Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

Pretty much everyone starts the new year by setting new resolutions. In reality, with a little thought most would recognise that they are doing a good job already, maybe a little fine tuning is needed. One group I would identify here in particular are the Year 11, 12 and 13 students who are facing examinations in a matter of months. I understand completely the pressures, believe me! Contrary to popular belief, I was once 16 and facing a similar mountain. I think what was perhaps different is that teachers were able to teach on a less encumbered basis and could focus on helping their students achieve their first steps on life’s journey.

It is my early education career which drives me today. Every student matters and it is quite frustrating when politics, and the desire for celebrity and adoration amongst grown adults stands in the way of these students confidence to step out. One of the most asked questions I get asked of me as an educator is What if I Fail? I usually counter this with What if you Succeed? This was, as I remember one that I struggled with at 16 too, a fear of what may be.

The way around this is to work out the steps that you need to take to get to the first stop on your journey. This may be sixth form, college, university….. It really doesn’t matter where it is, you owe it to yourself to know what you need and aim for a little more than that! A buffer adds a bit of choice for you, as Forrest Gump said ‘life is like a box of chocolates’, choice is always attractive.

When you are clear, get your action pack together. This will include books, journals, podcasts and notes, whatever you need. It is all about you and what you need to get prepared. Already you should have started to change your mindset to one of getting anything you want. Most of all, do not get distracted by people and their side issues. Our mindset is centred on these exams.

Daily Exam Tips on many different subjects will be posted on Gold Motivation on You Tube. Check out the channel, Freedom Road Unlimited and I will be right there. Like, Subscribe, Comment, Leave questions, I will point you in the right direction.

It is now all about your success, not your school or college. Let’s get this moving. I am there supporting you.

You can also contact me on jacquigold@freedomroadcollege.org.uk or on twitter @codeylearns

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5 Things to Consider when Picking a Secondary School

 

The Autumn term of when your child enters year 6 is full of both pride and worry. Your chest swells with the pride of your little bundle of joy entering the last year of primary school, preparing for secondary school; inside your heart sinks as you face the daunting task of picking a school which will eventually give your child the best start in life.

It is important to wade through all of the available promotional media that will inevitably become available to you. This ritual will provide you with some really important basic facts about the schools that you are considering. As a qualified teacher and a parent, which means that I have experienced this process from both ends,  it is important for me to provide you with more important points of consideration which contribute to that desired outcome.

  1. League Tables are Statistics. I know, you are probably thinking here, why is she repeating the obvious to me. The reason is that many put a great deal of faith in the placing of schools in the league. I always wonder in this case why we do not think about the ways in which cohorts may change over the years. In essence, if an intake is comprised of students who are exceptionally studious in any one year, that school may perform exceptionally well in the exam statistics that seal their place in the league.

The leagues upon which we rely are in fact past performance and we really should not place over reliance on the past dictating the future. Many schools would berate me for saying that but in reality, when we teach students how to interpret statistics, we make this very point over and over again. We also give marks in examinations for recognising this limitation. If our children are taught this limitation maybe it is not beyond the realms of imagination that parents should recognise it too.

The variable factors are huge; teachers deemed outstanding may change, government strategies may change, school policies may change, the composition of the year’s cohort may change.

2.The Mixed Ability Classroom may be as powerful as the Streamed classroom. We often have our fears calmed by the idea that our child attends a school that  operates in streams or sets. This is deemed to be in some way superior to the mixed ability classroom. Okay, I can see how this can happen and I wouldn’t even tell you not to get excited by this fact. The opportunity for your child to be in a lesson with students of equal ability is fabulous, and especially when they are in the higher ability sets. What Is not immediately clear  here however is how setting handles the very important matter of different learning styles. Having a similar level of ability does not mean having the same cognition in the classroom.

I always recall being back at school, in the A Level classes that I was part of. I was quiet and would take endless notes but would not answer very much within the classroom setting. As a result of this, my teachers made the rather massive assumption that I didn’t understand much and that I would not be successful in the exams. The truth of the matter was that I had then, and still have a very hands on, independent style of learning. I enjoy the thrill of investigation and formulating arguments that could be tested. Oh, I should say, I was very successful in my examinations, largely due to the foresight of a couple of good substitute teachers who came in to the school.

Some would say, much has changed in the last 20 years but I would question this. As school budgets become squeezed, the pressure is on to achieve as much as previously achieved with less resources.

What is the overall result of the squeeze? It would be fair to argue that across most of London and perhaps beyond, the main stream classroom may produce similar or even better results than the carefully setted. To a large extent there is more acceptance of differences and good teachers plan carefully for this.

