Autistic? Genius! with Tom Bowes – PP192

Autistic Genius - Tom Bowes
Autistic Genius – Tom Bowes

Ollie interviewed the self-proclaimed ‘Autistic Genius’, Tom Bowes this week in a great interview about the condition and what we should, as teachers and human beings, be doing about it.

Often, Tom says, people focus on the autism and not the individual. He points out that autism isn’t a behavioural issue but it can cause behavioural issues. It is, rather, a cognitive issue.

Tom doesn’t think it’s possible to stop people reacting with labels because of the way humans’ brains work – everyone always tries to fill in the gaps. We will never fully understand autism because it is a unique condition in each person who has it. All Tom can suggest is to focus on the small number of people we come into contact with who have autism and this can take a burden off parents and others.

Most research has been done with men and so most people believe autism is more common in men but that’s not necessarily true.

Simon Barron-Cohen,  clinical psychologist, professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, says there are three types of brain:

  1. Female – empathic
  2. Male – logical
  3. Autistic – over-logical – a man’s brain x 2!

Anxiety, autism and mental health

Anxiety is heavily linked to autism. When a new situation happens, different autistic genders react differently – in fact in opposite ways:

  • Male – say ‘no’ or hide
  • Female – say ‘yes’ to everything which them builds up and up as anxiety

This has an impact on female autistic people’s mental healthy.

How can we make classrooms more inclusive and celebratory of all kinds of difference, including autism?

Tom believes that there are too many children in a class at the moment. There’s too much going on for autistic learners.

Also, Tom works with children and tells them about autism, often before or instead of working with adults in a school. This means that they understand about the condition and can then be advocates for inclusion.

“All kids need to know is that  it means [children with autism] think differently.”


Tom points out that the way autistic people react to needs is different and it can be completely contradictory between individuals. Some may never feel sick and then suddenly be sick, others may be much more sensitive to feeling like nausea. Some may feel temperature very acutely, others hardly at all.


Change is often difficult in school and elsewhere for autistic people. However, Tom advocates not avoiding change for autistic children but rather teaching them how to cope with it because there will always be change. Often autistic children lack the imagination to workout what to do in a changing situation. They can be taught however, and won’t be upset to be treated in this way. Also, the autistic brain is incapable of transferring skills which the child may be brilliant at in one context to a different context. It sees them as different skills.

“[People without autism] pick up things as they go but autistic people don’t – they need to be told it.”

3 Tips for supporting learners with autism

  1. The 8 Second Rule –  autistic people need up to 8 seconds to respond to any kind of question – if you jump in with another question or helpful comment, it ‘deletes’ what was there before
  2. Be patient
  3. Listen

Tom’s web places:





Re-framing the Education Debate with Independent Thinker, Ian Gilbert – PP191

Ian Gilbert
Ian Gilbert

In one of the most thought-provoking and important episodes we have ever had on the podcast, Paul talks to author, teacher and founder of Independent Thinking, Ian Gilbert. The result is a no-holds-barred, uncompromising critique of the state of education in England today and what we should be doing about it. Listen at your own risk – you might end up changing the world.

What do the best schools in the poorest communities do to give their children the best start in life?

Ian believes it’s actually the similar to the best schools in richer areas – a broad, rich curriculum. In his forthcoming book, The Working Class: Poverty, education and alternative voices, Ian argues that the curriculum in England has been narrowed to the extent that you are ‘either in or out’ – and it tends to be the poorest, the children with the most challenges who are ‘out’. This is what’s happened in the state school system in England:

“You’re never going to get an independent school or international school saying, ‘we really want to do the best for our children so we’re going to get rid of art, music, sport, service…'”

As you’ll hear in the episode, Ian thinks it’s essential to question the part politics and politicians play in education. He advocates getting an all-party consensus on the direction of education which should be combined with a moratorium on change  in a 10-year strategy.

Alongside this, as happened in Finland, the level of trust in teachers must be greatly improved. In Ian’s experience, teachers and leaders want to accountable – but to their peers not to politically-driven unaccountable bodies like Ofsted – which Ian would remove as part of the 10-year plan.

Are schools becoming less inclusive and what’s the cost of this on our society?

Ian thinks they are and that the effect is pernicious. We are in a system which works via punishment and reward. People, though, will always find a way of cheating the system. If that means ‘off-rolling’, exclusion or reducing the curriculum, then we will do it because the system is making us do it. If you are part of a huge academy chain, there is massive political pressure on you to succeed so you will resort to these sorts of tactics.

