365 days in my shoes Day 59


Following on from the Teaching Dynasty article, TES got back in touch to find out how school life had moved on since becoming head teacher.

The day my life changed
Features | Published in TES Newspaper on 29 April, 2011 | By: Meabh Ritchie

Last Updated:28 April, 2011

I loved my starring role in Traviata but I opted for a career in teaching, not opera.


Singing is my life outside school. I’m very organised, always have been, and I sing every day at some point. If I’m learning new music, I play it all the time so I know it inside out and I’ll sometimes practise in the car on the way to school and back – about half an hour each way.

The kids here love music. We have lots of singing groups at school and Classic FM is always playing in the school entrance. I have sung to some of the classes if it’s relevant to what they’re learning and even the smart boys will eventually have their mouths hanging open in amazement. The kids will say to me, “You should go on Britain’s Got Talent”, but that’s not very me.

The day that stands out for me was when I got the part of Violetta in La Traviata six years ago. The main tenor was a professional singer and I couldn’t believe I got the part. It’s a central character – you’re hardly ever off the stage – and the role consumed my life for a good nine months.

I was 37 and a deputy headteacher at the time (I’m now a head). The children would hear the music all the time, as I would have it playing from 7.30am in the classroom. They were fascinated and wanted to know all about the character.

I was teaching on the day of the first performance and had to leave at 4pm. When I got ready to go, the children called me back and I couldn’t believe it – the headteacher was standing with them in the classroom with a big bouquet of flowers to wish me luck.

Violetta goes through a transformation from being the life and soul of the party to becoming iller and eventually dying. To have the audience in tears means it’s a good performance. I think that watching me in that role was a turning point in the way many people saw me.

The fact that some of the pupils came to see it was brilliant, as these were children who didn’t normally have much exposure to classical music. Those who didn’t come to the performance were able to see it on DVD. They’d ask me to show them how to faint without hurting myself, like I did on stage. It opened up their curiosity and everyone was totally gripped.

When the last performance finished on a Saturday, I had to say goodbye to the character. The next day, I was completely lost. It was very strange, like a sort of loss – that’s how absorbed I’d become.

But, at the end of the day, the teaching comes first. That’s my conscious decision as a headteacher. I’ve had to be careful about what I take on and how it will impact on everything else. I’ve already had to turn down offers. I’ve had a very busy few months and I try to avoid performing during June, as I’m busy reading 400 reports.

In the final year of my teacher training, I was in two minds about whether to apply to music college and to go down the route of being a professional singer. But when I was offered a permanent job as a classroom teacher and head of music, I took it. Teaching runs in the family – my father, grandfather and great-grandmother were all headteachers. Before singing, I’d always had teaching in the back of my mind.

All my singing is to have pleasure and to give pleasure. I think I realised that having a professional life in singing would be a lot of travelling, instability, and pressure to say yes to everything. I wanted to retain the joy and enthusiasm and not have to sing to put food on the table. I know if it becomes too much, the sheer joy of singing won’t be there and it would become too much like hard work.

Rachel Orr is headteacher at Shotton Primary School in Durham and a leading soprano in the North East. For more details visit http://www.operadiva.me.uk. She was talking to Meabh Ritchie.

It’s quite a privilege for kids to invite you to a hot-seating session in their classroom because they want to write your biography.

365 day in my shoes Day 58


We live in a world of ‘What ifs and if only!’

My IF ONLY attempt.


If only I could envelop each country in a blanket of peace and rid the world of warring.


If only the hand of God would unveil the dark depressive shadow and cast a calm serenity upon those in need.


If only I could ride on an angel’s wing. I’d float and sORR amongst the heavens.


If only I could capture that perfect moment and lock it within the depths of my heart.


If only I could arrest time and be able to gaze longer at our amazing life.


If only I could hear the moment my life began and stORRe it in a jar.


If only I could ride with the unicORRns to dance upon the waves of life.


If only I could capture the sound of champagne cORRks popping in heaven.


