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Tutoring in a Pandemic

“Castle tutoring take the safety of our students very seriously and use the following advice and guidance to ensure we all stay safe”

Richard Endacott, Castle Tutoring

If someone had told me that we would be our lives would be disrupted by Corona, I would have immediately thought that the additives in the popular sparkling drinks from the 1970s had finally caught up with us, I would never have dreamt that we would be in the worst global pandemic since World War One. Last week I did some supply work in a school and was taken aback by the necessary changes in the classroom. I salute all those Headteachers who have had to adapt the physical environments, timetables, curriculum and staffing despite some very weak direction from the Department for Education. For us tutors it has led to some very dramatic changes too, especially considering that the majority of our teaching is face to face whether that be 1:1 or group work, so how have we adapted?

Tutoring online

As the pandemic took hold last March and schools went into lockdown, most tutoring went online. There are huge benefits to online tutoring and it is becoming a hugely popular form of tutoring. Online platforms such as Zoom, MS Teams and Skype became second nature and new platforms such as Loom allows us to pre-record lessons ahead of the session, allowing for a flipped learning approach to tutoring. Not only is there zero risk of passing on or catching coronavirus via your computer, but actually it is a dynamic way of teaching which allows you to share files and adapt to online practices. Safe to say I have deployed IT skills I didn’t know existed. So far this year my clients mostly continue to prefer face to face, but with a second lockdown seemingly imminent this will change.

How to tutor face-to-face safely

Invariably you will either be tutoring in a complete strangers house or in a centre, either way it is important to ensure both you and your client are as safe as possible.

How will you get there?

Counterintuitive I know, but consider your transport options, cycling is ideal in terms of the environment, but if this is not possible you may wish to prefer to drive than use public transport. Remember if you chose public transport that masks are compulsory.

How do you get into the house?

Last week I arrived at a house for a session to be met with blind panic, do I use the bell? This is your first decision and do not underestimate how hazardous this is. This is probably the most frequently touched item with which you are likely to come into contact with. make sure the antibacterial hand wipe is available, if not you may wish to telephone the client to let them know you’ve arrived.

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Meeting and greeting

People are getting pretty used to this normal now, but of course do not shake hands, lots of alternatives are good, maybe even teach your tutee sign language for hello. Get creative and think about the silliest greeting you can try with your student. There is a lot of public hysteria about coronavirus, so if you can put the student at ease early that’s fine, it helps to lighten the mood.

If you do have antibac with you put it on the table and apply before the session starts. Hopefully the client has set up a hygiene station, if not it might be worth suggesting to them. If there is not one in the house, then politely ask if you can use the bathroom to wash your hands.

Where are you going to sit?

At a tutoring session last week, we started outside, but it got too chilly so had to move inside. Wherever you sit, try to be as far away as you can without impinging on the quality of the lesson or making things unnecessarily difficult for you and your student. Not only does this reduce the chance of infection, it will also make both of you feel more at ease. If using photocopies or books try to get two copies and don’t be shy in asking the client to get additional copies if needs be.

When reviewing a personal statement draft, I ensured I did not lean over them. I asked them to pass you the work to mark and then pass it back when you’re done. The same is true in reverse — they shouldn’t lean over you — so if they need to see something you’re writing or drawing, consider whether you can write/draw it first, and pass it across. Another option is to ask the WiFi code from the client and pass work electronically if possible, bringing your own equipment, pens, paper, laptops etc is an essential feature of keeping people safe. Maybe provide a list of items you are likely to need and ensure the client has these too, such as calculators.

Be careful about over enthusiasm.

Teaching is a great theatre and it is often felt that the teacher is the star performer, but it is too east to get too carried away and start sweating or accidentally spitting over your audience, try to avoid this and maybe calm the enthusiasm just for now.

Use the pandemic as a learning tool

You may want to think about whether there are any ways you can turn a negative into a positive and improve the student’s understanding of the coronavirus situation in a way that is relevant to your subject and ‘does your bit’ for your fellow citizens. In history for example there are a number of examples from the Black Death, the Great Plague and Spanish flu where you can draw parallels, creating masks is a great learning tool. Schools are one place the virus could potentially spread quickly, so children do need to understand the risks and how to minimise them.

Make sure you are up to date with Government advice.

Tricky as the advice keeps changing and varies from region to region, however, as a basic you should aim to be a model of hygiene from the moment you step into a client’s home to the moment you leave it. Not only is this the safe thing to do as it minimises the chance of infecting or being infected, but it also sets a great example to your student.

Coronavirus is a fast-evolving situation, so you should keep abreast of any developments and consider how they may affect your tutoring practice. Ensure you are fully familiar with the latest coronavirus guidance from the NHS, which currently includes sneezing into your sleeve (never into your hands) and avoiding touching your face (eyes, nose or mouth).

