Review of ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ and ‘The Storyteller’


Help! My child hates reading

In my professional role I often come across children who say they ‘hate’ reading. In this video I discuss some of the reasons behind this feeling and what you can do as parents and to help your reluctant reader become an avid reader.

The one about the menopause – when Agnus Castus is not enough…

For nearly ten years now Agnus Castus has been all I needed to deal with the various symptoms of PMT, but now the dreaded change is upon me and the hot flushes and low mood sent me on a search for a solution. Check out what I did on my new Youtube channel:

Making all children wear trousers is not a gender neutral uniform policy

Piers Morgan criticises Lewes school’s gender neutral uniform – BBC news


although I don’t agree with Piers Morgan’s reason for finding the Priory school’s uniform policy absurd. It do agree this school has still got it very wrong. Is this really an attempt at a gender neutral school uniform policy, or rather is it a blunt tool to cover up female flesh to avoid addressing/ acknowledging the objectifying attitudes to women that continue to proliferate in society?

Priory School in Lewes said it made the change after concerns were raised over the length of skirts worn by pupils.


Examine the pictures produced by the school and ask yourself if it obvious which figures are boys and which are girls?

Of course it feckin’ is! The boys have trousers with a smart crease down the front. The girls have slimmer, figure hugging trousers. The girls wear ballet shoes, the boys big chunky shoes (this school is so behind the times, ballet shoes are so yesterday, DMs are where it is at for boys and girls and those who identify as a third gender, intersex or no gender). The girls have long hair, the boys short. The girls pose in a way that accentuates their little delicate, weak hands. The boys ram rod straight, their big, strong hands behind their backs or straight down their sides (a physical manifestation of holding it all in, even those really useful emotions of fear and regret and sorrow).

Gender neutral clothing means boys and girls and those who identify as a third gender, intersex, or no gender wear whatever uniform that they feel ‘right’ in be that a skirt, trousers, shorts or a dress; and that the school rules are applied equally to all. Better still, scrap uniform altogether and instead develop a set of guidelines applicable to all that ensure safety and fairness such as, no heels, no obvious branding logos etc.

What gender neutral clothing is not about is covering up flesh and stifling individual expression by making everyone the same. So although Piers Morgan’s objection is coming from a quaint, but frankly last century Chauvinism (yawn), I do get his discomfort and I strongly urge Priory Academy to have a rethink and engage with their student body – who will already have the solution – and roll out a gender neutral uniform policy that really is what it says it is.

Becoming and Educational Psychologist: Part 4

Effort grade

As promised for those who are interested in my research, here is a link to a Prezi summarising the findings.

With only a few months to go until I complete the doctorate, it is time to thank all those people that helped me to get there.

My thanks to Dr Juliet S., my thesis tutor, for her unequivocal enthusiasm for all things growth mindset and her encouragement and sage advice when at times it all felt a bit too overwhelming. Thank you for containing me and my ideas so they could be realised.

A big thank you to Dr Dino for your no nonsense statistical advice and answering my many, and at times, rather confusing questions. Thanks to my placement supervisor, Dr Clare, who kept me grounded through many a supervision session and always showed a positive interest in my research, helped me to share it among my colleagues, and saw its potential in changing practice in our schools.

Thank you to all my colleagues on the course who must have got pretty tired of hearing about process praise and growth mindset, but nevertheless always listened and offered fresh and useful perspectives on what I was hoping to achieve. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.

Thank you to my parents, children and friends who understood when I didn’t want to talk about how it was going and always reminded me of the end goal and how proud they are of me.

A very special thank you to my husband, John, who – faced with my ambitious data collection strategy – brought expertise and calm to what seemed like an impossible task, from developing the smartest, leanest database possible for inputting data, to spending hours clicking boxes in said database every evening and weekend for months on end. You have no idea how much your practical support, belief in me, willingness to listen carefully, and offer insight into my idea from its early inception to its completion have helped me to produce something I am really proud of. I am really lucky to have you in my life.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of the three schools in my placement authority who agreed to give this intervention, and me, a go. To the teachers and teaching assistants who had the task of getting in excess of five hundred pupils to complete the questionnaire, twice. To the pupils for completing the questionnaires with such thought and at times remarkable creativity. To the participating teachers who embraced their golf counters, filled out the google form every day for four weeks, and allowed me into their classrooms to observe their maths lessons; and to the senior leaders who provided me the opportunity to work with their teachers in a year of immense upheaval in the primary curriculum. Your contribution has been incredible.

A Grammar school system I would buy into


If we think it makes sense to take the top 25% of pupils at aged 11 and put them into a school just for them so they can reach their potential unhindered by those who learn more slowly, then why don’t we think it makes sense to take the bottom 25% and put them into a school just for them so they can reach their potential unhindered by those who learn more quickly?

