Innes Robinson writes a regular column for the Barry & District Newspaper
I loved Encanto. I really did. So much so that I’d happily sing along all the way to work despite my children not being with me.
On a recent family outing I made the mistake of forgetting that I was not on my own and enthusiastically sang along to one of my favourite tunes. The reaction from my wife was quite frankly, hurtful. Not only did she gleefully declare that I sounded dreadful, but she offered to record me so I could understand how bad I sounded. Like a fool I took her up on the offer.
Ten minutes later my heart was broken. She was right, I was abysmal. It is quite amazing how different your voice can sound in your head compared to reality. I genuinely thought I’d smashed it.
But there is hope. The singing teacher at Whitmore High is something special. I’ve seen Mrs Bourton work magic where she has a remarkable ability to find a singing voice in anyone. The question is, can she find mine? I always say to new pupils at Whitmore that they owe it to themselves to try every extra-curricular opportunity available because they never know which one will become their passion. I think it’s important that I take my own advice.
Until then it’s back to audiobooks. There was a family vote, enthusiastically proposed by my wife, where by a score of three to one, I was banned from singing in the car. For now, at least, I won’t be talking about Bruno.
As one of my children shouted out my name for the hundredth time in a night, I looked across at my wife and wondered ‘why do they always call for me?
‘Daddy, can you get Mario to jump onto the box?’
‘Daddy, you’ve forgotten my milk’
‘Daddy, Sheepy wants a cuddle’
They never shout Mummy. Never.
I often lie to myself and say they prefer me. In my heart of hearts, I know it is just not the case. Quite simply, they have worked out that Daddy will do things for them whilst Mummy will get them to do it for themselves. Our main job as parents is to make sure our children have the skills and resilience to survive without our help in the future. My wife has realised this, I sadly have not.
Children facing their GCSEs and A Levels this year are going to need to show a considerable amount of resilience. Despite lockdowns, teacher illness and unprecedented levels of uncertainty, exams will be going ahead. I am delighted to be able to report that the Whitmore pupils are facing this challenge with impressive determination and resilience.
As a school we have gone for a hybrid approach in terms of support. On the one hand we are following my parenting technique of providing maximum support.
We have an odd way of measuring things in the Robinson household. Whilst many (perhaps more sensible) parents teach their children the time or how to measure distances, we’ve gone for a different approach.
We measure time in Blueys (a children’s cartoon which is about 7 minutes an episode.) for example, ‘Daddy, how long left till we get there?’… ‘about 4 Blueys’.
Distances are a bit more complicated. If something is large, it is measured in Gryffs because he is the biggest of my children. Makes sense really. ‘Mummy, how big is a great white? ‘An adult one is about eight Gryffs.’ For smaller objects, it has to be in Vaughn’s (my youngest). The size of a Guinea Pig? About half of Vaughn’s arm.
I’m not entirely sure they would cope at Whitmore. Pupils have to be able to tell the time because we do not have bells. One of our core values is taking responsibility for your own actions which includes getting to lessons on time. If you are more than half a Bluey late to a lesson, twice in a day, you get an automatic detention. Whilst these may seem harsh, it ensures other pupils are not missing out on their learning whilst waiting for others to arrive.
By the way, if any pupils are reading this and are not sure where to go for detention, it’s about 10 Gryffs to the left of the main hall. Don’t be late!
My wife and I decided not to buy presents for each other this Christmas. A sensible move. Luckily for me though, Santa seems to have a sixth sense and got my boys exactly what I wanted, a Nintendo Switch with Mario Kart. Within ten minutes I was having the time of my life, mercilessly winning race after race against my two small children.
We were worried about them getting a games console though and like all parents tried to put in rules that would stop them from getting obsessed.
Rule 1 – you can only play it together on the big screen (lasted about half a day)
Rule 2 – 20 minutes at a time max (went well for two days then fell apart during a difficult level of Lego City.)
Rule 3 – Daddy always has to play too (a rule put in by me, which has been very successful)
But are games good for children? I think like most things, moderation is the key. A bit of time playing a game together as a family is probably a really good thing for a child. Even when your dad refuses to let you win.
One thing is for certain, it is almost impossible to completely shield your child from all forms of gaming. It’s just another reason why we are so passionate about having no phones at Whitmore and ensuring as many pupils as possible take part in extra-curricular activities at school. At least then, parents can allow their child to enjoy their games after school, knowing they have had a range of real-world experiences to fill their day.
Both my wife and I have had haunting experiences of being on the stage. She fell off her chair during a recital and has not played a musical instrument since. I was so bad in Sweeny Todd that it has achieved almost mythical status amongst my family.
Due to our lack of talent, it came as no surprise when our eldest came home and said he was a servant in the school play. And not just any servant…servant number four. Any lines? Of course not. When Vaughn, our youngest, excitedly told us he was to be an Owl (no, I didn’t know an owl was present at the birth of Jesus either), we accepted that our stage presence had been passed down a generation.
As we watched Vaughn flapping around at the back of the stage in his owl outfit, we were genuinely amazed when he started to speak. That’s right…he’d been given some lines! Two no less which he delivered with some aplomb despite absolutely no input from home. In that moment, he became the household thespian and was praised like he’d just won an Oscar.
What I love about school productions is the confidence it brings to children that can’t be gained in the classroom. Whether it be the star of the show or the lowly servant with no lines, all cast members feel part of something special. Which is why we are so delighted that despite Covid restrictions, we have been able to put on four nights of our winter show, Teen Beach Musical. As I write this, the pupils are nervously going over their lines one last time. With all that children have missed out on during the pandemic, the drama and musical department have moved mountains to make sure the show goes on.
What’s the greatest moment of my life?
The birth of my two lovely children?
Scoring the opening goal of the inaugural match on our new 3G pitch, in front of hundreds of pupils?
Honestly there is no contest. Scoring that goal was magic. Sure, I did nothing else for the rest of the match. Yes, I couldn’t walk for three days after the game, but that moment will live with me for the rest of my days.
I actually called my Dad on the way home because I felt he needed to know about such a momentous event. He was disappointingly underwhelmed. I regaled the full story to my wife. She simply didn’t care. But my boys…they understood and were delighted. ‘Will you be playing on the TV next Daddy.’ Maybe lads…maybe.
From Monday, Whitmore pupils will be able to play on the fantastic 3G pitch every single day. For their matches against other schools, at break and lunchtimes and eventually in the evenings with local clubs. They are incredibly lucky to have such a superb resource and we will make sure they take full advantage.
It is just another example of the excellent deal that the children of Barry are getting when it comes to their education both within the classroom and in terms of the facilities available.
It’s difficult to effectively convey the drama that unfolded this week when Gryff lost his first tooth in the woods. Utter bedlam.
Mums frantically searching the ground for the precious tooth, knowing the seminal nature of this moment.
Children huddled around a sage and wizened older girl as she began her doom-filled sermon, warning that the Tooth Fairy only pays up if there is a tooth under the pillow. They looked crestfallen.
And in the middle was Gryff, trying to console his younger brother who was hysterical for some reason. I like to think he was worried about his brother. In reality, I think he just wanted to share the money.
Happily, the story has a positive ending. Gryff drew a map for the Tooth Fairy and she managed to find it, leaving him with a shiny £2 coin. He bought some sweets and gave some to Vaughn…everyone was delighted.
It reminds me just how important it is for children to experience these life moments and not have them affected by the pandemic. There are countless stories of kids missing out. Birthday parties, football matches, dance recitals, etc…all cancelled due to Covid, robbing children of life-defining experiences.
At Whitmore, we have made it our focus to get things back to normal. Hundreds are staying after school at a wide range of clubs and sports fixtures, others are arriving at 7:45 for our ‘aspire’ learning curriculum whilst many more are involved with our full programme of concerts and theatre productions. These activities will provide countless opportunities for pupils to experience moments that will define them.
I still remember wearing my school football kit to bed the night before our first game and woodenly delivering my lines in the school play in Year 9. These experiences are as big as losing your first tooth or riding your bike for the first time. We have to make sure that despite the challenges of the pandemic, our young people do not miss out.
After what can be best described as an upsetting attempt to put on my grey suit, I asked the ever-helpful canteen at school to cut down my lunch portions. Despite it going against their incessant need to feed me, they obliged and all was well. Fruit at break, a small jacket potato and tuna (no cheese) at lunch, and a dangerous amount of coffee was all I needed to get through the day.
