Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Took my Russian degree, teacher-trained in English but got awards for teaching Music

So, teacher-training only in your specialism! Here's my educational story which proves, I like to think, that a teacher can teach just about anything:

I was 5 when I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I was in my second primary school. After a few months in a Luton primary school, where I was made to stand in the bin for taking a marble from off the draining board, we were now in Frampton-on-Seven. The teacher asked us to draw what we wanted to be. I drew a nurse because all my friends did. Then we moved villages and I went to Whitminster School for a few months. The headteacher offered to “tan my hide” for going into his office to retrieve my satchel.

Now I am 7 at Silver Street Silver Primary School in Wythall near Birmingham- my fourth school. I stayed over two years in this one, and was given the Observer’s Book of Pond Life for coming top of the class.  I asked for piano lessons aged 8, and got them. Rather than the expected joy of music, they sucked the life out of me for the next eight years until I begged to be released. 

I was planning on being a female Cliff Richard, but Mrs Kidger at Silver Street told me I was too tuneless to sing in the school concert, and I certainly not being given the expected starring role, so my mother asked if I could mime. And mime I did, in concerts, assemblies, at weddings and folk clubs until I was 28 when I did in fact start writing songs and even singing them (and that was a journey no one should be asked to take). But Mr Parker thought I might be the next George Elliot [whoever "he" was], and I took heart from his approval.

I was 9 when we packed up the book of Pond Life and moved to Leeds, and after that we didn't change town again. After life in the country, Harehills Primary was a shock. I went on to Leeds Girls High. And then, oh no another change, to Allerton Grange Comprehensive. Terrified, I truanted every other day.
Cathy, Charlotte, Sarah , Kaye, Romaine. Stevie, Richenda, x? at LGHS

Still I was good at English and turned my thoughts to being the next George Elliot. A school swot initially, I was expected to grace the cloisters at Oxbridge, but being led astray by a family "friend", and my parents' protracted divorcing turned all my grades upside town, and I ended up, not taking English, but Russian at Liverpool University. I had already  Russian O and A level and there were only a handful of students in any one year.

I never ever got over the shame and disappointment of my underachievement at school. However, I loved, adored Russian literature, so put up with Russian history, politics, and language [and even Old Church Slavonic!] and got a good degree in the end.
me and Romaine being childish at LGHS

When I came, nearly a decade and two children later to teacher-train, I naturally took English as my main subject, and was happy as happy can be. But the English department at Foxwood School was stuffed full of talent, which is why I ended up moving into PSE, and then to Music via the Section 11 Steel Pans. (Music, in which I had once probably reached piano Grade 6 equivalent)
Foxwood at Meanwood Community centre late 80s

I went on to enter more candidates than any other school in Leeds at GCSE; when the school closed I became a steel pan specialist for Leeds Music Service, and also a Special Needs Music specialist. Co-author Diane Paterson and I wrote a book on including children with SEN and were short listed for TES/NASEN award. In steel pans I was awarded the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts for devising the Foxwood Songsheets, a system of notation for steel pans and tuned percussion, and  in 2009 I took my city-wide steelband to the Albert Hall as a M4Y award-winner. 
Foxwood  Band in Foxwood School Hall late 80s

At Foxwood, in the early nineties, Peter Brown once asked me, if I had read up on cadences the night before. I told him he should be grateful that I had.
Foxwood on the docks, Leeds centre 1990s

So no, I can't imagine why anyone should have to stick to their degree subject for teacher-training. Of course I could go back in time, ask my parents not to divorce in my teenage years, and to keep an eye on my choice of friends. I could have asked that my dad would stopped changing jobs. But actually it’s a life experience that made me what I am, and I think I became a better teacher for that, and a more understanding music teacher for the steps it took me to get here..

Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows walking on stage at the RAH

Saturday, 17 January 2015

People versus PFI. Why We Should All Care.

People formally joining campaigns usually do so because they feel so strongly about the issue that not to join the campaign would leave them feeling wanting. Thus, for me with Anti-Academies Alliance, and thus now with People versus PFI

As a travelling teacher and trainer of some years now, I have worked in many different school and college buildings. Before this I worked in one place, and only visited other buildings as a parent, an exam moderator, or as a school governor, not really in any of these cases experiencing the daily delights of staff room four storeys up from Reception, signing in with a hideous mugshot, holding my breath through the post-PE experience with a low ceiling, and the like.

steelband in the enclosed green space
At Foxwood School, Leeds, I taught English, PSE and Music, and when returning from maternity leave anything! This building was situated in the middle of a council estate, then an area of extreme poverty and deprivation. It was one of the first purpose-built comprehensives in the UK, four stories, plate glass everywhere, very light, could be very cold. The Music Room was the size and shape of a small social club, low stage with four practice rooms, large storage cupboards and office, all leading off central room, away from the rest of the school in between dining halls, so several beginners could attack drum-kits at any time of day without Maths going mental!

