Why teaching was for me. Michael Ashworth School Direct PE

April 14, 2016 in Blog, School Direct

Teaching never entered my mind whilst at university studying for a sport science degree until I experienced coaching young children first hand at the local athletics club. I thought this is something I could do for a career. Funnily enough both my mother and sister are teachers so this could have also had an impact on my decision after listening for years about the love of the profession that they have. This probably has rubbed off onto me.

Once I had decided upon wanting to be a teacher I then had to decide which subject? Science or PE? PE was my obvious choice due to a variety of sports I played and the close link between sport science and the required PE curriculum knowledge.

I applied for and interviewed for 2 PE PGCE courses but neither of them appealed to me. I had school experience through 2 and a half years at North Chadderton School as a TA and I wanted to get into a school teaching as soon as possible. The Northern Alliance was my answer. A professional and thorough interview process….. The next day an answer of “You have gained a place” was the result I wanted.

My two favourite moments of my teaching life so far are realising that a single blow on your whistle can mean a multitude of different things! I had some students getting up and running and jumping to sitting in silence. This experience has shown me the power of developing a good “teacher voice” to get my instructions understood as a whistle can be confusing at times. After numerous sore throats and loss of voice completely I feel I’m getting the hang of it.

My second favourite moment was during my away placement. I was asked to have a review observation first lesson back after the winter half term. Lesson topic rounders, never taught rounders before = panic! However I planned the lesson well with all the help from my subject mentor the lesson went fantastically well. I was graded outstanding for the first time!

The advantage of the Northern Alliance route of teacher training I find most advantageous is the fact that you get a bespoke mix of teaching experiences in differing school settings, training days held by other alliance schools and university study days. All in all I feel that the Northern Alliance (School Direct) is that it has given me a firm foundation and the support to enable me to develop as an outstanding practitioner.

A week in ‘little’ school: By a ‘big’ school trainee

January 29, 2016 in Blog, School Direct, Uncategorized

The school direct course offers a week in a primary school to better understand the academic and pastoral transition between the ‘big year 6’ students suddenly becoming the ‘little year 7s’. It is a good opportunity to observe the level of work that the students can complete and what they have learnt in depth. My placement was during the remembrance celebrations for the anniversary of WW1.

As soon as I entered my primary school, I was shocked by how small and intimate it was. Compared to a high school housing several subjects in different buildings my primary school has one classroom for each year with a shared area between two years. Being a secondary trainee, I’m used to having a bell ring at the end of every hour; however in a primary school, the timetable was hard to keep up with. There was no hustle and bustle to get to another class, and each subject seemed to merge into the next. The whole class worked together constantly, and if there was any fall outs (especially between the girls) it affected the whole group – there was no downtime.

Whilst on my placement, I got to work with a few focus groups. Since I am a maths specialist I worked with a group of students who needed a confidence boost in their mathematic ability. Working with this little group of students allowed me to practice new teaching methods on the topic; trying out more visual methods and altering my explanations for them. I also had a focus group for reading, which pushed me out of my comfort zone and highlighted how the primary school teacher has to be skilled in many subjects.

Observing the classroom teacher, I got a glimpse into how much work a primary school teacher has to do. Whilst they only have 30 children to teach, they need to be highly organised to ensure the learning of a mixture of cross-curricular subjects whilst maintaining a high level of pastoral care for every member of their class. You can clearly see the relationships that are formed between the classroom teacher and the pupil.

I loved the whole-school assembly at the end of the week, where members of each class displayed the pieces of work they had worked hard on during the week. There was a ‘theme’ to the week (which was WW1 at the time of my placement) so there was a variety of work to celebrate the anniversary of the war. There were pieces of poetry (from the lovely year 6s I was working with), paintings and even poppy wreaths! I felt a great sense of pride from each person in the school and it was lovely to be a part of it. The older pupils in the school even got the opportunity to take a trip to the cenotaph at Royton Park just before the 11 o’clock silence.