If at any point you develop coronavirus symptoms, you must self-isolate and should alert all of your clients. The responsible thing to do (if you can’t move to online teaching for whatever reason) is to stop tutoring for as long as necessary, even if it comes at a financial cost.

Consider how you can protect yourself in a business sense.

Having a Covid-19 policy in place is not a bad place to start. Clients will respond well to this, especially where you teach in their home, which they will undoubtedly see as their one guaranteed germ-free space where they can and should be able to relax without worrying about coronavirus.

All you want to do is convey that you’ve thought about how to keep your client and student safe, and reduce any awkwardness that may arise from you behaving differently in lessons going forward, whether that’s avoiding doorbells and handshakes or asking more regularly to use their bathroom, or anything else.

You should also politely and respectfully detail anything you want the client and student to do to ensure your own safety and comfort. For example, maybe you would like them to confirm that your student is up-to-date with the latest hygiene advice and to inform you at the earliest opportunity if your student develops any coronavirus-like symptoms so that you can postpone your in-person lessons until the all-clear.

I hope all of this advice is useful to both tutors and clients and you will stay safe.

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Imparter of Knowledge or Cheerleader?

What makes a good teacher?

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Making this move from the classroom to 1:1 and group tutoring in Windsor has led to some real introspection as to my own teaching practice and I was astonished to find that my key role was as a motivator and mentor than simply an imparter of knowledge. Having substantive subject knowledge is critical to success, but so is the softer skills of understanding human nature and the importance of emotional intelligence.

I always try to make learning goal-oriented, a set of defined goals with your students at the beginning of the school year or even of each lesson means the whole class will have a better understanding of its individual and collective accomplishments. I have no secrets, everything is out on the table early.  I always try to make learning more goal-oriented. For example, start a lesson with a statement such as “today you will learn the long term causes of the First World War,” and finish the class by saying, “Congratulations! Now you’re ready to show your parents you’re learning how the first world war started!” Cultivating this perspective helps students take confidence from their own progress, boosting motivation and confidence.

Confidence is a huge barrier to student progress, many believe their teacher does not believe in them and many more worryingly believe their parents do not believe in them, with no adult seemingly on their side, they start to lose confidence in themselves. Positive feedback and encouragement does wonders for outcomes, especially when those who do believe in themselves are better equipped to be successful. This is a huge advantage of 1:1 tuition as if you want a student to believe in theirselves, then actually tell them that you believe in them, that you will not give up on them, that you understand their struggles, and that you are there for them. It is so easy in a large classroom environment for teachers to forget to do this, to tell and show their students they actually believe in them. Simply reassuring and encouraging students has a huge impact on a child’s confidence and willingness to be successful.  

Instilling a growth mindset is part of my practice which I have been very keen to develop, since I first came across the term at a PiXL meeting in 2008. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, a fixed mindset conceives of student skills as rigid and inflexible. In contrast, a growth mindset views student learning as fluid and changing, and aims to develop children’s skills and talents through effort and persistence. The growth mindset, Dweck notes, helps students become more receptive to lessons and feedback. Earlier we spoke about instilling confidence, yet this cannot simply praising how intelligent they are or that they have made a huge effort, to develop students progress. Using encouragement such as “Don’t worry if you don’t understand something right away. Focus on your next steps. What should they be?” or “If you don’t understand these types of questions, try using a different perspective. You may be able to draw or write them out”. This allows for further development and fulfils that mentoring role aswell as purely the cheerleader.

Some of the students I have met whilst tutoring over the past few weeks have really responded to the variety of tasks I have given them, use of Playdoh and games such as Dobble have opened up opportunities for learning. It is trying different ways to overcome challenges in learning which allow a student to flourish more quickly. Experimenting with learning strategies through active learning helps bridge this gap with an approach that puts students at the centre of the learning process, allowing them to build a more meaningful understanding of the abstract skills and concepts you are teaching.

Teachers often talk of a pure love for the profession and there is simply nothing more satisfying than a successful lesson, over the years have experimented widely. Whilst sometimes it does not work, on the whole if the process has been planned effectively and the learning outcomes are clear then success will follow and there truly no better feeling.

Harnessing the SEND Superpower

“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, then it is going to go through its whole life thinking it is stupid”

Albert Einstein
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Wednesday is my favourite day, I look forward each week to the time I can spend with a Year 6 pupil, who as his Mother says has a very special superpower, ADHD. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviours (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active. This can be quite intimidating to a new teacher or tutor who has set ideas about how children behave and react in different situations. However, every child is different with varying needs and ADHD children are no different, there are some very easy strategies which can be deployed to maximise your time with them and help them to enjoy learning again.

