Susie Speller – An ‘Oxbridge’ Too Far For State School Students? – PP187

Susannah SpellerThis week, Paul spoke to Susie Speller, Associate Professor of Materials at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. Susie first came to the University of Oxford as an undergraduate student in Materials Science, staying on to gain a DPhil in the field of high temperature superconducting materials. She was awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowship in 2005 which she undertook part time in the Department of Materials until she took up a permanent academic post in 2015. Susie leads a research group specialising in superconducting materials and co-directs the Centre for Applied Superconductivity which was established in 2015 (  She is also one of the admissions tutors in the Materials Science Department at St. Catherine’s College and is therefore right at the ‘sharp end’ of the process of assessing applications and interviewing prospective students.

What does your role as an admissions tutor involve?

Susie assesses the UCAS forms sent in by applicants, decides which students to invite for interview and then interviews them for admission to St. Catherine’s College.

In the context of press reports and  studies which suggest that Oxbridge deliberately disseminates against certain groups of applicants and ends up with little diversity, what are the common myths about applying and what puts students off?

Susie believes that there is a perception that Oxbridge is elite and only students from wealthy or public school backgrounds will fit in. She disagrees with this and says that there is a large amount of diversity at Oxford amongst students and academic staff. Oxbridge is highly selective, however and students are selected for their intellectual and academic potential – not what kind of education they have had or how much money their parents have and whether they themselves went to university.

When looking at UCAS forms, the school an applicant went to is not considered very much at all. In fact the only time Susie really takes account of the school is when it’s ‘flagged’ by UCAS as being in a less advantaged part of the UK or hasn’t historically sent many students to university. This is to ensure those students are not being disadvantaged by the process. This is known as ‘contextual data’.

What Susie is actually looking for is the applicant’s previous academic performance and what their potential is to get a good degree at the College.

The data still shows that certain types of students aren’t getting through what appears to be a very fair process. Are they just not applying because they think it’s not for them?

“We just don’t get as many applicants from state school and we can’t give places to people who don’t apply.”

Susie thinks students are put off for a number of reasons. They might:

  • Think they are not good enough
  • Think they won’t fit in
  • Think that the Oxbridge college set up is stuffy

Susie also suggests that teachers themselves may have prejudices against Oxbridge or not want to raise the expectations of their students – they may not think it’s an attainable goal, even for their high-achieving students.  This is what people like Susie at Oxbridge are trying hard to overcome.

What can teachers do to encourage their students to apply to Oxbridge?

Susie believes a change in attitudes is needed – not only amongst teachers but maybe parents as well. There maybe prejudices to overcome. The most important message for teachers is to avoid discouraging their high-achieving learners from applying to Oxbridge just because they don’t have a lot of experience helping students to do so or because they think they know what Oxbridge is like even though they and their students haven’t been and seen it. Teachers should be encouraging their students to find out more – to go to open days or attend outreach events put on by the universities.

“When they get to Oxbridge we can’t tell which of our students are from state schools and which are from independent schools.”

Do A-Levels prepare students for degree courses at Oxbridge?

In STEM subjects, Susie believes there are problems with A-Levels. It isn’t what’s taught but the fact that very able students can do well in A-Levels just from rote learning. If they have a good memory and they work hard they can learn how to answer the questions.

Teachers become very good at teaching their students how to do well in the papers – which is what they are judged on. This can discourage the students from thinking for themselves which is precisely the kind of skill Oxbridge wants them to have. The problem is with the qualification – not with teachers.

There also isn’t enough opportunity in A-Levels to practise the skills so that you cna apply them to problems. Students from other countries seem to be better at this then those from the UK, in general – from state and independent schools.

However, after a little time, the differences are flattened out and UK students are actually better at problem-solving than their fellow students from abroad.

There is a huge amount more detail in the episode so do listen right to the end!


Sky Caves – She Tech knows what it’s all about – PP186

Sky CavesSky Caves is a Learning Technology Apprentice at Basingstoke College of Technology working as a part of their  in-house digital team, BCoT Digital, to curate, research, train and assist with the implementation of digital tools throughout the college. She also works closely with Specialist Provision and, as of this year, has been curating self-directed learning resources for the Level 1 Future Pathways students’ blended learning.