But alas, the dream is over. Our Autism Base has decided to open their own bakery and hand-deliver delicious snacks to my office on an almost daily basis. ‘Why don’t you just say no?’ I hear you cry. Because sadly I have no self-control. Just yesterday I ate six madeleines, no doubt meant for my children within about ten minutes.
That being said, the pure joy I feel when I go into the autism base makes up for my expanding waistline. Every day I get to see pupils in the base growing in confidence, making friends, and feeling happy about going off to lessons, something that I thought would not be possible at the start of term.
This is all down to the genuinely amazing staff we have been able to recruit into the base. The relationships they have formed and the support they provide are like nothing I have seen in education.
On reflection, I hope they don’t see this column…I’ve heard rumours of a pavlova this week, I’d be horrified if I miss out.
I’ve decided there are four distinct stages of camping.
Stage 1 (Booking) – For some reason, I always feel ridiculously excited when I book camping holidays. I have a dangerous habit of only remembering the good moments from previous trips and this time was no different. It also allowed me to bore my wife with a debate of whether we should go for a cool box or camping fridge. After extensive Googling, I went for the fridge…I was delighted, she didn’t really care.
Stage 2 (Pre-Trip) – As usual, on the day we left, we both came to our senses and realised just how terrible five nights camping with two small children would be. As we stuffed the boys into the car, surrounded by a shocking amount of camping paraphernalia, the mood in the front of the car was bleak. I tried to strike up a conversation about the ability of the fridge to be powered by both gas and electric but was met with silence.
Stage 3 (Enjoyment) – Out of nowhere it all suddenly came together. The kids were happily playing with their friends, (hours past their bedtime but it didn’t matter), the adults were enjoying cold drinks and my wife actually said the fridge was a good idea. I was made up.
Stage 4 – (Wanting to leave) – By day five the cracks started to show. The boys were stroppy because they had been up late every night, I’d slept for about an hour, terrified the tent was about to blow away in 40 mph gusts and we’d hit our limit in terms of pasta related meals.
So, despite having every creature comfort available, I still found the week pretty challenging. Which is why it might seem a bit odd for me to be such a huge advocate of the pupils signing up for the Duke of Edinburgh award. Whitmore has a large number of pupils who do the award every year and they camp in much more challenging situations than I did this week. But I believe it is important for pupils to be put in situations where they are out of their comfort zone for it is in these moments they realise just how strong they can be.
I had one of these moments myself. As I got out of my tent at 4am to heroically hammer in extra guy ropes to stop the tent from caving in, I felt like an intrepid explorer, facing the might of mother nature.
I had a nice cold coke from the fridge to celebrate my bravery.
Getting a weekend pass (time away from my children) is normally like finding the golden ticket in a Wonka bar. But the one granted to me on Friday came with a very bitter piece of chocolate. My wife agreed to take the kids to her mums to allow me to attend an online ‘residential’ school for my MBA. On the hottest weekend of the year. What an absolutely dreadful use of such a rare opportunity.
And now with my final assessment out of the way, the summer stretches out ahead of me. 45 days in a row with no possibility of redemption. On Sunday I pressed the panic button. Firstly, I tried booking the boys into some sort of summer camp but I was too late. I then attempted to palm them off to their grandparents only to find out my brother had got there first. I even contemplated the unthinkable, organising some playdates, only to luckily come to my senses just in time.
So, what’s left to keep them entertained and keep me sane? Well I think I need to follow my own advice that I gave to the Whitmore pupils.
Firstly, I am going to make sure my boys have some adventures. Sure, I am very aware that camping with a five and three-year-old will be horrendous but I know they are going to love it, and maybe I will too.
Next, I am not going to worry about home learning, just focus on getting them to enjoy reading. Gryff and I are currently reading an ‘Adventures in Time’ book about the Second World War. Whilst it may not be completely appropriate for his age, at least he enjoys it. (mainly the bits about tanks.)
And finally, I aim to get us all away from devices for the holidays. If there is one thing I have learnt from the lockdowns is that phones and tablets, whilst giving respite from the constant demands of small children, never make you feel better in the long run.
Obviously, all bets are off if we get pinged by the app. If that happens I’ll sell out and buy each of them an Xbox.
There is a mouse that lives in my kitchen. Around 6pm every night (interestingly coinciding with me returning from work), he goes into the cupboard and eats all the snacks meant for my children. A big fan of Pombears, he delights in nibbling Mini Cheddars and has no control if there happens to be any Freddo’s knocking about.
My kids have got quite used to sharing the snack cupboard with the mouse and spend many a happy hour searching for him in the garden, using chunks of cheese to try and lure him out. My wife on the other hand is appalled. She argues, quite fairly, that a grown man should have more self-control than to eat all of his children’s food.
So, what has this story got to do with Whitmore? Well, I don’t think I’m the only one who can’t wait to come home and eat everything in sight. This is a problem when in response to the pandemic, we aim to have an optional extended day from September. Pupils are unlikely to stay late if they are hungry and they have no access to food.
To solve this issue, there will be snacks made available by our fantastic canteen for pupils who stay late. This will encourage children to stay on for more learning and activities, helping them catch up on what they missed this year. Lots will be staying to do their homework in Prep Time, others will be in small groups getting booster sessions for their Maths and English whilst we aim to have a full programme of extracurricular activities taking place every night.
And if there are any snacks left at the end, I’m sure there will be a very interested little mouse.
I’d negotiated bath time, survived yet another reading of The Gruffalo, and managed to placate my youngest by getting his milk temperature just right. My hour of freedom without my children was almost upon me…I felt giddy.
And then the worst happened… ‘where’s Baby?’
Baby (a small sheep attached to a blanket/rag) is life for Vaughn. He will not sleep without it, he won’t eat, he’ll just cry.
The search began with my eldest, sensing the chance to stay up late, leading the way. An hour later Baby was found in a plant pot outside. The relief was overwhelming.
So how do I solve this for the future? At Whitmore we value our pupils taking responsibility. If they are late, if they forget their pen, if they do not prepare for a test, they understand that they must take responsibility for the consequences.
Next time he loses his teddy I’m going to try this. I’ll sit him down and say, ‘Baby is yours Vaughn, if you can’t look after him you’ll have to sleep without him.’
Obviously, this is just bluster. I’ve just sewed one of those Apple trackers into Baby’s blanket. He’ll still have it when he’s 30.
Perspective 1 (my view)
My boy really wanted to go paddle boarding in the sea. So, I took him and he loved it. Sure, he cried a bit as he went over the tiny waves but once we got past the breakers and into the open ocean he was delighted with life even choosing to stand up. As we came back in, surfing a few waves as we went, he got a bit chilly but was more than happy once he got his towel and some hot chocolate. All in all, a great day.
Perspective 2 (My wife)
Despite our three-year-old sobbing as you flung him over waves bigger than his head, you proceeded to take him out into the open ocean. At one point he even stood up to wave to me, clearly signalling he wanted to come back to mummy. When you finally deposited him back on the sand, drenched and shaking, I worked quickly to make him a hot chocolate and wrap him in a towel, preventing what could have been a complete disaster.
The problem in trying to build a bit of resilience in children is it can seem a bit unkind. I knew my youngest would have a lovely time once he got through the initial fear and I was right. It just might not have looked that way from the beach. I really believe outdoor education is one of the best ways of building resilience in children whilst developing confidence which can be brought back into the classroom. Which is why I am delighted that we will be taking 80 pupils to PGL in France next summer. Through sailing, windsurfing bodyboarding etc they will be learning all important life skills whilst having a great time.
Just remember, If you children call you from the trip saying they have been thrown off a banana boat into a shark infested sea, just remember there is likely to be a different perspective.
When we made a new playroom for our two boys, we tried to be fairly draconian with the rules in the hope they would keep it nice. No shoes on the carpet, no food or drink and definitely no jumping on the sofas.
So, did these measures work? Of course not, within days, I came home to both of them standing on top of the tallest bookcase, daring each other to jump onto the new sofa…whilst wearing shoes…and eating Quavers.
Conversely, the approach we have gone for at Whitmore when moving into the new building has been very different. Rather than bombard pupils with a vast array of rules and regulations regarding the new building, we have made it very clear that it is their school. They can go on the ‘High School Musical Staircase’ at break…they are allowed in the music practice rooms…we haven’t put barriers up to stop them going on the grass. We have just reiterated that they have a duty to the community of Barry to look after the building for future generations and to take responsibility for their actions.