3.Personalised Learning. Is the establishment sufficiently resourced to truly cater for your child’s potential career? Thinking back to point 1 above, which takes priority? The need for the school to achieve its ‘rightful’ place in the league or, the future career aspirations of your child, after all, many these days are considering alternative routes which provide more hands on experience.

This presents that quandary that we all hate. Do we push our child towards a school which is very academic and will push for those top grades? It is a difficult question really because in all honesty, the world is somewhat driven this way and we question whether we are doing our job as a parent if we don’t encourage our child to join the ranks of these ‘elite’. For many, this could prove more damaging than we realise.

The truth is that many establishments use the term personalised learning to cover learning or lessons matched to levels of ability. This is hardly personalised. It does not attempt to accommodate the career or future aspirations of the student. It is limited due to budgetary constraints.

One of the largest complaints I ever have in the year 11 classrom is the ‘all this school wants are my grades, they don’t care about me’. Of course I always reassure and calm those complaints but I can see where they might originate. If we say that we provide personalised learning, maybe we should try to make this more visible to the students. It is amazing what they will produce when they understand that it is for their benefit first and foremost

.4.How Orchestrated is Open? I shouldn’t divulge this really but its only fair. When I chose my daughter’s secondary school, I avoided those open evenings like the plague. Of course I would, as I said, I am a teacher. For the most part, as teachers, we are seeking to present our school in its best light. Well why wouldn’t we, we love our jobs and it is easy to present our subject areas well. What I was perhaps less comfortable with is the meetings to give the prescribed answers to questions and the careful picking of students to conduct tours. People make very important decisions based on this production.

If possible, I would always suggest trying to visit outside the open days. If you think about it, when picking a nursery, we always pick those that do not have set times at which they will let you in. In my opinion, a good school with a good learning ethos should not have limits on when visits can take place. Of course there will need to be staff available to take visitors around but this should not stop lessons proceeding.

I guess the moral here is that if you wish to visit during an open event,  use it as an opportunity to look at resources; don’t focus on teachers, students or such hairline matters. Look at the level of ICT use within classrooms, the level of books stocked in the library and the sports facilities. If you want to see the normal state of the school, a separate visit is the way forwards. You could always go and see existing parents whilst they are picking up their kids too, makes for some interesting conversations.

5.Your baby is an individual who may not always speak up for the next few years. They are often torn between recognising their strengths and receiving extra work (good at the subject and therefore able to handle more) or, not declaring their strengths and remaining bored and frustrated in the classroom. The ultimate choice has to be one which is made keeping the student wishes in mind but also factoring in your wealth of life experience. There are many factors which are truly variable in this choice, schools are often financially squeezed, teachers within schools have ever increasing workloads and, as much as they will love your baby, they really have a limit to the time that they can reasonably provide. Sometimes there may not be enough time in a day to recognise the frustration of your child and to plan resources that may relieve that boredom. Sometimes that boredom may be incorrectly identified as moody, withdrawn or naughty.

We also have to recognise that the little darlings as teenagers will try to minimise their workload as much as possible, even when they have the ability. It is that right to a free childhood argument. That works, what is necessary is building a true understanding of the educational needs of the student and building a learning program around this.

What is most important is that ultimately there is a partnership between the student, the parents and the educators (whatever form that this may take).

I hope that this helps but I am happy to answer any queries that may arise from this or during your search. I can be contacted directly on

07539 481 671 or by email jacquigold@freedomroadcollege.org.uk

Freedom Road College has been developed as a necessary enhancement to the school experience. We provide students with the opportunity to explore and improve their potential. We invest time and resources in showing students the importance of learning for a successful future . We value all schools and aim to work with them and parents to guide students towards their absolute pinnacle. Our programs are from Codey Learns (Early years)through to Key Stage 4 and beyond. www.freedomroadcollege.org.uk / 07539 481 671

The Story Continues…..

What came next, that is after reading part 1 yesterday is pretty shocking and was a life changer.

The Push for the Right Mindset

What is the right mindset? This is of course going to be very different from person to person. Everyone has their own unique life with its own challenges. It might be fair to suggest here though, that bearing in mind that life is a precious thing, the common factor in the right mindset is to live a successful, happy life. One which is filled with all of your favourite things and actions. This may be academic success, relationship success, career success or wealth! In throwing the question out there, the list may go on and on.

The challenge to many of us, is getting to a place where we begin to believe that there is more out there for us. Right now, I know the readers of this book are saying either;

  • Yes I believe but……
  • Or
  • If it was meant to be it would be…..

But how can this be so? If you truly believe then surely you would do anything in your power to get whatever it is you believe in. Very few people would just accept unfair behaviour if they believed that they could change it. This takes an element of self-belief, this is often quite difficult to acquire. This is where the idea of developing the right mindset becomes important. It is not an overnight development but one which evolves over time.