If we are to return to a period of educational segregation then let’s make sure all the best teachers and resources are in the schools for the bottom 25%.

If the bottom 25% were given all the advantages of a grammar school with a curriculum tailored to play to their learning strengths such as strong visual memory, creative and practical skills, just think of the impact on crime, employment and mental health.

The IQ test (on which 11+ is based) was designed to identify children who were significantly behind their peers on academic performance (in the bottom 2% of the population) so they could be offered tailored, specific support to enable them to catch up and fulfil their potential. Instead we use it to identify the children who are likely to achieve well in whatever school they attend.

So I say YES! to a grammar school system that gives the bottom 25% the belief that they are special and worth investing in. The other 75% will do just fine in a mixed ability comprehensive. Won’t they?

Of course, if this really were the grammar school system then children would need to be tutored to fail and it would be patently ridiculous to encourage academic failure, yet the grammar school system the Conservative government would like to resurrect does exactly that.

Branding 75% of 11 year olds as failures will hardly encourage success.

Author note: I am firmly for inclusion for all children – schools that value all pupils and adapt the curriculum and setting to accommodate all learners, tend to develop caring and nurturing pupils who understand that everyone has strengths and everyone finds some stuff difficult.

Politics: Falling for Jeremy

Dearest Jeremy,

It wasn’t love at first sight, more like a cigarette end down the back of the settee*  that smouldered unnoticed for many long hours through the dark night of the Brexit campaign. By dawn, the seat was alight, but even then I could have put it out with a bucket of cold water. However, the flames were fanned by the whoosh of resigning MPs until they caught the flapping curtains and before I knew it the wallpaper was on fire and my bucket of water was as much use as the Parliamentary Labour Party.

(*Damned EU bureaucracy ruining this analogy with their meddling and insistence settees are made of fire retardant materials.)

I tried closing all the doors and windows, denying my new found love of oxygen, but doors and windows have gaps and I live in an old and creaking house with floorboards.

Loving you is far from easy. My friends, family and mainstream media think you are a bad influence and that I have been brainwashed. They think I am fantasist with limited self-control*, that I have been caught up in a tsunami of the lefty unwashed* and that you, like Charles Manson*, expect cultish devotion*.

(*comments made by the Guardian and some of its readers – )

They criticise you for wearing sandals and having the charisma of an ageing labrador* and they think if they point at these faults I will return to my senses. They’ve even tried setting me up on a blind date with a man called Owen who says the same things as you while wearing a crisp white shirt with his sleeves rolled up.

(* the headline of a piece in the Independent recently

But as long as you wear those sandals without socks and try not to slobber on me I’d still choose you over Owen.

What they don’t realise is I don’t care how you look, or how you sound, although whispering dirty socialist slogans in my ear does send me all a quiver. It’s the fact you live what you say. You believe what you speak and you refuse to evade questions, however loaded they maybe.

Before I met you I was labelled as an idealist as if it were a dirty word. Now, because of you, I know that I am democratic socialist and that I am not alone in believing that there is a better way, one that respects everybody and not just those who have a ruthless streak, inherited power, intellect or money.

Because of you I have learnt about our political history, how neoliberalism was heralded as the end to our ills, but didn’t deliver. How democratic socialism is not a return to the past but a recognition that market forces alone cannot protect the disabled, the poor and ill because some things are not about profit, but about humanity.

It’s funny how others think I have become a blind follower when my eyes have been opened wider than they have ever been before.

However, I feel I must be very clear with you Jeremy. It is your ideas that I am in love with and the fact that despite your age, you remain optimistic about the nature of people, and that you still believe – after years of being ridiculed and misrepresented – that people can be better, do better, and care for one another regardless of differences between them.

If your ideas turn out to be hot air, spin and flim flam just to win my vote, I will dump you quicker than Farage’s escape from Brexit.

Yours adoringly but conditionally,


Politics: Who knew I was a democratic socialist?

“As a member, you’ll be a key part of the team. You’ll be eligible to vote in leadership elections, you can help shape party policy, you can attend local meetings and you can even stand as a candidate.” Labour website (prior to 13th July 2016)

On the 3rd July I joined the Labour party. I joined because I wanted to have a say in a potential leadership election because since Corbyn won the leadership election in September 2015 I have found myself agreeing with much of what he proposes such as protecting the NHS from further privatisation, re-nationalising the railways and, most importantly of all, investing in local infrastructure projects as an alternative to austerity.

On the 13th July following the NEC ruling on the leadership ballot, the first part of the second sentence in the above quote was removed and I was barred from voting. That decision led me on a quest to understand why my vote was so unwelcome and why I was branded in the press as ‘thug’, ‘blind follower’ and a ‘Corbynista’ (which sounds like I work in corporate coffee chain), when all I wanted to do was choose the best person to make sure these policies I so agreed with would actually have a chance of happening.

