Special School

Post 34: Week of 5-9 June 2017

Half term was last week which meant no income. Funny then how all I seem to do on my time off is spend money on the house and family! I also spent a lot of the time writing some of my first reports. It took me 45 minutes for the first couple, then when you get into the swing of things I can get it down to half an hour or so. Writing a nursery report obviously isn’t as detailed as those of the older classes but I still want to write plenty and give it my own style – not much copying and pasting believe it or not. I sent the first few to my Key Stage leader and she said they were great so to just carry on like that. By the end of half term week I’d done 9 reports. I was pleased with that seeing as I didn’t start until the Wednesday.

On Monday, Tue and Wed I taught in my regular nursery class with no major issues. I didn’t get a call for work on Thursday so did another couple of reports. It is slightly annoying to feel that I have to do school work on a day where I don’t get any pay, but then again most reports are done in teachers’ own time.

On Friday morning It got to 8.25am with no call. When it goes past 8am the chances of getting work are slim so you don’t expect the call. But when the phone rang I had a big jump. I have never received a call this late for work to start immediately (I have received mid-morning calls to start in the afternoon). My caller from the agency said it was for a special school and would I be interested? Now I have taught plenty of children with SEN in my mainstream classes but I have never experienced even being in a special school. I had no time to think about it so said yes. She told me it was for an early years class but that was all she knew. I explained I would never get there for the start of lessons but she said not to worry they will expect you as soon as you can.

In the end the traffic was surprisingly light and I arrived at the school just after 9am. As I was signed into the entrance and given a visitor’s badge there were loads of kids still arriving with lots of chaperones. They had all arrived from minibuses and taxis from all over the city. They were being held up because a child had started kicking off behind the main door so all doors had to be locked and we were just waiting for the situation to be brought under control. Exciting start! The lady at the reception window also told me it wasn’t an early years class, it would be a mixture of Years 3,4,5,6! My worst fears usually! I was brought up to the class and found myself in a classroom with the main TA and 4 children. I didn’t know the class would be that small but as I found out later most of the classes are these numbers due to the complex needs of the children. I had to get right on with it as school had already started. With lots of help from the TA we worked our way through the morning.

We started by going into the hall and doing some exercises which I took over once I saw what was happening. Then back to class for main starter. One boy decided he wasn’t going to cooperate and he was taken immediately to another class (a regular occurrence, not just because I was in). I got to know the boys pretty quickly. Their needs differed, some were emotional, some were physical, others a mix. The first session flew by before we had to go into the hall for assembly. It was a lively assembly. I sat with the 3 remaining boys on chairs together whilst lots of other children were sat with other staff. The adult-child ratio was very high and some children were moving about, others were sat watching. Despite being noisy the teacher leading the assembly just got on with it. It lasted 10 minutes then everybody back to class. My class were now going swimming so we joined with another load and got the coach there.

I used to live next to (and teach at) this swimming pool so I was on familiar ground. The staff actually all get in the pool with the children. As I had no costume I stood on the side walking along trying to teach from there. I was soaked with all the splashing! The children absolutely loved it in the water.

Going swimming took a big chunk out of the morning so we only had a few minutes left back at school before lunch. I had to sit with my class for half an hour to make sure they ate properly and behaved.

In the afternoon I taught from the left-over planning and we did some Spanish, DT and they had a bit of spare time to choose. I had a nice chat with the TA at playtime who was the stable factor all day. She said the boys had had a good day as the rest of the week had been challenging at times (even today she had to forcibly take a couple of them out for getting aggressive before they calmed down and were let back in). Their chaperones came for them at home time. I had made it through the day!

It was very enlightening being here today. I was glad I took the placement. The standard of care they were offered by the school was to their credit (they recently got Outstanding from Ofsted). The TA said they were all of to the pub (she even invited me but I politely declined) and I could imagine that this was a draining job and that they were a very tight staff. I bet they go to the pub a lot! I was hit quite a lot today by one of the boys but only because that was his way of getting my attention. I had a bit of a sore arm but nothing too bad!  I can only imagine what some of the other staff go home like. All I saw and got the impression of on my one day here was a school and staff who really went out of their way to care for their children. It is to their credit.

Extra work…sometimes! And Half Term.

Post 33: last few weeks of May term.

So I obviously have regular work in one school on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But for 2 weeks I haven’t been getting any work on the Thu/Fri. Now occasionally that has been my choice, but it does give me a slight worry in case it means it becomes a regular pattern (especially with half term coming up where I will have no income).

However, this school used me for extra supply over the last 2 weeks so at least I had 2 extra days of work and seeing as it was in my own nursery class I was very happy with that.

I have been asked quite a few times if I would apply for the job permanently but I keep refusing – it suits me at present to keep doing supply into next year. So it was a strange sensation seeing 10 candidates apply for the job last week. They had to have an interview than take a group of children for a lesson in the Reception class. The interviews went over 2 days. I said hello to a couple of them and didn’t envy their upcoming experiences! Eventually the school hired a young woman who will be taking over from me in September. She popped in the next day to briefly say hello. So it seems that they have taken my decision as final then!

