Beat the #ResultsDay media scrum with buzzword bingo!

With A Level results day pending, press, politicians and performative celebrities alike will be preparing for the inevitable annual media scrum.

Navigate your way though the quagmire of commentary with this handy results day buzzword bingo card. I hope it helps a little to make the day more manageable!

If you’re looking for some advice with the UCAS Clearing process, you might find this Clearing Checklist helpful.

Looking forward to spring term 2022

The coming spring term seems as uncertain as that of 2021. The Omicron variant has created a spike in Covid-19 cases, including many teachers. At the time of writing, the government has stated that it wants schools open, but, beyond mask wearing, has announced no new mitigations. The controversial DfE call for ex-teachers to return to the classroom has not been met with enthusiasm. It looks as though teaching will be remote, at least in part because of staff and student absence, as it was for many schools before the Christmas break.

Despite these uncertainties, there is still plenty to look forward to this term. As last year, perhaps the regular routine of the school calendar and observance of familiar events may help us look towards a brighter future.

January

The first half of this term is time to take part in the annual RSPB Big Schools Bird Watch 2022. Get your pupils involved in some citizen science by surveying the birds visiting your school site. You can find out more and get class resources from the RSPB website. Registration is open now and you should submit your results online by 21 February.

Registration for the Show Racism the Red Card Schools Competition 2022 is open from the start of January until 4 March. Young people can enter work about fighting racism in any medium – art work, creative writing, song, film, and T-shirt designs. You can find out more on the competition pages of the SRtRC website. The deadline for entries is 18 March.

Thursday 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, an occasion many schools mark or build into their teaching. This year, the theme is One Day which can be interpreted as one day to mark the Holocaust, one day when there will be no more genocide, one day in history, or the struggle some face to live one day at a time. You can find more information for schools on the HMDT website.

February

Tuesday 8 February is Safer Internet Day when many UK schools will focus on cyber safety. The theme this year is Together for a better internet which aims to make the internet a better and safer place for all, especially children. You can find out more, and download resources for different age groups on the Safer Internet Centre website.

Tuesday 1 February is Chinese New Year, celebrated by Chinese communities throughout the world, which in 2022 ushers in the Year of the Tiger.

Monday 21 February is the start of Fairtrade Fortnight which runs until 6 March. The focus for 2022 is the Choose the world you want festival. You can find out more, order school resources, or request a virtual school visit from a speaker, from the Fairtrade Foundation website.

March

1 March is Shrove Tuesday (or ‘Pancake Day’) when, in the UK pancakes are traditionally made to use up eggs and sugar before the start of Lent, in the Christian calendar, on the next day, Ash Wednesday.

1 March is also St David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales. While not an official Bank Holiday in Wales, some schools may have a half-day holiday.

Thursday 3 March is World Book Day in the UK, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary (I know, I can’t believe it either!) You can find out more about this day, events throughout the year, and resources for different ages from the WBD website. As usual, a selection of £1 books will be available for purchase with WBD tokens.

British Science Week, the ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths, runs from 11 to 20 March. The theme this year is Growth and includes a schools poster competition. You can find out more from the British Science Week website.

Wednesday 16 March is Young Carers Action Day. Championing the needs of Young Carers, the theme this year focuses on Tackling Isolation. You can find out more and download resources from the Carers Trust website.

Thursday 17 March (starts on the evening of the 16th) is the Jewish festival of deliverance, Purim, marked by shared food and gift-giving.

17 March is also St Patrick’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland, celebrated there and by the Irish diaspora world wide. It’s a bank holiday in Eire and Northern Ireland.

Friday 18 March is the Hindu and Sikh festival of Holi, or ‘festival of colours’ celebrating the coming of spring.

By now we will all be noticing the hours of daylight lengthening and the clocks go forward by an hour at 2am on Sunday 27 March, marking the start of British Summer Time.

27 March is also the date for Mothering Sunday in the UK and Ireland, although the date varies internationally.

World Autism Acceptance Week (note the change of name from ‘awareness week’) runs from 28 March until 3 April. You can find out more and register for the schools’ newsletter from the National Autistic Society website.

April

Thursday 1st April is April Fool’s Day, which will make for an interesting last day of term for some schools, so watch out for practical jokes!

The Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover) begins at sundown on Friday 15 April and ends at nightfall on Saturday 23 April.

