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 –  https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/30/donald-trump-labour-personality-cult-hadley-freeman )

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 http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/jeremy-corbyn-labour-voters-like-me-want-a-champion-for-british-workers-not-a-sandal-wearing-a7150601.html

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

“I am not impressed by this”

I received this email a little while ago. Although I don’t agree I have intentionally misled anyone as I based my advice on research evidence, I accept there are other valid points of view that are different to mine.

Thanks to the author for giving me permission to post in full.

Dear Juliet,

I read your blog today, specifically about Agnus Castus.

I take your point about the dosages being screwed up by legislation. It will take a long time before any of this changes. I am a relatively highly qualified healer using East Asian disciplines. I had 8 years of training with an international healer – and most of my contacts agree that there is some kind of backlash going on against the alternative health care industries. I too am frustrated by it.

But you claim that the dosages make the drug ineffective. This is not true. Yes, the dosages may be weaker, but this does not make the drug in and of itself any less effective. The drug itself still has the same qualities. In this respect you are misleading people. As someone who worked in journalism for 14 years, I am not impressed by this.

There is nothing fundamentally stopping anyone from taking the full dose you talk about, other than cost, and even here there are ways out of an inordinate expense (see below), but this in fact may not be necessary.

It is always suggested you start taking the minimum amount of a herb to start with, and not the maximum. There are reviews of women taking one tenth of the dose you say is effective and they are experiencing great results. It is a well known fact that a minor dose of a remedy can be enough to cause the body to kick in its own functions and to start regulating its processes. I am all for exposing hypochrisies and stupidities, but I find your writing on this misleading and insensible, although you may not have intended to create that impression.

As a creative person I never take no for an answer. Blocks only cause me to look more intensively at what is out there. I find other ways. It is not hard, actually….  Here are some:

1-Bristol Botanicals will sell you 500ml of Agnus Castus seed tincture for £22. In general a tincture will be better than tablets because it will be more bioavailable – it will pass straight through the mucus membranes in your body as it goes down into your stomach. Not having to break down a tablet will also be beneficial. Endocrinal organs are linked to the liver and kidneys, which are the digestive and energetic engines of the body, and if there is any possibility that endocrinal impairment may also be impacting digestion, then this would be a better way of taking a remedy than a tablet.

2-Another option is to contact Ainsworth’s Homeopathic Pharmacy, who will be able to supply Agnus Castus in 30C or stronger – they will diagnose and treat over the phone. www.rxhomeo.com also sell it.

3- Here is a wildcraft distiller of tinctures and oils in Crete: http://quickbooker.org/kunden/wildherbsofcrete_com/pages/bakery/essential-oil-of-chastetree-fruits-10.php – this is the one I would contact. Their products look highly concentrated. They are made by a couple. He is a Master Distiller. She is a plant specialist (MSc) and a qualified nurse.

Best wishes

Why I am delighted my period is an inconvenience

I have had a rather stressful week in terms of my doctorate. I was dreading all the things I had to get done and all the things I had committed to, one of which was running staff training in a school I do not know to prepare the teachers to deliver the intervention I am testing for my thesis research – eek!

So Monday morning I am up at 6am after a restless night to find I have come on. Not great timing, but two paracetamol and lots of padding later, I am out the door and the week has begun. Roll forward to Thursday night. I can finally breathe out. I survived the week and on the whole everything went to plan. The training was well received and I am confident I have given my research the best start I could. All the other stuff went OK too.

Lying in bed last night – I reflected on how much I now take for granted that my period although an inconvenience, will not interfere with my daily plans. Yet, only a few or so years ago the thought of being able to do all the things I did this week, whilst on a period would have been inconceivable. Some days I was in so much pain I vomited for hours, and you don’t want to know what was going on at the other end. I am not even sure I would be doing this doctorate if it weren’t for Agnus Castus.

So it was timely that I was thinking about how much Agnus Castus has changed my life and how I much I now take this for granted, when this response came into my message box.

I would just like to say how much Vitex Chasteberry (agnus castus) has changed my life. I’m 34 yrs old and a mother of 7 (2 that are bonus children 🙂 ). I’m from the US and just like you mentioned where you live there is no support from OBGYN or doctors concerning PMS or PMDD. Everyone just wants to hand out antidepressants, prescription drugs. I spent many years with my homes in turmoil, bad relationships, divorce. After my 5th child, I had severe postpartum depression and could not hardly work or handle my busy demanding home life. I finally started researching and found help for my anxiety and severe mood swings. After a combination or GABA calm, Magnesium/Calcium, Fish Oil, and Vitex Chasteberry made by “Natural Factors” in Canada. I’m a whole new mom and woman. You do have to be very careful with herbs (as they are very potent) and on the right does and it’s trial and error but, after being on the Chasteberry for 6 months now I have experienced myself with it and without, and when I stop taking it even for a few days the horrible PMS mood swings start again/anxiety etc. It was my hormones all these years.. I can’t believe after all the doctors I sought help with, not one recommended something as cheap and simple as this.

