Guardian article: Special Needs System Open to Abuse

Here is a simple theory: School teachers feel under pressure to make sure that they are seen to be ‘accountable’ to pupils who need help in one form or another. If the teachers don’t commit such pupils to some list under some category, they fear being accused of not doing anything to help those pupils.

Thus, as the article describes, pupils end up on the special needs register for various reasons – but I suggest that at least some of this listing may be attributed to fear of official repurcussions for NOT registering the pupils.

It is not always easy or guaranteed to gain extra funding or help for pupils on the special needs register – but at least the teachers have some form of ‘evidence’ that they flagged up their concern – even if it’s to no avail in reality.

How can it be that schools achieve ‘outstanding’ when they have a highly disproportionate percentage of their pupils on the Special Needs Register? Do the schools ACTUALLY have a disproportionate percentage of SEN pupils or have they failed to teach effectively enough, for example, in the domain of reading and spelling instruction?


‘Innovative practice – Clever blogs': Blogging for pupils

I found this article very interesting:

Having benefited from the internet to get information out to other people and to lobby government to change its guidance for teaching children to read, I can only recommend it as a way of ‘having your say’ and motivating pupils to write their thoughts and suggestions. I am not at all surprised to learn that the writing standards improved notably in David Mitchell’s school. Well done to one and all.

Now the online TES (Times Educational Supplement) is supporting David Mitchell to promote February 29th as a world blogging day:

It took me a matter of seconds to find the blogging site for the school. I am sure that I would have loved this form of writing opportunity if I had my time over at primary school:

As an aside – I think that primary schools should teach their pupils to ‘touch type’ too. Some schools do. An ability to type quickly and without looking at the keyboard is something that I, personally, really treasure.


How much DON’T we learn about through mainstream information – I have an open mind – do you?

I’ve now watched a number of documentaries and read a number of books, documents and websites –  and have reached a point where I believe there ARE alternatives to addressing various cancers through natural remedies.

I’m also prepared to believe that the big medical and chemical industries have conspired one way or another to suppress, or try to discredit, the work of many good people across the world – currently and historically – regarding their honest findings.

It is my understanding that findings from alternative therapies – of various descriptions – ARE well-documented and plausible.

The older I get, the less I trust the main information we are given by those who hold sway over mainstream media.

England – the ‘anti’ worksheet trend – ‘worksheet free’ schools – dearie me!

I’m devoting my life to promoting the need for systematic synthetic phonics teaching and learning in the English language to teach reading and spelling.

So – this is about teaching beginners (whatever their age) to learn the MANY letter/s-sound correspondences of the English alphabetic code, to be able to decode new and unknown printed words very proficiently and independently (and understand about the notion of ‘pronunciation alternatives’); to be able to spell words (which includes the skill of oral segmenting and learning to handwrite the various spelling alternatives) – and understand about the notion of spelling alternatives (graphemes) as code for the ‘sounds of speech’ when spelling – which leads to raising awareness about the need to build up and recall spelling word banks.

Fundamental for gaining the best results possible for all the learners (and this is a LIFE CHANCE issue), is that EACH learner has his or her own practice and I suggest that there is nothing more fit-for-purpose (that is, no more sensible medium) through which to gain this practice than a core, multi-skills ‘Activity Sheet’  – a paper and pencil based routine – along with applying the knowledge and skills learned to a growing bank of cumulative sentences and texts for equally intensive practice!

On EACH  ‘Activity Sheet’, the focus alphabetic code knowledge (the letter/s-sound correspondence/s) is included, plus a bank of cumulative words of all lengths and complexities, with handwriting opportunities linked to the focus code linking ‘sounds’ to ‘graphemes’. Vocabulary enrichment, phonemic awareness (the awareness of sounds in spoken words), spelling-with-editing – are all included. Activity Sheets are a pretty amazing, all- encompassing resource – and so simple to re-produce (photocopying or printing), so simple to mark and collate – and so simple to send ‘home’ to inform parents (and, if possible, work in partnership with parents).

More than that, they BELONG to EACH pupil providing a permanent, growing and substantial bank of words (and linked to these – paper-based cumulative sentences and texts). They celebrate and track progress, they inform ‘home’, they provide an instant bank of material of the core knowledge and skills for any revision necessary – and they can also include some quick drawing/colouring activities to both engage the learner and to act as a mnemonic system (aid to memory).

In short, they provide MASSIVE routine core knowledge and skills practice for EACH learner – to be accessed at the level of each learner and to be completed in a time-frame unique to the learner (as fast or as slow as the learner needs to work). Learners trained in the routines can undertake the activities independently or be supported appropriately by an adult as necessary.

They can be designed to be used with ANY AGE learner because it is the SAME alphabetic code knowledge and core phonics skills which need to be learned and embedded.

BUT – and this is a HUGE ‘but’…

In England, there is worryingly growing trend for leaders of teachers, and teachers themselves, to dismiss out of hand the use of anything perceived as a ‘worksheet’. Some schools boast of being a ‘worksheet free’ school.

Personally, I think this is the teaching world gone mad.