If only I could breathe in the silence of peace.


If only I could dance with the man in the moon like no-one was watching.


If only imperfection and impossible could meet.



If only, if only, if only…


365 days in my shoes Day 57


New Primary English Framework

Thoughts on KS2???

KS2 English framework has been drafted out in two main sections. One for years 3 and 4 and one for years 5 and 6.


Although encouraging reading for pleasure is mentioned in the new curriculum, it is still heavily weighted towards phonics and driven by decoding and pronunciation.

There are two programmes of study for reading at KS1 and KS2:-

Word reading
Comprehension (both listening and reading)


Again 2 programmes of study:-
Transcription (spelling and handwriting)
Competition (articulating ideas and structuring them in speech and writing)

There are two statutory appendices:-
Grammar and punctuation

New framework states that by the beginning of year 3, pupils should be able to read books written at an age appropriate interest level. The focus should be on understanding rather than decoding words. There seems to be such a huge gap and jump between the heavy weighting of phonics and reading at sight. All the way through KS1 there still needs to be a balance of phonics to developing a sight vocabulary and ultimately reading because you want to.

It’s all about reading what you want to rather than what you should.

For writing in LKS2 the framework states that pupils should be able to write down their ideas with a reasonable degree of accuracy and with good sentence punctuation. And that teachers should therefore be consolidating pupils’ writing skills, their grasp of sentence structure and their knowledge of linguistic terminology.
Joined handwriting should be the norm! This places an enormous task upon KS1 teachers to get the whole kit and kaboodle package sorted before children start KS2. Not only must they have learned to read by decoding and now so accurately, they must write in correct sentences and have a joined up handwriting style. I doubt there will be room for much more in the KS1 curriculum.

One size does not fit all.



The focus is still on phonics as the only route to fluency in reading. Schools must deliver the balance. Get the children hooked, promote reading continually and make it fun.


Key focus here is on pupils’ comprehension. Love of books needs to be continually embedded throughout.


The PoS for reading in LKS2 and UKS2 for reading comprehension are similar. It is the complexity of the writing that increases the level of challenge.

The first mention of developing positive attitudes towards reading appears in the Y3/4 PoS. Schools who teach reading well will have been encouraging and developing this from nursery.


We are guided to appendix 1 for the PoS for spelling in LKS2.
We are given a word list!




I find the word list choice quite fascinating, especially the fact ‘grammar’ is on the list.

The non-statutory guidance states that children should learn to spell new words correctly and have plenty of practice in spelling them. Does this mean reverting back to formal spelling tests that don’t actually test anything at all?

Dictation appears very strongly throughout this new framework.

And then we come on to HANDWRITING!!!

Remember, the initial introduction to the PoS states that children should be joining their handwriting at this stage.

AND we should be ensuring downstrokes are parallel and equidistant!
I wonder how we will mark that one?!


Chris Curtis @Xris32 posted this blog the other day on handwriting. Love it!



Chris looks at his own handwriting and ask the question why he would have been taught to write ‘s’ in the fashion shown in his picture of handwriting above.

I was taught with the fountain pen and a large piece of blotting paper. The style of handwriting was very formal, quite script like, and we spent hours practising it. We cold only ever have a new piece of blotting paper if there wasn’t a single white part left this led to lots of squeezing of ink etc…

I love pens and stationery items. I still have the same ball point Parker pen I used when I was in sixth form.

Some of the letters we were asked to write we’re quite peculiar. Needless to say, I very rarely write in that style anymore.

I wonder what would be said about my downstrokes!


Since I broke my scaphoid at uni, I find difficulty writing for any length if time. My hand develops a slight inflamed swelling at the point of breakage.

I do now have a hankering after a new fountain pen. Time to shop, perhaps!


The PoS seems quite clinical and technical focused upon planning to write in order to understand and learn from its structure, grammar and vocabulary; organising paragraphs around a theme; compose and rehearse sentences orally, progressively building a varied and rich vocabulary and an increasing range of sentence structures.