  • Predictable routines are very important, the child and I both know that the tutoring session is at 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon, after he has finished school and had the opportunity for some down time. I cannot afford to be late for this as anxiety and stress will start to manifest itself and will make the session far less productive.
  • The learning environment needs to be uncluttered, we have a perfect space in their kitchen with a work station with a computer and room for written activities, this allows me to transition between activities quickly and minimises the wait time.
  • Short sharp activities and structured transitions are essential, my 5-minute sand timer is an excellent support or a countdown clock also works, although there is no need to be quite limited by time, if an activity is going well, just keep going as there is no need to transition just for the sake of it. If this means you do not finish all of your activities, then so be it.
  • Children with ADHD can have motivational issues, they figure they can use their disability as an excuse for not doing work, the child and the parents know that I have zero tolerance for this, particularly as I know how talented they really are. Clear parameters in terms of expectations are critical, as with boys in general stick to the old mantra, be firm, fair and consistent.
  • Set up buddy pairs – I have been lucky in that my son has been available to support me, same age and with good organisation and study skills, this gives my student the opportunity to be mentored in good habits.
  • Build movement breaks into the routine, last week halfway through the session we played some cricket wth the scores jotted down in Roman numerals and the totals added up, this kept his concentration and enabled us to learn proactively.
  • Where outside learning is not possible it is important to set short, achievable targets and activities. Mind maps are a essential tool here allowing links between topics and also is an essential memory tool.
  • All students learn better when the activities are more hands on, using play dough is a good tip, particularly when creating rewards, allow the student to use the play dough to manipulate the shape into something creative.
  • Essentially variety is the spice of life, creating activities which both motivate and inspire, building on likes and dislikes. My student is sport mad and it helps I am their cricket and rugby coach so I try to relate as much of that as I can into the various activities. This allows an engagement beyond normal teaching.

There are huge challenges when tutoring a student with any kind of special educational need or disability (SEND), especially with ADHD in this case. With public examinations fast approaching understanding that individual and developing skills will reap huge benefits.

I am delighted that the parent of this student has supplied the following testimonial, proving that the hard work is most certainly paying off.

“Richard has just started tutoring our 10 yr old boy who is year 6 and has a super power – ADHD. We were very nervous as parents when the first session took place as anyone with a child with ADHD would know that they have a very short attention span. Once we could see how Richard was very engaging and personable with our child but kept tasks short, clear and concise, Richard was able to hold his attention the whole time during their sessions and they have loads of fun learning about various topics. 
Our child is always excited to see Richard as he can’t wait to see and learn what they will do for their session.  
Finding Richard has been a dream come true as a parent, as it has been very hard to find someone like Richard with a wealth of teaching experience but someone who tunes into kids and their super powers!”

How to be Uni-que

A beginners guide to applying for university

Why go to university?

In these strange times and with so many restrictions being placed at university, many teenagers are asking this exact question, but there are certainly many benefits to a university education. For example, average graduate is estimated to be about 38% better off by his/her early 30s. Over a whole career to earn between £100k – £300k more, by 2023 it is estimated that 56% more jobs will require people to hold graduate level qualifications. It is also claimed that on average graduates live longer & are healthier, happier, less prone to depression, more likely to exercise & more likely to make a significant & satisfying contribution to the community around them. But the competition is fierce, particularly in a post lockdown world where many university courses this year were oversubscribed thanks to the grades debacle, meaning potentially fewer available places next year. Even so, generally the best courses are fiercely competitive, for example a History course at Durham University attracted 1200 applicants for 90 places.

The art of selling yourself.

University applications are a huge minefield and they require a completely different approach to anything you have experienced before because for the first time in your life you are having not sell yourself, all within the confines of 4,000 characters.

A personal statement will be impossible to write until you know what you want to study, because it needs to focus around your chosen courses. Remember that different institutions will focus on different modules, English for example could be a variety of non-shakespearean, old English, American English or creative writing, so be cautious of what it is you are applying for. However, while doing your research and making your decisions, be mindful of your statement right from the start. If you know the course you wish to study then the personal statement is simpler, if you are unsure specifically on the course you wish to study that is not a problem but will require a slightly different writing style. Read everything you can about the course itself, including details of the modules and what sort of thing you’ll be learning – it’ll help you to work out if it’s the right type of course for you and get you thinking about how your interests or experiences fit in with that path.

Once you have decided all of this it is time for the dreaded personal statement, I would recommend even students in year 10 start thinking about how robust they can make it. What opportunities can I take advantage of either in school sports teams, music, drama or wider school community projects? Outside school what can I do to help maybe volunteering at a local food bank or a friends business? Reading around subjects is critical, it is always worth knowing who the influential authors in your area of study are and start reading some of their works, essentially building up a portfolio that shows admission tutors that you have a real passion for their subject. As a general rule, Admissions tutors are looking for a checklist of the following skills, which you need to be able to demonstrate through your personal statement.

