Category Archives: Education

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.

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

Becoming an Educational Psychologist: Part Two ~ making excuses?

I always believed my inability to take an unwavering position on something was a weakness of my character, something to be a little ashamed of. My compulsion to always see a situation from multiple viewpoints made me insubstantial and ineffective. My need to find ‘excuses’ for a child’s behaviour meant I was deficient in some way as a teacher. That I was too soft. A lefty-liberal responsible for the ‘decline’ in standards both moral and educational in today’s youth. I admired people who, despite persuasive opposition, stuck to their position.

A fence sitter lacking in the conviction of my own thoughts. A FenceSitterchameleon switching sides in an argument. Why couldn’t I just decide on one thing and STOP making excuses!

Take the issue of inclusion; on the one side you have those who believe children with learning disabilities should attend special schools and units, on the other, those who believe all children should be educated together (the environment shaped to the particular needs of the child). While I am unashamedly of the belief that where at all possible children should be educated in the same setting, I can also understand why, in some cases, e.g. challenging behaviour or profound multiple learning needs, a child would be better served in a specialist setting.

Roll forward seven months and term two of my first year as a doctoral student in Child and Educational Psychology. At last, my way of thinking (or naïve idealism as one line manager patronisingly affectionately called it when I was a teacher) has been given not only credibility but a framework in which to develop further. Now I am actively encouraged (expected) to consider as many ‘excuses’ as possible, except ‘excuses’ are not called excuses but problem dimensions – which are developed through testing hypotheses uses various tools (e.g. classroom observation).

A child or young person’s behaviour (however bad) is likely to be a response (albeit maladaptive) to internal and external factors over which they feel they have little control.

Am I weak in character, insubstantial and ineffective, or am I the exact opposite?

When a child presents with behavioural issues and the school and parents are at the end of their tether, locked into an explanation that absolves responsibility and holds the child in a permanent state of dysfunction, my ability to use psychological theory to explore potential reasons for this behaviour, offers a way forward, a route map to a better future. While it may be ‘true’ the child has a diagnosis of autism, dyslexia, or ADHD etc. This ‘diagnosis’ is not the reason for their aggressive/self-harming/distressed/defiant behaviour, rather it is an explanation as to why they may find learning/peer friendships/social situations more difficult to negotiate than other children. The diagnosis which many teachers and parents cling to as if it were the answer is in fact a dead end (unchangeable and consequently disempowering). The role of the EP is not to label to the child, but to focus on the aspects of the situation that can be changed and to empower those around the child to make that change happen. For example a child with autism may have difficulty making friends, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want friends (all human beings desire/seek connections with others). However a child with autism may need explicit and concrete help to make friends and the people/systems around them may need help to provide and deliver the best interventions to close this gap.

Taking the child’s perspective. Seeing the world through their eyes is a skill that educational psychologists must possess in order to be effective practitioners and actually make a difference to the lives of children, young people and their families.

There is nothing quite like finding a career where how you think and what you value fits like a round peg in a round hole. It is like I have come home, and, as it turns out, there was nothing wrong with my thinking in the first place, only my career choice.

Are you in a career/ lifestyle that chimes with who you really are? Or do you have supress who you really are to fit in? Please share your experiences. I would love to hear from you.

On teaching: Why I am quitting after fourteen years

Dear Mr Gove,

Like many other highly qualified and experienced teachers, I am quitting the profession. I can no longer work in a system which pretends to be inclusive while widening the gap between rich and poor; places no value on the arts subjects; treats its teachers like naughty children who need constant monitoring; makes changes to courses, content and assessments with little regard to evidence; and reduces children to target grades. Although I am leaving to pursue a career in Educational Psychology, the timing of my leaving is no coincidence.

I really don’t get what you are doing? I don’t understand why you believe breaking up the collective strength of Local Authorities and encouraging schools to open in unsuitable buildings with unqualified staff is the right way forward? I don’t understand why certain subjects are being elevated above others? Schools are not training camps for the Corporations. Are they?

Schools should be where minds are opened and critical questions formed. Where literature, art, dance and film are celebrated and our future actors, writers, directors and choreographers are nurtured. That’s what I signed up for. To share my passion for my subject and foster a curiosity and desire to learn that extends well beyond the school years. Teaching is so much more than just knowing your stuff. I have spent fourteen years developing expertise in how we learn.  I am at my peak in terms of experience and mastery, but I must redirect this expertise into a new career in order to regain my autonomy.

