Fighting Fit For Fifty

50

I’m on the cusp of fifty and I can’t wait!

I’m absolutely determined to only look at the positives and there are soooo many.

  • I actually made it this far! For some reason I didn’t think I’d be lucky enough to live this long, and many people don’t make it this far, so to reach 50 is pretty fantastic in my opinion.
  • If I live as long as my Grandma W, I won’t even be half way through my life yet, and I feel like I’ve been around for ever – certainly all my life!
  • My children have grown up enough to look after themselves so I don’t need to organise babysitters – hubby and I can just go out on a whim – we can even stay overnight and it doesn’t matter! Social Services will not be called!
  • In fact, my children are so grown up that one is self-propelled and the other will be learning to drive this year, so I don’t even have to rush around taking them everywhere they need to go.
  • Grandchildren! Ah, one of the best reasons for reaching 50. So far I have three little cherubs and they’re fantastic. They pop round, cause absolute chaos for a few hours, give me my weekly fix of kisses and cuddles then they’re gone again. I have a quick tidy up and there’s nothing left to do. I don’t have to wake up in the night with them, change nappies, buy clothes that they constantly grow out of, clean up sick… Grandchildren are bliss without a downside!
  • Spare time! This is a massive change for me. I’ve always been busy rushing around working several jobs, running clubs, studying, volunteering in child related committees, taking my children hither and thither, washing countless clothes, cleaning up and tidying up after the two messiest children in England and now, I have spare time. Hence the writing hobby.
  • I have to admit, the day I turned 40, my body began to crumble a bit. Well forty years of moving joints is bound to take its toll. But, I have 7 months before I turn 50 and I reckon that’s a good target to get my fitness back. I’ve always enjoyed exercise, and now I have spare time so no excuses. I’m determined to be fighting fit for when I turn fifty. In fact, I might even take up Kick Boxing again.
  • Pension … it’s in touching distance. I’m sooo looking forward to retiring so I can spend more time with my grandchildren, writing, exercising, reading, and I’ll be able to have a dog again. Ooh and I fancy doing a house up à la Homes Under the Hammer style.
  • Confidence, ah the older I get, the more confident I become. In my 20s I worried far too much about what other people thought of me. Now – take me as you find me. If you don’t like me, that’s fine, we’re all different, I’ll just move along. What a release that day was when I stopped worrying.
  • What career is waiting for me in my 50s? In my teens I was a student, 20s I was a secretary, 30s I was a childminder, 40s I was an English teacher and a librarian, 50s … who knows? Full time author? I hope so!

So really, I’m not at all worried about reaching half a century. In fact, forget over the hill; I’m over the moon that I’ve made it this far, and I can’t wait to see what the next half a century has in store for me.

 

50

How to set up a school library on little or no budget

I transformed our school library from this:

20150420_091918

To this:

20151016_092256

And you can too!

Our library had four shelves per wall, over three walls, sparsely populated with a few books. Within a year we had three shelves (the top one was pointless – students couldn’t reach it) over four walls plus three mobile bookshelves all absolutely packed with books.

More importantly, we increased library loans by 1,000% Yes one THOUSAND percent!

Before you start, you need to discover the reading age of your students, preferably by a computerised reading test, or at least the old paper version. Work out how many books you need for the amount of students in the school. “The SLA (2015) recommends that secondary-school libraries should have a minimum stock of 10 items per pupil, not including electronic resources or required textbooks.” (The Literacy Trust)

HERE ARE THE TEN THINGS WE DID FOR FREE:

