I know by now you think I should have straightened myself out… Thank you, drop dead.



A few weeks ago I was lucky to have some time with John Hattie as part of a small group invited by Visible Learning. I’m going to write more about the day and the conversation but I wanted to explore on topic here as it links to an earlier post and something that has been plaguing my thoughts for a while.

Stemming from my work with the Office of the Regional Schools Commissioner (which was how I managed to be among a group of about eight meeting with a global luminary in education!) I have been wondering why teachers don’t seem to engage in research and had been batting around a couple of ideas. Firstly I think a lot of research is just disappointing to the regular classroom teacher and that a number of those who talk about research are basically reshaping CPD in another form. When I’ve looked at job descriptions for research leads in school they’re pretty much just that – a rehash of someone to over see staff training and development but couched in more attractive terms to ride the zeitgeist. If research can be seen as zeitgeisty.

It’s also disappointing as it doesn’t seem to deliver much in terms of providing answers and direction. I heard two presentations recently which were labelled as offering answers to that old question of ‘what works.’ One was looking at different groups of schools to see how they supported progress among disadvantaged children in comparison with each other. What was revealed – and hold on here – was that in some cases one group did better and in some cases the other did.


What would have been great was for this to be the first step and for the session to then follow on to say exactly what the schools that had done great things with disadvantaged kids so that as a teacher and school leader I could learn from this and perhaps take some of it back to the poorest ward in one of the poorest parts of the country. There were lots of nods and smiles in the room as some people saw they could get politically excited by their favoured group being seen as better or worse than the other lot at times (interestingly from some who are fairly vocal about the awful way education is being politicised) but in terms of what came from it to improve the lot of our kids I couldn’t really say it offered much.

Similar was a later opportunity to hear from someone at the forefront of educational research – surely some insight here. What was offered was a breakdown of why research is difficult to do and as such using any results to support any particular approach is quite unlikely and as such conclusions are pretty hard to draw.


I’m being overly arsey about this I know and actually the discussion around research methods in both examples were interesting and did encourage some thinking but had I gone to either to find useful ideas that I could apply working with children in classrooms or schools as opposed to with numbers in an office I would have been disappointed, disillusioned or just depressed. This is, I think one of the genuine issues with why people shy away from research as it’s currently presented. It just doesn’t offer much in most people’s worlds.

The other issue and the one that linked to the conversation that day is that there is just so much material out there that it’s hard to know where to look, what to believe and what to leave out. Not only is there a plethora of ideas that keep coming and keep contradicting previous ideas (even from the same people) but the prevalence of blogging and tweeting in some sectors – and always remember it’s an incredibly small part of the teaching community when you look to it for guidance/affirmation – leads to people referencing themselves or other bloggers as an evidence base even when the original piece was opinion rather than having any factual basis.

Finding your way in the educational world takes every gift you’ve got and I sometimes wonder what on earth people make of it when they are trying to find their path through it and make some sense of what the bloody hell the world wants from them. The issue of cognitive burnout was raised in our discussion group and I think it links directly to this. Outside of the cliche (they only become cliches  because they have a foundation in a truth we can all recognise) of ‘initiative overload’ which again I’ve made references to previously when a colleague was clearing laminated sheets from a classroom cupboard the well intentioned teacher looking to kind hearted – if we’re being nice – colleagues, fellow teachers and consultants for some sense of direction will be equally baffled.

I do think there’s a light on the horizon and glimmers of hope when people resist reinventing the wheel (and just update the alloys? maybe not) which I’ll go onto next time but for now maybe we just need, as was suggested to me recently, to play with our kids/read a book/watch tv/play a record and give ourselves a break for a bit.

Lots of Love

Colin x



This is not a post about Learning Styles…


So as the title suggest this is not a post about learning styles. I am going to refer to them but only in the wider context of ideas that seem to me to have been shared, clung to, used (poorly in a number of cases – and there’s the rub) and then condemned.

What’s interesting in the debate around learning styles is that there seems to be some sense of agreement that people access different things in different ways and that a variety of approaches is useful for ensuring that learners have a way in. In a study of effective teaching methods summing up lots of other studies of effective teaching methods that I have been using to refine our Trust Principles of Learning, the understanding of student misconceptions and the need to look at the way the learner approaches problems in order to help them overcome them was seen as being pretty useful and this seems fairly similar to understanding the need for different ways in.

I also remember when I was exploring poetry with a pretty boy heavy and sharp year 11 class in the tiniest room in the school, last thing every Friday. Their focus and contributions were great. We never did those lists of poetic techniques or device spotting or pretty grids from the ‘How to Teach’ the anthology type books because we didn’t need them and didn’t like them. Well, I didn’t. This was all very well for the majority but there in the class was Hannah, a very intelligent, diligent, hard working girl who was desperate for a grid as it was the way she organised her thinking and she couldn’t access the free form fast moving conversations we were having.

I don’t ever remember calling it Learning Styles but there was something that I wasn’t doing (because it didn’t match or suit the way I liked to work or learn) that I needed to do to support this learner. So I changed my practice. I probably would have, and looking back I’m pretty sure I did, approached it differently with a group of students working at a lower level as I would have thought more about the need for structure. So maybe it wasn’t learning styles, maybe it was differentiation? Maybe it was personalisation? But then I’ve heard both of those decried as well, or at least talked about in hushed tones as if they were dirty words. What it was about was knowing the students and making sure they had the best opportunity to learn.

But this isn’t a post about learning styles. I’m not here to defend them but not really here to bury them either. It seems to me this sort of issue crops up a lot with ideas that clearly have some validity (knowing your students, anticipating, understanding and addressing misconceptions to help them make sense of what it is you’re teaching is a good thing yeah?) but seem to have been implemented badly or used as some sort of bolt on or panacea and as a result now seem to be massively flawed.