Sky believes that technology saved her after her own challenging school life which included attending a Pupil Referral Unit.

How do you think we should be using Educational Technology to engage learners more?

Sky believes that Edtech should be used as an aid, not a replacement. It can be a great time-saver and that’s one of the main focus points of her team’s work at BCoT. She works a lot with video resources which can free up teacher time for 1-to-1 interaction. Technology can also help differentiate for different learners, for example in how they can record their learning.

Some teachers need more help than others to integrate technology into their practice and that’s why Sky thinks it’s really important to have teams like hers to help. They can help guide teachers with what works and why it works – rather than just throwing masses of technology and resources at them.

What can teachers who are not yet using technology extensively do to get started?

Sky recommends that teachers take part in social media to see what’s going on in the use of technology in teaching. There are many blogs which specifically try and spread the word of how to integrate technology into teaching and provide reviews, for example.

What impact can technology have for learners?

When Sky started college herself, she wasn’t confident about joining in class conversations. Technology allowed her to contribute and grow in confidence through techniques such as the use of Twitter hashtags and Padlet virtual note boards.

She is also very strongly in favour of the use of cloud-based software and services. This can allow students who have to be absent from lessons to access the content remotely and catch up.

Skye has noticed the growth of social media contact between students and staff with staff creating additional accounts for interacting with students on a particular course. She sees this a great way for teachers to adapt what they do to suit the learning styles and preferences of their classes.

Is there a danger we are removing the human element from education and depending too much on the technology?

Skye agrees there is a risk but not if we are doing this for the right reasons. If we are trying to replace interaction with technology then this is going to be negative but if we are using it as an aid then it can be very positive. She gives an example of a self-directed learning scenario in use at  BCoT which is fully supported by  facilitators but where the work is set on Google Classroom. The facilitation is there to support the students to develop their own self-directed learning skills.

Sky on Twitter

James Kieft on Twitter
James’ blog on Edtech

Tom Rogers on Sun, Sea and History – PP185

Thomas RogersWe really enjoyed speaking to Thomas Rogers this week. Tom is a Head of History, classroom teacher of 10 years, columnist for the TES and course curator for Udemy. He teaches in an International School in Northern Spain and was first encouraged to go into teaching by his experiences working for Cam America. He has ended up after 10 years of teaching at an English School in Spain via two comprehensive schools in England.

His writing for the Times Education Supplement began in 2015 when he had decided to quit teaching. His first blog post on his own website was picked up by the TES who asked if they could publish it. He was asked to write more articles and hasn’t stopped since.

What are the benefits of teaching history to young people?

Tom believes the benefits are ‘endless’. The lessons of the past are there in everything history teachers do. For example, the current conflicts in North and South Korea, between Israelis and Palestinians or even looking at modern Germany all help students to understand the context of what is going on today. It helps them to understand why nations and the people within those nations make the decisions they do today.

How do you go about making history as interesting as possible for your students?

Tom says that if history teachers can build up their own subject knowledge sufficiently, they can present information which students were completely unaware of and can engage powerfully. Certain periods of history will also spark interest  but all of this relies on how lessons are structured, just like in any subject. However, Tom believes it’s mostly about having a passion and love for the subject.

How do you manage the climate around social and political views in your classroom?

Tom believes it’s about freedom of speech, first and foremost. He tries to create a safe environment where every student is safe to express what they really feel.

“We need to be as tolerant as we can…in terms of different students’ views on different things.”

In his class, Tom talks a lot about propaganda and how news can be manipulated. He points out the problems around tacking subjects such as ‘Fake News’ – he asks, ‘Fake to who?’ Why are people saying something is Fake News, what is their motivation? The difference between fact ans opinion is very important to get across to a class.

Why do you think the issue of support for teachers who wan to remain in the classroom need highlighting?

“We don’t have enough teachers in the classroom and at some point we are going to run out.”

We should be rewarding people who want to stay in the classroom and making it clear that what they are doing is just as valuable as what the Assistant Head in the school is doing. Tom believes there should be a national progression route for teachers who want to stay in the classroom.

