Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Moving in yet another direction....

Last July, Kath Conwell the headteacher at Adswood Primary asked me to come in and meet her, as she had something that she wanted to discuss.  Well that's not strictly true, I actually rang her about visiting the school to perform a reading so I could be assessed by Siobhan from the Windows Project - but that's another story.

Anyway to give you a a little bit of background information, Adswood Primary School  is in a 'seriously underprivileged area of the borough and when Kath took over the school about 5 years ago - it was classed as a 'struggling school' with low levels of child literacy. 5 years down the line every child is a reader and the energy and enthusiasm for learning, displayed by the teachers, parents and pupils is phenomenal.  As I may have mentioned before, there is no other school quite like it.

During my time as a writer I have visited many schools across the North West and in many cases I have been lucky if the Head Teacher could be bothered to even say 'hello' let alone make an effort to learn my name.  Kath, however immediately struck me as someone who genuinely has the interests of the school at heart, and not where abouts they are on a government league table.  It is soley due to the dedicated efforts of herself and her team that the pupils are achieving great things.  

What has this got to do with me? I hear you ask...

Well...Kath has implemented a learning program that incorporates Makaton Sign Language with the learning of the first key words and has given it the catchy title "Sign and Shine".  As this scheme is not officially sanctioned, it is taught alongside the incredibly surreal "Letters and Sounds" which concentrates more on the phonics.  (having seen both my girls grow up using this rubbish and having been a reading recovery assistant myself, albeit for a short while, I believe that on the whole it doesn't work and merely confuses children more than it assists.)

 Each year, Henry Winkler a.k.a "Fonzie" awards a bursary to a school which is already working in special needs and requires funding to support their existing outstanding work and as such Kath entered the Sign and Shine program into the competition and should the school be successful then they would use the bursary to produce a range of learning materials for the program.  (this is where I come in)  on the application form she advised that a 'local children's writer' with close links to the school would be asked to produce a range of books so the program could be shared with similar schools throughout the region.  So on the same day that I rang up the school to see about a reading, Kath was informed that her application had made the final shortlist and the winners would be announced at the televised National Teaching Awards in  London on October 30th.

Naturally when Kath asked me if I would like to get involved I jumped at the chance, not just be because of the bursary but because I had seen Sign and Shine in action and knew that it really worked.  Writing a series of worthwhile educational books that could genuinely make a difference would give my own career a bit of credibility.   I thought of the many ways that Sign and Shine could be presented if I was given the opportunity i.e.  Digital Format with video links to actions, audio etc not forgetting the chance to be commissioned to write 12 books (possibly more).

Fast forward 3 months and I found myself on a coach going down to London together with another 15 or so assorted parents and teachers, to join Kath and several other members of staff who were going down on the train. 

Before the award ceremony, we went to Bella Italia for some refreshments and half a bottle of wine and a sea bass later, I found myself outside the Palace Theatre in London waiting alongside a thousand or so real teachers all dressed up to our eyeballs.

Unfortunately Adswood Primary didn't win, ( I have deleted an earlier piece I wrote on the award ceremony itself as it seemed too critical of a lot of things that happened that evening.) However, after speaking to Kath the following Monday she seemed adamant that they would secure the funding from somewhere....

Watch this space,

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