Thursday 13 June 2013

The OfSTED Experience

An average sized 1.5 form entry primary school in rural Hampshire, we had never been particularly worried about what OfSTED would say.  We were good.  Everyone told us we were "good", nothing more, nothing less.  When they came they would find us to be "good".  It was so clear, I stopped using other words when describing the school - "it's a good school," I would say!

So when they eventually called and judged us as "outstanding", no one was more surprised than us.

In the summer for 2011, the school received the Golden Ticket - OK, well letter - from OfSTED saying we had another year before they'd inspect the school.  So from the summer of 2012 we aimed to be "performance ready", creating alternative timetables, just in case "the call" arrived and it was "showtime".   However as days, weeks and months passed, with local schools getting inspected and no call for us, we started to believe they were never going to call.  2013 began and there were still no signs of our favourite inspectors.  By the Easter holidays, we'd been waiting a whole year for their visit - we'd almost lost hope, if "hope" is the correct word.  SATS week came and went and it was the week before Summer half term.  3 days to go - one day for them to call - before our week long break.  We were doing assessments and on the wind down.

Then -  as message was passed on from office staff, to senior leadership, support staff and, eventually, teachers in front of their classes - one thing was sure: it was "showtime". 

Panic mode set in.  Many of us had plans, but only for that evening with friends and family, lesson plans were non-existent because of the assessment week we were in.  Families and friends were notified, social plans for the next 48 hours were cancelled and an extremely kind parent (aka - angel) called to offer lasagne for the team at 6pm.  All teachers were thinking aloud to anybody who would listen.  Ideas were conjured up based on the assessments we'd been doing and, slowly and surely, a timetable came to be created.  The whole team set-to, ensuring the building and contents were "performance ready" as well as us.  The photocopier went into overdrive creating resources, copying assessments and re-doing displays.

10 hours later - with the school ready, plans in place and emotions subdued - it was time for the final preparation: a good night's sleep.  

So that obviously didn't happen.  Our amazing headteacher was up and out of his house at 4:30am and at school by 5.  I was awake when he woke but chose the "tossing and turning until the alarm goes off" tactic so was in school just after 7am, like most of the other teaching staff.

By the first morning, the mood had changed from panic to determination.  We would get through it and we would be good. 

The inspectors put the staff team at ease in a 4 minute introduction to the inspection and the aims.  The bell rang and the day began.  Whispers were flying round the school - Who had they observed? How long were they in there? How did they do? What was the feedback?  The staff were all so supportive to each other and constantly offered help, advice, tea, biscuits and other necessities (!!) in minutes, hours and seconds of need.

The children were absolutely wonderful - after all, it was their time to shine too.  

One thing had become clear from all the observations - the learning objective and success criteria were key. The inspectors loved the idea of levels on the steps to success and were incredibly impressed with how the curriculum was designed to provide a true purpose for all learning.  The first day had passed and the word "outstanding" had entered our school.  Many lessons had been judged as "outstanding" and it was clear that the inspectors liked the school.

Day 1 was nowhere near as long as "The Call" day.  I was home by 8pm.

Advice and feedback from Day 1 was taken into account when planning and preparing for Day 2.  I'd been observed teaching ICT so knew I was probably due a visit in Maths or Literacy.  Lo and behold, the lead inspector turned up in my maths lesson - one which I was incredibly pleased with and proud of.  At the point she left the room after 30 minutes, the inspection was over for me.  I knew that I wouldn't get another visit and my class could do the finishing edits to their stop-motion animation movies ready for the cinema afternoon with their parents, that afternoon!!  The children spent the rest of the day preparing for the cinema and I didn't see the inspectors again.  They were locked away in the headteachers office before giving feedback to the governors.

Just before the headteacher walked in to give us the feedback, I had naively said, "We'll be good.  Everyone's always says how we're good."  I felt bad about saying that afterwards. 

The whole crazy experience was over in 52 hours.  We had proved that a school can get "outstanding" under the new framework with a dedicated, not overworked, team who loved the kids, loved their job and knew the importance of it.  We did nothing different to what we normally do, we just had to show the OfSTED inspectors "normal" in a very abnormal week.  But, as anyone who works with children knows, the "normal" week never turns out to be as normal as it first appears.