Kids are kids and invariably things will be broken, but if on each occasion the person responsible takes ownership and tells someone in the school, then our lovely new building will keep pristine for years to come. So far so good. The behaviour of the pupils around school has been immaculate, just as expected.
On the back of the Whitmore success, I sat my boys down and told them that they were lucky to have such a lovely playroom and that they needed to respect it. They have been better since.
P.S. I also told them Santa was very disappointed. This may have had more impact.
This is an open letter of apology to the under 6 coach at my local football club:
I really did believe I’d be one of those supportive parents who would let you get on with coaching whilst happily speaking to other parents. On Saturday, in just the second training session, I let myself down.
In my defence, my little boy looked really sad when he was put in a group without his friends. I thought if I just got him to swap, things would be better. I can see now that you had a good reason for your decision. It must have been trying when Gryff and his friends started playing Indiana Jones rather than doing the drills. I also concede that I may have caused a chain reaction with lots of other children wanting to move groups.
You will be pleased to hear that my wife was not impressed with my actions and has decided to take over the job. I, on the other hand, have been relegated to Soccer Tots with our youngest. Please advise your colleague that I have promised to be on my best behaviour. Kind Regards, Gryff’s Dad.
I find the hardest part of being a parent is wanting to clear the path for my children so they don’t have any worries. I’m starting to realise that this approach will only be detrimental to them in the long term. One of the key values we look to develop in pupils at Whitmore is resilience, as it is vital for children to have the opportunity to be in challenging situations. Gryff would have felt bad for a few minutes and then got on with it. Instead, I intervened and made things worse.
Anyway, I’ve got to go and fill in the application to be the Under 7’s coach for next year. I think Gryff is going to be a great captain.
‘Remember, if you marry him, you’ll never get a cat.’
Just a bit of sage advice from my grandmother-in-law when she found out I’d proposed. To be fair she was right, just a few minutes with a cat has me making a strange clucking noise in my throat which my wife hates.
So what pet could we get for the boys instead? The problem is that there is an inverse relationship between fun and effort when it comes to animals. On the one side, dogs are obviously fantastic fun but I imagine getting a puppy is like having another child. On the other end of the spectrum, I have learnt from bitter personal experience that fish are tremendously boring.
But I think I’ve found the golden ticket. Stevie, our friend’s Gecko, is living with us for a week and think we are onto a winner. He looks a bit like a dinosaur which delights both of them, eats bugs which they are fascinated by and most importantly, doesn’t need to be looked after much. Brilliant.
But let’s face it, he’s not as good as a dog. Luckily for me, Whitmore are about to get their second one. By a stroke of good fortune, our fantastic new Assistant Head comes with her own fully trained dog. He will do shifts with Pilot to ensure we always have a well-being dog on site.
On reflection, Stevie has done nothing of interest for the last 40 minutes…maybe I can ask to borrow one of the dogs instead.
3rd March 2021
My youngest’s favourite book: Poo in the Zoo.
My eldest: Nobot (a story of a robot that has lost his bottom)
It’s world book day again…what do I do?
Well, I did what any self-respecting parent does in this situation. Dressed one as a pirate, the other as a Viking and frantically searched their rooms for books that would work. Does Vaughn like ‘My Grandma is a pirate’? No. Does Gryff enjoy ‘How to be a Viking’? He’s never read it. But off they went to school to no doubt flounder when their teacher asked any questions about their ‘favourite book’.
Despite this story, I am passionate about the importance of children reading for pleasure. With Whitmore growing, I had the joy of interviewing for new English teachers this week (32 applied and we took on two outstanding teachers). What struck me was the enthusiasm that all the candidates showed for reading. The interviews turned into a book club as they all fervently discussed their latest favourite with members of my English department.
But reading is not just for the few. I routed out my dyslexia report from Primary School last year and realised I had a writing age of six when I was eleven. Asking my mum what she did to help, she simply said she got me to love reading. Every week she would buy me a new book of my choice and discuss it with me when I finished it. Lo and behold, my writing improved as I picked up the rhythm that authors used to grip readers.
So, in conclusion, don’t feel bad if your child has to go to school on world book day dressed as Spiderman, it’s what they do for the other 364 days a year that matters.
9th February 2021
Do you ever bribe your children with toys to make them go to sleep? No, me neither, just thought I’d ask for a friend.
Anyway, this week my eldest was particularly excited because Daddy had bought him a Lego Hulk figure that was to arrive later in the week. I was given one piece of advice by my wife, ‘whatever you do, don’t tell him it is coming or it’s all he will talk about.’ I knew better, told him, and started a five-day countdown. By the last day, the poor boy was on the edge. But he went to school happy, Daddy had got the email confirming an upcoming delivery and promised it would be there.
It wasn’t. And even worse, his teacher took my wife aside at the end of the day to say Gryff wasn’t himself at school that day. He didn’t want to do his words because he was too excited about Hulk. I’d had a shocker. Not only had I made my child not learn at school, I also had to concede to my wife that she was right.
In my defence, I imagine I am not the only parent who has resorted to bribery to survive lockdown. I also think small rewards for good work are really important to children. This is why we are currently reviewing our school reward system to provide more short-term benefits for pupils to go alongside the long-term goal of achieving their potential.
The good news for Gryff is that Hulk arrived a day later to huge fanfare. The bad news, there is no way my wife will let me buy more toys anytime soon.
1st February 2021
A few recent Googles from me:
‘Why can’t my five-year-old catch a ball?’
‘How much TV is too much for a three-year-old?’
‘Why doesn’t my child like colouring?’
As you can see from the above, lockdown three has been tough on my self-confidence as a parent. As I look at my Instagram feed, I can’t help but notice fellow parents seemingly smashing it and I wonder, are they doing amazing things with their children all day whilst mine lay upside down on the sofa watching Ben 10?
But then I looked at my own Instagram and realised it’s all a sham. A casual observer would see my two children and think they were the new Bear Grylls given the sheer quantity of outdoor-based photos. Little do they know that in reality, the boys spend 90% of their time jumping off the sofa and trashing the living room.
With it being children’s mental health week, it’s important to focus on how children are coping with the lockdown. But equally important is for parents to check on themselves during this time. Children are fundamentally resilient, they spend their entire lives being told what to do, are used to change, and will bounce back quickly. Parents, on the other hand, trying to juggle a full-time job alongside ensuring their child attends online learning are likely to be finding this time tough.
So, parents, stop giving yourself a hard time. I have no doubt for most of us, a good day of lockdown is a lot of lows coupled with at best, a few Instagrammable moments. A great day is when you get your camera out in time.
25th January 2021
Surely not, it must be 4 in the morning
A bit louder now, I need to nip this in the bud before the other one is woken up.
Oh no, both of them now in chorus…how am I going to cope with another day in lockdown with hardly any sleep?
Brilliant. In two words everything changed. Instead of another lockdown groundhog day, I’d been given a gift from the snow gods. Sledging, snowball throwing, snowman making, snow angels, we did it all. Just the chance to do something different was all that was needed.
I think what makes lockdown so challenging is the feeling that there is nothing to look forward to and no end in sight. With this in mind I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some very good news. Morgan Sindall, the contractors for the new Whitmore School, have informed us that they will have the building finished early, allowing us to move across in May. In just a few months, the pupils at Whitmore will be moving into our amazing new £30 million building. Hopefully by this time, lockdown will just be a memory and we can all look forward to an exciting future.
9th January 2021
‘C A T’
‘Say the letters again Gryff’
‘C A T’
‘fantastic, what does it say, shout it out?’
This little exchange happened over Christmas as I tried my best to get my eldest to start learning his words. Sadly, my best simply wasn’t enough.
Fast forward to this week, suddenly Gryff has got the hang of it. CAT, PAT, MAT,LOG, JAM, HAM…it’s all coming together. And it has absolutely nothing to do with me. His fantastic primary teacher has managed to teach him through the magic of technology and the hub provision, far more effectively than I ever could.
Schools are increasingly being able to offer a wide range of effective strategies to teach pupils over the lockdown that simply were not available at Christmas. Live lessons, pre-recorded Teacher Tutorial videos, Independent structured tasks, fun projects; all play an important part in providing a good learning experience for pupils.
Live lessons – fantastic for engagement.
Pre-recorded Teacher Tutorials – brilliant to allow pupils to rewind and re-watch, vital for families with less access to technology in the house.
Independent Structured tasks – builds independence for pupils whilst giving them support.