We are directed to appendix 2 for that one.

One size does not fit all.


So, where does the creativity, imagination, inspiration, awe and wonder come into writing?

Pie Corbett’s Talk for Writing is well known across many primary schools. All of the above in composition is embedded in talk for writing without being taught explicitly and discretely.

Speaking of discretely!
In the grammar and punctuation PoS, the new framework states that grammar should be taught explicitly.


I struggle with this. I remember having to carry out exercises from a text book on grammar. I could manipulate a sentence, identify the technical terms etc… But by being taught these in isolation, no-one ever really explained how you used and applied them to your writing.
If they are taught within writing, alongside writing and are embedded into everyday writing, children will use them naturally and do not need to be able to state they have used a fronted adverbial or subordinate clause to begin a paragraph! In any case, I always thought subordinate clauses were inferior elves!



YEAR 5/6


One size does not fit all.




By the time we reach UKS2 the message is clear – if a child still can not read fluently by this stage, investigate why. Perhaps a phonics driven reading programme was not the best route for this child! ???

The emphasis on reading becomes very analytical and states we should be maintain positive attitudes to reading.


We are again given word lists for Y5/6. I couldn’t help but draw attention to a few choice words.




Handwriting at this stage allows children to make choices over which letters they will join.

They also get to choose the writing implement that is best suited for a task. I wonder if iPad is within that remit!!???


PoS clinical and technical.


Develop further understanding of the concepts set out in appendix 2.


Time to use your modal verbs.



The grammatical terms that pupils should learn are set out in the final column. They should learn to recognise and use the terminology through discussion and practice. All terms in bold should be understood with the meanings set out in the glossary.

The glossary will be quite an eye opener for some!


The biggest advantage in all of this is that this draft new English framework is exactly that. A framework.

It is a skeleton showing the basic fundamentals required of all schools. The organs, muscle, blood and life beating heart at the centre comes from the individual schools.


We have a duty to ensure we take the bull by the horns and tailor make our English curriculum to meet the needs of the children in our own schools. For once, we have been given some freedom on that one.

One size will never fit all even though children are expected to reach the same goal.



I worry about the PoS being set out in year groups, and especially the 2 yearly maps for UKS2.

The danger comes when inexperienced staff or these who have only ever known a national framework, end up following it to the letter. Even worse, teaching the year group specific PoS even if the children are to ready or equally have surpassed it.
Schools will need to ensure they map out progression in learning with a clear creative approach.

365 days in my shoes Day 55


New Draft Primary Curriculum

Consultation document February 2013 – http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/n/national%20curriculum%20consultation%20-%20framework%20document.pdf

Draft English KS1 and KS2 December 2012 – http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/d/draft%20national%20curriculum%20for%20english%20key%20stages%201%202.pdf

Thoughts on English for KS1?

It is a subject in its own right and the medium for teaching; for pupils, understanding language provides access to the whole curriculum.

The first consultation question asks for us to comment on the propose aims for the National Curriculum as a whole as set out in the framework.

The new primary English curriculum is set out in year groups – this will need to be planned carefully to avoid teachers simply teaching what is in a year group. Children do not automatically fit the year group and teaching English is not about making children fit a PoS. There could be gaps in learning created if progression in learning is not carefully mapped out.



Although encouraging reading for pleasure is mentioned in the new curriculum, it is still heavily weighted towards phonics and driven by decoding and pronunciation.

There are two programmes of study for reading at KS1 and KS2:-

Word reading
Comprehension (both listening and reading)


Again 2 programmes of study:-
Transcription (spelling and handwriting)
Competition (articulating ideas and structuring them in speech and writing)

There are two statutory appendices:-
Grammar and punctuation

Although the SPaG test will test grammar and punctuation discretely, there is a danger that children will be faced with specific grammar and punctuation teaching as stand alone lessons rather than learning about correct usage through embedding it in their everyday reading and writing. It’s all about making it purposeful and meaningful.

Much will come from high quality speaking and listening – talk for reading and writing.