This gap between the idea and the implementation first screamed out at me when I was visiting a school which was championed as being expert in using Kagan strategies. I visited three classrooms and saw teachers who were using the tools and timers and students were responding well. They understood the way things were done and the routines and it provided a great environment for learning. Perhaps not enough to convince me to build a school around the approach but it was having impact.

The fourth classroom was different though. One example typified the issue here when the teacher used the classic countdown from five to zero to bring the class to order. Now I’ve seen this used really well when a teacher adjusts the countdown speed to enable students to register what’s going on, comments positively on students that have put things away or are sitting silently, moves to stand near those that haven’t while counting etc. But what was happening here was a poor soul happily looking at us as visitors to his room while he counted down from five and was happily ignored by 28 kids who, while they were grouped in fours with opposite partners and neighbour partners as suggested by Kagan, seemed to learn very little.

Again I’m not writing this to criticise Kagan any more than learning styles or anything else but to encourage us to consider implementation when we decide that something does or does not have value. All too often teachers and schools are in a situation where they are so desperate to do well and improve practice that they look for quick wins and off the shelf solutions without real consideration about how these need to be adapted and integrated into schools and classrooms. Without this they don’t have the desired impact so are dismissed and everyone moves on to something else which again isn’t thought through. It has its messianic moment in the sun prior to being thrown out with all the other naughty boys and its beautifully laminated posters are left filling up filing cabinets and drawers everywhere you look. So the bank accounts of the quick fixers providing solutions that require little thought or effort and never really work are filling up as quickly as the frustration at ‘another bloody initiative’ grows and the good will of a staff dissipates. And even if it’s a well thought out and considered approach that can have real benefit poor implementation leads to the same end result.

When we deliver TEEP (Teacher Effectiveness Enhancement Programme) training there is a slide that features on the third day but I always bring in earlier. Here are the main points from it:

When considering an activity to use, think about:

  • What will the students actually learn?
  • Will it encourage them to link prior learning with the new things they need to learn?
  • Will it demand active learning behaviours?
  • Do they have all the learning skills they need to do the activity?
  • Can these skills be transferred across different discipline areas of the curriculum?
  • Will it demonstrate the individual student’s knowledge and understanding?

I bring it in earlier because I think it’s crucial that we encourage people to consider why they are using any strategy and technique and to make sure they have an answer that goes deeper than, “because I got shown it on a course” or, “someone said they did it and it was good.”

One of the things that’s always asked on TEEP training when participants are given the opportunity to comment on what trainers could do to help them is to provide a resources pack, a set of tips and tricks “that you can use the very next day and that will make you an outstanding teacher of x.” Come on, you’ve all seen the CPD flyers! While we do take people through some examples to, erm, exemplify what the stages of the cycle are about we resist presenting these as any sort of quick solution. At each stage it’s about understanding what you are trying to achieve for your learners not just about repeating what you did on the training or performing simplistic tricks. Much as it’s great to hear people engage positively, when people tell you they’ve “TEEPed” a lesson it often causes a shudder as it can mean that things have been bolted on or chucked in to existing plans rather than any substantial (re)thinking around approaches to planning overall. One of the worst examples of this was seeing an NQT copying an old plan across word for word on to the TEEP layout and supplying this as an example of applying the training. In the schools where the programme really has impact it becomes an integral part of what the school is about, the shape for the language of learning and is used by every teacher in every classroom in every lesson. Where it fails is where it’s taken or left, an optional extra or actually an extra at all as opposed to being central.

And it happens everywhere no matter where you sit on the edu-spectrum and whatever label you find yourself being given. Guy Claxton spoke of how his work has been poorly implemented by people chucking the ‘Rs’ in without in depth understanding or fundamental and as a result not had the impact he believes it can – I wonder how much this has contributed to the perception of his work as ‘woolly will-o’-the-whisp’ that he is charged with?

A colleague also told me recently that Dylan William once remarked on how the application of his ideas in some quarters was so far removed and distorted from the original thinking that they are hardly recognisable as his work. I wonder how long it will be before a current favourite of the educational chattering classes Doug Lemov comes under attack and is put down by those who currently advocate his work because of diminishing returns? When it happens I’d imagine that it will be in no small part due to people that are, as one teacher put it to me “choosing one idea and doing it over and over” with the intention of getting good at it, but without consideration as to whether this idea is appropriate or relevant to the children being taught and their needs – or whether they might need more than one strategy…

So this isn’t about learning styles – defending or condemning them – any more than it’s about TEEP, Claxton, William or teaching like a champion. On the simplest level it’s about ensuring that we have a deeper consideration as to why something hasn’t had the impact that it might have done and I think in many cases it’s the application of these ideas, or too simplistic an understanding of them, that’s often at the heart of the issue. Which isn’t to say that we can excuse every idea that doesn’t deliver by suggesting it’s simply a lack of understanding (otherwise we would be suggesting that my complete bewilderment around Mrs Brown’s Boys is because I haven’t understood rather than it just being awful) but maybe the ones that seem to cause such controversy or have been championed and then turned on. Perhaps their popularity has led to a clamour to use them which in turn heightens the possibility for dilution and misunderstanding as everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Mastery statements anyone…?

On another level I suppose I’d like to encourage us to think about why we get into this position in the first place. In some cases there is a tendency to look for quick fixes or the path of least resistance/work; the message about tenacity that was given out by a key argument against mixed ability teaching being it was hard work for the teacher was an interesting one, and I often react to suggestions that group work is ineffective because students take a back seat with “don’t just put them in groups and expect it to happen then, maybe teach some effective collaboration skills and create and environment where all students take responsibility and want to contribute!” However in the vast majority of cases I’m sure that teachers are looking for something that will make things better for their learners and simply don’t have the opportunity to really investigate and explore these ideas and approaches to ensure that they are fully understood and implemented in a way that means they really have a chance to deliver. It’s because of this that I’d suggest these ideas fall down and teachers and schools lose faith before moving on to the next idea that will probably suffer the same fate.

