Press Release on PGDE English Recruitment Shortfall 28.09.17

Full text of press release on falling recruitment of English students to ITE English quoted in The Times 29/9/17.

As the subject association for English and Literacy in Scotland, we always want to feel able to encourage new, young, excited, and exciting teachers to join the profession. Teaching is a fantastic job, and (to be a little partial), English teaching even more so. However, there are many issues in the teaching profession which make it unsurprising to hear that recruitment and training of new teachers has fallen below the required level.

Pay Freeze

When compared with other graduate level jobs teaching is at risk of becoming financially unviable. Although undergraduates in Scotland do not pay fees for their education, increasing numbers of prospective teachers are saddled with large debts incurred from maintenance loans or other loans related to their own education. Alongside other changes since 2010, such as the public sector pay freeze, this means that teaching is increasingly unattractive. The EIS has calculated over the last decade that teachers have seen an effective pay cut of 16%.

Career Progression

Similarly, career progression for teachers is limited and unclear. For the thousands of teachers who wish to remain in the classroom, educating young people to the best of their ability, routes for that excellence to be recognised have disappeared in recent years. The removal of Chartered Teacher status, and Assistant PT positions, means that the limited ‘management track’ – taking teachers out of classrooms – has become the only route for career advancement. Teachers are required by the GTCS to take part in continuing professional development (CPD), but then to remain for up to 50 years at exactly the same point in their school’s hierarchy and pay structure.

Curriculum Reforms

Recent reforms to the curriculum have required teachers to undertake huge amounts of retraining, with no extra time provided. Whilst SATE is broadly in agreement with the aims of Curriculum for Excellence, the implementation has not recognised the workload upon individual classroom teachers, who are expected to be increasingly autonomous within their own classrooms. This ‘expanded professionalism’, modelled on the Finnish system, has not been matched by Finnish levels of funding, wages, or full-duration Master’s-level training and education of teachers.

Workload

Teachers in all subjects work incredibly hard, long days, far in excess of the time for which they are contracted. However, it is no secret that English teaching has a particularly high workload. An SQA-examined Higher English class of around 25 students results in a marking burden totalling over 30,000 words for one intake of folio essays. Each of these essays must receive feedback, suggestions given, returned for redrafting, and be given follow-up feedback. This process must be repeated for the second folio essay, and the dozens of essays and practise exercises which students will write while preparing for their examinations. All of this must be completed within the less than 7 hours a week put aside for planning and correction. For a teacher with at least two classes preparing for examinations, as well as junior classes, this is a daunting, draining prospect.

Stress & Work intensity

English asks students to engage critically on individual projects and ideas, with essays on topics ranging from the political effect of Donald Trump, the trials of social media, environmental destruction, teen depression, to self-harm. It is not only the workload, but the feeling that you are not doing justice to the intelligence and needs of your pupils, that can lead to many considering leaving profession even once they have braved the threshold.

Training

There are also questions to be asked of the training process. The postgraduate diploma course (PGDE) is notoriously difficult, with students having to negotiate Master’s-level study with the work of a classroom teacher and, in most cases, a part time job. In their probationary year, new teachers have been asked to shoulder a greater burden to compensate for staff shortages while being under a potentially stressful level of scrutiny; it is important to remember that in its initial conception, probationer teachers were envisaged as supernumerary staff, and given the space to grow and develop supported by a well-staffed department. Having undertaken two such gruelling years, it is unsurprising that many are exhausted early in their careers, and leave the profession so soon. It is vital that ITE as a two-year experience of supported progression is embraced in a more strategic fashion so that the whole process of becoming a teacher is more attractive.

 

Prospective teachers are the best and brightest among us, with a desire to contribute to society. Many are willing to sacrifice much for undertaking this mission. However, they are well aware of these issues, and many will be wondering whether they can really justify those sacrifices to themselves, and their families.  The recent Scottish Government document ‘Education Governance: Next Steps’ is an important development, adding clearer ‘Teaching’ and ‘Senior Specialist’ tracks for professional progression. However implementation of these recommendations seems to be in the distant future.