  1. PPG BUDGET Once you know how many books you need, identify the PPG students and apply to the PPG budget for books to cover them. I was surprised how much money I was given for that. Trust me – that money is waiting to be spent. I count it as free as it’s not coming out of the library budget and your school is not trying to find “extra” money.
  2. SECOND HAND BOOKS Next, I put out an appeal via the academy’s social media for good condition second hand books (NEVER say “no” to any books or people will worry about bringing them and making a fool of themselves – any you don’t want, just give to charity). Once the word got around that I was incredibly grateful for every single book I received, far more people came forward with books – including parents, teachers, students and local neighbours. Indeed, they still keep coming in now, four years later!20150603_085723
  3. FREE POSTERS Having removed the top shelf which was full of books that were physically and intellectually out of most KS3 students’ reach, I wanted to fill the space with attractive book-themed posters. I found lots of memes on Facebook, printed them off, mounted and laminated them and they look great!
  4. FORGOTTEN BOOKS After that I went to the English Department and asked if they had any old books that they no longer wanted. You’ll be surprised how many books are hidden gathering dust in English Departments. I think I got over a hundred!
  5. BOOKTRUST Next I applied to BookTrust for their yearly free School Library Pack of books (you have to reapply every year, so keep an eye on their website and pop it in your diary. https://www.booktrust.org.uk/what-we-do/programmes-and-campaigns/school-library-pack/IMG_3015
  6. LITERACY ACROSS THE CURRICULUM BUDGET Then I discovered we had a budget for literacy across the curriculum. Remember literacy is a WHOLE SCHOOL subject, not an English subject. I was only given a small amount, but it didn’t matter, every book was a bonus. I went back to the English Department and they kindly matched it with a small amount from their budget too.
  7. HALF PRICE BOOKS At this point, I still hadn’t used any of my own budget, so I added half my budget to the pot. I soon discovered that there are book companies who provide brand new half price books. Now I admit this did make me feel guilty, as I pride myself in supporting our local bookshops whenever I can, but at this point, we didn’t have enough books for the students and I had to make every penny count.
  8. FREE WORKFORCE I gathered a team of student librarians and we formed a “factory” to label up all the books and put them on the system before placing them on the shelves. I’ve since had parents helping me too – never be afraid to ask for help, it’s amazing who is out there just dying to help you with books!FACTORY 2
  9. FUNDED AUTHOR VISIT With my remaining budget, I was able to fund two author visits. One I paid the full price and the other came partly funded through our public library’s “Crossing The Tees Book Festival”. It’s definitely worth getting in touch with your local public library to find out what free or part-funded events they are running that your school can be a part of. It was at this point I was able to get our local bookshop involved as they supplied the books for the author to sign.
  10. FREE FURNITURE AND GAMES I was donated the cushions from a sofa that a teacher was throwing out, so I made a floor-sofa, and I was donated lots of board games from a variety of sources. I also found some in charity shops.

FUND RAISING In addition, myself and the student librarians now have a fund-raising pattern. We sell hot chocolates and cookies one Thursday evening each February and usually raise enough money to buy the shortlisted Carnegie books (£50-£80), we make bookish crafts to sell at the Christmas Fayre (£40-£70) and more recently, we’ve stopped giving the books we don’t want to charity, and started selling them for 50p each at the Christmas Fayre (£30). We’re hoping our academy is going to start a Summer Fayre for us to raise more money. We have just held our first Half Price Scholastic Book Fayre and were able to take £252 in books as commission! Children who lose or destroy books are asked to donate towards the replacement. It is not forced, only requested, but parents are very supportive, usually giving £5 per lost book.

So, there you have it. The library which was once really a meeting room with some books on display has become a thriving library, packed full of books and, importantly, students. So much so that I have students queuing outside to come in. Of course, now I need a bigger library…

Top Tip: Whenever someone says there’s nothing in the budget, ask them “which budget?” and carry on regardless!

 

Blog From The Dog

1073217_10201219747918426_162724845_o

As you all know, the human who usually writes these blogs belongs to me, but today we’ve agreed that I should blog instead. The reason is, that this blog is all about me so for accuracy’s sake, it should come from me – “straight from the dog’s mouth” so to speak!

So I’ll start at the beginning. I struggle with the concept of past, but my human is helping me out. I found it quite easy to choose my human family. The Hairy Human came to the farm and looked at us pups. I liked the look of him, he was very calm and laid back which to us dogs, means easy to wrap around our little paw. So I marched straight over to him and placed my paw on his foot. He picked me up and took me home the same day!

