How to Train, Retain and Research with Dr. Phil Wood – PP147

Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne
Paul Dix
Paul Dix

Dr. Phil Wood is a former geography teacher, subject leader and AST and is now at the School of Education at Leicester University. His research is about changing pedagogy and challenging organisations and teachers to look at their pedagogy. Phil is also an associate trainer with Independent Thinking.


Phil is concerned that a lot of schools are now driven by numeric data and senior leadership teams are concentrating on accountability rather than being part of the extended group of teachers. He would prefer to see accountability being more community-led rather than being driven by improvement targets based exclusively on exam data. He thinks this is partly due to the ways in which headteachers are judged at the moment – a bit like football managers – by their most recent set of results. Phil advocates a more nuanced and multi-channel approach which takes account of much more long-term aspects.

What is the ‘what works’ agenda and what’s wrong with it?

Phil explains that the ‘what works’ agenda is based on the flawed premise that there are ‘end of the rainbow’ solutions to all the issues around pedagogy. If only we can find them, they will present us with all the solutions to our problems.

This is shown in the recent fetish for randomised control trials and certain elements of systematic reviews. Once you understand ‘what works’ it can then be applied to all contexts and thus the whole job of pedagogy becomes quite simple.

Phil sees this massive reduction of complexity as impossible. It’s not chaotic – you can see patterns and work out what approaches have the best chance of working well but the place of the teacher is always to mediate this – to work out which of the better-evidenced ideas are going to work in their context.

The way this has been implemented in recent years – to attempt to create speedy change – has meant that nothing has the time it needs to be embedded, monitored and analysed.

How do we give teachers in training access to the thought processes of expert teachers?

Phil has been involved in trying to embed lesson study into teaching practice. Because of time and other pressures, student teachers can be ‘running parallel’ to the department they are in. They tend to be planning alone and maybe getting a little feedback on their plans from their mentor but then they go back into working by themselves. To counter this, Phil had the mentor and student teacher working much more closely together. Lessons were taught in threes – the first by the mentor which the pair would then evaluate and plan an amended version for the student teacher to deliver to a parallel group. Thus, the expert teacher was opening up their own thought processes to give the student involvement in and access to them. The student is part of the discussion and learning a whole raft of different aspects of the lesson planning and delivering process from the expert teacher.

This makes it much easier for the expert teacher to share their experience where they might find it much more difficult to explain in a de-contextualised manner.

Feedback from students teachers has been very positive as they feel involved in the process and are learning a great deal from the expert teachers. The expert teachers are also happy with the process because they can gain new ideas fro the students and also develop their own practice by having the opportunity to analyse it for this purpose.

Are teachers too busy to engage in research beyond their classroom?

Phil points out there are different kinds of engagement in research from reading digests to engaging in practical classroom-based research. There has been a reduction in those who feel able to be involved in research as the pressures of teaching have grown in recent years. However, there are plenty of examples of great practice underway, for example a small study Phil is involved in to do with growth mindset.

This is much likely in a Multi-Academy Trust or Teaching School Alliance or where individuals are keen. Partnerships with universities can be extremely productive but Phil believes it has been counter-productive in recent years that the impression has been given that research is easy and quick – the best research is very a time-consuming and taxing process.

However, Phil does see research as a core activity for a profession that wants to be sustainable and truly professional – tie should be devoted to it and it shouldn’t be seen as something you need to give up your own time to get involved in.

Can you train a teacher in six weeks?

Phil believes this is impossible and in fact there is evidence to suggest that what Phil and his colleagues refer to as ‘pedagogic literacy’ can only be fully developed over a whole career.

There is always more you can do. You never reach the end point.

If pushed, Phil would recommend a two-year course, based in schools but with proper partnership with universities. Then there must be development throughout the career.

Can teacher work be reformed to aid teacher retention?

Phil believes that bringing back trust in teachers but blended with a genuine sense of responsibility leads to getting more out of people. This also means that vast amounts of paperwork can be eliminated which exist in a hyper-accountability system where the majority of it has nothing to do with children’s learning.

