Things that go bump in the day…

I’ve spoken and written before, back in the days of Staffrm, about how important it is to ‘bump’ into previous knowledge all the time for it to have time to embed and be understood. As always, time is always blamed for this not happening properly in schools then *voila* they turn up in the next year group with gaps to be filled. Being back in Year 6 has highlighted this fact. In some cases, there are 6 years worth of gaps to determine and address and seal, which seems like a bottomless chasm to fill!

Here are some things we do in Year 6 to start filling these gaps, whilst not adding too much to the workload:

// Morning starters – 8:40 – 9am

  • These are tailored to Year 6 objectives and change after assessments to target specific grammar, punctuation and spelling issues whilst also developing their vocabulary (Unicorn word = they nominate new words that they disover from their reading and I pick one each day which will support their writing that week). Pictures are taken from Pobble365, Bing homepage and Unsplash.Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 16.58.00Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 17.07.18The children can technically come in any time between 8:40 and 9am. Children are expected to finish all 5 questions, so we have found they come into school earlier than at the start of the year. Parents seem to support this as we discussed the importance of learning time at the first Year 6 meeting that was held.

// Apps

Why kill ourselves by making our own resources all the time when there are amazing resources out there for a small price which have a massive impact?

  • I’ve been a big Times Table Rockstar fan for three years now and have finally got a team (and indeed school) on board with it too! We mainly use the sheets as a daily activity, but children are expected to use the website at home as part of their homework, so we get even more information from their heat map about what times tables need targeted in class.
  • Obviously, there are children who can’t access a computer at home, but investing in the app has helped this interestingly. We also provide these children with time at some point a few times a week to use an ipad – we do only have 2 children who need this, so this is manageable.
  • We stream for maths so displaying their heat maps in my set (top) is a great motivator – this isn’t always the case. Our children have a great embedded outlook on the importance of their individual improvement rather than comparing to others, so they all have their heat maps in their maths books so they can compare every 2-3 weeks.


Spelling shed is something we have now rolled out across year 6 to help target not only our Y5/6 vocab and spelling rules but those from younger years too. Again, due to limited ICT resources, we use the printed packs, but this doubles as time to practise handwriting!

// Diagnostic Questions

Children in my set (top) should all be achieving ‘greater depth’ and because they are so confident in some areas, there’s no need to start at the beginning if they have a good understanding already – what a waste of time we just don’t have! Before each unit I set some diagnostic questions to assess for areas of particular strength and weakness to make sure that they’re all being stretched and supported as much as possible in each lesson – we only have an hour a day with them after all!


// Review sessions

Across the school, we now do review sessions as feedback from Year 6 as it is something we kind of automatically do anyway. These sessions are based on marking that week – what have we noticed about individuals/groups/whole class and target those things. We all use a good old fashioned class list and make notes throughout week and every fortnight one of the lessons is timetabled to be a ‘review’ session.  This has now branched out into Maths too and, because it is timetabled, there’s no excuse for it to fall off. (Below is this week’s so it’s not as chocca with notes as normal)


// Longer ‘starters’

Using review sessions and tests to analyse where we aren’t bumping into knowledge enough for children to understand how to use and apply it. It took me maybe an hour to break it all down and find test-style questions based on these areas for development so every lesson starts with Times Table Rockstars, followed by paired whiteboard work discussing up to four questions. The conversation is key thus the paired work.

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//WEDWK stolen from @cooperjoe

What Else Do We Know?

Children have the opportunity to apply previous learning and their targets to current learning to ensure they stay fresh – fractions is always key. It’s also a way to find out (like in the second picture) where gaps are – thus why the longer starter pictured above has volume in it now!



Helloooo, new favourite brewer!

The aforementioned, Bison Beer‘s beer advent calendar is going down a treat and – quite frankly – I’m not sure what I’m going to do when it’s gone. So far I’ve had many treats, but my top three thus far all come from the same brewery: Unbarred. Why? I hear you ask. Well, read on:

1// The packaging is something to behold. Either simple and gorgeous colours (PA and RIPA) or just ruddy awesome design (Honeycomb Milkshake Pale)

2// What’s inside – don’t judge a beer by its cover. Oh wait, do because the beer on the inside of these cans is just as marvellous as the packaging. Really tasty and very different. Apparently, they have even made some adjustments to the Honeycomb Pale while responding to feedback (they’d be highly praised for this attitude in my lessons!)

