Identifying and supporting the Young Carers in your school

On the back of a Schools Autism Awareness event last year, our school decided to set up a Young Carers support group.

The Young Carers meet once a fortnight to socialise. There is no agenda set for the sessions. It is time for these students to relax, eat, drink and play.

A recent study in Glasgow found Young Carers to be almost 50% less likely to attend University. Another study has shown 80% of young carers miss out of childhood experiences. It is figures like this which make having a young carers provision in all schools so vital.

Last week I took the group on an Open Minds project to The University of East London (UEL). The 6-month project will help students learn about the brain and mental health. None of the students had ever visited a university before.

Holding hands

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About our Community Expert


Bernie Callanan


Over 10 years of SEN experience in a number of settings. Developed whole-school approaches to ensure students with SEN are catered with the support they need.

Placing the student with SEN at the heart of all decisions made regarding their education, whilst liaising with all stakeholders involved.

Bernie is our education expert who provides SEN related content.

It takes a good school leader to know when a school is struggling

The recent Ofsted Annual Summary for 2017-18 led by Christine Spelman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, notes that there appears to be an upward trend of improvement in schools from the previous year.

While we all hate that dreaded phone call from Ofsted whose job it is to improve the quality of our provision by giving honest and incisive feedback- good and better leaders and educators are all too deeply aware that it is down to them to continuously improve schools and settings rapidly so that pupils can benefit- no matter what background they come from.

Early Years providers have done remarkably well. 95% of early years’ settings are providing good and outstanding education this year “compared to only 74% six years ago”.

“86% of schools and 69% of “all non -association independent schools” were judged by Ofsted to be good and outstanding.”

Furthermore, the number of Further Education (FE) providers have significantly improved and now 76% of them provide a good and outstanding education.All positive news which is great!

However, the worrying data that is concerning is that 490 schools are still deemed “stuck” for continuing to perform poorly since 2005. Then there are the schools that have not been inspected who are not providing the quality first education that all children deserve!

Old way new way

If you are a school leader in such a school – although you are accountable, (as that is what leadership is about), you can make a huge difference with your actions in schools that are struggling.

While it might be extremely stressful, daunting, scary and overwhelming to be part of a requiring improvement or inadequate school- don’t be fearful! Stay calm and purposeful! It is what you do to improve things that count!

It is the leaders’ duty with the leadership team to ensure the school makes a positive turnaround, not only for the children’s sake but for the staff’s sake as people’s livelihoods and wellbeing is at stake.

There are plenty of opportunities to spot ways to make rapid improvements. Here are a few things that will help support you your journey of turning things around.

1. Ensure safeguarding systems are of the highest quality, thorough and rigorous

Whoever we are- when working with children and vulnerable people, our core purpose is to ensure safeguarding systems are robust and effective.

Whatever school you are in, meet with the relevant people and ensure the Central Register is updated and your school is compliant with safer recruitment practices and DBS checks.

In addition, check that all staff know what to do in the event of a safeguarding concern and know the safeguarding and whistle-blowing policy inside out! Without effective safeguarding systems in place in all areas of the school, schools will struggle and will fail- particularly in an Ofsted or local authority inspection. Once that is sorted, you can focus on the other stuff.

2. Take daily learning walks

This is non-negotiable! As a leader, you are responsible for the entire school’s outcomes with the leadership team and also the quality of teaching and learning.

By taking daily learning walks you can create a coherent and realistic picture of how children are doing. These regular snapshots will also give you key information, which you sometimes can’t get when observing teachers. Develop your own evidence of how certain subjects are taught or which teacher is delivering quality first teaching.

Of course, you are going to carry out observations of teachers and book scrutinies but that daily evidence will tell you how your school is doing.

Do daily walks in the playground and lunch halls and get a picture of what is happening beyond the classroom setting. You are also developing a visible presence which is crucial in all organisations.

Is what others are telling you, what you are seeing and hearing? Is the quality of provision in all areas of the school good or better? If not what are you going to do about it? How and when?

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Click here to download the Opogo app on the App store and read this blog in full!

Alternatively click here to download the Opogo app for android.

