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Diary of an NQT I’m the special one!

THE WEEK preceding half-term is usually a winding down period, a lethargic sleepwalk through the final days, always with that week off in mind. No such chance for me and an endless list

of bureaucratic deadlines to meet. Whether I noticed it because they all fell together, or whether we actually are entrenched in a paperwork-filling job, I have become sick of the amount of time I spend “not teaching”. I left a job that was basically

a data entry exercise to do something practical and worthwhile. However, I have found

myself spending most of this week staying late writing, checking and correcting 120 reports, entering end-of-year grades onto a computer system, filling a spreadsheet logging the levels of every key stage 3 assessment completed this year, as well as the usual marking and paper forms I find cluttering my pigeon hole. I am sure the union “ideal” is that teachers should not perform admin jobs, but the problem is who else will? As usual, when I get mad or

my back is against the wall, I come out fighting and I spent time putting together some really fun lessons for the last few days. I remember going on a fantastic course

during my training year that provided some ideas for teaching drama and so I put these into action this week. First, my year 7 boys enjoyed a lesson

where we threw tables and got down to some over-exaggerated drama. They had to follow every instruction like it was a stage direction; “a horrid and violent death” saw all 33 fall to the floor clutching their throats and making a noise akin to a suffocating dog!

Moving on to applying that to Shakespeare

seemed to be a good way in for them and they had no problem with the opening scenes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The lesson was finished off by a few

written instructions given to individuals who had to perform to the rest of the class, whose job it was to guess the stage direction. One brave soul did a sterling job as Gok Wan, proclaiming “it’s all about the confidence” in a mock camp voice, hand perched on hip, that deserved a respectful round of applause. The star of the show was

undoubtedly the young man who got a rendition of yours truly to perform. Imitating the stance, tone and typicalities of my lesson starts, not a soul in the room couldn’t guess who he was, one boy shouting “Oh my

God, that’s Mr Connett”! The moment of the week came in my

girls’ class however, when the props I had used to help with characterisation found their way into humorously safe hands. As well as the bowler hat and tie

we used to distinguish the reader as an inspector, one girl got a green balaclava to wear, just to show she was one of the

rebel pupils. I should mention that this girl is about six feet tall and that when she stood up to say her lines she looked incredibly funny; her hair and face squashed through the opening of

the balaclava. I should also mention that as she stood up and spoke, her opening lines from the play were “I’m the special one”. This caused an

eruption of laughter followed by many calls of “you sure look it”! She really did.

• Matt Connett is a newly qualified teacher of English at Shenfield High, a training school in Brentwood in Essex. He returns next week.

Year 11 say their goodbyes Moral support

ALL ACROSS the country, parents (and I include myself in this) have been saying thank you to teachers who have helped their offspring make the sometimes perilous journey from childhood at year 7 to young adulthood at year 11. As I witnessed my children celebrating this

milestone with the teachers who first welcomed them to the school, and who skilfully guided them through calm and tempestuous times, I was struck by just how complex and important the job of a secondary school teacher really is. Teachers across the nation who have

embarked on this hugely important five-year journey with a group of children now have to watch as their young charges embark on the next phase of their lives. They have to hope that the work they did to prepare our children to face the world of work, vocational training or adult education, was what was needed, and that’s a heavy responsibility to shoulder. It seems to me that in the

scramble to climb league tables or adhere to this or that directive, we are in danger of forgetting to celebrate the achievement of this amazingly important profession and the people within it. Without the commitment and

dedication of teachers the journey my children went on could have been an efficient but soulless experience. But thankfully teachers really care. It matters to them that children they have known for five years succeed. It matters to them that they are well prepared to deal with the challenges that will undoubtedly come their way. It matters to them that after five years together their pupils grow emotionally and intellectually, because teachers have the best interests of our children at heart and there is no table or chart that can map that. At Teacher Support Network we are committed to

supporting and strengthening the triangular teacher- parent-pupil relationship. This triangle is crucial to the smooth running not just of schools but of communities. We understand and celebrate the role teachers play in nurturing all our children, and at this time of year, when they are saying goodbye to pupils, with tears and smiles and best wishes, it really drives home the unique position teachers occupy

in the lives of our children, in our lives, and in the community. As parents we must spare the time to think about

what it is we expect of our teachers and then marvel at the fact that they deliver. What I found, as I watched my children being

congratulated by their teachers, was that I, and I suspect most parents, expect teachers to be the best of us. We expect them to have all our strengths and none of our weaknesses. We expect them to show patience when we, as parents, might be inclined to be brusque; we expect them to be lively and inspiring, when under certain circumstances we can be consumed by our own issues, to the exclusion of our children; we expect them to smoothly ride the wave of our children’s transition from children to young adults when we know that at home it can sometimes be a bumpy ride. In short, we expect an awful lot

from our teachers. Being a teacher is challenging at

the best of times, but as the Sword of Damocles swings precariously above their heads, and those of other public servants, their success in helping our children successfully navigate the various pitfalls of secondary education is even more remarkable. What they have achieved in the midst of arguments and debates about the future, present and past of secondary

education, should be applauded. So as teachers and pupils the length and breadth of the country say their fond farewells after five years together – and they really are fond – it is important that we

recognise the contribution teachers have made and continue to make to all our lives. With that in mind I would like to take this

opportunity to thank the teachers at Commerton Village College for helping my kids make it through their secondary education and emerge better, brighter more rounded people. Thank you.

• Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit or call 08000 562 261 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales). Moral support returns in two weeks.

MUSIC The healing

Sing Up, the National Singing Programme, is known for the

resources it provides for primary school teachers, but there are plenty of opportunities for secondary singing too. Baz Chapman explains

choir working through the trials and tribulations of growing pains, relationship problems and school bullies using the power of song and performance. Slick and polished, the show is aspirational


and fanciful – it certainly does not style itself as a representation of a British secondary school. However, it is sparking a huge interest in singing and school choirs, so now is the time to harness this interest and the power of musical education and song in particular. Sing Up, the National Singing Programme, began in

November 2007 and is managed by a consortium led by Youth Music with AMV-BBDO, Faber Music and The Sage Gateshead. It encourages and provides regular opportunities for

every primary school-aged child to have access to high quality singing everyday. The benefits of singing are extraordinary – it has been proven to improve literacy, reading skills, confidence, self-esteem, and wellbeing among school children. Around 87 per cent of primary schools are now

registered with the programme, which provides tools and resources to encourage singing in our primary schools via an online song bank. There are songs, warm up exercises, lesson plans, activities and tutorials to assist teachers through the process of how to use singing to teach in an engaging and informative way. Most recently, Sing Up has made a commitment

to ensuring the programme is both inclusive and accessible to SEN settings and short stay schools, as well as children who struggle to access primary mainstream school such as looked-after children, gypsy traveller children, those with mental health difficulties and children with SEN. In 2009, 14 projects were set up in various settings

across England engaging with a variety of focus groups including those with SEN, looked-after children, the refugees and asylum seeker children, and those with physical disabilities and learning difficulties. Within the space of nine months between January

and September 2009, 825 primary-aged children took part in the 14 projects, with almost an equal mix of boys and girls. Although the majority were in key stage 2, there were around 100 in the first year of secondary school. The feedback from all 14 projects has been unanimously positive: 100 per cent of the project leaders documented that the children involved were either “much better” or “better” at the end of the programme in terms of confidence and self-esteem, enjoyment and motivation, achievement and pride, and social interaction. Those working with children across the projects

highlighted that confidence was not only improved while singing, confidence as a whole improved, with pupils becoming clearer and more assured at stating their own needs and sharing their thoughts with others. Project leaders found that restless or disruptive

pupils were able to concentrate on singing for extended periods of time and that this was often reflected into the rest of their school life. Interestingly, it was not only those working with pupils who observed this progress – in many cases, the children also observed a change in themselves. Red Marsh School in Lancashire teaches children

and young people aged between two and 19 with severe learning and autistic spectrum disorders. They have received a Silver Award from the Sing Up Award Scheme which recognises and celebrates schools that are committed to singing.


S MOST secondary school teachers will be well aware, the cast of Glee are becoming the new classroom heroes. For those who have not watched the show or heard about it in the school corridors, it centres around an American high school

Notable achievements: While Sing Up is a primary programme, it is also having an impact in the early years of secondary and resources are available for year 7 students

Singing had always played an important part in the

school day, bringing smiles to the pupils’ faces and helping their learning. When Sing Up was introduced, Ian Squire, Red Marsh’s music leader, wanted all teachers to get involved. He explained: “At first some were very reluctant to

sing in front of the pupils, but gradually teachers and teaching assistants that hadn’t sang much with their students began to do more and more singing. Sing Up has massively increased our repertoire and has proved to be a big hit with the pupils.” In the autumn, all the hard work paid off when Mr

Squire and his students were invited to sing with 600 other children at the Sing Up for Your Friends concert at Preston Guild Hall. Mr Squire said: “The sound we all made was

amazing, especially accompanied by the excellent live band. The pupils still sing the songs from the concert and one even carries a CD of the songs around with him everywhere! In terms of raising their confidence and self-esteem, it was invaluable.” For Red Marsh, Sing Up has inspired both pupils

and teachers alike. Mr Squire says that newcomers to the scheme just need to let go and immerse themselves in the project. He added: “Don’t be afraid to join in and have a go. There are songs for every occasion and theme. The pupils will soon tell you which songs they love. You never know, you may even start to enjoy it!” There are other ways for secondary schools to

take part in Sing Up. Some of the projects involved in the programme also benefited from the involvement of Young Leaders. Aged between 14 and 18, the Young Leaders helped to mentor three of the projects; something which the scheme aims to build on in future. Young leaders were an integral part of a project

in partnership with West Berkshire Council, with older students buddying children with SEN as part

SecEd • June 10 2010

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