Dr. Ian Cunningham – How to Hand Control of Everything to Students! – PP170

Dr. Ian Cunningham
Dr. Ian Cunningham

Paul interviewed Dr. Ian Cunningham from The Self Managed College in Brighton this week. He has some amazing things to share about handing control of everything over to students. There’s also lots of education news and Pivotal news!

The Self Managed College works with children from a variety of contexts and allows them total control of their own learning. Paul asks if the chopping and changing of what children decide to do cases problems. Ian says that they do indeed change and they re-write their learning agreement every term but actually it’s all part of learning how to learn and what to focus on.

Is self-managed learning more appropriate for the academically able?

Ian believes it’s much broader than that. The team have worked with excluded children and those who are seen as not motivated.

“As long as people can verbalise things we can work with them.”

What can a mainstream class teacher learn from a situation where children are allowed to self-manage?

The Self Managed College has a much lower ratio of staff to students but a lot of the techniques used are applicable everywhere, like the systems of perr feedback after behaviour incidents.

They spend a lot of time trying activities out and finding what the students are going to be motivated by. When a group of boys found they didn’t want to be professional footballers after a trial, they decided they were interested in building trades. So they discovered that they needed literacy, numeracy and science qualifications to work, for example, in a garage – and that’s what they worked towards.

So Ian points out that starting with long-term targets actually works with these children – short term targets mean nothing to them -they need to see the big picture at the start.

So we can help young people to understand the value of learning in any school setting.

Another example is be able to write a CV – in correct English – otherwise you won’t be able to get a job – and for this you need to pass some English exams.

Traffic Light System

Listen out in the episode for what Paul calls, ‘The best use of the traffic light metaphor I’ve seen.’


Ben Toettcher – Stories and connections – No Man is an Island – PP169

Ben ToettcherBefore introducing Ben, Ollie shares some thoughts on school uniforms – do share your own views in the comments below.

Ben is the new Pivotal Education Head of Sales. He has spent more than 20 years working in International Education. He has a wealth of knowledge about the International Baccalaureate and how it is taught in the UK.

Ben’s move to Pivotal coincides with the relocation to a new office in Kings Langley and he can see a lot of parallels in the Pivotal approach to his previous work. In the schools he worked in, teachers were from a huge variety of backgrounds but they wee bonded and united by a common philosophy. This is the basis of a lot of what Pivotal teaches as well – the importance of culture in schools.

Ben believes he new Pivotal offices are much more welcoming for people to visit the team. Pivotal has always visited schools to work with staff teams but now there is the opportunity to come away from the school environment and have the space to reflect on what is required in the school’s behaviour journey.

Ben is excited about the many ways in which Pivotal can help schools and he wants to make sure Pivotal can get into schools and talk to staff and students even more. He also wants to develop approaches using technology after the recent success of Pivotal Flare.

Finally, Ben is the first to take part in out new Pivotal Podcast feature where we ask each guest to read out a short piece of text which means a lot to them. Ben chose No Man is an Island by John Donne.

Connect with Ben:
Ben on Twitter
Ben on LinkedIn
Phone –

Teacher Toolkit – Ofsted and beyond! PP168

Ross Morrison McGill In our first episode of the new academic year, Paul went to speak exclusively to Ross Morrison McGIll you may well know better as Teacher Toolkit.

Ross announces that his situation has changed radically. He has resigned form his job as a teacher and has decided to move into providing the training he has been asked to do in schools by so many people for such a long time. He also plans to continue writing books and provide other kinds of educational consultancy.

Incredibly, he is already taking bookings up to 2019 and is very much looking forward to this new challenge.

Ross says he will miss a lot of the usual activity he has been involved in for so many years but he is pleased he is still going to be heavily involved in education. Being freelance, he is looking forward to being able to speak more honestly and openly about his educational beliefs and the things which have happened to him personally.

For a long time, Ross has been developing ways to manage the amazing growth of his blog and other activities as Teacher Toolkit. He had to bring in other people to keep the blog going because it grew to have an incredibly large following, for example. Ross thinks there must be more than a quarter of a million followers across all the different Teacher Toolkit platforms and online activities, and the website requires a lot of funding, development and management to keep it going. This was getting very difficult to keep up with as a full-time deputy head in a challenging school.

Ross was receiving amazing opportunities across the world to deliver training which he was unable to fulfil due to his teaching commitments so, despite bringing in additional people to help manage the Teacher Toolkit activities, he has found it increasingly difficult to manage, which has had an impact on his well-being, mental health family and job.