Murder media: Tackling violence promoted through music

Is Trap, Drill and Grime the new pop music? But more importantly who exactly is listening to it?

2019 sees the first trap song entering the UK charts entitled Air force.

You’d be forgiven to think it celebrates that classic trainer Nike Air Force one however when you delve deeper into the lyrics you see content that is indicative of the current climate around systemic youth violence:

I was on the roads tryna double up
Home, now I wanna see my P’s just triple
Had to run a boy down in my Air Force, p***ed
Cos now they got a crease in the middle

The wider debate around the effects of violent music, films and video games is something we can save for a future blog however I can safely say after delivering in over 20 children secure units and prisons I’ve never heard Adele blaring out of cell!


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Alternatively click here to download the Opogo app for android.

Free Webinar – Tackling School-Aged Violence

Tackling School-Aged Violence with Raymond Douglas | Tuesday 05 February 2019 | Online


Event description

In this webinar, Ray Douglas will share tools and strategies on how to respond effectively to the increase in pupils involved in life-threatening behaviour relating to knives, gangs and systemic youth violence.


What will be covered?

  • Addressing violence beyond citizenship and enrichment days.
  • The importance of real-time inset and CPD for all staff.
  • How to become a peace informed school.
  • Engaging parents and school communities.
  • Working with pupils most at risk.

Who’s it for?

SLT ’s, DSL’s, Pastoral & P.S.H.E leads, Learning Mentors, Behaviour Managers Heads of Year, Enrichment coordinators.

When will the event take place?



Date: Tuesday 05 February 2019
 7:00pm – 7:45pm

Location: Online

Click here to register for free.

How to identify behaviours in the classroom

Anyone who has worked in a school setting knows that there are many unusual behaviours from the majority of pupils that present themselves almost daily.

Playing detective to unpick what these behaviours may mean is one of the most challenging, yet interesting aspects of working with children and young people.

Observing these behaviours, speaking with the pupils and colleagues in order to form an opinion and then effect a programme to support and develop is a key role of being an educational practitioner.

1. Observing

What exactly am I seeing…?

– Chatting

Everyone has experienced a chatty class, a chatty lesson or a chatty pupil. Never quite feeling that you as the teacher of a session are being heard and followed is frustrating. This frustration can make you question your ability to teach.

Rethinking this and seeing it from the class, groups or pupils’ point of view will help with your well-being and with reducing the talking in your lesson. Pupils chat for a variety of reasons. Unfinished conversations, a feeling of anonymity (I can talk as I am invisible and not really noticed or valued), a need to chat in order to learn (yes this does exist!) and chatting can also mean that the learner is not engaged with the learning.

– Anxiety and nervousness

Each of us can suffer from anxiety at one time or another and for children, this, unfortunately, is also true. Being anxious makes the pupil appear disinterested and distracted. Of course, they are as they are battling with a myriad of emotions and feelings that are blocking their ability to be present.

They may be anxious as they are not very sure of the expectations for them in the session, they are concerned about speaking in front of an audience or indeed speaking at all, and they could be worried about non-school related issues and concerns.

Emotional girl

– Sadness

Being sad and coping with sadness can often go undetected in pupils. By their very definition and being, children are seen as gregarious, resilient, happy, easy to please and risk takers.

Our approach to the pupils that do not fit into these categories, some or any, is often us, as teachers, questioning what is wrong with the pupil and why are they not fitting into the stereotype. Of course, there are as many reasons for this as they are children, but one of the reasons experience has taught me is that the child may be sad or coping with a sad situation or experience.

– Reluctance

Being reluctant to participate in an activity in a class environment can stem from low self-esteem or self-image. This can be about confidence and also about their previous experiences and expectations.

The pupil who refuses to conform or does not appear pleased that you have volunteered them for a class job or honour may just be feeling reluctant. We can often interpret this reluctance as rudeness or obstinate and our ego can take offence. The child, however, may just be unsure of themselves.

2. Gathering information through conversations with; the pupils, their peers and colleagues.

– The upshot is no one really knows why anyone does anything but gathering as much information as possible around the behaviours can help with the offer of support!