However, Ian still sees in many schools around the country teachers who say that they are not going to play these games – they actively include as many children as they can. If we all stop playing the game, the game won’t work so it depends how far we are prepared to go as educators in saying we are not going to play that game anymore.

“There’s been this unspoken agreement that the quality of a school is based purely on results and the purpose of education is to get results.”

Ian believes this is not the purpose of education and we need to take this narrative back. He can see the damage this mindset is doing to countries, to schools, to teachers and to individuals. Ian sums this up in the growth mindset mantra:

“You are not your exam results.”

When comparing overseas education systems to our own around PISA results, Ian says there are two things which are always missed out:

  1. The number of children to are receiving tuition – 90% of children in South Korea receive out-of-school tuition
  2. The rates of suicide and mental health problems in the children of the highest-rated PISA countries

“Use your data to improve your children and not the other way round.”

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

James Yates’ ‘Signature Behaviour Dish’ – PP190

James YatesJames is Head of Academic Progress for Upper School at Plymton Academy. We were keen to speak to him because he combines a leadership role with being in the classroom himself.

How did you learn to support and create a positive climate for behaviour in the classroom?

James believes this came quite naturally to him because of his natural love of communicating and connecting with people.

“[Students] need to buy into you as a person before they buy into what you are selling.”

Some students will not have any natural interest in a subject so it’s important to ‘sell’ the benefits of it to them.

James has adapted the Pivotal 3 rules – Be Respectful Be Ready Be Safe – for his classroom and points out to the class that they are joint rules – they aren’t just his rules for the students – they apply to him as well.

How do you create a connection with students which isn’t too personal?

It’s about noticing something about a student like a sports team they support and then perhaps making a light-hearted comment about it.

Having that human connection, you can build up and add to a ‘jar of good will’ which can then be used int he future because the learner knows you are speaking to them because you want to rather than you have to – they aren’t just a ‘number’ in the classroom.

Was there anything from your teacher training which helped a lot in the classroom?

James says ‘consistency’ came up a lot and that’s exactly right. It’s important that students know what to expect – this makes it much easier to develop the culture you want in your classroom. It’s also important to make sure your classroom ethos fits in with the overall school ethos so inconsistencies aren’t set up there either.

Working strategically as you so, what’s the key to supporting practitioners in the classroom?

James believes it’s important to let staff know there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach because all students are different. Also, James is careful to ensure he is empowering staff who might be struggling, not taking that power away. Sometimes he does come across colleagues who want him to come in and take over.

When he is approached by staff for support in behaviour, James often notices their frustration. They can’t understand why a student is behaving as they are. It’s important to remember that there may be things going on outside school which staff have no control over or even knowledge of. James tries to share some ideas on how they can overcome the issues but he makes it clear he doesn’t have any ‘magic bullets’ because they don’t exist.

What about practitioners who are reluctant to come forward for help?

James approaches these colleagues in person and tries to be pro-active in offering help. He makes it clear that the practitioner isn’t responsible for the behaviour of the student but there are things we can all do to try and help.

What do you mean by a teacher’s ‘signature dish’?

This comes from a blog post James wrote in Great British Bake Off finals week. He believes we all, as teachers, have a strength – something we should show off but we don’t necessarily have the chance to do this. Often he only finds out about his colleagues’ talents by accident. Sharing your teaching signature dish isn’t arrogance, it’s having the confidence to offer help and advice to others.

Challenge the Gap

James also explains his work with Challenge the Gap  – a whole school improvement programme that builds capacity at all levels with the aim of breaking the link between poverty and poor outcomes for good. Leaders, teachers and para-professionals join together on Challenge the Gap as a Team that becomes a catalyst for change within their school.

Contact James:

Twitter –

Blog –

Where The Wild Things Are With Kate Milman – PP189

Kate MilmanOllie spoke to Kate Milman this week from Wild Things Ecological Education Collective. The organisation has been running as a small grassroots and voluntary managed, not-for-profit social co-operative since 1997, working in the woodland environment with children and young people from Nottingham and Derbyshire.

Wild Things provides woodland based environmental learning adventures, Forest School programmes, residential camps in the Derbyshire countryside, and
co-operative challenges in the natural world for children and young people aged between 4-21 years old. They work with schools, alternative education provisions, play schemes and youth groups. Over the last 20 years they have been able to help thousands of children and young people access positive and high impacting experiences in the natural world.

Wild Things specialises in working with children and young people who are classified as being “in need” and who are facing severe disadvantage in their lives, and as a result need extra emotional, social or learning support to reach their full potential. We help schools, and their children in need, to access our provision by securing funding from small funding bodies and Trusts.