My personal experience was I started on two 80 mg capsules starting out for the first 6 months (1-morning, 1-night), my cramping improved dramatically, bleeding much better, and my PMDD only occurred a day or two before (severe depression, mood swings) I started my cycle and was still so much better than it had been. ( I had results within a few days, a week maybe) I was so much better and happy, the only thing that started to happen was my sex drive was really low and my periods started to act premenopausal. I was kind of emotionally “robotic” I would say. Then dropped back to only 1 chasteberry a day and this corrected this. I believe was taking too high of a dose, for whatever reason I didn’t have enough hormones releasing. I also use essential oils as well, Clary Sage and I believe this helps balance my moods as well. I’m glad you are sharing this message, It changes homes, marriages, our children! This is affected me so much I want to get the word out and help anyone I can. I do believe a person should find a good herbalist or naturalist to begin with that can help find the right combination though.

God Bless!

Thank you Jennifer for sharing your story. And I agree – it is unbelievable that despite the evidence for Agnus Castus and the fact (certainly in the UK) GP’s have been sent guidelines on PMT (from the National Association of Pre-menstrual Syndrome) which clearly states that Agnus Castus should be tried before anti-depressants, this is still not happening and many women are needlessly taking anti-depressants with their well documented side effects.

I guess it is up to us to spread the word. Thanks for reminding me.

Are half my FB friends racists, or are they just scared?

As a result of the refugee crisis I have found myself increasingly categorising my FB friends as either racists or non-racists based on the posts their share and comment on.  Having friends with such repugnant (to me) points of view leaves me in a dilemma. The easiest option would be to purge my friends list, but in every other regard I admire these people and want to remain a part of their lives.  These friends would also, I am sure, not class themselves as racists, but rather rational pragmatists. So what has led them to express such views?

Fear is a powerful tool. It is used by advertisers to make us buy products we don’t really need and by health campaigners to prompt us to change our behaviour. It is also used by political parties and pressure groups to advance a particular ideology.

Recently, some political parties and anti-immigration organisations have been spreading fear through misinformation that if Britain lets in some refugees then many more will come; and that these refugees will be an economic burden ultimately bankrupting Britain.

However, research demonstrates that both these beliefs are false.

So this is my attempt to share the facts with all my FB friends in the hopes my newsfeed will no longer be clogged up with Britain First posts.

Fiction Fact
Asylum seekers must stay and register in the first country they arrive in. There is no law that states this, but countries find it administratively easier to apply this rule, which is known as ‘Dublin regulations’. These regulations allows one EU country to require another to accept responsibility for an asylum claim where certain conditions apply.

As far back as 2001 the EU published a directive that empowers member states to bypass the system and admit asylum seekers in cases of “mass influx”.  Germany has already suspended ‘Dublin Regulations’. Source: Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org.uk/truth-about-refugees#.VfQY-xFVhBc

Britain can’t afford to take more than 20,000 Syrian refugees because they are all going to claim benefits.

And they will take jobs away from British people.

Research conducted by University College London found that since 2000 refugees were less likely than native Brits to be on state benefit and no more likely than natives to be in social housing. And unlike native Brits they have contributed a net £5 billion to the UK economy in taxes.

Considering there are now almost four million people fleeing violence in Syria, 20,000 just doesn’t cut it!

This can be the case in some areas of the UK if it is not managed well. Minimum wage, for example, is a way of ensuring that immigrants do not undercut locals. Some studies have shown that migrants create jobs for local people – overall taking account of a number of research studies the impact on jobs and wages appears to be neutral or positive. Source: New Scientist, 12th September 2015 edition, p.10-12.

Europe is experiencing an unprecedented influx of both economic migrants and refugees. According to research, labour migration into Western Europe has been falling steadily since 2007. And whilst refugee numbers have been increasing since the Arab spring of 2010, they still have not reached 1992 levels, when millions of people fled Yugoslavia. Source: New Scientist, 12th September 2015 edition, p.5.
If we take in refugees that are already in Europe it will only encourage more to come. This relates to push and pull factors. A push factor is violence, or lack of food and sanitation in refugee camps in for example Jordan or Hungary. A pull factor is benefits, housing or jobs etc.

So far there is no evidence of pull factors, but a great deal of evidence for push factors. Source: The Oxford Martin School on Global challenges.

The UK is a soft touch compared to other EU countries. In the UK, the weekly allowance for a single adult asylum-seeker is £36.95 per week, lower than many other EU countries. The equivalent weekly rate in France, for example, is £58.50 (on an exchange rate of 73p to the euro).

Elsewhere in the EU, asylum-seekers must be permitted to work if their claims have not been decided within 9 months, although some countries permit this after less time. This does not apply in the UK, where permission to work will not be granted unless 12 months have past and the claim remains undecided. The UK has introduced severe restrictions on what work an asylum-seeker may be permitted to do even if this condition is met.

Detention is used much more extensively in the UK’s asylum system than in other EU countries. Those countries also have time limits on how long a person may be detained under immigration powers, whereas the UK has no time limit. Source: Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org.uk/truth-about-refugees#.VfQY-xFVhBc

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.