Organised class discussions to focus on pupil well-being is a good starting point. This may be planned around a story starter, the focus of a circle time or a similar empathetic opportunity in the classroom for a discussion. Schools are using animals to help with this facilitation, specifically dogs, who often come into school with a trainer who can support with the process.

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Getting to speak and know the class and the dynamics are crucial. Arts and crafts activities can often illicit pertinent conversations. The old ‘sewing circle’ model, with soothing music on in the background. Planning quiet times into your class day or week also helps with the opportunity for best copy work to be produced or colouring in and finishing off.

When these activities happen informal conversations often take place. Sitting with the class and specific pupils for lunch or on the way to and from a school trip is another forum and speaking with the teaching assistant, music teacher, PE coach or the adults who supervise the breakfast club or after school provision allows for another adults’ insight to be gathered.

3. Creating a programme of support and development once the information has been gathered.

– Simple changes in classroom practice can have a huge effect. This is when you can be at your most creative and use your skills and knowledge of children and their development.

Consider the following:

  • Giving opportunities for talk time in the classroom
  • Having a ‘worry box’ that pupils can write their worries and concerns on
  • Ensuring all pupils have the opportunity of working and chatting with a friend during any one school day
  • Having a ‘complements’ focus on a Friday where each pupil gets the opportunity to receive compliments from their classmates and to also complement themselves
  • Creating a clear outline of expectations for every job you ask the pupils to ‘volunteer’ for
  • Providing books and reading opportunities that are feeling focused; this could ab a category in our book area
  • Get some class pets; fishes, stick insects, small animals. They allow pupils to be caring and nurturing with, and to also make mistakes with as well. A fish does not shout at you if you forget to feed them once!

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– Using school structures

These structures can be used to support; mentoring, teaching assistant time, buddy systems, SENCo involvement, school nurse, counsellors can also be a great help, and this will be for more specific needs that you feel you would need some support to address. Use the many ‘human’ resources in your school setting and never underestimate the value of an open and sensitive conversation with your colleagues.

– Parental engagement

This is another area that can help support a child. Working in partnership can be hugely successful and can enable pupils to flourish in the school setting. Supporting pupils in this way can also help with your own professional development as a teacher as engaging with parents successfully is a skill in itself and one that can only be learnt from experience. You may also be helping a family to address their own worries and concerns and thereby additionally help the pupil.

Different behaviours are not always for the reason we think and one of the key elements of being a teacher that focuses on well-being and support is that of playing a detective and of taking nothing for granted!

Event: Cover Supervision 101

Thinking of cover supervision? Not even sure of what it is? Then this session is for you.

In Cover Supervision 101, Managing Consultant Lauren Cliffton will be explaining exactly how to establish and make the most of your career in cover supervision.

What’s covered:

  • What is cover supervision?
  • What experience do you need?
  • Earning potential / Flexible working
  • Transitioning from primary to secondary and vice versa
  • What’s expected from a cover supervisor?

Who’s it for:

Secondary & Primary TAs with 3months+ experience, Graduate TAs, Graduate NQTs, Performance & Creative Professionals, Recently Graduated Individuals, Sports Professionals, Overseas Trained Teachers, Professionals out of work & Potential Work Returners.

 Wednesday 06 February 2019

Time: 5:30pm – 7:00pm
 Room GC, Opogo, 3rd Floor, 9 Devonshire Square, London EC2M 4YF

For more information, please contact:

Thames Teachers | Opogo Hub Events

This is a free talk, availability is limited.

Make a SENsational impact with AIR teaching

Being a teacher is a challenging profession at best but becoming a special needs teacher, the ability to effectively manage a wide range of student behaviours and adapt to changing situations is vital.

From my personal experiences working with children with learning difficulties, it is important that we adapt our style of teaching to suit their needs and capabilities. An approach that I have found to be incredibly effective is to build confidence in your students through A.I.R teaching.


What is that?

It is a method of teaching that aims to be Accessible, Inclusive and Responsible (AIR).



