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.

Things to look forward to in Summer Term 2021

I’ve been writing these ‘start of term’ posts for a while now. This time, more than ever before, it feels like we’ll all be looking forward to making the most of what summer has to offer as we emerge not just from winter, but from over a year of tackling Covid.

Times remain difficult and much that would normally happen this term must be postponed, or happen in a different way. Nevertheless, I hope that there is still a lot to look forward to.

The clocks have gone forward and each day is a little longer than the one before. One thing to enjoy is more waking up and coming home from work in daylight. Longer (hopefully) sunlit days help lift our mood, so it’s a good idea to try to make some time to get outside each day; even if it’s overcast, natural sunlight will do you good.

For 2021, The Big Pedal, organised by the charity Sustrans, runs from Monday 19 April to the end of the month. This annual event challenges primary and secondary school pupils to cycle, scoot and wheelchair as many miles as they can. You can find out more, register and pick up free resources from the Big Pedal website.

If you prefer two feet to two wheels, Walk to School Week is back to it’s usual time in the calendar, spring, running from 17-21 May. You can order a classroom pack now from the Living Streets Website.

While you’re out and about, take some time to connect with nature. Look out for the many changes in the natural world as spring turns into summer. Which plants are coming into bloom? Which berries and fruits are starting to form? Which birds, bees and butterflies do you notice? Take note of these small changes and you’ll soon see that no two days are alike. You can even use an app such as iRecord to add your nature sightings to the National database. If your pupils are feeling inspired by nature, the might want to submit a poem for the Into the Green Poetry Project that I’m involved with, run by The Bodleian Libraries and Oxford Botanic Garden to celebrate 400 years of plant science in Oxford. You can download a project pack from the Bodleian’s website. The deadline for submissions is 1 July 2021.

Connecting with nature is one way to look after our mental health and ‘nature’ is the theme of UK Mental Health Awareness Week which, this year, runs from 10-17 May. You can find out more from the Mental Health Foundation who are asking us to share images, videos and sounds of nature on social media using the hashtag #ConnectWithNature.

Lockdown and travel restrictions have highlighted adverse effects of fossil fuel use including air pollution and the climate emergency. The UN World Environment Day is on Saturday 5 June and this year marks the start of the UN’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. This could provide a focus for learning activities about human impact and the environment. You can find out more at worldenvironmentday.global #GenerationRestoration

THERE ARE MANY FESTIVALS, HOLIDAYS AND EVENTS THIS TERM:

  • Ramadan has already started and is observed by Muslims until Eid ul-Fitr on, or near 13 May
  • Stephen Lawrence Day is on Thursday 22 April
  • St George’s Day is on Friday 23 April and this is also Shakespeare Day
  • May is topped and tailed by bank holidays, with the Early May Bank Holiday on Monday 3 May and the Spring Bank Holiday on Monday 31 May
  • Friday 7 May is the Jewish Holiday of Shavuot
  • The Christian feast of Pentecost is on Sunday 23 May
  • In the UK, Fathers’ Day is on Sunday 20 June
  • Monday 21 June marks the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year
  • Tuesday 22 June is Windrush Day which marks the anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948 and celebrates the British Caribbean community
  • Tuesday 20 July is Eid ul-Adha, or greater Eid

Many of the most memorable aspects of school life usually happen during the Summer term: school trips, outdoor education, Summer concerts and productions, PTA barbecues, sports days, enrichment weeks, proms and end of year awards.

These enrich the curriculum and help build communities. This year these events will be very different, and some may not be possible at all, but schools will find ways to celebrate their own unique community and the landmark transitions for years 6, 11, and 13.

Hopefully, by the end of the summer term, teachers and pupils alike will be able to enjoy a well-earned summer break after an extraordinary school year.

Things to look forward to in the 2020 Summer term

I usually write one of these posts for the start of each school term. I try to list festivals, events and key dates for the term. When I posted Things to look forward to in Spring 2020, I didn’t anticipate how that term would end up for UK schools – COVID-19, the country in lockdown, exams cancelled and schools open solely for vulnerable children and those of critical workers.

Despite the difficulties presented by these extraordinary times, I still hope that there is a lot to look forward to, but this post for the Summer time, is a little different, highlighting key dates that educators may wish to highlight with students in school, or those they are setting work for online, or teaching remotely.

Easter isn’t over! It isn’t just one chocolate-laden Bank Holiday weekend, but an entire season of the Christian calendar. In the Orthodox Church, Easter Monday is on 20 April, the start of term for most schools.