The reality is I am impotent in the face of damaging policies that are leaving students stressed and disillusioned. I am sick of having to positively spin changes to assessments and courses to keep the students motivated. I am sickened by the media frenzy every August that grows ever more hateful, fuelled by a government that accuses teachers of cheating and manipulating results and belittles the hard work of our students. I am sick of the constant monitoring and grading of lessons that has crept into every school. I am sick of ever moving goalposts, attacks on my professionalism (and the impact that has on my relationship with parents and students). I am sick of the vitriol.

I never thought I would want to leave teaching. The very first day I entered the classroom I knew I had found my calling, my place, my home. I have loved being a teacher. I am teacher; it runs through my core like a stick of rock.  But I can no longer be a teacher.

My profession, full of dedicated people who go the extra mile, is being trashed on a daily basis. Each morning I hear another news story in which teachers are exam cheats, lazy, militant, uncaring, in it for the holidays, the pay, the pension, unfit to do anything else, whinging tax burdens. The school I was once loved to arrive at each morning has changed. Learning walks, monitoring visits, work sampling, quality assurance observations, performance management observations and mocksted’s are stifling creativity, experimentation and fun.

The constant changes to how we teach and what we teach, to appease a baby boomer electorate (with rose-tinted glasses of a 1950’s idyll that never existed), heap on more and more pressure. The progressive attitudes such as modular exams, which level the playing field and give students a chance to build their knowledge and skills incrementally, as is the case in the real world, are gone. Despite the media hype, more and more young people are leaving school with qualifications and permanent exclusion is at an all-time low. Compare that to the ‘golden era’ of 1950’s education, which you seem so fond of invoking,

[when] the school system did not do particularly well by the great majority of those born in 1958, leaving them with few qualifications and putting them at a considerable disadvantage in earning power.

Unlike your empty rhetoric, the The National Child Development Study, from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, which has been following 17,000 people since 1958 provides conclusive evidence that the grammar system was divisive, labelling many (usually working class) children as uneducable.

Only 12% of them moved on from primary schools, via the 11-plus, to a grammar school. Most of the rest attended schools that lacked pupils in the top end of the ability range. A similarly small proportion went on to university. By the age of 33, just 14% of men and 11% of women in this cohort had achieved a degree.

Academies and Free schools are the grammar schools of today, able to apply their own selection criteria, leaving Local Authorities impotent to challenge them. Well done, Mr Gove, for returning the UK to a two tier education system, which only serves the elite. Bravo!

nearly two-thirds of those born in 1958 left school as soon as they could at age 16. By the time they were 33, around 15% still had no educational qualifications and a further 10% were only qualified to a level below O-Levels. A further one-third had O-Levels but no qualifications higher than that.

Today, by contrast, the great majority of young people stay on in education to 18. Some 40% go on to university.

This may come as a surprise to you, but I wasn’t in it for the pay. I wasn’t in it for the holidays, or the pension or because I am lazy. I wasn’t in teaching because I was unable to do anything else. On the contrary I chose to be a teacher. And now I choose not to be a teacher.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the education system in the UK doesn’t need improving. We need to invest in high quality teacher training that ensures the profession uses evidence based techniques in pedagogy and doesn’t assume that children – complex, intricate individuals – can be taught with the one dominant method; however compelling it is to present a simple solution to the electorate. We need to invest in science and technology, but not lose sight of the need for a civilised society to contain more than just engineers and mathematicians. We need to respect and trust our teachers, nurture their talents and listen to them. They are the experts not the enemy.

So, I say to you Mr Gove, stop painting us as incapable, inadequate and selfish when we challenge you. Please. Before you lose even more of us. Change and progress can come about with the support of teachers not in spite of them. We are a pretty well educated bunch. We can see what is wrong and what the solutions need to be. Engage with us, don’t alienate us and please stop dragging education backwards into a ‘golden age’ that never existed.