Fun project – who doesn’t enjoy a fun project?!
This is why at Whitmore we have ensured pupils get a blend of the above. If there is one silver lining to all this, schools are now much better placed to ensure continuity of learning regardless of any barriers.
Snow days? Put your sledge back in the cupboard, you’ve got a live lesson on Zoom at 9.
15th December 2020
I used to have a gym in the garage. It was perfect. Warm, cosy even, with an enormous TV for Netflix and, crucially, a lock so my boys couldn’t get in.
It’s now gone. In its place is a great breakfast bar (which the boys play on), a new kitchen table (which the boys play on) and a lovely playroom for the boys. What did I get out of it? Well, I get to use the garden shed for a gym.
As I walked the cold ‘Green Mile’ to the rickety shed, turned on the tiny electric heater, stifled a scream at seeing an enormous spider and waited for my eyes to adjust to the ‘light’, I couldn’t help reflect that maybe I hadn’t done too well out of the deal.
Pupils may have similar feelings as schools across the country closed early last week. Much like with my ‘Gym’, houses are not set up to be places of study or exercise. Sharing a room with a sibling, trying to work at the kitchen table, needing a laptop that a parent is using for work are all issues that many families will be negotiating during the break. But having looked at the quality of learning being produced by pupils, it is obvious that they are finding ways around any barriers.
Whitmore will be even more ready for independent learning when we move into the new school in September. We will have hundreds of laptops available for pupils to use during a designated ‘Prep Time’ after school, allowing them to effectively work in an optimum learning environment to supplement their home learning.
And even better for me…there is a huge gym and not a spider in sight.
29th November 2020
‘Right that’s it, you’ve given me no choice, I’m calling Santa’
You know you have nothing left in the bag when you resort to this…in November. But this is where I was this weekend with my youngest. He kept on getting out of bed and I wanted to start the usual Friday night ritual of eating my bodyweight in crisps so I took the nuclear option.
Did it work? Of course it did, within five minutes he was asleep and I was tucking into a bag of giant Wotsits.
But then I went with it again the next night and the magic effect started to wear off. This time he looked a bit suspicious and only a call to my wife (who to be fair did a decent off-the-cuff Santa impression) was enough to get him to sleep.
So why do I tell you this story? Simply because it emphasises that empty threats of sanctions work in the short term but quickly unravel as children see through them. At Whitmore, we believe in the importance of focusing on the positive behaviours of our pupils and celebrating their successes. Invariably, praise for good behaviour and effort has a more lasting effect than negative penalties.
Thinking about this, I changed tack tonight and spent the night telling my youngest just how impressed Santa was that he wasn’t getting out of bed rather than threatening a phone call.
And not only did it work but I wasn’t left having to resort to a Facetime call with my Dad dressed as Santa.
I’ll leave that tactic till next Friday night.
26th November 2020
My boys love hot chocolate and marshmallows more than they love me.
So, when we took them to the beach at the weekend, I tried to be clever and use my new Kelly Kettle which requires you to make a small fire in a little pot, put the kettle on top and voila, you have boiling water.
Sounds fairly simple doesn’t it. It wasn’t.
First, I forgot cups…an easy mistake we could all make.
Then I forgot water…fairly fundamental to the whole process, I imagine not many people have this issue.
Then I couldn’t light the fire, blaming high winds, wet wood and cheap matches.
Then the worst happened. Our best friends arrived (with water) and I lost all control of the situation. Within five minutes, Gordon, a former Royal Marine and all-round big timer had the fire roaring using a piece of flint, a pocket knife and the ‘wet’ wood.
Whilst he soaked up the accolades, I was relegated to looking after the children.
On reflection, I learned a key lesson that we really believe in at Whitmore. When you are trying to learn a new skill, it is much more efficient to watch an expert first than to flail away on your own, making every mistake in the book. This is why our teachers always model a new skill before the class attempt it.
But if I have one redeeming quality, I am persistent. The next day I got the kettle working all on my own to mild praise from my wife. Luckily, she didn’t notice the added lighter fluid…Rome wasn’t built in a day.
15th November 2020
As I handed the final payment to my builder this week I felt elation. We’d made it. Our kitchen was finished.
My wife had other ideas. Innocently, I assumed that having bought the matching toaster and kettle there was nothing else to get. She proposed a trip to Ikea to get the final touches…on a Saturday…with our children. Dreadful.
Was it as bad as I expected? In many ways it was worse.
Arms full of candles, candle holders, candle jars, children and takeaway hotdogs, I sat in the car a broken man.
Everyone else was delighted. My wife just couldn’t believe that they had everything she wanted. (she was especially pleased with a candle dome which under close inspection seems to perform no useful function)
The boys were even happier. They had laid down in every bed, sat on every sofa, cuddled every teddy and had been bought hotdogs and matching enormous shark cuddly toys.
Now I’m about to go through the same process with our new school building. Luckily the big decisions have already been made but I’ve already been asked over the last few weeks what I want in terms of the finishing touches. Which TV screens for the classrooms? What desks for the offices? Which computers for the IT rooms?
I think I’m going to ask for as much advice from other staff as possible. If you see a bunch of candles as you walk through reception you’ll know I’ve panicked and just gone to Ikea.
8th November 2020
All it took was one line in the staff briefing on Monday to create an atmosphere of pure unadulterated joy…
‘We’ve got ourselves a school dog’
Oh, the delight. As soon as I finished talking (probably slightly before to be honest), teachers ran out of the room to find him and give him a stroke.
I feigned delight but if I’m being completely honest, I’m not the biggest fan of dogs. My Mum had a habit of shrieking anytime one came even slightly close to me (to be fair, she’s stopped doing this now I’m in my 30s), which has given me the fear. This hasn’t been helped by my friend’s dog which looks like it is about to attack me at any moment. Her claim that ‘he’s smiling at you,’ doesn’t make it any better.
So, it was with some trepidation that I went up to see our wellbeing officer and her dog ‘Pilot’. I needn’t have worried. Not only was he perfectly behaved and very cute, but more importantly, he was already having a positive impact on pupils.
Children who normally find one on one situations challenging have been happily chatting away whilst stroking him.
Others who find reading a challenge are able to read to Pilot once a week. When I asked what was different about reading in front of a class, one of them just replied that dogs don’t judge if you get something wrong.
In such uncertain times, Whitmore must find ways to bolster pupils’ wellbeing.
And by the smile on the faces of the staff who went to meet Pilot, he will do adults in the school no harm either.
1st November 2020
A tip for you…
If you use a roller to decorate your ceiling, don’t stand directly underneath it or you’ll get paint in your eyes.
Just another life lesson that may seem fairly obvious to most of you but I had to learn the hard way.
Anyway, on the positive side, we are back in school next week so I can’t have any more DIY howlers. The return to school is not just good for me. My children have had a lovely half-term. Mainly revolving around planning Halloween outfits, wearing the outfits, wearing the outfits to bed, and finally crying because Halloween had finished and they had to take off their outfits. Despite this, they are far better off learning in school next week. And they have been learning so much. In the last half term, the eldest has nailed his number bonds, can now hold a pen properly, and somehow has even learnt how to catch. I can’t think of anything more important than children like him getting the opportunity to go to school.
And it’s the same for the pupils at Whitmore. Whilst I have no intention to wade into a debate about the R number as I’m not a scientist, I can’t help but think it is incredibly important for children to go to school and this should be a key priority going into the winter months. The Whitmore staff are continuing to produce superb online resources to prepare for any eventuality, but all hope that they will be able to teach their classes as normal.
So, let’s keep our fingers crossed that pupils across Wales can enjoy another productive half term in schools and that we will soon be able to return to some semblance of normality. If not, I’ll have to think up some costumes that my children could wear to celebrate Black Friday (I’m thinking one could dress as a cheap TV and the other as a Nintendo Switch)…that will hopefully keep them busy.
26th October 2020
As our kitchen was finally finished this week, my wife and I reflected (with tears in our eyes) on what hurt us the most over the last 12 weeks without one.
Was it having to do the washing up in the bath? Initially painful but since the discovery of paper plates, became a breeze.
Was it buying a freezer full of frozen health meals, only to find out they were horrible and always managed to be slightly frozen in the middle despite being nuked in the microwave? Dreadful, but we do have a McDonalds down the road.