1b// So, I’m not obsessed or anything, but the feel of the paper they’ve used on the packaging gives me the feels. You know there’s quality behind it!

Anyway, highly recommend and am hoping for these cans to turn up in Bison’s Hove Actually soon – so pretty (and tasty, I’m sure!)

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(image stolen from their website)


****It’s the most wonderful time of the year (hope you sang that too!)****

I was bought the most magical birthday present this year: a Beer Advent Calendar (thanks, David!)

Best things about it:

> It’s very pretty

> It’s filled with local beers with beautiful labels

> I get to punch through a box each night

> I don’t have my advent treat before work (and accidentally have 5 days….)

Worst things about it:

> My giant hands feel even bigger as they struggle to extract the yeasty, hoppy goodness from their caverns.

Thank you Bison Beer!


Back in black

Back in black
I hit the sack
I’ve been too long I’m glad to be back
Yes, I’m let loose
From the noose
That’s kept me hanging about
I’ve been looking at the sky
‘Cause it’s gettin’ me high
Forget the hearse ’cause I never die
I got nine lives
Cat’s eyes
Abusin’ every one of them and running wild
‘Cause I’m back
Yes, I’m back
Well, I’m back
Yes, I’m back
Well, I’m back, back
Well, I’m back in black
Yes, I’m back in black

I have been a tad quiet on here due to an experience where my whole purpose was questioned. I was made to feel like I couldn’t teach and – being the reflective worrier that I am – I began to believe it.

Sat ,dreading the end of PrimaryRocksLive17, I remember listening to  Michael Tidd .  During his assessment speech, one piece of advice stuck with me on a never-ending loop: something along the lines of, ‘you might just need to try a different school’ (forgive the paraphrasing…!) These words constantly rang sharply in my ears:

> Every time I picked up the phone to the union.

> Every time I cried during the day.

> Every time I became stressed about what other job I could do other than teaching.

I am glad that I was otherwise surrounded by the teachers, children and parents that I was, or I genuinely envisage that I’d be working outside of education currently.

So here I am. I’ve landed my first Head of Year post in a very large local school, which I can cycle to every day now. I’m nearly one term down and I’m loving it. Working hard to find balance between leadership and teaching, but thriving on the challenge. There’s also a helluva lot of amazing stuff that they are doing here and I’m going to have to spend a good amount of time sharing their amazing practice here to spread the word.

I’m back in black*

*(technically green most of the time…ginger rules)

Anyway. Massive thanks to the Tidd for those words which have never rung truer. Massive thanks to those who ring me with solid advice and a well-worn ear when I send a text and they know I need to rant. And obviously a massive thanks to the below Primary Rocks reprobates for always being there and checking in when they know the fan has been well and truly piled on (delicious imagery there).

primary rocks



I am the car cobweb. Not just the cobweb across the path in the morning, so easy to swipe away. Not the one hiding in the ceiling corner, so easy to ignore. I’m the stubborn one that even at 70miles an hour in a rainstorm won’t quit it.

It is that time of year where we are all wanting to cling on to ensuring we somehow maintain stability whilst sports day, music assemblies, transition days, Y6 plays etc keep popping up into the diary. I am finding it that bit mentally harder because I am off to pastures new come September, so my mind is wandering. I’m sure we all know some who have sacked it in already, but that’s not fair on the children and in the long run makes our remaining job harder as expectations and standards slip. I am the car cobweb.

With references in and paperwork signed, I could officially celebrate last Monday and I did. Moving into a five-form Year 6 as year leader from three-form Year 4 has filled me with a variety of (cobweb-analogy-supporting) feelings:

// Excitement: having a dance in the motorway ‘breeze’.

The promotion. The school. The location. The age group. The size. All of these aspects of the role re-lit my fire and my heart back in the game. The promotion gives me something further to get my teeth into. The school seems so welcoming and I’ve heard positive things from friends who have children there. The location means I could get a bike, cycle to exercise, not leave early and still be at my desk ready by 7:30. The age group is something I have missed (I may live to regret that!) The size means more children and more staff to keep abreast of, but having been mainly two of us for a year, I will enjoy sharing the planning!