  • Ability to work independently
  • Ability to write an extended essay
  • Ability to think critically
  • Ability to solve problems
  • Ability to manage time effectively
  • Ability to contribute to team thinking
  • numeracy

They will also want to know the following about you;

  • Why you want to study the subject(s) you’re applying for? Remember – expand on your reasons and evidence this e.g. has a particular area/topic caught your attention? Have you undertaken work experience/placements/EPQs/tasters to broaden your knowledge and understanding? 
  • Why should universities choose you? What have you got to offer? Demonstrate your motivation and enthusiasm. Showcase your skillset. 
  • What else do you do? Part-time work/ Volunteering? Hobbies/interests? Responsibilities? Other achievements?
  • Tip: When reviewing your statement, ask yourself – why am I putting this information in my personal statement and what is it telling the person reading it?
  • Your personal circumstances
    Your experience of estrangement may have had a massive impact on your studies. Pragmatically, there may be skills/experiences that you could draw on when talking about yourself, how have these experiences affected your choice of course?

Castle Tutoring are able to provide a personalised university application service, having enjoyed success in placing students in Oxbridge, Russell Group and other universities, in addition to mentoring and guiding students through Higher Aprenticeships. UCAS deal with 17,000 applications in an average week, in 2020 dealt with 27,000 applications on Jan. 15th alone, with 55,000 candidates only logged on to UCAS for the first time in the period Jan 13- 15th, being prepared early is critical to success and we are available to help.

Key Dates:

  • 15 October 2020 for 2021 entry at 18:00 (UK time) – any course at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, or for most courses in medicine, veterinary medicine/science, and dentistry. You can add choices with a different deadline later, but don’t forget you can only have five choices in total.  
  • 15 January 2021 for 2021 entry at 18:00 (UK time) – for the majority of courses.

Black History Month

A Celebration of Black History

“and what of history are they going to be taught factual history or progressive woke history, as to be politically correct to protect the snowflakes and and all the other bleeding heart loves of our society as not to offend them”. So roared a comment on my Facebook page as one red faced, angry, middle aged white male took to his keyboard to blame me for the current social movements which challenge traditional thinking, such as Black Lives Matter.

And yet, he has a fair point, historical interpretation is all about how we all describe, analyse, evaluate and try to create an explanation of past events. Students of history have the opportunity to look through the evidence, which may include written sources, verbal accounts, points of view and visual primary or secondary sources and then reach an evaluation based on the facts and their own interpretation of these facts. However, it is how these facts are presented that can cause misinterpretation.

October is ‘Black History Month’ a highlight in the History teacher’s diary as it presents an chance to teach a counter narrative to traditional thinking, is this a woke approach? no of course not, it is a chance for all members of society to re-evaluate the facts and perhaps come to different conclusions. It is also a chance to celebrate those people who made a series impact on the lives of others, Mary Seacole, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King to name just a few.

Mary Seacole 1805-1881 We have all heard of Florence Nightingale, yet few have heard of Mary Seacole. Mary Seacole rose to prominence during the Crimean War when she funded her own journey to Turkey after British authorities refused her offers of help. There she opened a hospital, and became a popular figure in Britain, receiving various awards for bravery. The Mary Seacole Trust has been created to highlight Mary’s work.

Rosa Parks 1913-2005 Her story is interesting as it was completely accidental.Parks’s refusal to give up her seat on an Alabama bus in 1955 became a symbolic moment in the American civil rights movement. The fallout launched Martin Luther King Jr to fame. The incident sparked a mass boycott of the transport system by the black community.

Trevor McDonald – Journalist, born 1939 
A familiar face on our TV screens, The first black news anchor in the UK, Trinidad-born McDonald is one of the most popular figures on TV. Starting his career on the BBC World Service, in 1999 he was given the Bafta Richard Dimbleby Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television.

Maya Angelou – Author, poet, playwright, born 1928 
Missouri has always been a hotbed of talent, she was a great voice of black literature. Angelou’s memoirs expose the difficulties of growing up as a black woman in St Louis. Her achievements are many and varied, and she was the first African-American woman admitted to the Directors Guild of America.

Kofi Annan – Diplomat, born 1938 
Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations. His role in working for global peace was recognised when he and the UN were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. He helped to reform the UN and strengthen its peacekeeping abilities.

Lewis Howard Latimer – Inventor, 1848-1928 
History does not record the work of black inventors and yet there are scores of examples, the most famous perhaps is this son of escaped slaves, Latimer is considered one of the greatest black inventors, notably due to his improvement of carbon filaments in light bulbs. He worked with Thomas Edison and Alexander Bell and secured many different patents.