I thought I was going to be in for a relaxing peaceful life with this new-age, short-haired, hairy hippy. I had absolutely no idea that the rest of his family would be nothing like him – I got placed in a manic household with so many kids coming and going it was confusing, yet invigorating and exciting. You see what I’d been hiding from the Hairy Human, is that I’m manic too! So I was just added to the heap of children and we all played manically together. It turns out only two of the children belonged to the Hairy Human and his wife, (The Happy Human), the rest were all borrowed and would go home to their own families each night. Me being special though, I stayed with the Hairy Human’s family all the time.

I soon found how to make the little humans laugh, I would stretch my front legs flat on the floor with my chin between them and shake my bum or I’d lick fresh snot from the baby’s nose, they even found it funny when I’d lie across all the toys they were trying to play with.

The original plan had been that I would live outside in the garden. The Happy Human thought that’s where dogs live! Obviously, I had a lot of training to deliver. I just stared and stared at her through the glass door, making her feel guilty to enter the kitchen, so she relented and said I could come into the kitchen on cold or wet days and put me a little bed down. I refused to lie on the bed and laid on the cold hard floor instead, whilst making little whimpering noises and putting my head on one side with my ears up (my mum taught me that). She decided I could lie on the living room carpet, but only while she was there. I let her think she’d won and accepted this for a day or two, then when she was sitting on the sofa one day, I sprang up next to her and gave her a big lick across the face then cuddled myself across her legs. She gave in straight away. I’d won. She was so easy to train. Good girl!

IMG_2422

Once I’d had all my special puppy visits to The Vet I went for my first ever walk in the park. I had a complete sensory overload, I just wanted to see and sniff and touch and taste everything. Apparently licking poo as it’s coming out of another dog’s bottom is a definite no-no and I was never allowed to do that again!

Luckily, they kept taking me for walks, in fact there’s never been a single day that I haven’t been taken out – even when I didn’t want to go. Have you tried pooing wearing a rain-coat? It’s awkward and undignified. My humans take me everywhere with them, we go to parks, rivers, moors, beaches. I’ve even been on holidays with them in caravans. When they holiday abroad, I go on holiday to the Hairy Human’s parents. They are my favourite Old Humans. They feed me crisps and biscuits and cakes. Every time I come home, my humans have to give me extra-long walks to work the extra weight off which is just another bonus to me!

One of my favourite things is when anyone comes home from The Outside. They laugh at my excitement and say things like “We’ve only been five minutes” but I have no idea what these mysterious “minutes” are so it makes no difference to me. I just love to see them come back to me. They always come back no matter what, because I’m irresistible you see!

11141215_10152763913606680_2185716063503634093_n

Another favourite thing of mine is Dog Agility. Can you believe, until we started doing Dog Agility, my human didn’t even realise how clever I was! She’d spent years trying to teach me to walk to heel and shut the living room door and thought my lack of progress was down to my intelligence! How silly – didn’t she realise I trained her to walk faster and close the door for me?

A few years ago, I stopped enjoying Dog Agility which is unusual for me because I love EVERYTHING! It wasn’t that I stopped loving it, but it had just become too painful for me. I’d always had pain for as long as I could remember, but as I’m a Labrador, I’m tough and never told anyone. When it became too bad, I started to feel miserable so my human took me to the The Vet (we dogs know him as The Interpretor) and he explained to her that I had arthritis and my Agility days were over. This didn’t bother me at all, because I was given special medicine to make the pain go away and I was given longer walks, swimming and even more cuddles. I loved arthritis!