The clocks have gone forward and the days are now longer. One thing to enjoy is no more waking up before sunrise and coming home in darkness. With the reduction in traffic and other activity, many early-risers are finding that the dawn chorus of birdsong is more noticeable than usual. Longer (hopefully) sunlit days help lift our mood, so it’s a good idea to try to make some time to go outside each day. Whether you’re lucky enough to have a garden, or can take your daily exercise in a nearby park or green space, even if it’s overcast, natural sunlight will do you good. Walk to School Week was originally scheduled for May, but has now been moved to October 2020.

While you’re out and about, take some time to connect with nature. Look out for the many changes in the natural world as spring turns into summer. Which plants are coming into bloom? Which berries and fruits are starting to form? Which birds, bees and butterflies do you notice? Take note of these small changes and you’ll soon see that no two days are alike. You can even use an app such as iRecord to add your nature sightings to the National database. If you have to stay at home, the Wildlife Trusts have a range of ways to Look after yourself, and nature.

The recent reduction in carbon emissions and air pollution because of restrictions in place to tackle the pandemic, have highlighted the impact of human activity on the environment. The UN World Environment Day on Friday 5 June, which this year celebrates global biodiversity, could provide a focus for activities on the environment. You can find out more here and even make a remote ocean dive with free education resources from The Ocean Agency.

In the UK, Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 18-24 May. In the light of the National response to coronavirus, the theme has been altered ‘Kindness’, in celebration of the thousands of acts of kindness that are so essential to our mental health, and to start a conversation of the kind of society we want as we emerge from the pandemic. You can find out more from the Mental Health Foundation.

There are many festivals, holidays and events this term:

  • Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) on Tuesday 21 April
  • St George’s Day Thursday 23 April
  • Ramadan starts on Monday 24 April, running until Eid ul Fitr on 24 May
  • The Buddhist festival of Vesak is on Thursday 7 May
  • The Early May Bank Holiday usually falls on a Monday but this year it is on Friday 8 May to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day
  • The Spring Bank Holiday is on Monday 25 May
  • Friday 29 May is the Jewish Holiday of Shavuot
  • The Christian feast of Pentecost is on Sunday 31May
  • In the UK, Fathers’ Day is on Sunday 21 June
  • Monday 22 June is Windrush Day. Initiated in 2018, this day marks the anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948 and celebrates the British Caribbean community.

Marking the end of a very different school year

Some of the most memorable aspects of school life usually happen during the Summer term: school trips, outdoor education, Summer concerts and productions, PTA barbecues, sports days, proms and end of year awards. Some schools would have activities weeks; others might move to their new timetables before the holiday. These and more enrich the curriculum and help build communities. This term will be very different but we can all think about how we can celebrate our learning communities and, in particular, how we can find novel ways to mark landmark changes for year 6 making the move to secondary, and years 11 and 13 making important transitions without the usual landmarks, including external exams.

Hopefully, before the end of the summer term we will have a better understanding of what the 2020/21 academic year will look like. It may not, however, be a ‘return to normal’. Perhaps this is an opportunity to think about which aspects of the old ‘normal’ we have really missed and look forward to, and which we would like to change in the light of what we have learned in these most extraordinary of times.

Things to look forward to in the 2019 Summer term

The summer holiday may seem a long way off, and exams may loom for many, but there’s also plenty to look forward to in the Summer Term.

Summer Term Top Ten

    Enjoyed the bank holiday weekend? There’s another one soon on Monday 6th May!
    Easter isn’t over! It isn’t just one chocolate-laden bank holiday weekend, but the greatest season of the Christian tradition, running until June this year. In the Orthodox calendar, Easter Monday is on 28th April.
    Easter is traditionally a time for embracing new life and new beginnings. Perhaps it’s a good time to consider our own professional practice – are there any aspects that we might revitalise or new things we could try?
    There’s no more waking up before sunrise and coming home in darkness. Longer (hopefully) sunlit days help lift our mood, so make some time to go outside each day. Even when it’s overcast, natural sunlight will do you good.
    While you’re out and about, take some time to connect with nature. Look out for the signs that spring is turning into summer. Which plants are coming into bloom? Which birds, bees and butterflies do you notice? Take note of these small changes and you’ll soon see that no two days are alike. You can even use the iRecord app to add your nature sightings to the National database
    A couple of international dates recognising our dependence on our environment fall within the Summer term. The UN World Environment Day is on 5th June and Oceans Day is on 8th June. With young people becoming increasingly concerned about climate change, perhaps that week could be a focus for environmental awareness and action at school?
    There are plenty of key dates, holidays and festivals during the Summer term. These include St George’s Day on 23rd April and the last day of Passover on 27th April. Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is on 2nd May this year and Ramadan starts on Monday 6th May, running until Eid I’ll Fitr on 4thJune. 6th May is also 75th anniversary of the D-day landings in Normandy. The Spring Bank Holiday is on Monday 27th May. 9th June is both the Christian Pentecost and Jewish Shavuot. In the UK, Fathers’ Day is on 16th June, and the Summer Solstice is on 21 June. 22nd June is Windrush Day. Initiated in 2018, this day marks the anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948 and celebrates the British Caribbean community.
    You may have pupils taking exams this term. While I’m proud of my qualifications, I’m also very pleased that the ticking clock and wobbly exam desk are well behind me! We all survived the process, so now we get to use our experience to help our students to succeed as well. I’ve written about tackling exam stress here. The article also contains links to useful websites offering further advice to students and parent & carers.
    Some of the most memorable aspects of school life happen in the Summer term: school trips, outdoor education, Summer concerts and productions, PTA barbecues, sports days, proms, end of year awards. Some schools have activities weeks, others move to their new timetables before the holiday. These and more enrich the curriculum and help build communities.
    At the end of this term… Summer holiday!