It is perhaps best to put it into context and for this, we continue with Sandy’s story. The story begins to get quite difficult for her here as she was taken into some very murky waters. She had gone through a life which had become characterized by experiencing some very violent domestic abuse. This was having the effect of making her withdraw from her peers and all of the learning opportunities that childhood could give her. It was a life of fear.

Her father then continued his change by using humiliation and intimidation. In particular, she recalls the time when some ‘posh people’ from the school board came to the house one evening. Her brother had been recognised from his school tests, as having a higher than average IQ in the school tests. It was being recommended that he should sit a scholarship examination to attend one of the best public schools in the United Kingdom. Her father was of course full of the achievements of ‘his son’ and that ‘girls are not capable of these things’. She would think hard about this, when she was younger, her father was so kind and now, he was horrid. What was more for her though, was the fact that the school was a boarding school and meant that her brother would be away for long periods of time. Remembering her pledge to herself to protect her mother, this sounded great but was not something she could consider.

It was because of this that when she was approached to take the same scholarship exam, she absolutely refused to go. To a large extent, her fears for her mother’s safety were holding her back. Let us keep in context here, that Sandy was a child and therefore not developed enough to be able to process the outcomes of not facing that fear. The adults around her were not facing her fears for her either for a variety of reasons. What was apparent was a completely unstable environment in which her mind was unable to settle, unable to develop its full cognitive abilities, unable to perceive that dream existence which she could see at her friend’s homes and on TV. It was made even worse as her father branded her useless as she failed the scholarship (deliberately), in order to stay with her mother.

And no-one would have predicted what came next. It was a vicious action which could have led to a completely ruined existence for Sandy. Note that I say could have, this remarkable young lady went through a period in her life which no one should have to but showed maturity and strength which is rarely seen as she fought back against the system to get to the life she wanted.

The worst moment of Sandy’s life as recalled by her happened one summer’s afternoon when she had to leave school early to go for an interview for Secondary school. By now, school had become something of a haven for her. Not because of the potential learning but because of it not being at home, there was no atmosphere and her friends were there. School had also run a big trip to the Great Children’s Party in Hyde Park. It had been such fun!

She had gone home to meet her father so that he could take her to the interview and he called her into the bedroom as he talked about what she should and shouldn’t do at the interview. She listened carefully but looked at him with suspicion. Over the years, she had built up a resentment towards him and honestly wished that someone else was taking her. Even she did not expect what happened next. She was small for her age (10) and he picked her up and threw her onto the bed and as she wriggled and struggled in fear and shock he brutally raped her.

After what seemed like an eternity, he lifted his heavy, large smelly body off her and straightened his clothes, ordering her into the car to go to the interview. As she walked out of the house, she put something down on top of the piano in the hallway. It was now crumpled, it was her badge from the children’s party which she had crushed in her hands as fear and pain had set in. As the interview proceeded, she said very little, trying to understand what had just happened to her. She decided to wait, when she got home she would see if the badge was indeed on top of the piano, this would say whether it had or had not happened.

As she walked back through the front door, there it was, it was true, it had happened. He warned her about what would happen if she told anyone and handed her £5. She quietly went to her room and sobbed. In her eyes, no one could help her with this as it would put everyone in danger. In hindsight this is not necessarily true but, she was reasoning as a child. Strangely enough though, she recalls that she decided on that day that she was going to work hard to make sure that she could take her mother and siblings away from that danger and never ever have someone controlling her happiness again. It was in effect, the day on which she lost her childhood but gained the start of a lifetime of control, she was beginning to recognise that with thought, there was a whole perfect life out there for her.

She is keen to stress here that this was a long learning journey. The events of that day replayed in her mind often over the years and he attacked her many times over the years. What she had to do was to stay focussed on her dreams of a better life. The first step to this for her was gaining her qualifications in school and University.

This was a situation which could have ruined life as I know it if there was no belief, no strength, no faith. It has been a long road but i’m sure that it makes it clearer to you why this journey is so important.

 

 

Its a scary thought to recognise your worth!

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Its day 2 so I decided to look at what I have to offer on this journey. Well, I make it a point to try to change someone’s life for the better everyday. As a teacher, this is a natural part of the role, changing the lives of students through their successes is the best part of the job. When they grow up and start fantastic lives it never fails to give me the feeling of a proud ‘parent’. The feeling of making another person smile is fantastic but knowing that one has the ability to help others  is priceless. My focus has been on beginning to translate these skills to make them more portable without losing the mission, ‘making learning relevant and enjoyable to bring about sustained change’. I am now convinced as to the way that this can be done, it just needs a little more creativity…… Now for a long walk whilst I work out the next steps……xx