We never needed an OfSTED-judged label to do our best for the children, and we still don't now.  

But the judgement has given us reason to celebrate with friends, family, colleagues and pupils and we'll continue celebrating forever...well, until we get the next call!

Do Teachers Have Time For Exercise?

YES - I've found two easy solutions.

So far my life has gone:
7 years of primary school
7 years of boarding secondary school
6 months TA-ing in a primary school.
4 months in Mexico
3 years of Uni to qualify as a primary teacher
NQT year
Get Married
2nd year of teaching...NOW! 

Up until the last two years of my life I have had many hours of the day spare.  When I started teaching I quickly realised that I really don't know what I spent them doing.  There are not enough hours in the day anymore.  During my first year of teaching I was planning a wedding and moving house as well as trying to complete my NQT year.  

For the wedding, I wanted to tone-up and look my best.  In order to achieve this I needed to do some exercise - and therein lay the problem.  

There already weren't enough hours in the day to do my work, how on Earth would I find the time to exercise?  I was leaving home at 6:30am, arriving at school at 7:30am, leaving school at 5:30pm and getting home at 6:30pm.  My evenings were spent assessing, planning and preparing for the next day(s).  But the choice was between not toning up and continue as I was or toning up and finding the time.  I went with the latter. When deciding how I would tone-up, there were a few things I took into consideration.  

My form of exercise had to be: cheap to start, high impact, low preparation, quick to complete and sustainable. 

This ruled out gym-time (cost), team sports (time restrictions), long workout DVDs and anything that involved kit.  This is when I came across the first solution to staying fit as a teacher.

The Couch-To-5k Plan

I had heard about this plan a few times before but this time I actually bothered looking into it.  I found out there were apps that pulled you in by giving you weeks 1 and 2 for free.  Then I saw you had to pay for the other 7 weeks.  That wasn't for me.  Then there were free apps which just had talking over your own music but I had no idea where to start with that.  After some digging and reading some forums, I discovered the NHS Choices Couch-To-5k Podcasts.  (Available for free on iTunes in the Podcast store).  

All you need is an mp3 player.  I was well equipped with my iPhone.  With the 35-minute Podcasts downloaded and the mapping service MapMyRun running, I was ready to head off on my first ever run.  The C25K plan starts you off slowly, with 1 minute of running at a time.  I quickly began to love the podcasts and the programme.  I could feel myself getting fitter and really appreciated the voice of "Laura" encouraging me along the way with gentle tips and advice.  In July I ran my first ever 5k race and got a time of 35 minutes.  I was so pleased, proud and happy but most of all I was grateful for the podcasts - without them I would've quit very early on.  

A year down the line, I am using the C25K plan once again as I'm booked into the local Race For Life again, this time I'm hoping to come in under 30 minutes - we'll see! 

During an earlier health-kick in life - some time during University, probably after putting on the Freshers Fifteen (pounds!) - I had purchased, read and enjoyed Jillian Michaels' book called Master Your Metabolism.  I won't go into too much detail about the book here but if you click on the link and read the Amazon review, they speak for themselves.  The main thing I picked up from the book is that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS or called Glucose-Fructose or Sugar/Glucose/Fructose Syrup in the UK) is a killer and is what is largely to blame for us getting fatter!  Since then I've tried to avoid the stuff as much as possible.  Another thing Jillian always mentioned in her book was a hardcore fitness programme she made called:

The 30 Day Shred

This time around, I took the plunge and ordered the DVD.  Jillian wasn't lying when she said it was hardcore.  At one point during the DVD she yells this: 

The workout consists of 3 circuits of 3 minutes of strength, 2 minutes of cardio and 1 minute of abs work.  Combined with a 2-minute warm up and cool down that's only a 22 minute workout.  You do each level for 10 days and there are 3 levels.

10 x 3 = 30 Days of Shredding! 

The 30 Day Shred is fast becoming another solution to the "how can teachers exercise?" problem.  Not only is it high impact, low time and low maintenance, it also has amazing results.  A quick Google search of "30 Day Shred results" produces some impressive transformations.