I totally understand that the daily ‘diet’ for many young learners may be, or may have been, a gross overuse of ‘worksheets’ of which at least some of the worksheets may have been badly designed and inappropriate – perhaps amounting to nothing more than ‘busy work’ or a ‘time filler’.

There are many subject areas where there ARE far more fit-for-purpose, inspiring, creative – and more appropriately memorable – methods for teaching  and for learning than through using a stream of worksheets.

But surely this is not grounds for dismissing the potential role of worksheets with a blanket ban!

Teachers should be able to EVALUATE the methods and materials for delivering teaching and learning according to the subject-matter concerned, an understanding of the age of the learner, an understanding that no matter what the age of the learner, a variety of activities across a school day, and a school week, a school term, is always desirable.

Some things are better taught and learned in a simple, routine way – some things are better taught and learned in an active and creative way. Some things are better taught and learned calmly in the classroom, and some things are better taught and learned in the outdoor environment or further afield than the school.

But the blanket ban on ‘worksheets’ beggars belief in my opinion.

Surely everything we do and provide as teaching professionals needs a thorough and periodic evaluation – including our prevailing working and learning conditions.

There seems to be a trend in England where ‘multi-sensory’ means all singing, all dancing, all technology, or outdoors come what may, all entertainment, all ‘interactive’ – no matter what the knowledge and skills to be acquired.

The idea of ‘evaluation’ of what is truly ‘fit-for-purpose’ is not evident in some cases – and I am incredulous about those schools where there is a blanket ban on ‘worksheets’.

The TES thread (link above) provides some proof of my worst fears – that the banning of the ‘worksheet’ (no matter how fit-for-purpose it may be) is coming, at least in some cases, from some people in our teaching profession who hold  high authority over teachers themselves – their line managers, their headteachers, their advisors.

What I predict is that those schools overseas where teachers are following the debate about synthetic phonics teaching versus other methods, and are taking on board the advisability of promoting consistent systematic synthetic phonics teaching – and who are not adverse to simple, routine, fit-for-purpose, core phonics practice – will get results streets ahead of those ‘anti-worksheet’ English schools.

Let’s watch this space.



‘Join us on the Bridge’ for International Women’s Day 8th March

I consider myself so lucky to be a woman living in Britain as I recognise there is greater equality and freedom of speech in this country than others. I’m not suggesting that everything is fully or properly ‘equal’ in this country – but look around you UK ladies to compare with some other countries. We need to count our blessings.

As part of International Women’s Day in 2011, the Women for Women International’s petition called for Afghan women to be given an equal voice at the negotiating table and to be included in the peace negotiations that will decide the future of their country. I watched a documentary on TV recently which shocked me regarding the treatment of women who secretely provided education for girls in Afghanistan. How much we take for granted here in the UK.

‘Join me on the Bridge’ is the coming together of women worldwide, united in taking a stand for PEACE and EQUALITY.

Now in its third year, ‘Join me on the Bridge’ is the biggest women’s rights campaign in the world today. What started as a gathering of Rwandan and Congolese women on the bridge connecting their two countries has sparked what is today a global movement.

Last year, on International Women’s Day, 8th March, over 75,000 people joined together on 464 bridges in 70 countries.

To find out more about the campaign go to or watch this short clip!prettyPhoto/0/ .

Join with Annie Lennox and others to express your support. Actions speak louder than words.


Essex school gives pupils elocution lessons to lose their accents

This article describes how children are spelling better and understanding more about their own accent and other ways to speak – not about trying to ditch the local Essex accent.

I support this elocution provision because I have no doubt it will help children become more mindful about different ways of speaking and it will support them with spelling (which is a speech-to-print process). I like the way it will give children a hand in terms of their choices for later life.

I grew up in South Yorkshire and I remember distinctly having two main ways of speaking – one with a heavier Yorkshire accent to fit in with life at school and playground banter – and another with less of an accent and somewhat more ‘correct’ grammar. But I was lucky because my parents did provide me with, more or less, correct grammar – which then went on to support me in terms of writing.

At one time my mum also sent me to weekly elocution lessons. Funnily enough, part of the routine was actually to provide me with a list of words to spell for the beginning of the ‘next’ session! I also then gained opportunities to take part in ‘shows’ and poetry exams. I’m sure it did me some good one way or another.

I have a bit of a Yorkshire accent to this day (particularly when I am visiting that region) – but I’m so glad that I can, more or less, speak and write a bit more correctly than I might have done without my parents’ input or, perhaps, those elocution lessons.

You could ask, ‘Does it really matter?’ and I would understand that question.

My answer would be, ‘Yes, I think it matters – because it is giving children a better understanding about English speech and grammar and it is providing them with greater choices as they move towards adulthood.’


Nick Gibb, speech on school improvement (England)

Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools, speaks on 6th Jan 2012 about the government’s focus on school improvement.

It is good to see Nick Gibb continuing to promote the need for systematic synthetic phonics at every opportunity – with a clear message, also, that of course we need to promote the value of literature and encourage our children to grow in a book culture.