Every member of the class needs to be able to access your starter exercise. Before the lesson begins, students should know that they can – and are encouraged – to get involved. Accessible starters encourage students to think about what they know, not what they don’t. Open-ended questions and ‘odd one outs’ offer students the opportunity to contribute and justify without being told they are wrong. Explanations can start off at a basic level, and extend without limit.



Board displays can exclude students with Special Educational Needs (SEN). Inclusive template designs are easy to make and can be reused and refined for subsequent lessons.

  • Spacious whiteboards provide students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) increased opportunities to access work
  • Pastel shades reduce visual stress for students with dyslexia
  • Separating text into boxes supports students with dyspraxia
  • Visuals often help those with autism or speech and language difficulties



Teaching assistant time with a student should never replace teacher time. Teachers specialise in understanding how to help students progress. They are responsible for using this to support students with SEN, as well as building relationships in the same way they have gotten to know the rest of the class. Students with SEN have an equal right to receive accessible teaching and be included by a teacher taking responsibility for their progress.

How to deal with cases of child protection

When children are supported and monitored by Children’s’ Social Services, this can be for a myriad of reasons, ranging from abuse, exposure to domestic violence, criminal exploitation, child sexual exploitation and much more. The most common reason we tend to see is neglect.

Neglect itself comes in many different forms but it can have profound effects on the children in the family.

To be clear – the vast majority of parents love their children. But in some cases, parents are unable to keep their children safe or provide for them so they thrive and are safeguarded by those who are supposed to be in charge.

When we talk about neglect, this can be physical or emotional. In order to thrive, children don’t just need to be fed and clothed, educated and protected from harm. They also need to feel loved, be cared for, spoken to, nurtured and emotionally developed.

Some parents are unable to keep their children from harm as they may have mental health problems, are preoccupied by domestic violence, afflicted by substance abuse, have physical disabilities that prevent them from caring for their children adequately or simply do not have the understanding or parental skills it takes to raise children, keep them safe and nurture them.

Many children we see in alternative provision and pupil referral units are beyond parental control, a process which started from when the children were very young.

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When parents find themselves unable to parent their children effectively, they can display highly risky behaviours by the time they become teenagers.

Trying to get a 15-year-old to confirm when they have been left to their own devices for most of their childhood is a pretty difficult thing to do. All agencies involved can do is to minimise risk and educate the parent and the child as much as possible to prevent them from further harm.

Some of the most common issues we see when it comes to physical neglect are things like children not having access to food in the home and having to rely on school feeding them.

We also frequently buy students new clothing, from shoes to winter coats, if parents are non-responsive when we raise concerns about inadequate clothing or are claiming that their child is refusing to come to school because their shoes are broken.

Many of our students also live in unacceptable housing conditions, such as severe overcrowding, no bedding or sheets or furniture, which means many prefer t spend their time outside with friends or people who don’t have their best interested at heart.

We also often come across parents who don’t take their child to see the GP, the dentist or the optometrist. Parents also sometimes don’t take their child to A&E if they had an injury or an accident. All our key workers have taken some of their key students to various medical appointments at one point or another.

primary boy holding hand

Sometimes parents fail to report their children missing or don’t show any interest in where their child has been whilst they were away.

We also see parents who know that their children are abusing drugs or alcohol but are unable to put strategies in place to manage their behaviours, which often escalate very quickly.

We often also see emotional neglect in families, which has the same causes as physical neglect but can be willful and cruel.

The most common ways parents are emotionally neglectful towards their children is when they show their children no warmth, love or care. The child is ignored, excluded, side-lined from conversations or any parental interaction and the child is made to feel unloved, a perpetual burden to the parent’s lifestyle or goals. Children who have experienced this kind of neglect either withdraw and become sad or – this is when they usually get excluded from their mainstream education, act out in protest to the neglect they’re experiencing.

Either way, addressing and remedying a family situation when it has come this far is incredibly difficult.

Behaviours are entrenched and hard to shift and all social workers and school can do are to try and manage escalating behaviours and keep children safe whilst allowing them to remain with their families.



About our Community Expert


Astrid Schön
Community Expert

With 15 years of experience in mainstream schools and over four years in alternative provision, Astrid has worked with the most able as well as the most disadvantaged students in London.