One of the reasons why I think TEEP (this isn’t an advert by the way it’s just something I know more about the strengths – and potential failings – of) was identified by the Teacher Development Trust as having impact in schools is because where it is done well it’s prepared for in advance, becomes the sole focus for teaching development, given time to develop and be understood (the training itself is spread over three of four months in the best examples) and while it will have impact and make a real difference it’s not seen as being a quick fix or something you can start monitoring teachers against after the first day.

So yes, if learning styles (which this is certainly not about) equates to a student being told he is a kinaesthetic learner at ten and then learning about every topic by running around or representing Hamlet by building lego models and never writing anything, while someone next to him is doing it in song or only reading poetry and never hearing it aloud then something is wrong. Similarly if you have a skills based curriculum that is never actually used to develop knowledge or understanding, or a knowledge based curriculum that fails to include the knowledge of how, building expertise alongside the knowledge of what, then you’re on an unhelpful tangent too.

How about we think a little more and look a little deeper? Help everyone to work out where they are by giving ideas the chance to be fully understood before we decide they have no worth? Can you imagine being a teacher in need of help and ideas and coming on twitter to get direction? For everyone promoting something there’s a gang ready to run it down and on both sides people determined that the way forward is to have the opposing voice silenced with no room for both. No scope for building on each other and seeing if there might actually be a better way that enables us to be stronger by listening to other voices and combining them with our own. We have days set up entirely around confrontation and one idea vs another, we have bloggers chopping and changing ideas and seeming to be at odds even with themselves at times.

Perhaps it’s not just those confused NQTs and bewildered teachers and school leaders that are trying to grab on to a quick fix that need some sort of affirmation by being sure that they have THE answer? Maybe we could all stop trying to be so bloody right all the time and see that things are a little more complex than soundbites and how clever we can look in 140 characters.

Lots of Love




Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall


When I was delivering training in a school just before Christmas last year I was asked by one teacher why I thought it was that students no longer had the love and enthusiasm for literature or history that characterised her time in school. I answered her question with one of my own asking when the last time was she’d taught a text for anything other than for the exam and she said she hadn’t.

This came to mind a while ago when I was presenting about Trafalgar College at TLT15 in Southampton and more recently when the subject of testing was in the media and our minds once again. In a career that’s pushing two decades I don’t think I’ve ever felt the need to teach to the test. I’ve taught classes that have taken tests from SATs to A Level and they’ve always done well but that’s not the same thing. I’ve taught children in GCSE classes but I never just taught them GCSE English or Literature – I taught them how to communicate in written and verbal forms, how to read and understand, and how to explore the world, its cultures and histories through poetry prose and drama.

When you’re teaching somebody poetry they can quite often understand poetry, be able to discuss it and explain the meanings and the ideas that the poet is trying to express but not be able initially to write about it. Similarly, when I was working with a fantastic music teacher last week she discussed how students are encouraged within her subject to “show me if you can’t tell me.” If I assessed my poetry students and her the musicians by their ability to write up their understanding as the first thing we did then not only would they look as if they had no understanding but they would most likely lose confidence in their ability to understand and interpret music or poems. The same is true of Maths lessons where students make an error somewhere in an equation and then through the sets of questions presented to them make the same mistake again ten or twenty times over and walk away thinking they can’t do Maths. These psychological standpoints and mindsets are incredibly difficult to shift and do long term damage to students who have a belief that they ‘can’t do’ which overshadows what they genuinely can and we should be aware of any actions that we take which might create or reinforce these feelings.

I also remember discussing with a colleague his plan for baseline testing on arrival into a department and questioning whether this was the most dynamic way to introduce students to high school. Even leaving aside the fact that we had assessments from the feeder schools, examples of work and the fact that we know performance in a period of transition dips so these results would be skewed I’m just not convinced that sitting a test is likely to lead to students rushing home to tell their parents what a great school they’ve signed up to. Or have them rushing back in the morning for more.

So all of this would make it seem like I’m about to get on the bandwagon and shout about how weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter and how testing is going to diminish students’ chances of a rounded education was we all abandon anything other than lessons upon lessons, days upon days and term after term of preparing for tests, testing and the testing again. Well I would do if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s within our gift to make this situation our reality or do something different.

I have no issue with testing. Just like I have no issue with a ‘traditional’ curriculum. Or a curriculum with a heavy vocational element. What I do take issue with is the sense that the final outcome or assessment is seen as being the controlling influence in everything that we do, and it’s really down to us to make sure that this isn’t the case. For us as teachers to see that if we teach students the subjects that we love and do so in a well considered and rounded way that when we test them along the way to see progress and when they come to that final assessment they’ll do well in those tests. For us to maybe consider the counter-productive nature of “teaching to the test” not just in terms of the long term understanding or passion for the subject but also in terms of test performance itself, as the ability to deal with unexpected questions that weren’t drilled into the students just isn’t there – never mind the boredom and lack of interest from the constant repetition. For us to realise that we have the power to do this and control it in our own classrooms and to maybe borrow from the Hi Tech High teacher who responded to a question about exam preparation with, “Everything we teach them in the exam is harder than anything they do in the exam so they ace them.”