What are the main differences between working in an international school and a school in the UK?

Tom points out he has only worked in one international school in Spain. However, from his experience, there are lots of positives:

  • The climate makes a huge difference to your mentality when there is so much more sunshine than in the UK
  • Wages for teachers are lower in most of mainland Europe compared to the UK but the cost of living is significantly lower as well
  • There is no Ofsted and there are no league tables
  • There is an emphasis on the development of the whole child
  • Tom gets slightly more PPA time, despite the hours in school being slightly longer so work-life balance is real, unlike in the UK
  • Children are not trying to be adults by the age of 13
  • There is much less obsession with technology

Tom predicts the current trend for teachers to move to international schools will only increase in the next few years.

Tom on Twitter

Tom’s website

TMHISTORYICONS –  TeachMeet website

TMHistoryIcons on Twitter

Why all educators need to care about Mine Conkbayir’s frontal cortex – 184

Mine Conkbayir
Mine Conkbayir

Ollie spoke to Mine Conkbayir this week about the brain and why we all need to know so much more about it than we do. She helps to debunk some myths which are still very prevalent in today’s schools and presents a high level of challenge to all educators to examine their practice.

Mine is an award-winning author, lecturer and trainer. She has worked in the field of early childhood education and care for over 17 years. Mine is the winner of the Nursery Management Today (NMT) Top 5 Most Inspirational People in Childcare Award.

She is the founder of the Cache Endorsed Learning Programme, Applying Neuroscience to Early Intervention. Mine is currently collaborating with the Metropolitan police force, undertaking independent research which explores the connection adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) and criminality.

She is also undertaking a PhD in early childhood education and neuroscience to develop her work in the complex and challenging subject of infant brain development. Her key objective is to bridge the gap between neuroscience and early years discourse and practice. She hopes that her research will provide the necessary evidence to seek solutions to this persistent issue, with the ultimate goal of enhancing provision for babies, children and young adults.

How do we know what’s valuable, evidence-based neuroscience which we can use with learners?

In fact, Mine says there is a wider problem than this. For many years Early Years and other educators have been told not to touch neuroscience. However, evidence no shows us that the foundation is laid in those early years. Trauma and adversity in the home means that more and more children are entering our schools unable to exercise the skills and qualities they need to succeed. These children are then labelled and excluded at younger and younger ages and given drugs to manage their behaviour. Mine believes all of this is avoidable.

Children who are in ‘flight or fight’ mode cannot learn and it’s their stress which causes that reaction. Mine believes that the situation we have now could have been avoided if the study of evidence in neuroscience had been embedded in all teachers’ initial training. It also now needs to come from the Department for Education.

Teachers who don’t understand what’s happening inside the brain of a child who has experienced trauma, abuse or neglect are in danger of simply ‘managing their challenging behaviour’ rather than also supporting the child’s mental wellbeing.

Strategies to support these children in school

Mine says that her mantra is ‘love each child’. This has to be combined with the abandonment of isolation for disruptive behaviour. Rather than enforcing ‘time out’ she recommends a ‘time in’ approach – nurturing each child who hasn’t been given the support or the emotional vocabulary or toolkit to deal with what they are feeling. Some children need ‘safe havens’ that they know they can go to when they feel they are about to have an aggressive episode.

What are the effects of ‘toxic stress’ on the young brain?

Children might:

  • be aggressive
  • be hyper aroused
  • be hyper vigilant – even when there are no triggers around
  • experience their brain and body being on alert all the time because of their high cortisol levels

The children who experience this constantly end up ion social isolation in the school, they fail at GCSE level, they don’t go to college and are more likely to be involved with gangs, teenage pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse. In adults, this can lead eventually to higher rates of conditions such as heart disease and premature death.

So children who are not being supported to practise self-regulation can end up as seriously damaged adults.

In schools this can all be influenced by the ethos and the ways in which children experience it. According to Mine, schools need to move from ‘behaviour management’ to ‘behaviour understanding’.

There’s a huge amount more detail in the episode this week!