Alongside this, you have to accept there will be lots of people who will teach in different ways. As long as it is evidenced, it should be allowed.

Is behaviour training in universities really that bad?

Phil says that it isn’t. The best way of training in behaviour is in the classroom and so schools who have systems in place to support the students while they train are the most effective, with the support of universities. As Paul points out very few trainee teachers sit down with their mentors and plan for behaviour.

Phil on Twitter: @complexsoc1


Independent Thinking page:

Tweet of the Week

(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –

Kenny Pieper

How To Get Children Reading For Pleasure With Kenny Pieper – PP146

Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne
Paul Dix
Paul Dix

Our first guest in 2017 was English teacher and author of ‘Reading for Pleasure‘, Kenny Pieper. Here’s how his author biography describes him:

“Kenny Pieper has been teaching English for seventeen years and still loves every minute of it. He stands shakily on the shoulders of giants in the shape of his amazingly inspiring colleagues. Deep down, he still can’t believe his luck that he gets to do this.”

Kenny is also an associate tutor at the University of Strathclyde and a Partick Thistle football fan. Originaly he had no plans to start work as a teacher, initially travelling to Romania and doing admin for a charity. He was ‘tricked’ into entering a classroom with 30 15-year-olds in it who he had been told were university students who wanted to talk to him. In fact, despite the shock, Kenny left the room knowing that teaching was the career for him. He started out teaching for two years on a Greek island before moving back to Glasgow and taking up a job in a large secondary school where he still is today.

Are there still too many children in Scotland who leave school unable to read?

Kenny Pieper
Kenny Pieper

The latest PISA results showed that the situation in Scotland has deteriorated in reading standards. This is in the context of the implementation of the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ and a ‘broad general education’ in the first years of secondary school. Kenny is keen on the child-centred nature of the changes which he realises is a controversial aspect but he is concerned that people don’t seem to know what to do about the dip in reading standards. Primary schools, he thinks, are doing some amazing things but may have moved away slightly from a former emphasis on literacy skills. Kenny doesn’t see many children coming to secondary school unable to read and write but he does see some weaknesses. First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has introduced a reading programme in lower primary school which Kenny hopes will mean a gradual improvement in literacy.

Can you teach (force) children to enjoy reading?

Kenny is sure that it is not possible to teach or force anyone to enjoy reading.

We need to develop habits…and teach young people strategies so they don’t give in and tell you it’s boring.

As a teacher, Kenny tries to get to know the kids and find out what they are interested in and do everything he can to find a book which will interest them. He is happy that children are reading anything to begin with but then he tries to ‘slide a book across to them’ to help them to develop. A lot of children don’t have what Kenny describes as ‘reading histories’ and we need to take the time to help them build this up. The joy and happiness he sees when children finish a book helps them to move on and finish more and more, with the support of a teacher to maintain and increase the challenge.

Kenny feels we often mythologise about our own reading histories which isn’t helpful – we sometimes don’t acknowledge that we also read ‘nonsense’ when we were younger. However, if we keep the reading habit going and read better books, big things begin to happen.

How important is the child’s background?

Kenny believes that one of the greatest challenges is where children come from homes which don’t have books.

Teachers can be the one significant adult in a child’s life who reads.

He ensures he reads in front of children and talks about books. he makes sure children in his class have the best quality books, even if he has to buy them himself. It’s crucial children from backgrounds without books know what it’s like to be a reader.

Does format matter – are electronic books just as good as paper?

Kenny prefers real books. In his research, he has found that we take in less information from a digital book than a paper book. We focus more on the reading as we turn pages and we see the left hand side of the book getting bigger as the right hand side gets smaller. He thinks real books are ‘a wonderful aesthetic experience’.

How can other teachers help?

Kenny tries to encourage his colleagues to talk to their classes about subject-specialist reading books. The younger children in Kenny’s school created an e-book last year which contained short interviews with 30 adults from all parts of the school and included a photograph of them reading. This helped to get the message across that reading is important to everyone not just the English department. There are many ways to promote reading in a school, with prominently-displayed photos of site managers and admin staff reading, for example. All of Kenny’s classes start with 10 minutes of reading time.

