Monthly Archives: Mar 2013

In my dreams…

I never wanted to be a teacher. Not really. I first got involved with a group called PHAB when I was a sixth former and part of that was going camping for a week. After that, all I really wanted to do was work with people, particularly those with a disability. While I was in the sixth form I also acted as a TA for a very low ability Y7 class, just for one Science lesson a week and that was good fun. I guess you could say it sowed the seeds for the future…

I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to Uni, but to save the ‘you’ve wasted your life’ lectures that were inevitable  I went to Warwick to study Physics. Mostly because my Physics teacher told me that he didn’t think that it would be a good idea! While I was there, I volunteered once a week at a respite home for children with learning disabilities – and I loved it.

Once I graduated, I knew I didn’t want a milkround job, that I wanted to work with people, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep using my Physics. I got a job at the home I’d been volunteering at, and then another at a similar place and spent an enjoyable year or so working with adults and children in their homes and in the community. I loved it. Sadly, the hours did not love me, and the pay was not great. While wondering what to do next (and no, at that point management was not an option) someone suggested I teach. That way, I could work with people, doing regular hours for decent pay.

It took me nine years to make the move from Secondary to Special, with a varied career along the way. I love Special teaching. I just can’t see me doing it when I’m 50, let alone 68.

I never wanted children. I had thought about fostering one day, but I don’t want to do that on my own, so that looks like it won’t happen. I still can’t see me teaching for ever though, so I need to find something different to do. This is where my (current, long term) dream comes in.

I still want to work with people with learning disabilities. That’s what I really enjoy doing – and I am lucky enough to have a lot of friends from MENCAP. They want to work, and be useful. They are sad that their day centres and places of work are closing due to cuts. I want to do something for them, and people like them.  I had thought about going back to the start and having my own group home, but there’s never a day off!

Instead, I’d like (maybe, perhaps) to have my own cake shop. I want to call it ‘love’. People with learning disabilities will help make the cakes, and serve them. Perhaps we can have a tea and hot chocolate machine, and even make bread and sandwiches. There’s literacy, numeracy and socialising experiences. We could take kids on work experience – and doing DofE. It would be great for the public to be able to come and visit, and see what we’re up to – and to learn that learning disability does not mean scary. I am aware that resources like this already exist. However, where I live they are tucked out of the way, or they are closing down.

Still, I’ve got a few more years teaching in me yet. Like I said, it’s a dream…

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Safety Week

We’ve had ‘Safety Week’ at school this week.

On Wednesday, the fire brigade came in – the pupils had a talk on what to do if they find a fire, how to be safe in their homes and what firemen wear. We then got the chance to sit on a fire engine and of course, use the hosepipes.  We followed this up in the classroom with this interactive resource. It was interesting to see what pupils felt was dangerous and the reasons that they gave.

On Thursday, it was the police. They again told us about their role in the community, let pupils try on their uniforms and then we had the chance to sit in a police van and try to hold a riot shield. We spent the afternoon talking and writing about what we had learned so far, and looked at a powerpoint about the sorts of things that the police do. We then headed outside to practice crossing the ‘road’ – safe to say, none of them can do it safely on their own! The final part of Thursday involved recalling Science week and launching the Rokit. We were joined by three other classes to do this – it was great fun.

On Friday we spent some time talking about parts of the body that we should and shouldn’t let others touch. Best response of the day:

Me – L are you allowed to touch E’s boobs?

L – er, yes

E – (shouts) no, I’ll hit you!

I’m so glad that at least some of my pupils are aware of appropriate touch, and what to do it about it if they don’t want to be touched.

Then the nurse came in with her ‘germ machine’ – a UV lamp and some fluorescing cream – to see how well the pupils washed their hands. Answer – badly. This naturally lead on to a discussion about personal hygiene (showering and teeth cleaning).

We finished up the week with a celebration assembly where all the classes displayed their work from the week – it looked amazing.

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EcoSchools revisited

As we reach halfway through the term, and halfway through our journey towards the EcoSchools Green Flag Award, I received a lovely email this week.  It all started with this post a while ago. Sarah, a representative from EcoSchools came to visit us in October, and this week this was published on the EcoSchools website.

I hope it does encourage other special schools to get involved. It’s been fun

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#100wcgu – Week 81

It’s that time again…100 Word Challenge, and this week the phrase was ‘…the unseasonal weather meant…’


They wanted to go camping. Over and over they asked their mother if they could PLEASE go camping. She said, ‘when the weather gets a bit warmer’. They negotiated for the Easter holidays, it should be ok by then to sleep out in the garden, surely? The sisters planned a midnight feast, although their mother knew that they would both be fast asleep by then.

Come the Easter holiday, the tent was found out, sleeping bags aired. Sadly, the unseasonal weather meant camping out was not an option, so they put up the tent in the front room and spent the night there instead.