As I’ve written before sometimes we feel powerless in teaching with the number of changes around us but that doesn’t mean that we are powerless in every aspect of what we do or that we should hand over the power that we have because sometimes, just sometimes, it’s easier to bend with the rainfall rather than stand up and take ownership. But who does that help? I remember an A Level English group I once shared made up in the larger part of students I’d taught Media Studies to at GCSE and a number of who I was also teaching A Level Media to. I’d seen these students devour adverts, magazine covers, film posters, hours of documentary working independently in Media for a couple of years and they did the same in the A Level Media lessons but when tasked with taking some verses of a poem or pages of a novel in an A Level English class they were at a loss. Before we start to get carried away with accusations of Mickey Mouse subjects and the ridiculous notion of studying the media I can tell you it’s nothing to do with that and if you want to get into a debate about the narrative complexities of the Sopranos as opposed to Gulliver’s Travels, well, that’s for another time! I was baffled by their inability to analyse and the way that a group of students who were so independent, articulate and confident with one sort of text were so lost with another and as to why they seemed to be waiting for me to tell them all of the answers.

The answer was simple. As well as having me for GCSE Media and then A Level (and half of their English as well – poor buggers) they’d had the same teacher for English at both key stages and had learned that the way you do well was to copy the notes about the poem from the board into your anthology, learn the model answer, and reproduce it when asked. Reduced to a basic level this is like being told ten points being asked ten questions and getting ten out of ten – everyone does well, everyone feels happy, nobody learns very much.

This isn’t meant to be a condemnation of the teacher. They were a good teacher but this was in a time where progress wasn’t a factor and getting children to a C or above was the be all and end all so playing to this and playing it safe that’s what happened. But what of the students who ended up on C that should have been B or A? What about the ones who started with the creativity to push to A* answers who had it dulled by the routine? What about the student who got so turned off that they dropped below the golden threshold?

It’s that damned system again!

But it’s not. Or at least it doesn’t need to be. In the same corridor there I was with the naivety of being relatively new to the profession or arrogance of youth(!) but I wasn’t holding back or giving answers to be parroted back to me. That’s not what English is about is it? Or history? Or science? Within our classrooms we have the power and the influence and we can make sure that the final destination doesn’t determine the first step of the journey. I know that at some point my poetry student will need to write and exam answer in the same way that the music student will need to account for themselves on a written paper – and to be fair if we can’t get students to the point where they can’t express themselves coherently through writing then we have failed to foster and important life skill – but there is absolutely nothing that means we can’t explore the subject and develop an understanding in a raft of other ways before we get there. As I mentioned before a friend of mine expresses this through the metaphor of train tracks saying that we educate children on one track with a mind to what’s going on on the other before switching points to the exam track when we need to.

Of course school leaders have a key role to play here. When Tom Sherrington wrote his ‘What if there were no Oftsed etc…’ tweet telling teachers to do it anyway it was for me both a call to arms for the profession as well as an empowering message and as school leaders, at whatever level, we need to make sure that we are giving this confidence to our teachers. Not to indulge in a free for all but to be able to teach to the very best of their abilities and not be hamstrung by the method of assessment. We have to create the environment where teachers who feel that this is a risky approach (good teaching is risky????) in an anxious and risk averse profession not just feel ok doing this but recognise that it is the best way to get the best results in the assessments that they feel they are currently preparing for by staying within ‘Mind forg’d manacles.’

So no, this isn’t a rant against testing. Nor is it meant to suggest that the current assessment situation is perfect. Testing can’t be ignored and is often useful as a diagnostic or a measure of where we are so far. It’s certainly something that can motivate students and we can’t escape from the fact that in the end for us – and crucially our students – exam performance is the final measure and the key to the next set of doors. Like I’ve said keep an eye of that other train track.  It’s more against what to me to be simplistic and defeatist arguments around ideas such as, “teaching to the test,” or, “exam factories,” and the suggestion that testing is in someway inherently linked to dull teaching or mindless robot students – it is possible to be happy and nurtured and do well! Don’t allow yourself or your teachers to get trapped like that and don’t hide behind it as a reason not to stretch, challenge and excite your students.

We’re better than that.

Lots of Love


When The World Won’t Listen…



It’s all been rather Hirsch focused around the place lately. We were lucky enough to host E D Hirsch, or Don as he was introduced, when he visited the UK to give three lectures. His first on these shores. As well as one in London for Policy Exchange and one in Cambridge he gave one in Norwich last week at The Hewett Academy. I’m going to blog on that at another time if I can get my hands on his notes and do a write up for those that weren’t there – and those that were who want to go back over what was said.

For this post I thought I’d pick up on something from a piece I read that Hirsch had referenced in his Cambridge talk.

I’m always going from one text to the next exploring references and I suppose at times not actually finishing the original source material. It always seems that when you’re on the internet it’s just far too easy to flit from one to another and end up somewhere you didn’t expect to be at all! This time I found myself reading, “Cultural Pathways Through Universal Development” by Greenfield et al.

The section that struck me particularly was around the exploration of the ‘Cultural Values’ approach and the distinction that is drawn between independent and interdependent pathways of development. What is suggested is that this is linked to ethnotheories (beliefs and ideas concerning the nature of the child and socialisation) and that there is, “a cognitive separation of self and world – as a result of the Western institution of formal schooling,” while in Africa for example there is an emphasis on, “contributing to the social world.”

This brought to mind an assembly that I had done where I discussed concept of Ubuntu or harmony which was used by leaders such as Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela. Ubuntu suggests that we all have not just a duty, but a link to each other that means we all either succeed or fail based on a collective sense of success of failure. This in turn echoed words whose origin I’m embarrassed to have forgotten but used to teach concerning the idea that while one man is weeping the happiness of millions counts for nothing.

