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Talking Shop;Problems

Former headteacher Sue Mulvany gets to the heart of issues that concern you problems

Q I have a nine-year-old pupil whose parents are going through a bad separation. We never know who, if anyone, will collect him after school. On more than one occasion both parents have arrived and the atmosphere has been very tense. Although the child is coping reasonably well, things deteriorate as the afternoon goes on. The end of the day, which used to be a calm review of work, is now fraught because of his apprehension and bad behaviour. What can I do?

A Children often act out any conflict in the home and can extend it by exercising power over others because they feel helpless themselves. In severe cases they can inflict real pain. It's as though they can't help it. If this is allowed to go on everyone will suffer.

You've made a good start. You already understand why the boy is acting as he is, and have identified some behaviour patterns. Now the job is to stop the unacceptable behaviour of the parents in not working for the best interests of their son and his class. Ask the headteacher to work out a school pick-up rota with the parents, but remember, you are not a social worker. As for his behaviour in class, try reorganising the final session so the boy is active in a small group, or reading with a helper, rather than being passive in the large group.

The most important thing is to talk to the child, acknowledge his feelings, reassure him, let him know that he is not alone.

Q I've just started my first teaching job and several girls in my Year 6 class have asked me if they can play football and rugby and form a team. I'm not a PE specialist, but I'm interested. What is the best way forward?

A You need to go through your ideas with the school's subject leader, but do some research first. Find out what is happening in your group of schools or education authority. Also, contact your advisory service and see if there are any initiatives you can tap into. Get an idea of your own training needs and develop a simple scheme of work to improve pupil skills. Your plans need to take account of the school's PE curriculum, either by weaving it into planned time or offering your scheme as an extra-curricular activity.

One of the hardest things will be to decide whether to run a team of boys and girls or a separate girls' team. However, the principle of providing the chance for individuals to contribute fully for the good of the team within a broad band of similar competence should be your guide.

Q We are due to be inspected, although it is barely 18 months since Ofsted last paid us a visit. The thought of having to prepare all that paperwork again, to say nothing of the extra stress on staff, is too much. Our first inspection judged us to be satisfactory or good in most things. We had no serious weaknesses, so what will inspectors be looking for now?

A In a word, "progress". If by paperwork you mean policies and schemes of work, I wouldn't worry. The ones you have should do, with amendments from the normal annual reviews. The trick is to spread the reviews so as not to overload the calendar or staff. If there were omissions in documentation at the last inspection and the school can prove progress in plugging the gaps, that's fine, but it is not the most important thing.

Of far more importance is the progress pupils have made, especially in literacy, numeracy and other core subjects. The school will be in a strong position if it can show that its internal monitoring of pupil achievements has been regular and relates closely to the targets in the school's development or action plan. Periodic evaluations should take place and the findings shared with staff, governors and - where appropriate- pupils and parents. If there are any dips or peaks in trends, make sure they are analysed and everyone understands them. Be sure everyone knows what attempts have been made to improve the effectiveness of teaching. This is the bedrock from which all improvements stem.

Inspectors have been told that visits should take account of the new "slimmed-down" curriculum. This requires a broad and balanced programme, but does not require schools to cover the Orders in detail.

From September, inspections must also take account of any curriculum changes and the school's response to the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy. Ofsted's revised Making the Most of Inspection will be published this summer.

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