English is set out in year groups. Single blocks for y1 and y2 to reflect the rapid pace of development in word reading during see two years.
For KS2 the PoS are set out two yearly.

Year 1 English


Before children are bombarded with any synthetic phonics, a love of books, stories and wanting to talk about books etc… is paramount.

Pupils do not need to be taught the terms ‘grapheme’ and ‘phoneme’.


Retelling stories is where children develop greater understanding of the structure and patterns of stories – the retelling is where frame comes to the fore. The non statutory guidance suggests role play can help pupils to identify with and explore characters and to try out the language they have listened to.

Writing – children required to spell the days of the week.

Handwriting – have to be honest, I laughed at the this!!!

When the guidance states that not all Y1 children will have the spelling and handwriting skills to write down everything they can, I worry that children’s writing will become limited by what they can spell etc… We have come a long way from that with Pie Corbett’s Talk for Writing and our children are not restricted by using the words they can spell. Children need to be able to write without worrying bout the spelling and the handwriting.

Again the use of grammar and punctuation seems to limit connectives and conjunctions to ‘and’. We know our children retell stories with Pie’s layered language and that it comes quite naturally to them to put this in their writing.

Year 2

Phonics heavy again in the reading. Children are taught to continue to apply phonic knowledge and skills as the route to decode words until automatic decoding has become embedded and reading is fluent.

Can it all be dependent on phonics??????

Book choice, according to the new framework – read aloud books closely matched to their improving phonic knowledge, sending out unfamiliar words accurately, automatically and without undue hesitation. THEN reread these books!!!
Reading for pleasure!!!!!!

Role play and other drama techniques appear in the non-statutory guidance.

Dictation is back!!!!! Hmmmmmmm…….

Year two grammar mentions the use of noun phrases. If this curriculum is determining higher challenge and standards, year one children can use noun phrases in the retelling of stories etc… Again the connectives section seems quite limiting.

I wonder how schools will respond to the consultation document.

I wonder how schools will map out their English curriculum for key stage 1.

In planning an English curriculum it is important schools do not simply jump on the bandwagon and purchase off the peg schemes that have been developed to match the new curriculum. We mustn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Since 1998, when the first English curriculum was introduced, there have been many good materials which have ensured a broad and varied progression of learning – grammar for writing is one such material that many schools will be dipping back into with the introduction of SPaG.

There isn’t any such thing as an off the peg/over the counter curriculum. One size does not fit all.


Teachers new to the profession and those who have only ever known teaching with a national curriculum framework, need to understand that teaching is not just simply following the framework to the letter. This is where ‘boxing’ learning into year groups rather than progression of learning, may lead to gaps in skills and understanding.

Link to professional development materials for English released by OFSTED – Primary and Secondary school materials


365 days in my shoes Day 54


Do you come from a teaching dynasty?

Are there many teachers in your family past and present?

I’m a fourth generation head teacher from my great grandmother, grandfather, Dad and me!

My Dad is 87 and has had 29 years retirement. Longer than I have been in the profession. Now you know why he is part of my #nurture1213!!!

When my Dad and I sat down to work out who was or had been a teacher in our family we surprised ourselves with the fact that there are 14 teachers past and present in our family.

I was invited by TES to be interviewed for an article on the teaching dynasty – learning through the ages.

Learning through the ages
Personal | Published in TES Newspaper on 15 August, 2008 | By: Stephen Manning

In the latest in our series on teaching dynasties, the Orr family talks to Stephen Manning


I’ve been deputy head at Shotton Primary School in Shotton Colliery, County Durham, for the past six years, and from September I will be taking over as headteacher. I’ll be the fourth generation of heads in our family – my father was a secondary head and his father was a primary head and his grandmother a head mistress of an all girls school.

It is truly a teaching dynasty. My parents, my dad’s parents and two sisters, my younger brother and his wife, my older half-sister and her husband – all have been in the profession. My younger brother and wife still teach – he is head of music at Kendal College, an FE college in Cumbria.