Over the week, I realised that the level of work that the year 6s are completing is of high challenge. I was working with quite a creative bunch of students and was really impressed by their creative writing ability in particular. This was highlighted in the war poetry pieces they were writing (some were quite emotional!). The week in the primary school has left me motivated to implement a more creative outlook to my lessons to ensure that my current (and future!) year 7s creativeness is not lost due to the amount they have to juggle after the transition to secondary. I also learnt that I’d underestimated the academic challenge at primary. This was invaluable experience to inform my secondary planning of year 7 lessons.

Reflections on my first term: English School Direct

January 7, 2016 in Blog, School Direct

I can’t quite believe that my first term- and with that my first placement- as a School Direct trainee is over. It has flown, yet at the same time it feels as though I’ve been doing this all my life. From walking up the drive, suffering from first day nerves on the 1st September, to driving through the gates on the 18th December with the last day blues, so much has happened. I have learnt so much, (hopefully) taught so much and I feel I’ve changed so much, in terms of practice, confidence and creativity.

I knew I wanted to teach after having tried my hand at a few work experience placements within the media industry, but found them to be, for me, lacking in something. I secured a job as a Teaching Assistant, and from then on I was convinced of my desire to teach. The reactive nature of the job, the buzz of a lively classroom and the relationships that can be formed with some amazing young people had me hooked. To begin with I was excited, but I was more nervous than I’d anticipated myself to be, having previously come from a school environment. My first time in front of a class wasn’t exactly a roaring success, but this is the good thing about School Direct. I feel that the absolute dread of ‘A Bad Lesson’ is actually far worse in theory than it is in practice. Ultimately, a lesson that falls a bit short can be one of the best things for your training, as the amount of feedback and support that is then offered by mentors and teachers is both immeasurable and invaluable. After taking all of the advice on board, I was excited to implement new strategies, resources and ideas, and it is this, I feel, that has been instrumental in me seeing a real change in myself.

One of the reasons I am so glad to have chosen School Direct with the Northern Alliance is having the freedom to try new things- your classes really feel like your own-, but also knowing that there is an absolute wealth of support available if it is needed; be this from a professional mentor, subject mentor, the department or of course my fabulous fellow trainees, who have played a big part in making the first term so enjoyable.

Once I had my behaviour management and classroom presence in order, the next challenge was to begin experimenting with different teaching methods. Highlights of the past term have included sitting in a Hillary Devey mask, next to one of my pupils as Duncan Bannatyne, whilst the rest of the class took it in turns to pitch their own unique holiday destinations to me, watching my Year 8s engage in a passionate and informed debate about youth justice, after having used the novel ‘Holes’ as a stimulus, and a hug from a Year 9 student after having been away at university for a week.

I am now a week into my second placement and am already enjoying my new school, bolstered by a confidence I didn’t necessarily have when I started in September, but which I can attribute to my experiences since then. The new start has snapped me out of my festive food coma, and I am quickly learning the different approaches and standards of my new placement.  More importantly, I am eager to get to know my new classes so that I can start teaching them, and in return, they me.

The Journey of a Career Changer: Andrew Mkandwire, Computer Science

November 30, 2015 in Blog, School Direct, Updates

Having had a 12-year career in general management in mainly the leisure industry, I made the decision to change careers long before I decided to train to be a Computer Science teacher. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my previous work, it was not ultimately rewarding hence the decision to change career and enter teaching.

I returned to university to study Computer Forensics and Security. However it wasn’t until towards the end of my course I attended a ‘Considering Teaching’ event.  My grandparents had both been teachers, so this coupled with listening to the passionate speeches by the teachers recruiting for their alliances’ prompted me to look into the profession further.  I have always had a love for computers and want to enthuse chil;dren to what can be a complex subject. I am also highly personable, which I feel is perfect to be an effective teacher.

I did two experience days at Blue Coat initially arranged through the Department for Education’s School Experience Program. I applied through UCAS the following week, was invited to interview within three weeks, had my interview and was successful (I was informed the following morning at 0730). The whole process was so fast and smooth having been helped by being assigned a dedicated recruitment advisor by the Department for Education whose advice was invaluable.

