16.8.21 Next academic year? Here we come!
It has been a whirlwind of a few years for us all hasn’t it?
At Ashdown Primary, just like all our fellow schools in Crowborough and the surrounding villages, we have been busy keeping our children learning whether that’s in school, or remotely, in a bubble, in a popped bubble, or wherever they are. Our children have remained our priority throughout the pandemic.
We haven’t rested on our laurels either. Our governing board has undertaken a big project this year on what the vision for our school is. A school’s vision should always be driven by the governing board, but this often can’t happen if a school is in a period of change or rapid improvement. Or a worldwide pandemic! Or so you’d think. But our board utilized the trend in online meetings to meet up and train with an external coach to develop their vision. And it’s great in my opinion! Although it is by no means finished and we welcome any feedback wither to myself or to our Chair of Governors Andrew Whiteley. This is it so far:
OUR VISION - what pupils will leave the school knowing, being and having done.We aim to provide a safe, caring, supportive and stimulating environment, built on a foundation of high-quality teaching. We aspire to be the Primary School of choice in Crowborough, providing the best place for the children of our community to come to learn.
- Children are prepared for their future learning as a result of an effective and appropriate curriculum that equips them with the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes to succeed in the next stage of their education.
- Children’s progress and attainment (in terms of nationally measured knowledge and skills) is consistently above national year on year standards.
- Children possess knowledge and awareness of the world they live in, together with the positive steps they can take to reduce their impact on it. Children express informed attitudes and opinions on current global issues such as pollution, climate change, plastics use and health etc. and consider these in terms of their own actions and the impacts they have as global citizens.
- Children learn and develop meaningful connections to use the key and functional skills underpinning the curriculum. They apply these skills in new contexts and see their relevance to their future learning and possible careers.
- Children demonstrate positive behaviours and attitudes to keeping themselves and others safe, as a result of both their taught curriculum and in school experiences designed to build personal resilience.
- Children understand and express British values, attitudes, and behaviours towards fellow citizens, both within our local community and importantly, across the whole nation, recognising that our local community does not reflect the full ethnic and cultural diversity of the UK.
- Children experience a safe learning environment in which their safety and welfare is paramount.
- Children experience Ashdown Primary School as an integral part of its local community.
- Children engage in a wide range of enrichment activities. These include the arts, music, sport, dance and other after school teams and clubs.
- Because we have two sites children experience a developmentally appropriate ‘two stage culture’, that first nurtures them at the beginning of their school lives and then prepares them for the next step into secondary education at the end of their time at Ashdown.
- Children are taught by and interact with highly trained and well-motivated staff who benefit from high quality, relevant continuing professional development, aligning with the requirements of the curriculum, pupil progress, attainment, safeguarding, their professional performance and career pathways.
- Children’s identified gaps in learning, resulting from an interruption to education (Covid 19) are effectively remedied.
These fit so well with the values that our whole school community (staff, parents, governors and children) developed a few years ago:
- Our whole school community will treat everybody in the way they would wish to be treated with mutual respect for each other and our environment.
- We (the community) will develop resilience in ourselves and others by creating a stable and safe culture and climate where we understand that everyone makes mistakes and that we will achieve more by learning from them.
- We will provide everybody with a secure and creative environment to achieve their full potential, by offering a broad range of engaging and challenging opportunities.
- Our whole school community will be supported in all aspects of school life enabling them to achieve, feel included, and belong.
- Our whole school community will understand, develop and show mutual trust, confidence in each other, and ensure that all stakeholders feel listened to and valued.
- For all of us to understand our role as a citizen of the school, the town, the country and the world, and the responsibilities this carries towards ourselves, each other and the environment we live in.
And while many of our neighbouring schools, and indeed the two schools we work in close partnerships with (St Michael’s Primary Withyham and Rotherfield Primary), will hold all these values and more besides close to their hearts, I think this reflects the kind of town Crowborough is, and what we are all working to develop in our children and our future community.