The 1958 generation also had poor basic skills. When they were aged 37, a sample was tested for basic numeracy and literacy: almost half had ‘very poor’ numeracy skills and 6% had difficulty with reading.Those with poor numeracy and literacy were, not surprisingly, much more likely to be unemployed.

So, as we contemplate the almost daily bad news about class sizes, school drop-outs, and the poor basic skills of school-leavers, we should perhaps pause to remember that – while there is certainly still plenty of room for improvement – the answer does not seem to lie in a nostalgic return to a past system which served the few very well and the majority poorly.

And watch out Mr Gove, I may be leaving teaching, but I am not leaving education. Once I have my Doctorate I will make it my mission to support the profession that has given me so much joy and satisfaction. I will fight every policy that is based on nostalgia and flim-flam. I will insist that teachers are trained to teach before they are let anywhere near a classroom.

Long after you’ve moved onto to whatever will promote your political interests further I will still be working to improve the life chances of all children.




An open letter to Ann Saunders (Former Deputy Head Teacher – Sittingbourne Community College)

Dear Ann,

I don’t know if you will even remember me, but you gave me my first teaching job in 1995 after I responded to an ad in the local paper to teach GNVQ Health and Social Care.

Teaching was something I had always wanted to do, but without a degree I didn’t think I had a hope in hell of securing a position. At the time I was a registered nurse with a toddler and new baby, married to a Sergeant in the Royal Engineers and living on an army base in Chatham. I am not sure what possessed you to take on an unqualified and completely inexperienced novice like me, but you did.  Looking back I must have driven you mad arriving in your office every morning to show you my lesson plans and a bombard you with a million question, but never once did you act like I was a nuisance – even though, as Deputy Head, you had a zillion things to do. The eighteen months I spent at Sittingbourne Community College made me surer than ever that teaching was the career I wanted to pursue. You also saved me from certain death by mother and toddler conversations (I was never cut out for full-time motherhood). You generously gave me your time and nurtured the teacher within. I was in total awe of your ability to manage a class of boisterous fourteen year olds without ever losing your cool – and vowed to one day be as good as you. I particularly remember one student on the Child Development NVQ course who claimed to be psychic and remarked on more than one occasion that she had a strong sense of twins when we were together in the same room. Disinclined as I am to believe in the mystical, I chose to believe in her assertion – daring to hope it meant that you saw yourself in the untrained, but eager me.

It was with a huge reluctance I left Sittingbourne. My husband, John, had been posted to Hameln, Germany (the town where the Pied Piper stole all the children).  I cried on and off for days at the thought of leaving the UK and a job that I loved, but as we celebrate twenty-two years of marriage and he supports me on yet another life-changing adventure, I can honestly say I would follow him to the end of time and beyond.

In Germany, with teaching jobs in short supply, I returned to my first career of nursing, but kept my skills up to date by using my NVQ Assessor qualifications. As you know I was studying for a psychology degree (OU), which I finished in the final year in Germany in 1999. My husband left the army and we bought our first house back in my home county. We arrived in the UK just in time for my graduation. I was presented my 1st Class honours (BSc) by Cherie Blair – when Tony Blair was still riding high and we all believed this prosperity and peace would last forever. Armed with a degree and the invaluable teaching experience I gained in Sittingbourne, I trawled the papers for a teaching job – despite still not having a teaching qualification. Another wonderful teacher, Mr John Brandon, Head of Mark Rutherford Upper School in Bedford, gave me that chance and funded my training to reach Qualified Teacher Status.  A year later I repaid his faith in me and started Mark Rutherford’s first psychology department (which is still going strong today). I spent four years at the school developing my teaching and middle management skills and completing a Masters in Research Methods. I also learnt to control my classes without losing my cool (most of the time). Five years later, in 2004, with my children entering middle school and the addition of a cat and dog, plus another house move, I applied for Head of Department at a well-respected local school and got it.