Having secured my place on the course almost a year before it was due to commence, and whilst I was finishing my degree, there was plenty of time to think about my decision, I initially doubted my ability that I would make a good teacher, or if I could even teach. This naturally made me nervous and excited to start the course. The other trainees come from a diverse range of backgrounds; some have come straight form university with no full time work experience, others who have previously been teaching assistants, to people just like me who are changing careers. This put me at ease.

Before the new term started all the new trainees had an induction where we met our subject mentors and other school staff then from September 1st, day one, I was fully immersed into the life of the school with a staff-training day starting with a briefing from the head teacher with a review of the summer results and the coming years priorities.  I was assigned a form group and tutor, break and before school restaurant duties and informed of staff meetings and briefings to be attended.  There was a plethora of acronyms to remember, I felt stupid initially when I had to ask what some meant or had to look a few up to find out their meaning.

I’m eight weeks in already, the time has flown by. It has been a rollercoaster of a ride, full of ups and downs. You have a bad lesson – get good feedback, and act on it. This is where the word ‘resilience’ keeps cropping up, it was mentioned a lot in the induction session. I’ve had great support from professional mentor time, subject mentor time, central training sessions, CPD sessions, as well as great support from a range of well-experienced teachers. I’ve felt like a full part of the team since day one.  I have supported the department by assisting at new parents open evenings for both year seven and the sixth form.  Additionally I supported the alliance in a wider capacity by helping man a stand at a recruitment fair looking to find next years trainees.

Currently, as I write this half term has passed and today I have been to primary school where I shall be spending the whole of next week. Although I cannot wait to get back to Blue Coat to carry on teaching and practicing my skills, perfecting the art of teaching, which is in itself a specialist subject.  At the same time as I needed a break, I also wanted to continue teaching lessons as I felt I was just beginning to get good at planning my lessons and then delivering them well.  I hope the half term break does not interrupt my rhythm.

My best teaching moment so far came at the end of a Year7 lesson about Internet safety, specifically personal information, such as phone numbers, real name, passwords etc. For the plenary I asked everyone to write down 3 pieces of personal information for me, at which point they all point blank refused, thinking I wanted the actual information rather than examples.  They had all clearly taken on board what I had taught them.

The biggest changes for me having changed careers, has been getting back into a work routine of work after having 3 years out to study, this is made even more strict governed by the school bell. Getting to know all the names of the pupils has been tricky too. There will be more new names to learn in January too, when I go to my second placement school. Hopefully I’ll be able to remember some of the old ones when I return to Blue Coat after Easter.

Although I felt like a teacher since day one, I now feel like a real teacher, pupils now recognize me around school and say hello. Some have been able to pronounce my tricky surname correctly! I can hardly wait to secure an NQT position, so next year I get my own form group and set of classes that are mine and mine alone to teach exactly as I choose.


Why School Direct was for me. Dr Josh Higginson: Chemistry

September 28, 2015 in Blog, School Direct, Uncategorized

Embarking on a career in education was never going to be easy but I knew my choice was the correct one when I was welcomed into The Blue Coat School during my first visit. As I walked up the drive I was greeted by the beautiful historic building which was once part of the old school, this is flanked by two, contemporary, adjoining buildings giving the whole school a classic blend of old and new. Being part of the School Direct cohort meant I was able to get stuck into school life from the get go. All too often special moments can be missed when attending university open days or similar course inductions. The benefits of the School Direct route are that you get to experience everything from day one, meet the fresh faces of the Year 7 students, being assigned to a from and even developing relationships with the faculty; these are all special and important moments that can make or break your early career.

As with any important journey there are always going to be challenges and uncertainties, for me it was the fear of coming straight from university into education. I felt my real world experiences were limited and that, if anything, I was a little too fresh faced for such a vocation. In reality it was quite the opposite. The trainees at the Northern Alliance are a range of different ages and experiences which really puts you at ease, it was nice to know that I had a group of people all going through the same challenges that I was, this family mentality has become a real comfort and something I am sure I will lean on heavily throughout my career.

