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‘But Miss, I don’t have enough to say’

Sun, 17/01/2021 - 09:31

I was recently involved in a discussion about making writing meaningful for children and despite some variations and discrepancies, ‘purpose’, ‘audience’ and ‘real experiences’ were the universally agreed necessities. The trajectory we took is probably unsurprising as it was a discussion with other classroom teachers who love teaching English.

Upon reflection, however, I couldn’t stop thinking about ‘real experiences’.  I’ve always had a fairly casual relationship with reality when teaching non-fiction writing.   The only way I could stomach teaching explanation texts was to use the wonderful Pie Corbett’s suggestion of creating imaginative explanations for the question: ‘why are bananas curvy?’  Why? Because let’s face it, how many people sit down to read an explanation text for pleasure? Certainly not me, and judging by the faces of my Year 6s when I introduced the genre, certainly not them!

After listening to my banana explanation, however, they stared at me in silence (a rare occurrence) until someone asked, ‘Miss, is that true?’ ‘Of course not!’ was my reply, ‘But it makes for much better reading.’   Suddenly explanation texts didn’t seem so dire after all.

However, after that discussion about making writing meaningful, I couldn’t stop thinking about whether or not my imaginative approach to non-fiction was flawed – was I actually teaching my students the skills needed to write for a factual purpose?

Over the past couple of weeks I have been teaching biography writing to help my class brush up on their recounting skills.  This time, I thought, I will stick to reality. We wrote about Roald Dahl, using his brilliant autobiography, Boy, as our research starting point. Reality check: so far, so good.  We then moved on to writing about members of our school community:

Purpose: to spice up the staff section of the school website

Audience: parents, students (prospective and current) and visitors

Real experience: well it’s our school community, so we’ve got that covered

The children set about designing interview questions, interviewing and planning biographies of their chosen member of the community, but when they sat down to write, one girl piped up: ‘But Miss, I don’t have enough to say.’ With some confusion, I pointed out that she’d written a very detailed plan, full of facts collected from a well designed and lengthy interview.   Her reply:

‘But that’s not everything I want to write, I want it to be funny. Please can I make it up?’

I was torn for a moment, but then I remembered the purpose I’d given them: to spice up the staff section of the school website.  She had hit the nail on the head – she knew her audience, she knew the purpose and she knew how she wanted to marry up the two.  I stopped the class and told them they could embellish the truth if they wanted to.  There was a murmur of decided approval from across the room and they set off to write.

It was then, as I walked around reading their writing, that I realised something about real experiences: just because something isn’t true, doesn’t stop if from seeming real.  How many times has a child told you in fascinating detail about an imaginary friend or imagined experience?  How many times has great literature alluded to ‘a world of pure imagination’?

‘When a person is lucky enough to live inside a story, to live inside an imaginary world, the pains of this world disappear. For as long as the story goes on, reality no longer exists.’ – Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies

And how much more interesting is THIS biography, than one that sticks to the facts?

I think I’ll stick with imagination after all.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Nicola Stone and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Wellbeing for all

Sat, 16/01/2021 - 09:55

I was delighted to see the following on our school development plan: trial and develop techniques to support staff and student wellbeing. I have worked alongside our Deputy Headteacher to ensure a new vocabulary around wellbeing has been used in school.

Following the ideas launched by #teacher5aday, we built 2 staff wellbeing weeks into our school calendar. This meant no meetings but a chance for all staff to #connect #collaborate #learn #notice and exercise. We offered a variety of activities ranging from an introduction to mindfulness to an afternoon of Italian cookery to yoga for beginners and create your own ceramics. We also introduced the Good Karma club where staff secretly buddy up with someone and pay good karma forwards. Candles, notes and #teacher5aday bags have added to the sense of wellbeing around the school.

Happy staff was only part of our wellbeing this year. Students and parents have been learning about positive psychology. Each term we have looked at a different layer grit, resilience, growth mindset, mindfulness, happiness and wellbeing. Students have learnt that happiness, mental health and wellbeing are things which can be developed. Plans for next year is to do even more.

This ‘In Brief’ article originally appeared in the July 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine. Click here to freely read online.

@MsHMFL Assistant Headteacher – Wiltshire/Gloucestershire

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The Art of Saying No

Thu, 14/01/2021 - 11:14
  • #UKEdChat session 536
  • Should altruism be the default?
  • Saying no could make someone more valued
  • Click here to view the tweet archive.

On the whole, teachers are a collaborative bunch. While we often teach in isolation behind the classroom door, or more recently behind the warm glow of a Microsoft Teams filled screen, as professionals we have the support of our institution and colleagues behind us. Because we see ourselves as an indispensable cog in the learning machine, it is difficult for us to refuse to keep other areas of the machine oiled.

I am a spinner of professional plates and have a tough time refusing pleas of assistance, even to my own detriment. This is not one of those ‘Name one negative thing about you that’s actually a positive’ interview answers, or virtue signalling. The ability not to say no, and thereby spreading oneself too thinly is a professional failing. I have marvelled at colleagues who are able to say no and suffer no ill effects by doing so.

This takes many forms which can be seen in most schools. The ‘immovable arm-folders’, the ‘overzealous committee-formers’ and the ‘delegating subcontractors’. Some are more subtle, for example, the ‘cunning minimalist’, is adept at completing visible tasks which win praise from school leaders, but does not do the less visible task that make life easier for colleagues.

Perversely, saying no could make someone more valued. By sticking to doing what they are good at, rationing their time and effort to when their can give their full attention to something, saying no to all but those tasks where they can make a real impact could build one’s reputation.

However, when working towards a common goal in a team, where the whole is greater than it parts, shouldn’t unfettered altruism be the default?

In this #UKEdChat discussion, which took place on Thursday 14th January 2021 at 8pm(UK) we discussed the virtues and pitfalls of saying no, what strategies can be used by individual teachers to ensure they are not overloaded, how leadership can ensure that tasks are distributed fairly, and to what degree is saying no a life skill that we need to teach our pupils.


  1. Do you find it difficult to say no to others in your professional life? Why?
  2. How can an inability to saying no to others in your professional life lead to problems?
  3. When you simply can’t manage anymore on your workload, what is the best way to say no to someone?
  4. How can school leaders ensure a fair spread of workload is happening within their school?
  5. Saying no to power: How can teachers refuse to take on more tasks they perceive as unfair or too much?
  6. In your own experience, how can single acts of altruism help everyone?
  7. How can saying no actually help in the long run?
  8. Is the ability to gracefully say no a skill we should be teaching our students?

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What works well in remote learning? 7 tips from the inspectors!

Mon, 11/01/2021 - 12:50

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic with schools and colleges closing their doors in many societies, the education inspectorate of England has shared – what they think – is some useful advice for leaders and teachers, aimed at helping them develop their remote education offer.

Within the guidance, myths and explanations are shared about what remote learning is, along with seven factors that educators need to consider:

  1. Remote education is a way of delivering the curriculum
  2. Keep it simple
  3. When adapting the curriculum, focus on the basics
  4. Feedback, retrieval practice and assessment are more important than ever
  5. The medium matters (a bit)
  6. Live lessons aren’t always best
  7. Engagement matters, but is only the start
Click here to view guidance on OfSted website

Further explanations, guidance and resources are also offered, along with setting out that the remote education curriculum should be aligned to the classroom curriculum as much as possible, and carefully sequenced to ensure pupils obtain the building blocks they need to move on to the next step. It suggests that whether learning is delivered through worksheets, textbooks, or via an online platform, it is a good idea to keep resources simple and straightforward to use.

Within England, from 18 January, Ofsted will resume monitoring inspections of schools judged to be inadequate at their previous inspection, as well as some schools graded ‘requires improvement’. Monitoring inspections look at the progress a school is making and encourage improvement. Unlike full inspections, they will not result in a grade.

Inspectors will look at how well schools are educating pupils in the current circumstances – which for most pupils means being educated remotely. Unlike during the first lockdown last year, the government has set a clear expectation that schools must provide remote education, so pupils can continue to learn away from the classroom.