I had always used that assembly and read those words and thought that as schools and teachers we were the vehicle that encouraged social responsibility and framed a sense of community. While wanting to make sure each and every one of my students could be as successful as possible I’d always stressed that they should determine what that success meant and wanted to make sure that each of them realised we could only get individual success through shared goals, ideals and virtues. Yet here I read that, “High socio-economic status and formal education are associated with a more individualistic orientation” and that the practices that reinforce this can even be seen to begin before birth. So not only are we leading kids in the wrong direction by having them in school in the first place but we couldn’t do anything about averting their journey to selfishness as it’s written in the stars – or at least the cultural norms – and when we move to the ecocultural approach, maternal behaviours. Seems Larkin has some basis in universal development.

Just to make sure we go full circle with this and get back to the 87 year old emeritus professor I’m going to draw on a question that I put to him that evening and the twenty minutes or so of one to one time I was lucky enough to get over dinner. Following an exchange with Tait Coles I asked Don Hirsch the following;

Some teachers in the UK feel that, as Bourdieu puts it education can lead to “cultural reproduction.” With this in mind what or where do you feel the source of our new core knowledge should be and how can we ensure a sense of pluralism in the search for it?

It was really good to see him respond to the question with the genuine excitement of someone that wants to discuss and debate ideas. The general perception of Hirsch is someone with a very specific and fixed approach and it was good to see these myths dispelled when he spoke of how he was frustrated by any side of a political spectrum trying to “own” what he had written and that political ideology was a block to learning. In response to the question of reproduction he said that he wasn’t going to argue that it didn’t but that reproduction was the first step to change, citing the Black Panthers as an example of a group that had a clear understanding of the language and the dominant culture of the day and who used this understanding in order to challenge orthodoxy.

When I shared this with Tait he asked about Ferguson or the Umbrella Revolution and whether or not there was a voice there. He asked if social media gave an alternative voice as opposed to simply replicating that already used by those in society with the power. Didn’t things like #blacklivesmatter or #icantbreathe suggest that other voices were being used and being heard?

I would have liked to be sharp enough to have followed up Hirsch’s answer with the Ferguson question and got his response but I’ll give what I think he might have said blended a bit with my own thoughts on social media. I’d imagine he’d maybe suggest that the lack of what was seen as an authoritative or legitimate voice was the reason for those lives being seen as less valuable than others in the first place and that had they been able at least to access – without necessarily being shaped by – the mainstream cultural knowledge or literacy then these situations wouldn’t have arisen. That if the black or other minority voice was given the same credence as others there wouldn’t be a need to go to twitter and other alternative forms. Now of course any right minded person would know that these voices and these lives are not less valid and that the suggestion would seem to be that they lose their own voice if they take the language of the oppressor to be given permission to enter the conversation. I’m not sure that Hirsch or anyone would disagree that there’s injustice there but perhaps we can protect the message even if we change the form of expression. His conversation seemed to suggest that far from any sense of acceptance of status quo or that hegemony was something to be strived for he was recognising the inequality and suggesting that the strategy to overcome it was to use the weapons and language of the oppressors to get in the room and make the changes. In the tent rather than outside of it.

Personally I’m not  incredibly convinced that hashtags etc. change a huge amount and wonder perhaps if the use of them gives more an appearance of a voice and potential for change than any genuine impact. There’s also a part of me that thinks governments and institutions are happy to allow these avenues for expression as they fulfil the speaker’s need to feel they are being listened to and affirmed – even with that affirmation coming from a group that are likely to share their views – while not having to genuinely engage and make any changes as a result. In examples of debate ranging from radio phone ins, to Question Time to the dispatch box those controlling the agenda will point out that the negative voices can be just that and offer nothing concrete while the positive ones are coherent, concrete and offer something that shows an understanding of the topic, the debate and crucially the rules of engagement. Whether there is a genuine intention on behalf of those in the position of power to listen or not, the nature of the opposition can too often provide an opportunity to dismiss it as those with the power were able to suggest that the arguments weren’t ones that warranted attention, response or credence because of the way in which they were framed or offered. I’d link this to twitter through things like twitter storms and hashtags etc or adding Nicky Morgan’s twitter handle at the end of a tweet to give yourself the impression and the solace that you’ve really stuck it to someone.

At this point another voice joins the conversation, that of Giles Barrow who I have mentioned in previous blogs (and whose piece on Educator as Cultivator you can and should  download from the same webpage) and along with Tait is someone who I thoroughly enjoy discussions with and again in a similar vein to my PuNk friend always energises me.

Through email exchanges Giles commented that he problem with social media is that despite having a permanent existence its very nature makes any influence transitory.

He went on to say that suppressed groups can’t rely on hashtags to change anything as it’s not seen as serious or sustainable and that those in power will wait for the wave to be crashed out by a subsequent one. As he put it, “ They may accommodate the language and format, but if there’s little direct relationship with power it remains ungrounded, separate from the landscape in which the subjugation takes place.” While there can be individuals that are affected or indeed hounded out by such action sustained systematic change has not been brought about by individuals tapping on gadgets in private. The reason for this he suggested was that reactive tapping doesn’t have to make a difference and if doesn’t equate to changes in democratic participation, targeted voting patterns and so on then the establishment are able to ignore it and re-frame it in the ways I’ve suggested above.

None of this means it’s not wrong that voices are subjugated, that alternative voices shouldn’t be heard, or that their language forms are wrong or less valid. It’s rather that they are easier to dismiss because they don’t conform to what’s expected and that it is harder to influence and change anything when those with the power can simply point to that difference as a reason not to listen and as a way to suggest illegitimacy. Seems that we need to use the accepted forms and the structures that exist in order to create a platform where we can provide some equality of voice – we knowingly reproduce it in order to revolutionise it.

