Rebuilding RAAC schools with energy efficiency in mind

RAAC concrete

With most school buildings having a typical lifespan of about 80 years, opportunities to build schools with a responsible design from the outset – rather than retrofitting – are few and far between. The Government’s recent announcement that 119 schools in England need to be rebuilt due to the reinforced autoclave aerated concrete (RAAC) crisis presents us with one of these rare opportunities.  While retrofitting is a brilliant solution for the vast majority of schools, there’s no substitute for buildings that have been designed with energy efficiency firmly in mind.  It’s no secret that schools across the country are facing rocketing energy bills. Figures from the Department for Education show that, in England, local authority-maintained schools spent 61% more on energy in the year 2022-23 than the previous year.  And the quality of school building stock is also poor when it comes to energy performance, with one fifth of all school buildings in England possessing an Energy Performance Certificate of E, F or G – the lowest ratings it’s possible to achieve. Little wonder, then, that net-zero consultancy The Carbon Trust has estimated that UK schools could reduce their energy costs by around £44m each year. While there’s a whole host of interior upgrades that can be made, from installing more efficient LED lighting and heating and ventilation systems, the shell of school buildings themselves should be made to work as hard as possible.  READ MORE: QA EDUCATION NEWS At Project Solar, we believe it would be a glaring oversight, for example, if renewable energy sources were not an integral part of all 119 school rebuilds. Solar panels are such an obvious and logical place to start when it comes to reducing dependence on grid electricity. Research from property consultancy Barker suggests that schools can generate approximately 25% of their electricity from on-site solar PV systemsalone.  Evidence shows that where schools have already installed solar panels, they’re quickly reaping the benefits, both financially and environmentally. Hammersmith Academy in Shepherds Bush, for example, installed over 400 solar panels last summer and is on track to cut its electricity bills by 20% in the first year post-installation. At the same time, the Academy is saving 32 tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere, which is the equivalent to approximately 1,500 trees being planted.  And solar panels are not just a money-saving measure for schools, but potentially a money-making one too. Exporting renewable energy that they haven’t used back to the grid could generate a steady income stream for schools.  So, I would urge us not to be short-sighted when rebuilding our schools, and to recognise the long-term benefits that renewables adoption can bring. The recent announcement of new funding pots could help those 119 RAAC schools to finance that, as well as opening up retrofitting opportunities for existing school buildings.  Last week the Government announced £530 million of funding for low carbon heating and energy savings for schools, hospital and other public buildings. Tapping into funding via the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme should be high on the priority list for all schools.  By getting it right with these 119 RAAC rebuilds, we can have 119 examples of best practise when it comes to energy efficiency that future school rebuilds can be modelled on. Ultimately the transition to net-zero will require the entire school real estate portfolio in the UK to upgrade, but the RAAC rebuilds are a great place to really build momentum on the isolated pockets of schools dotted around the country that already have solar panels.    By Simon Peat – CEO of Project Solar, the UK’s largest solar panel installer

The Future Of Digital GCSE Exams In Our Schools

Digital GCSE exams should be launched by 2030. Children working on computers

Last autumn, England’s largest examination board for GCSE exams, AQA, revealed its intention for pupils to sit their GCSE exams partly digitally in at least one major subject by 2030. By Adam Speight, acting Assistant Headteacher and content creator for Access Education. The announcement, intended to ‘allow young people to use their digital skills’, set the wheels in motion for a series of developments which leave little doubt that digital assessment will become a key part of our education system.  Just a few months ago, AQA subsequently launched a free digital maths test to help teachers work out why some students are struggling with the subject. Aimed at Key Stage 3 students and those preparing for  a maths GCSE resit, the on-screen test reacts to the answers a student gives, powered by ‘adaptive technology’.  Similar tests, which assess and help improve students’ knowledge through instantaneous, automated feedback, are already being used in schools up and down the country. They provide early insight into the impact of widespread digital test adoption – and, crucially, what lessons can be learnt from the results.  Data-driven insights Earlier this year, data from over 80,000 GCSE students, who collectively answered over 6 million questions through digital assessments, formed the basis of GCSEPod’s Knowledge and Confidence Gap Analysis Report 2023/24. It helped to pinpoint the exact areas where students currently struggle across a range of subjects, including Maths, English and Science. Recalling and correctly applying formulae (66.7% incorrect attempts) and dividing fractions (62.9% incorrect attempts) were revealed as the areas of foundational knowledge students struggled with in Maths, following news that pass rates have fallen for GCSE maths resits this year. Meanwhile, in English Language, students have faced difficulty understanding how to use apostrophes and quotation marks (69.1% incorrect attempts), with basic punctuation an area of low confidence nationwide.  In Combined Science, the commonality of errors relating to equations and data could mean that inadequate understanding of mathematical skills and process may be affecting both confidence and attainment. Overcoming areas of difficulty Through understanding where students’ knowledge is lacking and misconceptions are frequent, teachers can focus their efforts in these areas, implementing easy solutions such as recapping lessons or undertaking targeted revision sessions.  While many teachers gain this understanding through traditional pen and paper marking methods, digital tests can help predict what areas a cohort will struggle with before they do, based on the vast amount of data from the year before.  Digital tests also help to alleviate teacher workload here – a clear advantage when teaching commitments and administrative tasks often leave very little time for lesson planning. And, as the teacher recruitment and retention crisis shows no signs of subsiding and increasing numbers of schools have to use non-specialist teachers, digital tests can assist in alleviating shortcomings in teacher knowledge. Structured feedback helps provide both learners and teachers with additional support. It can be a challenge to pry digitally-savvy students away from their phones, but digital tests are also an effective way of helping to ‘meet students where they are’, not to mention more inclusive.  They help those who can type faster than they can write, while alleviating the need to worry about how your writing looks. For those, like myself, who are dyslexic, this is particularly helpful. From the classroom to the exam hall Though digital exams remain a vision of the near future, it’s clear there is an appetite building. A 2022 TeacherTapp survey of nearly 4000 secondary teachers, found that 75% of teachers believed that on-screen assessment would be a good thing, if challenges such as access to technology are addressed effectively. With such concerns valid, a clear way forward is to focus on incorporating digital tests into everyday learning now, familiarising students with best practice and introducing the correct infrastructure into classrooms. Digital exams will likely never fully replace traditional written examination, with a hybrid approach keeping in place the benefits of both. The positive impact of this is being seen in our schools already and with technology only advancing, it’s an exciting area to watch.  To find out more about GCSEPod’s Knowledge Gap report, visit https://www.theaccessgroup.com/en-gb/education/resources/where-in-england-has-the-biggest-gcse-knowledge-gap/

How to turn the page on lingering learning gaps

Schools have found creative ways to deliver catch up teaching says Louise Pink, former school leader and Customer Optimisation Manager at SIMS from ParentPay Group.  The conversation in school corridors and staff rooms may have moved on from the experience of teaching through a global pandemic four years on. But in classrooms, the legacy remains.  Some of the more recent data available comes from a survey of 500 school leaders, who were asked about the status of teaching and learning in their schools as part of the Generation Catch-Up Report. The result was almost universal agreement that pupils’ learning is yet to recover from the disruption of Covid.  A staggering 96% felt that learning gaps were continuing to have an impact on pupil achievement – and nearly two thirds (61%) described the impact as major. One in 10 schools reported learning loss of between one and two years, which is why work continues in many schools to close the gaps.  Who is most affected? Primary school leaders were most concerned about their Year 4s. These are the children who were in Year 3 at the time of the survey. In secondary schools, the picture was more mixed. Year 10s were highlighted as the year group most affected by learning gaps. These were the students in Year 9 at the time of the survey and preparing for GCSEs. Some of the issues raised by senior leaders include Year 7s starting school with low literacy levels. In older year groups, they raised the point that students were feeling unprepared for their exams. The ripples of Covid appear to have left no child untouched.  However, there have been positive developments in recent years too. Despite being under intense pressure, school leaders and teachers have been taking action to close learning gaps and help children get back on track.  Taking action on literacy  Additional training and CPD opportunities provided to teachers help to ensure catch-up programmes for literacy, reading and writing get results. In St Thomas More Catholic Primary, the English lead was working towards the National Professional Qualification in Leading Literacy (NPQLL) when the report was published.  There’s been a drive to incorporate reading and writing activities across subject areas too, which is helping children build literacy skills more quickly, as Donna Faley, headteacher, explains. “We have embedded writing across the curriculum which gives children opportunities to write at length in subjects like geography, history and RE. Producing longer, high quality writing has really helped with children’s writing stamina.” Beacon Academy had identified children who were three or four years behind on reading age. “We looked at our assessment data and identified the weakest pupils in history and geography and spotted they also had the lowest scores in reading tests,” says Peter Hall, the school’s assistant headteacher.  “This enabled us to focus on those who needed the most support and monitor the interventions we put in place for them.” The school also employed reading intervention tutors to find out exactly where students’ stumbling blocks are on a one-to-one basis as each child had different difficulties. This has helped to address reading gaps.   Supporting whole cohorts  The size of pandemic related learning loss has called for a much broader approach in many schools.   In primary schools, key skills have been identified that entire classes need help with. Adapting lesson plans to embed the development of these skills in day-to-day lessons has helped to tackle the shortfall at scale.  Senior leaders in secondary schools reported students in the younger year groups had lost confidence working on their own. Many schools have therefore concentrated their efforts on providing more individual attention.  “Teachers are adapting tasks into shorter chunks to help children learn more independently, and they are allocating more time in the lesson to explain new concepts,” says Ieuan Price, director of digital learning at St Illtyd’s Catholic High School. Freeing up time for teachers  Finding time in the school day to deliver good quality catch-up provision has been a challenge for many schools. Encouraging attendance at after school catch-up clubs hasn’t always been easy, so online tuition sessions have offered an effective alternative to supplement in-school learning. Some secondary schools have made better use of the time available in the school day to offer focused catch-up in core subjects too, providing additional support to those students who need it.   “Using tutor time for additional maths tuition has had a positive impact, and students really appreciate a teacher caring about them and taking time to focus on their progress,” adds Peter Hall from Beacon Academy.  The ingenuity and resourcefulness showcased by schools throughout the pandemic to continue to deliver teaching and learning is still apparent today. And it will influence education for generations to come. READ MORE QA EDUCATION FEATURES

Using AI to support teaching and learning in Alternative Provision settings

AI

Fleur Sexton, Deputy Lieutenant West Midlands and CEO of dynamic training provider, PET-Xi, with a reputation for success with the hardest to reach, discusses harnessing the power of AI to support teaching and re-engaging learners in alternative provision (AP) settings  According to Government statistics, in the last school year the permanent exclusion rate (as a proportion of the overall school population) for pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) was approximately four times greater, at 16.02, than those not eligible at 4.26. Suspension rates for pupils with an education, health and care plan (EHC) was 17.63, those with special educational needs (SEN) support but no EHC plan was 18.59 and those without SEN  was 4.59. Permanent exclusions followed the trend, with those with EHC plans at 0.13, those with SEN and no EHC plan at 0.25, followed by those with no SEN at 0.05. The rates may look relatively small, but they equate to 6,495 permanently excluded children, and 578,280 suspensions. For all these suspended, temporarily or permanently excluded pupils, alternative provision (AP) becomes the ‘last stop’ to provide them with an education and improved life chances. Can AI open up opportunities and provide a pathway towards educational and social equity for these disadvantaged young people? There are over 160,000 autistic pupils in schools across England. 70% are in mainstream school, with the remaining in specialist education, home educated or alarmingly – out of education altogether. ‘Persistent disruptive behaviour’ – the most commonly cited reason for temporary or permanent exclusion from mainstream education – often results from unmet or undiagnosed SEN or social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.  These pupils find themselves unable to cope in a mainstream environment, which impacts their mental health and personal wellbeing, and their abilities to engage in a positive way with the curriculum and the challenges of school routine. A multitude of factors all adding to their feelings of frustration and failure.According to the SEND and AP improvement plan, (March 2023) ‘…82% of children and young people in state-place funded alternative provision have identified special educational needs (SEN) 2, and it (AP) is increasingly being used to supplement local SEND systems…’  Children excluded from school face a bleak future, with just 4% achieving a pass in English and maths GCSEs, and 50% becoming NEET post-16. Exclusion is often referred to as ‘the pipeline to prison’, and the statistics support that: 42% of prisoners were expelled or permanently excluded from school, 59% truanted, and around 47% of those entering prison had no school qualifications.  Currently AP is in crisis. Some excluded pupils on waiting lists for a placement have online lessons or tutors, others are simply not being educated. Oversubscribed AP settings lead to increased class sizes and reduced teacher:pupil ratios, so they no longer receive the levels of additional support they need. Other unregulated settings provide questionable educational advantage to those who attend. AI can help redress the balance, and provide part of the solution.  Those attending AP, often have well ingrained negative associations with learning. The first barrier is to find ways to re-engage them. To do this the content must be meaningful to them, it must connect to the real world and reflect their own experiences.  A persuasive essay about school uniforms, may fire the debate for a successful learner, but it is probably not going to be a hot topic for a child struggling with a chaotic or dysfunctional home life. If that child is dealing with high levels of adversity – being a carer for a relative, keeping the household going, dealing with pressure to join local gangs, being coerced into couriering drugs and weapons around the neighbourhood – school uniform does not hold sway. It has little to do with their life.   Asking the group about the subjects they feel strongly about, or responding to local news stories from their neighbourhoods, and using these to create tasks, will provide a more enticing hook to pique their interest. After all, in many situations, the subject of a task is  just the ‘hanger’ for the skills they need to learn – in this case, the elements of creating a persuasive piece, communicating perspectives and points of view.  Using AI, teachers have the capacity to provide this individualised content and personalised instruction and feedback. Supporting learners by addressing their needs and ‘scaffolding’ their learning through adaptive teaching.  AI can be a ‘third’ teacher in the room, alongside the class teacher and assistant. For example, if a learner is having difficulty grasping a concept – especially an abstract one, the AI tutor can produce several relevant analogies to help explain it. AI can also be used to develop interactive learning modules, so the learner has more control and more of a sense of ownership over their learning. This is by no means a replacement for teachers or teaching assistants. AI is purely an additional support, that, coupled with approaches that promote engagement with learning, can support these disadvantaged and often vulnerable children and young people, enabling them to access ‘a world-class education that allows them to reach their potential and live a fulfilled life, regardless of their background.’ (DfE)  Fleur Sexton, CEO PET-Xi www.pet-xi.co.uk. Read more QA Education features

Schools stalling on sustainability despite it being ‘a top priority’

Amidst ongoing challenges, research from school transport specialist Kura reveals that sustainability is taking a backseat for school leaders, highlighting a disconnect between targets and action.  Despite carbon footprint reduction being a top priority for 42% of school leaders, there is little action being taken, particularly when it comes to the carbon-emitting school run. Just 9% plan to invest in buying or leasing new electric vehicles this year, 7% in car share initiatives and 27% in cycling and walking schemes. Research also highlights concerns regarding levels of traffic and pollution around the school gates. Unicef’s Toxic School Run report found that children are disproportionately exposed to higher doses of pollution during the school run and research by Admiral revealed that, during term time, there are 68% more accidents occurring during morning school run hours. Encouragingly, 66% of school leaders agree that levels of pollution and congestion at peak hours need to be cut and 62% believe that the number of parents driving children to school should be reduced.  When asked about the future of the school run, 34% of school leaders said they expect to see more electric vehicles, 27% think there will be more shared transport (coach and minibuses) and nearly half (43%) believe walking and cycling infrastructure will be developed. However, of the 250 school leaders surveyed, just 34% say that their school is part of a scheme to reduce traffic. Whilst schemes such as School Streets are growing in popularity, with over 300 educational establishments introducing them in the UK, it’s clear that the majority of schools still have action to take to reduce congestion around the school gates. The research also found that just 28% of the schools surveyed currently provide a home to school service and only 6% have invested in improving school transport in the last year. When one 49-seater school coach can take as many as 31 cars of the road*, provision of school transport can be key to schools’ sustainability efforts. Commenting on the findings, Godfrey Ryan, CEO of Kura, said: “Schools are undoubtably under pressure to make budgets stretch further and shifting priorities are leading to a stall in action when it comes to sustainability.  “However, our research highlights a disconnect between what school leaders expect to see and what they’re investing in. For example, 34% believe that there will be more electric vehicles for school transport in the next three years, but just 9% intend to invest in this area. “With the government expected to introduce sustainability targets for schools from 2025 and research revealing worrying levels of pollution around the school gates, school leaders can’t afford to put the brakes on reducing emissions.  “To help tackle the issue, schools can invest in school transport, car share schemes and initiatives to reduce traffic at peak pick up and drop off times. A quarter of rush hour traffic can be attributed to the school run and this can be significantly reduced with the right measures in place. “Transport technology also has a role to play. For example, route optimisation means that drivers can take the most efficient route to pick up students, shortening the school journey and reducing emissions.  “It’s no longer just a sustainability issue. Whilst schools have a vital role to play in reducing emissions, high levels of traffic and pollution also pose a significant safeguarding risk to students and the local community. As a result, schools must get on board with the school run revolution.”

Tadpole Press launches editorial services in the UK

Amber Byers

An award winning American author is offering her editing and coaching skills to aspiring writers and editorial professionals in the UK. Amber Byers, whose book ‘Sophie and Spot’ won a Gold Medal for Best First Book at the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards in 2019, is the founder and CEO of Tadpole Press. Amber delights in helping writers reignite their passion for writing so they can create the story that’s burning inside of them. ​She offers a range of editorial services from her home in Colorado, USA. Tadpole Press services are: Developmental Editing Providing professional guidance developing big picture themes such as content, character development, and plot; suggesting places to clarify the writing, improve the structure, and deepen the story. We work with you to create the story that you want to write. We tailor our suggestions to meet your goals, so that your voice comes through clearly and powerfully. Diversity Editing Providing professional guidance in recognizing stereotypes; analyzing characters, themes, and ideas in light of gender, race, and body type; assisting in creating an accurate portrayal according to your specific goals. We recognize that writing is powerful and choosing the right words is crucial. We help you become the change you want to see in the world. Academic Editing Assisting with the organization of academic content; clarifying your analysis; suggesting places to improve grammar and concise expression of ideas; editing thesis or dissertation in accordance with educational and ethical requirements. Our founder and CEO, Amber Byers, has written and perfected many papers throughout her academic career. She received the highest grade in her class on her legal writing exam. Writing Coaching Providing gentle encouragement and professional guidance to reignite your passion for writing; assisting with overcoming writing blocks; understanding your unique voice in order to motivate you to tell the story that inspires you; providing accountability to meet your writing goals. We meet you where you are—wherever you are in your writing journey—and work with you to identify and overcome the obstacles standing in your way. Contact: https://www.tadpolepress.com/contact

Health Anxieties in Children – How to Spot Early Signs

A distressed girl

By Kate Sheppard As human beings, it is normal for us to feel an amount of anxiety. This is also true for children. Many children are afraid of the dark or nervous about meeting new people and making new friends. This is normal.  However, sometimes, what begins as normal anxiety levels in children can increase into something more substantial. Pupils in any year group can develop anxiety disorder. What you need to know is how to spot the early signs.  In this article, we will be discussing health anxieties in pupils and how you can spot the early signs of this condition so that you can take the appropriate next steps.  What is Health Anxiety?  Health anxiety is a specific form of anxiety where a person becomes obsessively, and often unnecessarily, worried about their health. Health anxiety is more commonly known by the term ‘hypochondria’ and is a prevalent anxiety condition in both children and adults that has a significant impact on the individual’s quality of life.  What Causes Health Anxieties in Pupils?  Anxiety, like most mental health conditions, does not have the same cause for everyone. What causes one pupil to develop health anxiety, may not cause it for another. There are different causes of anxiety and some are more obvious than others.  As educators it’s vital to identify some of the most common causes of health anxieties in pupils. These are usually the result of: Being around other anxious pupils and picking up on their behavior  A stressful or traumatic event, such as the death of a close relative, physical or emotional abuse, or an accident  Frequently moving to a new house, school, or neighborhood School-related stress such as bullying or exam pressure  A serious illness, injury or accident  Common Symptoms of Anxiety in Pupils  Just like adults do, children exhibit symptoms of anxiety in very different ways. However, if you suspect a pupil of yours is struggling with anxiety, below is a list of common symptoms to be aware of:  Frequently complaining about stomach aches  Claiming sickness to result in going home with a sick note Experiencing sudden mood changes that are seemingly unprovoked  Asking to constantly go to the toilet Having difficulty concentrating and paying attention  Loss of appetite during lunchtime Isolation, quietness, and reduced social interaction during class  How to Spot the Early Signs of Health Anxiety in Pupils  As we have already discussed, health anxiety is a specific form of anxiety that focuses predominantly on an individual’s health or perceived lack thereof. Health anxieties in pupils can be worrisome as they can have a significant impact on a child’s normal development and functioning. Therefore, many teachers are keen to spot the early signs of the condition so they can take the necessary steps to provide support.  Below we share how as teachers we can spot the early signs of health anxiety in pupils.  Worrying About Minor Health Symptoms  If you notice a pupil is often exaggerating the severity of minor health conditions – for example, assuming a headache is the sign of a brain tumour – this is often a telling sign they are struggling with health anxiety.  Frequently Asking to Go to the School Nurse  Another common sign of health anxiety is frequently asking to go to the school nurse. Children suffering from health anxiety want to see the nurse as often as they can, either to report new conditions they are worried about or to seek reassurance.  However, the flip side to this is that some children with health anxiety do not find any reassurance from the nurse and instead assume their diagnosis – or even their test results – are incorrect.  Struggling to Function Day-to-day  Children with health anxieties tend to become so preoccupied with the state of their health, or lack thereof, that they struggle to function well during class.  Signs that a pupil of yours may be struggling to function will be specific to them, however may include things such as difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, little to no appetite, no interest in activities they previously enjoyed, and difficulty enjoying themselves.  Repeatedly Checking Their Body for Signs of Illness  Children that obsessively check their bodies for signs of illness tend to be showing signs of health anxiety. A child in your class could be doing this because someone close to them has died from a specific illness or injury.  Alternatively, they could be obsessively checking because they’re worried about developing a medical illness that runs in their family. Whatever the cause, repeatedly checking the body for signs of illness is a typical sign of health anxiety in children.  Next Steps: Seek Professional Help  If you have noticed that a pupil of yours is showing signs of health anxiety and you are concerned, it is important to reach out to the child’s parent to discuss your observations and concerns. Rest assured that spotting the signs early can go a long way towards affecting a positive outcome for your pupils.  Final Words  We hope this article will help you spot the early signs of health anxiety in your pupils so that you can take the appropriate next steps. According to The New York Times, “opening a dialogue with children about how they are feeling and listening without judgement are critical.” Be encouraged that health anxiety is a treatable condition and there is plenty of support available, should your child need it.

How educational technology can transform reading for pleasure

Reading Plus image of children in a classroom reading on tablet computers

Reading for pleasure has many benefits to a child’s education, but how has educational technology transformed how we approach it? Reading development consultant and former Deputy Headteacher and Director of English, Ian Turner, discusses. Why reading for pleasure is so important. Teachers know that reading for pleasure can significantly impact a child’s education in terms of their performance in reading tests and their general well-being, vocabulary development, appreciation of other cultures, and knowledge. The implications of COVID-19 on reading for pleasure  The pandemic’s wide-ranging impact on reading for pleasure is no surprise to anyone in the education sector. In 2020, the National Literacy Trust reported: • Children and young people’s levels of reading enjoyment continued to decline and were at their lowest since 2005. • Children and young people’s daily reading levels were at the lowest ever recorded, with just 25.8% of children saying they read daily in their free time in 2019. In 2021, the National Literacy Trust reported: • 1 in 2 (51.5%) children and young people said they enjoyed reading. This is slightly lower than the percentage recorded during the first spring lockdown in 2020 (55.9%) but higher than levels at the beginning of 2020. • 2 in 5 (44.6%) children and young people agreed that reading made them feel better. • ‘Reading to relax’ was one of the main reasons why children and young people were reading in early 2021, with 1 in 2 (52.7%) saying this, followed by ‘educational aspects’, namely helping to learn about new things (51.4%) and learning new words (49.8%). It is encouraging to see children and young people’s attitudes towards reading for enjoyment improve after the numerous Covid-related national lockdowns. Reflecting on the impact of the pandemic Rather than a blight on the future of a generation of children, the pandemic has led teachers and leaders to adapt and find alternative ways to inspire, engage, and accurately assess their pupils’ progress. The coronavirus outbreak highlighted the vital importance of technology for learning and as a tool to encourage reading for pleasure. As schools closed and physical books could no longer be swapped and taken home, many schools looked towards technology as a solution. Educational technology as a solution Access to texts to read online through programmes such as Reading Plus was a lifeline for schools and children during extended periods of home learning. Some of these programmes were developed in response to the pandemic, while others were already embedded as part of schools’ reading curriculum offer. And while some are designed purely to provide access to online texts, those that explicitly model best practices for reading development have enabled children to progress their reading skills, despite the closure of schools. Schools have been urged to seek technological solutions to teaching, learning and assessment. This ensures a smooth transition between year groups and key stages so children can continue developing age-appropriate skills. Thanks to teaching ingenuity and technology, the vulnerable and the most disadvantaged now have more opportunities. In addition, some children have perhaps read more during home-schooling than the traditional route. And while many children may not have a physical book in their house, being given hardware and software by their school has given them access to hundreds of online texts that are age-appropriate, ability levelled, and that provide direct and explicit instruction to improve their vocabulary, comprehension and fluency. Technology does not replace a book, the same way it does not replace teaching, but it can unlock the skills children need to read with metacognition. The impact of reading for pleasure A child who does not enjoy reading is less likely to read. A child who doesn’t read is less likely to develop reading efficiency, will not be exposed to a wide range of vocabulary, and is less likely to develop strong comprehension skills. These pupils are more likely to find reading difficult, lose their confidence in their reading ability, become further disengaged with reading, and lose confidence in their reading ability. How then do you teach a child to enjoy reading? To do that, you need to remove the obstacles that prevent reading from being a pleasurable experience. The obstacle of inefficient readers with low fluency To encourage reading for pleasure, we need to develop reading competence. Understanding why inefficient readers are so is a good place to start. Inefficient readers expend energy and attention simply trying to read the text, diverting attention from the critical step of information processing and understanding. As a result, inefficient readers may struggle with both comprehension and motivation to read – reading is slow and laborious, and their reading level is well below age-related expectations. Slow readers also read less and take in less information, which further sets them back. As with any activity, the more pupils read, the better they are at it. By making the act of reading more fluent, working memory is freed up to take in the meaning of the text. Weaker readers need well-structured, adaptive, and personalised reading interventions. The importance of automaticity in reading for pleasure One factor that distinguishes more successful readers from their less able peers is automaticity. That is, the ability to navigate lines of text, decode common words, and construct meaning from text without having to devote a great deal of conscious effort or attention to the process of reading. Automaticity develops from reading practice and the development of efficient, silent reading habits. With practice, word decoding speed increases, sight vocabulary expands, and word recognition becomes increasingly automatic. At some point, given sufficient exposure to appropriately levelled texts, an adequate percentage of words in a text will be sight words. According to prevailing theories, cognitive resources formerly required for word decoding can be redirected toward processes that support comprehension. How reading technologies can instil a lifelong love of reading The motivation to read and continue to read comes from curiosity about the text, knowing what you are successful at and the associated sense of achievement – and knowing what to do to

Go Sketch art teacher asks ‘Is talent a myth?’

Go Sketch Club art teacher Emma

Emma Shannon from Go Sketch Club teaches art to children and adults and aims to develop young artists into self confident, imaginative and creative thinking adults of tomorrow.  In this guest blog she explores the notion of talent and why many children are unfairly turned off art at a young age. Is talent a myth? As a young child, many of us would have easily picked up a crayon and started drawing with a sense of freedom and exploration. I remember vividly that feeling of excitement when I opened my sketchbook on a long train journey with my family or started painting with a new set of paints. When I became a primary school teacher, I enjoyed seeing this same joy when children were given the opportunity to draw or create a clay sculpture in class. However, for many, this sense of joy and abandon when creating art does not last. As we get older, many adults leave this pastime behind them. Drawing becomes something that children do with ease and adults do with caution. As an art teacher I have noticed that there is a sense of judgement that starts from about age 8 or 9 and grows into adulthood. Instead of being present in the moment while creating, we start thinking “Is this a good or a bad drawing?”. We look around at our classmates and we start comparing our drawing to others. As a teacher, I began to wonder what causes this shift in attitude from “I can draw” to “I can’t draw”. Is there anything I can do as a teacher to stop this transition? Around the time I set up Go Sketch Art Classes, I started listening more to what children, parents and other teachers started expressing around art education and one word kept popping up again and again. The word was ‘talent’. I would hear it in class when children would ask the ‘talented’ child to help them draw something. I would hear it in other teachers who would sometimes openly pick out a child as having talent in front of the other students. I would hear it in some of the art birthday parties I taught, when parents would come up to me and say (in front of the children), “James is the talented one in this group”. I would also hear about people not having this ‘talent’, especially when parents dropped off their children at one of our Go Sketch art classes. They would often say “I’m not creative or talented in art so I don’t know where my child gets it from!”. So what is this elusive ‘talent’ people keep talking about? Talent is defined as an ‘innate ability in a particular field’. Innate is defined as existing naturally rather than being learned through experience. Talent becomes a magical quality that you are either born with or not. In some ways, this can make the person with the ‘talent’ feel very special and what is the harm in that? It is a great feeling when someone sees something special in you and celebrates it. I suppose the downside to this belief in ‘talent’ for the ‘talented child’ is that it is lot to live up to and can cause problems if the said ‘talented’ child draws something they don’t like. I have seen this in action, where the ‘talented’ child is incredibly hard on themselves and sometimes stops trying to advance their drawing in the fear that they will draw something ‘not good’ and lose the magical label of ‘talented’. I believe this idea of talent can also be a factor in the shift from children thinking they can draw to suddenly and heartbreakingly believing that they can’t. If you believe in talent as an innate ability then art is simply a door that is open to the chosen few and the moment you draw something you don’t like, that door is slammed shut as proof that you do not have this magical quality within you.  Drawing and painting becomes a cautious activity that people tiptoe around or avoid altogether. In the same way that someone seeing something special in you feels great, realising that you could be lacking in that special ability can feel horrible. So do I believe talent is a myth? In a word, yes, but I feel I need to explain this further.  In my experience of teaching art over the years, to both children and adults, I have noticed a few things. The first thing is that people who are said to possess this ‘talent’ for art are very often the same people who have a deep passion for drawing, painting and creating. It is this passion that drives them to create art most days, filling sketchbooks and studios with their creations. Is it not this drive and hard work that results in artwork that they are proud of rather than an ability they were born with? I would say celebrating their effort and passion for their craft means more than simply saying that they were born with that ability. Secondly, if you ask any artist if they draw, paint or create something they don’t like sometimes, the answer is always yes! The creative process relies on people being able to experiment, try out new ideas and take risks. Therefore, it makes sense that the results of this exploration will sometimes create artwork the artist is happy with and sometimes create results that they are not happy with. But creating something you don’t like is just the beginning! We need to teach children to think like artists and keep shifting and changing their work until they get to the desired result rather than just stopping in their tracks. Finally, ‘talent’ relies on the belief that there is a desired standard of art to be reached. That a piece of art is either good or bad. As many children and adults will know, if they come to our art classes online or in person, I start every