Inspections will be carried out in line with the operational note published in December. A new framework for inspecting remote education is not required, as inspectors will be looking at it as part of the overall quality of education.

Inspectors will consider the school’s remote learning provision, to give reassurance to parents. They will also consider any complaints made by parents about remote education, to help resolve issues and make sure children are being well-served. If parents feel their child’s school is not providing suitable remote education, they should first raise their concerns with the teacher or headteacher. If issues are not resolved, they can report the matter to Ofsted.

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Numeracy, Literacy and…. Oracy

Mon, 11/01/2021 - 07:56

The UK needs to provide explicit teaching of speaking skills in schools to raise the profile of “oracy” to the same level as numeracy and literacy.

“If we are to break down the barriers that stop many young people succeeding, then we need an education system that teaches our children to be articulate and confident”. Harvard educator Eric Mazur vocalised one of the greatest flaws in our current assessment-driven education model; that we are preparing our students to pass tests only for them to “fail at life”. Outside of education, in what other context do students find themselves sat alone in a large hall, separated by equal spaces from those around them, prohibited from communicating with others or voicing their ideas?

We need to start equipping students with the skills necessary for success outside of the educational sphere, speaking skills being arguably amongst the most important across multiple contexts: Employment Communication, interpersonal skills and teamwork are consistently ranked in the top five skills most valued by employers.


Schools have perhaps afforded less importance to speaking skills because they are not deemed to directly contribute to a student’s attainment of the all-important A*-C grades. However, good communication skills have benefits across all subject areas, with students able to use their oracy skills to meaningfully peer critique, debate and present their work to others.


Not only do good language and communication skills have universal value for employment and act as a mechanism for improving metacognition, oracy skills are the vital components in forming friendship networks and negotiating social experiences.

Skills gap

However, despite the evident importance of communication skills, research conducted by the charity ICAN has found that many young people lack the language and communication skills needed for adulthood.

There is more to this skills gap than meets the eye. It is a profound socioeconomic problem, with an overwhelming 50% of young people from areas of disadvantage suffering from language delay. This has “implications for the potential long-term outcomes for these children and their ability to exploit the curriculum and to flourish as individuals”.

Speaking in Schools

Unfortunately for many students, home does not always provide a supportive environment for promoting talk and therefore schools are the medium through which this socioeconomic divide should be addressed. After all, young people spend the majority of their waking hours at school, and it is therefore important that schools act as facilitators for talk, with the positive influence of staff and peers as well as an engaging curriculum providing an opportunity for students to learn how to express themselves and communicate with others appropriately.

However, schools are currently doing very little to promote speaking skills. On average, teachers do 90% of the talking with individual students saying approximately four words per lesson; the idea that if students are talking they are not learning is unfortunately still prevalent. The removal of the speaking and listening element from the English GCSE has further compounded this issue; teachers have increasing pressure to ensure achievement in written exams and there is currently little incentive for schools to prioritise speaking skills.

Universal Need

Fortunately, there is an increasing awareness of the need for intervention in this area. However, current provision is inadequate and far from universal, tending to focus on targeted interventions for students suffering with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN). Interventions are most common at primary school level yet many children slip through the net and therefore suffer throughout their secondary school education. All students should benefit from a focus on improving oracy, not just the most vulnerable.

Private school domination

On the other side of the educational spectrum are independent schools, renowned for embedding oracy skills into the school culture, building their students’ confidence and equipping them with the communication skills necessary for future success.

In response to the consistent domination of independent schools in national public speaking competitions, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan recently stated that “it simply cannot be the case that the only young people able to stand up and argue their corner are the 7% of pupils educated in private school”.

Private schools shouldn’t lower their standards. Conversely, to bridge the socioeconomic divide, measures should be put in place to provide structured support enabling state schools to teach a broad spectrum of speaking skills to all students.

Curriculum Provision

Organisations such as the English Speaking Union, and initiatives such as Debate Mate are doing excellent work to support an increasing focus on public speaking skills in the state sector. However, if we are to truly address the deficiency of speaking skills they should not merely be an addendum to an existing PSHE curriculum or an optional after school club.

Complemented by its implementation across school culture, oracy can be used as a tool to unlock learning across all subjects. Students need discrete oracy lessons, providing them with a supportive environment in which they can learn and hone the skills necessary for successful communication across a variety of contexts.

This should be a call to action. It is our responsibility as teachers to ensure that all students leave school with the confidence and communication skills to compete and thrive, not merely survive in the increasingly international world in which we live.

The nation needs young people who have the confidence to use their voice, who are eloquent and can communicate their ideas; young people need teachers who are prepared to support them to improve their speaking skills and in order to achieve this, teachers will need oracy to become an educational priority.

It is a positive sign that we are starting to see speaking skills creeping up the educational agenda. However, the irony of the matter is that we need politicians to spend less time talking about talk and more time transforming words into actions.

To read the full article freely, click here to view in the February 2015 edition of UKEdMagazine

Having qualified as a modern languages teacher and became frustrated with the results driven nature of education, Holly now works at the 21 Trust, working in close partnership with School 21 in Stratford, East London. You can contact her at: or you can follow the Trust’s work on Twitter: @21trustedu

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Self-awareness is essential for educator effectiveness

Sat, 09/01/2021 - 10:11

In recent years, the education community has become increasingly aware of the role that our conscious and unconscious beliefs play not only in how we experience the world but also in how we interact with and affect others. In my mind, understanding our individual and collective beliefs is some of the most important work we can do to transform opportunities for students because beliefs have the power to unlock infinite possibilities or exert profound limitations on our students’ future success. If we want to produce more equitable outcomes for students, as educators we must develop our cultural consciousness and become aware of how our beliefs shape our expectations of students and interactions with parents.

We can define a belief as, “an internal feeling that something is true, even though [it] may be unproven or irrational.” Dr. Sara Truebridge puts a finer point on this definition, stating that beliefs are “thoughts and mindsets that affect our behaviors, [and are] socially constructed and often personal assumptions [and] judgments…that we make about ourselves and the people, places, and things around us.”

The word belief is usually ascribed to one’s morals or values, such as, “It is against my beliefs to…,” or, “I believe that…and therefore I…” We develop beliefs about ourselves and others in response to what we are exposed to, and we use beliefs to help us to understand the level of connection and compatibility we have with others. Beliefs help us to feel safe, attract in the familiar, and to create guidelines that help us to make decisions. People sometimes take huge risks to defend their beliefs, and from my experience, the idea of beliefs is generally treated as a positive thing.

While beliefs can be catalyzing and inspire us to do great things, there is also a “shadow side” to beliefs. Because beliefs create a filter through which we experience the world, they can cloud our judgment and our understanding of ourselves, the people we encounter, and the circumstances we find ourselves in. Beliefs have the power to create invisible barriers that keep us isolated and limit what we think we can accomplish and what we understand to be true about others. Seen from this angle, beliefs are notions that must be brought to light and interrogated so that we can be conscious about how they influence our perceptions and impact others.

Where do beliefs come from?

As we develop from infants to adults, not only do we undergo stages of physical development, but our brains and levels of consciousness transform as well. Sociologist Morris Massey and scientist Dr. Bruce Lipton have independently identified distinct stages of our development and their impact on the formation of our values and beliefs. While their labels for each stage differ, they both assert that beginning at birth, our understanding of the world comes primarily through interactions with our immediate family. As we age, we gradually add in the influence of others within our social circle (such a teachers, religious leaders and peers) until we have formed our sense of self and solidified our beliefs, usually by the time we reach age 20.

Dr. Zaretta Hammond in her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain (2015), identifies culture as the foundation of our values and beliefs. Aligned with Massey’s and Lipton’s theories, Dr. Hammond notes that, “culture…is the way that every brain makes sense of the world,” and that, “the brain uses cultural information to turn everyday happenings into meaningful events.” Hammond identifies three levels of culture (surface, shallow and deep), each with an increasingly profound impact on one’s sense of self, feeling of safety and cultural identity.

