When faced with adversity, we must find courage, humour & hope! @CambsEdFest

This piece was first published in the Cambridge Independent Newspaper on 2nd May 2017

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#JoinTheFlamboyance

One of the great frustrations of working in education is that we have to endure a constant to and fro of education policy, a great pendulum swing that seems to knock everyone on the head each time there is a new political administration. Things could all be in place, plans written, preparation and training undertaken but as we saw in 2010 with the anticipated Jim Rose Primary Curriculum everything can be whisked away overnight and as I witnessed in the DFE offices (I am a member of the DFE’s Primary Headteachers’ Reference Group) the rainbows of Every Child Matters, dumped unceremoniously in the bins!

The constant redirection of policy and the revolving door of incoming Ministers of Education with their own particular biographical biases setting the educational agenda are exhausting, inefficient and uneconomical. I wonder why this constant change is permitted in these times of “austerity” and why it is not possible for a cross-party group to take a longer term view of the nation’s educational priorities! In doing this they could also perhaps consider the importance of promoting arts and creative subjects to the same extent as STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) given that the creative industries contribute £84.1 billion to the UK economy every year.

With yet another General Election on the near horizon, and a whole host of current challenges for educators to contend with including funding cuts, continuous revisions to national assessment, the punitive accountability measures including OfSTED, the narrowing of curriculum, and a recruitment and retention crisis, let alone what other new changes may materialise, it seems as if our educational landscape is a pretty bleak, political, polarising and pulverising place at the moment.

However, when faced with adversity, we must find courage, humour and hope!

Despite all that is going on what we can be certain of is that our children deserve great teachers and our teachers and communities deserve great schools and no amount of pessimism or disaster thinking is going to change this fact. Over the last year, with a few other twitter chums (@MattGovernor @ThatBoyCanTeach @NataliehScott @HopeStreetBlues @HelenaMarsh81 @_borntosparkle @EnserMark and others*) we have been starting a social media campaign proposing that for the sake of our children, our colleagues and our communities, teachers must be optimistic educators #OptimisticEd. @OptimisticEd_ . This does not mean that we are willfully naïve to all the challenges and complexities around us however we need to be a positive antidote.  Happiness, humour, hope, creativity, connection, psychological safety, and optimism are key. If we are going to encourage others to join our noble and elegant profession we must manifest schools as exciting, brilliant, joyful, beautiful places where anything can happen. And rather than being Lemmings of Despair, we must be #FlamingosOfHope.

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Well I am now pleased to say that after a year the online campaign #flamingosofhope has got wings and is taking flight (sorry) and with great support from a number of anchor partners including Anglia Ruskin University, The University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, the Cambridgeshire School Improvement Board, The Teaching School Alliances, Teach in Cambridgeshire, Cambridge City Council and Cambridge County Council we are working on a week-long Cambridgeshire Festival of Education starting on Saturday 25th June and culminating in a one day Conference on Saturday 1st July at Anglia Ruskin University.

We are also particularly excited that Cambridge Independent  have agreed to be our Media Partners. The Independent’s values including Intelligence, Community, Quality, Relevant, Educating, Engaging, Informative, Trusted, Entertaining, Interactive, and Positive make them a perfect fit for the vision of Cambridgeshire Festival of Education!

For this year’s event the steering committee have identified 5 key themes:

  • Optimistic Leadership
  • The Empowered Teacher
  • Identity & Community
  • Creativity in Education
  • Mental Health & Wellbeing

Cambridgeshire Festival of Education is for everyone. It aims to be informative, inspirational, exciting, energising and invigorating and we want as many people as possible to get involved and to #JoinTheFlamboyance.

Over the next few weeks and months, thanks to our partnership with Cambridge Independent we hope to let you know more about the vision for the Festival including telling you about all the great speakers and workshops we have lined up, as well as explaining how your school or place of work can get involved.

In the meantime please follow @CambsEdFest

Visit the website Cambridgeshire Festival of Education

Buy tickets for the Cambridgeshire Festival of Education

Facebook: @cambsedfest

Twitter: @CambsEdFest

We need an education system based on hope not fear, one that appreciates the humanity of human beings.”  Professor Yong Zhao

Rae Snape – Headteacher/National Leader of Education – The Spinney Primary School, Cambridge, England

Head of The Kite Teaching School Alliance, Cambridge

P.S. * If you are a #flamingoofhope and part of the #flamboyance and I have accidentally missed you out, please let me know and I will edit this and add you in!

 

Thanks – Rae

Facing a Perfect Storm

At the start of every Monday morning at The Spinney, we come together for a whole team briefing. We prepare for the visits and visitors, events and activities in the week ahead as well as reflect on the ideas, knowledge and learning of the previous week which we incorporate into our curriculum and pedagogic offer to help us to keep moving forward.

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Last Monday, to build on the fabulous training we had with Mind Up, we thought about the worrying trend in children and young people’s mental health and some perturbing statistics!

On 16th January an Institute for Public Policy Research report was published which stated that three children in every class have a clinically diagnosable mental health condition; 90% of headteachers have reported an increase in mental health problems among pupils over the last five years, and over the same period, hospital admissions for self-harm among the under-18s are up 50%.

The report says, “Nowhere is the crisis in children and young people’s mental health felt more acutely than in our secondary schools, which increasingly find themselves on the frontline. This report examines why schools are facing a ‘perfect storm’, and makes the case for putting secondary schools at the heart of early intervention provision for children and young people with emerging, low-level mental health problems.”

The government has promised £1.4bn for mental health services for children and young people up to 2020, and there is a plan for more trained counsellors to be based in schools.

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Whilst I have no doubt that many schools will welcome this additional funding I worry that this may not be new money at all, and in fact be re-direct finances that had previously gone to specialists in CAMH.