The Good Friday bank holiday is on 15 April this year, with Easter Sunday on 17 April, and the bank holiday on the Monday. Let’s hope that by this point in the year, a successful booster vaccination programme will enable us all to share the holiday with friends and family.

Hopefully, this list contains something for everyone and plenty to look forward to. Please let me know if I have missed any important dates and I’ll add them.

My ten most read posts of 2021

Here’s a run down of the ten most read posts on my blog in 2021. Topics range from perennial issues facing teachers to questions arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

10. Things to look forward to in spring 2021. I write one of these for the start of each term but none have contained truer words than “This spring term may be more uncertain than any that have gone before”!

9. Lots to look forward to in autumn 2021. Another ‘looking forward’ post; this one for the autumn term. For some reason, Summer wasn’t as popular, at 17th place.

8. Volunteers returning to teaching – Seven practical questions. A recent, topical post on the DfE call for ex-teachers to return to the classroom.

7. Wasp in the classroom. A perennial summer challenge for teachers – I was even asked this once at interview! This advice draws on my experience at the Museum of Natural History in Oxford.

6. Ten ways to gain a class’s attention. Visiting schools means I see a lot of techniques to gain attention. Here are ten to choose from.

5. Looking for a little inspiration? A post pulling together all my downloadable picture quotes posts in one place. The only ‘resource’ post to make the top ten. I update this regularly so it’s worth returning to.

4. Progress on behaviour – haven’t I seen this graph somewhere before? An older post from 2016 on the ups and downs of improving behaviour in a secondary school.

3. Thank you teachers! I wrote this ‘thank you’ when some we might hope would be saying it weren’t forthcoming, despite the challenges teachers had faced.

2. Learning and long-term memory. Another older post that’s still proving popular. This one is about different types of long-term memory and learning.

1. Do windy days wind children up? Once again, a post I wrote back in 2016 is the most read! It’s about research on that perennial teacher topic: does windy weather make children’s behaviour worse?

I hope you find something useful in these posts. If you do, it would be great to hear about it!

Volunteers returning to teaching: seven practical questions

With so many serving teachers incapacitated with Covid or required to isolate, the Department for Education are asking retired teachers and those who have recently left teaching to volunteer for a temporary return to teaching in order to maintain education for children.

The DfE are asking ex-teachers to temporarily return to the classroom

Whatever our views about this move and likelihood of its success, it raises several practical questions.

How will safeguarding be ensured?

Returning teachers are unlikely to have a current DBS check nor will they have up to date safeguarding training. With DBS checks sometimes taking weeks to be returned, it would help if the DfE could expedite this process.

It might also help if safeguarding training was part of the recruitment process, particularly newer aspects of Keeping Children Safe in Education and the safeguarding considerations in remote or blended teaching. Schools will still need to provide training on local safeguarding policy and procedures and time for this must be taken into account.

How will staff health be protected?

As many have commented, bringing retired teachers back into classrooms amidst high infection rates with little mitigation beyond open windows risks endangering them. Former teachers who have moved into other occupations are also unlikely to view a move into a risky school environment as attractive.

Carbon dioxide monitor.
Image credit: Morn CC BY-SA 4.0

I used to teach in schools and now work in the education teams of a university museum and library. My current employer has introduced measures including active ventilation, HEPA filters, carbon dioxide monitors and protocols for safe levels, provision of PPE, mask wearing in work spaces, social distancing measures, and enhanced cleaning regimes.

Schools do not typically match these provisions, do not have equipment, or have not yet received equipment.

What about working conditions?

While some teachers may have retired contentedly after years of teaching, we know that there is a retention crisis in teaching with many leaving the profession prematurely, often for the sake of their health and well-being, or to restore a reasonable work-life balance. Unless these underlying issues are addressed, a return to teaching is unlikely to be attractive under normal circumstances, let alone with the additional pressures created by the pandemic.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much of a real commitment to improve the situation. One area that could be addressed immediately is Ofsted inspections. The introduction of the temporary returnee scheme is an admission that schools are currently operating in emergency mode. The operation of a school with significant numbers of absent staff cannot be a true reflection of its normal provision. Should Ofsted inspections therefore be suspended for the duration? This would have the additional benefit of freeing inspectors to volunteer themselves.

Who pays?

