Mark Anderson - Occupations

I am Mark Anderson, head teacher at Colsterworth Church of England Primary School. I have been in post here since September. I very much enjoy the community here at Colsterworth. I am in my fortieth year which I shall be celebrating big-style very shortly. I was born in Solihull in the West Midlands in 1967. My mother, Janice, and my father, John, were both from Birmingham. I have a sister, Elizabeth, who is 42. My first primary school was Robin Hood, in Birmingham. This was Portmoaks School which is an inner-city school. Our family moved shortly after that to Knowle, just south of Solihull and then we moved up to Scotland following my father's employment, he was an engineer. Our move to Scotland was short-lived again due to my father's career but in the 12 months we were there, I had a marvellous time. I always thought for many years that my heart was up there despite the fact that I only lived there for one year. We then moved back down to Solihull and we lived with my Nan for a brief period. I went to Dorridge Junior School, just outside Knowle, and then to Arden Secondary School. About a month ago I went back to Arden School for the first time since I left and it brought back all sorts of vivid memories. If it weren't for that school, I wouldn't be the sort of person I am today.

At Arden, I soon discovered that I am a practical learner as opposed to an academic learner. Subjects like maths and English and languages weren't the ones that came naturally to me. However, later on in years to come, I found that I really did enjoy languages. When I was teaching in Wales I enjoyed teaching Welsh. My experiences at school were mainly pleasant but not always. The school was very academically-minded and the majority of children came up with a hat-full of O-levels (GCSEs now). My love was with art and woodwork and history, but I managed to come out with 5 O-levels. This was lucky as I had what I needed in order to open up other opportunities. I was hoping for 5, I thought I'd get 5, I put enough effort in to get 5, which is a reflection of what sort of person I was at that time. It is not me at all now. It was a reflection of how I was motivated; I did just enough to get by. I don't think people expected me to do an awful lot more and as a consequence, I didn't. I was a very personable kind of character; I like spending time with people. Some may say that I am easily persuaded at some point, not in the role that I have developed over the years, but I certainly enjoyed having a good time. I had an experience with a teacher called Mrs Loosemore, a French teacher. I remember walking across the playground and she said to me, "See him over there? He'll always be successful. You? You'll have to try very hard". She was very negative.

That has always been a strong driving force with me because I knew that I was capable, I was always capable of doing the things that I wanted to do. It was a question of either people unlocked that excitement within me or that I was interested. I think that this has really driven me on the path that I have taken. Anyway, I left Arden with 5 O-levels and tried the 6th form because all my friends did. This was at the Sixth-form College because Solihull didn't have a system of school sixth forms; it had a central sixth-form college. I did Art, History and Politics, I think. But it didn't suit me, it was too academically driven, it was too much pencil and paper. I lasted until about the February and then I realised, as had been confirmed some time earlier, I wasn't ready for the academic side of things. So I moved on. I went to work on a YTS scheme (Youth Training Scheme) earning 25--26 a week in an advertising agency. I enjoyed that because it was a real job and it was for a real purpose. I was checking advertising, I was dealing with clients. I picked up such skills as being able to talk to clients and being personable and so on. Then I decided I wanted to go back to college and, encouraged by my Mum, I went back and did an Art Diploma.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, I had a fantastic time. I studied sculpture which followed on from what I did at school. I still didn't know what I wanted to do, so I went and worked on an archaeological dig near Rushton, Northamptonshire. I spent about 6 months there, digging up bones, Roman pottery and medieval sites. It was absolutely fascinating and I learned a huge amount there. At the end of that, I went on holiday in the Lake District with my family. I was up there with a girl-friend when I met up with a gentleman who ran an Outdoor Pursuits Company which I had been going to for some time, and he offered me a job. So for four years I was in the Lake District instructing outdoor pursuits and that is where I found that I had a liking for educating people, A) encouraging them to do things that they didn't think were achievable, and B) working with children. Although I didn't realise it at the time, that was the foundation, that was the starting point of my interest in education. The other thing I discovered there is that I am actually quite driven. When I want to do things, I will get on and do them. By the end of the 4 years I was managing the company and then fortunately I met my wife, Gill. She decided that the Lake District wasn't for her so I had a decision to make and I chose her, and we are still very happily married.

She was commuting to London, where she was training as a nurse. I didn't have the money to do that, I couldn't afford to because all I earned was 60 a week. So I went down to Leamington where my parents were and I became an estate agent for my sins. I was very good at it actually and again when I realised that this was something I was good at, I rose through the ranks. But, I missed those children and I felt that the job just wasn't right. It was too mercenary from my perspective. My Mum was a teacher and she said I should think about being a teacher. I said, "No! No! No!" remembering Mrs. Loosemore. I went for careers advice and oddly enough they got round to it as well, "What about being a teacher?" I had fought it once and the second time I thought, "Well, yes, let's do it!" So I went to North Wales and I studied Physical and Adventure Education. This is where I rediscovered my love for education. I came out with a First, which if you track back over many years, it was not me at all. But as they did combine learning and the outdoors it gave real purpose. It really gripped me and that is why I took on education.