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

Festival dates from timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby

Teacher Holidays & Health Revisited

Could it really be that, even on summer holiday, school teachers experience more stress than educators in other roles who work through August?

Last year I wrote a post Holidays and Health, about the impact of the six-week Summer holiday on my health. I had been using a Fitbit heart rate monitor and I showed that it took the whole of the six-week holiday period for my resting heart rate to return to the level it had been before the start of the year.

Since then, a lot has changed in my professional life. Throughout the Summer I have worked as an Education Officer at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. I’ve written about not missing the long summer break because my new role isn’t subject to the same ridiculous pressures that teachers are often subjected to. In my post Summertime and the living is easy? I speculate that it is a combination of relentless pace, too few opportunities to collaborate, and lack of control over the education agenda, that result in teachers needing to recover from the school year, no matter how much they love teaching.

I knew I felt better this Summer, but I wondered whether there was a measurable physiological difference between this year and last. During the Summer term this year I did outreach work with KS2 & KS3 classes, visiting a range of primary and secondary schools, usually working with a class for a day. During the school Summer holiday, we did outreach work with a charity that organises holidays for children from economically disadvantaged families in cities, and we ran a week-long summer school at the museum and other university facilities. I only took the last week in August as holiday. In addition to my Museum role, I also started teaching part time at a secondary school close to my home. How did this compare with 2017?

As this graph shows there was a real difference:

My resting heart rate was much more stable this year, and was lower over the period I worked over the summer than it had been when I was on holiday from school last year. It very much looks like I was under less stress working through this summer, than I was by being on holiday from school last summer!

I appreciate that in the general scheme of things one measure on one individual is hardly going to be statistically significant, but when the individual is me, I hope nobody will argue with me feeling it’s important. I do think this is food for thought for all of us in education. Could it really be that even on holiday in the summer, a school teacher experiences more effects of stress than an educator in another role who works through the holiday? If that is the case, something is wrong.

I think this also show us that we need to keep an eye on our health. I’ve found the NHS Five Ways to Wellbeing a useful way to do this. The five strands are shown in this image from Wales NHS.

I have particularly enjoyed Martyn Reah’s work to encourage us all (in a profession which puts others first) to look after ourselves through #teacher5aday. With so many of us now wearing fitness trackers, these could be another way that we can not only monitor the ‘Be Active’ element, but also gain an insight general health and wellbeing.

Summertime and the living is easy?

School has broken up for Summer but I’m on the bus to work.

School has broken up for Summer but I’m on the bus to work. That’s because this year included a momentous change for me. After over 25 years of teaching in secondary schools, I left to work as education officer at Oxford University Museum of Natural History. I’m still teaching children, but visiting different schools, rather than working in one. You can read more about this here.

This Summer, we’re working with a charity that organises holidays for children. We’ll also be running our own summer school.

Not surprisingly, there are many differences between my old job and my new one, but as I read all the end-of-term posts by teachers on social media, the long school holiday, which is no longer part of my terms and conditions, is uppermost in my mind. Not because I’m missing it, but because I’m not.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to start moaning about teachers getting long holidays! That struggle to the end of term is all too resonant in my memory, together with that weird paradox whereby the number of tasks you have to complete seems to multiply exponentially as the time left to do them dwindles. I know that teachers absolutely need the Summer holiday, and so do the children they teach. What I’m wondering is why education is run in such a way that teachers need at least six weeks every summer to recover from the academic year?

From the perspective of my recent job change, I think there are three main reasons.

1. Relentless pace

This won’t be a surprise to any teacher, but the pace of work – by which I mean that there is often too much to do in the available time – inevitably means that teachers end up using their evenings, weekends, and ‘holidays’ to work – planning and assessing. We do this because we want to do a good job and do the best for the children in our care, but the danger is that we end up chasing the horizon, too frazzled to be effective and on our knees by the end of term.