It seems that schools are increasingly being seen as the panacea for all society’s ills and are continually asked to deliver on all fronts including now mental health!

Schools routinely as part of their curriculum and pastoral offer do all they can to mitigate against bullying, eating disorders, self-harm, drug addiction, stress, but I believe it is unfair to expect schools to do all this alone and promoting good mental well-being should be the responsibility of everyone in the school and wider community .

I also worry about the paradox of this new expectation of our education system. Young people in England are among the most tested in the world, we know that many young people dread the tests, they suffer from performance anxiety, they are concerned about how they will look to their friends and family if they do not secure the predicted grades, they are fearful of how their results will impact on their futures and many young people experience high levels of stress, and in the jurisdictions which this government seems to want to emulate some young people even resort to suicide. Could it be that education rather than being the solution for young people’s mental ill-health is actually part of the problem!

I was interested therefore thanks to a tweet by @beckycarlzon to learn about the campaign More Than A Score UK.

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“The chorus of unhappy voices is growing stronger by the day. If we want a truly world class, 21st century education for our children, it’s time the government listened properly both to professionals and to parents.”

More Than a Score is a growing coalition which includes the NUT, BERA, UKLA and CPRT.

Their concerns are that the current assessment system narrows the curriculum, sets unrealistic standards of children, that it does not meet the needs of our children, has a negative impact on children’s self-esteem, well-being and mental health as well as having a negative impact on teacher’s well-being and mental health.

If as the Institute for Public Policy Research report suggests secondary schools are facing a perfect storm, then we really need think carefully about the climate of our classrooms, our schools and our education system. We need to do as much as possible to challenge a paradigm fixated on a narrow view of educational success. We need to consciously and confidently bring happiness and joy into young people’s lives and recognise that if we are the ones that make the weather, that we must bring sunshine rather than rain.

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Thanks to @ThatBoyCanTeach for setting the #WeeklyBlogChallenge17

 

 

State of Mind – Mind Up

I have just returned from the park from a lovely weekend walk with new puppy Bramble. (A Scottie – Cairn Terrier Cross who is as cute as the Dickens but more about him on another occasion no doubt.)

As I stood in the muddy park puddles, in my non glamorous brown boots and my equally non glamorous black padded jacket which makes me look like Kenny from South Park,  I found myself listening, just listening to the birds in the trees and contemplating how delightful it is to stop statue-still and breathe. Aaah!

Wednesday 5th January was our first day back at The Spinney and the training day we had organised was with Mind Up from The Goldie Hawn Foundation. The training was amazing. Very informative and stimulating and also great fun! Such a lovely way to start the term. Rachel Bailey was our Mind Up Trainer and we were very fortunate to have also been joined by Julia Organ who is the Uk Director of Education and Training.

Mind Up is a teaching framework of 15 lessons based on 4 pillars through which the children, school colleagues and community learn about Neuroscience, Mindful Awareness, Positive Psychology and Social and Emotional Learning. It is very inspiring to know that the children will be learning about parts of their brain, how they work and how they influence feelings and actions. Learning about the brain is just one of the 4 pillars but one that I know the children will love to learn about and thanks to our research links with the PEDAL Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development & Learning as well as Cambridge Neuroscience The Spinney educators and children are becoming well-versed in the importance of the role of self-regulation in learning.

We are just at the very start of our Mind Up journey and, whilst thanks to a number of pedagogic and curriculum approaches including PHSE, SEAL , Outdoor Learning and SEAS4ALL as well as our whole school ethos that promotes cooperation and harmony we know that we already have a lot in place, we are excited to see what three calming brain breaks throughout the day will do to continue to contribute towards our school ‘s positive climate.

 

I was fortunate to meet the Mind Up Uk Director Julia at the Ashoka Changemaker Schools Summit in Ireland where we were offered an initial taster session. The Spinney is an Ashoka Changemaker School one of a network of 15 schools in England and one of over 200 in the World. Being part of this network, connecting with Changemakers and schools across the globe inspires us to think broadly about the purpose and meaning of education, and the importance of giving our young people the skills, knowledge, attitudes and attributes to navigate the future.

One of the key ideas which threads through the Mind Up framework is that while it is true that some people may be born with a propensity for happiness, happiness is not innate and it can be taught, it can be learnt and the level of happiness we experience can be a choice!

Daily Acts of Gratitude is one way to increase our happiness quota!  As part of the training Spinney colleagues were invited to stand in a circle, pass around a beautifully painted stone and name something we were grateful for. Responses included family, friends, great colleagues to work with and so on and by the time all 32 of us we had stated what we were thankful for, our instinct was to applaud the positivity of the experience!

Another aspect that resonated greatly is that Mind Up aims to promote the idea of Optimistic Schools. The Spinney has 7 values which underpin the life and work of the school. These are child-centredness, teamwork and community, excellence, learning, improvement, responsibility and optimism.

With all the politicisation and polarisation in the educational landscape I think it is so important that for the sake of the young people and our colleagues we aim to remain resolutely hopeful and optimistic. (#flamingosofhope not lemmings of despair!)

So back to Bramble and me in the park. It may be the effect of climate change that has brought the chaffinches out to sing more loudly from the branches than usual, or it may have been the positive effect of the Mind Up training on Wednesday which caused me to stop, stand and listen mindfully to the birds this morning, whichever it was and I’d like to think it was the latter, it felt good for my soul, positive for my spirit and will hopefully help me to sustain my emotional balance and well-being as one week ends and another one is about to begin.

Have a lovely week everyone.

Thanks to @thatboycanteach for suggesting the #WeeklyBlogChallenge17  One down – 51 to go!