Our beliefs not only reflect our values and culture, but they also become filters that attract in experiences and create outcomes that mirror and reinforce themselves. For example, if one grows up with messages that they are smart and that they can accomplish anything they desire, then they develop a belief that they are smart and successful. This person will unconsciously replicate this belief throughout their lives, experiencing a sense of empowerment and efficacy that will allow them to accomplish anything they set their mind to. If, on the other hand, one grows up with messages that tell them that they are not smart and that they are doomed to fail, this person will likely encounter constant challenges and will not strive to accomplish lofty goals because they do not see themselves as successful.

Beliefs and Education

Each of us is a product of our own society. My own shared history in the United States includes a history of the mass genocide of the Native Americans, the enslavement of African Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans, and systematized subjugation of the rights of women, and people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transexual, and on racial and socioeconomic lines.

Given that our beliefs and self-conceptions develop in direct response to the information we gain from birth, both from our experiences at home and in society, then we must acknowledge that not only have we been influenced by our parents and community, but also we have been influenced by our collective history of racism and subjugation. The impact of this has influenced both how we see ourselves and how we understand those that do not share our backgrounds.

In schools, I believe that the influence of this shared history shows up in the form of microaggressions, inequitable expectations for students, and instructional techniques that do not reflect or integrate the cultural values of all of our students, among other issues. Dr. Hammond uses brain science to prove that when elements of one’s culture are not respected or come under attack, it sends students into a fight or flight response that prevents them from being able to learn appropriately. This means that whole groups of students in our education system are at risk of not being provided with learning environments that set them up for success.

As educators, it is incumbent upon us to become keenly aware of our perceptions, inherent biases and ways that our upbringing may be influencing how we treat our students. This is not to say that anyone is bad or wrong, as has been demonstrated through the research, we developed many of our beliefs as children and did not choose them. Nonetheless, a core part of our training and responsibility as educators should be to enter into an ongoing process of getting curious about and unpacking our beliefs. We must become aware of how our perceptions and interactions with students influence how we treat them. We must also become aware of how the subtle and overt messages we convey to students impact their sense of self and what they believe they can accomplish.

This is not easy work. Examining our beliefs requires that we question our assumptions and take the risk to acknowledge any biases we may be harbouring. Nancy Love notes in, Using Data/Getting Results,

“Most educators believe that their expectations for children have a strong influence on students’ confidence and performance. They are right. Most also believe that teachers have the same expectations for all children, regardless of class, colour, and gender. They, unfortunately, are wrong. Now we have decades of research showing that teachers tend to expect less of poor, minority, and female students and treat them differently in the classroom. These students receive less attention, praise, ‘wait time,’ and feedback than their white and male peers. And, because ‘what you expect is what you get,’ students quickly learn to sink to the teachers’ lower standards.”

While this is sobering information, the good news is that we have the tools and capability to change our beliefs and instructional practices. To do this, we must create safe spaces and provide intentional and ongoing training for educators in culturally-responsive instructional strategies and how to identify, unpack, and transform limiting beliefs. Through this work, not only do we become more empowered to consciously choose our beliefs, but also, we have the potential to change the trajectory of millions of students’ futures.

This article is a re-blog published via Megan Sweet who can be found on Twitter the Your3Eyes account. The original article was originally published here, and re-published with permission.

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5 things learnt in 5 years of teaching

Fri, 08/01/2021 - 09:39

Maybe it is something to do with starting something new, but when I started thinking about my new role as Head of Science, I thought I should write a blog. This led me to re-discover the blog I had wanted to start before starting teaching. Unsurprisingly, I failed to keep going with the blog during the first chaotic years of teaching, but now I think it will be really useful and so I am going to stick with it this time! Since the previous post was 5 years ago, I thought I would start with a very general blog about five of the big lessons I have learnt since starting teaching.

Year 1: Teaching is one of the most amazing jobs in the world

Although most people I talk to say “I could never be a teacher” I think they are all missing a trick. As a science teacher especially I get to do so many things you would never normally get to try. In year 1 I was not sure who was the most excited and shocked by the sight of the pig’s heart we dissected – me or year 9! With year 12s we built a particle detector and saw the traces of cosmic rays in classroom, and in my after-school STEM club we competed to build the longest Rube-Goldberg machine ( those not in the know). Beyond getting to do interesting and fun things day in, day out, I get to work with some of the most interesting people around. Yes, they aren’t always perfectly behaved, but students are rarely boring. Something interesting (or frustrating/challenging depending on your point of view…) happens every day. Not many of my friends in other jobs can say that.

Year 2: Pastoral support is so much better than when I was at school

The close relationship and amazing levels of support the pastoral teams at both the schools I have worked in is far closer than anything I experienced when I was a student. I can’t imagine having confidence in any member of staff when I was young, but the pastoral staff know so much about the lives of our students, and do so much to help them overcome difficulties outside of school to be successful. In my current school, Kids Company have an office, and the statistics about the people they work with show just how much challenge some young people have to overcome ( 1 in every 5 of the students they work with does not have a bed – and realising things like this makes it much easier to understand why students find it hard to concentrate on why an object reaches terminal velocity.

Year 3: Getting students to realise they learn in your lessons makes a big difference

I think I fully appreciated this fact only in my third year of teaching. Although it sounds simple, students are more confident if they are successful in a subject. By deliberately giving them the chance to succeed, and by making sure they were aware of their successes and what they had learnt, I got students really enthusiastic about studying Physics. This is particularly important in Physics as students often lack confidence in the subject and think it is difficult. More confident students are more likely to take risks, to try something difficult, and as a result they are more successful. My third year of teaching saw a year 13 go to Oxford to study Physics, and more people (and more girls) than ever chose A level Physics.

Year 4: There are opportunities through being a teacher you wouldn’t expect

Gone are the days where a teacher is stuck in front of a chalkboard teaching the same things over and over. I’ve been lucky to have some really interesting experiences that I would never have expected when I started teaching. A TfL grant saw me get a bicycle maintenance qualification and work with students to repair bicycles the police recovered, which was a great way to use my interests at work. I’ve been to the House of Lords to talk about getting girls into Physics, I’ve had a breakfast discussion with Lord Adonis about helping Teach First reach more isolated areas, and yesterday I met Prince Charles at Clarence House to talk about the Teach First Ambassador movement. Perhaps the most exciting opportunity of all was the fully-funded trip to CERN in Geneva to learn about how cutting-edge Physics research can be used to engage students. Oh, and somehow I ended up singing in front of over 1,000 trainee teachers in Leeds arena!

Year 5: Teachers learn best from each other

One thing I have become increasingly aware of is how much teachers learn from each other. I don’t want to add up the amount of wasted hours I have spent in whole school inset to learn next to nothing as it would be a depressing statistic. The useful insets have got teachers talking together and I have learnt an incredible amount from my peers through discussions (and more recently Twitter). A brief conversation at the Associate Tutor training with @mfl_itt inspired both of us to start using Plickers in the classroom. I am going to make sure there are plenty of opportunities for these conversations in the department next year.

The next step…

It was hard to narrow what I have learnt down to just five key things. I have learnt a huge amount more than this and am still learning every day. The next step is the challenge of putting them all into place in the new role.

What are your ‘big lessons’ from teaching?

You can read further posts via Mark by Clicking Here

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Why Are Boys Underachieving?

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 10:31
  • #UKEdChat session 535
  • Much of the difficulties stem from social constructs and norms.
  • A wider conversation about masculinity is long overdue.
  • Click here to view the tweet archive.

Needless to say ‘not all boys’ and ‘not just boys’.

The reasons for underachievement are varied between individuals. But as a recent BBC podcast explored, there are some common themes which underpin underachievement in many of our boys. The evidence is that much of the difficulties stem from social constructs and norms which are placed upon young males to act a certain way to appear ‘masculine’. Peer pressure and failing on their own terms can also play a part.