On the last day of term I actually received a call (on the previous night – at 9.25pm!) to have a half day in Reception in a different school. Half a day is better than nothing, especially on the Friday as work is scarce when schools break up. An early start to the half term! I was last at this school back in the Autumn when they received a call to say they were getting Ofsted the next day. When I arrived this Friday there was a large banner saying the school had received ‘Good’. The other Reception teacher set me up with the activities for the morning. It was very straightforward and I even got to teach PE which I really enjoyed and the children participated well in. The children were actually a delight and I enjoyed my first ‘new’ school since the beginning of May.

It is half term now. I have brought home all of my profiles to make a start on the report writing. It is Wednesday as I write but I haven’t really got into my flow yet. Must try harder……..

Lots of Observations

Post 32: Monday 8 – Wednesday 10 May 2017

The Foundation Unit of the school is going to trial electronic profiling later in the term, but for now it is still paper-based. As I am going to be doing the assessments in a couple of weeks I have to get to know the children in my key worker group as fast as possible; which means I need to get as much evidence as I can. So I have been very busy doing lots of observations and assessing. I like to assess on a daily basis, whereas others save all theirs up to a weekend or even a half term. But I couldn’t cope with doing all of that in one go, it would take over your life at that time. And what if we got Ofsted-ed? They would only have a day’s notice to update their profiles!

In this school, assessment means cross-checking evidence with the Early Years Foundation Stage Development Matters handbook. We colour code the evidence, so if a child does something at 22-36 months we give it a red dot. I’ve done lots of assessments in other schools whilst doing supply and different things work for different schools. My only concern is that so much work goes into the profiles yet hardly any parents look at them! Last week we had parents’ evenings (I stayed to do them with the teacher who was leaving) and for the majority of the parents this was the only time they looked at the profiles, and this was because we sat there with them and made them!)

I had a jolt as I left on Wednesday – I had used my PPA time to get all my profiles up to date, including the assessments, when I found a huge stash of observations in a drawer, none of which were assessed or stuck into the profiles. I’m talking dozens of obs which now will have to be assessed by me and stuck in, even though some were months ago and will mean I have observations out of sync. There goes my weekend!


Settling In; Half Days Elsewhere

Post 31: 2-3 May 2017

Monday was a bank holiday (May Day) so only 2 days teaching in the Nursery class this week. I am still settling myself in, getting to familiarise myself with the routines etc. Not much has changed since I was last here in October but there are a few other things I have to do which weren’t done before, such as recording all key worker activities in a special book for evidence. I also get PPA which I wasn’t entirely sure I’d get, so that is a bonus!

Thursday – Friday 4-5 May 2017

Some pre-arranged work (I got the call last night at 4pm) for Thursday and Friday, my 1st extra work this term away from the nursery class. Only two half days (mornings) but better than nothing. It was for a Year 3 class in a school I have been to lots of times, fairly close to my home so a wee bit of a sleep in! I was actually looking forward to teaching today as it is now a novelty to teach the older children; nothing wrong with nursery, but the beauty of being available on Thu/Fri means I get to have a bit of variety.

I arrived at 8.05 and the TA (who I have worked with before) set me up for the morning. As it turned out I chose a good day to come: a team from the council had come to train the children how to ride scooters (it was road safety week). However they had cancelled the activity for after playtime so I used my initiative and checked the Maths books. We would carry on doing the lesson from yesterday which they did not finish.

The children remembered me from when I taught them last year, which was lovely. Straight into an assembly then out into the playground where they received the lesson. All I had to do was supervise and keep the children behaving. They really enjoyed scootering around the cones and obstacles! In the maths lesson I kept it as practical as possible (we learned about right angles) and their behaviour was great – the TA said they had been very calm and that was good for them. I actually met the teacher as she returned whilst I was marking the books. We had a chat about tomorrow.

Friday. Another assembly then a normal morning for the children – Maths then English. Again, a straightforward morning and no problems.

Pros and cons for working a half day: the obvious negative is that I only get a half-day’s pay; but the feeling of going home at 1 O’clock for an early start to the weekend is glorious!


Home Visits

Post 30: 24-26 April 2017

I did not get any work on Thursday and Friday last week so I only worked 2 days. This week was my first proper stretch in the Nursery class, but it was a transition period for me: the teacher who is leaving was still in and we met several times to do admin and planning.

On Monday I spent a good part of the day out of class phoning parents to arrange home visits (the school can offer 3 places immediately for those on the waiting list). The majority of our intake come from families where they have arrived from abroad such as refugees or asylum seekers, so their English is not that great at times. But still, we managed to arrange 3 home visits over the 1st few days.