No-one is allowed to speak – everyone learns what a reading atmosphere is and ‘what readers do’.

How can parents help?

Kenny asks parents, “What can you do in 10 minutes?” He means that we should identify where there are 10 minutes – half time at the football, while you wait for your dinner, etc. 10 minutes gives you a start which may well grow. 10 minutes in the classroom and 10 minutes at home at night is 20 minutes a day and that’s a good start to the reading habit which Kenny thinks is crucial. It’s all about encouragement not enforcement.

I say to parents – the first thing you should do is read in front of them.

It might be uncomfortable but reading the same book as your child heelps to support them to build up a ‘reading history’.

Pedagoo – what is it?

Pedagoo began as a way of connecting with others in Scotland who wanted to talk aobut what was happening in education. It was a blog, an online community, a space to talk for Scottish teachers. It grew into events – virtual and real-world – including #PedagooFriday on Twitter and the whole focus is on positivity.

What are the benefits of staying at the same school for a long time like Kenny has?

Kenny believes you build up a reputation and connections with colleagues, with parents and in the community. As he teaches in the community where he grew up, it also gives him the opportunity to help some of the more reluctant kids – those who don’t believe education is for them and don’t believe they can get a good job. He points out to them that he lived in the street next to them and he did it.

Use #PedagooFriday on Twitter
Kenny’s blog:
Kenny’s book, ‘Reading for Pleasure’:

Introducing The Pivotals!

(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –

Fun, motivation and creativity! PP145

Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne

In the first of a couple of shorter episodes over the festive period, we raid the cutting room floor as well as some of the most interesting episodes of 2016 in search of what’s important in education. We find fun, motivation and creativity!

Featuring some additional thoughts from Julia Skinner as well as a whole host of others, we take the opportunity to look back through archives for some of the most inspirational content from the past year.

We hope you enjoy listening in the midst of your Christmas and New Year preparations.


Pivotal Education site

Lisa Ashes on ‘doing education to them’ and naked teaching! PP144

Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne
Ollie Frith
Ollie Frith

It was great to have Lisa Ashes as our last guest of 2016. Lisa is an Advanced Skills English teacher, a development trainer, a writer, Independent Thinker, charity worker and a Reflective Learning Geek!

Lisa’s latest book is called ‘Manglish’ and she aims to encourage the practice of fusing cross-curricular subjects in a challenging way. The ideas came from a time when Lisa realised that every teacher in the school she was in was teaching numeracy and literacy in different ways, trying their hardest, but were focused primarily on the needs of the exams they were preparing the children for. The book follows everything Lisa did to persuade teachers to look at what they were already doing and ask, ‘Where’s the literacy in that?’ and ‘Where’s the numeracy in that?’ Originally a secondary project, Lisa has now been working with primary colleagues and in FE.

Lisa points out that Manglish originated from listening to what teachers were already doing rather them hitting them with another new initiative. She looked at what was being done, found what was already good and then found ways of joining all the subjects together.

Have we got inclusion dreadfully wrong and what should we be doing about it?

Lisa believes there is the will to get inclusion right but schools often don’t have the time, the resources or the expertise to make it work in the mainstream. She has gone ‘under-cover’ as a supply teacher so she can go into lots of different schools and observe what’s going on. She has seen several schools who have created what they call ‘nurture groups’ or ‘stage not age’ groups while the teachers mainly focus on the groups they need to get through the exams so they don’t lose their jobs.

This often leads, in Lisa’s experience, to children ‘just being baby-sat’. To look after these children properly takes time, money, training and expertise. Lisa has been excellent special schools who get it right but mainstream secondary schools are not always geared up to provide what is needed. Primary schools teaching assistants are often brilliant but simply don’t have the time to devote to these children.

What do you mean by ‘doing education to children?’

