Posted in communication, education, parents, tablets, technology

Mobile apps: The secret ingredient for improving pupil outcomes?

Government research has shown “the more intensely parents are involved in their children’s education, the more advantageous the effect on pupil achievement”.[1] What’s more, “schools which successfully engage parents make use of a broad understanding of parental engagement, and their parental engagement strategies accord with the interpretations and values of the parents they are aimed at”.[2] In other words, schools who successfully engage parents/carers, do so with parents/carers in mind, reaching them in a way that works for them.[3] Continue reading “Mobile apps: The secret ingredient for improving pupil outcomes?”

Posted in communication, leadership, parents, Primary, school business management, school governance, school leadership, schools, Secondary, technology, Uncategorized

Why should you consider using technology in the education boardroom?

The use of technology in the boardroom is fairly commonplace in the private sector; however, it is yet to make a significant breakthrough in the education boardroom. A look at the key benefits will get you asking: “why not?”

A hub for all strategic conversations

Typically, board packs are shared by email or post to school directors, leaders and governors. In practice, this means wasted time prior to or, more frustratingly, during meetings to find the right email in order to print off reports, presentations, etc. I’m sure we’ve all asked the question, “Was I sent that?” to be met with the reply, “You were cc’d into the email sent on the 13th, would you like another copy printed now?”

In schools, where personal email addresses are often used for communication with governors and academy directors, this also relies on individuals creating methods to filter out school documents from the latest Tesco delivery email and Netflix offer.

An online board hub makes it easy for everyone to access the same document at the right time in one consistent, secure place.

Last minute amendments, updates or reports can be shared instantly to all attendees, meaning everyone has the latest report for the start of the meeting, and making mid-meeting print-outs a thing of the past.

Fewer interruptions. Less distraction. Better board meetings.   

We’ve all been there, silently flicking through a ream of
paper to find the specific section of a report being referred to, or just the right report amongst the pack, whilst trying to listen and contribute to the conversation taking place.

A board hub that supports electronic documents can be searched, categorised and filtered to make finding the right information quick and easy, allowing you to concentrate on the matters at hand.

Quicker decision making

The ability to access more information in meetings results in decisions being made quicker, rather than extending into the next committee or board meeting.

This is perhaps one of the biggest benefits of introducing technology into the education boardroom, where the ability to have impromptu catch-ups or meetings just isn’t to the same degree as the private sector.

The right board hub will be a point of reference for all school conversations and will be accessible by everyone.

This blog was brought to you by our communication experts:


“SchoolCal makes it easy for education leaders, directors and governors to concentrate on what’s important.”

Web, mobile and app based: access documents, minutes and agenda’s anywhere, on any device, and at a time to suit everyone. Easily review papers, open links and share with colleagues.

Everything exactly when you need it: quickly search, filter and bookmark content. Easily access past papers, meetings and documents.

For in-between meetings: share news, updates and key information all year round, providing leadership teams with important updates throughout the year − perfect for multi-academy trusts who operate across multiple sites and meet infrequently with directors and governors.

Professional design, simple to use: set up takes seconds.

For organisers to:

  • Share information with specific groups, committees or individuals.
  • Easily plan, schedule and communicate with everyone from a consistent platform.
  • Schedule meetings in advance and edit to add documents, new attendees and location details at any time.
  • Message and send reminders to all or specific delegates.
  • Send unlimited messages, reminders and contacts.
Posted in communication, Human Resources, leadership, policy, social media, technology

Social media – be careful what you post for

This post from our contributor and legal specialist, Veale Wasbrough Vizards, explores how a solid Social Media Policy can help your school succeed in claims brought to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, using a recent high profile case as an example.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has recently upheld a decision ruling that a dismissal for derogatory comments about an employer on Facebook was fair.

In British Waterways Board v Smith, Mr Smith was employed by the British Waterways Board (BW) as a manual worker for 8 years. As part of his job, Mr Smith worked on a rota where he was on standby for one week in every five. BW prohibited employees drinking alcohol when they were on standby. It also had a social media policy which forbade ‘any action on the internet which might embarrass or discredit BW’.

During the investigation of a grievance raised by Mr Smith, Mr Smith’s manager supplied HR with copies of pages from Mr Smith’s Facebook account which included derogatory comments by Mr Smith about his supervisors. On receipt, the HR team investigated further and identified evidence that suggested Mr Smith was drunk whilst on standby.

A disciplinary investigation subsequently took place and several other Facebook comments were identified which were either derogatory about BW, supervisors and colleagues, or suggested that Mr Smith had been drinking on days when on standby.