And perhaps that was what Hirsch was saying and where we have to look to ensure that we don’t allow formal schooling to lead to the selfishness and individualism that Greenfield suggested. Just because we provide the same framework, the same knowledge and the same language of those in power to those without it doesn’t mean that they have to turn out the same. If as educators we want to reform and change an unfair society we must make those we care for aware of the world that they are in and what the rules of that game are. If we sit outside of that world pining for change and angrily shouting, while not seeing that we can effect change by being part of that and working from within, we are as responsible for the hegemony as those happily chuckling at a ranty twitter timeline.

Lots of Love




When you lay on awe on your bedroom floor…

So this post has taken some time to come. Delayed of course by all of the other stuff that gets in the way and becomes more important. I can remember a time when I used to traipse around Norwich in my clothes from Head in the Clouds with my cherry red DMs undone and my army surplus bag full of spare batteries for my Walkman and countless tapes that I would question anyone even daring to suggest that there was anything more important than music but along with a growing waistline and a developing vegetable patch these seem to the the things that age brings to us.

The other thing was of course choosing the music to include. Five songs? Seriously? Five? I’ve heard three from my iTunes library (give the 15 year old me with his pockets full of C90s and AA batteries a glance at that phenomenon!) since I started writing that I’d include but I have five. Not necessarily my favourite five songs or indeed artists – although there are some in there – but five that have been there as I’ve grown, shaped me or stood out, or just bring back memories of times, people and places. They’re in no order other than the one that they came out in when I decided, sitting on Peterborough station, to say sod it and commit to a list and here they come…

Re-Educating Rita by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine.

I love Carter. I mean bloody love them. As a teenager they just kicked arse. Such cleaver lyrics and fantastic music and they just seemed to really enjoy what they were doing. I also loved the fact that you could play quite a lot of the songs pretty easily and singalong loudly after a good few cans of lager on a playing field in Brundall. I have a picture, literally and figuratively of one of my very best friends Jon Cudby hanging out of a school minibus on a trip to Yorkshire swigging from a can of coke that we had filled with Skol on the way up (lots spilt on the floor of the minibus, lots of deodorant sprayed to cover it, lots of suffocation for the rest of the journey) and it encapsulates everything about what we felt at that time. We were going to change the world and along with The Wonder Stuff and The Levellers , Carter were the writers of our anthems. And still continue to be. I went with Jon to their last ever gig earlier this year and saw the faces of people all around me who still clung to the passion and the thrill of the lyrics, who still wanted to smoke tabs and swig beer and chant. Even if the words were tinged with the sad reality that since they were written they are still as relevant because things haven’t changed in the way we thought they would, and we haven’t changed the world. We’ve just got older. got jobs and mortgages and our muscles have waved a little white flag.

Revival by Martine Girault

I was once told (probably by Jon cos he was smart and stuff like that) that I had a musical collection that would baffle Freud. I still don’t know quite what that meant but it is pretty diverse and I suppose it’s because I have lots of different musical interests and influences. A lot of this came from how diverse my friends and their interests were. I’ve bored everyone to tears with my stories of being a public schoolboy and,” how its not like you think honest and all that” but I really liked the fact that there were so many different interests and styles and things there and that you could be quite different without getting a smack so along with Jon who would seemed to have a mantra that once more than about ten people had heard of a band he’d go off them (I’m exaggerating but his diverse interests meant he kicked arse at Mike Reid’s Pop Quiz) I had another great friend Steve Grimmer who supplied me with hip hop, rap, R n B and acid jazz. I could have picked some Loose Ends for this slot, or De La or Tribe called Quest or maybe ‘There’s Nothing Like This‘ by Omar, which I still have on twelve inch and just love the sound of when the crackle leads into the opening bass line. But this spot goes to Martine Girault who seems, as The Wedding Present say with, “I haven’t heard this song in years, It never fails to start the tears,” (but thats Hobart Paving by St Etienne and a whole other world and blog post!) never fails to bring up memories of Great Yarmouth in the summer and hanging out by the arcades, playing Quasar and pretending to be basketball stars on the car park Steve worked in. This summer featured the dawn of the McFlurry with hot toffee sauce, biking down Regent Road to a seafront with killer hot dogs and a Radio One roadshow featuring East 17 and the Manic Street Preachers – both of whom seemed to be parody acts at the time   – and who wouldn’t want echoes of that?

Jerusalem by Billy Bragg (sort of!)

I think that Jerusalem encapsulates one of those inherent contradictions in life. Sung as a rugby anthem, the hymn of choice by many a public school (including mine) and yet written as a call to arms by a socialist who was basically saying no the lamb of God was not bloody seen wandering around England. It could be but you’ve got to do something about it and make it worthwhile. When Children in Need or Red Nose Day rolls around I always come off grumpy in the eyes of the kids by suggesting that these events are an indication not of how fantastic we are as a country, but rather that we are messed up to the point that we need these events to make a difference to people we should care about and look after as a matter of course. Not just as way to ease the conscience of businessmen who chuck in some cash and we can all look up to while they drive Ferraris around the countryside with Chris Evans or take Natasha Kaplinksi out for dinner. Blake had this nailed centuries ago with Holy Thursday, when the rich took the children from the poorhouse for a day and paraded them to show how generous they were in dressing them up but obscuring the rest of the year. £30 million to charity is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but it’s about 50p per population head once or twice a year and if we all drank a pint less we could quadruple that on a weekly basis or even more and remove the need for Lenny Henry – a plus in itself surely?