I was at the University of Bangor for 4 years and took up my first teaching post in Rhyl, which is a very nice place to holiday in but it is just across the water from Liverpool and Manchester. It is quite deprived area, with very seasonal work. There are a lot of migrant people working there in the summer. It was an interesting job; the children were quite a challenge. I did 4 years there and then moved on to Stamford. I'd had 2 children by that point. The first one, Megan, is now 9, and she was born in North Wales. Then 2 years later, we had Toby who was very poorly in the early days. He is absolutely fine now, but it started us thinking that we needed to consider family support. So we came down to Stamford where Gill's parents are. We set up in a small house in Stamford and have been there ever since. I taught at St. Gilbert's for 6 years. I taught in year 1 - straight from year 5 in Wales - which was an interesting experience. I would encourage every member of staff to get involved in that level. Teachers declare that the age they are teaching is the hardest. But teaching is a hard job, period, but a very rewarding job. It was at St Gilbert's, I think, that I developed my leadership skills in education as the head at the time and the subsequent one too, were very supportive. The opportunities were there and I was ready to take them.

The first head was Shen Buick who was smashing, very encouraging, and recognised perhaps the potential that was there and obviously utilised that within the school and I took on various initiatives. I became a key-stage leader and then assistant head. It was at this time that I truly developed my passion for enabling children to reach out for the opportunities that are there for them and to develop the belief that every child is smart and every child around them is smart also. I learned about multiple intelligences, and I picked up guidance from people like Barbara Pashnik, who is a New Zealand educationalist, where you start looking at creating the right sort of environments for inducing good learning for everybody. You may have heard of the Government's agenda about personalised learning, it is a bit of a buzz-word at the moment. It is trying to reach out to children and to encourage them to understand how they tick and for you to provide opportunities to enable them to access learning at whatever level is appropriate to them. That doesn't mean to say that you have to tailor every lesson to each individual child but provide a mixture of opportunities. I think that is being pretty fundamental in my educational philosophy. I met up with Trevor Hawes and he showed me ways in by visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning. We call it VAK Learning. We encourage staff to consider whether the children are able to visually access their learning? Can they access their learning through hearing? And can they access their learning through doing? I am a very tactile kinaesthetic person. That means I have to keep fiddling. Sometimes similar children have to keep fiddling about to feel comfortable, they have to have something in their hands. They have to have something. Like when one keeps tapping the table with a pencil. It is extremely irritating but that is what he needs to do so let's provide him with something slightly less irritating because if you stop that child from being comfortable a part of his brain will be affected and he will not learn. This part of the brain is called the reptilian brain, and it is down at the back of the head. It is a flight and fight mechanism which is a child's response to certain situations. If a child is not happy, if there is a problem at home, if he has just been told off, or he has fallen over in the playground or if he hasn't had any breakfast, these sorts of things, then he is not in a good position to learn. So what we have to do is to provide those opportunities for them. Trevor Hawes gave me the theory as to why we should go down this route and why we should then consider multiple-intelligence which is Howard Carter's theory 'Everyone is smart'. It is not just the literacy and numeracy. Concentrating on maths and English alone is doing some children a disservice who are talented in other areas. We say, yes it is important to focus on literacy and numeracy but let's make sure we have a starting point for all those other children who are smart in other areas such as the physical. There are children who are very good at sport.

Take David Beckham for example. He has an incredible talent but yet is not the most articulate person, but because of his success at sport, which he is good at, he has gained in confidence and can speak much more fluently. Sport has been his starting point and he has used this to grow in confidence and develop and work hard at other areas. We say to a child, you are smart but that is not enough. We have to develop these other areas as well, and we set them challenges. The parents are also very important but we probably see the children as much as the parents do, in terms of their waking day. But learning does not stop when they go home. At the end of the school day, that passion and that learning should continue. We also try to show that all learning does not have to take place in the classroom. Let's make learning real; let's move it to where the children can have experiences, where they can apply the skills that we are trying to help them obtain. So let's take the classroom outside, let's create the environment that stimulates ideas and creativity. Trevor Hawes provided the theory as to why I am interested and why I am doing the things that I do, why I am so passionate about education. I am concerned that some children leave school at the end of their educational career and are not interested in further learning. They start out with the desire to learn and therefore should achieve. Everyone can achieve. Two small parts of the brain are responsible for reading, writing and maths leaving 6 further intelligences like naturalist, interpersonal, intra personal, visual spatial, bodily kinaesthetic and musical. Then my Mum put me in touch with some schools in Kingstanding which is part of an educational action zone. There was some fantastic stuff going on in there. She was evaluating to see whether value for money had arisen from educational projects. It was in a very deprived part of Birmingham. The percentage of children there on free school meals would be about 90%. (We don't have any here.) It was very multi-cultural which means of course that the children were coming from a different academic starting point and a different social starting point. So there were a lot of things stacked against them including the standard traditional education system. They had to explore something that was different. So they looked at accelerated learning techniques which are used to make sure that connections are made in the children's brains with previous learning because if you just throw something in, they are not going to make 'connections'.

