Chairs Newsletter - June 2017
I know from my visits to Cobden that many parents are worried about their children’s safety in what seems to be an increasingly dangerous world. My own two sons are probably older than many of you and, looking back to their childhood, it’s tempting to say that they grew up in a much safer environment. But is that really true? In Leeds in the late 70s and 80s, the Yorkshire Ripper was still at large and the sense of danger touched all our lives. A member of my husband’s staff, walking home from Pudsey Civic after a late Christmas function, was followed by a shadowy figure. Terrified, she threw some stale mince pies at her potential attacker, ran for her life and got home safely. She was convinced she had had a narrow escape from the Yorkshire Ripper. So maybe the good old days held their dangers too.
This does not help us, however, to support our children as they come to terms with the dangers of life in the present day. When bad things happen, you often see this quotation being shared on social media: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ”
These are the words of Fred McFeely Rogers, who was an American educator, minister, songwriter, and television host. Rogers was the host of the television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, in production from 1968 to 2001. Rogers was also an ordained Presbyterian minister.
I think that Fred Rogers is encouraging us to look for the good even in a bad situation. Looking for the good can help us to be optimistic and prevent us from panicking. Looking for the good can help our children face up to the challenges of our modern world with confidence instead of fear.
Last Friday, scary times came very close to Cobden when school had to go into lockdown as the police tracked down an escaped criminal in the neighbourhood. Who were the helpers in this situation?
First of all, it was the local headteachers, including our own Mrs Head, who acting on information that was passed on very swiftly and efficiently, locked down their schools in order to keep children safe. This involved locking all gates and doors in order to keep children safely inside and preventing any intruders from getting in; blinds and curtains were shut to prevent any intruders from seeing inside school. All this was achieved within minutes. Well done headteachers!
The second group of helpers were the wonderful staff at Cobden who made sure that pupils were safe and felt secure. Indeed, most children felt so secure they were unaware of what was happening! In the nursery, Mr Cattermoul’s pupils were already lying on the floor singing “Twinkle, twinkle little star” so our quick thinking teacher just prolonged the singing session until it was time for lunch which could be safely eaten in the hall as it has no windows. Well done to our littlest helper too, who reminded Mr Cattermoul when it was lunchtime!
Other Cobden staff were similarly creative in making sure your children felt safe. Some teachers told their classes that Mrs Head was coming round to find the quietest, stillest class and suggested that sitting under the tables would help with this. The children thought it was the best lesson ever! Well done to our quick thinking teachers!
Our biggest group of helpers were your children who all behaved magnificently and were a credit to their families and their teachers. It would have been a much more difficult day if they had not been so cooperative. Well done pupils!
Finally, I want to highlight the parents who went out of their way, when the drama was over, to thank staff for keeping their children safe. I can tell you that this meant a lot to staff. The decision to go into lockdown was not taken lightly and all staff members were aware that they were taking a step that could potentially worry or inconvenience parents and pupils. It was great for staff to receive feedback that told them that parents understood and appreciated why such an extreme step had to be taken.
I wasn’t in school myself on Friday although, at one point, I had been considering going in to prepare for some meetings I attended yesterday. If I had been there, I hope I would have been one of the helpers and not one of the people who can make a bad situation worse by making a fuss and failing to cooperate. What about you? Are you one of the helpers? I hope so!
If you do want to be a helper, I wonder if I could ask you to help our school in a very special way. I have been disappointed to hear from Mrs Head that so many parents have refused to allow their children to participate in a recent trip to a mosque. It is really important to prepare our children to work in a multi cultural society where diversity is seen as a positive thing. We want to teach children to judge people on their merits and not discriminate against people who are different from them. To give children the impression that a mosque is a dangerous place is irresponsible and divisive. Many of the taxi drivers who gave people free lifts home after the recent terrorist attack at the Manchester arena were Muslim. World wide, the greatest number of people killed or injured by terrorists have been Muslim. The most recent terrorist attack on worshippers at the mosque in Finsbury Park in London was carried out by a white English man who said he hated all Muslims. You may have read how the Imam of the mosque played a significant part in ensuring that the terrorist attacker was not injured in retaliation for what he had done. Please talk to your friends and help them to see that visiting places of worship of different faiths is a positive thing to do.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy! 10th May 2016
There has been a lot of concern expressed in the media about children being stressed and upset by the new SATs tests that the government has put in place. Schools feel that they have not had enough information about how to ensure that pupils are “high school ready”. Some parents have been so concerned about their children’s stress levels that they withdrew their children from school for a day of protest. I know from working with a small group of Year 6 pupils, that they had been a bit perturbed to hear news reports about university students who were stumped when challenged to do some of the new tests.