There are many reason people turn to teaching as a profession for me it was a decision made late into my academic life. During my PhD I had the opportunity to try my hand at teaching through taking a number of science foundation tutorials, undergraduate labs as well as mentoring projects and placement students. I found this to be more rewarding and enjoyable than my daily research. This really stood out to me as science had been my life for somewhat ten years and here I was know considering a complete career change. Thankfully teaching is the best of both worlds and I get to share my love of science with others on a daily basis.

During my first few weeks at The Blue Coat School I observed a number of lessons and even had the chance to test my own teaching style through undertaking starters and plenaries, gradually building on my confidence as a trainee. This confidence was tested during the third week when I gave a starter to a class of Year 8 pupils. The initial task went very well, the students were engaged and feeding back some great answers to the group, however, I had not foreseen the level of enthusiasm they had for the task which was reflected in their behaviour. The noise level rose and quite soon the focus of the lesson wasn’t directed on learning, this meant having to do a lot of behaviour management instead of teaching. After the lesson the feedback I received from the member of staff was invaluable, they explained some points for improvements as well as what went well. Having this support network of experienced teaching staff is something you count on at a very early stage of your course and a tool you only have access to during the School Direct programme.

Now, well into my first month I’m looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead and learning from them, using the School Direct network to help me become a well rounded teacher.

Year 7 Maths Project: End of year review

July 17, 2015 in Blog, Current Projects, R and D

The first year of this project is nearly complete and we have made some significant changes to the way we teach year 7:

  • Students are now taught about 50% of the content from previous years and spend time mastering this and applying their knowledge through intelligent practice.
  • The classes work in groups according to ability and are supported by either the class teacher or a Teaching Assistant.
  • There is an established ‘numeracy starter’ to develop mathematical fluency with core number skills
  • Bespoke assessments have been written to reflect the content taught and which give (Blue Coat) Levels.

RAD EoY Review

Over the course of the year the project has influenced other areas of the department and a similar approach has now been adopted in year 8 and 9. Most significantly, the principles of the Shanghai Mastery approach seem to reflect what we have been doing in the project and has added to the evidence base that encouraged us to start this up in the first place. The year 7 project has effectively acted as a ‘trial’ of this approach and evidence so far suggests that it has been effective – I will return to this later.

There are still things we need to work on – students are following a different curriculum plan to other students which makes set changes difficult throughout the year and puts pressure on getting the group ‘right’ at the start and making any changes in the first few weeks. Fortunately, we have re-hashed the curriculum plan for the whole of year 7 to develop the mastery approach and allow time for students to develop a deeper conceptual understanding and so next year we will be able to follow this with the weakest sets, still allowing for set changes. We also need to carefully manage how to slowly introduce the content that has been missed – students will cover everything but concepts will be introduced slowly and in relatively small increments to allow it to embed, developing fluency and allowing time for intelligent practise.

When I asked the staff who have been most closely associated with these groups – the class teacher, another member of the department and the teaching assistants – what the successes have been for this year, this was their response (in no particular order):

  • Increased enthusiasm for the subject.
  • Thanks to the reduced curriculum, the students don’t feel overwhelmed with the workload.
  • The routine and established practices that have been put into place has led to skills which have been developed more and more throughout the year. Particularly with so many feeder primary schools providing students for our Year 7 cohort, this has meant that students have had a chance to appreciate a variety of methods of tackling certain problems.
  • The number work of these students has improved significantly.
  • The pace of the lessons and the curriculum feels much less rushed for the teacher. Topics can be planned out in detail rather than steamrolled through as it has been previously. Extra flexibility means that it doesn’t matter if another lesson is required in order for students to master something.


  • I also asked the same staff for areas that we needed to develop, these were the areas they highlighted:
  • Students at present are not following the same scheme as those not involved in the project. They will therefore have missed out on certain topics which others will have seen. This also makes universal tests etc difficult to set.
  • Although the project is currently running with the lower attaining students, are the top end of these students being sufficiently stretched?
  • Careful thought will need to go into the planning of the next phase in which students will be introduced to algebra. We will need to be critical as to whether or not this has been successful.
  • Some of the weakest students found the numeracy booklets too difficult – in future they could spend this time working on gaps highlighted in their PIVATs.