Deprived children often exhibited challenging behaviour and also got poor exam results, as the rest of city never failed to remind. And league tables closed it. Ofsted passed us at our first inspection but the council didn't expect that, and wrote "in view of failed inspection " blah blah blah in their "consultation" paper. 

Denis Healey visits Foxwood as Lower Building  becomes ELCTB
We were all successfully redeployed as we all had both our qualifications and our behaviour management experience, and I became a peripatetic teacher, at which point I became a connoisseur of good cupboards, well-placed staffrooms, good loading access for music departments, dining halls to accommodate all, and no-nonsense entrances (largely a thing of the past!)
musicians in hall
Of course, my points this: if you only teach in one well-designed and built building, you don't know what the rest of the world is like, you have only the hype to go on. Building New Schools for the future? Building New Slums, more like!

However, any criticism of a school building offends the managers, and affects their and the school's reputation, so campaigning as an active teacher is fraught with difficulties, Damaging a school's reputation damages the working lives of the universally wonderful, but already beleaguered 
UK teaching staff, I know we have to tread carefully across this minefield, but cross it we must, in order to save our children, both now and in the future from having their lives blighted by working in sub-standard premises.
random nice picture of Foxwood Steel Band celebrating arrival of  a famous sailing ship in Leeds

Monday, 29 December 2014

New Academy in Town?

Here's a quote from the latest Anti-Academies Alliance newsletter. 

Academy conversions cost English councils £22m between 2011 and 2013 according to the Local Government Association.  When schools convert, the local authority must pick up any deficit balance.  However if a converting school has a surplus this carries over to the academy trust.  Added to the legal costs arising from transferring staff and land, mopping up these deficits has mounted up to millions which could have been spent in all schools.

So here is no thanks from your local Children's Services who pick up the bills from all new academies. And curiously, when things go wrong, as they inevitably will, it's the local Children's Services who are asked to take the blame. 

Academies eh! It's heads they win, tails we lose. [And absolutely nothing to do with children or services or education].

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Let me Object to the Creation of The Temple Learning Academy, Leeds

The article on the Temple  Learning Academy in YEP [2.10.14] is disheartening. All the more so for its matter of fact tone. Since a law was passed in 2011 that local councils were not allowed to open new schools, this and any new educational establishment has to be an "academy", and thus accountable only to the Secretary of State for Education. In vain would a parent complain to the council about their child's school, treatment, or being sent home for wearing the wrong style of shoes.

Now this article also goes on to state some things which need a good challenging: 1. Schools in the trust in East Leeds were oversubscribed. Well, over past decade they closed and knocked down Foxwood /East Leeds, Braimwood, Agnes Stewart, Cross Green/Copperfields. So hardly a surpise that not enough school places, Furthermore, these schools catered for many children from deprived areas; the effect of poverty on their educational progress condemned the schools. The schools closed but the poverty went untreated.

2. The "postcode analysis" - analysis suggesting something academic, but is actually just counting addresses. Temple Moor, advantaged already by being placed in the middle of a middle class estate has worked hard over to maintain its successful image, but I would argue its staff works no harder than we did at Foxwood, but with a different clientele, set of circumstances and most of all public image.

3. Then we had the crocodile tears from the lady who cried for the kids who have to travel. They wouldn't be desperately seeking the "best" school for their kids  if rumour, Ofsted and private education  company Education  Leeds hadn't taken a scythe to our Leeds primary and secondary schools. Successive governments have created laws which encourage dissatisfaction and the pointless criss-crossing of towns everywhere in search of the best school for Bertie and Rachad.

4. Now the concept of a "through school" . This is not a innovative educational initiative. It's a practical solution. A high school which includes a primary is the only way that local council can increase school places without privatising them so well, done to Roundhay for managing this and yet getting its primary pupils into a separate building.

A school is like a private party. Its success depends entirely on who attends, and all these levels and grades and sinister men and women in suits at the back of our classes, and the millions of our public misspent pounds, do nothing for the "education" our children.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Inspectors take opposing view, Schools take the Blame for Poverty

In 1994 when I was Head Of Music at Foxwood School, the inspector (who stayed all week with me) and who was a music specialist, watched me teach the music listening course that myself and colleague, Mr Phillips had devised between us, and told me that we should publish it. The school passed its inspection but was closed 2 years later.

Foxwood tutor group early eighties

In in 2003, a couple of weeks into being Acting Head of Music at City of Leeds School, the Ofsted inspector told me that you should "never, my dear, talk over music". Well, in the initial stages of the course, sometimes you have to, and the fact that three students merited their own separate TA should have indicated something to this woman about how well we were controlling behaviour! And I published my book on teaching music* a couple of years later.