Another of my favourite things is visiting The Vet. I always get lots of attention there and sometimes I’m given a special sleep which I love. Just a word of warning though – one time when I woke up, they’d pinched two of my teeth, so keep an eye on them. The most recent time I went to The Vet, was the day I woke up feeling the most poorly I have ever felt. I didn’t even want to go for a walk, in fact I couldn’t stand up properly. The Hairy Human, the Happy Human and the Funny Human all started crying and making such a fuss! I was almost happy to be so poorly because they were all cuddling me at the same time. I get lots of cuddles but usually only one human at a time. To have all three was lovely, I just wish I felt well enough to appreciate it. They took me to The Vet who spoke very kindly to me and he did all kinds of tests, then all three humans cuddled me again as he put something cold into my leg. It made me very sleepy and as my humans’ tears fell on me, I started to dream. I saw the most beautiful bridge sparkling over water. The sun was shining off it and making beautiful rainbow colours. All my pain drifted away and I was able to run towards the bridge. As I crossed over I saw lots of other dogs on the other side, all running around in the sun and having fun.

It’s strange, I thought I’d miss my humans, but because I have no concept of time, I’m happy to play while I wait for them. I know that they will be with me again and the other dogs have told me that I will know when that time has come. In the meantime, I am completely pain free and having so much fun. My only worry is that there is nobody to lick my humans’ tears and comfort them. I hope they find a doggy who needs them as much as they need him and they can share all their love until it’s time to play with me again.

20150801_130048

How to Plan Your School Author Visit

If you work in a school and intend to host an author visit, I recommend you read through this blog carefully. If you’re not, I recommend you don’t read it at all – this really is an example of writing to inform and not writing to entertain!

Every year I book three authors to visit our school. Our Patron of Reading always visits our Year 7s then I choose a different author each year to visit our Year 8s and finally we are “given” an author at discount price through the “Crossing the Tees Book Festival” for our Year 9s. I was pretty daunted the first time I had to organise a visit; worried sick I’d forget something important. Having done it several times, I thought I’d set out everything I do here so you can use it as a starting point for your author visits 😊 This list is pretty intense although not exhaustive. However, most of the jobs are just little jobs and don’t take long to do. It’s more a case of making sure you don’t miss any of them out, so tick them off as you go!

