Outdoor Environment- all change!

Warning- Extreme jealousy may occur!!!

A few years back our school sold some land to developers and as part of that deal, there has been some money allocated to improve the infrastructure of the school.  My headteacher described it as the money you can spend on things that if you turned the school upside down it wouldn’t fall out!

It’s been a difficult time as a school with large cuts to our support staff due to the underfunding of budgets. I won’t go on here about my views on that or it would be a very different post…but it’s wonderful to have a bit of good news even if it seems to strange to have money for one area but not another.

So we are having a major makeover and the Year 1 outdoor learning environment has been made a priority. Continue reading “Outdoor Environment- all change!”

Communication is Key!

Hi I’m going to be adding information here about the work of Communication champions in the Norwich Opportunities Area . I have recently been trained and although I have 20 years of experience teaching I found out lots of new things! As well as confirming what I always believed to be true too.

We are lucky enough to have a Wellcomm toolkit for assessing children’s communication and although I have only just begun; it is fansicating to discover small gaps in their knowledge which might have gone undetected. Of course identification is only the beginning but the pack comes with a big book of ideas which give the practitioner ideas about how to move the learning on, including steps back and forwards.

Lots of useful tips and activities.

Let me know in the comments below if you’ve used the toolkit and what you think?

I’ll be posting more info soon.

Jack and Beanstalk – T4W and continuous provision go hand in hand!

I love this time of year as it’s our Fairytale topic and that naughty boy Jack makes an appearance. We start the topic by using a book called The Great Fairy Tale Disaster by David Conway. In this book, the wolf from the 3 Little pigs tries out some other fairy tales for a quieter life. Continue reading “Jack and Beanstalk – T4W and continuous provision go hand in hand!”

Year 1 Timetables- What does it look like ?

At the beginning of the year our timetable looked very different to it does now. Whether this is a good thing , the jury is still out. See my other posts on increasing structure and reflection on the process.

In September we start with the only structured part of the day being short input for English or Maths in the morning and another short input of the other in the afternoon. So that means English and Maths are our focus. Also we have a phonics session in small groups at 11.30- 12pm. See my post on phonics groups.

Continue reading “Year 1 Timetables- What does it look like ?”

Helicopter stories and T4W- helping EAL and SEND children have a voice

Last week I actually cried while a children told their ‘public’ story. We have been experimenting with the ‘Talk for writing’ process alongside the helicopter – story telling approach.

A child who has significant speech and language barriers to learning ,stood up and offered to tell us his story. His last story was 4 lines long and very simple ( but still powerful) . But during this session I couldn’t keep up with the story he had so much to say. He retold the Jack and the Beanstalk traditional tale with enthusiasm;he used powerful verbs, conjunctions and precise nouns. Continue reading “Helicopter stories and T4W- helping EAL and SEND children have a voice”

The move to more structure – reflection

Which way to go?

So we are coming to the end of the first half term where we have begun to add  more structure to the  day. We currently teach English and maths in the morning and we are continuing with our playful learning in the afternoons.

The children have quickly and easily adapted to the more formal approach they definitely are able to sit at tables and work independently if necessary .

However I haven’t adapted as easily… I really miss the one to one contact with every child every day that I was experiencing. Although I can see their work when I mark it later or give feedback on the day it’s just not the same quality as being there when it was created. Asking those questions that push the learning further or offering support at just the right moment.

It’s easier on me to work with a formal structure I’m no where near as exhausted at the end of the day but that’s a price I’m happy to pay if the quality of the learning is stronger.

I will continue to review my practice and discuss it later with SLT . We are all always learning !

Phonics- to group or not to group ?

This year we have experimented with a different approach to our phonics groups. Following research into mixed ability groups being an effect way of supporting all abilities, we decided to try it in the first term.

The children entered Year 1 with only 31% of children coming into Year 1 at the expected level for phonics.  (17 children were currently on track  41 not on track at the start of the year.)

Our target to achieve by June is the national average last year of 81% .

79 % if we are looking at Norfolk.

It meant that out of 58 pupils to achieve that ,we need 47 to pass . Which in turn means we need to get 30 children who are below, to get expected by June.

So what did we do?

So we looked at the children and following our phonics checks we identified the children working at the expected level and we grouped them to work through the sounds at the prescribed rate following Letters and sounds ( Phase 5 .)

The other children rather than ability grouping we mixed them into smaller groups of 12 pupils with levels ranging from phase 2 to 4.


We have organised our phonics timetable so that all the groups are taught by everyone over the week meaning that the groups are taught by teachers for 2 sessions and TA’s  for 2 sessions. It also means that as a teacher I see all pupils over the week and I can see their progress or areas for development which in turn helps with planning.

We have a whole class session on a Tuesday .

We reviewed the process at Christmas and when we did our phonics check we saw accelerated progress with a number of pupils.


I believe by giving all pupils quality first teaching and allowing all pupils access to the full range of sounds, children have had the opportunity to make good progress. Some children who still can’t remember all the phase 3 phonemes have learnt some of the phase 5 ones. The groups are also smaller as they are evenly split into 5 groups.