As some of the issues stem from social pressures, could social remedies through a different classroom ethos help change the narrative to make learning more socially appealing than failing? A wider conversation about masculinity is long overdue, and changing the desire for the self-inflicted sabotage that many of our young boys and men, in an attempt to impress others, must be a central part of that.

In this #UKEdChat discussion, which took place on Thursday 7th January 2021 at 8pm(UK) we discussed how boys’ underachievement manifests in the classroom, some of the root causes, plus solutions and strategies to help boys get back on track.


  1. Do you think it is useful to talk about supporting pupils in terms of gender?
  2. Do you think there are patterns to the underachievement of some boys, and if so, what are they (ie age / puberty / peers / race etc.)?
  3. What are some of the common reasons for underachievement of some boys, and how have you addressed these in your own teaching?
  4. Much of the research shows that girls cope better, but boys are more likely to underachieve when teaching is poor. How can this be mitigated?
  5. What can schools and teachers do to change the damaging social pressures that lead some boys to ‘fail on their own terms’ and self-sabotage?
  6. What is the role of competition in improving the performance of underachieving boys?
  7. The achievement gap between girls and boys first appears in early years. How should early years provision change to address the gap?
  8. The achievement gap between girls and boys is most notable in pupils from working-class background. How can the gap be closed for these pupils?

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Ineffective ‘learning styles’ theory persists in education

Wed, 06/01/2021 - 19:06

A new review by Swansea University reveals there is widespread belief, around the world, in a teaching method that is not only ineffective but may actually be harmful to learners.

For decades educators have been advised to match their teaching to the supposed ‘learning styles’ of students. There are more than 70 different classification systems, but the most well-known (VARK) sees individuals being categorized as visual, auditory, read-write or kinesthetic learners.

However, a new paper by Professor Phil Newton, of Swansea University Medical School, highlights that this ineffective approach is still believed by teachers and calls for a more evidence-based approach to teacher-training.

He explained that various reviews, carried out since the mid-2000s, have concluded there is no evidence to support the idea that matching instructional methods to the supposed learning style of a student does improve learning.

Professor Newton said: “This apparent widespread belief in an ineffective teaching method that is also potentially harmful has caused concern among the education community.”

His review, carried out with Swansea University student Atharva Salvi, found a substantial majority of educators, almost 90 per cent, from samples all over the world in all types of education, reported that they believe in the efficacy of learning styles

But the study points out that a learner could be a risk of being pigeonholed and consequently lose their motivation as a result.

He said: “For example, a student categorized as an auditory learner may end up thinking there is no point in pursuing studies in visual subjects such as art, or written subjects like journalism and then be demotivated during those classes..”

An additional concern is the creation of unwarranted and unrealistic expectations among educators.

Professor Newton said: “If students do not achieve the academic grades they expect, or do not enjoy their learning; if students are not taught in a way that matches their supposed learning style, then they may attribute these negative experiences to a lack of matching and be further demotivated for future study.”

He added: “Spending time trying to match a student to a learning style could be a waste of valuable time and resources.”

The paper points out that there are many other teaching methods which demonstrably promote learning and are simple and easy to learn, such as use of practice tests, or the spacing of instruction, and it would be better to focus on promoting them instead.

In the paper, published in journal Frontiers in Education the researchers detail how they conducted a review of relevant studies to see if the data does suggest there is confusion.

They found 89.1 per cent of 15,045 educators believed that individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style.

He said: “Perhaps the most concerning finding is that there is no evidence that this belief is decreasing.”

Professor Newton suggests history is repeating itself: “If educators are themselves screened using learning styles instruments as students then it seems reasonable that they would then enter teacher-training with a view that the use of learning styles is a good thing, and so the cycle of belief would be self-perpetuating.”

The study concludes that belief in matching instruction to learning styles is remains high.

He said: “There is no sign that this is declining, despite many years of work, in the academic literature and popular press, highlighting this lack of evidence.

However, he also cautioned against over-reaction to the data, much of which was derived from studies where it may not be clear that educators were asked about specific learning styles instruments, rather than individual preferences for learning or other interpretations of the theory.

“To understand this fully, future work should focus on the objective behavior of educators. How many of us actually match instruction to the individual learning styles of students, and what are the consequences when we do? Should we instead focus on promoting effective approaches rather than debunking myths?”

More information: Philip M. Newton et al, How Common Is Belief in the Learning Styles Neuromyth, and Does It Matter? A Pragmatic Systematic Review, Frontiers in Education (2020). DOI: 10.3389/feduc.2020.602451

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Learning and Teaching Mandarin Chinese

Wed, 06/01/2021 - 08:07

I had been teaching for two years with a PGCE Primary MFL qualification when during an interview, I was asked if I would be interested in learning Chinese in order to teach it. My reply, that I had an interest in Cantonese film and a passion for languages, seemed to have worked, as I have now worked at Robin Hood Primary Academy for just over 8 years.

My initial role was Class Teacher and teaching French and I started a languages blog to showcase the children’s work, sharing websites and resources I had used in lessons in order to the children to revise at home. I then started Mandarin Chinese lessons at evening classes at the Brasshouse Language Centre, making sure I was a couple of weeks ahead of the children, so I could teach them what I had learnt in my lessons. Initially, it was a real labour of love as I found it nearly impossible to find resources or teachers to share ideas with. All the websites were in Chinese. I could research for resource material for French, but reading Chinese websites was another matter.

Twitter was a great way to find other language teachers who taught Chinese, sharing their resources which were transferable. I participated on the yahoo Primary Languages Forum, where people shared their resources, but at that time there weren’t many Chinese teachers. My Mandarin slowly improved over the months, but I still had a long way to go.

I wrote my own planning, taking any cultural references mentioned in my evening classes and researching them in order to teach them to the children. We even had TeachersTV come and film a lesson.

After a maternity leave break, I returned to work for a new headteacher, Richard Hunter. Richard asked me if I would go to China with him to our link school, Beijing No. 2 Experimental Primary School and I agreed. It was enlightening to have a tour of an education system quite different from ours and to meet some of the 2,700 students who were friendly and excited.

During the first morning of our visit, there was a flag raising ceremony. As we waited in the cold December morning, I hadn’t even noticed half the school had filed into the playground in complete silence. We had been informed that we were to give a speech to the 2000 students present, I thought my knees would give way! As I spoke in English a Grade 6 child simultaneously translated it for the students.

The sights we saw were phenomenal, I ran out of superlatives. Our link school’s hospitality was so welcoming. We were to be chauffeur driven onto Tiananmen Square into the back entrance of Chairman Mao’s mausoleum, a private tour of priceless artefacts which different provinces had sent to the mausoleum on the news of his death, his name in Rubies or gold silk thread tapestry, and we got to jump the queue to file past the chairman himself. It was a trip of a lifetime, and finally I understood the language so much more. For example, the shape of the characters were like the slant on the roofs of traditional buildings.

The Mandarin Chinese language work had gained us Confucius Classroom status, winning a grant and a teacher from China each year. I have set up a Chinese Choir, and we have performed in the Chinese Quarter in the centre of Birmingham for the Chinese New Year celebrations last year, where the children were each paid £1 in red envelopes, then again for the Mid Autumn festival. We have made a music video;

We have just performed, the Disney film Frozen, ‘Let it go’, Suí t? ba ??? for our Christmas performance, I wanted to children to have a full experience, so we made a set of the ice castle, a dance instructor, they designed their own t-shirts, stage make up, props and lights. This year, we will performing again in Birmingham’s Chinese Quarter.

I like to use very practical and hands on ideas in my lessons to engage the children. For example, using inks and brushes, games, and songs, sometimes even a ukulele. Mandarin Chinese engages and interests all the students. Boys in particular enjoy the culture of Kung Fu, dragons and the logic of the language and learning to write the characters. If you are thinking of learning and teaching Chinese, I highly recommend it. Through this I have firmly put the language knowledge into my own long term memory, the power of this has meant that I often use peer teaching within lessons and across the school. For example, our Year 3 students planned, wrote and delivered Mandarin lesson in the Foundation and Key Stage 1.