Jesse Owens – Athlete, 1913-80 
If there was an individual who was born to re-write a narrative then Owens is the perfect example. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Owens defied Nazi propaganda and won four gold medals on the track. When he died, the US President Jimmy Carter said: “Perhaps no athlete better symbolised the human struggle against tyranny, poverty and racial bigotry.”

Martin Luther King – Civil rights activist, 1929-68 
The figurehead of the American Civil Rights Movement, King became a national hero after leading the successful Montgomery bus boycott. In 1964 he received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his work. He was assassinated on 4 April 1968

Nelson Mandela – Political activist, born 1918 
A key anti-apartheid figure in South Africa, Mandela spent 27 years in prison for the cause. After his release, he became the country’s first fully democratically elected president and leader of the African National Congress. In 1993 he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Pelé – Footballer, born 1940 
Growing up he was one of my heroes, christened Edson Arantes do Nascimento Pelé, he is regarded as the world’s greatest footballer. Playing for his native Brazil, Pelé won the World Cup three times. In 1999 the BBC named him the second greatest sportsperson of the millennium.

Haile Selassie – World leader, 1892-1975 
Researching the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 I was astonished by the leadership of Haile Selassie, not to be confused with the marathon runner. Accepted by Rastafarians as a symbol of God incarnate, the former emperor of Ethiopia became a worldwide anti-Fascist figure after appealing to the United Nations for help against Mussolini’s invading armies. An ally of the west and opponent of colonisation.

Oprah Winfrey – Media tycoon, born 1954 
A living American institution, she is seen by some as the most influential woman in the world. At the centre of her various projects is her TV chat show which is syndicated around the world. In 2006 Winfrey became the world’s first black woman billionaire.

The effects of the slave trade are always going to cause huge arguments on both sides, along with the apartheid movement in South Africa and the civil rights movement in the USA. What cannot be denied though is that these events occurred and it is how we learn from history to correct perceived injustice and build a more tolerant and inclusive society. it should not be black history month, but a year round celebration of how people have contributed to society regardless of their background. History is continually evolving and new interpretations are continually developed, this is why it is the greatest subject on the curriculum.

How To Choose A New School

A Handy Guide for Parents

Its that time of year again when Social Media explodes with posts from parents asking for recommendations for schools, followed by 126 completely contrasting comments, muddying the waters further. To some extent parents need to be cautious when seeking advice from strangers and rely more on their own instinct. Choosing a school for your child is a huge responsibility, but knowing what to look for can take the stress out, even if in these bizarre times you are not able to visit a school in person.

The Good Schools Guide offers some advice to start with ‘Factors you might want to consider include strong test results, good value added (a measure of how well children progress throughout their school journey), a good range of extra curricular activities, strong pastoral care, a particular ethnic and social mix, the size of the school, faith or non faith, wrap-around care, and the amount and quality of outdoor space.’ But ultimately it is a feeling do you like a smaller rural school or a bigger school with more extra-curricular opportunities?

Cutting through the Data

Schools these days are very data rich, all the information you need is at the touch of a fingertip, the schools Ofsted report is always a good place to start, be cautious though, check the date of the report as these can often be quite a few years old and the character of a school can change dramatically following a good or bad inspection, teachers could change and there could be mitigating factors behind the data.

Visiting Schools

It will be interesting to see how individual schools decide to run their Open Evening this year. traditionally parents have the opportunity to walk round schools and get a feel for the prospective school, but this year this will not be possible. The challenge for schools will be to try to give parents as much of a feel for the school environment, but remember it is a competitive market so be cautious when watching promotional videos or listening to speeches. Keeping this in mind here are some tips.

  • Is the Open Evening itself and the surrounding events well run?
  • Is there an opportunity for Questions?
  • Are children used to give their own perspective?
  • Does the school look well looked after, e.g. is the paintwork fresh?
  • Is the work on display well presented, with a range of abilities represented? 
  • What are your impressions of the head?
  • What evidence is there of how the school caters for special educational needs and gifted and talented children?
  • What sort of extra-curricular activities are offered?
  • What is the school’s ethos? 
  • What’s your impression of the general atmosphere?

If there are opportunities to talk to teachers, or alternatively to trusted friends with children already at the school, you may want to consider the following questions.

  • How big are the classes?
  • How many classroom assistants are there?
  • Are children taught in sets? If so, can children move sets easily if necessary?
  • How are gifted children extended and challenged?
  • How are children with additional needs helped?
  • How do they communicate with parents if there is a problem?
  • How often are supply teachers used?
  • Is there much staff turnover?
  • Would they send their own child to the school?

Choosing a school is a challenge in itself; choosing a school in these unprecedented times magnifies this further. As with most major decisions in your life, remember to take all the advice you can, but your decision needs to be the right one for your family. Good luck.