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#NSEW 2013 – Flight

Following on from the STEM sessions that we have been running in school, I decided to make the theme for Science Week ‘flight’.
Every class was given one of these, null one of these per base, nulla pile of these null and asked to spend some time looking at forces with a focus on flight. Oh, I almost forgot, they also had access to a pile of forces related experiments as well.

As if that wasn’t enough, it’s traditional that during Science Week we have a visiting expert to enhance the work that the pupils are doing in class. Now, it’s not easy finding someone to bring a plane to school, but I knew someone who could. Well, almost.

The secondary school that I used to teach at is currently building a plane. Yes, a real one. As part of their process, they got hold of a crashed light aircraft and turned it into a flight simulator. (You can follow their progress on So, I asked nicely, and was allowed to borrow it for two days. Over that time, nearly 100 pupils and many staff had a turn at flying the simulator. Some soon learned it could be crashed, and this was way more fun than flying! Others proved surprisingly good at flying and even our most PMLD pupils were helped to have a go and enjoyed the experience of sitting in a cockpit, hearing the noises and seeing the countryside go sailing past.

In fact, it’s been such a success that everyone is asking when we’re going to have it again – and I’m going to have to negotiate something for the summer term I think.

Safe to say, Science Week is a triumph this year!


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#CSciTeach take 3

I have been subject leader for three years at BFS, which is unusual in having 100 pupils, the majority of whom are working below national curriculum level 1 and are diagnosed as having severe and profound learning disabilities. My pupils are aged 11 to 19.

My responsibilities are

*        working as a class teacher and tutor for a mixed group of nine key stage 4 pupils for the majority of their lessons, including OCR entry level science. The majority of this class is functioning between p8 and level 1. I also teach science to a class of six KS4 pupils with severe autism, to another entry level science class in KS5 and to a small group of teaching assistants who are doing their GCSE in one year.

*       Science subject leader. This involves developing schemes of work for the whole school, resourcing these and monitoring their effectiveness by work trawls and data scrutiny.

I am also responsible for gifted and talented provision across the school, which has included developing the policy, leading inset to share this with staff, identifying pupils who are our most able and working with subject leaders to highlight areas of challenge on their schemes of work.

*       mentoring new colleagues, guiding them through the complexities of assessment for curriculum subjects and individual education plan targets. I also work with newer subject leaders to help them develop their skills with leading a subject.

1) professional knowledge and understanding

I designed a cyclical scheme of work which runs over five years by incorporating some materials from strata. This helped me to pitch the work at the right level and ensures key points are covered in KS3 and 4 and that all pupils have access to a balanced curriculum which is linked to their level of academic need. The previous schemes of work were quite dated and contained misconceptions as well as work that was either too hard or not relevant for our pupils.

This means that pupils now get a chance to develop their skills and understanding as they move through school and this compliments our method of recording pupil progress. Teachers have commented how easy the schemes of work are to use and to differentiate as they provide broad objectives and lots of suggestions of activities that can be done by students across the ability range.

As a result of this curriculum rearrangement, staff across school report that they are more confident to teach their science lessons and recent data analysis showed that last year all pupils made progress which was expected (80%) or better than expected (20%).

I have been able to attend OCR run courses about the new GCSE controlled assessment and the new structure to entry level, including coursework. These have both helped me to improve my practice by learning how to moderate the new controlled assessment and in doing so have helped me to teach better the skills needed to complete this work. As a result, all of the entry level pupils have a strong piece of work for their ability and are on track to achieve a bronze award. At the time of writing, my adult learners are likely to get a C grade for their GCSE.

Teaching both entry level and GCSE Science has challenged me as previously I only taught physics at this level. I have had to revisit content in biology and chemistry, to ensure my understanding and devise new ways to teach these. I have sought advice from colleagues on twitter using #asechat as I am the only science specialist at school. This has in turn helped me gain confidence to teach unfamiliar concepts.

I now need to look at entry level for our younger cohort and see if it continues to be a suitable course for them to study.

I take part in a termly science focus group with other special school science teachers from across the West Midlands. We have spent some time moderating work at various p levels which has helped me to judge what work looks like at various p levels and to share this with my colleagues. This in turn has helped them to work with their teaching assistants to ensure that work for the pupils is pitched at an appropriate level. We have recently started developing some app grids based on the p levels and again these will be used to moderate work and ensure staff are identifying pupils at the same levels, while providing another method of checking that our main assessment tool is reliable.