But despite being raised in a household full of teachers, there was never any expectation to follow the profession. I took languages at A-level, but when I came to apply for university and looked into the potential career options, interpreter for example, they seemed rather limited and unappealing.

I’d never given much thought to following my parents into teaching. At school, I never stood out in any one subject – I was an average all- rounder. When I started to consider what job would best suit me, primary teacher seemed like the one because of the creativity and the variety.

I had dreams of being a professional opera singer and at the age of 18 applied to music colleges, but they all said come back in four years when I had more singing experience. So I did four years of teacher training at Edge Hill University, Lancashire, thinking of it mainly as a backup.

When I was 22 I got my first teaching job at John F. Kennedy Primary in Washington, Tyne and Wear, and realised that the route of professional opera singer maybe wasn’t ideal for me. So now I have a job that I enjoy, and I choose the singing that I want to do. I perform about once a month, solo and with the choir, grand opera such as Verdi’s La Traviata, but also the great American songwriters, Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter.

I chose to work in a challenging school in quite a deprived area, an ex- mining community. You can’t change everyone overnight, but you can make a difference to a few, by getting them interested in arts, drama, sports.

My parents were never pushy. I think they were worried that I felt pressured into the profession, but I wasn’t. But it’s nice when you know your parents are proud of you.

Rachel Orr, is currently headteacher at Shotton Primary School in Shotton Colliery, County Durham.


I started my teaching career in an FE college, at Hebburn Technical College (now South Tyneside College) and then Durham Technical College. The move to Durham Johnston, a comprehensive, was a shock. You need a strength of personality to hold the attention of pupils. You have to be strong before you start. Primary teaching isn’t the same, but still requires a strong personality, so we wouldn’t have pushed Rachel if she hadn’t really wanted to do it.

Meg Orr, 68, taught for 25 years and now works in her local church, running courses and giving talks.


When I was head at Hetton Lyons Secondary Modern a lot of parents knew me outside of school, as I played cricket with Eppleton Cricket Club, the local team. It was good that the parents could relate to me outside of a school context. I retired at the age of 58 to stay at home and look after the children, while Meg, who had just finished her degree, went out and taught.

Rachel wouldn’t need any advice from me on how to be a head. She’s intelligent and far more capable than I was.

Geoff Orr, 83, was headteacher at Hetton Lyons Secondary Modern School (now Hetton School), Tyne and Wear, until his retirement in 1983.

365 days in my shoes Day 53


It’s Friday!

How much have you done this week? Too much, again?

Saturday 16th February 2013


Saturday signified the start of my half term.

A day of catching up on washing, sorting what I should catch up on by the end of the week and also looking at making sure I had some ‘me’ time too. (Have to make sure I do some practising of what I preach!)

Saturday ended with an amazing night at the opera with The Met’s new production of Rigoletto set in Paris. Fabulous set, costumes, dancing and music – all very much in keeping with the rat pack style.


Sunday 17th February 2013

Sunday was relatively quiet with a long awaited trip to the movies to see Les Mis. Made me laugh at the end when the attendant held out a large black bin liner and bellowed, ‘Used tissues here, please!’

Needless to say, my whole packet of used tissues found its way into the black hole.

Monday 18th February 2013


Tuesday 19th February 2013


When did you last laugh at yourself?

Wednesday 20th February 2013


Early start off on the road at 5.45am to head to Manchester to assist head teacher colleague with some interviews.


Thursday 21st February 2013


Friday 22nd February 2013


Only the weekend left now before half term is over and we head into Spring Term 2.

Enjoy the weekend.

Make sure it contains time for you.


365 days in my shoes Day 56


IT’S MONDAY!!!!!!!!!!!

Be you!

Be amazing!

Be positive!

I came across this little article about 5 ways to stay positive every day.

Keep a Journal of Gratitude

I found this exercise in an old book on Zen living; it’s one of my favorites to this day. Just take a little notebook and start writing down the things you’re grateful for. Start with the obvious and work from there.