At the same time, Ofsted came into Ross’ school and decided that it needed to be in Special Measures.

When they delivered the inadequate judgement for teaching and learning, I regret not calling out because my gut said ‘are you telling me that there is nothing positive that this school has done in the last three years?’

This is despite a lot of schools Ross knows using aspects of what his school was doing as a template to help develop their practice. He believes that the data didn’t meet Ofsted’s benchmarks and that was the basis of the methodology for the rest of the inspection process. He believes the school is really borderline good with some very challenging behaviour and he questions how the inspection was carried out including inspectors having private conversations with students and asking what he describes as ‘leading questions’.

Despite all the issues, Ross is still very sad to leave the school. He has always been drawn to working in challenging schools but he has serious words of warning for other teachers who choose this rewarding path.

If you choose to work in a challenging school, you have to accept that at some point it’s going to come back and bite you.

He was made redundant from his first challenging school and now, despite his efforts, his school was put into Special Measures and a lot of other management decisions were made which he didn’t think were right.

Alongside the major changes for Ross, his wife, Jenny, has also resigned from her head of department teaching job and has started to work as a seamstress and designer alongside supporting the Teacher Toolkit developments as Co-Director. She is very talented and is enjoying a lot of media and professional attention for her artistic endevours.

Mark. Plan. Teach.

As part of the new venture, Ross has a new book coming out on 7th September called MARK. PLAN TEACH. on which he has worked with psychologist Dr. Tim O’Brien (find Tim’s interview on the Pivotal Podcast here).

Ross has developed a series of CPD events connected to the book which they are presenting around the country this academic year. They will be presented by Ross, Tim and Tom Sherrington.

Find out more about these training opportunities here.


Mark’s links:

MARK. PLAN. TEACH. on Amazon

Teacher Toolkit website
@TeacherToolkit on Twitter
Teacher Toolkit on YouTube
Teacher Toolkit on Facebook
TeacherToolkit on Instagram
Free job board

A head’s reflections on playtime and a job well done – PP167

Tim Browse
Tim Browse

Mike interviews Tim Browse this week for our final episode of the academic year. Tim is headteacher at Hillcrest Primary School in Bristol although he is moving on in September. Mike went on a two-day visit to Hillcrest and was struck by the great learning going on inside but it was in the playground that he was surprised by what he saw. There were chickens, children on spacehoppers, children stacking boxes , children tying crates together, walking round on stilts or riding sleds. It looked like chaos but it seemed to be purposeful chaos – all the children seemed to be highly engaged and happy.

Tim explains the equipment is called Play Pod and it’s supplied through Bristol Scrap Store. It encourages creative play in a situation where the school has no green space at all.

“It’s the kind of playground where if you don’t like football you might find it a bit an overwhelming place to be.”

With only funds available for one Play Pod, they had to make a decision whether to put it in the Key Stage 1 or the Key Stage 2 playground. So they decided to think differently and abandon separate playgrounds for Key Stages. This was a great idea and the results are clear in the great play between all children. They build dens and space rockets and all play together.

There used to be an indoor ‘chill club’ for those children who found it difficult in the outdoor environment and these children had additional time with the scrap store equipment in smaller groups. Now, these groups are able to access the outside all the time because the scrap has given them a focussed sense of play.

“We’ve seen more quality play and we’ve seen fewer playground upsets.”

Tim points out that seeing children at play in this new way has really helped the adults who work with nurture groups.

Listen to the episode to hear how Tim overcame an unexpected behaviour issue and lots of other inspirational stories!

Fast Track – Culture Change – PP166

Fast Track Teachers
Fast Track Teachers

Ollie Frith has spent this week with some amazing educators on Pivotal’s Fast Track residential training. 6 of them volunteered to talk to him for the podcast about the importance of culture change in schools.

As Ollie says, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. If we get the culture right in our schools and colleges, then great change can happen, otherwise we are just fire-fighting or being reactionary.

The teachers are from left to right:

Jeremy Heath – jheath@challneyboys.co.uk
Jemma Harris  @jemmaudrey
James Clark @senior_leader
Katie Meadows @Katiee_l23 

Priscilla Joseph
Hannah Griffiths

Race Against The Odds with Nicholas Taylor-Mullings – PP165

Nicholas Taylor-Mullins
Nicholas Taylor-Mullings

Nicholas is assistant head at a large, East London secondary school. After a career of work in areas such as underachievement, he is currently working on a PhD in race and education.