This comes from Lisa’s own experience of school. She didn’t care about exams when she was at school – it wasn’t that she couldn’t do it, she just couldn’t see the purpose in exams It wasn’t until she needed to pass exams to become a teacher that she had a real purpose and succeeded in exams. She talks about the children in ‘nurture groups’ or those set up for children with behavioural difficulties and asks us to imagine what it’s like for them having education done to them until they are actually released into ‘real life’. She believes that we need to include them much more and help them to understand the purpose of education far beyond the exam.

While Lisa was a classroom assistant before becoming a teacher, she was put in a cupboard – literally. So she studied the experiences of the children from their own perspective. She could see why and how the teacher was boring her students and this ‘CPD’ went on for a year. She was then a project co-ordinator, given a budget of £70,000 to help students receive exam passes – she approached the task as much as she could from the point of view of the students.

What needs to be changed in order to free us up from the obsession with exams?

Lisa thinks we are forgetting what she calls ‘the whole journey of the child’. She feels we focus far too much on the exam years, to the detriment of the rest.

We need to focus on development, not just the end result of the exam.

We also need to think about who is accountable and how we deal with failure. Lisa’s controversial view is that, in secondary school, teachers should take a cohort of children through from year 7 to 11. That’s what she wants in her role. Rather than this, she finds that Key Stage 3 gets forgotten about.

What were your experiences of Ghana and Nepal like?

As Lisa has had flexibility, working as a supply teacher, she has been able to take part in volunteer work. She has been to Nepal and Ghana with WWEP – a combination of organisations, committed to improving education where it is most needed. In Ghana, the work is around SOS Villages where women are employed to be ‘mothers’ of orphans and there is a school, funded by SOS but where the teacher training is done by WWEP. However, the local community schools were the real focus of Lisa’s work when she was there. These schools have nothing. Eventually, advanced skills practitioners will go out to the community schools from the SOS schools and and provide support to the teachers there. There will be another 5 visits. If the project is successful it will be replicated across the world.

In Nepal, the situation is very different. There is a well set up single school and the focus is more on teacher training, linked with WWEP. Lisa worked with teachers there as well. Seven more teachers will go back in April 2017.

Lisa’s blog

Lisa’s Twitter

Lisa’s Independent Thinking page and her book, ‘Manglish’

WWEP and Naked Teaching Day

Read the rest of the show notes

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It’s the Pivotal Podcast Christmas Quiz 2016! PP143

Kevin introduces the Quiz
Kevin introduces the Quiz

For the third year in a row, we present the mayhem and madness which is the Pivotal Podcast Christmas Quiz. Play along with our guest participant, Pivotal Education’s own Mike Armiger, as our Mystery Question-master takes us through rounds about Education – past, present and future!



Paul in Festive mode
Paul in Festive mode
  • What will your score be?
  • Will you beat Mike?
  • Who cares?




The Christmas Quiz is also available in glorious technicolour via YouTube:

Our Mystery Quiz-master!
Our Mystery Quiz-master!
Guest contestant - Mike Armiger!
Guest contestant – Mike Armiger!

A Very Merry Christmas To All!

Creative Commons music is Mini Christmas Song by milton | This work is licensed under the Attribution Noncommercial License.

Bousted Lets Loose! PP142

Mary Bousted
Mary Bousted

Dr. Mary Bousted, General Secretary of ATL joined us this week to talk about the state of education, initial teacher training, recruitment and retention and a lot more besides!

Originally a teacher in Harrow, Mary was a union representative for the National Union of Teachers and eventually became General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in 2003.

Mary believes that too often DfE speak to leaders and managers, assuming they will get the voice of the profession. It’s very important to speak to techers’ representatives as well.

The views of teachers and leaders are often complementary but they are not always the same and you need to listen to the majority of the workforce.

Is there a new direction of travel at the DfE?

Mary is impressed by Justine Greening, the new Secretary of State for Education. She likes the way in which she is asking questions like ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘What’s the evidential basis for this idea?’ So we are moving to a much more careful and considered phase in education. One of the problems is that the previous decisions are still being implemented and working their way through the system. This has impacted very severely on teachers and leaders.

Is the mixed economy of routes into teaching working?