What follows is my understanding of why Jeremy Corbyn is the only person who should lead the party in to the next General Election, but also why, with Corbyn as leader, the party is unlikely to win.

Who knew I was a democratic socialist – I certainly didn’t because the Labour party I voted for in 1997 was neoliberal, which according to Wiki is about “reducing state influence on the economy, especially through privatisation and austerity”.  As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, I have no memory of a Labour Party with actual left wing policies. By the time I was old enough to vote and sufficiently interested enough to engage, ‘New Labour’ was all there was.

And since then New Labour has been all there is. I now realise that in 1997 all I did was vote for one neoliberal party to replace another. During their time in power, Labour continued to shrink the state through privatisation and it was they who introduced austerity measures widening even further the inequalities in British Society. When the coalition took power in 2010 all they had to do was continue on the same path.

My political apathy suddenly made sense. Since I have been old enough to engage in politics I have known no other political ideology than neoliberalism.

Until now.

I joined the party less than a month ago and have become politically active in a way that is frankly scary to my husband. He is confused, bemused and, I am sure, wonders if I have somehow slipped between the many worlds of the multiverse and become entangled with a near version of myself – a version that watches Newsnight and listens to Radio 4 political debates, although, to his dismay, this version still does not like football.

Frankly I have scared myself a bit. It is not usual behaviour for me to walk into a supermarket and circle the newspaper carousel like a demented budgie to compare the reporting of news on Corbyn in ‘supposedly’ Left and Right wing press (at least they all agree for once). It is not usual behaviour for me to click on the ‘politics’ tab on the BBC site before I click on the ‘entertainment’ tab. In fact I never clicked on the ‘politics’ tab at all if I am being honest.

Jeremy Corybn does not represent the current ideological view of the majority of the Labour party MPs because despite its tag line of ‘democratic socialist party’ (which appears on the back of Labour membership cards), it hasn’t been a democratic socialist party since its crushing defeat in the general election of 1983.

I can see therefore why Labour MPs want rid of Corbyn because they want to win the next general election. Under Corbyn that will be a tall order because in order for them to win the next general election a paradigm shift will be required and those sort of things don’t happen overnight.

“When enough significant anomalies have accrued against a current paradigm (neo-liberalism has not lead to a fairer society, inequality is growing and social mobility has slowed), the scientific discipline (for scientific read political) is thrown into a state of crisis.

“During this crisis, new ideas, perhaps ones previously discarded, are tried (hence the constant referral to the 1950’s and 60’s socialism in the press). Eventually a new paradigm is formed, which gains its own new followers (Momentum movement), and an intellectual “battle” takes place between the followers of the new paradigm and the hold-outs of the old paradigm.”

So the Labour party is experiencing a crisis of ideology. Neoliberalism has so obviously failed the vast majority of British people (the oft quoted 99%), but MPs know that if they move towards democratic socialism then it could take years for the electorate to accept this new paradigm and therefore they are unlikely to win the 2020 election.

But do you know what? I accept that fact. I’d rather have a true alternative to neoliberalism in opposition rather than a dose of the same in power in four years’ time. It will take time to show how democratic socialism can reduce some of the excesses of neoliberalist ideology. But right now the party is paralysed by in-fighting and consequently the Conservative government is getting away with some of the worst excesses of free market capitalism – while stirring up racial hatred through its focus on immigration targets to keep the ‘masses’ divided and ineffective.

It is not about whether Jeremy Corbyn is more or less electable than Owen Smith. It is about whether the Labour party is going to embrace its new members, fledgling democratic socialists like me, or stick with the old neoliberal policies.

Whatever it decides, my political awakening cannot be unwoken (although I am glad MPs can un-resign).

Becoming an Educational Psychologist: Part three

A big part of the training involves carrying out a piece of research called the thesis. A thesis is a dissertation advancing an original point of view as a result of research. This is an 18 month long process and I am about halfway through.

Friends sometimes ask me what my thesis is about and I have usually drunk alcohol by then and I am not always coherent in my response. So I thought I would ask myself some questions while sober and attempt to answer them, so next time I am asked I can text them the link and carrying on quaffing my wine.

What is your thesis about?

Getting teachers to increase the use of process praise in maths lessons.


To see if the increase in process praise leads to children’s beliefs about maths intelligence to change and for their effort to increase.

What is process praise?

Process praise is praise that specifies what it is for and is directed at a particular individual or defined group of individuals. It focuses on the effort and strategies employed (mastery goals) rather than the end result (performance goals).

For example:

Focusing on a maths skill: Well done, Maya, for using an equals sign to show they are equivalent.

