Having gone through Teacher Training College (St Luke’s Exeter) from 1971-74, and starting to look for work, in the June of 1974, deferring the extra year for a while in order to earn some money, the only jobs left in Hampshire, where my first wife’s parents lived was an Infant school and a Secondary science probationary post. My wife got the Infant job and I got the Science post. And so the saga of living and working in Hampshire began. Deciding to live in Fareham, in the south east corner of the county, I worked out that there were in excess of 250 schools within a 12 mile commute, so could provide the potential for a career, which has so far lasted 40 years.
I joined Primary, as a probationer in the days when teachers ran a number of clubs each week, in addition to their full time teaching commitment. Over four years, I was a Junior classteacher, taking years 3-5 (the long standing deputy head ALWAYS took year 6). During that time I learned my craft, within a culture of make do and mend, as this was the time before delegated budgets, so the school had a very small budget to spend on essentials. So shoe boxes, cadged from Clarke’s and other shoe shops, were covered with wallpaper, to store work cards or recording tapes, used to record weekly reading. (We shared a tape recorder with another class) Soap and cereal packets became file boxes. Tobacco tins and well washed vegetable cans, when painted became holders for pencils, rubbers and spelling cards. Playground football posts were large vegetable cans from the kitchen, filled with concrete and with a stick embedded. (OK, it was the days before health and safety) I took on responsibility for the topic aspects of the school, creating and collating all the necessary resources for the different topics. I was also asked to work with the County science inspector on a couple of projects. All inset was twilight or at weekends.
Headhunted, through voluntary redeployment, to a promoted post (scale 2) in a school which wanted my sporting credentials, rather than my approach to teaching, was a mistake, as the formality was ok until I met children who couldn’t learn maths that way, and I got out the concrete apparatus to support them. This was a critical error, according to the head and I was eventually “encouraged” out of the school, with the help of the Local Authority, into a recently built school which was held to be a model of child-centred approaches.
Every member of that staff went on to successful headship, so it was a very skilled and challenging group within which to develop. While there, I undertook a twilight two year Dip Ed, in Environmental Science. I taught from year 2 to year 6 while there and got to really understand the need for imagery and concrete apparatus to embed and support understanding and mental manipulation in learning. I was seconded to the Government sponsored Assessment of Performance Unit, run by Wynne Harlen, for a summer term, to conduct trial practical assessments with individual children, chosen at random from randomly chosen schools.
I have to say that I learned a great deal about children’s thinking in science as a result.
My last year at that school coincided with a significant rise in the mortgage rate to 15% and finding a school near to home, so reducing the need for car use, was imperative.
The Junior School where I got my scale 3 post as a year leader and science and PE coordinator (later to include maths) enabled me to consolidate my approach to teaching, while also being more directly responsible for colleagues. I added a two year, part time Advanced Dip Ed in Language and Reading Development to my portfolio, to broaden my learning. It was a very important part of my future development as a teacher, in that it consolidated my thinking about aspects of reading, while allowing greater insights into how younger children develop their language facility.
When year 3 are top of the school, it is amazing what they can achieve. When year 2 are in the same place, they rise to the challenge. Being the top year of any school is a special place.
It is easy to underestimate the capacity of young children in learning situations.
I had taught every year group from Reception to year 11, albeit for sometimes shorter periods, so had encountered a very wide range of needs and responses to different learning situations. I had the skills to run a whole school approach to Primary, not a separate Infant-Junior school within the same building. This was very important to me, as the separations can cause significant internal tensions. I also knew that I wanted staff who could teach across the age range and function autonomously in their classrooms.
My role, as a head was to seek to make the building the best place for learning to take place, with the best possible resources to make the teachers lives easier and consideration of time demands to seek to make it possible always to focus on quality outcomes.
- The first was organisational, moving around some areas to make the free flow of children possible and putting the school library firmly at the centre of the school.
- The second, in the early days, depended a little on the PTA, who proved generous and the school resources, selected by the teachers, developed rapidly.
- The third, time, to some extent, was up to discussion. That involved discussions about necessary time to produce quality outcomes for ALL learners. Eventually we came to the decision that time allocation must always be with the teacher, so that, if a child needed an extra ten minutes to complete a task, that would be made available. Different models arose, which further enhanced discussion, with the outcome that some lessons were 15-20 minutes long, some an hour, some a morning or an afternoon and occasionally, to go through stages of a process-based piece of learning to a final product could need a day.
Flexibility was key to successful outcomes, in every subject. As a result, children developed clear thinking about both the process and the product, which was then subject to evaluation to shape future efforts.
Creating a defined audience could also have a positive additional impact on learning outcomes.
While I was confident in my own abilities and those of the staff which eventually was “hand-picked” to a defined “vision”, I was also acutely aware of any personal limitations that might stifle growth. To that end, I ensured that all staff were undertaking personal development activities, as I was. We would grow by collective effort and shared insights. Every member of staff had a voice.
The death of my first wife and having a young teenager at home, eventually made my decision to step away from headship for me. I needed to take some control over my working hours, to be available to parent.
The past nine years have actually turned out to be developmental after a period of darkness, in that I took a part time SENCo role in a local Junior school and sent my CV to the local unis and a few consultancy firms. It was very much fishing, but I had bites and, as long as I could control my diary, I could earn and parent appropriately.
The many varied roles which I have played over the past nine years have allowed much reflection, some of which has ended up in blogging, formerly as IQMLtd, now for myself. If you read my blogs, you will often see that they are “thought pieces”, where I am at that moment. I know, from sometimes bitter experience, that experience changes one. It can’t help but to do so.
No one is a finished article in life. We all grow and change within the experiences that life offers. This adaptability is an essential survival skill. We must offer children the opportunity to develop this insight within an education setting where it is safe to do so. Life may not be so caring.
I’m still learning. I have personal goals and aspirations still to be achieved, some of which may prove challenging. I will not be the same person in five years’ time.
I want to make progress, personally, not stay the same. I’d want the same for all learners.