Mary believes that particularly in shortage subjects, the recruitment situation is serious and targets have not been met this year which compounds the situation from previous years. This is in the context of primary school numbers increasing and then following through to form increases in secondary numbers. Mary is also concerned to know what will happen to the thousands of overseas teachers who are already teaching here. So Mary thinks that the teacher supply model is not working – with a highly-confusing picture of different routes which she believes have been implemented far too quickly and without proper planning.

Mary says there is nothing wrong with schools taking more responsibility for teacher training but there is a limit to what schools can do.  Most schools want a partnership with Higher Education institutions rather than to do all the training themselves. She worries that a lot of trainees are getting a good grounding in classroom management and school policies but not enough input on subject knowledge development or complex issues with a big theoretical base like assessment.

I think it’s a full-blown crisis.

Mary points out that 1 in 5 maths and English lessons is now taught by a teacher who doesn’t have an A Level in that subject. Schools, she believes, are putting their best-qualified teachers into Key Stage 4 and 5 exam classes which means that teaching lower down the school is often done by those who are teaching out of subject and this is bound to affect student performance.

How do we retain excellent teachers?

Mary thinks teacher retention is as big if not a bigger problem than teacher recruitment. She mentions figures like 52% of teachers in England having less than 10 years’ experience. The research shows that young teachers are looking at the 50-60 hour week combined with the high pressure in schools where too often they feel their professional expertise isn’t valued and ‘voting with their feet’ – leaving the profession after 3 or 4 years.

Mary says that teachers in England are getting on average 4 days of CPD a year while the OECD average is 10 days and in Shanghai it’s 40 days a year.

Teachers are over-worked and under-supported.

  • We have to address the issue of pay
  • We have to do something about teacher professionalism – they need to be able to focus on the things that matter like teaching learning and assessment

Grammar schools – can they be re-designed or will they simply be a mirror image of what we have?

Mary is very concerned about the 11+ exam. She says that the Government is looking for a ‘tutor-proof’ test but that this does not exist. She cannot see how the rates of free school meals children getting into Grammar schools can be increased. She believes that it is impossible to have selection without the negative consequences it has now.

Mary also sees the location of Grammar schools as problematic because she thinks that the areas they are established in will quickly become ‘very middle class’.

Of course some Grammar schools are excellent – just as many comprehensive schools are excellent.

Mary cites a report which states that the most able children do just as well in good comprehensive schools as they do in Grammar schools and that standards are reduced in Grammar schools when selection is increased because of the need to take more children.

However, Mary points out that there is no guarantee that this policy will be implemented, particularly as it has to get through the Lords.

Where should we be looking for examples of great education systems? Just Shanghai?

Mary thinks that we have to be careful using any examples from other cultures. She points out that Shanghai are having difficulties around creativity and that many children are not included in the schools used as examples because they are internal migrant workers who do not have the right papers. So the pupils are disproportionately from the Communist Party Cadre Elite – this has a significant effect.

We do have to be very careful about ‘Policy Tourism’.

There are other examples like Sweden where deregulation of the curriculum and assessment has had very negative consequences. So it’s important to look internationally but we can’t assume that policies from elsewhere will work in the UK.

What excites you about education in the UK?

  • The creativity in classrooms
  • The real moral and ethical purpose that teachers have to try to enable every child to achieve
  • The much greater focus on teaching and learning and effective pedagogy
  • The much kinder way children are treated – as individuals  in schools
  • The fact that schools are such civilised places to be
  • Our teaching and school leadership profession are overwhelmingly excellent professionals

The National Education Union

Mary tells us about the new union which has been proposed, formed from the NUT and the ATL.

The Associaltion of Teachers and Lecturers website

Mary on Twitter

Follow of the Week

Varndean Goats!

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Creativity is Crucial in the Classroom with Lizzie Clancy – PP141

Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne
Ollie Frith
Ollie Frith

We were joined this week by Bigfoot Arts Education’s Creative Director, Lizzie Clancy. Lizzie is a passionate advocate for creativity in education but that doesn’t mean just the arts subjects. She believes that creativity should pervade everything we do in schools.

How important is creativity in the education system?