Literacy and Well-being: some reactions (1)

Laura Jamison is an NQT based at Lochend Community High School in Glasgow. She recently attended the SATE seminar on literacy and well-being presented by Professor Sue Ellis.

As a NQT at the beginning of my school career, the idea of closing the attainment gap in schools is a daunting task which, at times, seems impossible. Professor Sue Ellis highlighted the fact that social class and poverty have the biggest impact on literacy development in Scotland.  She commented that every child comes to school with a virtual backpack filled with experience but only a handful of students get to unpack the bag. This comment really challenged me as I reflected on the content of my classes and realised the importance of trying to make every lesson relevant to every child. This idea seems impossible but Ellis offered some really simple, practical ways to do this and by the end of the seminar I felt more confident in addressing the issue in school.

Professor Ellis emphasised the importance of encouraging students to read, not just for the purpose of closing the gap, but for enjoyment as well. As English teachers it is all too easy to constantly analyse everything we read and ask questions that we already know the answer to. In reality, this takes much of the enjoyment out of the process of reading for many students. Ellis reminded us that reading is an enjoyable task and we should offer students the chance to read texts that they enjoy, whether that’s a guide to fishing or a Steinbeck novel. If students bring prior knowledge to a text they become an ‘insider’ and their motivation to read and learn more is higher. It gives them ownership of their learning and boosts their confidence as they can bring something to the table before even opening the book.

I think that many English teachers would agree that one of the best parts of our job is being able to share literature that we love with students. The seminar reminded me that some students might not appreciate, or be able to relate to, the same texts as I do and it is our job to make sure that every student feels like an ‘insider’ within their own learning.

 

Reflections on the Autism Friendly Classroom (3)

Elaine Cox, Principal Teacher of Support for Learning at Lourdes Secondary School, gives a reaction to the recent Autism Friendly English classroom seminar from Charlene Tait.

As an English teacher and Principal Teacher of Support for Learning, adverts for courses pop into your inbox or newsfeed on a daily basis, but attendance is often prohibited because of cost or availability of tickets or ability to attend due to the timing of the event.  You often have to look at the content of the course/seminar and justify why it would be appropriate for you to attend said event.

So, when a seminar entitled, ‘The Autism Friendly English Classroom’ popped up on my Facebook feed, a seminar costing less than £20.00 which would need no lengthy conversation about class cover, I couldn’t say no.  And to top it off, the speaker was Charlene Tait from Scottish Autism – enough said.

The event itself was really well organised and practical.  Opening with an outline of different complexities associated with autism and narrowing the focus into the classroom and practical approaches, resources and strategies, the seminar provided the right balance of discussion, pedagogy and exemplification to get me thinking about my own practice and the practice of others.

Following Charlene’s advice, I’ve already ordered one of the books she discussed and am in the process of trying to get my hands on the other one.

I’m already looking forward to the next seminar, one focusing on influence of literacy and language acquisition on wellbeing.

 

 

Reflections on the Autism Friendly English Classroom (2)

Linda Harris, educational consultant and former ITE lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, offers her thoughts on Charlene Tait’s recent seminar for SATE.

Charlene Tait, Director of Autism Practice and Research at Scottish Autism, held her audience spellbound in the recent SATE Seminar, ‘The Autism Friendly English Classroom’. Charlene explained that children with autism are as varied in their behaviours and needs as any other learner and that empathy is the foremost requirement of teachers to help minimise the severe stress suffered by those affected.

Autism is a developmental condition that affects behaviours, communication and information processing. Since the presumption of mainstreaming in 2001, there are increasing numbers of these youngsters in mainstream schools and they can appear chameleon-like in that they modify their behaviours to blend in with their peers. However, stimulation overload can overwhelm them and they can opt out of activities or become so overloaded that their behaviour becomes problematic.