No, as you might expect, it was our children. If there was a dangerous piece of equipment…they would try to climb it. Lots of wires across the floor…a perfect opportunity for a game of hide and seek. Drying paint…why not hug the wall for the first time. Say what you will about them, but they have a gift for ramping up the pressure in a challenging situation.
Unlike with my kitchen, the Whitmore new build has been taking place a good distance away and is so methodically organised that we have barely been affected. It is a testament to the builders, Morgan Sindall, that the school has only benefitted from their presence. It almost feels unfair that we are about to get all the benefits of moving into a fantastic building without having to deal with a painful transition.
Maybe I should take my children on a tour of the new site and give the builders a taste of what I’ve been through in the last 12 weeks. Thing is, Morgan Sindall they are so good they’d probably have the boys behaving impeccably and plastering walls by the end of the week.
11th October 2020
Did you know radiators came in different colours?
Or that there is such a thing as a double radiator?
And even more space-age… a vertical radiator?
I didn’t. But my builder told me to buy an anthracite-coloured, vertical double radiator on E-Bay for my kitchen and I was too confused to ask him what he meant. I’d already let myself down in front of him on numerous occasions over the last month including a debacle involving a steel RSJ (I bought one, my house didn’t need it) and I didn’t want to ask any more questions.
So, I Googled it, reviewed it, leant whole new terms I’d never heard before (BTU anyone?) and I was no further along. I couldn’t face the shame of having it delivered to my house only for the builder to tell me it was meant for bathrooms, so I went to the Oracle himself, my brother in law. What’s great about him is he isn’t a Robinson. Not one of us has the first clue about anything practical so in our eyes, he is a DIY genius. He also doesn’t judge when I ask ridiculous questions. 20 minutes later I had bought the radiator from E-Bay and felt pretty good about myself.
Parents of year 6 children are probably feeling similar right now. They may not feel like experts in secondary education and have lots of questions that they would love to ask prospective schools directly that no amount of Googling, reviewing, etc will answer.
Our Covid friendly, Online Open Evenings (see the Whitmore website for details) aim to give parents the chance to ask all the little questions that are important before making the final decision for their child. We’ve have even worked out how to create breakout rooms in Zoom so parents can ask questions in small groups.
Did the radiator story end well I hear you ask? I’ll let you be the judge…
‘You got the valves as well yeah’
Blank look on my face.
‘What’s a valve?’
4th October 2020
I didn’t have my milk…
I didn’t have my bath…
I didn’t have my booky…
Three clear statements from my youngest who was quite frankly shocked by the lack of bedtime routine on Sunday night. In our defence, we had just got back late and I put him into bed thinking we cracked it. 10 minutes later he wandered downstairs, refusing to go to sleep until his demands were met.
I can’t blame him for being upset. During lockdown I was all over the place without the structure of going to work, I even considered wearing a suit at home to create some sort of normality. (This was decided against this due to the likelihood of one of my children trashing it within about five minutes.) It is the same for Whitmore pupils. They had six months off school and their routines were all over the place. Sleep at 3am? Standard. Six hours on their phone a day? Absolutely normal.
School plays a vital role in providing routine for its pupils. Whitmore teachers have spent many hours recording lessons to go on our online learning platform which mirrors our normal lessons. This way pupils can at least maintain elements of their normal school day, even when they are required to self-isolate.
Maybe they could even wear their uniform at home to create the right atmosphere…
27th September 2020
‘Gryff, how was your day at school?’
‘Vaughn, who did you play with today?’
Boys, did anyone get a sticker today for being good? (both had stickers on their top)
‘Daddy, where do peas come from?’
Just a little snippet from a normal after school conversation with my two children. I thought teenagers were meant to be bad but my boys are just five and three, what will they be like when they are older?!
After three days of this, I was ready to march up to school and question why my children had no friends or seemed not to do anything all day…then I had a look on the school twitter feed.
There the boys were, loving ‘forest school’, playing with their friends, reading lovely books in book corner…why were they not telling me about it?
I can pretty much guarantee this is the same for pupils at Whitmore. If they don’t come home and tell you about their day, do not despair. It’s likely to have been a full day…five lessons, an assembly, probably an after-school club and lots of time with friends…the last thing they want to do at the end of the day is talk about it!
You might be one of the lucky ones though, some children come home and tell you about every detail, maybe this will happen one day for me. Friday gave me hope…’Gryff how was your day at school?’
‘Daddy, wait until I get my yawn out and I’ll tell you.’
It’s a start.
20th September 2020
Watch ‘The Social Dilemma’ on Netflix, I implore you. I guarantee 90% of you will realise you are addicted to social media.
And the worse thing…I’m with you.
I used to mildly enjoy Facebook, one of my friends put a photo up…I liked it…everyone was happy. Now I’m more likely to be randomly watching a video about baseball. Why baseball I hear you ask? Honestly, I don’t know, I don’t even like baseball…but I do remember watching one short video a few months back and the Facebook algorithm has decided it’s my cup of tea.
Instagram used to be fun…but I just checked a minute ago and I had to scroll through nine posts that were designed to sell something to me before seeing anything about my friends.
So once again I have decided to stop.
Last time I made the mistake of going cold turkey, deleting all of the apps and smugly declaring to my wife that I had broken from the clutches of social media…three days later I was back on, watching videos of near-miss shark attacks.
‘The Social Dilemma’ explains that these companies are incredibly clever at making sure we stay on their app for just a few more minutes so they can keep on showing us more adverts. Why? Because that’s where their money comes from.
So instead I’ve removed all notifications and set a timer for 5 minutes a day for both Facebook and Instagram…I’ll let you know if this latest intervention works.
What I worry most about is the pupils in my school. They have spent their whole lives assigning a level of happiness to their social media presence. It’s not healthy and it will not bring them real happiness.
So how can we help? Firstly, we are looking closely at making Whitmore a smartphone free space when we move into the new school. Pupils deserve a peaceful place away from the noise of social media.
Secondly, every child in Key Stage 3 at Whitmore has been given a choice of clubs that they must attend. We need to allow them to find a hobby that is more fulfilling than TicTok!
16th September 2020
My biggest little boy started reception this week and I didn’t cope well. Oh, I talked a big game the night before as my wife wiped away her tears as she got his uniform ready. ‘He’ll be fine, why are you being so soft?’
But I was bluffing. My wife calls me a curling parent, (think the winter Olympic sport) where I am constantly one step ahead of the boys, smoothing the course so there is no disaster.
I always have biscuits on me if they get hungry, their teddies in case they fall over, a plethora of coats if they get cold.
So, in the interests of curling and making sure he didn’t get hungry at school I decided to organise his school lunches using Parent Pay.
I must now take this opportunity to congratulate all the parents of Whitmore High pupils and pass on my admiration as they have all managed to add money to their children’s accounts.
I sadly could not…I added £50, the balance said £18.50…I orders two meals at £2.40 each, the system told me I had no credit…I reordered the same meals…he now had two meals booked per day…I gave up and called the school.
What this has emphasised for me is that Whitmore High need to do a bit more curling to smooth things out for parents during the initial weeks. With all the new protocols for Covid, parents are going to keep on having questions that they would like to be answered quickly. What should my child wear for PE? When will they be set? How does my child get a dinner fob?
We as a school aim to anticipate these questions over the coming days and provide answers for parents before they have to go through the frustration of trying to work it out on their own.
Now, if any parent can call the school to tell me how to order a tuna sandwich for my child, I will be forever grateful.
9th September 2020
I was secretly delighted when I found out the canteen at school couldn’t provide hot meals during Covid. I was finally free from the grasp of the fantastic food. Every day I would go past, promising to be good, but in a blink of an eye, I’d be tucking into a full roast dinner with some sort of sponge pudding to finish.
This year would be different. I went online and bought a load of protein shakes, congratulating myself on how healthy I would be. But the cooks have done it again. Despite having to provide food in three different areas, they have managed to make dangerously tasty food. They have even bought hot plates so the roast dinner is back on the cards. Yesterday I was ‘forced’ to trial a hash brown bacon wrap that was better than what you find at McDonalds.
It shows just how well areas of the school have adapted to provide as good a service, just in a different way. The PE staff have been devising a plethora of inter-form competitions to replace matches against other schools. The Drama department has created Whitmore High TV, allowing pupils to have the opportunity to perform to an online crowd of potentially thousands compared to the usual three hundred in the hall.
I am so pleased that we can provide a slightly adapted full experience at Whitmore. Pupils are following the full curriculum alongside an extensive range of superb extracurricular opportunities.