And what about “catching up” all that they have missed? Well, apart from me being a little miffed at the phrase “catch up” as it seems to imply that someone else is ahead and in front (which they clearly are not, the pandemic was worldwide after all), there seems to be some kind of urgency to “catch the children up” in a year, or eighteen months.
This got me thinking. With everything I know and have learned in my 28 years in teaching (17 as a Headteacher), there is no rushing child development and education. And if we are going to equip our children for their secondary education and their lifelong learning, the last thing we need to do is rush it, skim the surface, or panic. It made me think of other issues that take a long time to resolve. Now I am no medic, but if there was say, a 7-year-old who broke their leg quite badly in say, October, we really wouldn’t be panicking that they wouldn’t get to run in sports’ day that following July. We might even have to agree with the doctors that sports’ day for the next few years might be out of the question. However, with the right treatment, physio, rest, carefully planned programme for recouperation and training over the following years, there is no reason why that 7-year-old couldn’t go on to become an Olympic marathon runner when they are 17.
How do we apply this same principle to primary school? Well, we can employ additional adults to work with children on a one to one. This can work well given the right adults but it’s very costly, and while we have a limited amount of ring fenced money for tutoring for a very small number of children, we have yet to find out if we are being given any more additional funding for strategies for more children in school.
We looked at it differently. Our children haven’t actually missed “learning”, children learn in so many different ways, and don’t always need school to learn things. But what they have missed out on is direct teaching from their teachers. Chunks of curriculum learning: concepts, skills, knowledge; and social and emotional learning of teamwork, confidence, resilience, respect, trust, citizenship. Things you need to be around other people to develop and learn.
So we have taken our curriculum, subject by subject, and cohort by cohort. And we have said things like: These Y3 children have missed this whole topic on food chains in science, and World War 2 in history. So the teachers who led on those subjects are rewriting the curriculum for each individual group of children to ensure that the teaching they missed is spread out and covered over the remaining years they have with us. By the time to leave to go to Beacon Academy (as most of our children do) they will have learned everything that they would have if they’d never missed a day. And while people might panic and say “but year six only have one year left with you”, and they’d be right, our older children have actually got a firmer foundation from the years gone by to build on. Whereas our younger children have only known disruption each year they’ve been at school, so it is all swings and roundabouts. Our message is that we’ve got this. We get it, and we’re on it.
This is a big old bit of work, but I’ve already had teachers say that if you know your curriculum well, it’s not so hard to work out which are the key parts of learning and which can slot in somewhere else, or become a few discreet lessons before the next topic starts.
We’d love to show you round our school. If you ever feel like having a little nosey, please do book on to one of our monthly tours where we will be glad to show you what we do for our Crowborough children and we welcome ideas for moving forward too.
So don’t let anyone tell you that teachers were lazy good for nothings during the lockdown. Ours weren’t and I know from my fellow heads that the other Crowborough and village schools were the same.
I am proud to lead one. And I hope you’re proud of what we’re achieving together for the town’s future.
6.11.20 Baby Steps
Dan Selby, our Y3/4 phase leader and Y4 teacher first came to tell me he was going to be a dad about two weeks before lockdown. A few weeks later I found out I was going to be an Aunty again. I am so lucky. I have a teenage nephew called Charlie, a Y6 niece called Amelia, and a Y3 niece called Emmie. I love them with all my heart, and they inherit the Owbridge millions (I wish!) when I go. And there I was being told by my brother I was going to get another. And only a few weeks behind baby Selby.
There is something about new life that is very affirming. Amongst all the rubbish that is going on in the world at the moment, all the bad news, the negativity, the squabbling, arguing and fighting, and the death, it is a tonic to hear of new life coming and a fresh chance to get it right.
When Baby Esther Selby was born to Dan and Laura at the end of September, I was doubly excited. Because I knew it wouldn't be long until my new nephew (we knew it was a boy) would join her in the world as a newborn.
