Things to look forward to in the 2019 Spring term

With Christmas and new year celebrations gone, the winter weather and long dark nights may seem just the time to hunker down and count the days till summer, but don’t despair: there’s plenty to look forward to at the start of the 2019 Spring term!
Christmas isn’t over yet! Christmas isn’t just a single day, but lasts until 6th January (twelfth night). Traditionally the decorations stay up till then. If that isn’t enough for you, Orthodox Christmas Day this year isn’t until Monday 7th January.
While it may seem dismally dark outside when the alarm goes off each morning at the start of term, remember that from now on the days will be getting longer. The Spring equinox is on Wednesday 20th March so from then on we’ll have more daylight hours then night, with the clocks going forward on Sunday 31st March for the start of British Summer Time.
There are a multitude of feasts, festivals and special events to look forward to this term:

    2 January to 23 February RSPB Big Schools Bird Watch. A chance to get pupils involved in some citizen science by contributing to this annual bird survey. You can find out more and get class resources from the RSPB website.
    Friday 25 January Burns Night. Scots the world over celebrate their national poet.
    Sunday 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, an occasion many schools mark or build into their teaching. The theme this year is Torn from home. You can find out more and order free resources from the HMDT website.
    Thursday 31st January Young Carers Awareness Day. Championing the needs of Young Carers, the theme this year focuses on mental health. You can find out more from the Carers Trust website and via the #CareForMeToo hashtag.
    Tuesday 5th February Chinese New Year. Commencing the Year of the Pig.
    Thursday 14th February Valentine’s Day
    Friday 1st March is St David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales, and a bank holiday in Wales
    5th March is Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day), with the next day, Ash Wednesday marking the first day of Lent.
    Thursday 7th March is World Book Day in the UK (although the rest of the world celebrates this on 23rd April). You can find out more about this, and events throughout the year from the WBD website.
    Friday 15th March is Red Nose Day. This charity event takes place every two years and is a firm fundraising fixture in many UK schools. You can find out more and order a fundraising pack from the Comic Relief website.
    Sunday 17th March is St Patrick’s Day, when half the world discovers its Irish roots. Monday 18th March is a bank holiday in Eire & Northern Ireland.
    Thursday 21st March marks both the Hindu festival of Holi (‘festival of colours’) and the Jewish festival of Purim.
    31st March is Mothering Sunday in the UK (the international date is 12th March).
    Monday 1st April is April Fools Day. It’s the first time in several years that this has fallen on a school day, so watch out for jokes!
    14th April is Palm Sunday in the western Christian Calendar, with Good Friday bank holiday falling on 19th April, although with Easter falling later this year, most schools will already be on holiday on these dates.
    Saturday 20th April is the First day of the Jewish Passover
    Sunday 21st April is Easter Sunday, with the Easter bank holiday on Monday 22nd April. This date is also the first Stephen Lawrence Day. This day was announced by the Prime Minister in 2018 as a national day of commemoration for murdered teenager. You can find out more from the website of the Stephen Lawerence Memorial Trust.
    Tuesday 23rd April is St George’s Day. He’s the patron saint of England, but there’s no bank holiday for the English, so it will be back to school for many.

The list contains something for everyone, I hope, and plenty to look forward to. Let me know if I have missed any important dates and I’ll add them.
Whatever you are looking forward to this spring, have a Happy New Year!

Festival and event dates from www.timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby

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Audio description is a real eye-opener

Audio description is used to enhance experiences for blind and partially sighted people. I recently received some excellent training in this valuable skill from Susan Griffiths at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, along with other colleagues from the OU Gardens, Libraries and Museums team.

What really struck me was how placing myself in the position of someone with little or no vision made me think differently my role as a communicator. In order to produce an effective audio description I had to look at objects, even familiar ones, in a new way, much more closely and from a new perspective, including taking a much more multi-sensory approach. Thinking and planning how to guide a blind person around spaces between exhibits made me view the whole museum in a different way.

