I do enjoy my annual visit to watch our choir and band perform at the Southport Music Festival. It is a quintessentially English affair in the Baptist Church with tea, biscuits and lashings of eccentricity. The choir sang beautifully and the band’s eclectic mix of ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘I heard it through the grapevine’ competed with the fiddlers of the Southport String Ensemble. You can’t beat live music and you can’t beat the enthusiasm of young people, their parents and our music teachers sacrificing their Friday night [especially the one before a half-term holiday].
The festival itself has a personal link for my family; 60 plus years ago, my dad took the steam train down from Manchester to sing as a boy soprano at the festival and was awarded first prize. It was a great achievement for a working class boy to mix with the musical elite in the Southport, Crosby and Alderley Edge music festivals, huge events in post war Britain and to win them all! He was born just before the war began and he belongs to a world that many have now forgotten. Walking across the road to school, he was accompanied by Billy, the Manchester terrier, who slept underneath his desk and obviously inspired him to become the only boy in his year to pass his 11+ and achieve his scholarship to the boy’s grammar school. He excelled there, passing his exams and making the most of the opportunities his teachers afforded him on the rugby field, athletics track and of course, the Gilbert and Sullivan musicals! His father, a miner, died when he was 13 of TB, and his mum, crippled with polio struggled to support her family but my dad aspired to study economics and to teach and raised the necessary funds by working by day and supplementing his cash with night club singing and soccer expenses. Married at 18 with a very handsome baby boy, times weren’t always rock ‘n’ roll for the young couple but they coped and he became a teacher at a secondary modern school in Ashton-u-lyne [where Mrs Gaskell went, a little later!].
Why am I relating such a personal tale on our school blog-I’ll come clean! Students and staff have been asked to nominate their heroes for November 1st and I’m sneaking mine in first! I followed my ‘hero’ into teaching and to say that my dad loved his job would be a gross understatement-he was a truly vocational teacher, never interested in promotion or leadership, simply happiest giving his own time to coach his school soccer and athletic teams, running Stockport Boys U19’s and imbuing the boys with a love of the outdoors at the annual year 7 camp at Edale. My personal hero and my teaching inspiration!
Our staff-room notice board has the names of staff and students who we have nominated from our own school and Miss Heaton nominated all of her staff. And why not! They also give so much of their own time freely and during the week before the holiday and during it, I spotted after school revision, after school clubs, sporting fixtures, bag-packing to raise money for the Berlin trip, the music festival, holiday catch-ups and when I was in my office on the first Monday of the holiday, I had a phone call from a colleague working on their subject review, an email message from a teacher planning lessons and discussing a resource I had sent round and saw loads of young scientists arriving for their holiday science lessons.
Dedicated teachers aren’t of course unique to Meols Cop. I know many parents enjoy ‘Educating Yorkshire’ and who couldn’t have been moved by the efforts their teachers were putting in on behalf of often recalcitrant students and in the final episode when the young lad who stammered, was supported in finding his voice. Moving stuff and typical of many schools and many teachers and support staff who are not bound by set hours and days. Super teachers go beyond planning lessons and teaching them and the vocational teacher of Mr Chips, Dead Poet’s Society and my Dad, still exists and is prevalent at most schools, despite what you may read in some papers!
Having sung the praise of teachers why then is there a concern that schools often fail their students? It would be easy to say [and true] that the curriculum doesn’t always fit everyone but despite there being a wealth of research and ideas about what constitutes desirable teaching and structures and systems needed to support great learning; students still don’t always engage with their teachers and their learning doesn’t make the progress that it should. Mr Gove has been critical of universities and academics for not making their research relevant enough to capture the minds of teachers and to support their use of it in delivering better teaching. To be honest, teachers are often sceptical of the work of ‘academics’ who they see as being far removed from the realities of the classroom but the universities are experts at helping teachers consider the best research methods-a bit of give and take on both sides is needed and we need to open our eyes far more to the real benefits appropriate and focused research can bring to schools.
We work well with Edge Hill but Mr Gove and other national reports/research are currently pushing schools to become far more involved in their own research on a micro scale. Meols Cop teachers will try out new ideas-they are bombarded with them-but there is often too little time for us to stop and consider how much impact on learning our tactics are having. If our teaching methods aren’t working-we shouldn’t use them and should work out which methods are the best for supporting individual learners, specific cohorts of learners and different classes. This term each teacher has been asked to consider undertaking a small piece of measurable research on one aspect of their teaching whilst a group of 12 teachers will begin a deeper piece of collaborative research in conjunction with the National Teacher Enquiry Network. On Tuesday we will begin our first sessions and colleagues will be paired up to plan an enquiry question for one of their classes, decide on how they can measure if their chosen teaching strategy has had an impact on learning, will plan a lesson together and will then observe and support each other teaching the lesson.
The research then will continue on Wednesday, after school when volunteers will look at a couple of chapters of a key educational book and one blog and discuss together the messages that the ideas can have for our learning and teaching at Meols Cop. There is a so much available from across the world for us to learn from-my holiday reading has been ‘Leverage Leadership’, an account of school leadership from the USA and ‘Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn’ by two Australian educational researchers. We MUST provide the very best learning for our students and accept the fact that to seek the best means looking in far more detail at our own practice and opening our minds to what the rest of the schools and academic research in the whole world can teach Meols Cop. Bring it on!