Mine’s new online course – Applying Neuroscience to Early Intervention – contact Mine for your Pivotal Podcast Listener 10% discount – here

Mine on Twitter

Alison Kriel on Leading With Compassion – PP183

Alison Kriel
Alison Kriel

In a week when there was a surprise change of Education Secretary in England, it was a delight to welcome Alison Kriel to the podcast.

Alison has the experience of turning round a school which was in a remarkably challenging state and as Mike puts it, ‘leading with compassion’. She also has a focus on wellbeing and the dramatic difference it can make to staff and students.

She is originally from South Africa and ‘feel into teaching by default’. She chose to teach in Hackney, inner London because she loves the diversity and spent a long time as a Deputy with responsibility for inclusion in a Primary School there.

Alison became a headteacher in 1999 in a school in Stoke Newington which she built up from a brand new, small Early Years School to become a two-form entry Primary School. Eventually, the local authority asked her to take care of another school which was ‘in a troubled place’ – an arrangement only meant to last for 4 months. In fact, Alison remained there until last Summer – 2017. She remains the CEO of the Trust but is now pursuing different directions in education, after being a headteacher for a long time.

“If the children hadn’t asked me I probably wouldn’t have stayed.”

At what stage did leadership appeal to you and how did you find it at first?

Alison never saw herself as a leader – it was more about opportunities presenting themselves. The headteacher she first worked for as deputy was outspoken yet commended great respect. She ensured that Alison had plenty of opportunities to develop her leadership skills while also backing her up – if anything went wrong it was her headteacher’s responsibility, not hers.

“That really taught me about how to trust your colleagues.”

Alison was deputy for around 8 years and then was persuaded to go for headship by her headteacher. She was shocked to be selected. Looking back now, she believes that her success was due to the model of her headteacher – she feels that she didn’t have enough life experience to be a good leader.

What was Nothwold School in Hackney like when you took over?

There hadn’t been a permanent headteacher for three years, there was a very high number of supply teachers (£780,000 was spent on them in the year before Alison arrived) and there was a falling school roll.

“There was no sense of  working collaboratively as a team for the good of the school.”

The children’s behaviour was ‘seriously off the wall’ and staff attendance was at 64%. The only way that the school could get students through SATs was by putting in many interventions which was very expensive. The children had no respect for the adults and the adults had no respect for the children. It was a community in fear.

Alison had to ask a teacher to leave as soon as she arrived at the school. The teacher told her as she left:

“You’ll never get anyone to teach these animals.”

The school was only focused on results, not on the journey.

What did you do to turn things around – what was the process in terms of behaviour?

Despite opposition from staff, Alison scraped the dinner plates in the lunch hall as one of her first actions to turn the school around. This means you can have the simplest communication possible with a child and it helps you to form informal relationships.

Alison also persuaded the staff that if they wanted the children’s behaviour to change, they had to be role models for that change. A lot of the children didn’t have those kinds of role models at home.

She modelled ‘calm’ and had a ‘no shouting’ rule. They also created very different kinds of rewards after talking to the children about what they wanted. These were all based on connection:

  • Tea parties
  • Lunch at the Rain forest Cafe
  • Extra playtime
  • Using micro-scooters in the playground
  • 10-pin bowling
  • Watching a movie with popcorn – the child who was being supported by the rest of the class with their behaviour was allowed to choose the movie


After conversations with her mentor, Alison realised the importance of wellbeing for herself and, as a consequence, for the whole school. Her governors understood the importance of Alison’s wellbeing as well and were happy to support it financially but Alison persuaded them that the wellbeing of the whole school was important and so they decided to set aside 1% of the school budget for mindfulness.

In fact, Alison ended up going to the local Buddhist centre and arranged training from there for the whole staff in breathing. She combined this with thinking about how to make teachers’ working lives better around workload and, for example, cancelling the morning briefing which could be a major source of stress. She replaced it with time for mindfulness.

This then spread to the children and the impact has been remarkable – Alison describes it as one of the best things she has done. This is backed up by the radical improvement in teacher attendance statistics.

Alison’s website –

Alison on Twitter –

Policing Our Schools With Shane O’Neill – PP182

Shane O'Neill
Shane O’Neill

Mike spoke to an ex-Chief Inspector from Manchester Police, Shane O’Neill. Shane loved Policing but wanted to leave in order to work in different ways to help to avoid criminalising young people who have just made mistakes.