// Unadulterated mind explosion: spider rebuilding web at 70mph.

I’ve been itching to find out more about the school, the topics, the trips and residentials. I’ve been brushing up on basics needed, researching the Mayans, buying new books and generally being overly excited. My ever so wise friend kindly told me to calm down and start with my three most important things as I can’t juggle everything. I’ve given some thought to this and will expand when my mind has settled and I can be more focussed…

// Terror: the car wash.

Perhaps more so about maths as I just haven’t thought about half of that curriculum since I was last in Year 6. I have sat down this evening to have a look through the Arithmetic paper to test my rusty skills! With a few revisions, I did at least remember the processes. Having had lots of CPD this year about Maths mastery, however, I will need to spend some time applying what I’ve learned before September.

// Relief: parked up in the sun basking.

Those who know me know that it’s been an interesting six months for me. This job is not only a great, local opportunity, but also needed for my own mental health. Happy days.

To all my car cobweb colleagues towards the end of the year, good luck clinging on and enjoy your summer!! And yes, I’ll wash my car…






Primary/Secondary collaboration

The visuals to accompany the talk are here (fieldworkleadershiponlinepdf-170423151724) and David Rogers has kindly written up the presentation which I have copied across:

This post tells the outline story of a collaboration between two schools, one a primary school and the other a secondary school.  The story was told at the Geographical Association’s Annual Conference in Guildford.

The collaboration started out as a bit of #beermatgeog where the idea of working with a group of students across phases was thought out. As I’ve mentioned previously, connecting primary classrooms is a straight forward process in my view, but then I am not one for letting barriers get in to the way. I do however ask readers to accept that this is a story about a particular context and to get in touch if you’d like to talk further about the detail of the collaboration. A massive thanks to Leah Sharp who has very much been the driving force behind the scheme.

There is always some debate around focusing on one particular set of children over another. This is only right as we, as a profession, should reflect on what we do always. For this sequence of lessons, we decided to focus on pupil premium students. This is simply because they needed something extra. Whilst I can follow the logic if treating all students the same in a classroom setting, the outcomes for this group of students are below their peers with similar starting points and therefore it is the morally right thing to do to try to help them accelerate as much as possible. Not to catch up with their more affluent peers, but so that they meet age expectations and, ultimately, have better life chances. Having been Pupil Premium Champion for the past four years, whole school approaches must be different. We worked with 20 Year 4 students and a selection of Year 8, 10 and 11 students. The aim of the project was to:

Anyhow, the reasons why this collaboration took places are as follows.



In primary, a group of children who were behind in their writing were selected. At secondary, no new content was covered but the same material was revisited. I love the quote from Peps Mccrea in his book Memorable Teaching: retrieval beats re-exposure and this collaboration gave a good reason to retrieve information from previous lessons. I will also point out here that the Year 4 students had no real trouble in accessing the basics of urban morphology, a fact that motivated my students to do well. Year 8 students, who had no real understanding of the rural-urban fringe, also had no trouble in accessing and understanding the information. This, yet again, underpins the point that sometimes at secondary school we linger for far too long over the basic knowledge.

In terms of practicalities, the following diagram describes the workflow.


The enquiry process framed the sequence of lessons, not so that it was student led, but to ensure we followed the geographical enquiry process which replicates fieldwork processes undertaken at university level. We decided to focus on the rural urban fringe for two main reasons. The first is that both schools are located within this urban zone, although in different settlements. The second is that the need for new houses is frequently in the news as is the funding crisis in schools.

Without going in to too much detail about each stage, and example is followed through below. The first stage was to get Year 11 students to retrieve information around the characteristics of the rural urban fringe. This was done as a starter test, I’m a boing teacher and throw these at students a lot. The material was covered a year before so it was a good exercise in retrieval. The Year 11 students then discussed in groups before two students collated and narrowed down this list by identifying a final list. This bit of leadership gave students with lower social capital the chance to develop the softer skills of reasoning and compromising.