Becoming an Educational Psychologist: Part One

Becoming an Educational Psychologist is incredible and exhausting. No half term holiday for starters. But I am so glad I made the decision to leave teaching if only so I can stop saying:

I have a psychology degree but I am not a psychologist.

This time last year I had just completed the application form after digging out my ancient degree certificate, momentarily panicking that degrees have a shelf life and mine had expired. I’d toyed a few times with applying over the fourteen years I had been teaching, but talked myself out of it because we couldn’t afford to lose my wage. This time round the loss of my wage remained an issue , but at 43 it felt like a now or never moment. On top of that the odds of me actually getting a place first time around were extremely low.

I got a place. It was like winning the lottery, but without the money 🙂

So how are we managing without my wage? Well I do get a relatively substantial bursary (around 1/3 of my previous wage) and a student railcard, student bank account with free overdraft, 25% discount on Council Tax and student discount in Top Shop (although I would prefer M&S).  However to  make ends meet (particularly as our two children are at university and their maintenance loan doesn’t even cover their rent) a house move to something smaller is imminent. I am so lucky to have such a supportive husband, who encourages me all the way despite the pressure it has put on him to bring home the dosh.

I don’t think I will ever take for granted how privileged I am to be able to study full time and not have to juggle a job at the same time. The course is pretty full on with so many strands to get my head around like research methods and statistics, carrying out psychological assessments, placement competencies, RLO’s and SOP’s (don’t ask), as well as the academic stuff – theories, models, frameworks.

This half-term the focus has been on literacy and Wow! I have learnt so much?

WARNING! Nerdy stuff coming up.

Written English is one of the most difficult alphabetic scripts to learn? This makes it much harder for children to learn how to read and write than say for example children in Spain. This is because in Spanish the grapheme to phoneme correspondence is 1:1 – this means ONE letter makes ONE sound. In the English alphabet the ratio is 1 to many – this means the same letter (or letter combinations) can have many different sounds.

For example: “He took a bow.” “She wore a red bow in her hair.”

However, that doesn’t mean we should be trying to teach pre-schoolers to read , rather research has found that developing oral language significantly improves later reading comprehension.

In other words in the early years of a child’s life focusing on developing oral story telling skills is much more important for later reading comprehension than actually learning to read the words in a book.

It makes sense if you think about it.

Learning to decode letters and words on a page and understanding what punctuation marks mean is an example of transcription skills. Everyone needs them, but they alone don’t make someone or something literate. For example there are many computer programmes that can convert text to speech and read a novel, but the computer couldn’t produce a summary of the main plot points of the story (the emotional resonance). The research suggests the more words a child knows (vocabulary) before they begin to read the easier it will be for them to derive meaning from the story. And the more a child understands about story structure and how ideas link to each other the easier it will be for them to pick up what is happening in the book (the main plot points) and make predictions about what might happen next.

These comprehension skills are vital if children are going to move from learning to read, to reading to learn.

That doesn’t mean we can just let children get on with it in terms of ‘transcription’ skills. Learning to make sense of the written version of language is not innate. Alphabetic scripts (or orthographies) are relatively new in human evolution. While a child will pick up oral language without having to be directly taught it (as long as they are exposed to it), they will not spontaneously learn to read and write. For children to learn to read they must be taught the grapheme: phoneme correspondence (letter to sound), hence the evangelical focus on phonics by the government. The research certainly backs this up, but also recognises the English language is eccentric to say the least and many words are not regular and just need to be learnt (whole word recognition).

I know there is a lot of debate amongst teachers and parents about compulsory phonics with some claiming it is hindering progress, but the research does not support this view.

For a reading programme to be effective for the majority of children it must contain both phonetic and whole word recognition components.

Phonics is the tool for deciphering new words and while it can only take you so far in being able to decode unfamiliar words, good comprehension skills will aid in this by allowing the child to access the content and meaning of the sentence. Whereas as if a child has good transcription skills but poor comprehension, they will have to rely on decoding skills alone and this will become frustrating and they are likely to give up because the word won’t ‘sound out’ and make sense.

So my take on this is in terms of advice is that parents of pre-school children should focus on generating stories from pictures so the child can learn how to build a coherent narrative. This will increase their vocabulary as they search for words to express their ideas, which in turn will make comprehension of written English that bit easier once they start school.

And finally…. I now understand the reason for the made up words in phonics assessment (which also creates fierce debate from teachers and parents). It is to test if the child’s grapheme to phoneme knowledge is secure. This is vital for decoding new words. The problem is this assessment has become high stakes politically and therefore rather than schools using it as diagnostic, they are focusing on getting as many children through as possible. It should be viewed as a checkpoint so those children who are still struggling can be helped with specific interventions, not as a measure of how ‘good’ the school is.

If you got this far do you have any views on how literacy is taught in primary schools?

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Sara Crowley...

is a writer. She's also a firm believer in the positive power of prison libraries, a creative writing teacher, and Managing Editor of The Forge Literary Magazine. She's winner of a Waterstones' Bursary and her novel in perpetual progress was runner-up in Faber's Not Yet Published competition. Her fiction has been published in dozens of journals including 3 AM, PANK, Frigg, Neon & wigleaf.

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