I have been postponing my first proper bike ride, just going round the village so far. I considered cycling in to the school this morning, but Dilly phoned me before I was ready to leave and by the time we’d finished our talk, it was too late to put on my face in time to bike. I wasn’t sorry to have an excuse – I’m still feeling a bit wary of going uphill – though at least walking it wouldn’t be an painful effort as it had been of late.
Only a dozen or so children turned up for music because of House matches, and it wasn’t worth starting the next composing project with half the class, so the teacher decided to do something else, and I was not needed. So I ambled off to find the Head’s PA, she being the one dealing with my CRB check. She was with the Head, so I waited, and some of my friends from Learning Support were in the library, so I said hello and it turned out that children were due to come over from 9 of our local primary schools for a science project that the high school had taken out to them. I asked if I could come and have a look, so that took care of my morning.
I popped back to deal with the form, and it transpired, after all my looking up, that I’d forgotten to actually fill in my NI number, which proves what an idiot I am. However, I’m a lazy idiot, which was useful, as I hadn’t bothered to put all the papers away, so I was able to phone the Sage, tell him exactly where to look and get him to read it out to me.
The primary school children had been given the task of experimenting with the growing of mung beans and recording the process and their findings. It was interesting to see how each school had approached it. The former head of chemistry, who retired early some years ago to do good works, does a bit of filling in some times and, as he has a great rapport with people of all ages, does some link work between the primaries and secondary school, and he had introduced the task and then left the schools to get on with it. The present head of science was judging the entries (there was a cash prize to the winning school) and I didn’t envy him the job at all. Anyway, there were some lovely children, many of whom were keen to explain their experiments and findings to each of us who went to look. Some schools had taken it beyond science – one group had written a humorous song, another had written limericks, another had gone into Chinese culture and food and another had gone into growing conditions in countries where the beans are cultivated. Another had made food pictures as part of an art lesson on Arcimboldo. And the treatment of the beans varied too – some had tried growing them in different liquids or temperatures or light versus dark, and the recording varied from pages of writing to drawings to graphs and even beads threaded with white wool to show how much the roots grew in different conditions. Most schools had just used liquids but a couple used earth too, and one group had grown plants a couple of inches tall which they intended to grow on – they said they had previously grown chickpeas and got a small crop off them. All very hard to choose a winner from, and in the end he gave two second prizes too.
Dilly’s phone call had been because she’d been asked to go into school this afternoon to discuss some one-to-one tutoring. You may have caught, in the Budget, that the Chancellor talked about an initiative of intensive teaching of Maths and English to individual pupils who are falling behind, with the idea that this will help them catch up and then maintain their progress. I am not knocking this idea at all (the village school has been doing it for several years with judicious use of excellent teaching assistants) but, as so often, it’s been hurried out without being thought through and the schools aren’t finding it easy to implement. The main problem is, who is to do it? The rules say it has to be a qualified teacher. Again, I’m not knocking that, but who are they? Most teachers are teaching. There aren’t that many of them who want very part-time temporary jobs. The next problem is when? Either you take the pupils out of a lesson or you do it after school. If a student is struggling to keep up, taking him (or her, can we take that as read?) out of, for example, a History lesson to do extra Maths is going to make him start to fall behind in History too. And many of our pupils go home by bus, and there are only late buses twice a week and that only allows an hour’s after-school tuition per teacher. Not many full-time teachers want to moonlight – all the good ones are willing to give extra help to any students who ask for it and there are sessions after school for many of them, especially at this time of year with exams looming.
Anyway, Dilly had a chat with the Assistant Head and, subsequently, with the Head of Maths at her previous school, and has since had a few ideas of her own to email to the Assistant Head which might help. She would quite like to do the job, but one hour at a time at 3.30 is barely worth her time – she’s got more work on than she needs already, including the voluntary classroom work she’s doing at the village school. She’s finding working with young children very interesting, seeing how the foundations of maths work are laid and absorbed. She has yet to decide what area she wants to work in when she returns from the time off she isn’t really taking. At present, she’s doing private tutoring for various key stages, doing maths workshops in the holidays at the library and doing some voluntary work at the village school, with an after-school (paid) maths club in preparation, as well as the prospect of the school one-to-one work. She enjoys all of it, but each needs its own preparation and planning and it’s all too much overall for the long term. She’s going to have to choose, I think.