I just wish the canteen had stuck to making sandwiches. There are rumours of cheeseburgers tomorrow…no amount of protein shakes will help me resist.
29th August 2020
Whisper it quietly but over the last few weeks, my children have got easier. I don’t know whether I have become numb to their constant jabbering on but I think I might be seeing a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.
The youngest has stopped his penchant for running away at the most inopportune time (in a queue, next to the road, whenever I’ve just ordered a coffee in a cafe)
The eldest is even better. He will gladly sit and watch 28 episodes of Deadly 60 whilst I get to maintain the charade that he’s learning something.
Together they even sleep in the same room when we are in our caravan in Pembrokeshire. This was unthinkable a year ago where they would egg each other on to run out of the room, shout Daddy, and leg it back to bed.
This bodes well as they are both going to school together for the first time in September, one in Nursery and the other in Reception. Whilst my fears that they would be a handful for the teachers are starting to decline, I can’t help but worry about all of the what-ifs. What if they are scared by everyone wearing masks? What if they don’t like the cold lunches? What if they forget their pencil and are too scared to ask for another one from the teacher?
I have no doubt parents at Whitmore are going through many similar what-ifs. We are trying to answer them using mini videos on our Twitter page, but during such challenging and emotive times, we may not be able to alleviate every concern. What I can promise however is the staff at Whitmore will provide a welcoming space for pupils to restart their educational journey and we will do everything in our power to allow them to safely return to some semblance of normality.
16th August 2020
This week I have been mainly embarrassing my wife in public.
How? By repeatedly getting it wrong with Covid rules.
One-way system? I’ll trot along merrily without seeing the sign…my wife will be embarrassed.
Max two people in a shop? I won’t see one of the people, walk in and be told to leave…my wife will be embarrassed.
Mask on in shops in England? I’ll put it on the wrong way and back to front…my wife will be embarrassed.
The worst thing about it is I hate getting it wrong. The rules are there for a good reason and I consistently try to abide by them. The issues arise when the procedure slightly differs from shop to shop or from country to country.
We have taken this into account with our plans for reopening in September. Pupils at Whitmore were fantastic during the reopening phase in July, following every additional safety measure to the letter. But if we over complicate procedures for next term with hundreds of rules and regulations, pupils are more likely to inadvertently and quite innocently get it wrong.
This is why we have spent large parts of the summer break combing over the Welsh government advice and designing a robust plan that keeps staff and students safe whilst being simple to follow. During the induction week in September pupils will get the opportunity to practice the new systems which will involve a simple one-way system (even I will be able to follow this one), separate year group areas at breaktimes and a different lunchtime setup.
Mistakes will be made at first but the simplicity of our procedures will mean within a few days, things will become second nature. Most importantly, we believe we will be able to deliver a full curriculum allowing our pupils to not miss out on any more vital learning experiences.
24th July 2020
Last week, after another surf session involving me falling off a lot, my wife asked how it was. I’m pretty sure she was just being polite but I still gave her the whole story. ‘the wind was onshore so the waves were toppling over creating a lot of white water but the swell was sufficient when the sets rolled in.’
The bored and unimpressed look on my wife’s face was juxtaposed with the look of wonder on my children’s faces. They thought I was great.
Despite still being fairly rubbish, I have developed a schema (mental structure to organise information) about surfing that now far exceeded my initial understanding. At first, my knowledge was based on a surfing book that my wife bought me for Christmas. By learning everything in this book (and I mean everything!) I had a good base understanding. Now it is much easier for me to learn as my brain is able to classify and categorise new information by comparing the real world to what I learnt in the book.
This is exactly what has happened when I watched (and loved) the musical Hamilton. Before seeing it, I had a very limited knowledge of the American War of Independence but listening to it again and again has given me a base understanding. I have now bought two books on the subject and am finding it easy to add new knowledge because I can hook it onto what I already know.
We are trying to achieve the same with our new knowledge organisers at Whitmore High. Teachers have created sheets with all of the important knowledge required for their subject. We will encourage pupils to learn this information as quickly as possible. This will then allow them to easily add new information in lessons to their knowledge schema.
Now all I have to do is lean how to surf as well as I am able to describe it. Right now, I’m all talk, no trousers (boardshorts).
17th July 2020
I revised for the big moment just like a sixteen-year-old getting ready for their GCSEs. My cramming consisted of a few episodes of Grand Designs, some Homes under the Hammer, and a bit of DIY SOS. I heard the knock on the door and looked at my wife with sheer panic in my eyes. ‘Don’t worry Innes, you’re ready for this.’
I shakily got to my feet and braced myself for meeting the builder. I was going to discuss an extension.
You might be wondering why I was so worried about it. Very simply, it’s because I have a shocking lack of ability when it comes to DIY. There are have been a few attempts in the past which have gone down in family folklore. The bed which caved in because I put the slats on the wrong way, the ‘plastered’ wall which looks like a piece of modern art, the cries of black magic when my wife showed me WD40.
The trouble is, I’m from a family of very poor DIYers. The Robinsons would give up at the first sign of trouble. Lock sticking a bit? Get a new door. Need a picture put up? Get someone in. Put a new light fixture up? Not a chance.
It has once again shown me the inadequacies of our education system. People have different interests, skills, and knowledge yet we all finish school by being judged on a set of written exams. The Robinsons were good at exams so were deemed successful but give any of us a plug to rewire and we would be flummoxed. I really hope the new curriculum in Wales will give schools the freedom to allow pupils to focus on the areas of learning that they find most interesting and reward them for showing an aptitude in that area. If that happens, more pupils would enjoy school and be successful.
Anyway, the first question the builder asked was if my oven was gas or electric. No idea…I’d been rumbled.
10th July 2020
We call them ‘Mum lies’ in the Robinson household. Small fibs you tell your children to make life easier.
Why ‘Mum lies’? Because my Mum was the best at them.
My brother and sister still talk about the time we wanted to get a dog and she told us that she was allergic. We all believed her. It was only as adults that we found the childhood photo of her hugging the family dog.
My wife and I have carried on this tradition with our own kids. Often the fibs are small. The Peppa Pig machine at Sainsburys is broken; The (clearly dead) fox on the side of the road is sleeping; the police will come if you take your seatbelt off.
Over lockdown, my two boys became hooked on watching toys being opened on Youtube. (honestly this is an actual thing with millions of views) They would quickly become transfixed and throw substantial strops when we turned it off. This had to stop, so I told a fib. ‘Sorry lads, the bugs (Coronavirus) have eaten the cable for Youtube…it no longer works.’ They bought it hook, line and sinker. Problem solved.
But despite my penchant for telling these small fibs, I often base my assemblies on the importance of being honest. In fact, alongside the ability to work hard, I believe it is the most important quality that you can possess. Teachers are more understanding when you tell the truth about why you didn’t complete homework than when you make up an extravagant story; friends are quickly lost if it is uncovered that you are someone who can’t be trusted; parents give you less independence when you say you are going to your room to work but play Fortnite instead.
All people find it hard to find the right line between honesty and a white lie. Bending the truth to save a friend’s feelings or to help someone is often good for relationships and shows real empathy. The skill is in knowing when a little white lie could risk your integrity…
which is why I told my wife how much my new paddleboard really cost.
3rd July 2020
Salvation came early during lockdown from an unexpected source…Disney+. An oasis in the desert for parents everywhere who just need a few hours to do their work. It has led to my children watching pretty much every Disney film ever, even the ropey made for TV ones.
This week I have been watching ‘The Making of Frozen 2.’
It is brilliant, properly brilliant. I never realised just how much painstaking work goes into every scene. But I had an epiphany whilst watching it. There was tremendous benefit in the brutally honest feedback they gave to writers/set designers/songwriters when reviewing their section. It must have been horrible for the person receiving the feedback, but they came back the next day and created something much better.
In my first year of teaching my Head Teacher told me that feedback is a gift. It just so happened that she used to wrap up one of these gifts every day and deliver them to my classroom door. Did I like hearing it? No, but it made me better.
It’s something that I think we often get wrong in teaching. Fearing that we will stifle a pupil’s confidence, we often over-praise work when there is an improvement to be made. Pupils will not thank us in the long run when we say a piece of work is fantastic, only for it to achieve a B grade when the student wanted an A*.
Now I’m not advocating heartless honesty in every situation. If I told my son that his new ‘fast shoes’ didn’t make him run any quicker it would make him sad. But I think there is a happy medium to be found where strengths are celebrated whilst, at the same time, opportunities for improvement are discussed.