I loved doing the home visits back in September. It is valuable experience for me and it gives an insight into how people live. It’s fascinating chatting to families about their life stories. I took a TA with me and we spent about half an hour in each home. I did the paperwork part whilst the TA played with the child. The families spoke enough English for us to get the paperwork done. Each family was told their child could come for a pre-visit the following day and the child would start gradually until they were happy enough to be left for the 3 hours session. As these families were new to the UK they all had older siblings who were present in the house who had no school to go to as they had missed the deadline for applications. They are going to have to apply and take what is left, which inevitably will mean a long journey for some as the nearest schools are full. I felt really sorry for them, but it was us who were giving them this information as they were unsure of what to do.

I also helped with the planning for the next few weeks as my last act with the leaving teacher. As I left on Wednesday I thought to myself, it’ll be all mine from now on and the buck will stop with me!

Familiar Ground

Post 29: 18-19 April 2017

The Easter holidays have finished. For the rest of the year I have committed myself to a school I have been to many times before, but only for Mondays to Wednesdays. I will be teaching the Nursery class. I started the year off in this class, doing a full half term (September – October) so it will be nice to finish off the year with the children I started with and come full circle. I will still be free to work elsewhere on Thursdays and Fridays so this works well for me.

Monday was a bank holiday, so Tuesday was my first day. It was a training day so a good way to settle myself in. Doing supply work means it is now a very rare occurrence for me to receive training and updates on the profession so I like them even when other staff find them a bit boring. Half of the day was familiarising myself with the planning, profiles, new staff etc.  I’m looking forward to it!

The children returned on Wednesday. Most recognised me and remembered me, including lots of the parents, so that was good. It is reassuring for the parents to know that the person taking over for the rest of the year is someone they already have experience of.

The day went fairly quickly with no major incidents. Fingers crossed it will continue like this!

Long Stretch

Post 28: March 2017

Sooooo….. 4 weeks in this school just finished. And what a month it has been!!

This school has been crazy! There are supply teachers everywhere, which should set off alarm bells. They are advertising several posts for this school (I saw one candidate walk into my class and found out later that the HT – who was with her – took one look at how I was managing the children and knew instantly that this lady did not have the means to control them).  This school cannot keep regular staff. Many are off on sick and that is so unfortunate for the children. Certainly for the Year 2 class I was taking, their teacher has not been seen for weeks, following several poor lesson observations. I got lots of information from the TA who has seen all sorts of stuff.

So for 4 weeks I had to basically replan the timetable as there has been no consistency for months – no guided reading, no planning of any sort, no basic information about the children’s levels etc. The other staff couldn’t really help either. As well as this, there are some children in the class with amongst the worst behavioural issues I’ve ever encountered. I struggled to be honest in the first week and I was getting cross and frustrated, going home drained. We’re talking about things like a child in particular who has been free all year to do literally whatever he likes: for instance, get up off the carpet and take an iPad from the teacher’s desk drawer and start playing it in the middle of me talking; or shouting and singing in the middle of the session; running amock in the hall when a visiting hockey coach is trying to teach (he told me he dreads coming to this school and has called in sick several times because of the behaviour). The TA told me that this child has been allowed to get away with it and the regular teacher just either ignores him for a quiet life or “just shouts all day; there is a lot of shouting in this class”. No IEP (Individual Education Plan) whatsoever to be seen, so the first thing I do is make a separate plan for him with a variety of rewards for every time he does a task, because typically he is a very low attainer. At the end of this 4 week period he has definitely calmed down and through the perseverance of myself and the TA we have definitely made progress with him. But I worry for him for the rest of the year.

I have worked like a dog whilst here – ie, became a normal teacher again! Working until 10pm most nights, planning and marking. This school has been taken over by an executive HT and it is easy for me to look in as an outsider to see that she is trying her best to turn this school around; the regular staff do not like it and the associated workload it brings, but the school is in special measures so what else can she do? I found myself chatting to the (many) supply teachers and they all said the same thing – you would be crazy to work in this school. There is no consistency and too many regular staff are absent or not pulling their weight. To be fair, I could only comment on what I saw. I kept myself to myself, staying in the classroom every lunchtime to mark and prepare. Morale is definitely low here, but I could say that about the majority of schools I go to.

My time ended there and if it wasn’t for the fact that I am committed to another school after the Easter holidays they would be begging me to stay. But I think my stress levels would go through the roof if I did! I just about got the class to where I wanted by the end, with behaviour pretty much as expected by me. The TA told me that on one day where I was absent, the replacement supply was “appalling”, so bad that she (the TA) went to the office immediately at home time and said never hire her again. It took the class on a backward step from where I got them to. Reading between the lines, it seems almost certain that their regular teacher will not be back but as she is on sick leave her post cannot be advertised specifically so it will be another supply teacher after the holidays. What these children need more than anything is consistency and it does break my heart – no matter how draining the job is, my role is a stop gap and I know this. The children need a regular teacher and all that brings. We did some practice SATs papers and NINE of the children (out of 30) scored zero on the reading test!! The real SATs are in a few weeks. They haven’t been taught how to read! This won’t be the last time I go to this school, I can just tell…..