The resulting descriptions we produced as a group were much more powerful, not only for blind visitors but for the sighted as well. Certainly, listening to the descriptions other participants had produced helped me appreciate objects in a new way and notice elements I had not done before.

This is a good illustration of how taking time to think about and plan for those with a particular physical need produces a richer experience for all. This is a theme I considered my post on how schools are enhanced by SEND pupils. In a broader sense, it seems to me that artistic, cultural and scientific spaces are also all enhanced by this inclusive approach: welcoming those with particular special needs creates a richer experience for all.

It’s sometimes easy to think that training like this is only for SEND specialists, but whatever your role, I would urge you take up the opportunity if you get the chance.

Ten things to look forward to in the Autumn Term

What happened to those six weeks of the Summer holiday? Half way through the first INSET day of the year, you may feel they have already retreating to the distant recesses of your memory. Don’t despair, even though the long haul through the longest term of the year has just begun, and Christmas may seem a very distant horizon, there’s plenty to look forward to in the 2018 Autumn Term.

Autumn Term Top Ten

  1. Summer isn’t over! It’s still British Summer Time (until the clocks go back on 28th October) and we’ll still have a few weeks of warmer days and longer evenings, so make the most of them before the nights draw in.
  2. One of the great things about teaching is that there are two New Years: the one in January that everyone gets, and the one in September that offers a new beginning in every school. Remember when you were at school and got new exercise books? We wrote our names on the cover and opened the first new blank page full of possibilities. Your pupils will have that same feeling; how will you help them capture it and achieve great things?
  3. While most students have been enjoying summer fun, for some, the holidays will have been difficult. They might not always show it, they’ll have been be looking forward to the new term, the security of the school routine, maybe even just regular meals. You can make their school year a good one.
  4. Take time to connect with nature. Look out for the signs that summer is turning into autumn. Which plants are coming into bloom now, rather than in spring or summer. Which fruits are ripening, which leaves are changing colour first? Which animals do you notice? Take note of these small changes and you’ll soon see that no two days are alike.
  5. The annual Macmillan Coffee Morning has become a firm fundraising fixture in many schools (something to do with the cake perhaps?). This year it’s on 28th September. You can sign up and get more information here: World’s Biggest Coffee Morning 2018
  6. There are plenty of other key dates, holidays and festivals during the Autumn term. Shortly after the start of term are the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana (10th September) and Yom Kippur (19th September) and the Muslim New Year (12th September). Halloween (or All Hallow’s Eve) is on 31st October, preceding the Christian Feasts of All Saints Day and All Souls Day (1st & 2nd November). Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights is on 7th November and this year Remembrance Sunday falls on 11th November (see below). Scotland celebrates St Andrew’s Day with a bank holiday on 30th November. The first Sunday of Advent is shortly after on 2nd December, bringing us to the lead-up to Christmas. Hanukkah begins on the 3rd and ends on the 10th December.
  7. When the nights do draw in, and the weather gets colder, what better way to celebrate than bonfires and fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night, 5th November? Gunpowder, treason and, with any luck, toffee apples.
  8. As usual we remember all those who have died in conflict on Remembrance Sunday. Many schools mark Armistice Day itself. This year, the two come together on Sunday 11th November, which marks 100 years exactly since the end of the First World War.
  9. Some of the best bits of school happen in the Autumn term and will be upon us before we know it: if I were you I’d check your Christmas jumper, and start planning the Nativity Play now.
  10. At the end of this term, the Christmas holiday and New Year!

So, what are you looking forward to this Autumn term? Are there any dates I’ve missed out? Why not share with a comment?

Festival dates from timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby

Clearing: a place where the sun shines through

Students receive their A Level and BTEC results this Thursday. For all who took exams there is the sense of relief that the long wait is finally over, for many jubilation that they got the grades they need for their dream course at university, but for some disappointment that they didn’t quite make it.

Well done to all those who found what they hoped for inside that envelope, but this post is for those who are entering UCAS clearing, the system that matches remaining places with students looking for a course.