I’ve chosen Billy’s version though because he has been instrumental in shaping my sense of music and identity for a long time and not least recently when it was my detracting from my current boss that led her to tell me to clear off and listen to my Bragg albums or come and see her and be part of something. I’ve always struggled with the idea of a national identity and get regular grief from friends for clinging to my Irish heritage (“How can you be bloody Irish, you were born in Great Yarmouth?!”) during the same rugby matches where I have to point out the origins of what they are singing – and that’s without getting near ‘Swing Low’. I suppose I’ve always just been uncomfortable with the darker sides of patriotism that seem to go alongside a celebration of being English. Clinging to a notion of Empire that the Waterboys had spot on with ‘ Old England’ and it’s “heroine eyes,” a nation that turns against you for sounding, looking, or acting different, a country that fails to recognise that it’s stronger and more beautiful because of the influences and nationalities that have visited its shores. A nation that to paraphrase Billy, and in turn, Kipling talk of an England and only England know. But reading Billy’s autobiography as part of my own search for belonging has made me feel that there can be a new patriotism. a progressive patriotism with no place for nationalism and segregation, but a place of celebration and integration, where the white keys and the black keys come together to make beautiful music (thanks Mr Agard). and we recognise that we’re all half English just like morris dancing, Morrissey and our patron saint. I think it’s some way off and I’m still the descendent of immigrants in the, “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish” era so I’ll always be sceptical but I’d get behind a St George’s Day celebration with that at it’s heart.

I also wonder what Billy (in some ways along with my friend Giles Barrow some sort of a conscience for me) would make of me and my role in a free school and as part of an academy trust. I like to think that he’d recognise, as someone that said he always saw that you could affect more change from within the system and trying to bring about change that way. that that’s what I want my work to be and that we won’t reform education by burying our heads and ignoring the changes or just shouting without taking real action to exercise our influence but I do equally think he might look at me and worry that I’ve, “turned from red to blue.”

Wednesday Morning 3 am by Simon and Garfunkel

“Talent Borrows, Genius Steals.” The Smiths nicked that from Oscar Wilde and while I haven’t stolen the influence of Simon and Garfunkel from Billy Bragg (he was 21 years when he nicked that song!) I was certainly buoyed and felt a sense of kinship when I read about his passion for them. This particular song stands out for me because of the back of the record cover that talks about the revolutionary spirt that they felt when writing their music and how they weren’t understood by those around them. Seems funny for a couple of folk musicians but Carter were folk musicians (and I’m sure Jim Bob is as much of a fan and a filthy half incher of ideas from Paul and Art as Billy – The Only Living Boy in where…?) and they caused a stir – at least in me and my contemporaries, and for more than knocking Schofield over (3.30 but you should really listen to the song)!

The record cover sticks in my memory because I remember reading it to my mum after dad had told me off for playing music so loud and making a racket with my guitar and asking why, in my misunderstood just expressing myself teenage way, they who had bought these records could own them and not understand what I was trying to express by playing Carter’s cover of This is how it Feels at top volume. Man. I was of course being an absolute dick and probably would have been quoting Larkin if I was that well read at that age and now look back as embarrassed as I would have been for having an acoustic guitar and thinking that it made me a protest singer! More recently with dad having his cancer diagnosis and taking him to chemo appointments Silver Haired Daddy has more resonance and reinforces what an absolute pain in the arse I was but this has better words and plus I can play it on the same guitar I have that he grabbed from me and threw down the stairs when I was once more terrorising the house with it. Wish he’d done it with that bloody violin I experimented with for a bit.

This Night has Opened My Eyes by The Smiths

Come on, you were waiting for Morrissey to turn up from the second you started reading. All along there were hints and allegations but this is where we’ve ended up. As I said at the start these aren’t my favourite songs or even my favourite songs by the artists in question but they are songs that stand out for me. ‘Hatful of Hollow‘ (that moment when ‘William…’ kicks in… oh my god) will always be my favourite Smiths album, not because I think it’s the best (‘Meat is Murder‘ takes that spot my friends) but because it was the first I heard and it opened my ears as well as my eyes. I remember taking it out of Great Yarmouth library (imagine borrowing records from a library! Imagine libraries…)  and putting the needle on the record player that was under the stairs at home and hearing Johnny Marr’s guitar and Morrissey’s voice for the first time and having a feeling that I won’t try to put into words but anyone who had a heart would recognise and share. As soon as I played it I knew that the band would be part of who I was for years to come and now they sit there in my list of longest relationships (1. Mum and Dad, 2. Best friend Al, 3. Brother James, Barber Steve, 4. The Smiths, 5. My wife ) and one that I can’t see coming to an end at any time soon. You know those bands who when you hear a record you feel entranced, the world moves in slow mo and you have to stop everything else and listen? That’s The Smiths every time for me and ‘This Night…’ was the song that I remember listening to on my Walkman in the back of the car on the tape I’d recorded the record on after borrowing it (don’t judge me you all did it!) and driving through town in the dark knowing that in the world there were people that felt the same as me and I always had somewhere to go and someone to talk to.

So that’s it. My five. Like I said not necessarily my top five and not necessarily the five I’d come to next week or next month. I might include The Milton Brothers that I used as my first tab when it was my turn to teach Guitar Club a song, I might go for some Wedding Present that I first had played to me by a boy a couple of years above in the room you had to go to if you weren’t doing games or Don’t You Forget About Me that was played at the party I got invited to as a result of being there. I would probably include the Leonard Cohen song that I still listen to on cassette to hear the point where the tape got caught up and both I and my friend Darren launched out of our freezing caravan bedrooms into the kitchen heated and lit by the gas cooker we had left on for warmth and saved the tape from being destroyed by the cheap radio we had for entertainment. My mum would wonder where U2 (or The Lads as she calls them) had gone. But this is where I am today, this is the account I’ve dragged together on a seven hour journey from finishing delivering training in Bradford to my current position about fifteen minutes from Great Yarmouth where my wife, a beautiful song all of her own, is waiting to pick me up.

And yeah, I cheated but whatcha gonna do?!

