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.

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.

Tune-in to Talking Phase 2

September 28, 2015 in Current Projects, Uncategorized

The Phase 1 research is complete, and we are now confidently extending the project to settings across Oldhamtuneinlogo.

You can read the full report on Phase 1 and its impact here. It shows the progress made in Speech, Language and Communication by vulnerable cohorts of children, and the growth in practitioner knowledge and confidence using musical approaches to develop it.

Our EY consultant and colleagues from Oldham Music Service have now shaped the resources into a one-term-long package that will be taken up by nine settings in the academic year 2015-16.

A cluster of settings in Watersheddings has already made an enthusiastic start with a training session attended by 25 of their staff and the first of our music consultant’s practical sessions for children. The work will continue this term with sessions for parents so that they and their children can benefit from the enjoyment of our exciting resources.

The Oldham Network of Independent Childminders (OPIC) welcomed us for another evening of training in September, this time focused on early phonics. They have taken away activity packs to help them build sounds and songs into everyday activities around snack time and outdoor play.


Jon Banks: ITE

July 16, 2015 in Profile, Uncategorized

Jon Banks is an Assistant Head at Crompton House. His main passion and  responsibility is Teaching & Learning, which incorporates a wide range of aspects. Staff Development is central to his role, consequently, he is in charge of NQT’s, ITT and whole school CPD. Jon has 25 years of experience gathered in 4 large secondary schools in the Midlands and North West. He developed from an excellent classroom teacher to Head of Department and was an Advanced Skills Teacher until his current position. He has had prior experience of being a professional mentor linked to MMU and Edge Hill and has worked with trainee students, Graduate Trainees on the former Graduate Teacher Programme and NQTS/RQT’s throughout his career. His main motivation is ensuring that every student gets the best possible learning experience in their lessons. Provision of a great early experience for trainee/NQT’s in order to develop outstanding new teachers is where this begins.

Anna Nelson: ITE

July 16, 2015 in Profile, Uncategorized

As a teacher and a leader I am always striving for excellence and improvement through creative thinking, organisation, evaluation and research.  My vision is to enable a generation of teachers to become some of the best in the country, who in turn will go on to inspire pupils across the North West. I have been employed at The Blue Coat School for six years, and as a Lead Practitioner for the last year, before which I worked as a Teacher of English at Chorlton High School, Manchester, and Fazakerley High School, Liverpool. I have been teaching for ten years, during which I have collaborated with many others on various projects, with particular focus on delivering whole staff training.  I have eight years of experience as a Subject Mentor.  My key skills include: mentoring and coaching, communication, literacy, pupil engagement, BfL and identifying and developing outstanding teaching. As ITE Lead, I work with schools across the Northern Alliance to ensure School Direct trainees receive outstanding provision.  I promote School Direct, deliver SEP days, Central training and Professional Mentor Training, and I am responsible for Quality Assurance across the Alliance.  I also work alongside tutors from MMU as a Professional Mentor, to help deliver traditional PGCE training at The Blue Coat School.

Tune-in to Talking – A training and research project for Early Years practitioners

February 3, 2015 in Current Projects, R and D, Uncategorized


We are delighted to have been awarded funding for this Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) improvement project starting later this month.

Our focus is on improving provision for disadvantaged children in Oldham by providing high quality training for practitioners to help them accelerate children’s speech language and communication through creative means and music.

The project will focus initially on the Medlock Vale ward of Oldham, engaging all providers of EYFS there. Phase 2 will spread the work more widely across Oldham and beyond.

Workforce development is a key aim, especially at a time when EY provision in the area is expanding with the opening of new PVI Early Years centres.

EYFS Practitioners in the project will have five learning aims:

  • Increased knowledge and understanding of the theory of children’s speech, language, communication and social development;
  • Pedagogy, strategies and resources to promote language and communication development;
  • Knowledge, understanding and confidence in using  music in creative ways to support language development;
  • Knowledge and practical strategies to develop parent and carer participation in their children’s learning
  • Increased ability to influence others people’s practice in their own contexts and beyond

We will:

  • Train 30 practitioners from Medlock Vale and adjacent wards in children’s speech, language and communication development and practical strategies for 3 year olds based on sounds and music.
  • Provide rich resources for practitioners to use and adapt with children and families in their settings
  • Use a co-constructive approach with parents and carers to develop resources that they find useful.
  • Collect evidence and data to report our research to the ORIM network.

Follow our progress here and on Twitter, and do get in touch if you are interested in our work.

Context-based learning in STEM

January 9, 2015 in Current Projects, R and D, Uncategorized

Paul Briggs in Design Technology is investigating What impact does context-based learning have on effort and achievement within extended writing?

As STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) co-ordinator for the school it will be interesting to see if applying a specific STEM context to a piece of extending writing will result in pupils achieving a higher level than if a context isn’t applied to their work. Does working with topics that interest pupils and are relatively controversial have an impact on achievement.  Alongside this will be research into the perception by students of STEM subjects and their importance – will this change over the course of a context-based project?