2) professional practice

As part of the gifted and talented role that I have, I run a lunchtime club alongside our phse lead teacher. This is called Explorers Club and we follow the crest stars award. This gives ten of our pupils the chance to look at parts of science that might not otherwise be covered by the curriculum and is having a positive effect on their learning in their usual science class. In time, I envisage this being offered to everyone as a form of achievable accreditation so that our pupils are leaving school with something to show for it. Using crest awards in Explorers Club has made pupils more confident to try new things when experimenting and to begin to take risks and to think about doing their own experiments. They are able to suggest ways to improve practical work and are more able to talk about what they are doing, as well as ask more questions. They are able to talk about what experiments we have been doing when they return to their own class, and our most able pupils are able to begin linking these experiences to others that they have had. We have not been doing this award for very long, but I hope that, in time, we will be able to see an impact on the progress that pupils are making generally. We also do not record work that pupils do in Explorers Club against their curriculum targets as is it supposed to be something different for them to do, but this is perhaps the next step as a teacher, so that the progress that is being made outside of the traditional classroom is being acknowledged.

Last year, I worked with a group of pupils across the school to achieve the Silver EcoSchools Award. This year, we are working towards our Green Flag. This has involved forming a committee which represents the school, helping the pupils formulate an action plan and then carrying it out. As a result, they are now more able to explain about local environmental issues such as turning off the lights and recycling paper. For one of the sections I have arranged for each teacher to take their class to the local nature reserve and have a lesson with the staff there. I hope that this will increase the confidence of the staff to deliver lessons about the outdoors and the environment when back at school, leading to the further understanding of the pupils. We now have pupils who are begining to get a better understanding of environmental issues. I wrote a blog on our Silver award journey and then had a visit from one of the ecoschools representatives who was keen to turn this into a case study to encourage other special schools to apply. She was very impressed with the work that we had been doing and how we had tried to make it relevant to all of our pupils.

For the next steps I need to collect evidence from my colleagues as to the type of environmental work that is being taught in class, both in science and in other lessons so that I can show a lasting legacy of applying for the green flag award.

As an Advanced Skills Teacher I undertook the ‘Getting Practical’ training and disseminated this to staff in several schools across the city. It had the effect of getting them to think about why they do practical work and what they hope to achieve, and in some cases had an impact on the work that was done in the classroom. One of the first things I did on taking up my present post was to run a section of the training with the staff, focusing on expected outcomes from practical work. It turned out that a lot of them did not do much in the way of practical science and those that did often had too many expectations for the outcomes. As a result, when I was redeveloping the schemes of work I made sure that they were predominantly practically based. As a result, better use is being made of the science room and the resources, new resources were purchased to fill in the gaps created by the new schemes and also by the increased emphasis placed on the entry level course. As well as pupil progress improving, verbal pupils are better able to recall what they have learnt while some of our non verbal pupils are able to demonstrate experiments that they have done previously. This has resulted in pupils p levels improving along with their questioning skills.

3. Professional attributes

As Science Subject Leader I am constantly trying to find the best ways of teaching my pupils at all levels, which then informs schemes of work and I share good practice with my colleagues. As part of my role, I also get to observe my colleagues and pick up ideas from them as to how to teach our hardest to reach pupils, as well as being able to suggest to them different activities that they can try in order to challenge their pupils appropriately. I regularly look at medium term planning from across the school and guide staff as to how to make this better in terms of pupil outcomes and differentiation. I am constantly working with staff to improve their practice as both class teachers and subject leaders and Science data from across the school shows all pupils are meeting their targets.

I have been working with others in my position to moderate work at all p-levels and then shared this with my colleagues so that they are able to see what levels pupils are working at and what work should be produced as a result. Our recent work on APP grids should aid this further.

As an Advanced Skills Teacher I spent two years working in schools across the City, helping teachers to develop their practice mostly in Physics but also in classroom management. I worked with two teachers who had more able groups for Physics but did feel confident to stretch these pupils. We worked together to plan lessons, alternated teaching and observing and developed resources. I was able to help one teacher become more confident when using radioactive sources which enhanced her class’ understanding of a particularly abstract topic.

The staff that I supported reported that they felt more confident teaching the topics that we had covered and that pupil results had improved.

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STEM session 4

We recently had our fourth visit from our STEM ambassador, Ken. This time, we were looking at how planes fly (a bit tricky for SLD pupils, it must be said).

We started off trying to get balloons to fly around the classroom, and talked about what was making them move. We then had a look at propellers propeller which was interesting in terms of which pupils (and staff) could make it fly! I learnt that spin it one way, it goes up and spin it the other way it goes down. I still can’t make it fly either way though…

We then moved on to looking at a toy car with a small propeller on the top and a battery to make it move. Sadly, the force exerted wasn’t enough to show on our smallest Newtonmeter.

The pupils found it really hard this time, but we were able to link in a little bit to recent work on forces (push, pull, gravity) and to start to look ahead to our Science Week visit of a flight simulator, borrowed from our local secondary school.

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