With all this in mind, I was particularly interested to go into school this morning in order to see what was going on. Mrs Head has to keep a log of how she organises and administers the SATs and I have to sign to say I have seen that everything is done properly. You won’t be surprised to hear that Mrs Head was dealing with everything in her usual calm and organised way with everything meticulously in place. I could see that teachers and support staff were being encouraged to be as supportive and helpful towards pupils as they possibly could and that the children’s well-being was the first thing that everyone was thinking of.
I joined Year 6 for their two Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling tests – I figured the younger pupils were probably better off without the distraction of a strange face on such an important day. When I got into the classroom, I noticed that all the displays had been covered up so that pupils didn’t get any unfair clues about spelling and grammar. I thought it was a really thoughtful touch that the pupils had been allowed to write encouraging messages on the sheets of paper before they were put up – that’s where I got my heading from! It really helped to create a positive and encouraging atmosphere. For a moment, I thought a note of rebellion had crept in when I read a slogan that seemed to read, “Down with SATs!” but then I noticed that the first word had been partially concealed and it really said, “Get down with SATS”! I should have remembered that Mr Kaczmarek runs a really tight ship.
Before the first test began, the pupils were split up into smaller groups and moved to different locations around school to give them enough space to spread out their work and concentrate without distractions. I stayed in the Year 6 classroom with eleven pupils. Altogether, there were five members of staff to help with any queries that might arise. The children were allowed to have the questions read to them, if they put their hands up, but members of staff were not allowed to even hint at what the answers should be.
I was really impressed with how hard the children worked and how well they concentrated. They all managed their time really well and had time to check their answers before the test ended. After they had finished, they all seemed to agree that it had been a challenge but not too difficult.
After playtime, it was time for the spelling test. The class were split into two groups for this and, again, there was plenty of staff support on hand in case anyone needed it. Mr Kaczmarek explained everything really calmly and carefully and made sure that everyone had time to finish writing down their words.
All in all, I don’t think that parents need to worry about pupils getting stressed out at Cobden. The children have been really well prepared for the tests and everything possible has been done to help pupils get over their nerves. In my opinion, there is a lot of work for the government to do to improve the administration of the tests: stories about leaked answers are not reassuring to parents. I also feel that children are being asked to learn too much formal grammar, too soon. Having looked very closely at the work that has been done on Cobden to assess pupil progress accurately, I know that these tests will not tell teachers anything they do not already know about pupils’ progress and so I wonder why so much time, effort and money has been invested in them. One thing is certain, however: whatever adaptations are made to the SATs in future years, I have every confidence that, at Cobden, children will be helped to face any challenge that comes their way with confidence.
A Word from the Chair - Thursday 3rd March 2016
You get to do a lot of interesting things at Cobden. A while ago, I was lucky enough to get to take Cobden Teddy to Australia and took photographs of him visiting all sorts of interesting places. To accompany the photographs, I wrote a blog, looking at Australia through the eyes of a teddy bear – quite an interesting perspective, I can tell you. (click here to see the blog) So why are you now writing as if you were a chair? I hear you ask. Well, of course , the answer is that I am writing to you as chair of the governing body at Cobden. There are so many good things happening at school, I really feel I should take the trouble to tell you about some them. From now on, I hope to write a regular blog, giving you an insight into some of the great things that happen at Cobden.
I’ve just come back from taking part in a learning walk at Cobden with Ms Head and Ms Caine and our School improvement Advisor, Anne Fell. During our Learning Walk, we wanted to look at the work of Teaching Assistants and what they are doing to support children’s progress. What we saw was a team of people working very hard indeed to deliver extra support to small groups of pupils and individuals who might need a little bit of extra help to understand and improve on the work they had done that morning. Pupils who needed help came from all abilities, some had special needs and some were high achievers but had just had some difficulty with one aspect of their work. What really struck us was what good relationships staff have with pupils and how hard the children were working because of this; we did not see even one child who looked bored or unwilling to work. All the children were happy and proud of what they were doing. As Anne said to us, “There is a lot of confidence boosting going on as well as academic support.”
As the afternoon progressed, we began to realise that the excellent interventions we saw being delivered by Teaching Assistants, could not take place without a lot of hard work on the part of all staff. Work has to be marked very promptly in order to target the right pupils each afternoon. Despite the need for a quick turnaround, we observed that books are marked in an amount of detail that is very helpful for the children. On top of this, very detailed records are kept of what each pupil has achieved each day. These records are then used to decide how each pupil can be supported. We watched lots of pupils moving around to do different things but as we noticed the Teaching Assistants consulting files and adding to the records that were already there, we realised that everything was very firmly under control. Anne’s comment was, “Clear and rigorous systems underpin the delivery of support.”
We expect a lot of our Teaching Assistants at Cobden: they attend training days and twilight training sessions; they are asked to arrive at school fifteen minutes before lessons start and remain in school for thirty minutes at the end of the school day. We certainly saw the results of all this hard work today. It was one of the many times that I felt very proud indeed to be Chair of Governors at Cobden Primary School.