Once the list winged its way to the Year 4 group, they looked at their own location and decided if their own school was in the rural urban fringe. This work was sent to my Year 8 students (we swapped the real artefacts as there is nothing like getting a letter or other work and being able to hold it in your hands) for feedback. Year 10 students, who had looked at the need for housing in the UK and possible solutions in September, then created a scenario in which the primary school field was needed for extra housing.

Throughout the project, a number of tools were used and the end point was a geocache filled with the Year 4’s writing. Go and find it if you are local to the area! The feedback from the public has been excellent so far, and gives the children a real audience as well as providing some feedback for the teachers!

Other tools we used included:


The collaboration was successful and there are already plans to extend it further. The main reasons for this are as follows:

Of course, there were some barriers to overcome and the final outcome wasn’t was we desired as I no longer work at the secondary school, however the secondary school students benefitted by retrieving information and having to communicate it concisely. Their motivation also improved. The Year 4 students has daily writing and improved.

The main thing is to get out there, make contact and realise that the work going on in primary schools really is rather good. Ideas in the pub often lead to great learning.

Parent-School Connection Project

One of the main barriers to learning is low parental engagement, with high work loads it’s often very difficult for busy class teachers to routinely connect with homes. With this in mind, I embarked upon a project to improve how our school involve parents in the everyday classroom experience. This post is a reflection upon the outcomes of it as well as the future. I sought the views of teachers, parents and students in an effort to identify the genuine impact of the project and whether we are tackling the problem.

Our teachers and pupils needed something fresh to get them all on board and so I trialled Class Dojo, which I had used the year before just for my class. After seeing a positive impact on a classroom scale, I was confident that by training others it could become a vital tool for engaging parents and improving behaviour. Now this isn’t a blog to sell a product, it is to outline the positive outcomes that can adapted through any means (not just this app) and pitfalls to bear in mind that I came across throughout the project:

// VLE aspect

Previously, our school had a list of documents and information that were required to be uploaded to the VLE each week. This app allows us to uphold this promise (and more!) Teachers can upload real time pictures, much like with a class twitter in which I previously invested my time at a previous school. Documents can be pinged home very easily. The interface is easy to use. Many teachers and TAs can access all classes.

Pitfalls: a) We can’t have a year group page so we have to copy and paste posts across to individual classes. b) I was also worried that some teachers would invest more time into it than others, which might cause issues as we have siblings in the year group.

In reality: a) There’s a School Story option which I need to explore further….Because we were trialling this as a year group, we have focussed solely on our class stories, branching out recently to my children teaching other classes and year groups how to use the student story. b) Due to it being such an easy system, it’s used by teachers and TAs alike at least daily, but issues were raised in feedback from parents.

Feedback from teacher feedback Google Form:

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// Behaviour

This is a useful tool for catching children being good. It has a positive ‘ding’ that can be heard from the device used and/or the big screen. There’s nothing like that noise for children to become even more visibly active in their learning. It is also less disruptive allowing the teacher to teach, rather than creating a big song and dance every time you catch someone being good (although there is obviously still the place for this!) The points the children earn are reset to zero each week so they start the week afresh ready to aim to beat their best score. This focus and awareness of their own behaviour has made a distinct difference with the majority of the children.

Pitfalls: I worried that expectations would be lowered if the basics such as being on task were being ‘rewarded’ with points.

In reality: all it is doing is giving points to things you’d verbally praise anyway. It helps the children who struggle with the basics as the conversation occurs around these standard expectations more frequently. Catching the children who always do the right thing and recognising the behaviour that we expect rather than giving a platform for those who misbehave was also highlighted as important by Paul Dix at Primary Rocks this month.

// Children

Obviously all the aforementioned has an impact on the children, but another aspect of it that we love is their Student Story. Children HAVE to upload something they’re proud of each day to their personal story. This helps them think about what is quality and what is not their best. Their parents talk about their learning with them at home and they know there’s an audience to whatever they choose.

Pitfalls: Children won’t be proud of any of their efforts that day and it’ll have a negative impact.

In reality: If they realise that they aren’t proud of anything, which is very rare, they write a short little reflection and aim for the next day. I’ve had it twice and both times I’ve sat with them and had that conversation, looked through their learning and discussed aims together.


