Despatches from Birmingham

Written by: HTU | Published:

From inspection survival advice to the curriculum and dyslexia, seasoned Education Show delegate Sal McKeown offers her highlights from last month’s event at Birmingham’s NEC

In Barrow in Furness a group of parents featured on the front page of the local paper after a drugs bust. While it is not a common event, it certainly did not faze Nicky Brewerton. She is headteacher of Ramsden Infant School where the central ethos is about looking after people and making a place for families.

Her school is the meeting place for the Residents’ Association and she has a very close relationship with the parents, especially those who have problems.

Ms Brewerton was one of the speakers at the School Leaders Summit at the Education Show 2013, which ran at the NEC in Birmingham from 14 to 16 March.

The summit, which was put together with support from the National Association of School Business Management (nasbm) and The Key, featured the leaders of outstanding schools who provided some interesting answers on a range of key issues, including the Pupil Premium, closing the achievement gap, developing successful relationships with governing bodies and, of course, Ofsted.


As headteachers shared their experience of the new-look inspections under the latest Ofsted inspection framework, certain key points emerged:

• The quality of teaching is key.
• The story of data must be reflected in the pupils’ work.
• Schools need to show progress and achievement over time, comparing results year-on-year.
• Successful schools will build up a bank of evidence as they go along so they are not under pressure on the day.

Andrew Davis, headteacher at Belvidere Primary School in Shropshire, said: “The relationship is crucial. You have to manage that inspection from the outset. There is no point hiding things because the data will show you up.”

At Ms Brewerton’s school, they had started to examine data and found that children with summer term birthdays were achieving better than those born in the autumn. This ran against national trends and suggested that they had over-compensated for younger children. This was one area of discussion at their inspection.

Pupil Premium

Raising levels of attainment was a central plank of discussions. The Pupil Premium provides extra funding for all pupils who have been eligible for free schools meals in the last six years, children in care and children whose parents are in the armed forces. While schools are free to decide how funding is spent, many were concerned about how they could show value for money.

Heather Mullaney, principal at The Heath School in Runcorn and the executive head of nearby Weston Primary School, is a National Leader of Education. She talked about the importance of showing progress and not just attainment. Pupils in some schools which do well in league tables make little progress.

It is hard to change the culture of a school, especially if it is in an area of economic deprivation but involving parents and raising their aspirations is crucial. Strategies included big family breakfasts, the Children’s University, mentoring, peer tutoring, counsellors, arranging an invigilator so a child can take an exam in their own front room, sending parent-support advisors into homes to collect children or getting them to meet parents in the playground.

One issue is how to extend the family atmosphere into secondary. One proposal saw parents and year 6 children visiting the new secondary school for a treasure hunt so they got a chance to work together and visit all areas of the school.

The curriculum

There are of course to be changes to the curriculum. Graham Pepper, from the Department for Education’s National Curriculum Review, provided the background to the curriculum review. At the time of writing, since the review process started in January 2011, the government has received more than 5,500 responses to its consultation.

The review has focused on benchmarking the expectations of children against the expectations of the most successful nations. In the School Leaders’ Summit, senior managers pointed out that many of these nations eschewed government interventions and gave greater credence to the professional skills of educators.

Elaine Bowen, headteacher of Lightwoods Primary School in the West Midlands, believes creative teaching is key: “If you can replicate good early years practice you can’t go wrong. When you are prepared to take risks the most amazing things happen.”

One cost effective solution at Lightwoods was to appoint a “Creative Support Assistant” so as pupils work on curriculum topics and build their skills they are also engaged creatively. Their poetry and stories for Remembrance Day were recorded in a class book in the form of an enormous poppy. Year 2 working on the Great Fire of London weighed ingredients, baked bread, made model houses and then set fire to them in their own outdoor Forest School. Year 6’s classroom had a wide selection of dead gutted fish to be sketched, weighed and measured, to create date files. One boy used a fishing rod to display his pictures and writing.

A crime scene complete with a (community) police presence, a “forensic” scientist (a science teacher from the local secondary) and a tepee provided the impetus for factual writing, reports and research. Their next project will see a hot air balloon arriving in the grounds and will be the basis for maths and science work.

Achievement for All

Elsewhere, Henry Winkler, aka the Fonz from Happy Days, took time out from touring schools to speak at the show. His talk, Finding Every Child’s Talent – Achievement for All, provided a lively and personal account of his struggles with dyslexia. It was packed with an entertaining mixture of facts and opinions:

• Fifty-three per cent of prisoners are dyslexia – what a waste of talent”
• Children do not wake up determined to be an idiot that day.
• Children don’t have the vote so government doesn’t take them seriously.

Mr Winkler grew up in New York City of German parents and was expected to take over the family business buying and selling wood. While his father spoke 11 languages, Mr Winkler was the “dummer hunt” of the family. He was intimidated by the printed word and did not read until he was in his thirties and was diagnosed with dyslexia. “I used to think that if I sat at a desk long enough I would get it,” he said. “I did four years of geometry but I never got it. And I have never needed to use the word hypotenuse in a sentence.”

Now an actor, director, producer and co-author of the Hank Zipzer series of children’s books based on his own struggles and the bullying he faced at school, he is working with Achievement for All and the weekly children’s publication First News, visiting schools to raise awareness and to help to dispel the stigma surrounding dyslexia and literacy difficulties.

• Sal McKeown is a freelance journalist who specialises in SEN education and ICT.

• Achievement for All:
• The Hank Zipzer series:

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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