Saturday, 30 January 2021

Book Review: A Vanishing of Griffins by S.A. Patrick

I have a habit of reading several books at the same time. Each of the books that I'm reading simultaneously are of a different genre so there is no confusing of plots - in fact, most of the time I only have one fiction book on the go. I think it is a very good habit. It allows me to pick and choose a book that suits my mood and, more importantly the time time of day: if I read heavy non-fiction before bed then my sleep is very disrupted, for example.

Whilst reading 'A Vanishing of Griffins' I was also reading 'Prisoners of Geography' by Tim Marshall and here's where there are further benefits of reading multiple books concurrently: Tim Marshall's book had caused my mind to think geopolitically, and so, when I picked up a children's magical fantasy book which is ostensibly rooted in a fairy tale, I saw things I wouldn't have otherwise seen.

Indeed, I noticed things about the whole fantasy genre which I'd not really stopped to consider before. Despite knowing, for example, that JRR Tolkien based much of his Middle Earth on Anglo-Saxon Britain (a time when geopolitics were surely everything, that and religiopolitics of course) I hadn't really considered how the wider genre might also represent other examples of geopolitical stories.

'A Vanishing of Griffins' is the second in the Songs of Magic series, the first being 'A Darkness of Dragons'. S.A. Patrick's latest book picks up where the story left off, and thankfully it features a recap of what has happened so far. Patch (a piper who can play magical songs), Barver (a dracogriff) and Wren (a girl cursed into the form of a rat) are in pursuit of the terrible Piper of Hamelyn who is bent on world domination, and will go to any lengths to get it. But the plot, unlike some stories aimed at the Middle Grade age group, is a little more complicated than that.

In fact, there are sub-plots a-plenty, ones which mainly revolve around mysteries that must be solved, people that must be helped and things that must be found in order for the Piper of Hamelyn to finally be found and vanquished. Reminiscent of classics of the genre - The Wizard of Earthsea, Eragon - this is an adventure quest where solutions do not come easily to the protagonists. In fact, they come up against bureaucracy and red tape as often as real-life peace-keeping missions probably do. As they travel through a world caught in the constant flux of war and peace, where power struggles are rife and political and military allegiances can change with the wind, their good vs. evil quest is a perilous and arduous one.

Whilst the backdrop may be political, the strongest theme is true friendship: the sacrifice, the willingness to go to great lengths to help loved ones, the kindness and commitment to anyone who finds themselves in need, particularly the oppressed. Wrapped up in a world of dragons, pirates and magic is an example to all children who, in reality, are growing up in a world just like the one portrayed in 'A Vanishing of Griffins'. Sure, they might not be able to call on magic to save the day, but they should be able to call on friendship.

If you are up for joining the gang on a journey that takes in being fed to a monster by a pirate king, discovering magical texts in a secret underground vault, rescuing the inhabitants of a town under fire, discovering lost relatives and fighting battles against dark forces, then this book is for you. Although, I would strongly recommend that you get hold of book 1 first to really benefit from the whole story (it can be found on my Children's Fiction - Fantasy & Magic list on bookshop.org: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/children-s-fiction-fantasy-magic).

A Vanishing of Griffins by S.A. Patrick is available on bookshop.org and features on my MG Fiction Books January 2021 list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/mg-fiction-books-january-2021

Monday, 25 January 2021

Working Towards a Middle Phase in an All-Through Academy: Potential Logistical Changes for Years 7 and 8

Even though the title of this blog post is super-boring, working in an all-through academy certainly holds interesting and exciting possibilities - one of the main reasons I wanted to join the school a few years ago. 

Over the last year or so I've been able to extend my role as primary deputy and leader of UKS2 (a phase which didn't exist when I joined, with our first year 5 cohort moving up from year 4 the year I started). I've been working with Directors of Learning from the secondary phase to plan and roll out a year 7 and 8 curriculum which takes inspiration from a primary curriculum model which makes explicit links between disciplines - something I really should blog about in more detail at some point.

Now the curriculum is being rolled out, I have had the opportunity to observe it in action, and in doing so have put together further ideas for how years 7 and 8 might be developed in the future to really aid transition between KS2 and KS3. At the moment, these are all at proposal stage whilst we work on possible logistics to make them happen - not all of these ideas may come to fruition.

Many of the proposals that I have shared with the academy's senior leaders are linked to changes that were initially made because of the Covid-19 pandemic but which have gone on to have unforeseen positive consequences. Such proposals I have marked with an asterisk in the following list, although some of them were on my wishlist prior to the pandemic!

In addition to the list below, there is a huge thinkpiece to be done around primary to secondary transition, especially with the removal of SATs and children being in lockdown for the foreseeable future - yet another blog post for another time.

Proposed Developments for years 7 and 8

These proposed developments would be implemented for both year 7 and in year 8 in the 21/22 academic year.

*Children remain in a year group ‘bubble’, in a specific area of the academy, with most lessons taking place in this area of the building. This is to reduce movement around the academy, reduce opportunities to see misbehaviour of other year groups and to reduce their own misbehaviour during transition.