Schools aren’t just facing a shortage of teaching staff, they have also suffered an unprecedented drain on funds. If the costs of the scheme have to be met by individual school budgets it is unlikely to be affordable. Schools may apply to the Covid fund but must meet strict eligibility criteria to be eligible. Wouldn’t it be better for the DfE to fully fund this temporary provision for its duration. This would allow school leaders to plan ahead rather than having wait until finances reach a critical level before commencing an application.

Why use supply agencies?

The DfE scheme asks returning teachers to register with a Supply Agency. We need to ask what the advantage of this is. While agencies may be able to play a role in matching teachers with schools, this will inevitably lead to a proportion of public money going from school budgets to these private sector companies, rather than directly to teachers.

There can be few school leaders who have not been frustrated by the charges of agencies and many a teacher who has found themselves locked into a contract after realising they could be earning more by dealing with schools directly. It’s perfectly possible to secure supply work by contacting schools directly and these surely will be the first port of call for recently retired staff. Why isn’t this option available?

What about remote teaching?

While the aim may be to place teachers in the classroom, remote teaching should not be excluded. It may well be necessary for schools to move to remote teaching in whole or in part, as was already happening before Christmas. Even if it isn’t, provision will need to be made for pupils who need to isolate at home.

Teachers who have worked during the pandemic have become adept at remote teaching following a steep learning curve. Returning teachers are less likely to be familiar with the technology and may not have developed these particular teaching skills. Training in remote teaching should form part of the overall package.

How will it affect pensions?

A temporary return to work could impact adversely on pensions, especially for those older staff members who have final salary pensions and return to a main scale teaching position having previously held responsibilities or leadership positions.

Mix of coins and bank notes

The DfE should clarify the position on pensions with a commitment that a temporary return to teaching should in no way disadvantage teachers’ pensions.

What is your view on the recruitment of ex-teachers to help schools? What other questions does this scheme raise? I’d be interested to know your views.

Reading and freedom

Open book with quote from Frederick Douglass: ‘Once you learn to read you will be forever Free.’

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) escaped from slavery to become a famous abolitionist and social reformer in the United States. He became known for his powerful oratory and writing, including his bestselling autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. This is available for free download, in a number of formats, from Project Gutenberg.

You can find more inspirational quotes in my post Looking for a Little Inspiration?

Turn Your Phone into a Microscope

In case you need a microscope but only have… some honey!

Wrote this for crunchyontheoutside.com, initially so kids could take part in a fruit fly survey even if they didn’t have a hand lens or microscope. I produced two versions of the video, the more sedate version included in the blog post and this 45s one intended for social media platforms with a faster pace. Let me know what you think.

45s portrait version of video

What if you need to look at something really small but you don’t have a microscope? You can can try taking a close-up picture with a smartphone or …

Turn Your Phone into a Microscope

Supporting Learning: Thinking 3D

New resources, for Mathematics, Art & Design, and History of Medicine, all inspired by an exhibition celebrating the legacy of Leonardo da Vinci.

The exhibition Thinking 3D ran at the Bodleian Libraries during 2019. It explored the legacy of da Vinci and his contemporaries for portraying, modelling and thinking about three dimensions. In my role as Education Officer, I and colleagues developed several resources for use in workshops with visiting school groups. Usually the resources we create for temporary exhibitions have a finite lifespan, but I was keen to develop these that into versions that teachers could use with their own classes in school.

Three resources are now available for free download from the Bodleian Education Teams’ TES shop.

Was Euler Right?

Link: www.tes.com/teaching-resource/was-euler-right-a-maths-investigation-12588555

‘Was Euler Right?’ is a KS2 Mathematics resource exploring 3D shape and space. Students can build a variety of polyhedrons from the nets provided and use them in an investigation to test Euler’s hypothesis that for all regular convex polyhedrons:

Vertices + Faces – Edges = 2

Creating 3D

Link: www.tes.com/teaching-resource/creating-3d-techniques-to-create-the-illusion-of-depth-in-2d-media-12593487

‘Creating 3D’ is aimed at KS3 Art students and explores a series of techniques used by artists to create the illusion of depth in 2D media:

  • Overlap
  • Relative size
  • Shading & shadowing
  • Single-point perspective

While each resource can be used as a standalone activity within a lesson, they combine in a progressive sequence. A final activity challenges students to draw a room using one-point perspective and the other techniques they have learned.