SEND provision in a pandemic

The Independent Provider of Special Education Advice (IPSEA) have updated their advice on how the Covid-19 measures will affect pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and it makes for quite interesting reading, with valuable advice for parents and schools alike

The headlines re-iterate that whilst schools have been issued with fresh advice for the re-opening schools actually the advice for SEND pupils remains as per the SEN and Disability Code of Practice 2015 and any changes in internal behaviour policies have to comply with the 2010 Equality Act, so far no changes.

However where the complications arise for both staff and students is the advice given for those of you like me, who were shielding during the first wave of the pandemic. The official advice from Government is that the 1996 Education Act still applies, in that regular attendance is expected, however a minor caveat that any students who are unable to attend school due to public health or clinical advice will not be penalised. However it is critical to add that Doctors advice is important here as the general expectation is that even for the most vulnerable currently school attendance is expected. It is unclear in the guidance as to the expectations if a family member or someone in the household are shielding themselves. IPSEA advice is that settings should authorise absence, but this is not in the Government guidance.

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IPSEA advice continues “Where pupils need to self-isolate, or there is a local lockdown requiring pupils to remain at home, the school will offer immediate, high-quality remote education and will have planned for what this will be.  Schools will need to offer paper materials where access to online learning is not available. For pupils with SEND, the guidance states that schools should work with parents where the pupil can’t access learning without adult support to develop “a broad and ambitious curriculum”.  Therefore, schools might need to think of bespoke and creative ways to support children with SEND remotely. The duty to secure the provision in the EHC plan under s.42 Children & Families Act 2014 continues under the tier system.” 

The issue with all of this is of course in relation to the catch up process. Children have missed approximately 6 months of school with the impact of this not really known. For pupils with SEND we expect this will be even more keenly felt. The National Tutoring Programme has been set up by the Department for Education and Castle Tutoring have made ourselves available to schools to support this as either an Academic Mentor for subject specific tuition or as a Tuition Partner for face to face, online or combination teaching. For pupils with SEND it is blatantly obvious that there will be a need for extra provision to support and in this instance extra EHC support may be required as per the CAFA 214 process.

IPSEA advice suggests that for those with an Educational Healthcare Plan (EHC), there are two options if a child chooses to remain at home for whatever reason; elective home education or education otherwise than that in a setting. For those without an EHC in place the only option available is elective home education.

Either way there is a potential crisis, which will be exacerbated should there be a second wave and either a localised or national lockdown, my view is that in this scenario the Government will resist closing schools again until the last possible moment, but that is purely conjecture. My advice for those with SEND is to read the guidance provided by IPSEA and remember Castle Tutoring is available to help support any catch up plans or home schooling needs.

The Future of Learning is Here

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The Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed the face of education and no-one is quite sure what is going to happen next, but crises have a habit of changing deeply entrenched working practices. As I write this DJ Chris Evans is on the radio asking the question “children are at school for 25% of their lives, but do the children receive 25% of the benefits?”. In other words does the way we teach prepare our students for their future lives? It is generally accepted that the jobs our young people will go into probably have not even been invented yet, so is it possible to prepare them for the real world?. The way that we teach would be recognisable to the Victorians and yet the world in which we live in would not be. Children attend classes, complete copious amounts of exercise books, use textbooks and are then assessed in written examinations.

In the past few years there has been a move away from the is model, the company Future Learn ( and the Khan Academy ( are innovators in ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ or MOOCS, which are free online courses on literally thousands of topics. I always recommend sixth form students complete a MOOC as demonstration of their commitment to a subject ahead of a UCAS application. In the UK private schools have been much more successful in transitioning to online lessons, the Sutton Trust found that private school educated children were twice as likely to receive online lessons than state school educated pupils. It seems that access to resources has widened the gap, yet in the long run online education could be harnessed to level up especially as smart devices become more affordable and ubiquitous, which means online lessons are more accessible. Online lessons are likely to support teachers rather than replace them, we are all very familiar with programs such as Active Learn and My Maths, this frees the teacher up to teach core skills in the classroom, along with other fundamental skills such as health and wellbeing, socialisation and social care, with content covered in a flipped learning model at home, accessed via a medium which the 21st century student is comfortable with.

Online learning is here to stay, according to surveys most of us in the UK would love to see more emphasis on the digital delivery of lessons, the pandemic has changed the way education is viewed, now is the time to really prepare our future captains of industry, equipped to develop digital skills such as virtual collaboration, communication, analysing data or managing remote teams. It’s high time for change.

Practical Tips to support children with online learning

1 – Create a learning environment and limit distractions. Make sure there is quiet, clutter free areas and encourage concentration, no one has ever learnt whilst wearing earphones or listening to music despite the protestations.

2 – Mix it up. Online learning should be in conjunction with offline activities. Get out and about away from the study space. Encourage Physical Exercise and extra-curricular activity to help support emotional well-being. Brain breaks allow the brain to focus on something else and reduces fatigue, keep the activities short, sharp and focused.

4 – Keep an open dialogue with your childs teacher to check on progress and highlight any challenges faced.

5 – Stick to a routine, set times for you to be available for them and review what they have learnt together.

6 – Keep them motivated, help your child believe they can make progress and be positive. Greater motivation improves focus as does a healthy and balanced diet.


Posted on  by richendacotthotmailcom

By Head of Music, Iain Ross

Thanks to Kelly Sikkema for sharing their work on Unsplash.

This is the  time of year when you reflect on the successes in results day, and what was achieved in the last academic year. From that, you start planning how you might make even more music with the resources you have, and ensuring that music stays as high on the school’s agenda as possible.  It’s very different this year. Exams were cancelled, school shows cancelled, and music rooms silenced due to the school closure. I’ve missed teaching. I’ve missed the students. I’ve missed sharing my love and passion for a subject that’s inclusive, challenging and rewarding, and seeing students flourishing and breaking down personal barriers to succeed in the subject.  I can’t wait to see them again next week. 

These are extraordinary times.  The coronavirus pandemic has presented heads of music in secondary schools with challenges that we’d thought we would never have to face – how on earth can we make music in schools in a socially distant world?  As Head of Music at a large secondary school in Slough, this has caused some considerable anxiety. It’s a nightmare. How will it be possible to teach a subject that demands so much practical pedagogy be taught under such challenging conditions?  

Allow me to indulge in some of the challenges presented by the recent government guidance released on Friday 29th August: 

  • Singing is only permitted in well-ventilated rooms with no more than 15 students socially distant at two metres. This is not possible at our school so we will not be singing at all. 
  • Musical instruments cannot be shared between bubbles. This will mean adapting long term plans so that schemes of work requiring similar equipment are taught first. 
  • No extra curricular groups with mixed year groups. 

In addition to this, our school has adopted the zones and bubbles guidance whereby teachers will go to the students, rather than the contrary under normal circumstances.  This has effectively meant that the music department is evicted from its base and become mobile.  This means that music will be taught in Science Labs, Food Tech rooms etc. How tolerant will colleagues in neighbouring classroom be of any practical work? 

We must also consider the students. Colleagues won’t know how far ‘behind’ students are until they are sat in front of us in the first lesson. Every student has had a very different experience of lockdown, with some having supportive parents with outstanding homeschooling capabilities, what others will have become disengaged with their learning, with perhaps little or no access to IT resources. This is nothing new to music departments with some students studying musical theory and instruments outside of the classroom, but this will be a completely new challenge.  “We’re all in the same storm but not in the same boat” is a fantastic quote for planning for this.  

This is without doubt the biggest challenge of my 12 years in the teaching profession. Social distancing has meant that large parts of my teaching pedagogy arsenal are null and void for he foreseeable future, so adapting to this will be a daily challenge. The instruction from senior leaders to “front load your curriculum with theory” is all well and good, but it will require a huge planning effort and a total change to teaching pedagogies. Myself and many other colleagues throughout the country are thinking how they can make music with what resources they have, whether that be with a full suite of musical instruments, or with the contents of a student’s pencil case.   

We need Music now more than ever, and I’m ready for the challenge of the new term.  I will try to be as tolerant of SLT as I can be as I know that they don’t desire this as much as I don’t. I will try and make as much music as I possibly can, with whatever I can.  It’ll be sad to not have extra curricular music this year, which means curriculum music-making becomes more important than ever. I’ll also try to take each day as it comes. It’s certainly going to be different.  Most of all though, I’m looking forward to being at the front of the class and working with young people once again, inspiring them to be the musicians they want to be.  

Teachers are very good at adapting to an ever changing world, and to what our political masters desire of us. This will be no different.  I wish all my colleagues in music department across the country the best of luck. 

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The Educational Magpie

It is a very daunting prospect leaving teaching and setting out on your own for the first time – and to be quite honest, I am not entirely sure I was prepared for such a move. Key questions include where is the market and how on earth do you reach it?

As a teacher and a middle leader in particular, I have mastered the dark art of sophisticated theft. Roaming the country for the best practice and then stealing the idea and implementing it into my practice – the teaching version of the Magpie. Austin Cleon in his book ‘Steal like an artist’ explains that there are only two types of ideas, those worth stealing and those not worth stealing. For a few years now, I have attended meetings by an organisation called PiXL (Partners in Excellence) which is, according to their website, a “partnership of over 1,400 secondary schools, 450 sixth forms, 900 primary schools and 50 providers of alternative education”. The leaders here are the Kings and Queens of theft, taking all the good ideas from their partner schools and bringing them back to the quarterly Pixl6 and Pixl main conference to share with us to use in our own schools. All fine, but I always found that in a usual five hour conference, there were perhaps only two ideas actually worth stealing, but those two ideas were absolute dynamite, guaranteeing our return the following quarter. But, how can all this be transposed into a business opportunity? 