So, Whitmore pupils, we will continue to provide these ‘feedback gifts.’ They may not initially be what you want to hear, but it will allow you to be the best you can be.
28th June 2020
Signing up to run a 100-mile ultra-marathon requires a fair bit of training. Having two small children and an all-encompassing job takes up a lot of time. Hence, I am mentally composing this whilst running around a wood in the middle of the night with a head torch on.
How do I know where I’m going? Well, I wish I could say it was down to bushcraft learnt over the years but sadly not. I have no idea how to use a compass, can’t read a map and don’t know which mushrooms are poisonous. But what I do have is technology. Lots and lots of technology. A smartphone, GPS watch, and a heartrate monitor. How wrong can I go?
In February this year, I realised very wrong. It was during the terrible floods and I went for a run in Tintern. All went well until 3 miles from the end, in the pitch dark, the trail in front of me disappeared. Confidently I checked my phone, no signal. Checked my watch, it told me to go straight ahead. Straight ahead was blocked by a huge fallen tree next to a swollen river. I checked my heart rate monitor, I was panicking.
Not wanting to take a 10-mile detour I climbed over the tree, into the unknown, and got lucky. The trail started again and I got home. But it easily could have been different.
One argument in education frustrates me more than any other. ‘We shouldn’t be teaching students facts, they can just Google them.’ Well, what happens when Google isn’t available? Society has become completely reliant on technology at the expense of learning ‘stuff’. I’m listening to a brilliant audiobook, Devolution by Max Brooks, which poses this very situation. (It also seems to be about monsters that live in the forest which is not ideal for my evening run, but I digress.)
At Whitmore, we believe the acquisition of knowledge and skills allows you to become independent. We also don’t just focus on learning in the classroom. Next year we have decided to incorporate extra clubs into the timetable. This will ensure everyone gains important knowledge and skills that might not be covered by the curriculum. Whether you would like to be part of a chess club, debating society, or climbing group, there will be something for everyone.
Hopefully, someone will offer an outdoor survival course…they will have at least one taker.
21st June 2020
The Welsh Government guidance came in; I read the first line and a cold sweat trickled down my back; the worst possible situation was unfolding; ‘We advise teachers to not wear suits, instead dress in clothes that can be cleaned every day to reduce the risk of Covid’. What was I going to wear?!
There is a reassuring certainty in being a head teacher, every day you get to put on a suit, and you can’t go that wrong with a suit. There was a day last year where I realised my tie didn’t really go with my shirt but I got over it. But this, this was something else entirely. I frantically rushed to my wardrobe (two small drawers next to the cavernous cave that stores my wife’s clothes), and confirmed what I already knew, I had nothing suitable.
Onto the internet I went and bought myself some outfits. I was pleased with my purchases and excitedly showed my wife. With the cutting honesty only reserved for your life partner she simply said, ‘Innes, you’re not 19 anymore.’ I was crushed.
Why do I tell you this story? I think it proves how important school uniform is although I can think of a number of pupils who will passionately disagree with me. The first question school parliament always asks is, ‘why can’t we wear our own clothes’, petitions are often written up asking for own clothes days and within minutes of signing up for a school trip, the all-important question is asked. ‘do we have to wear school uniform.’
In these one-off situations I can see the fun in getting to wear your own clothes. But not every day. You get up, brush your teeth and without even thinking put on your uniform. When you are 14, the last thing you need to worry about is for school to become a fashion show. The school uniform is the great leveller that allows pupils to focus on the most important thing about school: learning.
So, what am I going to wear? Chinos and a shirt; the quintessential dress down outfit of a head teacher.
Picked of course by my wife.
11th June 2020
I promised myself I wouldn’t do it…told myself I was better than that…even questioned others who took the plunge first, but after only two days I relented…I joined the queue for the McDonalds drive through.
Now there were some mitigating circumstances
It was 4:30 in the afternoon and I had run out of activities for the boys
Quiche was planned for dinner
I don’t like quiche
I drove to the gate and was met by a snake of cars that resembled a Disneyland queue. A helpful man told me the wait would be at least 45 minutes, for many people, too long. My wife and I just gave each other a knowing smile…it would be the boys’ bedtime by the time we got back.
The talk was excited, what toy would be in the happy meal? Would Mcflurrys be available? Could I have extra chips?
As always, the meal was exactly what I expected it to be…fantastic. Even during a worldwide pandemic, McDonalds managed to get it right.
It has really made me think about the return of Whitmore on the 29th June. Like with McDonalds, there will be changes. We may not be able to provide all of fantastic extras that are normally available. (Mcflurrys were off the menu by the way) It will be a while before I can cheer on one of our sports teams or enjoy a musical produced by our superb Drama or Music Department. But, what will still be present is the incredibly positive ethos that has been created by our dedicated staff. Pupils will be welcomed in, friendships will be renewed and learning will take place.
And before you know it, the full Whitmore High Supersized experience will return and the pupils will be ‘lovin it’!
7th June 2020
I looked at my four-year-old. His hair was ridiculous. There was only one option, I’d have to cut it.
Now if you take a look at my photo, you can see that haircutting has not been a concern of mine for several years. But I thought, I’ve had my hair cut before, it can’t be that hard.
I embarked on my quest, armed with some clippers, a brush, a Super Soaker (all I could find to wet his hair), kitchen scissors, and some supportive words from my wife. ‘Don’t you dare make his hair look like yours.’
Did it go well? No, it did not. After 20 minutes of hacking, he looked like he’d fallen through a hedge and the Queen of Hindsight (my wife) was telling me all the things I should have done differently.
So how does this relate to school? It shows how important it is for a teacher to model how to do something before giving pupils the chance to try it out themselves. Our major goal this year at Whitmore has been to emphasise the importance of outstanding modelling by teachers at the beginning of every lesson. This is always followed by the chance to practice chunks of the task with teacher support. Finally, once the teacher has checked for misconceptions, the pupils are then given the opportunity to work independently.
So, I tried this out for myself. I went on YouTube and watched a how-to video, trialled it on my own hair, and had a second attempt. Was it perfect? Not at all but Gryff seemed happy. I felt so pleased with myself that I asked if I could cut my wife’s hair. She declined my offer. I can’t understand why.
31st May 2020
I made the mistake last week of giving the boys a choice of what to have for breakfast. What followed was a microcosm of what I see on Twitter every day.
First came the polarised opinions.
‘I want Shreddies’ shouted Gryff
‘I want Coco Pops’ countered Vaughn with fury
This initial duel was then backed up with dubious facts and emotive language.
‘We had Coco Pops yesterday and they are yucky’ shouted Gryff. (Not true on both counts)
‘Gryff always gets what he wants and he kicked me.’ (Again, not true)
Much like with Twitter, both sides refused, point-blank to listen to each other. They persisted to repeat their view with increasing anger and incredulity.
It is often said that Twitter gives everyone a voice, the problem is it doesn’t also supply ears. Debate should not just be about shouting your opinion at the top of your voice with your fingers in your ears. The best debaters listen to arguments and respond to them with a logical riposte. I also worry that Twitter becomes a huge echo chamber, where due to your friendship groups having similar opinions to you, you end up in a cycle of everyone repeating the same points without access to the other point of view.
This is why I have been so excited by the work of the Whitmore High English department who have made debate and oracy a key component of the curriculum. Last year I observed several lessons where students learned to counter or build upon opinions, ensuring they had to listen first. The next step is to enter some debating competitions.
Now I’m sure you are wondering what the boys ended up having for breakfast…they had pancakes, everyone likes pancakes.
17th May 2020
Last year I floated the idea of buying a surf skateboard. To put it mildly, my wife was less than impressed. She argued (quite rightly) that no self-respecting head teacher should be going around a village on a skateboard. But I’m a big believer that you should never worry about what anyone else thinks of you, it’s better just to enjoy what you like doing. So, I bought it.
Despite never using one before, I started to get the hang of it. At the ripe old age of thirty-six, I had gained a new skill. This week my 4-year-old learnt to ride his bike without stabilisers. He went through the same milestones as me such as falling off, hurting his leg, wanting to go home when it got difficult, but he persisted and got there in the end.
The odd thing is, we absolutely expect young children to acquire knowledge and skills at a dizzying rate but as we get older, we don’t believe the same is possible for ourselves. There suddenly comes a time in our lives when it becomes acceptable to say things like, ‘I’m not good at maths,’ or ‘I can’t ride a bike.’ But the reality is anyone, at any age, is able to gain new skills, they just have to be prepared to practise and not give up when things get difficult.