Lizzie thinks that creativity should be a core part of all teaching and learning. By creativity, she means providing young people with the opportunities to question, to explore, to imagine and to experience. This means they will be involved in every part of their learning – which helps nurture and create responsive individuals, not just those who can regurgitate facts.

We want them to be able to share opinions with their peers, to work together to find solutions to problems – to be the next generation of scientists, carers, shop assistants, all sorts!

Lizzie is concerned that the teaching some children receive doesn’t actually encompass them all the skills needed – the skills are which are inherent in creative teaching.

Does creativity improve employability?

Creativity isn’t confined to certain subjects – it means being able to be a critical thinker, to work as part of a team, to think of different ways to solve problems – which are crucial for all kinds of work.

What stops schools from getting it right in creativity?

Lizzie believes there is still a misunderstanding of what creativity is.

It’s not about arts and crafts, cutting and sticking, putting on a play, dancing or acting.

Too many teachers think they are ‘not creative’ when, in fact, all good teachers are inherently creative – they make their lessons engaging and exciting.

Lizzie Clancy
Lizzie Clancy

You don’t have to be the best actor, the best musician or the best dancer to be able to facilitate a child’s learning so they are really actively engaged.

Teachers just have to be able to set up tasks which allow students to use their imagination and creativity.

Is the EBacc damaging to creativity?

Lizzie thinks the EBacc is very damaging to creativity and the arts. There is so much emphasis on those core subjects that it sends a clear message that the arts have no place in this system. She asks what is says about those whose talents and skills lie in those other arts subjects. They are academic subjects requiring special skill sets from talented individuals.

Lizzie feels it is sending a shocking message about how we treat the arts in this country – and at the same time we celebrate the arts as one of our biggest exports.

Top tips for creativity in the classroom

  • Always question whether the lesson plan you are creating is active – which doesn’t mean moving about necessarily – it’s more about students talking and investigating for themselves
  • Ask yourself, ‘What can I do to bring it off the page?’
  • Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to focus on high order thinking
  • Use your students as a resource

For lots more including Lizzie’s utopian view of what arts education and creativity would look like in a perfect world, take a listen to the whole episode!


(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –

The Great Homework Debate with Mark Creasy – PP140

Paul Dix
Paul Dix
Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne

This week we tackle one of the most controversial subjects amongst teachers, parents and learners – homework.

We are joined by Mark Creasy – Teacher, ITL Associate, author of ‘Unhomework’ and Sky News guest! Mark has completely changed the way he, his classes and a lot of schools think about homework.

Mark was a secondary headteacher but retrained as a primary teacher in order to go back into the classroom at upper Key Stage 2 level.

Do children in the UK have too much low-quality homework?

Homework, Mark believes, is often done to appease a policy the school has created – which itself is done to appease parents. Too often it’s one-size fits all and engineered to create less of a burden for teachers – the problem is, it often does create a burden for families.

Time spent practising learning does improve achievement but the problem is that most homework isn’t practising learning – it’s often very simple, mundane, clerical, completing of tasks that don’t extend children, don’t really look at the depth of their understanding or even prepare them for what they will meet next.

What are the worst kinds of homework?

Mark and Paul come up with some of their ‘favourite’ worst homework tasks:

  • Word searches
  • Colouring-in exercises
  • Finishing off
  • The dreaded ‘science safety poster’

Listen in for the explanations!

What is great homework and what does the research say?

There is quite a bit of research in this area, according to Mark, but it’s often unreliable because parents and children ‘know what to say’ when they are filling in questionnaires about homework. They tend to respond in ways they think will look best, rather than with the true situation.

One body of great research, however, is by John Hattie. He says that the overall effect size of homework 0.29. For the most purposeful impact, it needs to have an effect size of 0.40. When the figures are split out, Primary homework comes out at 0.15 and Secondary at 0.64.

The Homework we do at Primary School, by and large, has no impact.

The Secondary figure, however,  contains elements like preparation for coursework and extended essays.

Mark points out that Finland doesn’t have homework and it is at or near the top of various league tables of education.