This experience has been life-changing. It has opened doors to experiences that I will never forget. I am constantly learning new words and cultural insights and I have created my own Mandarin Chinese website.

Read the full article of this article freely in the February 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine by Clicking Here.

Simone Haughey @simonehaughey is a MFL Consultant, Primary Languages Teacher and Confucius Classroom Manager at Robin Hood Primary Academy. Simone is a lover of languages as a way to make friends and try new cuisine! She is a self-professed teachmeet addict and likes to keep up her CPD with #mfltwitterati on Twitter and Primary Languages on facebook. These are great ways of sharing and being inspired.

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Permission to take care of yourself

Mon, 04/01/2021 - 09:26

Educating our youth is a calling, one that draws some of the most hard-working and dedicated people around. We enter this field with our eyes wide open that the pay is low and the work hours are long. Most of us also understand that educating our students will take all the love, attention, and energy we can spare. Education is a calling because, despite all these things, we do it anyway.  

While educators are incredibly giving towards their students, we don’t treat ourselves with the same level of care. 

Overwork is a badge of honour that many of us wear proudly. We tend to equate the number of hours we put in as a measure of our (and our peer’s) dedication to our students.

The thing is, this kind of logic just doesn’t make sense. In a job where the physical, mental, and emotional demands are so high, how can we possibly continue to give our all every day if we have not spent time taking care of ourselves? If we imagine our reserves of energy like a bucket, we cannot continue to give from that bucket without refilling it. Many of us, however, empty our buckets and continue pushing forward without taking the time to rest and rejuvenate. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that we are prone to burnout and often leave the profession just a few years after entering it.

It’s time that educators start filling their buckets by embracing self-care and self-compassion. 

Self-care means caring for oneself. Examples of self-care include getting enough rest, exercise, and healthy foods. Self-compassion means treating oneself with patience, kindness, and understanding. When we practice self-compassion, we use our mistakes as opportunities to soften and be vulnerable. Instead of beating ourselves up, we show ourselves heaps of love.

Dr. Kristin Neff is a self-compassion researcher, author, and professor. According to Neff, developing our self-compassion is important because it is linked to reductions in anxiety, depression, stress, over-thinking, perfectionism, shame, and negative body image (Neff, 2013). Additionally, research conducted by Juliana Breines and Serena Chen (2012) has shown that when we show ourselves compassion after a setback, we are more likely to take action towards improving in the future. In short, self-compassion helps us to feel better, rebound from our challenges, and fuels us to keep going down the path of self-improvement.

So how can you start showing yourself care and compassion right now?

  • Pay attention to your inner voice. Notice your self-talk and ask: Would I say this to my best friend? If the answer is no (and it probably is) then start giving yourself a bit more love and curb the negative self-talk. It’s not helping!
  • Make a list of ten things that bring you joy. Examples include exercise, reading a book, or watching a favourite TV show. Try to fit at least one of these activities into your life consistently.
  • Prioritise how you spend your time. Make a list of all of the things you are doing each week. Break them into Must-Do and May-Do categories. See if you can replace some of those May-Do’s with things from your joy list.
  • Take a break. Educators are notorious for working all-the-time. The problem is, the work never ends unless you choose to step away. If you are not refreshed, you are not working at your best anyway, so start reclaiming some of those nights and weekends.
  • Start a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness means being present in the moment, and meditation is a great mindfulness tool. Just meditating 10 minutes a day will make a significant difference in how you feel. Don’t have 10 minutes in a row? That’s okay, break it into two 5-minute blocks, do some conscious breathing on your walk to and from your car, breathe slowly and deeply at red lights. Notice how good it feels to take even one conscious breath.

In the end, learning to take better care of ourselves will enable us to continue to do what we love—educating kids! If we don’t, then we will continue to burn ourselves out, and the churn of teacher and leader turnover will maintain the revolving door of people in and out of our students’ lives. Our kids suffer when they experience persistent changes in teachers and teacher quality. Schools cannot maintain strong academic programs if the leadership changes year after year. If we really want to stay in our calling and educate our youth, we must learn to take care of ourselves first. Our students will thank us for it.

  • Breines, J. & Chen, S. (2012). “Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation.” Personality and  Social Psychology Bulletin. 38(9) 1133–1143.
  • Neff, K. (2013). “Resilience and self-compassion” [lecture]. Empathy and Compassion in Society. Retrieved June 25, 2018, at

This article is a re-blog published via Megan Sweet who can be found on Twitter the Your3Eyes account. The original article was originally published here, and re-published with permission.

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UKEdChat 2021 Conference – Call for Speakers now open

Mon, 28/12/2020 - 11:21

Following the phenomenal success of our 2020 Online Conference, we are now delighted to announce that the dates have been published for our 2021 online conference.

For more information about the 2021 conference, please visit our UKEd.Academy site by clicking here. Call for speakers now open

We have now opened our ‘Call for Speakers’, inviting applications from educators globally to produce a video presentation (either 2-minutes or 20-minutes maximum) that will be showcased at the online conference. With the software we use, presenters will be able to interact with delegates during their conference talk, as well as connecting before and afterwards.

We welcome presentations on any educational aspect including: pedagogy; psychology; theories; inclusion; classroom ideas that work; active learning; ed-tech, etc. However, we ask that presentations avoid selling products or services (including books), and avoid focusing on political issues, inspection regimes or the Coronavirus pandemic. We will offer guidance to presenters on how to produce their video presentation (including lighting, audio and how to script your talk).

Please note that the speaker application deadline closes on 31st January 2021, and video submission deadline is 28th February 2021. We will notify you within 3 working days to let you know if your application has been approved, or requires amendment.

To apply to be a speaker at our 2021 online conference, please complete the form below, or click here. (function() { var qs,js,q,s,d=document, gi=d.getElementById, ce=d.createElement, gt=d.getElementsByTagName, id="typef_orm", b=""; if(!,id)) {,"script");; js.src=b+"embed.js";,"script")[0]; q.parentNode.insertBefore(js,q) } })()

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UKEdMag: New Year, New Tech?

Mon, 28/12/2020 - 09:13

In 2010, the primary school I was Headteacher at, gained 7-grade ones in an ESTYN inspection. Additionally, several sector-leading examples of practice at the school were highlighted after that inspection by ESTYN and the Welsh Government. Shortly after, I reflected on the previous twelve months (which had been hectic, to say the least) and challenged myself to take the school to the next level. But how?

After talking to a group of eleven-year-old pupils, something became very clear, very quickly. These pupils, using technology, peer support, networks of collaboration and mobile online resources were able to build an education for themselves anywhere and at any time. A decade ago, outside the classroom walls, information for your average eleven-year-old was scarce. In 2015, this information can be found in abundance. Google, YouTube, online blogs, Google Hangouts, social media, the list goes on and on. Therefore, pupils need to see their teachers as modellers of learning, master learners, risk-takers, facilitators, collaborators, creators, and top it off those teachers have to be tech-savvy. We have to change as educators, and you should be excited by that, embrace the challenge and reap the rewards.

In my opinion, you need to have a love of learning, be able to model effective learning systems, to be brave enough to take risks, to be innovative, and most importantly, become a facilitator of learning. The 21st-century classroom, where technology is as accessible as paper and pen, allows you to personalise learning like never before, develop independent and creative thinkers, and allow your pupils to drive their educational journey with you co-pilots, rather than passengers.

A little while ago, when my young daughter wanted to make a paper aeroplane, she handed me my tablet device and asked me for help. Her instinct was such that she knew what to do when she didn’t know what to do. We ventured straight to YouTube where we had several videos to choose from on the first page of results, and she soon found one which she liked the look of. Within minutes she was pressing pause on the video, as we built the aeroplane together step by step. I taught her how to rewind or play the video as we progressed and an hour or so later we were testing her prototypes outside. Welcome to the world of the 21st-century learner. The point I am trying to make here is that technology is allowing educators and learners to deliver pedagogy and ways of learning like never before! However, without the teacher’s brilliance, allowing the right opportunity and in the right context within our classrooms, the magic never materialises.