In the ten years since, my two children have grown up and left home, one to Warwick to study philosophy, and one to Honduras to work as a teacher volunteer (now returned and off to UCL to study languages in September). The cat and the dog have gotten a bit decrepit (and been joined by a scruffy rescue puppy) and I have somehow reached my forties and have too  many grey hairs. In that time I have mentored five student teachers (one is now a head of department) and built a thriving, successful department as well as enjoying the challenge of enhanced roles in learning and teaching . I have taught psychology to hundreds of students and have finally mastered the art of behaviour management – almost 🙂

At forty-three it is time for me (before it is too late) to say goodbye to my role as a classroom teacher and begin a new and exciting career. A career that would not have been possible if eighteen years ago you hadn’t hired a twenty-something nurse whose only classroom experience came from watching Dead Poet’s Society (five times).  A week ago I accepted a place on the Doctorate in Child and Educational Psychology at University College London (UCL).   I am incredibly fortunate to have been offered only one of 11 places from a field of 300 applicants! In three years’ time (all going to plan) I will be a Chartered Educational Psychologist and have the skills and professional standing to enable even more positive change in the lives of young people.

So thank you Ann Saunders. Thank you for everything – it all started with you 🙂

Your humble student (and spiritual twin),

Juliet O’Callaghan

Me and my son in 1995
Me and my son in 1995
me and both my children in 2013
me and both my children in 2013

On Education: Dear Britain…

Dear Britain,

I’m sorry you think I have let you down. I thought I was doing a good job and that you respected my efforts. I thought you weren’t serious about the holidays, after all my pay reflects this. I thought you understood that a contracted teaching day of five one-hour lessons, only reflects my contact time with students, not my total working hours. I thought you knew that planning lessons takes a lot of time, creativity and ingenuity and that there is a lot of marking to be done at weekends.

I thought you believed I was doing the best for our children; that I was fighting the exam machine with all my might and teaching our children to think for themselves and to enjoy learning for learning’s sake.

I thought we were on the same side and that you realised I can’t fix all the problems in society, only ameliorate the damage. I thought you understood this phony war between us was borne out of political ambition and a need to apportion blame for the effects of deep cuts to provision.

If education is the football then we are the grass, gouged and churned by the players who come and go in a perpetual reshuffle.

I can’t do this job alone. I can’t make our children want to learn all by myself. I need your help. I need you on my side. My job and yours is to hold a steady course, to not be distracted by lurid headlines, to remember we want the same thing.

If you really think about it, I am damned either way. If results improve it is because of grade inflation, and if they don’t it must be my fault.

I don’t do this job for the grades or the holidays or the pension. I do this job because I love teaching and it is something I believe I am good at. I do this job because working with teenagers is exhilarating and challenging and hilarious and I get a huge amount of satisfaction from seeing them succeed. I do this job because I love sharing the passion for my subject and seeing the same passion ignited in my students.

I hope this letter goes someway to repairing our relationship and the next time you read about how inadequate I am, you consider the intent behind the words.

Despite the relentless negative press stories and attacks on my professionalism, pay, pension and conditions of service, I can’t think of any other job I would rather do.

I’m not perfect. I admit I get things wrong. Not every lesson I teach is ‘outstanding’. I have my off days and occasionally I get behind on my marking, but I am in this job for the right reasons and I am trying to do the very best I can.

Yours faithfully,

A secondary school teacher

On education: Free Schools are anything but free!

michael-gove-cartoon1I really don’t get Free Schools – the concept I mean – which is to set up a school in a building that wasn’t built as a school. It is the exact opposite of the Building Schools for the Future concept the previous government introduced, where current schools would be rebuilt to make them fit for purpose in the 21st century. Out of the two ideas, the former will improve education of the few, while the latter would improve education for all.

Current schools (like mine) are in desperate need of refurbishment. We need a new boiler, new windows, new science labs and roof repairs. We need an IT infrastructure fit for the technological revolution that has taken place; Wi Fi, class sets of tablets, many more PC’s and an upgrade of existing machines (some are getting on for 8 years old).

Instead, we are told there is no money for capital investment in the building. No money for IT upgrades. We will have to make do with what we have. There is a deficit. The country is on its knees. Stop whinging, you overpaid, underworked, useless teachers and stop blaming social inequality for the difference in performance of your pupils and accept it is your fault. If only you were a better teacher, then all the problems caused by poverty would go away.

How come then, the Education Funding Agency is able to give over half a million pounds to a new Free School just a mile up the road. A Free School that my current school is opening, mainly in an attempt to survive the savage cuts to 16-18 funding and secure our 6th form provision, rather than through some dire need in the community for places, or educational ideology.