With this in mind, lockdown could be the perfect opportunity for everyone in your household to try and gain a new skill. With the aid of the internet, you can receive expert, free tuition on almost anything. So, if you have ever thought about learning to play the guitar, speak another language or even start to skateboard, there is no time like the present.
Just remember, as we often say to students at Whitmore High School, anything is possible as long as you work hard enough and keep positive!
May 14th 2020
This week I have resorted to bribing my eldest with surprises (toys), to get him to do his home schooling. There I’ve said it. I feel better for sharing.
After years of taking assemblies, exhorting the importance of being motivated by the acquisition of knowledge rather than for short term gains, I have changed my tune considerably during lockdown. But it has worked. Every day this week, my 4-year-old has rushed in to ask me if he can do his work. The average lesson has been 45 minutes per day, which might not sound like a lot but it is around 41 minutes better than before the bribery.
It really has made me think about the importance of short-term rewards for success. In schools, we ask a lot of pupils, expecting them to work hard every day for five years because at the end they will take GCSEs which can have a significant influence on their life chances. Imagine if in your job you were told, if you work hard for five years, you may get a promotion. This wouldn’t be enough for most people. There is a reason why companies spend millions providing perks to influence employee motivation.
So, when the Whitmore School Parliament return to school, they will be asked to develop a new and improved rewards system, which will provide short-term milestones and rewards for hard work. By repeatedly succeeding in these short-term goals, I believe our pupils are more likely to achieve what they are capable of in their GCSEs.
Now I will admit there are a couple of concerns I have with my lockdown prizegiving approach. First and foremost, I worry about the possibility of toy inflation. Already he has asked if he can get bigger toys if he works really hard. I shut this down immediately but the question will come again.
Secondly, I want him to love learning because learning is fantastic as opposed to just wanting to get toys. But why are both things not possible? He will enjoy the short-term rewards for hard work whilst at the same time acquiring knowledge and skills that will allow him to learn independently in the future.
Right, I’m off to Tesco to buy their entire supply of Lego figures.
May 7th 2020
Something very exciting happened the other day. I was going about my usual lockdown routine of trying (and failing) to teach my four-year-old his number bonds at the same time as replying to school e-mails when, through the letter box, came advance news of the local “Event of the Lockdown” – an invitation to a socially distanced street party on Friday night. Now this is unheard of on our street, usually you would be lucky to get a nod or a quick conversation about a delivery, but Corona has changed everything. Everyone is looking for that opportunity to make connections with others.
A similar phenomenon is happening at Whitmore. This week, Year 8 students have produced a video, reading kind messages about how much they miss each other; our superb Head of Drama has made a fun video showing how not to keep healthy during lockdown and the Music Department are organising a virtual choir. I have always thought that school is much more than just a place for learning – students need the opportunity to interact with each other whether it be through a sports team, as part of a drama production or just by speaking to others in the canteen.
What’s more, it is very hard to replicate this interaction virtually. I think I was so excited about the Street Party because it was the chance for face-to-face conversation. Any of you who meet using video calls for work no doubt are experiencing ‘Zoom fatigue’. The early enjoyment of seeing people’s faces is rapidly being replaced with the annoyance of everyone talking at once!
I really look forward to being able to safely open the doors to Whitmore again very soon. Until then, we will continue to produce resources to ensure students do not fall behind in their learning and we will keep communicating with you.
We absolutely understand the difficulties that families face with home learning. We have decided not to put a timetable for work as we do not want to create pressure and stress for parents and students. There are plenty of fantastic resources available on Whitmore Google Classrooms. Pupils can work through them at their own pace. Any issues with logins please contact Mr Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have also been really impressed with the lessons created by the UK National Academy. www.thenational.academy/
April 28th 2020
I had two Zoom video meetings with staff yesterday which was an absolute pleasure. I was delighted to hear about the hard work that the staff were doing at home. It was also just nice to speak to everyone again and see their faces…I’ve really missed them!
On that note, tutors will be contacting home over the next few weeks. This phone call is just to see how you are doing. We want to hear about your best garden game/your favourite box set/ the subject you have been enjoying /the work you are struggling with/whether you have kept up with Joe Wicks, etc, etc.A
The plan is to speak to the parent or carer first and then, if there is the opportunity, speak to the student. We will only call between 9am and 6pm and it will be your tutor calling.
April 24th 2020
Day 40248 of the lockdown…I look back at my first blog where I talk about creating a schedule for my children and I feel real pity for my former self. He just didn’t see what was coming! As you may expect, the schedule has gone out the window but I actually think we are better as a family because of it. I have four main aims every day…do some exercise, attempt to get the boys to do a bit of work, do some work of my own and enjoy having lots of family time. As much as getting woken up at 5am by Spiderman and Batman hurts, I know I’ll miss it when everything gets back to normal!
More importantly, I am incredibly proud of the tremendous work over the last two weeks by the DT department at Whitmore High. Alan, Ian, Mark and John have been in school non-stop making masks and visors for front line staff which have been gratefully received. Read the story below.
I want to thank all the Whitmore staff who have or will be working at the Primary Hub in Pendoylan School. We are repurposing ourselves as primary teachers and very much enjoying it! The staff are also focused on ensuring Whitmore High is even better when we come back and are tirelessly creating new and improved resources for their lessons. Next week we are increasing the number of Zoom video meetings to prepare for key topics such as transition, exam results and resources for the new building. To make sure my children don’t videobomb every meeting, I’m planning to hide in my shed.
April 20th 2020
About a week ago I saw an advert for the new Trolls film that, due to Corona, would be on TV rather than be shown in cinemas. Fantastic! The boys liked the first one and I would get two hours of precious peace. Then came the painful realisation that it could only be rented for an extortionate £16. What person in their right mind would pay that amount to rent a film in their front room? Turns out, I’m that person and three days later I sat the kids in front of the telly, made them popcorn and hoped for the best. It went very well, they watched it twice so I felt I got my money’s worth and I was able to reply to some e-mails.
I imagine many parents who are currently working from home are going through a similar experience. You need your children to be getting on with something to allow you to do your work but you don’t want to constantly be getting them to watch TV or play computer games. We aim to help with this by making home schooling as simple as possible for your children which will allow them to independently work for a period of time.
Departments have created lots of tasks and projects to ensure students are able to effectively work from home. Please follow the school and departments on Twitter and keep returning to the website for further resources. In addition, there are two fantastic resources that are starting today. Firstly, the government have started the Oak National academy. (www.thenational.academy) This already has lots of very good resources which will be added to every week. The BBC have also created Bitesize Daily which looks great. (www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize)
March 30th 2020
We are now one week into self isolation and if I’m being honest, our home schooling has had decidedly mixed results. We went into it pretty confidently; my wife is a fantastic primary teacher and I’m a headteacher, surely the perfect combination for some fantastic learning. Well, the boys had other ideas…
We have come to three main conclusions:
Less is more. The temptation is to replicate a normal school day with 5 hours of learning. I’m lucky if I manage ten minutes of Jolly Phonics before a minor tantrum. But in that 10 minutes, Gryff normally learns something. The same goes for the children at Whitmore, a couple of hours a day using the right resources would constitute a great day of home learning.
Use the right resources. My lowest moment has been the apathy displayed by my children during the ‘medal ceremony’ of the Olympics that I spent half a day organising. There is no need to spend hours creating resources yourself as there are so many available. If you go onto the Whitmore High School website and Twitter page, you have access to fantastic resources that your children can work on. For example:
‘The Great Welsh Challenge’ for years 7-9 from the Welsh department
An Educake competition for year 10 for Science
Brilliant google classroom resources from Spanish for all year groups
An English ‘good news’ discussion on Google classrooms for years 7 & 8
Some exciting home learning challenges from Art
In addition, there are so many great celebrity resources being produced. I think the whole of the UK have been attempting the Joe Wicks workout every morning. From what I’ve heard, Mr P had a great first day doing the workout and has been recovering since. Here is a list of a few classes that could get your children through the day.
Don’t be too tough on yourself. We all want to create great learning opportunities for our children but it is not easy to balance trying to work from home whilst keeping the house tidy and having any time for yourself. Yesterday my children watched four Spiderman episodes back to back whilst I was able to do some work. The world didn’t end and everyone was happy!