The core features are difficulties in social communication and interaction, social imagination and sensory processing. However, with the sensitive awareness of others, along with augmented and supported communication in some cases, they are able to develop and indeed display remarkable cognitive strengths and intense interests. Their restricted social imagination can lead to what appears as rudeness as they attempt to align themselves to societal norms. In their need for predictability, they attempt to exert control over their environment by incorporating routines in their lives. There is also a high incidence of synaesthesia for these individuals so in hearing a sound, they may experience a colour instead.

Teaching these learners is enhanced by concrete explanations and the frequent use of visual aids. Personal writing is the most accessible type of writing for them as they can describe what they have experienced easier than creating another’s experiences. Other helpful, practical suggestions offered by Charlene include deploying some of the visible thinking and visible learning approaches. (See Project Zero here and the work of John Hattie here) Additionally, these children need processing time of approximately 10 seconds, so we need to be prepared to wait for their responses.

This was an extremely enjoyable evening of learning interwoven with anecdotes and laughter. I am looking forward very much to the next seminar.

Reflections on The Autism Friendly English Classroom (1)

Sudipa De, a PGDE student teacher at the University of Strathclyde, reflects on the recent Autism, Friendly Classroom seminar from Charlene Tate of Scottish Autism.

“It’s like we have big secrets: we are in it, they are not!” to quote Charlene Tait from her recent SATE seminar: The Autism Friendly English Classroom. Trying to understand what others mean and how to behave can be bewildering and stressful for autistic children.  The ideas presented in the seminar demonstrated Charlene’s deep understanding of classroom management with an insight to the world of youngsters under the spectrum with Autism.

As prospective English teachers, the most important attribute we should possess towards people with autism is empathy. Autistic students have a very poor sense of themselves, and need a lot of reassurance and confirmation of their performance. It is our responsibility as educators to support them in having a voice and enable these young people through their journey in life.

Qualitative research shows that the developmental profile of children with autism is rather spiky and inconsistent in comparison to their fellow counterparts. This is a human condition which clearly explains their difficulties with understanding receptive language, processing instructions and poor sequential memory. They are easily prone to distractions and have delayed sensory processing and lack skills in perception. Their developmental differences make them think, feel, view and react to the world differently. Their perspective of the world is very honest, consistent and truthful – and sometimes appears to be rude and arrogant to others!  Often autistic pupils are unable to organize or put limits to their own behaviour or acknowledge the rules of the society. To help us understand such complex issues Charlene advises the use of appropriate language.The language used in the playground with peers is different to the language used in class or with family. Similarly, the language we use in a seminar is different to the language we would use with our colleagues in pubs! Autistic pupils are unable to differentiate it. They struggle to adapt or model their actions and communication according to the demands of the situation.

As we are aiming to achieve successful learning experiences within the classroom environment, we need to shift our thinking from behavioural management of autistic children to stress reduction. It may appear on the exterior that the students are calm, pacified and relaxed. However, the unpredictability of when something different might happen can be very challenging for autistic students. Consequently, they often choose to stay with familiar activities and resist learning new routines. Repetitive, rigid behaviours are signs of stress overwhelming them. Scheduling daily or weekly events lessens the anxiety level and outlines a framework of ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ for them, helping with transitioning independently between activities.

English is difficult for these children and we need to acknowledge it. Pronouns like she, he, you, we, and I, or concepts of positional language can be really difficult to comprehend. To overcome such barriers in understanding, visual representation of the context by sequencing cue cards to build up a story line;  providing a picture/word dictionary would be helpful. Using emotion cards displaying abstract concepts of happiness, fear, remorse, excitement, and anger can help with better understanding of emotions.

A myth prevails that autistic children suffer from lack of imagination. This is not necessarily so .They suffer from contextual blindness, which is their inability to see the wider picture and think logically. As an example, Charlene refers to a scene in the movie Rain Man where Raymond misinterprets the sign “Don’t walk” and stops in the middle of the intersection. His mind doesn’t understand that “Don’t walk” can also mean ‘hurry up’ if he is halfway through the crossing.