I will be slapped around the face with the real cost of education every day from September as I move between these two schools to teach. In one I will have everything I could possibly need to encourage my students to work independently and collaboratively (Wi Fi, tablets, enough PC’s to go round, heating that works and a roof that keeps out the rain). In the other I will face the same frustrations I am suffering now; having to print out resources from the internet because there aren’t enough computers and the ones we do have, have been booked out for weeks in advance – stopping the class on mass to show them an interactive resource, if the internet doesn’t drop out that is, rather than letting them access resources at their own learning pace (as I should be doing, as Wilshaw insists I should be doing). Drafty, damp classrooms, with poor lighting and a heater so noisy, it has to be switched off so they can hear me.

Despite the fact we are in effect one school operating on two sites, sharing the students and staff, not one penny of the money we have available for the Free School can be spent on our current school. Not a single penny.

How can that be right? How can that improve the educational experience for the majority in our catchment area?

It can’t and it doesn’t. The government isn’t pushing its Free School agenda because it cares about all children. It is pushing the agenda because it wants to score points against the opposition – and appeal to middle class voters, who want private education on the state.

It makes me sick. Opening a Free School does not tackle the issues in current schools, rather it diverts funds away from them and condemns the majority of children (who are likely to be from the poorer sections of society) to a worsening fate as their school literally falls down around them.

“… it’s not just the huge waste of resources that should concern us. Worse, perhaps, is the fact that free schools will not raise standards overall – indeed, they are likely to damage the prospects of the country’s poorest pupils. Gove claimed that free schools would narrow the attainment gap between the richest and poorest children. However, existing free schools admit fewer poor children than the national average, with figures showing that only 9.4% of their pupils are on free school meals – a key indicator of poverty – compared with a national average of 16.7%.”  Source: The Guardian

I will be living this hypocrisy every day from September. Every day I will see the impact of this elitist approach. It will be my reality.

But if I complain, who will listen to me after the hatchet job Gove and Wilshaw have done on teachers’ reputations. I am not respected or valued anymore.  My twelve years in the classroom count for nothing. My voice has been silenced along with any ounce of common sense in educational policy.

Free Schools are like playground bullies, taking away lunch money from those less able to stand up for themselves. When will this madness stop?

On Education: Those who can’t, teach – and thank goodness for them

Wilshaw and Gove seem intent on denigrating teachers, for whatever political/ economic agenda they are currently pushing.

gove terminator

Sir Michael said regional chiefs were being given orders to root out poor-performing schools, chains of academies and local authorities in each region.

In particular, they will be told to crackdown on schools that:

• Fail to stretch the brightest and weakest pupils by placing them in mixed-ability lessons;

• Enter large numbers of pupils early for GCSEs simply to bank a pass-mark before moving pupils on to other courses;

• Consistently mislabel poorly-performing pupils as suffering from special educational needs to disguise weak teaching;

Critics have warned that many schools are failing to place children into ability bands because of “ideological” opposition to the system by teachers.

I could blog about the lack evidence they have for their spurious assertions, in particular the idea that teachers are against ‘setting’ for ideological reasons, and the unsubstantiated assumption that mixed ability classes damage the most able.

The view that, at least for certain subjects, learning is best when pupils are grouped by ability seems to be widely held by teachers and others, as is evident from the setting that takes place within comprehensive schools. […] We may also note that despite widespread belief in the benefits of setting, it is not a view that is really supported by research evidence (Mosteller et al, 1996). Evidence of the effects of Selective Educational Systems.

I could rage on about how unfair it is, and how teachers (me included) are seriously considering why we work in a profession that is Wilshawseen as an easy route for lazy,whinging people, who can’t do anything else. I could give you a run down of my typical day and the variety of roles I must simultaneously fulfill – but my job is no more difficult than many other jobs that involve dealing with emotions, expectations and hopes (nursing, policing, social work, childminding, youth workers, probation officers and on and on).