In March 2014 I stepped aside from my Executive Headship, my Welsh Government Advisory roles and as manager of the international award-winning LIFE Programme, which delivered transformational change across Wales, to set up an EdTech company called Aspire 2Be. The last ten months have been unbelievable and as a company, we are now working with schools, local authorities and governments in helping with the vision, strategic planning and implementation of transformational technologies in learning environments.

The key component which is consistent with all the successful schools I have worked with and continue to work with is outstanding teachers and leaders. So when we ask the question, “New Year, New Tech?” for me it’s all about outstanding teachers and leaders having the vision and bravery to embrace 21st century learning.

Key-stage three pupils today have access to more information through their smartphones than I did in my entire library in university as a student. Yet, a high percentage of secondary educators still ban pupils using smartphones in their classrooms. Talk about missing a trick, alienating a generation and turning pupils off school! What society needs today are people who can ask good questions, come up with creative solutions, critically examine those possibilities and then work out which creative solution is most likely to be effective before communicating their solution effectively enough to motivate others to action. As far back as the 1900s, wise old owls like Albert Einstein said, ‘Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think’.

Learning institutions that are thriving int he 21st century have classrooms that embrace the social, physical and emotional aspects of learning. Always remember that technology is simply one part of this effective environment. A creative curriculum, highly effective pedagogy and mobile technology together create the surroundings where pupils, like my daughter, feel valued, challenged and effective. We need to realise that some of the best teachers my daughter will ever experience will be virtual and online or sitting on the other side of the world.

Prepare yourself for the 21st-century learner who now enters our education systems.

View Simon’s book on Amazon at

Simon Pridham @Simonpridham123 is an ex-Naace and international e-learning award-winning Headteacher who has also spent time as part of Welsh Government digital task forces and as the WG Professional Digital Advisor. Twelve months ago he formed Aspire 2Be – His book Freaked Out is the first interactive paperback on the market and has been shortlisted in the Education Resource Awards with the winners announced in late March 2015.

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Working walls and displays

Wed, 23/12/2020 - 08:00

Within my role, I am privileged to get the opportunity to visit local schools within our learning alliance, the DLA (Deal Learning Alliance). During many of these visits, one thing I enjoy most is the variety of approaches to using display spaces in the schools’ shared spaces and each teacher’s own room.

One interpretation of a ‘Working Wall’ in a Year 5 setting

In many classrooms, there are a range of different displays, used for different reasons. None of the rooms that I have walked in has been identical, however, some rooms have clearly expressed the personality of the teacher, and children, more than others.

When I first qualified, and during my student placements, I would spend hours, often over several evenings, and with the help of dedicated teaching assistants, painting backdrops and making large, high visual impact displays that decorated the room. We were very proud of some of these efforts, the children enjoyed looking at them, but they had little impact on the process of learning.

As an end product, they were great for celebrating a final piece of work, but they did not support the children in their learning. They also did not encourage independence.

The concept of a ‘Working Wall’ had not really been discussed during the earlier years of my career. ‘Interactive displays’ were actively encouraged, and were part of the discussion during teacher training, but these were not as refined as the idea of displays dedicated to moving the learning forward.

Whilst at my previous school we started to look at the concept of developing more interactive displays. These were introduced to support learning and provide opportunities for independence.

This is one display from my Year 6 classroom at my previous school, it was probably the closest that I had got to what my interpretation of a ‘Working Wall’ is now. It was interactive. It encouraged independence. However, it wasn’t used by the children to assess their understanding, I was modelling the use of the wall as an extension.

Then I moved schools.

Working with ‘Working Walls’

During the 2012-2013 curricular year, our Principal purchased all teachers a copy of the Jackie Beere book, ‘The Perfect Ofsted Lesson.’ The use of display to further drive learning forward was one theme that interested me. I started to experiment with a range of different ‘Working Wall’ ideas with the support of my Year 4 colleague.  We tried different display ideas, in Literacy and Numeracy, using ideas adapted from the Thinking Maps resources.

One style of ‘working wall’ that had been a success for the children in our Year 4 classrooms has been the Numeracy working wall, examples of which can be seen below.

A ‘Working Wall’ from my classroom.

The concept is very simple, the children can identify the stages of development for the strategy or skill being covered. From the wall the children can then identify the stages of development they have already covered, can go back to check their understanding, and independently identify the next stages in their learning. The children in my class regularly self-assess using the wall, this enables me to facilitate the children in their learning journey far more effectively by differentiating the tasks more accurately.

Trial by OFSTED

During our most recent Ofsted inspection, the children demonstrated the independent use of the working wall to develop their own learning and explain to the inspector what their next steps would be. Whilst receiving the feedback from the session, during which no grades were given, the inspector stated that she would have liked to have had access to strategies like that at school as a child.  I have to say that I wish I had as well.

Since the inspection, we have been visited by several teachers, from schools around the county. Sceptical looks have been given to the ‘scruffy’ boards strewn with Post-it notes (other brands are of course available) but once the teachers have seen the boards in action, during mini-plenaries and prior learning tasks, and more importantly spoken to the children they can see the impact they have had.

I have found the use of large rolls of backing paper or lining paper to be very useful as the working wall can be rolled up and stored for the next time a topic is revisited.

Like all tools, this strategy/resource doesn’t fit all jobs and is not the only style of ‘Working Wall. We must also recognise that we still need to use other displays, to give children reminders, helpful hints and more importantly to celebrate their learning journey and share their final products.

These are things that all teachers, classrooms and schools do differently. As a school we have introduced different expectations for displays in some of the shared spaces in the school, using large photograph frames to share the process of learning.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Adam Atkinson and published with kind permission.

Read more posts by Adam by clicking here. All images courtesy of Adam Atkinson.

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So, what have the Greeks ever done for us?

Mon, 21/12/2020 - 09:03

It may seem all Greek to you, but the great philosophical thinkers of their time were very wise in their outlook on life, with many of their stories relevant to teachers (and society as a whole) who can still learn valuable lessons from these early pioneers in philosophy. In this article from the October 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine, Chris Eyre draws out the lessons shared from three main philosophical thinkers, and how this relates to the lives of teachers…

As a wise person once said, ‘those that fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it’. Those of us who have been in teaching a while may feel a sense of this as we see various initiatives and ideas that we thought were long gone reappearing. As a Philosophy teacher and someone passionate about teacher well-being, here are three short lessons from the Greeks that the modern teacher can learn.

SocratesYour questions will be the death of you or the making of you

The philosopher Socrates challenged assumptions, raised issues and asked questions of the accepted wisdom of the day. Hailed as wise by the common people, he was a bit of an inconvenience to the authorities with his maverick ways. Eventually, he was arrested on highly dubious charges and was put to death by being forced to drink hemlock.

Fast forward to the modern classroom; a range of accepted wisdom shifts alarmingly with the changing mood of the school inspectorate. However, before we sip the aforementioned hemlock, it is worth reflecting that we are also in a period of tremendous innovation and creativity. Resource sharing, TeachMeets, and UKEdChat discussion allow for bright ideas to be shared rapidly and widely. Our ability to question and reflect as professionals can equally be the making of us.

DiogenesGet out of my light

Diogenes was regarded as one of the greatest thinkers in ancient Greece. He was wise, but a little eccentric. He even spent part of his life living in a barrel. According to legend, this wise man was visited by a King who asked what he could do to help Diogenes. Whilst most people may have asked for riches, food, or even a larger barrel, Diogenes made one straightforward request: ‘Get out of my light.’