On top of this we have had in class interventions for those children still working at phase 1/2.

Results so far !

Data Analysis Spring 2018: Started the year with only 31% on to pass.

Certain Pass rate – 64%

Possible passes – 14%

Joint predicted pass rate – 78%  (1% off the Norfolk pass rate)

Other factors that affect our results

Unfortunately due to the transient nature of our year group we have a large change around of children. We have various children from families on short term work visas who have to return to their home countries. ( usually about now before the phonics check!- 3 children have just left all scoring 40 on our last check)

Also social/economic factors lead to changing addresses and children joining us and leaving us  a various points in the year.

So far 7 children left and replaced by 5  more ( 3 spaces to be filled after Easter ) We will see who we get after Easter and work with them where they are ability wise and phonics skill level. I think our way of working makes it as easy as possible for these children to join a group and continue to learn.

Still a while to go but fingers crossed for June !

Timetabling – Increasing structure through the year.

At the start of the year we introduced the children to the enabling environment. We had a good idea of the gaps the children had as they transitioned from EYFS to KS1 . This is by no means down to our wonderful EYFS team – deemed outstanding by ofsted! Probably a lot more to do with the huge difference in curriculum between early years and Year 1 (There is plenty of debate about this in both the educational world and beyond. )Also the starting points for some of our children plays a massive role in their attainment .

However In Year 1 we are  set targets and percentages as are any other year group or school. It’s the world we work in now.But knowing that not all the children were ready to start  Year 1 ‘at expected’ we had areas to develop further.


We have been delighted with the results so far this year , I wont bore you with too much data but we have almost doubled our writing, reading and maths scores. We still don’t make national % levels for age expected yet but when I look at the actually progress the children have made it is astounding.

Time to change

So is it time to change? Despite all our success we are very aware of the pressures of Year 2 and the KS 1 SATs. So we are going to introduce  a more formal morning. This was always the design , as the year progressed to get closer in line with how the children will be taught in Year 2 and KS2.

We are keeping the afternoon Child Led playful learning. Also I am confident that if we see that this new ( well old really) way of working is not getting the results I’ll happily change back!

Next Year

In an ideal world we would continue the learning style into Year 2 but that’s a whole new ball game and area to tackle. Never say never!

Defending your case ! – What to do when you come under-fire…

Just recently I’ve seen ever increasing numbers of people proclaiming that despite enjoying  great success at exploring a more child led approach ,SLT or ‘Advisers’ county or otherwise, have asked for a more formal structure to be reintroduced.

A lot of this follows on from the publication of Bold Beginnings by the government; which unfortunately is being taken out of context by a lot of senior managers.

Bums On Seats

I believe this is due to a lack of understanding about how children learn and also about not knowing what learning can look like. In KS 2 and beyond bums on seats, quiet classrooms have long been held in high regard.

Whilst more recently it has been refreshing to see a more creative back lash : schools including my own, looking into growth mindset and ways of learning collaboratively.

The lessons still look familiar to the observer – Teacher talks ( teaches) – children go to desks – children learn – teacher reviews – end lesson ! Easy peasy to assess . Add in mini plenaries, mixed ability grouping , talk partners, assessment for learning techniques, challenges etc for spice even forest schools once a week !

Observing Free Flow

But what about when the learning is happening without a teacher present in a free flow situation, what if children are in engaged in a variety of different learning opportunities? Am I observing Maths/ English or something else?

What do we look for when a teacher or TA watches and then only questions the child ? They haven’t taught them anything?they are just playing!  How can I tick my boxes?

I believe these are the silent questions whizzing around the heads of the SLT or Observers. I know I was one of them!!

It took time and research for me to understand how powerful a child led approach can be, how important play is to learning, and to let go of complete control!

What to say…

So if asked to change, smile and say

” I can if you want- it would be easier for me to teach that way. A lot less thought and energy has to go into my day. The children’s learning will ‘ look’ a lot more familiar to you. BUT I know the children will make  less progress and learn less for the future. If you’d like me to continue to narrow the gap in children’s learning and meet their individual needs let me teach you about how children are learning and what to look out for …”

I know there are loads of wonderful leaders out there who already value the creativity and experience of their teams but if that’s not your experience at the moment hold on to what you know to be right and teach them!

In summary

  • Do your research- be ready with counter arguments.
  • Understand where they are coming from and help them understand what the learning looks like.
  • Be passionate , be resilient .

Remember :

“If you are not being challenged you might not be making a difference”

Days of the week

This week  in Year 1 we are exploring time in Maths. So far we have played with the small plastic clocks and played time bingo and ordered our day. Today the children loved making chains with the days of the week on . My year group partner Elin Roberts saw the idea on the web and adapted it. We printed the words in strips on coloured paper . The children had to cut the days of the week out and make a paper chain. They used highlighters to mark Saturday and Sunday. This was a great visual to see how the week starts and finishes, but probably the highlight was singing the days of the week to the Adams family tune.

Check out the link below and enjoy!