Sunday, January 28, 2007

The ragged trousered philanthropist

What keeps me in teaching? Apart from the generous holidays, there is still the love and sheer joy of working with young children (honestly!). Aside from that what’s kept me interested have been the different sabbaticals, grants, fellowships, bursaries and awards that are still on offer, if you can but find them. To save you all time here’s my top ten.

But firstly in the spirit of ‘How Not to Teach’ experience has persuaded me to steer clear and avoid anything with ‘Kite’, ‘Quality’, ‘Mark’ or ‘Charter’ on it. This is usually a recipe for endless form filling and then you have to pay them for a tiny logo on your school letterhead that you would need an electron microscope to detect. Some stressed-out heads obsessively collect them as some kind of magical hex to ward off Ofsted.

Regrettably some of the best schemes have finished

· Best Practice Research Scholarships allowed teachers time out of the classroom to study an aspect of the curriculum
· DfES Challenging Schools Sabbaticals gave teachers six weeks paid leave to do something creative

It’s routine for university lecturers to take time out for paid sabbaticals to study, think, read widely and write. Most head teachers seem completely averse to any of their staff leaving school for as much as a nanosecond – shoulder to the wheel, nose to the whiteboard. The times when staff could go out for ten days of training to be a coordinator have long gone.

If you are going to apply for any awards or grants, aside from your own professional development as a teacher and pedagogue, my bottom line is always – what’s in it for the children? So see previous comments about ‘Kite’, ‘Quality’, ‘Mark’ or ‘Charter’.

Farmington Fellowships

The Farmington really is the blue ribbon of sabbaticals, teachers of RE can get up to a term of paid leave to research an aspect of religion, a lecturer from a local university gives you support and guidance.

An eccentric wealthy benefactor called Bobby Wills established the trust. He liked to tell the story of a formidable headmistress who sat next to him at their annual meeting, “What's your connection with the Trust?” she asked him, her eyes running over his old pullover and corduroys. “Oh, I do a bit of this and that,” came the rather diffident reply. “Can't you be a bit more specific?” she pressed, a hint of disparagement in her tone. “Well, if you must know,” he rejoined, “I'm the Trust's founder and chairman.” She didn’t believe him.

At LEA training courses the default mode from the providers is – ‘Here’s a useless bunch of miscreants and loafers we need to bore into submission with planning sheets, Schemes of Work and targets. Here’s the tablets of stone, Woodhouse has spoken’. It takes a while to get used to the Farmington method, which is to trust teachers. It’s a bit like the scene in Jimmy Boyle’s ‘A Sense of Freedom’, he’s a notorious gangster and has been through all of Scotland’s toughest prisons and they send him to the new experimental unit at Barlinnie. Boyle is trying to open a parcel and one of the warders gives him a pair of scissors, he looks in disbelief, is this another planet? They managed to cultivate an interest in art and he became a world famous sculptor.

Bizarre as it may seem because you don’t have anyone peering over your shoulder, you actually end up going above and beyond the call of duty. The highlight is the annual meeting at Oxford where you get 15 minutes to present your report to your peers. There are all the archaic Oxford University conventions where every college has their own set of rules and regulations from library use to breakfast (the Cambridge based novel ‘Porterhouse Blue’ is good background reading).

The Farmington is unique, but it just shows that there aren’t that many ragged trousered philanthropists out there.

2. It Could Be You!

The Lottery funds projects like the
Local Heritage Initiative, Heritage Lottery Fund and Awards for All. We managed to hit the jackpot and got £20,000 to make a film about local history. The application process is quite bureaucratic and time consuming and some areas of the country seem to be preferred over others. Also the word on the street is to get your bids in now before money is diverted to fund monosyllabic drug cheats to sprint round a reclaimed rubbish trip waving the Union Jack – a.k.a. ‘The London Olympics 2012’.

The British Council

When I wanted to make a link with a school in another country, in my naivety I phoned the LEA. After being put through to about five different extensions where people denied all responsibility, I was eventually put through to someone who admitted that it might be something to do with him. He said he’d, “Get back to me”, he never did (our LEA has this tunnel vision where if it’s not something to do with climbing up the league tables they ain’t interested), so once again it was a case of Sinn Fein – ‘Ourselves Alone’.

The British Council run some excellent sessions on how to twin with other countries, but you have to be pro-active and find a partner yourself. Some partnerships break down because teachers move or change jobs, there’s a large element of luck involved in finding the right partner. The forms are quite complicated and supply cover isn’t fully funded. If you can take a group of children overseas it’s a fantastic experience for them, we took ours to Ireland.

Walter Hines Scholarship

Every teacher union can send a ‘scholar’ on a two-week trip to the USA with supply costs covered. The scheme is administered by the English Speaking Union. You have to attend an interview at their imposing headquarters in London, don’t worry very few people apply for this award so there’s a high chance of success. The HQ is like some relic from a bygone colonial era, there’s lots of PAs and secretaries floating around called Cynthia, Fiona or Daphne with cut-glass English accents, then there’s the wooden boards with all the past officials embossed in gold plate writing, all with impressive double-barrelled names and heaps of letters after them.

I had to smile because at the top was ‘Patron – the Duke of Edinburgh’. This is the man who is banned from saying anything in public, there were the notorious comment to English students in Beijing that if they stayed any longer they’d get ‘slitty eyed’, his ‘joke’ in New Guinea about cannibalism and just to prove that he’s Mr Sensitive after the Dunblane massacre there were calls for gun controls dismissed by the Duke because ‘they’d try to ban cricket bats next’.

English speaking – Duke of Edinburgh, surely a contradiction in terms? The original oxymoron? Not that I’ve got anything against people from another country who want to come over here and marry beneath themselves. As Celebrity Big Brother has proved some of the natives who boast English as a first language can’t speak ‘proper’ and don’t have a clue where ‘East Angular’ is.

Holocaust Education

This is run by the Imperial War Museum and you will be expected to develop your own education programme. You have to commit a chunk of your holidays, initial training is at the end of July, and in return you get to spend a week in Jerusalem in February and then a week in Auschwitz during October half term.

BT School Awards

This is that rare thing in our society a business that actually gives money to schools – no strings attached. Most schemes involve ‘cause-related marketing’ where if you save thousands of vouchers you’ll get a computer mouse. A serious blow to these schemes came with Cadbury’s ‘Free Sports Equipment’ campaign It was scrapped after it was revealed that pupils would have to eat 5,440 chocolate bars, containing 33kg of fat and nearly 1.25 million calories, to qualify for a set of volleyball posts.

Every year BT spends millions on the project and hundreds of schools are involved, three are chosen for an extra £10,000 award. The only problem is that I don’t want to end up like America where the education system is seriously under-funded and schools and local authorities have to go round with the begging bowl to big business. Also I wouldn’t be happy taking money from British Nuclear Fuels, tobacco companies or the armaments industry, not that this would apply to BAE, they’re far to busy bribing the Saudi royal family.

TES Newsday

If you want to spend time with your children trying to produce a newspaper in one day and finish it as a gibbering wreck then this is the one for you. The highlight is the awards ceremony at the House of Commons, for more details on this read ‘How Not to Teach’.

8. MA

The MA or MEd used to be a sort of gold standard for research and was almost required by some schools for a headship. That requirement has been officially replaced by the
NPQH, which prepares its students for the modern job description of a head teacher – administrator, accountant, general factotum and LEA whipping boy.

Naturally Woodhead managed to set the tone again when he described most educational research as “useless”. Studying for an MA you don’t get any time off and you have to pay hundreds of pounds for the privilege. Don’t harbour the illusion that it will help you gain promotion or another job. Most of my interviews have featured the following exchange-

Me: I’ve completed an MA in the creative use of ICT and in developing children’s thinking skills

Panel: Very interesting. Can you tell us how you have used target setting, testing and assessment to boost children’s National Curriculum levels?

Me: Er… waffle, waffle, waffle.

Panel: We’ll be in touch.

9. Local Awards

As the LEAs have faded into oblivion the courses and training events they used to offer are no more, if you want to develop as a teacher and pedagogue basically it’s up to you. The
City Learning Centres do offer some ‘creative sabbaticals’ but as with the rest of the education world it’s usually a case of feast or famine. One minute they’re spending money like there’s no tomorrow the next moment half their staff are being made redundant, so choose your moment carefully.

Another avenue for funding is through your local
Community Service Volunteers, it’s well worth giving them a ring to see if they can help.

10. The rest

If you’re absolutely knackered and can’t face another ten or twenty years of teaching then
Goldsmiths’ Mid-Career Break is just the tonic you need. They award grants of up to £3,000 to enable teachers to enjoy a complete break from the classroom for a period of four to six weeks. In addition they will meet the cost of the first four weeks' supply cover.

Creative Partnerships probably deserves a place right up my league table but as I haven’t any direct experience I’ll have to leave them here. Hundreds of millions have been spent on schools in a wide variety of locations, however their future after 2008 looks uncertain.

I have read on the TES web site that the Oxford and Cambridge colleges offer sabbaticals for teachers, but for the life of me I can’t find it on the Internet. The guidelines are probably written in gold lettering in an archaic Latin script on calf vellum and locked away in a dark musty vault at the Bodleian Library.

If you do win any of the above don’t expect to be flavour of the month in the staff room. When I came back from two weeks in Germany most of the staff greeted me with a curt ‘Morning!’ Nothing like ‘How was the trip?’ Schools are vast storehouses for gossip, intrigue, jealousy and vicious backbiting. Not to worry I’m not interested in promotion or sucking up to the senior management team or attending any of the mind numbingly boring LEA coordinators’ meetings, I’m just happy being a sabbatical and awards junky.

My benchmark is what will the children remember from being in my class? Will it be the A3 laminated sheets with targets for every part of the curriculum that I’m forced to plaster the walls with, will they recall that moment when they moved from a 3B to a 3A, will they have fond memories of the half termly tests I’m required to force down their throats? Or will they remember the film project they acted in, or the trip to Ireland, or the visit to the House of Commons? Strange to say and whisper it very quietly, but when I came into teaching I actually wanted to… inspire them.


Passed this on to my overworked teacher. She's had a British Council one before but as it's over 3 years ago it reminder her she can apply again. Cheered her up after a tough day :-) BTW I linked to you from Classroom Displays - care to return the favour?
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