Most of us do a good job most days bringing light to others, yet many things would get in the way and prevent our light from shining. The current education system creaks under the weight of bureaucracy, and we spend an inordinate amount of time demonstrating what we have done to those who want to weigh and measure it. Equally, this is a massive challenge to any of us who are in a position of leadership. Our role should be to enable staff to shine and bring light to those they teach. If anything we do hinders that, we need to ask ourselves how we can get out of the light.

SisyphusThe heroism of teaching

Poor Sisyphus was punished by the gods and condemned to an eternal fate of pushing a boulder up a hill and when it had rolled back down repeating the process over and over again. In his essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, philosopher Albert Camus compares this to the human condition and admires the heroism of Sisyphus as he grits his teeth, lifts up his head and walks back down the hill to start again. There is something inspirational in that kind of human determination.

There is much in the cyclical nature of teaching that resembles Sisyphus. Every year we roll the boulder up the hill, every week, every day. There is much to admire in witnessing colleagues heroically face the challenges of their day. The boulder may get bigger and the hill steeper at times, yet still people keep going, often through illness and personal adversity. We all work with extraordinarily committed people. However, there is a note of caution. Unlike Sisyphus we are not chained to an eternal fate; (despite the raising of the retirement age) we can put the boulder down, and there is evidence that an increasing number of people are doing this – and not always those colleagues we would wish to lose! No matter how busy we are, we must keep an eye out for each other and encourage those who are about to put the boulder down. Small acts of kindness can be far more significant than we realise and may make the difference in ensuring that someone else gets through the day.

Of course, as another Greek thinker, Heraclitus, says ‘everything changes’ and we have more power to change things than we realise. Let’s continue to champion and encourage those around us. The vast majority of them are doing a fantastic job.

Click here to read the full article in the free October 2014 UKEdMagazine

Chris Eyre @chris_eyre is curriculum manager for Religious Studies and Philosophy at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College. He has also worked as an examiner for a leading exam board. He is passionate about teacher well-being and regularly blogs on this and other issues. Read his blog at

Image Sources: DiogenesSisyphus.

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The mystery of how (not) to do everything

Fri, 18/12/2020 - 08:20

I’m sure I am not alone when I declare myself a victim of ‘student/NQT syndrome’, a highly contagious affliction where the patient tries to do everything he/she possibly can. The symptoms vary from patient to patient but often include excessive amounts of energy (comparable to a Springer Spaniel puppy) through to heightened emotions, often resulting in an eruption of tears, anger or both at the most inopportune moment. We deny it initially, “surely not me, I’m just doing my job!” but sooner or later, we realise that we are being consumed by this exhausting and occasionally career-threatening affliction.

I have often tried to try to convince myself that I am just being conscientious, to prove that I really was the right person for the job (bearing in mind that the role is only for 12 months until completion of the NQT period) or that I am capable of using my own initiative and don’t want to be a burden to anyone (probably common amongst the more mature of us who have already enjoyed a career). Ultimately, however, our unending levels of energy, willingness to take on everything (I now have someone holding my arm down in staff meetings to stop the volunteering) and our occasional lack of judgement creates greater problems: It can be perceived as arrogance, can cause upset and even create difficult situations for all involved especially for those who have to try and resolve any ‘mishaps’ as a result.

I’m not saying that having high levels of energy or lots of new ideas is a bad thing, it really isn’t. Still, it is about judgement, about weighing up what and when new ideas, styles and practices are appropriate, we must not forget that as students, NQTs or even as early professionals, we can learn our trade from those around us, those who do it day in and day out, those who have, for some time, lived, breathed and slept a scholastic life. It’s great that we know the pedagogical theories, but it is in school where we will learn the most, from teachers, SLT, support staff (don’t ever underestimate the knowledge of support staff!) children and parents. This learning process will, like in life, continue throughout our careers.

Mark Anderson, @ictevangelist wrote in his Education Evangelist post Dealing with Difficult Conversations (19/05/15) “every day is a learning day. A day where I don’t learn something new is a pretty poor day.” As an aside, in my inaugural post, I alluded to the fact I had been on the receiving end of a difficult conversation if I’m honest not my first, where I was told to learn to walk before running – I was already in the grasps of this debilitating syndrome, was completely unaware but had already started displaying the irritating symptoms. Of course, my Amazing Teacher Wife (ATW) had warned me about it, but when do we listen to our partners when we are unwell?

The problem is, of course, that when we are training or observing teaching we gather copious quantities of ideas, advice and perceptions, we merge them, manipulate them and then try to find ways of putting every single element into our own practice. We also combine that with our desire to learn more and take on more responsibility and so offer to run extra clubs, attend additional training opportunities, take the lead in launching new ideas and given a chance, solve world peace! It seems that many of us fail to use any form of filter or even plain old common sense to realise that we can’t do it all nor to consider the consequences when we don’t achieve what we have committed to.

I’m hoping that this post rings true to other NQTs; otherwise, I am seriously afflicted! A parent recently came into my classroom with a bag full of resources that she was donating to the school, she said that she had made them during her NQT year when she was conscientious and bounding with energy, so I guess that I am not completely alone. It could also be that I am joining the profession later in life, I spent almost 15 years establishing a career, reached middle management and had lots of life experience to boot. Whilst I have been there and done that, as I said to my Head Teacher during our conversation, I haven’t been here or done this and so need to learn from those around me albeit good, bad or indifferent. Most of all, I need to learn to filter ideas and develop a judgement for when to show drive and determination and when I need to listen and take stock.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Matt Earl and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Duty of Care

Thu, 17/12/2020 - 12:49
  • #UKEdChat session 534
  • What ‘duty of care’ do schools have to their communities, and beyond?
  • Schools can bring a little light to those in need.
  • Click here to view the tweet archive.

At the time of writing schools are about to close for the winter break, sending students and staff home after a year like no other. With so many in need at Christmas time, exacerbated this year by the pandemic. There is some Government support (seemingly begrudging support in the case of free meals over the winter break for some children), but this is unlikely to be enough for many struggling. With the UN agency UNICEF feeding children in the UK for the first time in its 70 year history, even small individual actions to help may make a difference.

There are excellent examples where schools support their pupils, their families, the community and the world beyond. We hope that in this final #UKEdChat of the year that our community share their ideas for supporting those in need, and provide a little light in the darkest days of winter.

In this #UKEdChat discussion, which took place on Thursday 17th December 2020 at 8pm(UK) we discussed what are the biggest needs in your community, how schools can play a vital role in helping, and what schools can do to support their pupils in difficult times.


  1. In a tweet, what does ‘duty of care’ mean to you?
  2. What is the individual teacher’s role in duty of care?
  3. How can schools best identify the individual care needs of pupils?
  4. What duty of care do you feel schools should have towards the wider community?
  5. How can schools help with charitable giving? Do schools have a moral duty to get involved?
  6. Share your experiences with schools helping to solve community issues and supporting charities.
  7. How can schools avoid drawing charitable funds from the very communities they seek to help?
  8. How have or will you and your school support those in need this festival season?

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Lego in the classroom

Wed, 16/12/2020 - 08:01

Ok, Let’s face it, as teachers we love to play. In fact , hat’s probably one of the main reasons we’ve spent our life in school. It allows us to be Peter Pan. As my GCSE class frequently tell anyone who will listen; I do stand on tables, pretend to be a goat and have been known to be a princess. I mean let’s face it, in what other job would we get to have so much fun on a daily basis?

So when I read about Lego’s range of educational products last weekend, I have to say I was thoroughly excited.

Not having any budget left though, I turned not to those but to my daughter’s closet, where I raided her lego supply to spice up my lessons. So this week we’ve used lego as a starter both in maths and in English, and I have to stay it really worked, in maths we had 100% engagement from all students, and in English even my most reluctant writers managed to write a full side of A4.

In English, students (both in KS3 and KS4) built their lego models to give them a starting point for their story. I have never seen more excitement in my room, and the task involved zero preparation time, I literally picked up the box of lego and put it in my classroom.