Do schools take the understanding of why certain groups underachieve seriously enough?

Nicholas believe we generally take it as a ‘given’ that certain types of children underachieve and out job is to do something about this rather than considering why these children are underachieving in the first place.

Is the underachievement of ethnic minority children due to a racist school system?

Nicholas believes this is true but it’s only part of the answer. When we speak about underachievement, people are happier to engage when it’s bases on a ‘deficit model’ – there’s something wrong with the child, the family, the background, the culture or the community. However, when you try and talk about the education system being institutionally racist, it gets closed down pretty quickly. This is the part of the problem that the education system hasn’t been brave enough to tackle yet in any meaningful way.

How do we facilitate and encourage these conversations?

However odd it sounds, Nicholas believes we need to create an environment in which it is safe to have these conversations. Governments starting the process to legislate against institutional racism in schools would be a very difficult thing to do (but it does need to happen). However, we can start by asking ‘what can schools do?’ They can start to consider what they should be doing in their training sessions, in their environments, in their policies.

We can start to point to the instances of institutional racism in our own institutions and begin to invite staff to question their role in it. For example, does the way we set children in our own school reflect a notion of the potential of different groups?

Is the act of defining any minority group – fuelling the problem at he same time as trying to solve it?

There is a danger of this, according to Nicholas but what it does do is bring to light phenomena which are already taking place. A large part of the responsibility of underachievement amongst minorities is down to the system itself. Pointing this out might be criticised as labelling other students who are going through the system. However, this kind of inequality needs to be brought to the attention of government and it’s already being done by researchers and academics. It’s better, according to Nicholas to accept that there is a risk to highlighting what’s going on in order to try and redress the situation.

Should we be targetting underachieving groups who aren’t ethnic minorities in the same way?

Nicholas believes we should. It’s most important to find out why they are underachieving in the first place but he does warn against just using raw  information like progress data on its own. It is possible to hide underachievement by just focussing on the achievement data and not taking other factors into consideration. However important data is, we must not lose the element of humanity.

What can we do about recruiting more ethnic minority teachers?

Nicholas agrees that targetting ethnic minority children might be part of the solution and he points out that getting a more ethnically diverse teaching population is helpful but it’s more important to have a staff who are prepared to communicate and collaborate with the local community. Also, there aren’t enough black and minority leaders in the system – and Nicholas sees this as a real problem.

Nicholas’ Top Tips for making progress:

  1. Have an open and honest debate in your school about why certain groups are underachieving and define the systems and processes which work to the disadvantage of these groups
  2. Challenge practice
  3. Find out what the impact is of the changes you make – make sure you review

Nicholas on Twitter


How to help young people be all that they can be with Joe Baldwin – PP164

Joe Baldwin
Joe Baldwin

Joe is Director of Learner Services at Bridgend College. After realising that Primary teaching wasn’t for him, he did some work experience as a teaching assistant in an FE college, working with learners with complex needs and emotional and behavioural difficulties. He loved this work so decided to do a PGCE. After projects with young people with autism, he moved to Wales to join the team at Bridgend FE College.

How might a young person with additional needs find the FE environment particularly challenging?

Joe thinks that the structure and operation of FE colleges are so different to schools that it can cause issues. For example, a lot of FE colleges cannot offer a 5-day provision and the timetable is looser than in a school. There won’t be a school bell or a uniform and teachers aren’t addressed as Mr., Mrs., Sir or madam. It’s essentially becoming an adult with all the challenges that presents to young people.

There’s also a perception that the support for young people in FE college won’t be as personal as at a school. Joe works with staff, parents and carers to dispel this myth and ensure these young people receive the care and attention they need.

How do you work with parents in an FE setting?

Joe says that the biggest difference is in how they build relationships with parents and carers. They take time to understand what they need and make sure there is a face and a name of someone they can contact. Joe has been involved in

  • parent/carer forums
  • going out to coffee mornings in local schools
  • providing information which is accessible

He is particularly keen on the use of technology and produced a virtual, 360 degree tour of the college campus so that prospective parents and students could begin to explore the environment from home.

What does an inclusion-focused college look like?

Joe’s college mission statement is:

‘Be All That You Can Be’.