  • Ultimately, will this project be considered a success? We now have a year’s worth of data that we have analysed, here are a few headlines:
  • One group significantly out-performed the other. Compared to target, one group was nearly a ‘Blue Coat’ sub-level better.
  • Boys and girls performed similarly compared to target and in terms of progress from the start of the year. Boys were marginally better – comparatively, last year’s equivalent groups also saw similar boy/girl performance with girls slightly better.
  • Pupil Premium students results were marginally better than the whole class compared to target which is similar to equivalent groups last year.

It’s difficult to do a fair case match with last year’s groups as the levels have changed (old levels to new ‘Blue Coat’ levels) reflecting new harder content at GCSE and targets this year are marginally inflated. However, we have sufficient evidence to suggest we are “doing no harm” compared to regular methods and so the trial can be continued. Next year’s results at year 8 will be more telling. However, the objectives of this project were more than just student attainment, qualitative feedback suggests there have been gains:

  • Student feedback reveals that students enjoy maths at the end of year 7.
  • Feedback also reveals that students feel confident in maths.
  • Teaching assistants feel empowered by the small group work.
  • The class teacher has developed a model for not leading from the front and can differentiate more effectively for a class that has students with targets ranging over 7 sub-levels.

So where do we go from here?  Jane Jones HMI, Ofsted’s lead inspector for Maths supports the mastery approach, Charlie Stripp of the NCETM sums this up nicely:

There can now be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Ofsted is fully supportive of schools changing the way they teach maths, to reflect a mastery approach. We are very grateful to Jane Jones for spelling out so clearly how the mastery approach is completely consistent with the aims of the new maths National Curriculum, and for the immensely helpful advice she gave to headteachers preparing for Ofsted inspections. We hope this will give schools more confidence to take a mastery approach to maths teaching, which, evidence suggests, helps all pupils to improve their understanding of maths.

So the plan for 2015-2016 looks like this:

  1. The current year 7 teacher for the groups that have run the trial will continue with the equivalent groups in the new year 7.
  2. The teacher who has supported and has got to know these pupils is taking them on in year 8.
  3. The mastery curriculum that we have adopted here has been extrapolated more widely across KS3 and KS4.


Phase 1 Findings Tune-In to Talking Early Years Project

July 8, 2015 in Blog, Current Projects

Please see the attached presentation which documents the findings from Phase 1: Closing the Gap Research Project with selected school and PVI providers in Oldham in partnership with The Blue Coat School.

phase 1 presentation

Managing difficult conversations with trainees: Anna Nelson : School Direct Lead

June 30, 2015 in Blog, School Direct

How to have a positive “difficult conversation”


If you are involved in Initial Teacher Training and you have not yet had one of these “difficult conversations”, then you’ll probably have one before too long. The topic of challenging conversations can range from speaking with a normally outstanding trainee about an unexpected below par lesson, to having to speak with a trainee who does not seem to be taking advice on board at all. No one enjoys it.  But it’s something that many people simply try to avoid, which often only makes things worse.  It’s not something I have always been good at, but following a few simple rules to get you started can ensure a considerably more comfortable conversation with a considerably more helpful outcome:

1)  Look at yourself first. Have you given the person accurate material?   Enough time to complete it? Have you been clear?

2)  Ascertain all the facts before the conversation.

3)  Plan your conversation. This will help you maintain your aim, keep it less emotional and stop you from being side-tracked.

4)  Think about what your outcome needs to be beforehand. Keep this in mind throughout the conversation as there might be some things you are happy to let go in order to achieve this goal.  Remember, it’s not about ‘winning’. It’s about working together to negotiate a favourable outcome. Sometimes this won’t happen straight away. It can be baby-steps.

5)  Agree a target with other person at start. This will also focus the conversation.  It might be helpful to go back to the ITT standards at this stage.

6)  Ask for help.  Ask a more experienced colleague how they have dealt with these types of conversation in the past.