It may seem that a door has closed in your face, but really clearing opens up a wealth of opportunities. I gained my university place through clearing and, looking back, it was one of the best things that could have happened. I ended up going to a University I had originally applied for, just on a different course. I got to spend my time studying a subject I still love, at what is now called a ‘Russell Group’ university. I made great friends and met a wonderful woman who later became my wife.

The fact that I’d gained my place through clearing made no difference once I got to University. After gaining my first degree it was no barrier to further study: I went on to gain a PhD.  I then went on to a fabulously rewarding career; no employer has ever been interested in my route into university, only the qualifications I gained.

I didn’t know any of that when I opened my A level results envelope in 1985 (yes, that long ago!), but what seemed like a bit of a disappointment at the time, in fact led to a world of opportunity.

Right now colleges are clamouring for you to be a student at their campus next month. Many will have unfilled places on courses and some will have reserved places for candidates from clearing. My advice to you is to see clearing as the opportunity it is – a place where the sun can shine through, enabling you to see a new path to your future.

Top Ten Tips on Clearing

  1. Wait until you have your grades. While UCAS open clearing early in July, universities can’t make an offer you you unless you know your grades.
  2. Make sure you know how clearing works. UCAS explain it here: What is clearing?
  3. Have your personal statement to hand as well as your grades and UCAS ID. You’ll need to be able to speak about yourself, not just your grades.
  4. Do some research on colleges. You may want to go for an alternative course at a university that made you an offer, alternatively you may be phoning a uni you didn’t originally apply to. Either way, you will need to give a positive reason why you want a place there.
  5. Similarly, research the courses on offer. You should be able to give a positive reason for doing that course and be able to say why it interests you.
  6. Avoid reasons that will set alarm bells ringing for tutors. Examples are ‘My friend is going there’ or ‘My Dad thinks it’s a good idea’.
  7. Be ready to explain why you got lower grades than you expected. Was it down to a particular topic? Did something happen that affected your performance? Show that you have reflected on this and remain positive about your subjects. Be ready to talk about what went well and areas of study you enjoy.
  8. You need to make the call yourself. The university want to hear from you and learn about you, not your teacher or your mum!
  9. Don’t worry about being nervous when you call, the tutor you speak to will be used to this, but do be prepared to speak clearly. Write out a sheet with key points and have this in front of you when you call.
  10. If you get an offer, don’t forget to add this as a clearing choice in UCAS track. Only do this when the university give you permission.

Is now the right time?

You may also want to take some time to think about if this is the right time to go to university. Your friends may be going and your school or family may be encouraging you to go through clearing? But it’s a decision you need to make for yourself.

It may be that retaking some exams is right for you. Perhaps a gap year or employment will provide additional experience you can add to a future application. You may just want to take more time to think or get more advice.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s your decision. Best wishes for your chosen future.

One in a million find

Really pleased to be running #ProjectInsect with colleagues from Oxford University Museum of Natural History. So many pupils have become enthusiastic young entomologists and Sarah’s find is the icing on the cake!

In the UK, anyone can submit wildlife finds to the Biological Records Centre database using the iRecord website or app. I’ve written about how to do this here.

If you are near Oxford, we still have a few places for 10-14 year-olds on our Insect Investigators Summer School which takes place 13th – 17th August. Please email education@oum.ox.ac.uk for more information or to book a place.

More Than A Dodo

The Museum’s collection of British insects already houses over a million specimens, and now it boasts one more special insect.

Ten-year-old Sarah Thomas of Abbey Woods Academy in Berinsfield, Oxfordshire discovered a rare beetle in her school grounds while taking part in a Museum outreach session. To Sarah’s excitement, the beetle is so important that it has now become part of the collections here at the Museum – and it is the first beetle of its kind to be added to the historically important British insect collections since the 1950s.

Sarah Thomas examines her beetle under the microscope with Darren Mann, entomologist and Head of Life Collections at the Museum

Sarah’s class took part in a Project Insect Discovery Day, where they were visited by a professional entomologist, learnt about insect anatomy and how to identify and classify specimens, and went on the hunt for insects in the school grounds. Project…

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