Be grateful for having food, water and a roof above your head. If you woke up at 5 A.M. and can’t go back to sleep, be grateful for getting to see the sunrise. If you’re facing a challenge, be grateful for the opportunity to learn from it.

You don’t have to write every day, but make sure you open your journal at least once a week. It can be very easy to indulge in self-pity, blame and anger; appreciating what you have will help you stay positive.

I suppose this may be the equivalent of my Monday blogging – taking time to write down the positive!

Things Get Better

When you’re struggling, grieving or suffering from heartache, the pain can feel unbearable. Even in everyday life, the weight of a million little things can be heavy.

But always remember the proverb: “This too shall pass.” Your negative feelings won’t last forever; there’s a light at the end of every tunnel. It might not happen today or tomorrow, but you’ll feel better eventually.

When you understand and accept the volatile nature of life, it’s a lot easier to stay calm and relaxed – even in the hardest of times.

Mental List of ORRsomeness

Having high self-esteem keeps anxiety at bay, improves personal relationships and encourages optimism. If you don’t appreciate yourself enough – or are feeling down – try making a mental list of awesome stuff you’ve done recently.


“Went for a jog instead of watching TV”; “cooked for a friend”; “made an awesome presentation at work.” Make a written list if you want, and don’t be modest!

You’ll find that, as you go over your awesome actions and choices, you start to feel great about yourself. It’s hard not to when you remind yourself how amazing you are!


What’s The Worst That Could Happen?

Paolo Coelho was right when he wrote: the fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself. It’s easy to become worried over the little things: the human mind can blow things way, way out of proportion. To stop that from happening, always ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen?

Chances are, “the worst” isn’t that bad. You’ll be fine if you don’t ace tomorrow’s presentation. You can retake tomorrow’s exam in September.

Sure, it would be better if things went according to plan, but sometimes they don’t. When you’re no longer afraid of any outcome, you can focus on having fun and getting things done. Don’t wind yourself up for no reason!

Reach Out and Help Someone

We live in a culture that encourages egotism. Even our buzzwords – self-help, self-promotion, self-esteem – reflect our obsession with ourselves. But if you want to feel great about yourself, try giving to someone else.

Donating a few pounds to charity can change someone’s life. Calling your Mum for a few minutes will make her week. Buying food for a sick friend will help more than you can imagine.

It takes very little to help someone out. When you make a big difference with just a few minutes – or pounds – you’ll always remember how important and amazing you are. And with an attitude like that, it’s hard to be anything but positive.

365 days in my shoes Day 52


Talk for Writing with Pie Corbett has had a huge impact upon the writing our children create at school. No longer do they begin every sentence with ‘the’ or ‘I’.

Through talk for writing, children’s sentences have good structure and they actually know when their sentences make sense.

Some children, however, still find difficulty in speaking and writing sentences with sense, no matter how simple they are.

Below is a simple tool to support children in forming sentences.


High 5 0

High 5 1

High 5 2

Link to the resources on TES.


365 days in my shoes Day 51


Love David Bowie.

Music evokes such fabulous memories of growing up.

Just had to make my own compilation of fab hits.

No particular order at all, just love them.

I remember sitting on a Sunday night with the chart show on the radio. I had my twin cassette player tuned into the radio station. You never knew which tracks would be played but I had my fingers poised over play and record ready to depress the buttons and record my favs.

Ground Control to Major Tom was one of those tracks I awaited, hoping it would still be at no. 1.

It comes as no surprise that I love red shoes. I must have at least half a dozen pairs of red footwear from boots, quirky sandals to sparkly red stilettos. Love red.



Hence, Bowie’s Let’s Dance. Time to put on your red shoes!!!!!

Life on Mars

Oh you pretty things

Ashes to ashes

Star Man

Rebel Rebel

Cat People

Diamond Dogs




Modern love

China Girl

Sound and Vision

Suffragette City

The Jean Genie

Under Pressure

Dancing in the street

Where are we now?