – that all schools would have to convert to academy status in the next 6 years can’t have been that much of a surprise to anyone involved in the education world. The academy movement has been gathering momentum for ten years and it has been largely unopposed by the major political parties. In fact they all seem to have encouraged it. Like it or not central government seems to have lost confidence in local authorities managing the education service. Perhaps in some places this distrust was justified and perhaps in others it wasn’t. Whatever, we are in the midst of change.

I spent 12 years as a head of local authority schools. Apparently I needed more freedom. Some colleagues were adamant that we were held back by the local authority. I didn’t feel like that. But when Nottinghamshire County Council became Conservative led for a brief period it became clear that “academisation” was being encouraged. So we became an academy. Yes, there was a financial argument that we didn’t feel we could ignore but the main reason for leaving the local authority was a feeling that they didn’t really want us – they saw the writing on the wall. Since then the reduction in staffing at County Hall has meant that they don’t have the capacity to provide support.

The new world that the Chancellor announced will lead to the growth of multi-academy trusts. At the Trent Academies Group we are ready to work with others but it is important that the right trusts are matched with the right academies. It really can’t be a mad dash to increase numbers and nor should schools and academies jump into the arms of the first trust to show interest in them. Anyone joining the Trent Academies Group will be expected to show a commitment to ensuring that “everyone has the chance to shine brightly” but we are wise enough to know that there are many proud schools who want to retain their identity and make a strong contribution to the trust of which they are a part of .

Interesting times indeed. The Trent Academies Group is playing its part.

Phil Crompton
Chief Executive Officer