author

  1. PERMISSION FOR THE EVENT: Win over your Head Teacher. If you’re lucky like us, your Head Teacher will totally understand the qualitative value of having a visiting author and you can skip to 2). However, if your Head Teacher needs educating about the magic of visiting authors, I will be doing a separate blog on that shortly.
  2. CHOOSE AN AUTHOR: Do your research. It’s not enough that the author is an amazing writer and has single-handedly turned Dave Smith’s reluctant reading boy into a book-devouring monster. Can the author hold an audience? If the students aren’t engaged, they won’t receive the message. Sorry, but it’s true – your author also needs to be an entertainer. Ask English teachers and librarians from local schools for recommendations. Ask Facebook and Twitter. When you think you have the right one, read one of their books.
  3. CHOOSE A DATE carefully, you need to make sure that it’s not school Exams month, Sports week, Injections day or anything else that will get in the way. When we have an author for a whole year group, we try to choose a day and period when the whole year group are having English at the same time to avoid disturbing other subjects. This isn’t always possible in very large schools, but you can still go for majority in English to keep disruption to a minimum.
  4. OFFICIAL PERMISSION: Put in an event request (ours is online through our Intranet).
  5. COST: Confirm price with your chosen author and put in a purchase order request to your Finance Department. Currently in the UK the price seems to be £450-£500 for an author to give a whole year presentation followed by two workshops of about twenty students in each. I always add on the cost of two or three books for the library as well. Some charge travel and accommodation on top of this in which case it’s often worth getting in touch with local schools to book for the following day and halve the travel and accommodation costs between you. If you think your school cannot afford this, don’t worry – I will be blogging some top tips very soon. There IS money, it’s just knowing how to get your hands on it!
  6. ROOM BOOKINGS: Book the hall/sports hall wherever you’re having the presentation and notify the PE department (if they normally use it). Also book a really nice room for the two workshops.
  7. IT: Check with the author whether they need a laptop, speakers, over-head projector, microphone, headset, etcetera. If they’re bringing a presentation on a USB they will probably need to come early enough for it to be checked for viruses by the IT team. Book any equipment necessary. Most music or drama departments have microphones with amps.
  8. SITE TEAM/CLEANERS: Notify the site team about the room you are using – will they need to set the chairs out for you? Will the cleaners be required before/after the event? If like us, your Main Hall is also your Dining Hall, do they need to be in to set up for lunch?
  9. WORKSHOP STUDENTS: Select the two sets of twenty students who will be doing the workshop. Different authors offer different workshops and this will affect your choice of students. The presentation should have done the inspiring part, so now you need to decide which students you want. For example, you may be selecting PPG only (if that’s how the visit is being funded), More Able, weaker students, students who are already interested in writing, etcetera. You could even run a competition for the chance to work with the author.
  10. INFORM TEACHERS (WORKSHOPS): Give advanced notice to all the teachers affected by the students going to workshops and check that this doesn’t cause a problem. Also diarise a reminder for the teachers the week before and again the day before and finally on the morning of the event. Notify them by email, briefing, and bulletin.
  11. REGISTER Copy the list of workshop students to the Attendance Officer and ask for a tag to be put on the students’ names on SIMS so the classroom teacher remembers why they’re not there, or if the students forget and turn up, the teachers can send them to the workshop. Also keep a copy of the register for you, so you can take a paper register at the workshop. Make sure you have a runner who can take the register to the Attendance Officer on the day as you cannot leave a visitor unsupervised with students.
  12. INFORM TEACHERS (MAIN PRESENTATION): Give advanced notice to all teachers who will be affected by the whole year presentation. Explain that as it is during their lesson, they will need to take the register then accompany the children to the Hall and MUST remain with them for the duration of the presentation. This is REALLY important otherwise you may find yourself in charge of 300 students on your own! You must give them chance to contact you in the case of a problem – such as a planned assessment you were unaware of. Also diarise a reminder for the teachers the week before and again the day before and finally on the morning of the event. Notify them by email, briefing, and bulletin.
  13. LETTERS HOME: Send letters home to students’ parents/carers about the event, let them know how exciting and inspiring it is to have an author visit. Most authors have something on their website you can use to help show just how amazing they are. Indeed, some authors even have draft letters you can adapt. Make sure you mention on the letter that students can buy signed books and inform them how they can do this.
  14. PARENT PAY: If you are using Parent Pay for students to contribute towards the visit or to buy books, make sure you set this up in plenty of time and make sure the wording is very clear.
  15. ADVERTS: Prepare adverts to create a buzz about the impending visit. Share adverts as posters around school, in tutor trays, on plasma screens, on school’s social media and in particular get the English teachers on board to promote it. Share your adverts with them to make it easy for them as they’re very busy people! Some authors will have ready prepared PDFs you can use for advertising so check their websites.
  16. PHOTOS: Arrange to borrow the school camera for the event. For the presentation take backs of heads shots with just the author’s face showing (no students’ faces). For the workshops, check on SIMS and make a note of anyone who does not have permission to be photographed for the website.
  17. COVER: Organise cover for yourself and another member of staff for any lessons and duties you’ll be missing whilst shepherding the author and students around the school. Inform the person in charge of cover and send a reminder to all a week before, again the day before and finally on the morning of the event.
  18. LUNCH for the author: where will they eat, what will you provide, who will they eat with? We invite the author to spend lunch with our student librarians as a special privileged treat after all the hard work they put in week in and week out. Students bring their own lunch, but I always bring some cake to help make it feel more special.
  19. BOOK SIGNINGS: where and when? Do you want your author signing books during break, lunch, after school? Who is providing the books? Some authors bring their own, but if not, you may need to ask a local bookshop to provide some on a sale or return basis. Who will be taking the money? Have you got a float if necessary? Do you know what price the author/bookshop is selling for?
  20. THE DAY BEFORE: As well as the regular reminders to the teachers, it’s also worth texting/emailing parents/carers to remind them about the event and that their child will have the opportunity to buy a signed book.
  21. AFTER THE EVENT, thank the author and send reports to those you need to send reports to about the success of the event. Create a write-up for the school website and link to the author on social media. Go home. Put your feet up. Pour a large glass of wine!