Whilst surfing the Pinterest waves, I found this amazing don't-know-what-it's-called and it definitely made me chuckle so I immediately added it to my Fitness Board along with inspiring quotes and photos.

I'm desperate to find out if there are any other programmes out there like Couch-To-5k and 30 Day Shred which are proven to work but don't take ages to complete.  If you know of any, please do stick them in the comments - you never know who you might help out!

Thursday 6 June 2013

Bake Off Apprentice Style Week

This was my favourite week in teaching.  You can read why here and can see why in photos below.  I will take you through day-by-day.


The week started with a video from Lord Sugar:

Children split themselves into two teams, chose a name and appointed a project manager.  

Then we were straight into baking.  We started by watching Paul Hollywood's Bread, Episode 1, the first 10 minutes (Bloomer Tutorial).  I gave a quick input for each technique, and in pairs children made 1 mix for different flavoured dough balls.  

Throughout the whole week we followed this recipe which I put together from my experience of baking bread and many different recipes.  

500g of strong bread flour (white OR wholemeal).
7g dried yeast (1 sachet).
1 tablespoon of sea salt and sugar
2 tablespoons of olive oil.
APPROX 1 mug of water (300ml).
2 tablespoons of EXTRA ingredients (could be Olives, Sundried Tomatoes, Chilli, Rosemary and Sea Salt).

  1. Add flour to bowl
  2. Add yeast on one side of bowl
  3. Add salt on other side of bowl
  4. Add olive oil, sugar and EXTRA ingredients to middle of bowl.
  5. Cover one hand in olive oil.
  6. Add small amount of water to middle of bowl and mix with hand gently.  
  7. Keep adding water until the dough is in ONE BALL.  Please note you may not need to use all the water.  The dough should be together and not too wet.
  8. Place the big ball of dough on a WELL OILED surface.
  9. KNEAD the dough for 5 minutes on the oiled surface.  
  10. Clean and dry the bowl and pour oil round the top edge so it covers the bowl.  
  11. Place cling film over the bowl.  
  12. Leave for 1 hour and a half to prove in a warmish place.
  13. Knock out the air.
  14. Shape into balls the size of your fist and place on baking paper on tray.
  15. Leave to prove for 1 hour, covered in cling film or tea towel.
  16. Remove covering, spray with Olive Oil and cook for 15-20 mins at 180 degrees.  
  17. Leave to cool on wire rack.

While the dough was proving, we watched the following video about yeast before children setup science experiments about yeast.

The children were allowed to investigate any question they wanted using a variety of resources and equipment.

This kept them busy while the dough was proving and so you can imagine their amazement when they saw that their dough had gone from this:

To this:

 We then shaped the dough into small(ish) balls ready to prove once more before cooking.

 Then we left them to prove:

 Baking time arrived:

 Children then tasted the dough balls and chose 4 flavours per team to bake and sell on Wednesday.  Using, children decided what ingredients they wanted to buy.  This involved them working out timings, ratios of recipes and cost - lots of hidden real-real-life maths!!


The second day started with a visit from a parent who had set up a business.  She brought along business plans, catalogues, publicity and, most importantly, her expertise.  She helped children write business plans, decide on prices and create their adverts.

I had written to some local charities explaining what we were doing and asking them to send in some persuasive paragraphs so children can choose which ones to support.  They spent some time on Tuesday reading these and voting, with both groups choosing the same two charities; one which supports stroke victims and one which is wildlife-based.

Finally, the time arrived for our Sainsbury's order to be delivered.  We all gathered out the front of the school and were excited when the van entered.

 After transporting the bags to the "bakeries" (classrooms) and emptying the ingredients.  It was time to split them up into the teams, according to what they had ordered.  Finally, the two teams set to, preparing their bakeries for the mad baking day tomorrow.  This is how the classrooms looked at the end of Tuesday:


This was our first baking day.


We started today with the results from yesterday and children discussing what they wanted to change today. Then again, they baked and baked and baked.  Mixed and kneaded and proved.