Instead I want to tell you about my teacher, Mr Hallet, who worked at Bushmead Primary School in Luton in the late 1970’s and earlydanny_champion_of_the_world_pic 80’s. I guess I was around 9 or 10 when he became our form tutor. I do remember it was love at first sight. His front teeth slanted backwards and when he spoke, a line of spittle would extend from his top lip to his bottom lip. I loved that line of spittle. I loved watching it break and reform as he shared another exciting fact about the world. He had dark hair, I think he was tall, though I was very, very short (kinda like a munchkin) – I didn’t get much taller as it happens. Whenever I remember Mr Hallet it is summer (why is it when we think of our childhoods it is always summer?) He read us Roald Dahl’s  ‘Danny Champion of the World’ under a broad oak tree on the grass border that surrounded the playground every afternoon, until the bell went for home time. I remember lying on my back on the cool grass and looking through the leaves, while plump pheasants drunk on hand sewn alcohol-laced raisins plopped on the ground around me. His mellifluous voice wove pictures  in my head. I do wonder if he is one of the reasons I love reading and writing. I cried when I left primary school. I swore I would never forget him. I never have.

On a side note, he was also partly responsible for the one and only broken bone of my childhood. A greenstick fracture of my right wrist. On a residential field trip, he offered aeroplane rides on his feet. I couldn’t wait for my turn and possibly pushed myself to the front of the queue. To be in his gaze was to be in heaven. His soles pressed against my tummy, gently, as he lifted me up in the air, grasping my hands in his and flying me around. Over-excited me, shouted; more, harder, Greenstick_fracturefaster – and then all I remember is flying over his head and thinking, I am really flying, before the grass came up suddenly and I realised, too late, I had let go of his hands. The rest is history. I didn’t cry. I didn’t want him to think I was a baby. My wrist looked wonky. It hurt a lot. He took me to hospital. I came back to the outdoor centre with a white plaster cast. He cuddled me and bought me an ice-cream. My parents came to collect me (once they had been found in the time of BMP -before mobile phones). I made them take me straight back there the next day and stayed for the rest of the week. He was the first to sign my cast. He was my first love. He may also have been the reason I became a teacher.

He made each and everyone of us feel special, important, unique and loved. I am so glad whatever it is Mr Hallet couldn’t do, meant he chose to teach.

In this little corner of the blogosphere, let’s celebrate those teachers who made going to school an adventure. Who made a difference in our lives. Who chose teaching, not because of what they couldn’t do, but because of what they could.

we salute you
We salute you!

And I salute you, Mr Hallet, Teacher at Bushmead Primary School, Luton, and I probably still love you too. love

Got a teacher you want to salute. Remember them here. Share your stories. Let’s remind all those beleaguered teachers (including me) why it is one of the best jobs in the world. And Mr Hallet, if you read this, thank you.

Please do share.

We don’t need no education

French Education policy is as barmy as ours. I find that thought strangely comforting.

Last week, the French President  vowed to abolish homework. 

Hollande said school work should “be done at school, rather than at home,” to foster educational equality because some students do not have support at home.

Give me strength, please.

Robust educational research points to homework as one of the best ways to improve educational outcomes for ALL students.

In the Sutton Trust toolkit – an evidence based resource to improve learning – impact data has been collected on a number of educational strategies from streaming to uniform. Homework, particularly for secondary school students, is rated as having a moderate impact, with a potential gain of 5 months (the advantage an average student will gain over a year), at a very low, to no cost. Combine that with homework tasks that encourage meta-cognition (encouraging the learner to consider how they learn: for example, setting a task that involves evaluating the reliability of a Wiki entry), then you have a high impact strategy, accelerating learning by up to 8 months, at no additional cost.

No real surprise there, if you think about it. Homework encourages engagement with the subject outside of the lesson and also prepares the student for the independent skills they will need to revise for the exams. For those who are intending on going to University, it is imperative they are equipped with the ability to study independently, and for those entering the workplace, to learn autonomously.

On the other hand, according to the Sutton School Trust, ‘after school programmes’ and ‘individualised programmes’, have a low impact  (2 months advantage), and are costly to implement. In other words, keeping children in school longer, won’t make them smarter. I wish politicians would just be honest and admit the reason they want schools to open longer is to help working parents with childcare, not because it will raise achievement.

Back in March, there was a national outcry in France, with parents demanding the abolition of homework because it stressed out their children and took up too much time. Call me cynical, but is that why Hollande is calling for this reform? Surely he wouldn’t put votes before the education of his country’s children, would he?

At least we are not alone. Cold comfort, really.