Global Policing Ltd helps schools with behaviour, safety and security but at the same time educating children on what choices they have and what the consequences of their actions are.

“One of the things I find completely shocking about the UK is that children as young as 10 become criminally responsible and can go to prison.”

Shane points out that nobody has told our children what crime is – so how can we expect them to understand?

Shane’s background gives him a unique viewpoint – while he was rising through the ranks in the Police, his brother was spending time in prison. This was one of the catalysts for Shane to embark on his work – to make it clear to children that no-one but themselves are responsible for their decisions.

Shane remembers the earliest days of his Policing career when many Police officers were based in schools and there was time for creating and sustaining relationships with schools. This is no longer the case.

When Shane and his team work directly with schools one of the most important things they do is make connections with the children – so they feel able to share information, to trust them. Misconceptions are all too common but avoidable if we understand the children we are involved with and take the time to find out why they are misbehaving.

However this doesn’t mean Shane and his team are soft on children who are committing serious crime.

Shane works mainly in Primary schools so he says that most of his work is with the consequences of mistakes. He is frustrated when he sees adults and the community demanding that a child is criminalised when that one issue can prevent the child from becoming a Police officer, a teacher, or a politician. A much better approach is to work restoratively – to get them to apologies and work to make what they did right. They will learn from this.

Shane gives some very powerful examples of how his sessions run, for example when working on knife crime.

Shane also works directly with teachers. He often finds that they can put themselves in the middle of a difficult situation by confronting the aggressor while another teacher comforts the victim. In fact, it would be much better for the teacher to stand to the side, go down to the level of the children and get them to stand facing each other to speak to each other. The teacher can then facilitate the restorative conversation.

There’s lots more to discover n this great episode so do listen right to the end!

Global Policing on Facebook

Global Policing on Twitter

It’s the Pivotal Podcast Christmas Quiz 2017! – 181

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Play the Podcast Episode Now


Christmas!It’s time, once again, for the annual Pivotal Podcast Christmas Quiz. This year, we’ve changed the format a bit so you can play along in your staff meeting or even at your Christmas party!

Christmas quiz presenters are:

Featured but not participating:

Paul Woodward – Stories from around the world – PP180

Paul Woodward
Paul Woodward – Principal Trainer

Episode 180!

Ollie welcomes Pivotal Principal Trainer, Paul Woodward onto the show this week. Paul Dix interviewed Paul shortly after he joined Pivotal Education and we have included some of that conversation this week.

More recently, Ollie had the pleasure of interviewing Paul again to find out a lot more about his educational beliefs and approaches.

Paul has been an international education specialist for over 25 years and has worked in primary, secondary, tertiary and university contexts in the UK, Australia and Africa. He is a published scholar in the field of education and performance, a professional theatre practitioner, and a coach and mentor to various inspirational charity projects around the world. His work with Pivotal supplements his ongoing doctoral research into the uses of storytelling, performance, and disclosure in educational contexts.

Dignity as a male teacher in Africa

Paul has worked extensively with teachers in Africa and one of the most interesting ideas he came across was when male teachers were concerned about losing their dignity as teachers – as as men – if they physically got down to the level of their students to talk to them. He tried to get across to the teachers that being physically low is actually showing your dignity:

“My entire focus is not on my ego at the moment – my entire focus is on what I’m trying to do…to reach a learner…to help them step over that threshold into making better choices for themselves.”

The Power of storytelling for teaching and learning

“Human beings are hardwired for connection.”

Paul believes the quickest way to that connectivity is through stories – it’s how we make sense of the world around us – how we make organise information.

“Why would we not use something within the classroom that involves us, connects us and helps us make sense of the immediate experience of being there in that environment?”

The power of this approach was brought home to Paul when he worked with children who had survived the trauma of war. When he encouraged the children to tell the story of their lives, they became the heroes of their own narratives. This is an extreme example from Africa but Paul believes the same approach can be used with any student who is struggling with their identity, their position in life.