You hear people saying "Oh I wouldn't bring a baby into this world" and things like that. I disagree. The world is what we make it, and it is the new generations of people who will make it better than it has been for us. We strive to make things better for our children than we had it, and most of our parents did the same for us. These children, the ones I see every day in our school, as well as the babies being born now are the ones who will do that. They're the ones who will look after us when we are old, the ones who may work in our care homes, or the ones who will make decisions at government level about care and support for us when we are the elderly. I have high hopes for the Ashdown children. They have a great sense of justice, of the environment, of eco issues and of Fairtrade. They have a real social conscience. I am very proud of how we (school staff, parents and the Crowborough community) raise our children. It takes a village to raise a child they say, and I think we're doing OK!
If you could be in our school on any one day, as a fly on the wall, the kindness you see our children show to each other, modelled by our staff and encouraged by their peers, it would astound you, and you would be, like me, very proud of them and what we have all achieved with them.
In many respects this pandemic has not proved how awful people can be, not at a school level anyway, but has brought out the best in many of us. I'm pretty proud of that too.
At the end of last term, on the day I was dressed as Winnie-the Pooh and serving tea and coffee to parents, my brother and his partner were in Pembury hospital awaiting the nephew's arrival. Hugo came at 9pm, when I was at home with the nieces (who were staying over at Aunty Kate's of course) and we were able to welcome him into our family and into our world.
He was welcomed into a world that on wider scale does not appear to have much going for it at the moment. But this does not unduly worry me, as I know the kind of people who will be running the world in the years to come. I see them every day in our school and I know what kind of brilliant people they are going to be. And I put my trust for the future in them. Your kids, your fabulous, bright, clever, funny, responsible, confident and gorgeous kids. Hug them tight tonight, they are our future. Them, Esther Selby, and my new nephew. Hugo William Gilmore.
PS In my last blog, I inadvertently breached GDPR rules. This was reported by someone to our Local Authority who made us aware and the breach has been dealt with in accordance with GDPR regulations. Let me assure you that all information about the Selby family, and my own, has been done with their full consent and permission. If you ever have any concerns about the content of our website or anything to do with where we might have mucked up or could do better, please make use of our complaints procedure, our whistleblowing policy and our informal communication channels.
16.10.20 Pit Stop
We've nearly made it to the first Pit Stop of the year. And what a first leg it has been. There is so much going on behind the scenes at our (and everyone else's) school that its hard to see just how much we have done in such a short time.
Our priority is always your children. And out priority this term has been getting them back into school, happy and healthy, and then getting them back into learning. Maths, reading and writing is the priority there, but using all areas of the curriculum to re-connect our children (cos they do belong to us as well you know!!) to the full broad scope of our school curriculum.
Our attendance has been superb - amazing, especially with all the colds and regular bugs that children have had. And this is one of the markers that we will use to see how successful we are being. So thank you and well done for this - it's not always easy, but we can't help the children easily if they are not here regularly and this is a really positive aspect of our school.
Behind the scenes you wouldn't believe what has been going on. Everything that we do has had to be reviewed - from how we serve our dinners to how we play at playtime, to which staff use which toilet. From who cleans the telephones every day to how do we fit everything into a working day which has to finish at 4pm and you can't take things home? (sounds idyllic, but its actually causing a lot of stress for staff who are used to working long after their paid hours are over, while we find ways to alleviate that). We have reviewed every event we have in school to see if we can modify it or whether we have to bin it for this year. Every subject leader has reviewed what they wanted to do this year as much of it cannot be achieved. Regular staff training is difficult as the staff at each site are not mixing either with each other, or with the other staff on their own site - we are all "bubbled" too! We've reviewed attendance procedures, and we've looked at different assessment systems to enable us to gauge quickly and accurately where the children are after lockdown. (It doesn't matter btw, wherever they are they will be taught and supported accordingly). We've managed parents evenings via zoom - hopefully these will go well. And alongside all this we have inducted a new head of school at the infants, and recruited a new one at the juniors. Every member of teaching staff has had a new appraisal for this year, and governors have met twice, with another meeting scheduled for this week.