For learning to take place it has to be 'hard wired'. Dendrites in the brain have to be chemically connected for the messages to get through. If you connect current learning with previous learning, then the process is much more efficient. Simple techniques are used such as talking about what they have learned already, talking about the children's personal experiences, or what experiences they are bringing to the lesson. We have the objective but let's take it from the children's starting point. For example, if we are going to write a letter, why say we are going to write to the Prime Minister? Quite frankly, who has heard of the Prime Minister at their age, 7 years of age? Who would they like to write to? Rio Ferdinand, the footballer? Or Mickey Mouse? It is a case of tapping into their interests and their values. There are other things, like making sure the children are prepared to learn using brain gym exercises. We have something here called Activate. For five minutes every morning the children do some practical physical activities to get their brains waking up. We do bi-lateral reactions using 2 hemispheres of the brain, going from one half of the brain to the other, like holding the thumb out and moving it into patterns such as a figure of eight on its side. The eyes are doing something, the body is doing something - just little things but helping to focus the children's brains. We base our work on Curriculum 2000 which developed from the original curriculum that dates back to 1988. All the objectives that we have in the curriculum as our statuary obligations are in that document. It is available on the internet and anybody can find out what we have to do. The numeracy and the literacy hour were brought in to raise standards although it also brought in many restrictive practices. Timings were recommended that didn't fit in with the other elements of the curriculum, it was very inflexible. Both maths and English are involved in many other subjects and the Curriculum 2000 has enabled us to use this involvement. We have a more flexible framework from which to start.

Whatever are our obligations, it is most important that we try to create the opportunities there for children, where ever they are in their educational continuum. What we need to do now is not fill children with knowledge but provide them with skills so that they can see a purpose for those skills in this ever-changing world. This is what we have to prepare children for, and if we can encourage every child to recognise that there is a place for them in society and that they have a worth because they are smart, they will be prepared to take on those unexpected adjustments that they may encounter. They won't be intimidated or frightened of being made redundant when their company has been bought out by some global giant and they have to relearn other skills. The fact that this is a church school makes a lot of difference. It is a Church of England Voluntary - Controlled School and I feel that the ethos is right, concentrating on mutual respect, care and trust. These are fundamental principles that are more easily borne out in a church school. The Reverend Hilary Geisow, the Priest-in-charge of the parish, comes in regularly and takes collective worship and she is great. She is also a member of our governing body, which helps. We have the Reverend Rush as well from Market Overton Free Church. He came when there was no priest here for a time. One of them comes every Thursday. The church is very important to us. It gives us a focal point, and it gives us our values as well. I like to go down to the church for a service once a term. We shall be there on Thursday. Parents are invited; in fact any member of the public is invited. Our school is organised so that we have 5 classes, with a planned admission number of 25. We are not allowed to have over 30 children in a key stage 1. We have the Foundation and Year 1 together, then there is Year 2 class, a Year 3 and 4 class together and a Year 4 and 5 class, also together, and a Year 6 class. This system has to change year on year as numbers vary. Our school day starts at 8.45a.m. The Foundation and Key Stage 1 class departs at 3.20 and the rest at 3.25. The lunch hour is 12 until 1 o'clock, with a break in the morning and one in the afternoon for Key Stage 1 and Foundation and a break if necessary for Key Stage 2. We draw from many villages around, even as far as Bourne. A free bus service is provided for children within a certain area. We have children from Skillington and Stainby, Colsterworth and Woolsthorpe of course, and North Witham and Stoke. We don't have a catchment area as such although we do have criteria which are drawn up by the local authority. The children go swimming - we have a statutory obligation to teach children to swim 25m by the end of Key Stage 2 - so they are taken to the Meres Leisure Centre in Grantham on Wednesdays. We can't take them all every week because funding doesn't allow it, but we split Key Stage 2 in half and the ones that stay at school enjoy a creative morning where music and other activities take place. This runs for a term and then the two halves swap over. I am really pleased with the progress we have made at the school this year, it is fantastic. The work that the staff is doing is superb. It is probably because of my background that I am so passionate. It is so important that we do our best for these children.