This does seem a lot and it is, but it is a lot of little jobs. The day will be exhausting, but worth all the sweat and tears. To hear the excited chatter of students about the author and the books on the day and hear the continued rhetoric around books days later is wonderful. Anyone who can inspire students to read is welcome in our school!

 

* Disclaimer: Always check with your school in case there is anything else that they need you to do and add it to your list.

Ban the Baccalaureate!

future

Daniel* more than just enjoys his education – he loves it! His mum doesn’t have to drag him out of bed on a morning, she doesn’t have to threaten or bribe him. She gently wakes him, then pops off to work, knowing that he’ll get himself safely there. Too perfect to be true?

This wasn’t the case for the first 14 years of his education. Far from it! He never liked school, always made excuses trying to get a day off here and there, lied about how much homework he had and how much trouble he was in. That sounds more like it!

So what’s changed?

He’s left school and started college.

Despite being academically intelligent, Daniel preferred practical subjects. His favourite subject at school was design technology. As he was an A* student, he was forced to drop DT and take a modern foreign language as one of his “choices” even though he hated MFL. He was also forced to “choose” between history or geography, despite wanting to take drama. His only pleasure was PE, one lesson per week. Imagine hating 24 out of 25 lessons! This is reality for far too many children now. Their Year 9 “Options” are actually Year 9 “Directions” and not necessarily the right directions!

Now Daniel’s left school, he’s training to be a car mechanic. NOW he’s happy. None of the subjects he was forced to take were of any use to get him on his Mechanic’s course and he never wants to study for a degree because education is forever tarnished for him. He’s not the only one…

At Secondary School, students are being pushed down an ever-narrowing academic route, especially since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate. Some schools are in such a panic about OFSTED grading them “Inadequate” and forcing a government academy on them, that they are panic cramming more and more English, maths and science down unwilling throats and removing creative subjects such as art, drama and music.

Have we forgotten “less is more”? Have we forgotten that everyone excels in things they enjoy and enjoy things in which they excel? We need to broaden the curriculum not narrow it. Our children do NOT need a degree in an academic subject to be successful!!!

First of all, define success! Success is NOT money in the bank. Success is happiness. Who are the happiest people? Hairdressers, plumbers and interior decorators are among the top ranking most happy people. Not doctors, head teachers or bank managers.

The solution is simple – ban the Baccalaureate! If a student wishes to take maths, English, science, MFL and history or geography, that’s up to them. But it should be their choice to take it just as much as it should be another students’ choice not to take it. It is criminal that so many students’ happiness is cast aside for some crack-pot idea a random politician once dreamed up just to show that he’d done something!

What if the next politician comes along and creates the Arts Baccalaureate? Every student must take GCSEs in art, music, drama, dance and photography. People would be disgusted:

“But my child wants to be a doctor, he can’t be a doctor if he’s not allowed to choose Biology!”

“I’m terribly sorry (not sorry), but I have invented the Arts Baccalaureate and you simply must comply.”

If we are living in a free country, why are our students not free to make their own choices in what they study? Why are schools not free to offer the courses that they know their students want?

No wonder there is a teenage mental-health crisis. As Einstein famously said, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid!”

There are many different types of intelligence. The main ones are emotional, musical, verbal/linguistic, logic/mathematical, kinaesthetic/body, interpersonal, intrapersonal. In the past students with great athletic ability have been proud of their skills but now their triumph is overshadowed if they cannot also excel in English. Likewise, students who can play the most beautiful music, have this success over-shadowed if they cannot show top results in maths. This has to stop. Students’ successes should be celebrated and they should be encouraged to pursue the subjects and careers that suit them as an individual. Let them be who they want to be, not who one grey faceless politician says they should be.

There’s a popular hashtag #letourkidsbekids which fights against excessive testing and homework. It might not be as catchy, but I propose the hashtag #letourkidsgrowintohappyadults!

You want world peace? Fill the world with happy people!

*name changed