This is an important area to explore using a randomised controlled trial design because this method will help to explore the impact of the context on achievement. It will enable results to be explored at all current levels of achievement to discover if there is a level where the project has a greater or lesser impact.  Banks and Barlex touched upon the use of contexts within Science and Technology in their book “Teaching STEM in the Secondary School,” (2014) also pointing out how some pupils, particularly girls, can be distracted by realistic ‘technological’ contexts. This project will move to assess whether t

The research has 2 aims: these are…

1.  To establish whether context-based learning impacts upon achievement. The findings from this work are in line with this conclusion.

2.  To discover if researching into a STEM-based context    helps to change perceptions.

In order to achieve these aims, the research will seek to answer the following research questions. . .

  • Do context-based projects help to improve achievement in extended-writing for students?
  •  Do context-based projects help to change initial perceptions of STEM subjects?




From School Direct Trainee to NQT

December 10, 2014 in Blog, School Direct, Uncategorized

A 24 year old maths graduate, Ahmed teaches at The Blue Coat School, Oldham, where he trained on the School Direct programme last year and gained a PGCE. Blue Coat is a Teaching School that leads the Northern Alliance, so it has real expertise and great support for training. Ahmed also benefited from the opportunities the alliance gave for working with staff and students in other schools.

Why teach maths? My simple answer is that I always loved the subject and am keen to share it with young people. As well as giving them a qualification for life, I want to show young people the benefits of the valuable skills it develops. Some pupils take a little convincing, but I use a step-by-step approach, learning from mistakes brings the satisfaction of success, even with the hardest topics. I find that a bit of fun helps the learning; five minutes of pencil case and paper cricket at the end of a lesson on distance/time graphs recently made the concepts memorable for my Y8 class!

I grew up in Oldham. Inspired by three of my own maths teachers at secondary and sixth form level, the thing that set them apart was their accessibility and the encouragement they gave me. I discovered the rewards myself of teaching as a teenager by supporting younger people who found maths difficult. This experience and involvement leading recreational activities in the youth group of my  local mosque, is the foundation of my confidence in dealing with young people and understanding their needs. Now, there’s nothing better than the rewarding feeling of being in class and seeing students ‘get’ something that I have taught them.

I found out about the School Direct programme when I contacted my old school asking to spend two weeks in the maths department to gain some experience that would enhance my teacher training application. In that two weeks I met the School Direct training team and saw first-hand the quality of support that an outstanding, busy maths department can offer to trainees.  I was convinced when I saw the opportunities School Direct gives for a more complete school experience. You’re like a member of staff from Day 1, and you get to build relationships and understand how a school really works.  I made the most of the opportunities to join in with school life, from participating in a cross-curricular faith day in week one to accompanying 190 Y8 students on a residential trip to France in the summer term.

It built up gradually of course. We spent the first half term mainly observing and supporting classes, gradually taking responsibility for leading parts of lessons. My mentor would help me plan a starter or plenary, and then give feedback on how it went. With continuous support from my mentors I worked  up to teaching whole lessons, and having responsibility for some full classes by later in the autumn term.

I couldn’t have asked for more in the quality of training and support from my subject and professional mentors. In addition to having four hours scheduled each week for training, they were always accessible. And with six School Direct trainees in school we could also help and support each other.

And the training doesn’t happen in only one school.  Northern Alliance School Direct trainees spend a valuable week in a primary school to understand how children and the curriculum develop through the Key Stages. This experience gave me an insight into ways of teaching my Y7.  I realised that it was vital not to lose the independence that the children were showing in Y6 when they make the transition to Y7.

Later in the year, I spent a longer placement in a contrasting school from the alliance. It was helpful to see different approaches to managing students’ behaviour and to learn from a wide variety of teachers’ practice. Colleagues in my placement school had developed very effective ways of using technology such as visualizers and iPads in maths, which I was able to try out in my classes.

My PGCE was awarded by Liverpool Hope University. This aspect of the School Direct programme is taught at the university to cover pedagogical theory and draw on the expertise and research of a university department. I had to complete assignments that linked theory to practice, and the taught days brought together trainees from other schools establishing a network and helping us to learn from each other’s experiences.

Looking back on the year, my advice would be that trainees should be prepared for hard work. They will need to be resilient and prepared to learn from their experiences and feedback from mentors. Those principles are the same as the ones we develop in our students, you have to make a virtue of making mistakes and learning from what you do about them.

The Big Write at Blue Coat

September 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

We have been excited by the possibilities of Ros Wilson’s Big Write as a means of improving students’ progress in English, especially in KS3.

A minibus-load of us visited St Martin’s Primary School in Oldham where we were inspired to emulate the practice we saw.

Read Ms Boyle’s blog about how she put the ideas into practice in  a Y8 class.


School Direct – a whole school enterprise

September 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

One of the main benefits of School Direct for our trainees is the opportunity to be fully involved in the life of the school. They see the whole year through, and that means working closely with the students they teach and sharing responsibility for their learning and development.

And the experience is a reciprocal one; our students know that we train teachers, and they see the benefit of trainees’ enthusiasm and contributions in their lessons. From Y 7 up to 6th form, they take seriously their part in the ITT process, whether it’s on a student panel for selection and recruitment or in a lesson study giving critical feedback to the trainee about strategies for T&L.

Making the most of the school’s most important resource in this way has an added benefit. By encouraging young people to engage with teacher training at this early age, we might just attract some of them as ambitious entrants to the profession in a few years’ time!

Click on these videos from Y8 for a view of the lighter side of their involvement in School Direct.