Mr Smith’s manager was aware of some of the comments and had previously raised them with HR (although he had not sent screenshots). HR had not investigated at the time because they were “too busy”. Mr Smith accepted that he made the comments but said that they were just ‘banter’ and he had not in fact been drinking. He also contended that his Facebook account had been hacked and changed from ‘private’ to ‘public’.

At a subsequent disciplinary hearing, the decision-maker concluded that, irrespective of whether the comments were true, they had the potential to undermine confidence in Mr Smith’s ability to react in an emergency and left BW open to public condemnation. It was also decided that Mr Smith’s actions were a clear breach of BW’s policies and he was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct.

Mr Smith brought a claim for unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal (ET).

The ET found that, although the process BW followed was fair, the decision to dismiss Mr Smith was not within the band of reasonable responses which a reasonable employer would take and therefore was not fair. In particular, the ET found that BW failed to
consider Mr Smith’s points of mitigation.

Overturning this decision on appeal, the EAT found that, as the ET
accepted that a fair procedure had been followed, it must have concluded that BW had considered Mr Smith’s points of mitigation. That being so, the ET had improperly substituted its own views for that of the employer. It held that the decision to dismiss was fair.

Best practice

The very public nature of comments on social media means that the potential for reputational damage is significant. What assisted BW in this case was having very clear policies addressing the use of social media and being clear with employees about what is and is not acceptable − a practice we would always recommend. Those schools which have adopted our template employment documentation will be familiar with the operation of our Social Media Policy.

This case also highlights the importance of identifying and considering all points of mitigation when deciding on disciplinary action.

Whilst BW was able to demonstrate that the dismissal was fair in this case, even though it had been aware of (albeit had not investigated) the Facebook comments for a number of years, it would be best practice to avoid delay in investigating concerns which come to your school’s attention – not least in cases involving comments on social media, to avoid the potential for further reputational damage.

For more information, please contact Alice Reeve on 0117 314 5383.


Posted in creativity, curriculum, education, teaching, technology, Uncategorized

Lego to take over the world of Maths?

Primary schools have been known to use Lego in the classroom for years and yet, coinciding with the introduction of a ‘tougher’ national curriculum for Maths, the household brand name has just claimed its first official customer of their Lego Education product ‘MoreToMaths’.

The product specifically developed to help teach maths to key stage 1 (which includes ready-made lesson plans, software, teaching guides and of course a collection of those infamous building bricks) may sound like a dream come true for both student and teacher. However, after my initial excitement came some creeping cynicism sparking the questions: do toys really have an appropriate place in the maths classroom? Can an informal, playtime-style teaching approach benefit pupils or will it only encourage distraction?

I can still remember the overwhelming, childish, giddiness I used to feel when my Primary School teachers would place an intriguing object in the centre of our tables; the subject for the lesson. Be it some poster paints, animal figurines or even just a tub of salt. I remember thinking these lessons were the most interesting at school, but now I wonder, from an  adult perspective, if this approach is subject sensitive. For instance, we can learn a lot as a child about science in the physical world by actually engaging with it – holding a weight in our hands or dissolving salt into water – but how productive can kinetic learning be with subjects predominantly tackled on paper or screen in the real world, for instance, using maths for calculations in an accounting job.

At hearing the price of one ‘MoreToMaths’ kit for a class of 30, £750, I do wonder whether Lego are genuinely producing this product for the good of today’s young minds, or whether they are actually just gunning for world domination. They aren’t satisfied with being a hazardous obstacle course for all parents at home; they now want to invade classrooms as well. Pupils have been learning maths without it for years, so does it really add any value or is it just a commercial fad? In The Guardian, some teachers have voiced their concerns that the time spent building with the blocks, and tidying them up, could take away from valuable time which could be spent learning.

However, there are benefits to making learning fun. Physically engaging with a topic is a great way for some people to learn; it gets children away from the ever encroaching computer screens and the familiarity of textbooks. It mixes up the classroom dynamic so that not every day is the same, and it’s great to see children really enjoying subjects at school.

Experiential learning can offer children the chance to link their learning with things they do at home by interacting with the world around them. This type of teaching which brings familiar items into the classroom is often incredibly beneficial and encourages a peer-to-peer approach, engaging pupils and allowing them to share ideas around a common and well-known subject. This approach can also be more accessible for children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities who may struggle with pencil and paper. The approach is already used, to some extent, in the early years foundation stage (EYFS), where play and learning go hand-in-hand.

The students at Burchfield school certainly seem to love this new addition to their maths lessons. Also, Lego Education already have existing products in the fields of literacy, science and computing, so they seem to be a trustworthy company in terms of the education sector.

There are two sides to this debate. Will Lego’s strategy build a bright future for the classroom or will it end more like a game of Jenga? Is their new product an innovative essential in teaching the new maths curriculum, or are the exercises something that pupils could do at home with their parents?

Posted in creativity, curriculum, education, learning, technology

Can Doctor Who’s web game teach kids programming?

A new CBBC game was launched yesterday with the intention of making coding fun.

Doctor Who’s latest adventure, which is aimed at 6-12-year olds, sees him trying to save the universe with a Dalek. The underlying intention of getting children interested in computer programming.

With nine nephews and nieces, ranging from one to fifteen-years-old, I am fascinated to see how compelled they are by technology. I was particularly amazed to see my eighteen month-old niece remembering her dad’s password for his mobile phone, and taking over my game of Candy Crush once she realised my attention was not on her. This may be due to her father being interested by computers, and now having a career in that field. However, could it be from integrating technology so much into our daily lives that we cannot help passing on our supposed addictions to our children?

TV has always been a way to fill evenings, and with the amount of viewers, including children, watching Doctor Who, the ever-changing role models have influenced children into being fascinated by time-travel and historical events.

Doctor Who bridged the gap between education and entertainment in an easily-viewed 45 minute slot before children’s bedtimes. They continued their success with online games, creative craft ideas, and episode clips. As this programme has gained so many fans and interest, why wouldn’t they want to use their powers for good?

So many jobs insist on having computer knowledge, and available developing jobs are at their highest due to most companies needing websites and resources. Computing languages are becoming incredibly important skills, and Doctor Who has noticed that.

There are many educational websites which have blossomed after including games and puzzles, as children are more likely to learn something if they are entertained at the same time. It’s the same for cake – hide various vegetables inside, slop over some sugary icing, and they’ll never know.

From playing the new online game, I could see the basics of variables, loops, and logical reasoning, whilst making the adventure appealing for kids. But why is programming perceived as boring? I have personally always been interested in it, but that could have been from my brother as well.

I suppose the real question should be: why do we have to dilute the “boringness” of computer programming with an engaging game? After learning the basics, they would still have to carry on beyond the game’s capabilities. Should games be used as a way to get people to learn, if all our time is spent trying to get them off their computers?

So, is it the case that if we can’t beat them, we should join them? Do we have to sugar-coat education for children to make them interested in programming?

I am not sure it will make its way into schools as it is a game, even though it does encompass some of the key skills that make up the new computing curriculum. However, if Doctor Who thinks he can convince children to like programming, we may as well give it a try.

You can find out about the brand new primary computing curriculum on TheSchoolBus!

Posted in communication, education, leadership, learning, policy, schools, SEND, talk, teaching, technology

Speech and Language Therapy, What do I do exactly?

Today we welcome guest blogger, Claire Johnston, a Speech and Language Therapist at Springhill High School in Birmingham, who sheds light on how to support pupils with speech, language and communication difficulties, through the context of her day-to-day work.

“Hi, my name is Claire.”

“Hi, what do you do for a job?”

“Oooo, I know a little boy who has a lisp, I bet you loved the King’s Speech Film.”

And so it goes on!

For Speech and Language Therapists (SLT) I think that this is quite a familiar conversation. Certainly when I first start talking to people, most think that SLT’s just work with children who have difficulty with their speech sounds or we work with people who have a stammer. Many are surprised when I explain it as a birth to grave profession and that we are not a quasi-science. Our work is guided by evidence based practice and scientific research. Speech, language and communication difficulties can occur at any point in our lives and it may hit us like a ton of bricks, a life changing event. We are a birth to grave profession.

From birth we may work with families and new born babies who have been born with a cleft palate or other facial structural abnormality to support safe feeding, and will support the child and their family on a long journey.

We work with children who have an autistic spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), pathological demand avoidance syndrome (PDA) and other developmental conditions. We support them by working with the child and the team around them to develop communication skills using various methods from signs to symbols and voice output devices. We also develop behaviour modification strategies and support the school team with differentiation of the curriculum.

Click here to see a video about how speech and language therapy can help pupils with autism to communicate.

We work with teenagers, adults with learning difficulties and young offenders. It is estimated that up to 90% of young offenders have undiagnosed speech, language and communication difficulties. Negative behaviour for some is the only communication tool they have to express their anxiety, embarrassment at not being able to do class work, stresses, peer pressure, bullying, self-harm and trauma, or mental health difficulties. Never dismiss negative behaviour as “Oh, they are up to it again disrupting the whole class”. It is hard to find the time with the pressures of the school day to spend time with students but there is always a function to the behaviour.

Part of our caseloads may be working with adults with learning difficulties to support them in becoming fully active members of their communities. We also work with individuals who have had a stroke and lost their ability to express themselves or understand what loved ones are saying to them and people who have degenerative conditions such as motor neuron disease who lose their ability to speak, individuals who experience a traumatic brain injury, or Parkinson’s disease.

We work with every professional under the sun from teachers to social workers to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHs) to the police/young offending teams (YOTs) to carers to neurologists and audiologists. Most importantly, the person who needs us themselves is central to our role, for many we give them a voice to say thank you and I love you to the people who matter most to them.

And yes we work with children who have difficulty with speech sounds and individuals who have a stammer! This isn’t an extensive list by any means of the client groups or the professionals we work with but this video gives you an idea as to what we do!

I currently work in a specialist independent secondary school based in Birmingham, where we have young people from many different local authorities. Many of the young people attending the school will have experienced numerous placement breakdowns due to challenging, negative and often very aggressive behaviours but behaviour is communication, it is how it is interpreted that is often the challenge. The staff team within school and the residential placements (not all of our students live in our residential provision) work within, and have a thorough understanding of, social learning theory and the need for unconditional positive regard. Every day is a new, fresh page.

As a Speech and Language therapist, I support the staff team within the school and the residential placements in many ways. This is managed by working directly with young people and indirectly by supporting the staff team and families.

First is the development of a whole school approach to understanding speech, language and communication. This is achieved with training to understand speech, language and communication difficulties, starting with development, this is very important.  If a 14 year old child is scoring on an assessment of receptive language skills at an age equivalent of 6 years, what is the point of handing this information over to the staff team without the support to understand the developmental level the child is presenting to then differentiate the curriculum to meet their needs?

Many of our young people have not accessed speech and language assessments, for those who comply (not all do and there has been the odd **** it, I’m not doing that ****) assessment has been very useful in identifying areas of difficulty with receptive/expressive language skills that had not previously been identified. An example is a young person who was not able to recall sentences during assessment as they increased in length and complexity, secondary curriculum language is complex! These difficulties had not been identified by previous settings, by picking this up the staff team were able to plan with this in mind and chunk verbal communication and use additional supports, such as pictures and bullet pointed information, to support comprehension and engagement within the lesson.

I support the development of one page profiles, this is a very useful document which contains:

  • The young person’s details.
  • Diagnosis.
  • Statement objectives.
  • Speech, language and communication assessment findings.
  • Recommendations from speech and language therapy.
  • Recommendations from educational psychologists or specialist support teams to then differentiate the curriculum.

Using this information, and understanding the need to chunk information for one child to allow time for processing of information, or presenting information with visual supports for another, can mean the difference between engaging or not and interacting in a positive manner or not!

I work very closely with all departments within the school and work jointly with many teachers. Examples of this are joining a P.E lesson to support the staff team by modelling ways to encourage turn taking, waiting, encouraging eye contact and extending communication from one word, for example “Claire” to “throw ball to Claire”. Along with support to develop a sensory activity programme for students to engage with during the day to help students focus. I work with and join drama sessions supporting students who may have specifically focused on body language and communication in 1:1 sessions to then use those skills in drama.

I work very closely with the English department supporting planning for students who are working at P levels to GCSE, this can be from supporting sequencing activities to the development of narratives, understanding who, what, when, where questions and sentence structures.

I support some students with small social skills group activities to develop turn taking, conversation skills, and environmental awareness, as many of our students often start off with 1:1 or 2:1 staffing due to risk. This has developed for some KS4 students into coffee sessions at a local coffee shop where skills became generalised.

Support was provided to PSHE planning to support students with understanding passive, aggressive and assertive behaviours within social situations and how we communicate using different behaviours. This has proven very effective for some students to reflect on both theirs’ and others’ behaviours and then modify them.

1:1 work is provided for some students who have very specific difficulties due to trauma, cognitive, mental health, developmental or environmental challenges. This can be to support many areas such as to develop emotional vocabulary, develop inferential skills, consequential/problem solving skills, receptive language skills, expressive language skills and yes, speech sound work!

The support and benefit of a Speech and Language therapist in school can be massive and the feedback from the headteacher and staff team is that it has supported the understanding and development of the school’s special educational needs (SEN) and speech and language knowledge, but the key to this is good team working and communication.

If you have read this blog, I hope that you have found useful!

Claire Johnston

Speech and Language Therapist

If you suspect that a child or young person you work with has a speech language and communication difficulty you can find information to support at;

NHS – Referrals can be made to local speech and language services through GP’s, SENCO’s, child development centres and self-referral.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists