The Headteacher's Blog
Welcome to Lydgate Junior School.
We aim to ensure that all children receive a high quality, enjoyable and exciting education.
We feel that our school is a true reflection of the community we serve. Lydgate children are well motivated and come from a range of social and cultural backgrounds. Within the school community we appreciate the richness of experience that the children bring to school. This enhances the learning experiences of everyone and it also gives all pupils the opportunity to develop respect and tolerance for each other by working and playing together. We want your child's time at Lydgate to be memorable for the right reasons - that is, a happy, fulfilling and successful period of his/her childhood.
Welcome to Year 3!
The Y3 teachers are Mrs Dutton & Mrs de Brouwer (3D/deB), Mrs Holden (3SH), Mrs Noble & Miss Roberts (3N/R) and Miss Wall (3AW). We have four Teaching Assistants who work within the team: Mrs Dale, Mrs Allen, Mrs Dawes and Mrs Proctor.
We will use this blog to keep you up-to-date with all the exciting things that we do in Year 3, share some of the things that the children learn and show you some of their fantastic work. We hope you enjoy reading it!
The Y3 team.
Welcome to the Year 5 Blog page.
The Year 5 teaching team includes our class teachers, Mrs Parker (5AP), Mrs Rougvie and Mrs Jones (5RJ), Mrs Webb and Mrs Ridsdale (5WR) and Miss Cunningham (5EC). . Many children are supported by Mrs Hill, Mr Swain and Ms Kania (the Year 5Teaching Assistants) who work with children across the 4 classes. Our Year 5 teaching team aims to create a stimulating learning environment that is safe, happy, exciting and challenging, where each pupil is encouraged to achieve their full potential.
As a parent or carer, you play a massively important role in your child's development and we'd love to work closely with you. Please feel free to make an appointment to see us if you want to discuss your child's attitude to learning, their progress, attainment or anything else that might be on your mind. We'd also love to hear from you if you have any skills that we could use to make our Year 5 curriculum even more exciting. Are you an avid reader, a talented sportsman, a budding artist, a mad scientist or a natural mathematician? Would you be willing to listen to children read on a regular basis? If so, please contact your child’s class teacher. Similarly, if you have a good idea, a resource, a 'contact' or any other way of supporting our learning in year 5, please let us know.
We are working very hard to ensure your child has a successful year 5, please help us with this by ensuring your child completes and returns any homework they are given each week. If there are any issues regarding homework or your child finds a particular piece of homework challenging, then please do not hesitate to come and speak to us. In order to help improve your child’s reading skills, increase their vocabulary and develop their comprehension skills, we also ask that you listen to your child read and ask them questions to ensure they have understood what they have read.
We look forward to keeping you up to date on the exciting things that we do in year 5 through our year group blog.
The Year 5 Team
We are the children in Y6 at Lydgate Junior School. There are 120 of us and our teachers are: Mrs Shaw and Mrs Watkinson (Y6S/W), Mr Bradshaw (until Mrs Phillips returns from maternity leave in Y6CP), Mrs Loosley (Y6NL) and Miss Norris (Y6HN). Also teaching in Year 6 is Miss Lee (Monday - Y6CP, Tuesday - Y6HN and Wednesday - Y6S/W) and Mrs Grimsley (Tuesday -Y6NL).We are also very lucky to be helped by Mrs Ainsworth and Mrs Biggs. We use this space to share all of the great things that are happening in our classrooms. Join us each week on our learning journey....
A couple of times recently I have been challenged by parents over the time it has taken to respond to their initial contact. We try to answer calls quickly, we open post promptly and we read emails throughout the working day (and often times well-beyond it and over weekends). I wondered whether we shouldn’t have some sort of ‘Customer Services Standards’ that would mark just how quick we aim to be.
Sheffield City Council published theirs in 2013. You can find their ‘Charter’ here:
I suppose, as a maintained school, we could follow that lead. That would be:
Try to answer straight away,
If not, try within 7 days,
And if not then certainly in full within 28 days.
It would mean us not having to reply in full to a written enquiry for anything up to 28 days. I can’t imagine that that service would satisfy many of our ‘stakeholders’. A request to authorise a child’s absence that will start in four days (a typical time-scale for requests I receive) gets a response 24 days after the absence started! Not going to be good enough, is it?
I went looking, via a popular web search engine, for a school’s published ‘service standards’ and found only one within my boredom threshold period.
The school pretty much repeats the requirements of the relevant legislation, the Freedom of Information and the Data Protection Acts. And if we kept to those limits we would really disappoint a great many people who want or need to talk with us, meet with us or want an answer to something. That school promises 10, 20 or even 40 days to respond.
Here’s what we could do:
We could answer every call, never mind 90%, in five rings (if every one goes to an answer-phone recording).
We could respond to every email we receive within five minutes, never mind five days (if we simply set an auto-reply message).
We could meet with every visitor in person (if that meeting is less than 30 seconds).
But none of these is worthy as ‘service’.
As you’d expect they have an association in the US of A devoted to professionals working in schools’ public relations. The former President of the NSPRA, Jackie Price, “To gain and maintain strong customer support, we must excel at the business of teaching and learning, make sure our current and potential customers know that, court our customers by anticipating and complying with their needs and desires whenever possible, and look at ways we can be doing an even better job in the future”. So, who are our ‘customers’?
A friend of one of my sons has started working for the DfE. His professional language is sprinkled with the word ‘stakeholders’. It is a term we got used to a few years back. It indicates anyone from any group who has a interest, vested, personal or pecuniary, in education’s outcomes. It covers parents, Governors, local authorities, central government, the tax payer, employers, local residents, neighbours of schools, employees, contractors and, oh yes, children. Each ‘stakeholder’ might be a customer, but surely, please, the one that really matters is the child?
So, surely, our customer service standards should be about the provision we make for children? Imagine if we only aimed to answer a child’s question fully within 20 working days? Or if we promised to be in class on time, but if we couldn’t do that then we’d tell the children why not? Or if we aimed to respond to homework within 10 days if it was lengthy? Do we really need to make a Charter to promise to be friendly, respectful and polite towards children? Do we really need to promise to be prepared in advance of any meeting (that would be a lesson) we have booked with children?
Now we could promise to be more ‘customer facing’ in our staffing and activity, and address the concerns of people who contact us through any or all of the various methods open more quickly. To do so we would need, at times, to ignore the child in front of us, to ignore the class waiting for us or ignore some of our statutory responsibilities. The problem all businesses face with conflicting demands is that we will always disappoint someone when we do not prioritise their need or request.
So the truth is:
We cannot see, straight away, every parent who cold-calls us.
We cannot answer, immediately and fully, every question.
We cannot give everything first priority.
We cannot respond in full, within one day, to every email or letter received.
We cannot promise that the person you want to speak to will always be available when you want to speak to them.
The first rule of all the Customer Service Charters I’ve read this week seems to be that the organisation should listen to its customers. I must ask, then, for the children’s voice on what matters to them.
What do you, the ‘stakeholders’, think would make for a good level of customer service in terms of dealing with enquiries and visitors to school?
My Governors are about to start on the annual unpleasantness of finding areas where we can cut spending. Two years ago we cut out around £12,000. Last April another £26,000. We are staring at a deficit of £60,000 for 2016 / 2017 if we do nothing different or less, and all our skilled, experienced, dedicated and wonderful staff stay at our school.
Such a deficit must mean poor financial management, surely? Well, the easy, simple and honest answer is, ‘No’. All our monthly returns are approved by the local authority as accurate. Audit has no problems with our methods or accuracy. Governors get updates every seven or eight weeks. Our Finance Officer is a trained and qualified accountant. HR reports show we do not employ any superfluous staff or having excessive staffing levels. (In fact, a quick survey via publically available data shows that we are way under neighbouring schools – our TA / pupil ratio is a staggering 1:53 compared with Lydgate Infant's ratio of 1:31 and Broomhill Infant's at 1:15. http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/performance/index.html ) Our budget plans are checked over by centrally employed, and therefore independent, council finance staff and they never have any problem with our reports or plans.
So not mismanagement, then.
Spending on personal fads and ego-boosting 'vanity' schemes, then? I do have personal passions, such as outdoor learning, girls’ football, equality, inclusion, mental maths, 3d art, drama and performance, running, polite assertiveness. Have I overly funded them in the last three years? Well, we only ran the full Forest Schools scheme for one year, and that was from Private Fund. Our allotment is at no cost to school whatsoever. We are looking to FOLA (the parent / teacher group) to raise the capital to build a bike ramp entrance. Sports Premium funds to some extent some of our sports programme, but we no longer have girls’ football, and it was never at the exclusion of anything else. Cross Country runs on Saturdays with no staff cost whatsoever, and lots of parental support. My own office has had nothing spent on it in the two and a half years I have been in post – no carpets, no furniture, no lighting, no fancy phones, no new shelving or chairs. One replacement PC is all, in that time, apart from my own spending not claimed for. The list of things that we would like to do, or could really do with doing, is considerably longer than the list of things we have had done.
So not self-pleasing schemes, either.
Could it be higher costs? Does the school break the bank to pay staff ‘over the odds’? Again the answer is, ‘No’, though not quite as simply. We use the same national and local pay scales and ranges that other schools use. We use the Council’s Pay Policy. We have fewer posts that carry additional pay for additional responsibility than the average Sheffield school, though. And on the other side, we have more experienced staff who are paid at or towards the top of the appropriate pay ranges than the average. This brings advantages but does ‘cost’ us every year. As we have relatively low staff turnover this is not a new factor and so does not explain the continuing and growing funding / spending issue. And the school in Chesterfield has a higher average teacher salary than us, so we aren't really profligate. If anything we should be benefitting from economies of scale, one would think, being one of the larger Primary sector schools in Sheffield.
So not higher costs, really.
It couldn’t, could it, be some sort of funding disparity? Funny you should ask. Headteachers at all the schools in this part of the city, and across the city as well, have long complained about unfair, unequal funding for Sheffield schools against those in other cities, and for schools in the south-west in particular. My wife, also a teacher (Deputy Headteacher at a Rotherham school), is applying for Headteacher posts. She just sent one in for a vacancy at a school in Chesterfield; much smaller than Lydgate Junior School, and with considerable more disadvantage in the local area, and amongst the pupils on roll. But a quick bit of research about its context threw up a staggering funding difference. The DfE’s own data shows that per pupil funding at LJS was £3,447 in 2014. At the Chesterfield school it was £5,162. Per pupil! Multiply that up and the difference / gap / loss for us is over £750,000 a year – nearly half again on our total annual income. Some of this can be explained away, based on that ‘disadvantage’ – Pupil Premium at the Chesterfield school accounted for a lot of the gap, and the effect of ‘base funding’ being shared between fewer pupils there raises the income per pupil. (Every school in Sheffield gets £150,000 to start with, no matter its size – the smaller the school the more income per pupil because of the size of the share being larger.) Even after we have removed these two factors there remains a gap in funding per pupil - £495 per pupil per year, or a total of £240,000 per year. And £240,000 looks like six full-time teachers or ten Learning Mentors or 480 hours a week of TA support, or 24,000 times our capital (premises improvement) income, or enough to double our EAL, Pastoral, lunchtime AND admin staffing.
So unequal funding, then, seems a likely culprit.
Governors will make strategic and uncomfortable decisions. Things will have to go, or be allowed to go as opportunities arise. It is a familiar story, I suppose, but no easier for all that. The decisions will ultimately impact on our pupils because of reduced provision. You could help by raising the matter wherever you can. My Trade Union does, and the City Council does, too.
The ‘gap’ in school funding does not seem to be one that Government has done much to address, when it continues to press schools to work to close ‘gaps’ in pupil performance.
This week the Government announced that parents will get the right to request that their child’s school provide wrap-around child-care. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-34453564
On the face of it, not a bad idea if lack of suitable, affordable, provision is preventing parents from re-entering the workplace after taking a break to start a family, say.
So, why don’t we just provide it now, and not wait for parents to request it of Lydgate Junior School? There are some pretty good reasons why we don’t – alternative provision already available, lack of additional demand, school security, lack of suitable spaces in the school buildings that are not otherwise in use, lack of management capacity, and a possibility that we could not provide it at anything like a competitive price.
The City Council, as local authority, run a continuous check on childcare sufficiency (https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/education/information-for-parentscarers/care-support/childcare/childcare-providers/childcare-sufficiency.html). The latest report has loads of fascinating insights – more families in ‘West’ area (ours), fewer lone parent families in ‘West’, a higher percentage of families with income below £10,000 a year in ‘West’, a higher percentage also of families with higher incomes (£40,000 to £70,000 a year) in ‘West’, a higher percentage of ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ providers of childcare in ‘West’, and a determination to use market strategies to match provision to changes in need. As no extensive house building is expected in the ‘West’ area there is unlikely to massively increasing demand for childcare. Alternative provision is available in huge quantities, and very near to our site.