Focusing on an interpersonal skill: I am impressed with the way you worked with your partner to solve the problem, Raj.

Focusing on the process of learning: Good effort, Rachel, you worked hard even though you found it difficult.

What do you mean by children’s beliefs about maths?

According to Carol Dweck, children have one of two mindsets about maths (and everything else).

Fixed – maths intelligence is fixed from birth you either can or you can’t do maths.


Growth – maths intelligence is malleable and can grow with effort.

What sort of praise do teachers’ usually give if it is not process praise?

Lots of general praise such as ‘well done’ or ‘brilliant’ which is fine, but doesn’t tell the child what they have done well.

Also some person praise such as ‘good girl’ or ‘clever boy’ or ‘you are a natural’, which research has shown can actually been damaging as it may reinforce the belief that trying hard and practising means you are not clever, and that people who are good at something don’t have to practice.

Will giving process praise change the mindset of children from fixed to growth?

Previous research has shown that children exposed to process praise, ‘good effort, you must have worked hard’, are more likely to choose a more challenging task when offered a choice between the same level of difficulty or a harder problem than those who were praised for being clever, ‘well done you must be really smart’. However, this research was not conducted in real classrooms, rather it was an experimental set up. My research takes this idea and applies it in classrooms of children aged 9-11 years to see if it can change the child’s mindset in maths.

Why does mindset matter?

Children with a growth mindset have been found to make better progress in secondary school than those with a fixed mindset particular in maths. However, it is not clear how children develop this mindset and what works to change it.

What is your research aiming to prove?

I am not aiming to prove anything rather test a hypothesis generated from previous research findings. I want to know if getting teachers to increase their use of process praise in maths has an impact on those children’s beliefs about maths intelligence. I also want to know if this type of praise changes the children’s effort (measured by the teacher).

How will you know if the childrens mindset has changed as a result of teachers using process praise?

Because before I trained the teachers how to give process praise, I asked the children to complete a questionnaire which identifies the mindset they hold in maths. I then got the children to complete this questionnaire again after 4 weeks of process praise. I also asked another school to carry out the same questionnaire before and after the process praise intervention, however they didn’t get the training so the teachers carried on as normal (they will get the training, but after the data is collected).

This means there are two ways I can show if it worked or not. By comparing the childrens scores on the questionnaire before and after they received process praise, and by comparing the scores of children who did and didn’t receive the process praise.

I also got the teachers to give and effort grade for the children in maths before and after the process praise intervention.

So if you do find it has worked what does it mean?

It means there is a cost-effective and relatively easy to implement intervention, which will improve children’s effort in maths by changing their beliefs about maths intelligence, which may increase attainment (bearing in mind other factors such as quality of teaching, pupil absence).

And if you don’t?

I will mine the data until I do. No, I will obviously look very closely at what the data is saying and from that devise further hypotheses to test – for example if there is a small difference then I might consider if changing only one thing in the classroom is enough to promote a growth mindset when other factors do not change? e.g. setting in maths (which if not flexible can transmit a powerful fixed mindset message).

Or if there is no difference at all, do we need to tell the children about mindsets (share the psychology) in order for them to benefit from the praise messages? If so, what does that mean? Are we really changing their mindset or merely giving them the answers to the questionnaire? What about parents mindsets and wider staff in a school like lunchtime supervisors or after school club staff? What needs to be in place to foster a growth mindset in all children?

What are your best hopes?

That my data will show not only a statistical difference between the control group and intervention group, but also that the effect size will demonstrate a meaningful difference in terms of affecting actual outcomes like attainment.

Which means?

It works. By teachers adopting process praise in maths lessons and using it regularly, children begin to put in more effort and believe they can learn. This makes them feel good. The teachers feel good. And the added bonus is they achieve their earlier potential in maths, which for many children is not the case.

Give me a 30 second soundbite. What is the take home message?

You cannot over-praise a child, but if you use a lot of person praise such as ‘clever girl’ or ‘you are a natural’ this can demotivate the child and lead them to avoid challenge because they perceive ‘effort’ as meaning they are not clever. Praise the learning that they did, not the outcome. Also, introduce the word ‘yet’. Every time your child says ‘I can’t do that’ you add ‘yet’.

If you want to know more about Carol Dweck’s theory of how praise impacts on children’s theory of intelligence click here for a Prezi I put together with an embedded video of the experiment my thesis is based on.

And if you got to the end of this post without falling asleep. I appreciate the effort. Thank you.

And John, if you get this far. Thank you so very much for all you are doing. Outstanding effort! xxx

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My views on Teaching & Education

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Stuff about politics, faith, and the world in general, flung straight out of my head and into the blogosphere's deepest obscurity

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