7)  Ask the person what you can do to help them. Sometimes this is simple and can effect change immediately. Other times this is a good way of ascertaining what that person’s expectations are and you can go from there.

8)  Pick your fights. In the grand scheme of things, is there something more important that the trainee should be addressing first?

9)  Keep emotions out if it. No “if it was me, I would…” Maintain a level head and calm tone of voice. Be firm and clear but reassuring.

10)  Start positively. Either with positives about them, their lesson, or by empowering them. I have come across a lot of trainees who need pep talks before such a conversation to ensure that they don’t feel ’got at’. It proves you want to help them and want them to do well.

11)  Acknowledge what the trainee is saying – show you have listened and understood. No one wants to feel fobbed off or have their feelings minimised.

12)  Don’t take negative comments personally.

13)  Remain supportive throughout the conversation – you are there to help them.

14)  Try to see beyond the surface – what is this person really telling you? Eg: Is fear masquerading as defiance?

15)  If you start to feel your emotions getting the better of you during the conversation, plan to regroup in a couple of day’s time. Go away, calm down and plan your next response.

Do you find starting the conversation the worst part? If so, here are some sentences you might like to use as a sensitive way in:

* I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more effectively.

* I’d like to talk about X with you, but first I’d like to get your point of view.

* I need your help with what just happened. Do you have a few minutes to talk?

* I’d like to see if we might reach a better understanding about X. I really want to hear your feelings about this and share my thoughts as well.

Good luck!

Surviving My NQT Year

June 10, 2015 in Blog

Katie Charnock documents how she survived her NQT year as an English secondary school teacher. Read her blog here


Approaching the end to begin again….

May 30, 2015 in Blog, School Direct

After spending twelve weeks at Wardle Academy, I am back at my main placement school to complete the last term as a School Direct trainee.

Having the opportunity to train at two Northern Alliance schools has meant that I have taught a wide range of students with varying degrees of ability and learning needs. The two schools tailored my timetable to ensure I had a holistic approach to teaching and learning; I had a set one year 7 class at Blue Coat whereas I taught a set five year 7 class at Wardle Academy. This meant that I became flexible in my approach to behaviour for learning and have tried out new ways to differentiate and personalise the lessons to secure student engagement and progress. My diverse experiences at the two schools has equipped me with an exceptional foundation for my eagerly anticipated, life-long career in teaching.

As the weeks are quickly passing by and my time as a trainee is coming to an end, I have spent some time reflecting on my journey and I wanted to share a few personal highs…

From a young age I have always aspired to work with children and make a real difference to their lives. I really want to stimulate their interests, encourage their talents and create memorable learning experiences. One student said to me recently, “Miss, I watched a really interesting documentary because of that lesson we did last week”, referring to a lesson I created and delivered for a ‘Travel’ scheme of work.  There is no greater reward than creating memorable experiences and inspiring students to actively learn outside of the classroom. The School Direct course has allowed me to bring my personality and creative nature into the classroom which has meant that every day is completely different to the next. The energising environment of different students and varied scheme of work means that I am also learning something new every day.

The schedule at times has been manic, but this is what I love about the profession. Teaching year twelve Seamus Heaney poetry lesson one, trying out ‘Socratic circles’ with the year nines period two and managing an influx of year 7 students during break duty makes the perfect Monday morning.

Establishing professional working relationships with two excellent English departments has also been a personal highlight. Their continued support and knowledge and understanding of the subject is inspiring. The positive criticism has empowered me to try and be the best trainee that I can possibly be.

As I look ahead to becoming a Newly Qualified Teacher I am filled with excitement, passion and enthusiasm. I am hoping to set aside some of my summer holidays to plan ahead, so I feel somewhat prepared for what the new academic year will bring. I am also a little apprehensive for my very first lesson; I image a class of thirty students looking up at me, waiting to learn, and I am solely responsible for them.

Juggling the planning, marking, implementing behaviour for learning strategies, answering emails, chasing up students and being in control for a form will no doubt take its toll. But, despite entering one of the most demanding professions, I feel more determined than ever!