The majority of the children that they work with live in areas of inner city Nottingham that are effected by multiple deprivation and that are heavily urbanised. Most of the children who come out to Wild Things will have never set foot in a woodland before.

What are the benefits to being outside for learners from inner city areas or elsewhere?

Kate believes that there are many benefits. Often teachers tell her that they just don’t recognise the learners when they are in the woods. A lot of this is to do with space – it sounds different because of a lack of cars or people shouting and  it also looks different – many of the children Wild Things works with will never have seen a view before, never looked out across a landscape. Learners love the diversity of what they are seeing – the moving branches and the different colours, for example.

 “Having the freedom to be a child again is a massive thing.”

In the wood, you can make noise, you can move your body, you can explore, climb a tree and explore. More often nowadays children are driven from place to place and plugged into computers and phones. However, our ecology, our imaginations and everything which makes us human hasn’t changed and so a chance to be kids again is one of the main aims of the organisation.

Do these changes transfer back into the classroom after the 6 week programme?

Even two or three weeks into a programme, teachers already feedback to Kate about the impact the programme is having on learners. This is especially true for those children who are very quiet or have friendship difficulties. This is partly down to the collaborative nature of the work in the woods.

The fact that teachers are there with the children also has a big impact as they get to see the children achieve very differently to back in school. There is not necessarily any correlation between behaviour or achievement in the two settings.

Kate puts some of this down to the change in environment as well as the fact that the Wild Things staff don’t have any preconceptions about the learners. Expectations are set right at the beginning and trust has to be established quickly because of the safety aspects of learning outdoors. They also find that the vast majority of the children are highly motivated by the tasks and situations.

Other improvements Kate has witnessed in learners include improved time-keeping, self-esteem and, therefore, behaviour.

Do listne to the whole episode for lots more helpful advice and encouragement!
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Tweet of the Week!

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

“Yes We Can!” with Headteacher, Rae Snape – PP188

Rae SnapeRae Snape has been headteacher at The Spinney School in Cambridge since 2007. She is also a member of the DfE’s Primary Headteachers’ Reference Group where she has been helping the government reflect on its policies since 2010.

What tips would you give to headteachers who are currently implementing change and school improvement?

Rae points out that there are two meanings of the word ‘time’ in Ancient Greek –

  • Outward time – over the period of months and years where things can seem very chaotic
  • Inward time – the smaller sense of time where you have much more control

If we concentrate on those micro aspects of time – what’s happening today, for example – the balance can be much easier to manage. We should concentrate on the people and the relationships around us while at the same time also being mindful of a balance with medium and long term plans.

Dealing with change

“I think teachers are amazingly flexible, resilient creatures.”

Rae works with academics from the local Cambridge University and they compared approaches in academia to schools. In academia you can plan, prepare and take the time to think but in schools a change can be thought about on Monday morning and in place on Tuesday afternoon.

“[Teachers] just roll their sleeves up and get on with the job.”

Most experienced teachers, according to Rae, understand which battles they are not going to be able to win and so, in the interests of the children, they just get on with it.

What does leading with hope and optimism look like on a daily basis?

In their latest Ofsted inspection, the lead inspector called The Spinney ‘forward thinking and outward reaching’. This spurred on the school to continue making connections, building relationships. Rae believes that the more connections you can make and the more you reach out to people, the more positive your school will be.

Despite always being mindful of safeguarding, this led to an ‘open school’ culture and a desire to connect with artists, researchers, businesses and the local community. This has created a sense of joy and positivity in the school.

What practical changes could we make to schools to make them more positive places for teachers and learners?

Rae says that we need to look at the public vilification of schools whose test results don’t show what was hoped for. Naming and shaming of schools in the press and on the web is fundamentally unfair, according to Rae. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold schools to account for high standards.

“For there to be winners there must be losers and this can’t be right.”

That sense of positivity starts from outside the school for Rae. There are small sculptural installations outside her school which have been created in partnership with local artists. There are also art objects around the inside of the school and Rae believes that schools should be beautiful places.

Also, all members of staff ensure that there are lots of smiles and warmth around school.

“We are quite obsessive about cups of tea.”

Warm drinks are actually shown by research to be important. Not only do people feel welcomed with a hot drink, they also tend to rate the host with a stronger sense of credibility as a result.

Cambridge Festival of Education

This is a new initiative to celebrate hope and optimism in the workforce. It’s easy to gravitate towards the negative in education so this event is a deliberate attempt to shift thinking to a positive standpoint. It’s about honouring teachers who do such a wonderful job but sometimes don’t get the kind of credit they deserve.

Rae wrote a chapter for @flipthesystemuk on the importance of connection

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 –