For better understanding of novels or drama, films can be helpful sometimes as it helps the students to visualise the characters. Another interesting approach may be to ask them to create or present a paper cut out of the characters they think resembles them best. Graphic representation, creating online work space, use of speech bubbles with basic introductory sentences such as “The author says….” I know this because…”or The illustrator says….”can help in understanding. Charlene directed us to The Autism Tool Box for further practical approaches and practice grids.

Touching on perfectionism Charlene advise us, “be imperfect yourself”, to enable the pupils feel that it is ok to make mistakes! It’s all about modelling the task set to get it right for every child.

My participation in the seminar has consolidated my learning experiences of working with autistic kids over the last four years. Charlene’s relaxed, friendly and interactive approach combined with her video clips of interviews from autistic pupils generated a lot of productive discussions. Our fantastic hosts at Marr College –  despite their other professional commitments – were very welcoming too.

 

Get Write In! competition

NATE and SATE sponsored the Get Write In! creative writing competition for looked after children.  SATE National coordinator Raymond Soltysek chaired the judges, which included Scottish Makar Jackie Kay.  A record of a wonderful evening can be found at HERE .

Peter Thomas, chair of NATE, reflects on the event:

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It was a pleasure to represent the National Association for the Teaching of English at an inspiring event in Edinburgh’s beautiful Our Dynamic Earth centre on 15th August. The event was the Awards evening, where the winners of the Get Write IN! competition were announced. This creative writing competition was organized by CELCIS (Centre for Excellence for Looked-after Children in Scotland) based at the University of Strathclyde with the help of Raymond Soltysek, Chair of SATE (Scottish Association for the Teaching of English).

All contributors in the junior and senior sections were children in home or foster care, and the Dynamic Earth Hall was filled with them and their very proud carers. Volunteers in superhero dress provided stimulating games and challenges at tables around the hall, and there was a fine buffet and musical accompaniment to make the occasion special.

Jackie Kay, Scotland’s national poet was the star of the presentation, and well suited for the role. She spoke movingly and wittily about her young experience in care, and her struggle to become a writer. There could be no better role model for the youngsters in the room – especially as she read a poem called Care Leaver written for the event. Raymond Soltysek provided an eloquent reinforcement of Jackie’s description of writing as a form of self-defining and discovery, and the message from these two was a ringing endorsement of creative writing for all children, as well as those present on the evening. It was good, also, to have the event supported by the Mark McDonald, Scotland’s Minister for Childcare and Early Years. I had to reflect, regretfully, that England cannot boast such a splendid competition, or such government support.

The winner of the junior section was Joseph Ness and the winner of the senior section was William Cathie, both of whom wrote movingly about the impact of significant events in their lives. Both winners’ work was read out by Jackie Kay, and all the finalists had their work published in a booklet – a sign of success and approval that was well received by entrants and their carers.

The whole evening was a highpoint in a city in the middle of its annual Festival – a testament to the quality of care in Scotland, to the power of creative writing as an extension and development of self, and to the commitment of CELCIS and the University of Strathclyde to the motivation and celebration of young people’s achievement.

 

Two fantastic upcoming SATE events (2): How success in Literacy and Language improves Wellbeing

On the 20th of September, SATE are delighted to be hosting an evening seminar with Professor Sue Ellis of the University of Strathclyde. Professor Ellis will explore current policy challenges whilst also looking at evidence on effective teaching approaches. She will also focus on the way aspects of literacy, language and literature contribute to pupils’ social, emotional and intellectual wellbeing.

Professor Ellis has a strong commitment to knowledge exchange and to research that directly supports improved literacy outcomes for pupils. The recurring themes in her work concern literacy and equity, policy implementation and teacher development. She is the co-author of the highly-regarded report Closing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Education published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2014.

You can sign up for this event at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/sate-seminar-how-success-in-literacy-and-language-improves-wellbeing-tickets-37562945782.

See you there!