// Parents

The communication from parents has been the absolute key to behaviour changes. Most of all because the parents we need to speak to most are inevitably the hardest to get hold of. This goes straight to their pocket and they are far more connected with how their child is behaving on a day-to-day basis and not just being contacted when something amazing or something bad occurs. Lots of children have a target number of points to achieve in the day and the parents then only give them their walking home from school sweets/visit to the park if they’ve achieved this. This solidarity between home and school is imperative for children who struggle. For those who are just generally excellent, their parents get to see this reflected in their child’s report and know that they aren’t being forgotten for the sake of *those* children who require so much of a teacher’s time.

Quotes from parent feedback Google Form:

  • “It’s allowed parents to monitor and celebrate their child’s learning/achievements”
  • “I find Class Dojo a very useful way to keep up to date with my child’s school day which then encourages conversation about his day when he gets home. As a working parent i also really appreciate the ability to contact the class teacher if I have any concerns or wish to pass on anything happening at home.”
  • “I think this is a brilliant tool and one that [my son] and I discuss on pretty much a daily basis. I can easily log in from work and can get a true indication of the type of day he’s had and how well he has engaged with the class and his learning.”
  • “It seems that some teachers award more Dojos than others, understandably, but some kind of common criteria would be useful as it is creating unnecessary competition/conflict between our siblings. Other than that, fabulous!!”

The ability to directly message parents and vice versa has been incredible for keeping on top of minutae – ‘Bob has had a rough night’s sleep, he might need a bit of TLC this morning’, ‘Fred’s rabbit died – just so you’re aware’ which makes my life easier to be pre-warned and allows the parents to rest easy! On the other hand, pre-warning parents about incidents at school that might affect their child after school helps them prepare to provide child with best/most appropriate welcome and routine for home.

Pitfalls: a) Others were concerned that this direct link to parents would have a negative impact on our well-being and work load. When I sent out the letters, parents were informed that the expectation was for us to be active during working hours and not during evenings, weekends or holidays.

In reality: not one teacher that uses it doesn’t log on and check outside of these hours. Why? Because it is easier for our workload to send quick messages such as: ‘remember it’s non-uniform day tomorrow’ message; upload a picture of our spelling focus words for children to bump into outside of school; or send a more detailed message to an individual parent from our sofa with dinner rather than making numerous phone calls after 6 at school which is fairly normal. They think it helps with their workload despite it technically being an addition because its overall impact is incredible.

Unprecedented pitfalls:

Quotes from parent feedback Google Form:

  • “We love it! At first there was some inconsistency between classes for the number of Dojos being awarded. My daughter’s teacher in year one would often not give any out for a few days and my youngest couldn’t understand when my eldest would get lots but it has improved now, I guess the teachers needed time to get used to it.
    I hope the school keeps this system”
  • “When teachers embrace the concept it is very useful and a welcome insight into the children’s day. However when the two year groups engagement differs vastly the resulting low self esteem from the child who apparently did not achieve any motivational points is very upsetting and the whole system can lose its impact (and tbh I stopped looking). Admittedly Dojo merely records the evidence it is given but the comparisons were there nonetheless.
    (I can also appreciate that the demands on a teachers’ time are vast and this system takes effort? )
    The ability to message the teacher from an app however is a great time saver.”

From the feedback received from parents, I realised that teachers awarding the behaviour points differently had an impact on home life where siblings were involved. I believe that no matter the system, some teachers will give out more stickers/stamps/merits etc than others. Also, classes will require different uses and respond differently. I feel this will need to be addressed both with children through developing their growth mindset and having personal targets and not comparing with their siblings at home and also with parents to help them not focus on this negatively with the children at home and not compare them. This would be the next stage of the project.

// Teachers

Again, all the aforementioned have a direct impact on teachers, but the best thing for me is the positivity. What a fantastic way of forcing oneself to notice the good! Constantly aiming to catch children doing the right thing has made me a much more positive whirlwind in the classroom: it’s contagious and develops a real cycle of positivity amongst the majority. It hasn’t meant that my expectations have lowered, far from it. I’m also still firm, but fair. That doesn’t mean I can’t embrace the monsters!