In maths, my lego work involved slightly more preparation time because I prepared individual lego bags for students based on their own learning objectives (e.g. a bag of 12 one by two bricks for a student working on his two times table) – that said, the bags are now made, and I know I’ll use them again and again, so it was well worth it; especially when students arrive expecting to see a worksheet on their desk and instead saw a bag of lego. Maths has never been as much fun!

This is a re-blog post originally posted by funASDteacher and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Encouraging Creative Teaching & Learning

Tue, 15/12/2020 - 08:25

There is a common misconception that inspectors would like all schools to teach using the same methods, follow the same ethos and compartmentalise their lessons into clear subject areas.

However, it has been found schools that adopt creative approaches to teaching and learning are more likely to be successful during an inspection. The Government are also seeing an increase in the number of parents calling for creativity to be added to the curriculum and take a larger role in their child’s education.

What is creativity?

If you were to ask a stranger to think of someone creative, names will roll off their tongue – Picasso, Mozart, Jobs, Da Vinci, Rowling – the list goes on. Ask the same stranger what makes these famous names creative, and you may well be faced with a blank expression. For years, creativity has been a nebulous concept in many minds, often solely reserved for those who were naturally gifted in the “the arts”. Often synonymous with “disorganised” and “chaotic”, creativity was stereotypically seen as an attribute useful only if you had future plans of becoming a painter or musician. Juxtaposed to this were pursuits which required logic and reasoning, known as “the sciences”. Those who wished to be engineers or physicists had no time for creativity, only for order and perfection.

In order to define creativity for the purpose of this article we draw on the work of Sir Ken Robinson. He claims that creativity is a 3-part process. It begins with imagination, bringing to mind concepts which are not immediately available to the five senses. Following this, you employ your creativity, using the concepts you have imagined to generate original ideas, which have value. Thirdly comes innovation, putting original ideas into action.

creativity is a disciplined process that requires skill, knowledge and control

Sir Ken Robinson, 2009.

The rise of project based learning Implementing a creative approach to teaching and learning can be very difficult within rigorous timetables and routines. However, it is important to note that Ofsted recognise the importance of a creative approach to teaching and have previously celebrated project based learning (PBL) methods during school inspections. A study entitled ‘Learning: Creative Approaches that Raise Standards’ (Ofsted, January, 2010) found schools that used a PBL method of teaching and learning achieved an outstanding Ofsted report. These schools implemented cross-curricular learning for their students, which allowed them to solve problems and answer open-ended questions.

(Good Practice Resource, Ofsted, 2013)

Parents calling for creativity

The development of these skills, which a PBL method facilitates, are exactly what we have found parents are calling for. Night Zookeeper commissioned research into perceptions of parents towards creativity at school.  1,000 parents were surveyed across the UK in October 2014 and we found the following:

  • 9 out of 10 parents think activities that teach creative skills should be added to the curriculum
  • Over half of UK parents think recent changes to the curriculum have reduced opportunities for creative learning
  • Three quarters of parents think modern technology can provide a vehicle for creativity and it should be integrated into more lessons

Can We Teach Creativity?

As previously discussed, creativity must be considered to be a combination of skills and thought processes, neither of which are necessarily natural. Therefore, if we consider creativity something that can be learned, how do we teach it?

Csikszentmihalyi (1996) argues that the environment of an individual can either nurture or hinder the development of creativity. In the classroom, this is especially important to remember, because creativity is not at the forefront of most children’s education. If a child’s environment doesn’t allow them to experiment, to try new things, to ask questions – their creativity is most likely to be diminished. However, if we consider creativity to be an important factor in children’s learning, we must design classrooms and lessons with this in mind.

How can Night Zookeeper help?

Night Zookeeper is widely used in schools as a great way to begin implementing a PBL approach. The website and educational materials that accompany it, focus on some core areas of the curriculum; English, Computing, Art and Design, Science and Drama. Crucially, it enables teachers to integrate them seamlessly, so that children are immersed in a project and develop vital skills without the rigorous instruction that they are more commonly used to.

The project encourages creativity both in writing and in art work, the children need to be diverse in their thinking. It has enabled my reluctant boys to be engaged. They really love being given time on the website.

Jacqui Latham, St. James Primary School, Bolton

This is a promoted article, and was originally printed in the January 2015 edition of UKEdMagazine Click here to freely read the full version

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Are we Entering a Social Eclipse?

Mon, 14/12/2020 - 10:55

Social Media is having a big impact on modern lives. Twitter updates and comments are trawled over by news organisations who no longer scoop the exclusive updates from around the world, whether it be an earthquake, war stories, or royal babies. Most announcements are exclusively made via social media, and this shift in information consumption is easily accessible to anyone with a smartphone, tablet or computer. Let’s face it, technological developments are not slowing down, and the access to information on social media platforms is now easier than ever.

Teachers have embraced Twitter as a means of gaining professional development, and we previously shared 25 pedagogical tools that colleagues have found during interactions online that have made such a positive impact in the classroom. Interestingly, this engagement in professional development with teachers on Twitter appears to be exclusive to the English speaking world, noted by Graham Newell (@Graham_IRISC) during the #UKEdChat session on ‘Modern Approaches to CPD’ (, who commented that teachers in Europe are aghast at how teachers gain so much by engaging on Twitter here in the UK.

Yet something is amiss. Something is changing with teachers on Twitter that is less collaborative than it used to be. On the surface, in the publicly available social media landscape anyway, there is a feeling of reserved comment, sharing and discussion by teachers. What is happening? Are we approaching a social media eclipse of hidden conversations due to fear?

This feeling was pointed out by Canadian teacher Andrew Campbell who blogged ( that a notable collective of educators has caught up on what is happening on Twitter. Their involvement is causing a behaviour shift with early adopters of the platform. Who are this mysterious group of people who are having an unnerving impact on Social Media usage? School Leaders! Campbell notes, “Tweets that express an unpopular opinion or are critical of the Status Quo, suddenly have a new audience and a new set of consequences. Teachers are now under greater scrutiny for their online activities, and are increasingly asked to ensure their tweets are in line with what their school leaders approve.”

It is evident to see how many teachers protect their tweeted comments, inviting selected followers. Or the sudden ‘disappearance’ of an individual from your timeline as the surveillance upon the comments are increasingly scrutinised by school ‘managers’ who are trying to protect their image and reputations. Campbell shares the story of this pressure now placed upon teachers, “A teacher explained to me that they’d been called into a meeting with supervisory staff and asked to defend a tweet they’d made about a board policy, which was taken out of context.” Context is key here, as ill-perceived comments can quickly be pounced upon and evidenced easily against and individual. Campbell continues, “Whether teacher social media is actively monitored or not, the fact that teachers are worried that they might be monitored, indicates the chilling effect on teacher expression.”

As a result, Andrew Campbell asserts, “In response to this pressure some teacher PLNs have gone “underground”. The PLN is active, and functions in the same way, but instead discussion take place on private messaging networks or though or group DMs. The discussion and sharing continue, but in a private space, where the risk of saying “the wrong thing” is eliminated.” The public communities that were built up are slowly eroding yet evolving into an arena that is considerably safer for individuals. Lurking in conversations and leeching classroom ideas continues – and should be encouraged – but paranoia and fear are holding certain individuals back from the dissemination of practice or sharing experiences. In our 2014 extensive survey ( 16% of respondents claimed they were aware of their school leaders watching their tweets, but we could never know how many people are unaware of any surveillance of their comments.

How can you tell that your school leaders are spying on you? You can’t, but it is happening and a trait of being human and paranoia. You just need to be aware of what you are broadcasting and how comments could be twisted or used against you. Let’s hope we can emerge from this social media eclipse positively, but Campbell warns, “If school leaders want to leverage edutwitter’s culture, they must ensure that they can participate without undermining. They need to be willing to join the discussion as equals and put aside their administrative roles. If they don’t, they may soon find that they are simply talking to each other, and everyone else has left.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine – Click here to see the article freely in the online edition

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