*Children take the majority of their lessons in one classroom (PSHCE, Geography, History, English, Maths). This is to reflect the primary experience of remaining largely in one classroom and developing a familiarity with their surroundings. This classroom will also be where they spend Period 1 (P1). Lessons requiring specialist rooms and equipment will be taken in the relevant rooms e.g. music, drama, dance, PE, DT, art, science (where necessary). This is to ensure lessons in each subject can be taught properly, but also so that children do begin to experience transitioning around the secondary part of the academy.

Classroom environments developed to reflect learning across the linked curriculum e.g. use of working walls and displays and having resources and artefacts available to inspire and support learning. This is to provide visual links and reminders of current and previous learning (for both children and teachers), to celebrate good work and to further replicate the primary experience of working in a classroom environment that is designed to support and aid learning.

Classroom storage utilised to ensure that teachers have what they need to hand without having to transport lots of materials around the academy. This is to ensure teachers have what they need to hand, and so that transitions for teachers are as easy as possible.

Develop how time is spent whilst teachers transition to classrooms e.g. Do Nows for next lesson sent to previous teacher to leave on screen for children to complete in readiness for next lesson. This is to ensure that behaviour remains good during times when teachers are not present in the classroom.

Children have an advisor who also teaches a subject in their year group. This is to develop a core team of familiar staff who are not only available during P1 but who are around the KS3 bubble areas for the majority of the day with the particular purpose of developing strong relationships between children and teachers so that teachers know the children in KS3 extremely well.

Year group teams developed, meaning that particular members of staff teach a KS3 year group for the majority of their time. This is to develop a core team of familiar staff who are around the KS3 bubble areas for the majority of the day with the particular purpose of developing strong relationships between children and teachers so that teachers know the children in KS3 extremely well.

*P1 developed as time spent with advisor with one collective meeting per week during P1. This is to develop relationships between children and a key member of staff in the KS3 teaching team in to ensure that each child has a member of staff who has a holistic understanding of them, including issues relating to their SEMH needs, home circumstances, behaviour and attitude, attendance etc.

P1 time developed to incorporate review/recall from a wider range of curriculum subjects. This is to ensure that children can remember what they have learnt across a range of subjects.

PSHCE/RE curriculum developed to make further curriculum links. This is to provide a curriculum lesson where links across the subjects can explicitly be brought together at the same time as exploring some of the associated wider issues that there is not time for in other lessons.

Leadership and staffing structure of KS3 adapted to include a phase leader and necessary middle leaders to support the day-to-day running of the phase. The leadership structure will take in some aspects of the leadership of UKS2 as well, creating a middle phase. This is again to provide a dedicated team who know the children in KS3 very well in order to safeguard them in all ways as they move from KS2 to KS3.

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing your transition offer either at your primary school or your secondary school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be... A Delivery Guy

I've contemplated writing this blog post multiple times over the last 9 months. The benefit of putting it off until now is that I can pretty much say I've been Delivery Guy in all 4 seasons, such has been the length of this horrible pandemic.

Today I was delivering laptops, but it hasn't always been devices for children who are struggling to access the online portion of our remote learning offer. I've lost count of the number of free school meals I've delivered, whether that was en masse during lockdown (pre-vouchers), or on a more individualised level for those self-isolating throughout the last term. Before that it was printed packs of learning resources when we realised that many of our families weren't able to access our online offer.

But it is never just the delivery. It's the logistics behind it too. 

Way back at the beginning of the year I sent out an online survey to parents asking them about their access to online devices (and also about their need for key worker provision in case of another lockdown). Of course, the online survey didn't fare too well for those who struggle with getting connected so there were plenty of paper copies flying around my kitchen table this week too. 

Once I'd imported (exported?) the Microsoft Forms data into an Excel document and filtered various ways to find out which families needed laptops, and once I'd added in the requests from other families, I had to check that against our list of Pupil Premium children. As I expected, the lists didn't match up - from my survey I could say that many of our PP children already had sufficient access to device, but that other children, for various reasons, did need laptops.

After some ranting and raving about the red tape involved in the government-provided laptops only being available to PP children, my principal helpfully pointed me towards our E-Learning Systems and Media Specialist who this time was doling out our class sets of Chromebooks to aid with remote learning. I sent him my numbers over and by lunchtime I had a stack of laptops checked and ready to go.

Maybe this is my perfectionism kicking in (or lack of smartphone) but I had to create myself some sort of delivery route to make the best use of my time - one Google Maps session later, I had put the local knowledge that I didn't have a year ago to work and had a great journey plan ready. That done I was ready to head off to school to pick up the laptops.

Once there, with requests for laptops continuing to come in left, right and centre, I filled in the serial numbers of the machines on all the necessary paperwork, wrote down usernames and passwords, and Post-It noted each laptop to ensure that I was giving the right one to the right family. With all that done I was ready to leave.

Suffice it to say, there were some very pleased and thankful parents and children this afternoon. The cold weather was infinitely better to work in than the sweltering temperatures of the summer (my normal work wear was not conducive to getting in and out of a car hoying around bags of bread and fruit and the like). After the disappointment of not being able to give government-provided laptops to the children who really needed them, it felt good to be making a step towards getting more children educated during this latest lockdown. Even de-tangling the snaking mass of chargers in the footwell at each stop couldn't break my good mood.

And tomorrow morning I'll go back out to spread more joy, like some kind of out-of-season Santa Claus.