Build a body

Link: www.tes.com/teaching-resource/build-a-body-vesalius-dissection-and-anatomy-12587078

Andreas Vesalius’ Renaissance anatomical work De humani corporis fabrica revolutionised the understanding of human anatomy. His painstakingly detailed drawings were based on his own direct observation of dissections and achieved a new level of accuracy. Such was the interest in his work that he produced a shorter version, the Epitome, in which he helped readers gain an understanding of the 3D complexity of the body by including paper template pages for the reader to cut out and build three dimensional models. This resource is a simplified facsimile enabling students to follow in Vesalius’ footsteps and build their own model.

Accompanying questions prompt students to consider the significance of the models in their historical context.

I hope you find these resources useful and I’d be interested to know how you got on using them with students. If you download any, I’d really appreciate a review on the resource site. Thanks.

Top ten tips for accessible social media

Social media platforms are a great way to communicate, but many posts aren’t accessible to users with visual or hearing impairments or loss. The good news is that it is relatively easy to ensure that our content is accessible to everyone. Here are my top ten tips.

1. Use alt text for images

Alternative text (alt text) is a description of an image that can be read by screen readers used by people who are blind or partially sighted. The description enables them to build a mental picture of the image. You don’t need to include every detail, just the key components that will help create the picture. You might find my post on audio description helpful.

2. Use simple fonts

Many platforms allow you to use a range of different fonts and mix symbols with letters. This can be a lot of fun but can often make text difficult to read for those with visual impairments and can render it completely unreadable by screen readers. Stick to simple sans-serif fonts for your text but also your name / handle.

3. Capitalise hashtags

Camel with the phrase CamelCase aligned with its two humps.
Image credit: Silver Spoon CC BY-SA 2.0

Hashtags are used to identify key words and phrases with the hash symbol, e.g. #Accessibility. They aren’t case sensitive and are often written in lower case but this makes it difficult for screen readers to distinguish the individual words in a phrase. Instead, use ‘CamelCase’ by capitalising each word, e.g. #AccessibleSocialMedia. This way screen readers will be able to convert the text to audio accurately.

4. Use emojis sparingly

Emojis are great fun and often useful in expressing what we mean when we have to stick to a character limit. Be aware that screen readers will read them each in turn, so use them sparingly rather than repeating them for emphasis.

5. Be careful with colour

When working with colour in fonts charts and graphics, contrast is as important as the colours themselves. Although red might seem an obvious choice for providing emphasis, it is low contrast which can make it harder to read for those with a visual impairment. Red/green colour deficiency is also the most common type, so avoid these colours in combination. Similarly, a spectrum of colours might seem a good choice for a graph but may in fact make elements harder to distinguish for some. Instead, use a narrower colour palette or tonal theme.

6. Use bold for emphasis

We often use italicised text to highlight words or phrases but for many this is harder to read. Instead, use a bold typeface for emphasis.

7. Add captions to video content

Adding captions to your video content ensures that it is accessible to a wide range of users. Open captions are ‘burned’ into the video, and so will be visible on any platform, but users can’t switch them off. Closed captions can be be switched on or off by users. Unfortunately, unlike alt text for images, most social media platforms don’t make it easy to add captions. Most video editing software has a facility to add captions, but this can be time consuming if there is a lot of dialogue. If you upload a video to YouTube, captions will automatically be generated. You can then edit these. This can be a quick way to ensure your video is accessible.

8. Make use of platform-specific advice

It is not always obvious from the user interface, but each of the main social media platform offer advice and tools to make content accessible.

Twitter: Advice on making images more accessible from the Help Centre. Follow @TwitterA11y for updates.

Facebook: accessibility pages from the Help Centre.

Instagram: guidance on alt text from the Help Centre.

WhatsApp: FAQs about accessibility

YouTube: YouTube Fundamentals: Accessibility

TikTok: guidance on accessibility from the Help Centre.

9. Test before you post

Always preview or test your content before you post it online, checking that fonts, colours, alt text etc. work first. Computer and mobile phone software usually include a text-to-speech feature which you can use to preview content.

10. Listen to your users

It’s really important to get feedback from users about how accessible your content is. Ideally, following the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’, users with particular needs should have a say in how content is produced. This will help us all produce better quality content. Here are some links to useful guidance:

RNIB accessibility guidance

Stroke Association accessible information guidance

Sense guidance on accessible social media

I hope you find these tips useful. If you think I have missed anything, please let me know and I will happily include it.

Image credit: Flickr / Stacey MacNaught, www.staceymacnaught.co.uk, CC BY 2.0