So I suppose what I'm saying this week is that while some newspapers might be making teachers and school staff out to be lazy and money grabbing and only working half days, this is most certainly not the case at our school. Our staff have never worked so hard (they all have additional cleaning duties as well btw) to make things right for our children. Because this is our moral purpose, this is what every member of staff from me, to Mrs King a phase leader, to Mr Allen our newly qualified teacher, to Mrs Long one of our TAs, to Mr Oakley one of our Play Leaders, to Mr Parks (Kevin) one of our cleaners. We are ALL here to give the children of Ashdown the best deal possible. And I think we're managing it in very difficult circumstances.
Parents play a huge part in this too and we have been so grateful for your support, and how you've adhered to our staggered starts and finishes and our one way systems (especially at the infants with that hideous path on Montargis Way). To show our appreciation and to give a small toke of gratitude, we will be giving free tea, coffee (and hopefully cakes/pastries) to parents after drop-off on Friday at both sites. You will be welcome to stay for a chat as long as it's socially distanced, or you can take a drink and run. Its just a little way we can say thank you to you for your support.
Ashdown is a very special place to be at any time. It's even more special at the moment. I'm glad you're part of it.
Enjoy the Pit Stop that is half term, and let's be ready for Term 2!
2.10.20 How deep is the mud?.
Everything is relative at the moment. Our school community, like every other one in the world at the moment has people at one end who are pretty gung-ho about the whole thing - we probably have some conspiracy theorists, or people who don't really believe it's all as bad as is being reported. We will also have people who are literally too frightened of the virus to leave their homes and are only bringing their children to school under duress and are probably spending al day worrying about whether their child is picking up the virus from the pencils in school. There will also be people on every point of that spectrum between those two types of people. There is no right or wrong approach. No-one can tell you that your view or your feelings are wrong. What I can say is that if the 75 staff on the payroll are anything to go by, we have that same spectrum of views amongst our staff.
How do I feel? Well, I have my real feelings and my everyday feelings. In truth, I'm petrified of it and what it could do to me, my family, my school and my school community. However, I refuse to give in to these fears and I force myself to be the pragmatist and go about my professional duties, and my everyday life being a little more sensible and a little less panicky. The last thing you all need on the gate is a headteacher behaving like Private Frazer from Dad's Army!
And actually it helps me lots seeing everyone all having to abide by the same rules, the distancing, the masks, and the hand washing and sanitiser and all that gubbins....
But it's easy to then forget that everyone does not think in the same way. We have this week had a concerned parent worried about standing on Montargis path as other parents are not distancing. That fine for them, they're probably up the conspiracy theory end of the spectrum, but this other parent wasn't, and was really quite concerned. We have to make sure that we are following the guidance no matter how light or heavy touch we personally feel it is.
Because everything is relative. we never know what experiences other people are bringing to the table, or what they've been through or are going through.
This parent community is still the best I have ever worked with, in 27 years of teaching and 16 years as a headteacher. If any community can do this, and care for each other regardless of how we feel as individuals, it's you lot.
So while we may be skipping along, feeling the mud is not that deep, spare a thought for those of us who are up to our necks in it, because everything is relative and we are all going through this differently.
- keep 2m apart as much as is possible while outside or in the school grounds.
- if you feel you would like to wear a mask when collecting your child, you are more than welcome.
- wash or sanitise your hands before coming on site and do the same for your child before drop off and once you have left after pick up.
This is a world wide thing, and if we can keep our own community mentally as well as physically safe then we're doing alright. You know what John Lennon said "Everything will be alright in the end. if it's not alright, then its not the end." Let's look after each other until we can get there.