So what is ‘Unhomework’ and how does it help?

Unhomework is how Mark has set homework for the past 12 or 13 years. You empower the children. Unhomework has to work in parallel with how you work in class. Children set their own learning and targets for homework and then it is self and/or peer assessed. It’s all about them beong able to develop themselves as learners.

You’ve got 30 individual pieces of homework set by children for children with teacher support.

How do you ensure children are setting it at an appropriate level to stretch themselves?

Mark believes that teachers need to give the first half term over to training the children in how to understand unhomework. In this half term, the teacher would start by setting lots of options – gold, silver or bronze – for the children to choose from. There will always be those children who say ‘what’s beyond gold?’ or ‘what’s beneath bronze’ and this leads to constructive conversations and a devloping understanding of their levels of confidence.

Another approach is the ‘title only’ homework. For example, ‘Safety’. Each child can respond to the concept of Science Lab Safety in any what they want to. Mark recalls having a different piece of homework from every child when he has used this approach – songs, videos, a safety lesson etc.

Doesn’t this cause huge marking problems?

Mark says that most of his marking becomes a two-word process – ‘I agree.’ This is because he has taken the time to train the children in peer assessment – what they think has been done effectively and what could be improved. As this is part of the on-going daily dialogue of the classroom, when the children produce more meaningful homework in this way, the marking burden has reduced.

Mark also talks about how individual teachers can make changes when they work in schools which don’t seem to support the unhomework model. Mark has seen schools transformed from within by individual teachers taking on the concepts. Often the children themselves are the catalysts for this kind of change.

Parents are crucial to the process as well, of course, and an effective conversation with parents is essential.

Unhomework – the book!

Mark on Twitter – @EP3577

Mark’s website –

Read the full show notes on the Pivotal Education site

Tweet of the Week

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How to improve education with NAHT President, Kim Johnson – PP139

Paul Dix
Paul Dix
Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne

The new President of the National Association of Headteachers, Kim Johnson, joined us this week. It was great to speak to him about what happened when he took the role and what he wants to achieve in his time as President.

As an experienced Special School head, Kim is keen to ensure that these schools are not overlooked. Her are his top three priorities:

Kim Johnson
Kim Johnson
  1. Teacher Assessment – to get the government to trust the profession over assessment and accountability
  2. Get quality individuals not just to enter the teaching profession but actually to stay
  3. Raise the profile of Special educational Needs – to make sure it’s not an after-thought or an add-on and base developments on new scientific research

Details of the NAHT conference are here –

Paul also managed to catch up with Pivotal Education Creative Lead, Tara Ellie just before she set off for Australia. Tara is now working full-time for Pivotal and is enjoying investigating all sort so initiatives from around the world so they can be used to help transform the lives of children.

Read the full show notes on the Pivotal Education site

Tweet of the Week

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How to lower the threat and increase the challenge with Mary Myatt – PP138

Paul Dix
Paul Dix
Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne

We had a great conversation this week with author, educationalist and Ofsted inspector, Mary Myatt. We talked about why high challenge and low threat are a good combination and we also answered an email question about noisy lunchtimes!

Mary works in schools talking to pupils, teachers and leaders about learning, leadership and the curriculum.  She advises, writes and trains and she supports schools to think imaginatively about learners’ progress.

Mary Myatt
Mary Myatt

High Challenge Low Threat by Mary Myatt

Mary explains that high challenge high threat closes us down from our best possible work.

High threat starts pushing the buttons for fear, for retreating and for a lack of clarity of thinking.

What about high expectations? Are those sometimes a threat?

Mary believes we are programmed to want high challenge, high expectations but our responses need to be seen as separate from ourselves. We mustn’t be led to believe that we are foolish or wrong for attempting to rise to the challenge of high expectations – it’s all down to how the challenge is expressed and reacted to by schools and leaders. It must be effectively modelled by them themselves.

Senior leaders need to open up to their vulnerabilities as well and show where they haven’t always got things right.

This helps to make them stronger leaders.

Mary also points out that…

Read the full show notes on the Pivotal Education site

Tweet of the Week

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