What that looks like is different for all of us. Inclusion is how the college responds to the students’ prior achievement, how it looks at programmes which are fully inclusive and allow learners to work at t level which is appropriate for them. That will be different in maths to an independent living qualification and you need to start with the person, rather than the subject. Then you can work back to define what provision will help them to meet their needs and to progress. As a result, Joe is cautious about how he uses transition information and tries not to let it govern the way provision is designed.

What needs to be done to ensure no learner arrives in FE without the support they need being in place?

Joe believes that early intervention is crucial. It’s vital to build relationships with learners, parents and feeder schools as early as possible and to help you ensure you have the skills and knowledge necessary to support new learners in your staff before its needed. The curriculum offering also needs to be fluid and responsive to the needs of the individuals you are catering for. It’s also important to consider what other services might be needed – for example in the ‘third sector’ (voluntary sector).

It’s essential that everyone involved understands their role in supporting the young person.

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

Jo on Twitter – @JosephBaldwin

Sinéad Kennedy on how to use drama and creativity in the classroom – PP163

Sinéad is Senior Lecturer in Primary English Education at The University of Brighton. She has been involved in very exciting research into creativity in the classroom. As a primary teacher for 15 years, Sinéad has been looking at how we can hold onto creativity in the classroom, particularly around the use of drama, despite the pressures and demands of the world teachers find themselves in now. This means that the main focus of her work at the moment is teacher confidence in teaching drama and creativity throughout the curriculum.

Are most teachers not confident in taking risks and using drama in their teaching?

When Sinéad mentions drama to teachers, it tends to bring a lot of anxiety out in them. They see drama as performance but Sinéad’s work is about the process of drama and how we can unpick this in the primary classroom. She believes that drama as a vehicle for learning is very powerful. It can be used in a much more integrated way across the curriculum than just as performance.

How did Sinéad develop her research and what is its purpose?

It all came from her own experiences of standing, feeling uncomfortable in front of 30 children wondering how she was going to get them to access a particular text. She wanted, for example, to help them access the challenging themes in stories and she felt that drama has a very pivotal role to play in supporting children’s understanding of concepts like loss, grief and friendship. This can be done via the secondary narratives in books.

What is the process for getting drama into as much of the curriculum as we can?

Sinéad takes a text with her student teachers at Brighton and looks for ‘bridges’ or gaps in the text where specific drama techniques such as:

  • freeze-frame
  • echo circle
  • thought tapping
  • conscious alley
  • role-playing the action in that part of the story

If we model the story for the child, they can then draw on the experiences of the story and what the characters are experiencing and help them to extend their language and apply them to their own lives.

Sinéad gives a great example of getting into role herself as Samuel Pepys and also tells us about one of her student teachers in a science lesson who worked with her class to role-play the life cycle of a piece of sweetcorn as it went through the process of being eaten! This led to amazing use of language! Sinéad points out how important enabling children to play with language is.

How does Sinéad give teachers and children the confidence they need to try drama techniques out in the classroom?

Sinéad says that she too also has some anxiety whenever she teaches a drama session. She thinks it’s important to feel that it’s a little bit nerve-wracking. She talks about teachers nudging, coaching and supporting – we all like to play and tell stories and that’s the angle we should be approaching drama from.

For children, we can start with games – drama starters – many of which can be found through a simple online search. Even a circle time session can be used to build up trust and ensure everyone is listened to.

For teachers, now that drama has been changed to a curricular vehicle rather than a subject of its own, its possible that drama isn’t used at all in the classroom. However, Sinéad believes drama is extremely useful and it is possible for teachers to use strategies like the ones above rather than thinking that they need to be performing in front of their classes.

Sinéad recommends ‘baby steps’ and little stages. She also points out that in drama you don’t need a complex, crammed lesson plan – you can just take one game, one idea, one activity and reflect on it.

Why should any teacher take the risk of adding this level of creativity into their teaching?

Children want and need to make meaningful things.

If you offer them rich experiences of principled practice with using language and story and modelling high quality language and narrative patterns, there are huge benefits for the teach and the student.

Sinéad on LinkedIn and via email

From ‘Tig on the Roof’ to ‘Heroes of Maths’ with Chris Dyson – 162

Chris Dyson
Chris Dyson

Chris Dyson is Headteacher of Parklands Primary School in Leeds. Chris loved school himself and always wanted to be a teacher. He worked in Stoke on Trent and York before moving to several different schools in Leeds and helping one of them move from Special Measures to Outstanding. Finally, he became headteacher at Parklands.