25.9.20 Vive la difference!
My mum used to say "Wouldn't it be boring if we were all the same?" And I think she's right. One of the things I love about working with children is that they are very accepting of others. They may be curious and ask socially awkward questions or make awkward comments (My Goddaughter on the bus with me when she was about 3, about a man with a Gorbachev style birth mark "A bird has pooed on that man's head"). But they are far more accepting of their peers and everyone's different ways.
Something I've noticed being on the infant gate most days is that some children are literally roaring to get into school (sounded like Armageddon the other morning before I opened the gate!), others skip in with their adults, others walk quietly, and some slink by hoping not to be noticed. And that's all OK. Some children greet me with a cheery "Good morning Mrs Owbridge!" and some random news about missing teeth, weekend adventures or shoes, umbrellas and coats. Others are prompted by their families and then give me "Good Morning" and some are prompted and might get half a smile or a teeny weeny moment of eye contact. I enjoy it all.
When our children leave us, and most go on to Beacon for Secondary School, they still call out and wave in Y7. I love that. But I tell them, by the time they get to Y8 they do a sneaky little wave where no one else can see them, and by Y9 they're practically crossing the road to avoid me - such is the importance of street-cred to your average teenager.
One of the great things about working with kids is that for the most part, what you see is what you get. They are as different as you and me. They are just small adults - think how many different people you know. But shove them all in one school with the same uniform and they can quickly blend in to look very similar to each other.
What we try to do at Ashdown is to foster those differences, to try and help children become who they are going to be, whoever that is and for it to be their choice and no one else's. I'm not worried whether your child is all over me in the morning or sneaking round the side of you so I can't see them. They are all loved by us at Ashdown the same as the next child. Different is good. Different is interesting. Different is right.
Vive la difference!
18.9.20 Testing Times
What a week for everyone! With more and more children and families trying to get Covid tests, and the system as we've seen not having capacity it's hard all round. My 10yo niece Amelia was ambulanced to hospital this week with breathing difficulties after showing Covid symptoms, and while she is much better now, she and her 7yo sister Emmie still had to be taken to Southend from Maidstone for her test. (Emmie was very distressed by the test and was only comforted by the promise of presents arriving from Aunty Kate's amazon account!) And our Covid email that is monitored during waking hours has certainly been orange, if not red-hot. So if we've not experienced it ourselves first hand, then I'm pretty sure we all know someone that's been affected. The local Crowborough and Villages Headteachers (and we're quite a formidable group!) have written to Nus Ghani MP about a number of issues including the availability and speed of Covid tests, as have some of our parents. Miss Bishop, Head at Rotherfield Primary, has a phone call with her tomorrow where she will putting all these points across to her to feed back to Parliament on all the schools' behalfs.
For me, I'm trying to keep myself in a kind of self-imposed lockdown and I'm being very careful where I go who I see outside school and how many people. I'm conscious of what I might be bringing into school, and I'm conscious of what I might be taking out again! So I haven't seen lots of friends for a long time and nor am I likely to and I'm sure that the same for us all. I'm seeing my 73yo Dad this weekend, he lives in Lincolnshire and I haven't seen him since Christmas, and I think this may be the last time I see him for a while yet. I said to my step mum "Are you two OK with us coming, or are you feeling a bit nervous?" She said "We're not so much nervous as bored!" So Waddington, here we come!