Our school is full, at the capacity indicated in our ‘Indicative Admission Number’. We have 481 pupils in four year groups each with an admission number of 120. There are no plans in any Council school building proposal to extend our school or increase our admission number. You can read the latest consultation on increasing Primary School capacity here: https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/education/about-us/consultation/school-places.html
There is, then, no clear reason why demand would increase significantly in the foreseeable future.
Our main building is open-plan, as all visitors will know. Once inside you can move throughout the whole building, unchecked by doors or lockable screens. Governors have long expressed the problem of hosting private hire events as there is a real challenge in limiting access to one area of the building. And if we cannot limit movement around the building, how do we ensure the security of the building and contents? Once in the hall you can walk through the school via practical area, IT suite, library, Year 4 base, craft area, Year 3 and Year 5 bases without passing through a single door. Adaptation of the building would not be straightforward either, as planning and building regulation would prevent installation of doors at the base or top of stairs, for example. Nor do we have any unused spaces, suitable or otherwise, so a provision of wrap-around would have to be held in an area we use as classroom, hall, or venue for an after-school club or activity. We would have to stop using the hall before and after school for street dance, table tennis, hockey, fencing, choir, karate, athletics and wind band so we could free up the hall. We could reduce pupil numbers to free a classroom, but that hardly addresses the issue of demand for school places in S10. Those ideas are simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. http://www.lydgatejunior.co.uk/letters-home
Frankly, I don’t have time to manage another facility or an expansion of our school’s workforce. We could engage another manager, of course, or put provision out to tender, but those processes need managing too. And we could include the cost of that in the hourly rate, I suppose.
This brings us to cost. The average paid for After School Club childcare in Sheffield appears to be (from the sufficiency survey) £2.72. As the school budget has a projection of a surplus of just £24 at the end of financial year (and the most recent financial report to Governors updates this to a deficit of at least £9,000), the school certainly does not have the means to subsidise this as a way of supporting families and thus children. We would need to employ a minimum of two people, change premises staff working hours and contracts, charge a hire fee for any premises (including any part of the school’s own building, or we unfairly undercut local ‘competition’), pay insurances, provide separate resources, train and manage staff, pay employer’s costs … We could make a plucked-from-thin-air projection about take-up that takes us to the Ofsted limit allowed, based on age. And the hourly rate would be considerably more than £2.72. So would a request to provide after school hours childcare translate into take up of an offer?
Any request based on a new ‘right’ will be met by a proper business opportunity and cost analysis, but my gut feeling is that, unless the Council has indicated a clear need to increase the available capacity in S10 / Crosspool, it will be met with, ‘Sorry, but no’.
The ‘Right to Request’ is not the same, after all, as the ‘Right to Expect’ or the ‘Right to Access’ and a matching ‘Responsibility to Provide’.
Nine children went through the school meals' servery at lunch today, and took a dinner that had not been ordered or paid for. Might not seem much out of 480 odd children, but just consider:
- with exact portion control the last nine (who were not the nine who had not had meals ordered or paid for) would have had no dinner,
- those nine portions served had to be paid for - is everyone else subsidising these meals?
- we have a member of staff conducting a dinner register check everyday (at school's expense) to find out which children, if any, are going through without ordering or payment; what else would they be better doing?
- admin staff have to chase up proper payment, and sometimes face argument with parents or denial; is this staff time being used to benefit children?
I'm thrilled that our school dinners are so popular - so is the cook. I'm rather troubled by the implied cost of unpaid meals - let's 'do the maths':
Nine meals x £1.98 per meal x 190 days = £3,385.
How does that amount shape up in our school budget, I hear no one ask.
Well, its twice our annual spending on reading books, twice our spending on staff training, it would send an extra class swimming for a term, it would allow 25 children to go to the Year 6 residential for free, we could buy a whole class set of mini iPads, it would pay for 7 hours of teaching assistant for every week for a year, or pay for a sports coach to run lunchtime sports every single lunchtime of the school year.
Next time the kitchen may not be able to provide something pleasing, satisfying and healthy to the nine at the end of the queue, and that would really not be fair.