Starting out, I realise how little I know of the ‘real world’. Yes, I have previous experience of being a recruitment consultant (yuk) and a buyer (shopping for a living), but they were working for other people and not for yourself, how does this even work? This is where the power of the network begins; my previous blog post found its way on Facebook receiving over 150 likes and 80 odd supportive comments.

Limited Company or Self employed? First question to my network was this. Before Covid-19, setting as a Limited company was probably the best bet, not least because of the liability protection and tax benefits. However in lockdown, the self employed earning under £50k have received the best protection from Government schemes, however you need to proof of three months earnings. But with such uncertainty about a second lockdown this winter, I think the self employed route may suit to start with. 

The power of Social Media (Linkedin / Facebook / Nextdoor). I consider myself quite savvy in terms of social media, I have launched successfully via online campaigns All Stars Cricket, bringing 200 kids each week to youth cricket and a proposal for a Windsor Town Council amongst other projects of which, as my wife rightly points out, I do not get paid for. However, using these skills to start business is a different proposition. It is very easy to get sucked into ‘paid ads’ racking up huge expenditure before even earning the first pound. However the first forays have brought interesting results, my first blog post received over 150 likes on Facebook and importantly new connections via LinkedIn. the emails I receive are building, although it definitely pays to be as specific as possible about what you are looking to do and can offer. 

Network opportunities. Where social media has a particular strength is in the network opportunities it presents. I was directed towards an excellent Facebook group called “Life After Teaching – Exit the Classroom and Thrive”. Here current and former teachers share their experiences, offering advice, guidance and tips. Sharon Cawley has an excellent You Tube video on how to thrive after teaching as a tutor. From this, I have built further connections with agencies such as the Tutors Association and a friend of mine who is connected with someone who runs a local organisation called the Education Boutique. It is through these networks that the Castle Tutoring brand will grow and help develop further. Researching what works and what doesn’t based on others experiences will certainly help support the brand in the early stages. 

Networking has endless limits and has opened doors I never knew existed, so where to start?

KS3 – KS5 History, Politics, Geography, Business Studies and Economics – Home turf, I know these subjects inside out and can immediately support anyone particularly in this post-lockdown world who needs support and catch up sessions ahead of next summer. 

Schools – As mentioned in my previous blog, schools have been given a grant by the Government to offer 1 to 1 and group support for catch up sessions. I have written to headteachers to offer my services and would enjoy delivering these. 

SATs – Not an immediate thought, but my inbox has been buzzing with requests for support with SATS, my eldest is going into Year 6 and consequently I am fully conversant with the SATS exam, my wife is also a Primary School teacher so can support, so why not?

Common Entrance 13+ History / Geography – The skills needed are the same as the most advanced KS3 students for which I have plenty of experience, most of whom have progressed to Oxbridge. 

11+ and Common Entrance Pre-tests – No, well at least not yet, verbally reasoning and non-verbal reasoning are slightly different skills which require a different approach so I will not offer these just yet. 

Home Schooling – This had not even crossed my mind when deciding to do this and yet I had not realised quite how many children are being home schooled and may require extra support in a wide variety of different ways. I am looking at my networks to see how feasible this is and whether anyone would be interested in this approach? 

Adult Education – Mature students writing dissertations, or those wanting to find out a bit more about History and different events, I have no idea how big or small this market is, but I would definitely enjoy delivering some of this content. Why does Windsor have two railway stations? would be of great interest to some I am sure. 

All of these are wide and varied, yet the core skills required to teach these remain consistent and whilst Castle Education begins to build, I look forward to the endless opportunities which are presenting themselves through one to one, group or online tuition. Its an exciting time to be involved, time for this educational magpie to start exploring further. 

Welcome to My New Blog

For years I have looked outside of the classroom window, wondering what was out there and to see life from a completely different perspective. I have loved the past 17 years watching students grow not just with their knowledge, but also their confidence, many of those former teenagers are now parents themselves and they can see the journey their children take through this wonderful world of education. All of this culminates of course on results day, seeing each students face as they open their envelopes to reveal their fate, is a day I always cherish, through the joy and the tears, we always remember the blood, sweat and tears that bring us to this turning point in their life. The inspiration behind Castle Tutoring is to give each student the very best opportunity to achieve the very best they can be, not all who leave us will be straight A* students, but they will receive from us the very best in teaching practice, resources, tracking and of course support as we strive together to unlock their potential.

I have been a teacher for over 17 years, delivering countless students into Oxbridge and Russell Group Universities through a rigorous approach to study and a wider appreciation of the wonderful world in which we live. Together we can achieve so much more, I look forward to working with you.