Critics of synthetic phonics often speak in terms of phonics ‘not being enough’ but synthetic phonics proponents have never said otherwise! Personally, I like the Simple View of Reading model which is the official model for teachers to note in England – where ‘word decoding’ and ‘oral comprehension’ are recognised as equally important in the process of reading and being literate.

Nick Gibb gives clear indication of the government’s action – not just intentions – when it comes to the reduction of bureaucracy in the teaching profession. Long may this reduction in bureaucracy continue.

It would seem that the promotion of schools described under the heading of ‘academies’ is a form of freeing up schools from local authority control. Hmm…I wonder if there was a better way, or a different way, than creating new forms of school under the authority of ‘who’ in particular? That is the question.

It is a HUGE responsibility being in charge of our children and their education. Just whose ‘hands’ are we putting our children in – perhaps sometimes naively?

The entry in Wikipedia (below) provides an overview of issues surrounding the rise of academies in England. I, personally, am not convinced that this is the best, or only, way forwards for improving standards in school – and I think there are worrying signs about the influence of sponsors and their personal beliefs. This links into my views about the mixing of religious worship and schools on a previous blog entry.

It would appear that there is no option for ‘reversibility’ written into the rules converting state schools to academies. All of this is sounding a bit like a power struggle of one description or another.


Ditch infant class size limits, Michael Gove urged

Ditch infant class size limits, Michael Gove urged

Class sizes can have an impact on how well pupils do in the early years of school

The education secretary is being urged to ditch regulations limiting infant class sizes to 30 pupils, in order to save money.

Sutton council chief executive Niall Bolger said his council had spent £7m on accommodating the extra pupils its schools would admit in September.

He said the limit could be raised to 32 without harming education.



Here are my first thoughts:  Far from seeing infant class size limits rise to more than the current ’30’, I would like to see class sizes of no more than 24.

Are you a parent of four to seven year olds reading this post?

Now, let’s say that number again – 30 – yes, that’s right – THIRTY.

Now, imagine for a moment, you, as an individual adult, looking after 30 children – perhaps four to five year olds, perhaps the five to six year olds or the six to seven year olds – or in some cases mixed classes of four to seven year olds.

And in order to provide for these children you are subject to a daunting official curriculum along with massive expectations of planning for ‘the unique child’, observing constantly and providing ongoing written records, target setting, continuous teacher assessment – and so on.

Some time ago, politicians introduced the ‘Personalised Learning’ agenda – so, the CLASS teacher was now responsible for planning, delivering and accounting for ‘personalised learning’ for these THIRTY CHILDREN in a play-based ‘child-initiated’ curriculum.

In addition, the politicians decided that to be seen to support teachers to cope with their bureaucratic burden of ‘paperwork’ (PPA – planning, preparation and assessment), teachers would be allowed to have a tenth of their week away from their class (‘non-contact’) and that a certain level of ‘teaching assistant’ would look after the class instead – but the assistant was not qualified for lesson planning, or ‘teaching’ – only ‘supervision’ so now the class teacher had to provide plans, guidance etc. for the assistant to look after the THIRTY children (in a ‘personalised way’???).

Anyway, the whole point of this posting is to draw attention to the idea that 30 children in modern British classrooms with the current expectations (or ‘demands’ and ‘judgements’) is a perfectly doable task – and it won’t make any difference to add a couple or more children to these infant classes.

Well, then change the curriculum, change the guidance, change the personalised agenda, change the judgement, change the national expectation for children being able to do ‘genre writing’ at the age of six or seven, change the idea that assistants cover for teachers to come out of classrooms to do some of the paperwork.

Like most things in life – there’s much more to consider about this issue than simply the council’s budget…


Is religious worship appropriate in our state schools?

I do not think it is right that our state schools should provide a daily act of Christian worship which is what the law demands.

I believe that we should bring our children up to have a shared moral code regardless of their family’s religion/beliefs/no beliefs.

What concerns me about schools in Britain at the moment is the increase in religious-based schools. I suggest that this is devisive. Is this really the way forwards?

Issues such as this concern the British Humanist Association – but I have to make it clear that I am no fan of Richard Dawkins and I believe that there are flaws in some of his arguments!

I appreciate that parents will make choices about religion and beliefs to influence their children – but is this really the role of schools which should surely be places of education and enquiry and, arguably, not worship?


Yes magazine – people trying to make a difference

I’m finding out about who is trying to make a difference – and how…

Someone alerted me to this particular magazine:

“About YES!


YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, we outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world.

Powerful Ideas, Practical Actions

2010 yes magazine covers

You can read new YES! Magazine every day online and every quarter in print.


Today’s world is not the one we want—climate change, financial collapse, poverty, and war leave many feeling overwhelmed and hopeless.

YES! Magazine empowers people with the vision and tools to create a healthy planet and vibrant communities. We do this by:


  • Reframing issues and outlining a path forward;
  • Giving a voice to the people who are making change;
  • Offering resources to use and pass along

YES! Magazine is printed on 100% post-consumer waste, chlorine-free paper. We reach more than 150,000 readers quarterly. More than 140,000 people visit our website each month, where we post new stories every day.”