Having seen the impact of this app on the teachers, children and parents, it is now being rolled out across the school and policies are being developed for this approach. Further INSETS will be provided for me to share basics, but also celebrate other teachers’ ideas with how to use it. More staff support will be inputted, especially when it comes to new parents with many a question.

Pitfalls: I’m hoping we can still upload pictures of the children’s smiling faces and not just their learning, which is one possible aspect to be banned. I’m hoping teachers will be given the autonomy of when and how they use it and a didactic list of ‘must do’s’ isn’t imposed. Why? Because there’s nothing like a list of rules to stump creativity and to nurture rule-breakers…


// Biggest win of the project?

*That* teacher who always says no to new ideas, is negative about change and HATES technology is now the biggest fan and I’ve even delegated the role of supporting KS1 to her. Happy days.

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Primary Rocks 2017

Another year, another fantastic opportunity to see my online, ever-increasing network of primary teachers, leaders and those studying to join us in the profession.

The team worked hard throughout the year to pick up on feedback from last time and we think it kicked off even better than last year. I can’t figure out if we’re still flying high from the quality speakers, sponsors and attendees or now having mega PrimaryRocks withdrawal symptoms.

There are  a few great blog posts out about the day, so I will keep mine to a brief list format (of course):

// Paul Dix:

He revved us all up by speaking a lot of sense about noticing good behaviours – ‘the above and beyond’. When looking around the room, I saw lots of nodding heads. To summarise his presentation: Set the standard, whether that be by shaking hands or whatever suits you and your style. Praise in public, especially the above and beyond and privately discuss behaviours which are not appropriate. Don’t immortalise those who ‘take the shortcut’ through bad behaviour choices.

// Session 1:

From reading the #primaryrocks thread, Rhoda, Tim and Stephen seemed to have a similar message about reading entwined in their session:

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Julian, as always, had a chocca session of tech for the classroom. Sarah shared some great AfL that she’s using in the classroom. And we had an olympian, Peter Bakare, in our midst sharing about how his grit and resilience got him to where he is today.

// Ice Cream:


Sprinkles, sherbet, sauce and flake. That’s all. Ta Literacy shed!

// Session 2:

While Phil took us on an immersive trip to the Brazilian rainforest where we found a skeleton and had to decide whether or not to find the skeleton’s ‘Heather’, there were other active and soapy sessions from Innovative Enterprise and a slightly wetter active session from Mike Watson all about bringing the indoors out. Tim Taylor was using his audience (participants) to help build their own immersive environment while our very own Gaz Needle ran an impromtu session about his journey to headset. Sean Harford was putting things straight for a lot of people about what Ofsted actually want and held a Q&A session, where we realised the concern is actually more with expectations from LAs at the moment – baby steps!

// Session 3:

Yet more active (wet) learning from the lovely, Bryn while top ideas about exclusion and SEN were shared from Jackie. Chris Dyson had his audience under his spell with people piled around on the floor listening about positivity in education. Sinead was sharing her passion for the English curriculum and how focus upon assessment has resulted in us missing the shift from old to new. Along the corridor, Allana shared her pearls of wisdom about getting into primary leadership. Meanwhile, the primary heads entertained us whilst discussing leadership vs leadershit and their evident bromance/comedy duo act alongside their on-point voting system kept us all ears.

// Michael Tidd:

Tidd speaks sense. He’s coming back to Sussex so all I hope is that he’ll keep talking sense down here for those who can make the decisions about marking and feedback. Just like Dix’s opener, Michael had the audience nodding along. Good food for the soul PLUS I am all revved up to suggest changes to our policy.

// Primary Beers:

What’s not to like (apart from the lack of Guinness or decent beer on tap!) Really nice to chat those who I hadn’t managed to catch properly during the day and chat some shop and some definitely not shop.

// Primary Rockers:

Without wanting to sound too gushing, all I know is that these bunch are amazing creatures: always there for each other on our ridiculously long thread either to support, slate or just send a gif or 10. Here’s to next year!

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I’m a sucker for word play.

But this Pompey-based and humble brewery ‘Staggeringly Good’ has also brewed me a delicious red ale.

// Yummy strawberry-esq hoppy taste

// Roasty after taste

// CAMRA say it’s a real ale

// Did I mention the dinosaur?