Ten years later - after two proposed mergers, one with Carr Manor, and one with St Michael's, after a proposal to make it a 14-19 vocational centre, after two attempts to academise, after federating it with Primrose,  then defederating it, but leaving the sixth form with Primrose, after proposing an outright closure and sending students all round the city, after chucking out the acting head, and then half the governing body (including myself) and imposing an IEB, the school finally succumbed to academisation this year.
City of Leeds previous logo

However, during this time, no inspections were actually failed! My own two younger children got 8 or 9 A-Cs each as a hard core of amazing staff kept the place ticking over. And they will keep on doing it, while academy bosses stuff the kids into purple-edged blazers paid for by the public money that once paid for Special Needs and Music services etc, etc, etc .

I make two points here:
1. faced with an identical listening course, two inspectors took a completely opposite view, and
2. the very existence of published inspections means that children from deprived areas will always have their schools scrutinised and attacked for all the wrong reasons . Until we attack poverty, and not the schools that try their best to support poor children, they will continue to suffer, as will, quite unbelievably, the staff who choose to work, and used to find their job satisfaction and their calling working in areas of deprivation.

* Including SEN in the Curriculum: Music, published David Fulton's, shortlisted for TES award

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Happy is Good

My letter printed in TES last week; my point is that happy is good, and actually not because it makes for good exam results, but it would take a particularly stupid education "chief" not to get that bit at least:
article icon

TES letters

news | Published in TES magazine on 5 September, 2014
  • Last Updated:

    5 September, 2014
  • Section:


Without the arts there can be no happy medium

There’s no hope for us until the government takes notice of our dear Sir Ken Robinson (“Cha-cha-change the balance in schools”, 8 August). Why do the powers that be not realise that happy people are happy workers? Why does it take an official survey (“Don’t worry, be happy – and get better grades”, 22 August) to tell us the bloomin’ obvious: that happy teachers get better results? And why is it that people still believe you can only learn maths through being taught maths? The arts play a vital role in enabling students to absorb information.
[Michael Wilshaw's comment that, if teachers are complaining, you must be doing right is as bizarre and unintelligent as it is nasty. Speaking about headteachers, in the Guardian 2012 Wilshaw once commented,and presumably still thinks, 'If anyone says to you "staff morale is at an all time low" you know you are doing something right'.]*

Children should not be going to school to learn stuff in order to be factory fodder. They should be going there to discover themselves, to find out what they are good at, and maybe to recognise and accept their weaknesses, too.
Some happy kids playing pans with me and V at school event
If industry wants calculus to the nth degree, it can offer training or apprenticeships. The way we work now is to stuff all our kids with more maths than they need, then offer them up to industry – which helps itself to the “best”. This leaves the rest with no job, no self-awareness and a great hole where their natural skills and their happiness could have resided.
Victoria Jaquiss
Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, teacher and education campaigner
* not printed  in TES

Friday, 25 April 2014

School Deserves praise for Stand on English

YEP Letters: April 24

I support the City of Leeds School’s brave stand in declaring so publicly that its students need extra lessons in English as an Additional Language.

Head teacher Georgie Sale points out correctly that even four years in the UK is not long enough to have acquired enough academic English to get the exam grades that reflect any child’s natural ability.
However, as a previous long-serving and ultimately ousted governor, I know that this is a long held view; that attention has always been given to EAL, and that, despite our children not getting the grades that would keep Ed Balls and now Michael Gove off our backs, we went on passing inspections, with the EAL d honourable mention in the dispatches.
Two years ago we gained School of Sanctuary status - the first UK high school to do so. What an honour!
And how would anyone like to be remembered as the teacher, the support assistant, the school that supported you in your darkest hours as well as your best, or the robot following orders in the exam factory?
Sadly, I see that the IEB (Interim Executive Board) has applied for academy status. This will not, in any way, improve the overall average grades.
The school will continue to languish quite unfairly in the eyes of the Government, the media and the local public.
sunset over City of Leeds carpark spring 2014
Worse, all the emphasis on EAL will inevitably be directed to improving average grades; and inevitably away from offering the individual children the sanctuary and personal support that any school should be offering as well.
However, until we get a government that has an Education Secretary who genuinely understands David Blunkett’s old slogan that “Every Child Matters”, children will be forced down inappropriate routes that only serve in the pointless competition that is pitting one country’s educational system against another.
And we won’t get this government unless we as citizens stand up for ourselves and we as teachers, stand up for our charges.
Victoria Jaquiss FRSA, (teacher, writer, ex-governor, local resident), by email