She is currently the Deputy Head at London East AP, the pupil referral unit in Tower Hamlets, one of the largest in the UK, leading on many teaching and learning initiatives to address underachievement of students in both mainstream and AP. Astrid also leads on curriculum development, assessment and strategic development of the pupil referral unit.

Webinar: Managing Workload to Improve Wellbeing

Managing Workload to Improve Wellbeing with Ross Morrison McGill | Tuesday 22 January 2019 | Webinar

Many working in education say that their workloads are unsustainable. Many people are uncomfortable saying no because they do not want to disappoint others, have had negative experiences saying no in the past or don’t want to be viewed as uncooperative. Effectively managing time and high workloads is a challenge for all those working in education.

Join Founder of Teacher Toolkit and new Opogo Community Expert Ross Morrison McGill for his first webinar with us as he addresses how you should be able to reduce anxiety and stress around your workload with practical tips to help ground you despite the piles of paperwork.

What will be covered?

Ross will be providing advice and tips that can help you manage your workload more effectively to improve your mental capacity, wellness and health.

Who’s it for?
Whatever your role, this session will be useful for you.

Speaker profile:
Ross Morrison McGill also known as @TeacherToolkit, the ‘most followed educator on social media in the UK’ is the founder of one of the most popular education websites in the world. He is an award-winning blogger, author and teacher with over 25 years teaching and school leadership experience in some the most challenging schools in London. In December 2015, he was nominated for The Sunday Times ‘500 Most Influential People in Britain 2015‘ and remains the only classroom teacher to have featured to this day

Classroom zen: Yoga for mind-body well-being

I have been working with Opogo to launch the #TeachFit initiative since September 2017. Our reasoning behind developing this programme was that we were seeing a real lack of opportunity within many schools across the country of children being exposed to health and wellbeing.


As adults aware of the rising growth within the fitness industry, we now understand how important this is; from sleeping well, to working out to getting our head-space. It is becoming more apparent that kids are just not privy to this whatsoever and, if they are, it is only through limited access and availability within many private schools.

With all of this in mind, we wanted to introduce Teach Fit into schools, either perhaps taking over PE lessons completely, by slotting out time for yoga within their regular lessons. Some schools have already taken this initiative after the Head Teacher had noticed just how important wellness has become. I’m incredibly proud to say that since the launch in September, we have managed to teach over 1000 children yoga, and it has since been thriving.

We have been teaching predominantly within primary schools but have also been lucky enough to be able to teach every year group from reception to year 6. What makes it so special is seeing how the children really start to gain an understanding of Yoga throughout the six weeks, from recognition and repetition of certain postures and techniques that we use within the class.


“What makes it so special is seeing how the children really start to gain an understanding of Yoga”


One of the core principles of Teach Fit is ensuring that the program is still fun for the children and that they feel stimulated and inspired. We begin each class by creating a relaxing ambience and reminding the children that they need to be calm and quiet. I get the children to repeat this to me each week before we begin our seated warm up, and believe me it doesn’t last long until the children are a bit wild! In all honesty, I absolutely love it because all the children are so unique and I get to see all of their personalities shine in those 30-minute sessions.

More often than not no two children are doing the same thing at the same time, and so I ensure that, through yoga, they can act both as a team and individually. The main lesson plan gives them a chance to try some really nice breathing techniques, postures, warm-ups, balances, and it’s the balances that you really see a difference in the kids. They learn how to concentrate, they’re silent, they’re either holding on to each other or perhaps individually.

We also work as a team where we’ll have a whole row holding hands with each other as they balance, and then we’ll get them to do it by themselves. I also get them to switch people that they are with, which are usually their best friends, to really show how they can build as a team, and as an individual, through yoga.

To keep them interested, we take yoga back to how relatable it is to sports, for example, for the boys, we tell them that a lot of footballers actually do yoga. For example, David Beckham is famous for doing yoga. Teach Fit is not about trying to keep the kids calm and quiet the whole class, because they’ll become bored and disengaged. It’s about showing them that these elements of yoga can be fun, completely different to anything that they do within the schools, as well as being applicable to anything they’re doing in school.