The other issue for me at the moment, apart from the never ending guidance updates (which don't track change to the document, or send summaries, they just send the whole document out all over again - 3 times yesterday!), is the issue of what this whole school year will look like. We are taking each day, week and term at a time at the moment. Talking and discussing things every day between leaders to try and solve all the issues. hopefully we have sorted a Breakfast Club of sorts to begin very soon. But the other kind of test that is bothering me, is the statutory testing that we have to administer to children in Y1,2,4 and 6. Phonics in Y1, SATs (for the last year) in Y2, Multiplication tables test - sorry - check in Y4, and Y6 SATs. I really can't see why these are important this year to anyone. They are only useful for us as a school to compare ourselves to similar schools, or compare our performance year on year. Well, both of those are not possible this year, as all schools have had different experiences so far and will continue to, and we didn't have these last year for comparison so the purpose of them seems pointless. We will, as always, keep as much stress and tension away from the children when these happen (our Y1s and Y2s often don't even realise they've completed them!). But if there is a chance for me to boycott these without huge negative consequences for me or the school I will be doing it. We know how best to asses our children so we can show their progress and attainment, and there are better ways of doing this than testing them in this way. There is an argument that it will help them "catch up". Catch up to who? (I say again), and a test doesn't catch anyone up, it is a snapshot of what a child can do at that point in time. I am part of the "More than a score" campaign to ditch statutory tests for at least this school year and if you are interested in this, their website is here www.morethanascore.org.uk and you can find out more. You probably all know by now that I am on the side of our children. If I can see how it is going to benefit them from undertaking any of these assessments or tests then I will be fighting for them not to happen. Join me!
So that's it for today, no song lyrics or funny quips I'm afraid, but a quote from my dear Mum, who I lost to cancer in 2012. Whatever it was that was going on, she would say "There is always something to look forward to". And there is. When this is over, or when we adjust to life with it in existence, there will again be lots to look forward to. Let's hang on to that - there's no test in the world that can take that away from us.
11.9.20 Sultans of Swing
The first week back is always a mixed blessing for school staff. It is great seeing your work pals again, and seeing the children, and getting back into the swing of things. But those early mornings after six weeks off are hard and the workload doubles if not triples overnight! We are already playing catch up.
But this year, more than any other, we have been overjoyed at having our children back (you do know that we share them with you, don't you?). Some of them, who haven't been back since March, I have no idea who they are they have grown up so much. But it is your kids that make our school. Without them we are just a bunch of adults. And who only wants to work with adults all day?
I take my hat off to our staff, I really do. They just take everything that is thrown at them, and run with it. We have had no militant union action and plenty of help when we needed it. For example, when we were short of cleaners during lockdown, we asked the staff if anyone could help. At least three staff who were at home shielding (but could work at a 2m distance) offered to clean, as well as those who were already on the regular "Corona Club" rota. Teachers, office staff, Teaching Assistants, all turned out to get into the swing of cleaning and keeping our school safe for those who were back.
The first INSET day back in September is always a joy. Mr Angus and Mr Selby have a traditional "INSET day hug" every year, and the hall buzzes with everyone's news and catching up. This year staff were distanced in a small number of rooms around both school sites depending which bubble they worked in and the whole thing was done via zoom. Great training, but no cameraderie. No trying to get them to shut up when you're trying to get the training started! No quiz on changes to the staff handbook! We were just getting into the swing of new kind of learning and training.
And the hits just keep on coming. I thought that 40 pieces of guidance in 10 working days was pretty good record for the DfE back in June. They released some at the end of July and on my 50th birthday in August (yeh, thanks DfE), and then the last lot was released on the Friday of the August Bank Holiday Weekend at about 7.30pm. So not only was I expected to read, understand and interpret this guidance for what it meant for Ashdown, I was being expected to do it throughout the summer, in the time we call the holidays but which we're actually neither contracted for, nor paid for. Never mind, by the time you've been in this game as long as I have you learn to go with it, you get into the swing of holiday working and government guidance (I'm predicting the night before half term for the next lot..) and you go with it. I was incensed though about the Bank Holiday one. I wrote to both Nus Ghani MP and my own MP, Helen Grant. Not about guidance itself, but about the timing. They can't expect school leaders to maintain their own stress levels and therefore keep the schools open if they're going to hijack them like this.
But we got there, we got through the guidance, we got through the holidays, we are fully open and we are all back into the swing of regular school. There is no point in moaning about it, or whinging. It is what it is and we're determined here to make the best of it. Getting into the swing of this new normal. Us Ashdown staff?
We are the Sultans. We are the Sultans of Swing!