Paul also tells a remarkable story of his time teaching sex education in a school in a tough neighbourhood in Australia. He made himself vulnerable by telling his own story – and the results were amazing.

Paul’s Top Tips for developing rapport

Do listen to Paul explaining each of these:

  1. Smile – if you don’t find smiling natural but you do enjoy being there with the kids – so show them!
  2.  Show your humanity – don’t be afraid of being vulnerable – be present – there is power in that

Use of music to influence energy

When we think about our most important moments in life there’s usually a soundtrack of some kind. Paul talks about ‘Relaxing into learning’ which is a phrase he heard a Primary teacher using. This can be helped by using music.

“Music can help us to bypass some of those fears, those anxieties.”

Paul also encourages us to be playful with music to enhance learning experiences, for example ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ in a science lesson on magnesium.

There are so many other stories and great pieces of advice in this interview so do listen carefully!

Many thanks to our ‘180’ guests this week!

Ollie Frith
Bell Farm School
Ben Povey – Harris Fold School
Paul Dix
Ellie Dix
Jaz Ampaw-Farr
Ben Toettcher
The Varndean Goats
Amjad Ali
Bertie Dix

Level 3 Safeguarding – Herts – 30th January 2018

Ninjas and Sherbet Lemons – Nina Jackson in the Time Out Room – PP179

Nina Jackson
Nina Jackson

What an amazing time Nina had in the Time Out Room this week!

Paul really enjoyed talking to her about Sherbet Lemons and what she means by describing herself as a Ninja!

Nina is She is a former teacher and an International Education Consultant. She has a breath-taking grasp of what makes classrooms, children and their teachers tick. She’s a leading practitioner in all areas of Teaching & Learning with particular expertise in Special Educational Needs, Digital Technology and Mental and Emotional Health. Nina has transformed learning and teaching in some of the most challenging schools in the UK as well as working extensively with schools on the international circuit. Winner of the IPDA International Prize for Education and described by the TES as an ‘inspirational, evangelical preacher of education’, Nina is a tour-de-force when it comes to enlivening teaching and learning for all. Nina is one of the happiest, most effervescent personalities in education today and puts her own learning, and the learning of others at the heart of everything she believes in.


#unusualwordsbuddy on Twitter
Nina on Twitter
Teach Learn Create Ltd

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On the up and up with Jodie Downs – PP178

Jodie Downs
Jodie Downs

Jodie is A Senior Leader at Laurence Jackson Secondary School in North Yorkshire. Last year, she undertook Pivotal ‘s Leading Behaviour Change in School course with a colleague which she describes as:

“A bit of a game-changer.”

It convinced her to proceed to the Pivotal Behaviour Management Instructor Course:

“[The course] gave me the vision I needed to go away and make  changes that were needed in my school.”

Jodie isn’t keen on silence in the Time Out Room or in her classroom. She believes that quiet classrooms can create very passive learners and allow those who don’t want to engage to hide very easily.

“I want to see  teachers trusting their learners to take a risk and taking a risk themselves.”

However, Jodie recommends a flexibility in the teacher approach and balance because learners need to know how to work in different modes – 1-to-1, in groups and in silence, particularly as students need to be able to take silent assessments.

The punishments Jodie remembers from her own school days were the ‘blanket’ ones – the unfair and actually the least effective ones. She points out that often the right thing to do as a teacher managing behaviour is not the intuitive thing to do.


Jodie was pleased that she experienced very little resistance in changing approaches to behaviour management in her school – she feels that everyone was ready for the changes, which means they were necessary.

“The thing I’m most proud of is we are having conversations now about behaviour not about sanctions.”

Jodie also points out that we have been differentiating learning for a long time but have relied on blanket behaviour management – she believes it’s time to differentiate behaviour management as well.

In behaviour management what skills are we using apart from our voices?


  • where you stand
  • the expression on your face
  • the tone of your voice
  • when to make eye contact and when not to

Jodie and Ollie talk about taking lessons in silence and seeing if you can just use body language and other cues – and Jody points out she had to do this recently when she contracted laryngitis – and she was observed!

There’s a lot more from Jodie in the episode as well as some Education News and Pivotal News – so do listen right to the end!

Jodie on Twitter

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