Lots of Love


When I get tired and feeling blue …

This is the latest in a set of posts about setting up my new school, Trafalgar College. You can see the first two here and here! We are now open for applications which if by some strange twist of fate applies to you then you can do that here


This post deals with our summer activities which was the first time since the application for the school was approved that we’ve gone out there and invited people to be part of Trafalgar. Read on to see how it went …

There are all sorts of unknowns when it comes to opening a new school – at the time of writing one of those is still where we will be building it – but a key factor is of course whether we will get the numbers of students we need to make the school viable. Have we matched our vision for the new school to that of the community? Will we have a fantastic new building, have recruited amazing staff to work in it, designed a curriculum and approach to teaching and learning and yet have nobody to fill the place, be taught by the staff and learn? Put simply – if we build it, will they come?

This was in our minds when we were designing our summer activities. After the initial bid writing and the contact with prospective students, parents and wider community groups that went with it this was the first time that Trafalgar College was going to be putting itself out there and seeing what people thought. The first concrete event that we would be involved in. The first time we had dipped more than a prospective toe in the educational waters of Great Yarmouth.

The first job was to pick a range of activities that we thought would appeal while at the same time making sure that these weren’t just a way to fill some days and occupy some time for the children. We needed things that would be more interesting than X Boxes and TV shows but still gave an opportunity to learn new things and develop new skills. Surrounded by long standing attractions like the Pleasure Beach and the Sea Life Centre (as well as the plethora of arcades where I spent too much of my early years) this wasn’t going to be easy.

We aimed for a blend. Day one would feature some scientific work; exploring chemistry, biology and physics, looking at the effects of fulcrums, studying chromatography and dissecting plants. In the future this would be something we could have Trafalgar staff lead but currently we are only three in number (Principal, Vice Principal and PA support) none of whom are scientists so we enlisted a company called Zebra Science for this.

The afternoon was turned over to cooking. Now I like to cook but that’s not the same as being able to develop these skills in others or operate school kitchens so we looked to a local contact – to be precise my local – and drafted in the Eastern Daily Press Chef of the Year Mark Dixon who runs the  fantastic restaurant at the Kings Arms in Fleggburgh. Mark gave us his time for free so I’m more than happy to try and repay him in some way by suggesting that anyone who reads this and finds themselves in the Great Yarmouth area should definitely try his menu! Mark took the students through the process of making a healthy vegetable soup and then some (maybe a tad less healthy but devoured more readily) cookies for decoration. We’re yet to hear how many have taken their newly found chopping skills into the family kitchens but a number of parents were delighted to hear that they could be getting some help with Sunday lunches in the future!

Day two was over to me. Designing a new super hero and then building comic strips featuring their new characters. Our elaborate plans for doing these online were set back a little when we discovered that both of the websites we would need were blocked by the filters in the school we were basing ourselves in for the second day. As teachers we always need to have that back up plan and to innovate, sometimes on the spot, so we decided that having designed the new hero or villain and come up with a back story and ideas for their comic strip we would get the children to pose for the pictures that would make up the strip and then add captions, effects, speech bubbles and so on. You can see the results of some of these on our website and our twitter feed has pictures of the children as they designed and posed for these comic strips and posters of their super hero as well as other highlights from the three days.

As well as children, on the third day we needed one other thing – sun.  Luckily it was a glorious day. In fact I should say it is a glorious day as am currently sitting here watching our summer school participants playing cricket in the playground with just the right balance between sunshine and shade for a good day and somewhere to chill out in between sessions. In total there are six sports lined up, all taught by a superb instructor from Set Your Sights who has a great way with students and has dealt well with the demands from the boys to make each activity them versus the girls as well as making it quite clear that it’s not all about football!

So. I said at the outset that the big gamble was whether or not people would come at all. As a school we don’t exist yet and despite having links with three primary schools in the town (which proved a godsend when arranging venues to host the days) we couldn’t guarantee on these generating enough interest alone, and we are also keen to work across the whole town not just those students and families with whom we already have a relationship. We need’t have worried though. 900 signatures of support for our application should have reassured us that the numbers would be strong and in the end we attracted around three times the number of students that have attended other similar days or activities for new schools we have experience of.

We had wanted a blend of activities and what we were also hopeful for was a blend of children. That the summer activities would be an opportunity for them to develop new skills but also develop relationships and work with students aside from their usual peers and friendship groups. To be a microcosm of the community that we want to create at Trafalgar College. A place that itself will be a microcosm of the town, where there are a plethora of different socio economic, aspirational and ethnic groups, and a place where we are determined to bring everyone together so that each individual thrives and succeeds as part of a collective whole. And this was what we got.

It has been fantastic to see every student get thoroughly stuck in to what was offered; from peeling onions, to dissecting flowers, to posing for photographs and playing dodgeball and we have had some fantastic comments both from the children themselves and their parents. However, it has been seeing how they have quickly joined together in a supportive community group that has been the real plus of being involved this week and bodes well for the positive, vibrant school that Trafalgar College will become.


Lots of Love


10 Research Based Principles of Instruction for Teachers

Really succinct and accessible

Belmont Teach

I recently read an American Educator article from 2012 by Barak Rosenshine that set out 10 principles of instruction informed by research, with subsequent suggestions for implementing them in the classroom. It was also one of the articles cited in the “What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research” by Rob Coe et al and provided further elaboration on one of their six components of great teaching thought to have strong evidence of impact on student outcomes, i.e. quality of instruction.

Here’s my summary of the key messages from each of the 10 principles.

1: Begin with a short review of prior learning


Students in experimental classes where daily review was used had higher achievement scores. A 5-8 minute review of prior learning was said to strengthen connections between material learned and improve recall so that it became effortless and automatic, thus freeing up working memory.

Daily review could…

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