How do you build a culture where learning is admired and children are heroes because of  their learning?

Chris points out that shouting at kids who are already shouted at for most their lives doesn’t work. When he reached Parklands, staff morale was at rock bottom, there had been many exclusions and 5 heads in the past year and the first thing he did was to ban shouting. He believed in the children, he listened to them.

Incredibly, lunchtime had been banned in order to improve behaviour. Chris asks us to imagine what the afternoons were like without a lunch breaks for the children. The real problem was there was nothing for the children to do at lunchtime, nothing to play with and no structure.

“Tig on the roof was a very popular game before I started.”

Children would climb up onto the roof of the school at lunchtime and chase each other around. As soon as Chris arrived he said that if anyone went on the roof he would call the Police to get them down. Within 20 minutes a child was up on the roof and 5 minutes after that the Police arrived. No-one has been on the roof since.

To combat the lunchtime problems, Chris collected all the children who had been been excluded for behaviour at lunchtimes together and gave them a £10,000 cheque from Pupil Premium money to design their own playground. They invested the money really well in football pitches and basket ball courts. It had a huge impact because the children now wanted to be out playing at lunchtimes.

Was taking hold of behaviour and making sure kids were safe the best thing to do first, before innovating on teaching and learning?

Chris believes 100% that this was the right way round.

“As soon as you get the behaviour right, the children are ready to learn.”

How does Chris create the ‘Maths Heroes’ in his school?

Paul is amazed by the level of maths knowledge and skill in Parklands Primary. Chris says that he has always had a focus on times tables from the moment he started teaching. He started by creating a ‘Times Table Knockout’ competition in his class and then when he became a headteacher he could transfer this to the whole school. He now has weekly competitions with the winners able to sit on ‘winners’ row’.

The children take part in national competitions against secondary age children on times tables and Andy believes that when you understand times tables, maths becomes straightforward.

How important is competition in learning for your school?

Chris is unashamedly keen on competition. He manages the times tables competitions so that the same children don’t win all the time and the culture he has developed means that the children who don’t win are spurred on to win themselves next time.

Are parents involved?

Chris thinks it’s essential to include parents. He is dogged and unrelenting in encouraging parents to come to the assemblies and from a very low baseline he now has 80-90 parents attending regularly. A lot of these parents didn’t have good experiences themselves so Andy believes it’s very important to include them.

Christmas at Parklands

Chris realised that a very small proportion of the children at his school had ever had the chance to go to a Christmas Grotto. He contacted local businesses and managed to give out over 300 presents to children as well as providing over 300 Christmas Dinners on Christmas Eve. One company even arranged for reindeer and a sleigh! This was two years ago. This year they managed to raise over £15,000 worth of gifts in two weeks. This meant they could give away 798 presents and serve the same number of meals – including to children from the local secondary school who turned up as well!

What are the hard decisions for a head today?

Chris says that funding cuts are the most difficult things to deal with. He managed to avoid redundancies through persuading local businesses to do building work for free but the pressure is a huge difficulty.

Chris on Twitter

Parklands Primary School website


Andy Swartfigure on Analysing Behaviour – Everyone is Unique – PP161

Andy Swartfigure
Andrew Swartfigure, BCBA. Head of the Peartree Centre.

Andrew Swartfigure is a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA).

Andy has worked with children and adults with Autism, language difficulties and ADHD for more than 17 years. He has worked as a self-employed ABA Consultant as well as working for organisations such as Childhood Autism UK (PEACH), Jigsaw CABAS School, Ambitious about Autism-(TreeHouse School, Ambitious College) and Beyond Autism. In addition he has written and delivered competency based training as well as being a ratified AET trainer.

Other exploits include working with the London Leadership Strategy group regarding SEN data in schools, Outreach services within the AFC Local authority, contributing to the SEN strategy in AFC, developing other services such as post 19 further education and local training hub pilot schemes regarding provision development in a multi- agency design.

Andy is currently the Head of the Peartree Centre. The Centre is a mainstream inclusion unit based at Stanley Primary School. The Centre caters for primary age children with Autism and other co-occurring difficulties such as language difficulties and ADHD.

Andy has modelled the Centre’s approach with an underpinning of Behaviour Analysis and School wide PBS. Multi agency working is a key expectation and necessity to get the best for the children at the Peartree Centre.