In my new role, I find that my team leader insists that the work we plan is sustainable. My line manager is concerned that we build in enough time for admin tasks in our schedule, that outreach visits are timed so as not to exhaust us, and that sufficient priority is given to reflective evaluation. Staff are encouraged to take a proper lunch break and we were recently reminded to set ‘out of office’ messages on email when we aren’t at work.

The result of this is that I’m s much more effective teacher, the children have a much better learning experience, and the next day (after spending quality time with my family) I have the energy to do it all over again!

2. Too few opportunities to collaborate

One consequence of that unremitting pace, is that there is too little time to hone our practice. I believe the best way to do this is through collaboration. As Robert John Meehan says:

The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.

We can spend so much time trying to stay on top of the work, that collaboration and improvement get squeezed out. Worse still, we can come to resent meetings as a distraction rather than fantastic opportunities to create better ways of working.

Each week, there is a wider team meeting and a specific project meeting. Both are opportunities for colleagues to share updates on projects, encompassing both strategic and operational elements. There have been several occasions where input from others has been significant in moving the project I work on forward, both through ideas and practical assistance. I hope that on occasion I have been able to help others.

3. Lack of control

I believe that one of the key sources of stress within the teaching profession is lack of control. Teachers are given a lot of personal authority in their classes, but often it seems that it’s everyone else and their dog telling us how and what we should be teaching! This can leave some wondering why, when they were appointed for their individual expertise and creativity, they are then treated like programmable automatons. For schools the challenge is to achieve a consistency of pupil experience without stamping out the individuality of teachers. I think the answer is supported autonomy, creating conditions where teachers can thrive. Others have written eloquently about this topic, including this recent blog post by John Tomsett on solving the recruitment & retention crisis.

in my new role I and my colleague have experienced this by being given freedom, within the objectives and budget of the project, to plan and implement outreach days. That doesn’t mean our work isn’t open to collaborative input, evaluation and constructive criticism, but it does mean that we have ownership of it.

The result of addressing these three elements, ensuring workload is manageable, that there is effective collaboration, and that team members experience supported autonomy, is that the project is proving very successful, with significantly positive pupil outcomes and excellent feedback from participating schools, and that I’m happy on my bus ride into work, looking forward to the day ahead. Even during the school holidays.

Ten things to look forward to in the 2018 Summer Term

There’s plenty for teachers to look forward to in the 2018 Summer Term.

The Easter eggs may all be eaten, the summer holiday may seem a long way off, and the new term will bring the challenges of exams for many, but there’s also plenty to look forward to in the 2018 Summer Term.

Summer Term Top Ten

  1. For some students, the holidays will have been difficult and, although they might not always show it, they’ll have been be looking forward to the new term. Make it a good one.
  2. Easter isn’t over! It isn’t just a bank holiday, it’s a whole season and the biggest festival in the Christian tradition, so you can keep on celebrating! In the Orthodox calendar, Easter Monday is on 9th April. That’s the day many schools start the Summer term, so perhaps you could save one last egg for then?
  3. Easter is traditionally a time for embracing new life and new beginnings. Why not consider our own professional practice – aspects that we might revitalise or new things we could try?
  4. We’re now well into British Summer Time, so there’s no more waking up before sunrise and coming home darkness. The days will be getting longer and (hopefully) warmer. Soaking up those rays helps lift our mood, so make some time to go outside each day.,Even on overcast days natural sunlight will do you good.
  5. While you’re out and about, take some time to connect with nature. Look out for the signs that spring is turning into summer. Which plants are coming into bloom? Which animals do you notice? Take note of these small changes and you’ll soon see that no two days are alike.
  6. You’ve got a big decision on 19th May – Royal wedding or FA Cup Final? As it’s a Saturday, we won’t be getting an additional bank holiday, so whatever you decide, make the most of the weekend.
  7. There are plenty of key dates, holidays and festivals during the Summer term. These include Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) on 11th April, St. George’s Day on 23rd April, the Early May bank holiday (7th May), and Spring Bank Holiday (28th May). 20th May is both the Christian Pentecost and Jewish Shavuot. The Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan is on 15th June. In the UK, Fathers’ Day is on 17th June, and the Summer Solstice is on 21 June.
  8. You may have pupils taking exams this term, but at least you don’t have to sit them! I always hated exams and while I’m proud of my qualifications I’m also very pleased that the ticking clock and wobbly exam desk are well behind me. We all survived the process, so now we get to use our experience to help our students to succeed as well. I’ve written about tackling exam stress here. The article also contains links to useful websites.
  9. Some of the best bits of school happen in the Summer term: school trips, outdoor education, Summer concerts, PTA barbecues, sports days, proms, end of year awards. Some schools have activities weeks, others move to their new timetables before the holiday. These and more enrich the curriculum and help build communities.
  10. At the end of this term… Summer holiday!

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

Festival dates from timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby