Posted in Assessment, research, SEND, Uncategorized

Dyslexia: overlooked and left behind?

Every year, SATs results and other national testing shows that too many children and young people are not meeting expected levels in literacy, with 1 in 5 children leaving primary school below the national expected levels in reading, writing and mathematics.[1]

If you cannot learn to read, you cannot read to learn, and too many children are unable to access the curriculum due to poor reading skills. It is these children who then become disengaged and leave school with few, or no qualifications, resulting in significantly reduced opportunities. Continue reading “Dyslexia: overlooked and left behind?”

Posted in relationships, Uncategorized

Racism isn’t reserved for the old anymore

On the morning of Friday 24 June 2016, just hours after it had been announced that the UK had voted in favour of leaving the European Union, 60 civil servants had gathered at the Treasury to listen to an important talk.

Westminster, still stunned by the UK’s decision to change the course of history, congregated to listen to Carol Dweck – a psychologist who has become famous for her ‘growth mindset’ theory.

The growth mindset theory is a general belief that one can improve oneself through effort. Continue reading “Racism isn’t reserved for the old anymore”

Posted in Free School Meals, Uncategorized

Universal Infant Free School Meals: Improving behaviour at lunchtime

Our final blog in this four-part series on how to make Universal Free School Meals (UIFSM) value for money, focusses on how midday supervisors (MSAs) engage with pupils, and how they manage behaviour at lunchtime.

What MSAs say and how they say it is a key factor in whether or not pupils will eat their lunch. If pupils are not engaged in the right way, all the solutions we have proposed in our earlier blogs will be ineffective.

The problems

The ethos and values of a school are easy to evidence in the classroom, but even if a school’s Ofsted rating for behaviour is outstanding, it often goes a bit pear-shaped at lunchtime. There are two key problems here which need to be addressed.


Whenever we speak to school councillors, they usually say that MSAs are kind and lovely. However, when we dig a bit deeper, they will say their problems aren’t resolved at lunchtime. This is because MSAs aren’t trained teachers and sometimes struggle to deal with poor behaviour.

As a result, they often resort to using inappropriate language: “Come on, hurry up finish your dinner”, or if the pupil answers back, responses such as “How dare you argue with me!”  Language like this will put most children off eating their lunch. Interestingly, even teaching assistants (TAs) who often work as MSAs at lunchtime have the same problem. How the pupils treat them in the classroom is often very different to how they treat them at lunchtime.

Behaviour policy

Many schools we visit have behaviour policies which work well in the classroom but not at lunchtime. Pupils will often complain that they have been harshly dealt with by MSAs/TAs, or that those who were really causing problems got off too lightly. When running some MSA training at a school in Hertfordshire recently, we asked the MSAs about the excellent set of rules for behaviour in and out of lessons featured in the Behaviour Policy, (written by key stage 2 pupils), though they were not aware of them.

Once pupils realise the MSAs are unaware of school rules, they can play one set of staff off against the other. This then leads to very unkind and disrespectful comments such as “You’re just a dinner lady, you can’t tell me what to do”. If lunchtime starts to feel a little hostile and unfriendly, pupils are less likely to eat their meal and they definitely won’t be ready for learning in the afternoon either – one of the key aims of the UIFSM policy.

The solutions

Here are our evidence-based solutions to these two problems:

MSA training

MSAs need training on how to manage challenging behaviour and assert authority. They need to understand that focussing on what you want a pupil to do, rather than what you don’t want them to do, is much more effective. If a pupil is shouting, the response shouldn’t be “Will you stop shouting?” It should be something like “I need you to listen to me”.

Once MSAs start talking to children in this way, it becomes much easier to engage positively with pupils. We observed one young boy in tears, saying he didn’t want to eat his shepherd’s pie because the potato topping was burnt. One MSA calmly talked to the boy and said “Don’t worry, I can make this pie look lovely”. She then simply removed the burnt topping to reveal the white potato underneath.

Because the MSA had listened to the pupil and then solved his problem, he happily started eating it. This is a simple example, but if this situation hadn’t been resolved, the pupil wouldn’t have eaten his dinner and would have returned to class miserable and not ready to learn.

Another reason for investing in MSA training is to give them a voice and make them feel valued. There is a perception, rightly or wrongly held by MSAs, that school leaders don’t support them and don’t listen to what they have to say. When we ask MSAs what they want from school leaders and how the relationship can be improved, the answers are clear, constructive and very easy to implement.

“We want a pupil wellbeing book,” said one MSA in a training session we ran in a Hertfordshire school. Another said: “We want teachers to let us know which children in their class are being challenging so we can keep an eye on them at lunchtime.” Effective training is a combination of giving MSAs a voice, and teaching them how to promote positive behaviour that makes the training outcomes sustainable. One MSA from Croydon wrote in her written evaluation of the training: “I was made to feel important and heard.”

Lunchtime charter

Here’s how to make sure the Behaviour Policy is effective and consistently implemented at lunchtime:

  • Invite MSAs to work with the school council and create a lunchtime charter identifying rules they are happy to follow, then prominently display the charter in the dining room and playground.
  • Ask MSAs to wear laminated cards on lanyards summarising the rewards for good behaviour, the agreed lunchtime rules, and consequences for bad behaviour.

How will this help with UIFSM? The lunchtime charter will include very specific rules that relate to eating and socialising. Below are two examples which are currently being used by a Kent school:

  • We want our dining hall to be like a restaurant where we talk to our friends and wait for them to finish eating.
  • We learn to use a knife and fork properly and talk to each other politely and kindly.

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Posted in Uncategorized

How to teach the 10 percent in your class

This week, SAGE Education has provided an expert insight into the importance of engaging all learning types.

‘Working memory’ is the brain’s post-it note. It allows you to hold information in your mind and work with it. We make mental scribbles of what we need to remember. By understanding working memory you will be able to better support children’s learning and concentration.

Most children have a working memory that is strong enough to quickly find a book and open to the correct page, but some don’t – approximately 10 percent in any classroom. A pupil who loses focus and often daydreams may fall into this 10 percent. A pupil who isn’t living up to their potential may fall into this 10 percent. A pupil who seems unmotivated may fall into this 10 percent.

In the past, many of these pupils would have languished at the bottom of the class, because their problems seemed insurmountable and a standard remedy like extra tuition didn’t solve them. But emerging evidence shows that many of these children can improve their performance by focussing on their working memory.

Working memory is a foundational skill in the classroom, and when properly supported, it can often turn around a struggling pupil’s prospects.

Ask your pupils to do this…

Image provided to us by SAGE Education

They have to remember the instructions, remember where they left their maths book, and remember the page number.

Often times, the pupil with poor working memory will remember the maths book and pencil, but forget the page number.

Learn more about working memory with these short introductory videos by subject experts Tracy and Ross Alloway.

What is working memory?

Why is it important for educators to understand working memory?

Why is working memory important when teaching pupils with SEND?

Five top tips to help improve pupils’ working memory

Tracy and Ross are the authors of Understanding Working Memory.

Posted in Uncategorized

Getting cross-curricular with your curriculum planning

Our newest contributor, SAGE, has jumped on board TheSchoolBus to give you some valuable insights into the new national curriculum. Since 1998, SAGE has been publishing innovative and high quality education and teacher training books.

The new primary national curriculum came in to effect last year. How are you finding it? Have you been using cross-curricular approaches to teach it? Below is an excerpt from Planning the Primary National Curriculum where author Keira Sewell provides some useful guidance and ideas for creative cross-curricular lesson planning.

The following examples are designed to inspire your own ideas of how to put an exciting, broad and balanced curriculum together which will stimulate children’s interests and support their learning across a range of subjects. However, there is a note of caution here. When planning in a cross-curricular way, it is easy to get carried away by the ‘fun’ aspects and forget the key point of the curriculum: learning.

  • Make sure you only put subject areas together which fit within the learning aims of the theme.
  • Ensure you can justify how the learning from one subject area supports or enhances learning in another.
  • Be explicit about the links between the skills, knowledge and understanding drawn from each subject.
  • Make these links clear to the children in your class; remind them that they are using a range of ideas drawn from different disciplines so that they may make sense of this and continue to develop these in their future learning.

Maths from stories

Year group: All ages

Subject foci: Mathematics, English, and potentially every other curriculum subject depending on the book!

There is a rich vein of cross-curricular mathematics work to be tapped in the form of picture books for all ages. A comprehensive bank of these can be found here but a couple of good ones to start with are: One is a Snail, Ten is a Crab by April and Jeff Sayre, and 365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental.

Natural sculptures

Year group: Key stage 1

Subject foci: Science, art and design, geography

Children could begin to explore a local outdoor environment and consider what plants grow there. They could map out their findings, building up a profile of the habitat and beginning to identify and name common plants found. They could look at how nature can be represented through art and consider the work of Andy Goldsworthy in creating their own natural art. Through this they could explore characteristics which enable us to group and classify plants and describe basic structures. This could lead to large scale art by covering parts of the school field with shapes of black plastic (e.g. the centre and petals of a large flower) for around a week. This will make the grass turn yellow and leads well into thinking about photosynthesis as well as making striking art.

Roman Market Place

Year group: Key stage 2

Subject foci: Mathematics, history, English, design and technology

In this activity, children work in groups to create a market stall for a Roman market. They would research the kinds of items that would be bought and sold on a typical market stall and make trays and products to sell. They use Roman numerals to label the price of their items and design their own money and devise calculation systems in order to charge and pay for them. Lastly, they can create posters to advertise their market to potential customers.

Posted in creativity, literacy, reading

Give a hoot… read a book!

Between the ages of 4 and 11, I must have read a thousand books. I simply devoured the written word. Beginning with ‘Each, Peach, Pear, Plum’ and ‘Peter Rabbit’, moving on to anything written by Roald Dahl and Judy Blume’s classic ‘Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great’ and graduating to ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier (still one of my favourite novels). At school I loved quiet reading time, and class reading time. I was a precocious reader and my parents would put me to bed safe in the knowledge that I would either read myself to sleep, or at least stay awake, but in bed, reading.

But something happened when I turned 11, or more precisely, when I left primary school. I can pinpoint the moment I lost interest in books. It happened to coincide with our first book study – ‘Of Mice and Men’, actually, let’s be honest here, the dissecting, examining the where’s, why’s and how’s killed my love of reading. Learning about literature, it seemed, was not the same as reading.

It wasn’t until five years later, on a long car journey, when I picked up ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, that I got back into reading again.

It, therefore, came as no surprise to me (although it did sadden me) to read in the news that there has been a sharp decline in reading for pleasure among children and young people. It would appear that the most common “reading choices” for children and young people include text messages and emails (Douglas & Clark, 2011)[1] , although I’d be the first to admit that my number one reading choice, aged 14, was ‘Just 17’ magazine.

The evidence to support reading for pleasure is robust, with Clark & Rumbold’s 2006 [2] review of research identifying several areas of benefit, including:

  • Reading attainment and writing ability.
  • Text comprehension and grammar.
  • Breadth of vocabulary.
  • Positive reading attitudes.
  • Greater self-confidence as a reader.
  • Pleasure in reading in later life.
  • General knowledge.
  • A better understanding of other cultures.
  • Community participation.
  • A greater insight into human nature and decision-making.

The new national curriculum has already established the need for more frequent and improved reading and literacy among children of all ages, but are teachers ready to move away from the traditionally prescriptive reading list and in-depth study of literary classics? The latest news from TES is a resounding “YES”.

One in four teachers polled said they read stories to their class every day, with a further third saying they do so a few times per week. More than two fifths said they set aside quiet reading time every day and over half said they regularly set reading as homework.

Pearson and Book Trust, with support from the Department for Education, have this week launched a free, national reading competition called “Read for my School”. The competition challenges children at both primary and secondary school (from years 3 to 8) to read as many books as possible, in a variety of genres and formats. The programme offers 100 online books – free of charge – to those who sign up.

There is also a list of 100 recommended reads in various genres for children of all ages. The list includes film and television based books, such as ‘Paddington Bear’, and ‘Percy and the Lightning Thief’, for those reluctant readers who need a ‘way in’ to reading.

As for me, I recently revisited my favourite childhood novel – ‘What Katy Did’ by Susan Coolidge. I read this story about a girl who falls from a swing and is left unable to walk when I was seven-years-old and had broken my leg after being knocked down by a car. It was given to me as a gift by my mother and has always been special to me. Even at 30, the classic stands the test of time with its mystery and intrigue and, more importantly, its female protagonist; but this was a rare pleasure for me. I am time poor and so finding a quiet hour to read a book is difficult. The phrase “get them while they’re young” doesn’t just refer to the imagination of a child; it should really be “get them while they have time”.

We have a great Secondary Literacy Policy to help you get older kids into reading. What was your favourite childhood book? Let us know @_TheSchoolBus on Twitter.

[1] Douglas, J. & Clark, C., 2011. Young People’s Reading and Writing. [Online]

Available at:
[Accessed 22 January 2015].

[2] Clark, C. & Rumbold, K., 2006. Reading for Pleasure. [Online]

Available at:
[Accessed 22 January 2015].


Posted in teaching

The new Mathematics curriculum: noble aims or challenging content?

This week’s blog is an opinion piece on the new maths curriculum from Joe Murray, a fiery retired maths consultant. The views represented here are his own.

“The Government’s new curriculum for Mathematics has certainly put the fox in the henhouse and led to much chatter from consultants, professional development providers and others! Things are a little quieter now as people get on with interpreting what exactly is needed or – in some cases – just get on with doing the good things they were always doing.

In terms of content, we now have fractions in early years and algebra in primary maths. As long as the former is done with simple fractions and with lots of practical work, this will be something many children  will grasp and don’t young children already have “half” and “quarter” in their vocabulary? Algebra is not new but does exist already in much of primary number work. A re-focus on some simple ideas will raise awareness of algebraic thinking and develop some pre-Algebra concepts ahead of the secondary years. The bigger fear for me is not the Department for Education (DfE) but short-sighted secondary teaching based on abstract ideas that makes the whole algebra curriculum a bewildering mystery for too many kids.

I am curious about the need for Roman Numerals, but like to think it will make cross-curricular work with History a lot more fun. The opposition to using a calculator – which the DfE and Mrs Twiss espouse – is strange. Yes, poor teaching will allow children to become lazy with calculation but good teachers will exploit the use of calculators to support enquiry within mathematics and develop sound understanding of number. Should we not be supporting good teaching?

One aspect of the new curriculum which does invite and deserve praise is its aims. I whole-heartedly endorse the development of fluency, reasoning and problem solving.

  • Fluency must be much more than the “rapid recall” and will include varied and frequent practice with increasingly complex problems over time, so that pupils develop conceptual understanding.
  • Reasoning will need to include a line of enquiry, conjecturing relationships and generalisations, and developing an argument, justification or proof.
  • Problem solving will comprise a variety of routine and non-routine problems with increasing sophistication, and must include teaching strategies for solving problems like breaking down tasks into a series of simpler steps and perseverance in seeking solutions.

Despite the oft-criticised content, perhaps the success of this new mathematics curriculum will be found in noble aims?”

What do you think of the new maths curriculum? Tweet #Curriculum2014 to @TheSchoolBus.