Trainers Briefs: Crossing the Lines – PP199

Alastair Burnett
Alastair Burnett
Hannah Hall
Hannah Hall

Pivotal Education trainers visit the office to update colleagues on their experiences and areas of work. This week, Ollie has selected some fascinating clips of Senior Trainers Hannah Hall and Alastair Burnett which cover some diverse topics such as gang culture and the new territories Pivotal is working in!

Kids in Care with Pivotal Education’s Mike Armiger – PP198

Mike Armiger

Pivotal Education’s own Mike Armiger has personal experience of children who find themselves in foster adoption care. This week, he has an opportunity to share his experience and expertise around:

  • The practicalities of being an adpotive parent or carer
  • The challenges faced by adopted children which are not encountered by others
  • How practitioners can best support these children in classroom settings
  • How to shape therapeutic approaches to meet the needs of care experienced and adopted children

Find out more:




How to Survive in Teaching with Emma Kell – PP197

Dr Emma Kell
Dr Emma Kell

Dr Emma Kell has been teaching for two decades, mainly in inner-London secondary schools. She is now a middle leader with several years of senior leadership experience. In 2016, she completed her doctorate with Middlesex University on balancing teaching and parenthood and in January 2018, her book, How to Survive in Teaching, was published by Bloomsbury.

Emma is passionately loyal to our wonderful but vulnerable profession. Her heart is first and foremost in the classroom, and her writing and research is driven by the desire to give voice to both the broken and the successful members of our profession. Ultimately, her aim is to play her part to ensure that our young people whom this is all about have people in front of them who are well-trained, who want to be there, and who are able to be humans as well as teachers.

How did you manage to write a book at the same time as being a middle manager in a secondary school?

Emma had been blogging ‘almost to relax’ after the academic constrictions of producing her PhD thesis. She wanted to share her anecdotes and thoughts on the job of teaching. She was contacted by someone from the publishing house, Bloomsbury, out of the blue and asked to write a book for them. Emma checked it was a genuine offer and when it was clear that it was, she was given free rein to write whatever she wanted. She wanted the book to be based on her doctoral work which was about teachers and parents – their challenges and benefits and she wanted it to be for all teachers, to be frank, positive, honest and transparent about the issues in the workplace and in the profession.

Emma sectioned off her Sunday mornings – with the support of her family – and wrote in a local coffee shop. The writing process often flowed for her but not always. So her tips for writing include:

  • Have safe places to stop on your journeys so you can stop and put notes on your phone before you lose them
  • Use the voice recorder app on your phone to make audio notes of ideas
  • Use post-it notes, notebooks etc. and scribble down everything as soon as it comes to you

Emma also had what she refers to as a responsibility to write the book because she had interviews and survey responses form thousands of teachers to work from – she felt she had to get it finished in response to what she sees as the crisis in teaching – reflected in the stories she had heard from teachers. She hoped to publish the book in order to make a difference before the crises gets even worse.

Did you realise there was a ‘crisis’ before you did the research or did the responses you received prompt you to write the book?

“It seems so obvious that happy teachers are better teachers.”

Emma believes that we invest so much money in our school buildings but we don’t invest in teacher wellbeing. This fact and the stories she heard before and from the research led to feelings of rage. She heard from many teachers very early on int their careers – even during their PGCE that there were being put off the profession by negativity and toxic politics. This was blended with joy, because Emma loves her job. She is fed up with the constant barrage of pity for her and other teachers. She wanted to celebrate those who are getting it right – schools and individuals.

Listen to the whole episode to hear lots more from Emma about wellbeing, the benefits and positivity of Ofsted and more!

Emma on Twitter
Emma’s blog

The drama in positive relationships with Carole Davies – PP196

Carole Davies
Carole Davies

Ollie catches up with one of the pivotal people in his own life story – his old drama teacher, Carole Davies. They discuss the importance of arts subjects, positive relationships and much more in this fascinating episode.

Here’s how Carole describes her ‘life in drama’:

“It all started when I was quite young at school and in a local theatre group. After reading English at the University of Exeter, I taught English for several years in Devon but when my children arrived, I was a stay at home mum.

In 1978 I returned to teaching at Wallington Grammar School for Girls. In 1983 I also taught at Wimbledon High School for Girls for two years before returning to Wallington. During these years I taught English at GCSE and A level and also GCSE Drama and A Level Theatre Studies. In 1992, I joined the staff of Littlehampton Community School as Head of the Faculty of Human Movement and Performing Arts ( PE, Dance, Drama and Music) specialising in Drama and Theatre Studies and I retired from teaching in December 2003.

Throughout my teaching career, for me the highlight of every year was directing the school plays and other drama productions. These included The Lark by Jean Anouilh, Twelfth Night, Animal Farm and at Littlehampton, among others, we produced Grease, Much Ado About Nothing, Oliver!, The Crucible, and Joseph etc. It was only after leaving teaching that I agreed to work with adult theatre groups but since then I have directed for 3 groups in West Sussex and when we moved to Northumberland in 2010 to be nearer to our family, I was very lucky to find a local group who were short of a director and where I have been able to direct two productions a year since 2012. Our plans for next year include The Crucible in March 2019 and Fiddler On the Roof in December 2019.

My real pride and joy, however are the Preppies, the Youth Theatre a colleague and I founded in September 2014 with five 9 year old members and which now numbers 50 8-18 year olds. We meet every Friday evening and Preppies take part in every Ponteland Rep show that has suitable parts for them. It is not a stage school but is totally inclusive, accepting everyone without auditions. I am always conscious that theatre is a “shared enterprise” and throughout my career in teaching and now in my so-called retirement , I have been very lucky in the amazing colleagues I have worked with and from whom I have learned so much. Some of them were students who have become friends and others were non-drama specialists who have shared my love of theatre.”

Carole says she never set out to be a ‘key person’ in her students’ lives. She believes that teaching drama. music or art gives you the chance to work alongside your students which is maybe not the case in all subjects. You often don’t know the answers and so you have to work collaboratively with students. This is possible in other subjects but it tends to depend on the personality of the teacher.

Carole believes that you mustn’t make yourself too important as a teacher and therefore not dwell too much on how you come over as a person. Much more important is to make sure you are conveying your subject well and seeing it all from the point of view of your students.

Should we ensure drama and arts remain in schools?

Carole is very encouraged that schools she knows, particularly primary schools, are using drama a lot in the curriculum and the teachers are expert in its use. However, she describes the cutting of drama in secondary schools as a tragedy.

“It’s not just the subject itself – it’s the way of working alongside other people.”

What do you know now that you wish you’d known as a young teacher?

Carole would tell her younger self to get the preparations done, be on top of the subject and then it’s possible to think about how you are communicating. Also, every year it’s great to ensure you have a new challenge. Carole started each new academic year with a sense of excitement – something new was going to happen.

What one thing would you change about the current education system?

Carole believes the current system is in a mess. She is upset when she sees the amount of money which is routinely spent on salaries or perks for CEOs of Academy Chains but she is keen to point out that individual schools are doing their very best for their children with the resources they have and other pressures such as data collection. However, they seem to be doing it despite the system.

Custody, Behaviour and Trauma with Dr. Andrew Rogers – PP195

Andy Rogers
Andy Rogers

Andrew is a Chartered Consultant Clinical & Forensic Psychologist and co-director of Changing Minds UK. He has over 20 years’ experience in delivering high quality applied psychology provision across a range of settings including; Elite Sport, Business, Mental Health, Social Care and the Criminal Justice System. Andrew has a particular interest and expertise in supporting people and organisations with the implications of relational attachment, threat and trauma on human development, resilience, well-being and performance.

Andrew has provided psychological support for a number of CEO’s & high performance leaders and elite athletes and has worked with a range of sporting and performance organisations in developing client performance, resilience and emotional well-being. In addition to his work in sport and business, Andrew has extensive experience in the NHS, working within and managing services across community, residential, prison, and hospital settings with children, young adults and adults presenting with high risk and complex mental health, behavioural, developmental, and family difficulties. He provides consultancy services both in the UK and internationally in relation to complex adolescent mental health, looked after children and youth justice services.

Andrew is an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS) and is a Practitioner Psychologist (Clinical & Forensic) registered with the Health Professions Council (HCPC). Andrew is currently a visiting lecturer for the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at Kings College London and Past Chair (2012-14) of the BPS DCP Faculty for Children, Young People and Families. He has presented research and clinical interests at both national and international conferences and published in a variety of books and peer-reviewed journals in relation to psychological consultation, clinical psychology and sport, and working psychologically with adolescents with high risk and complex presentations.

Is there a mental health crisis with young people or are we just more aware of what’s going on?

Andrew believes there has always been a mental health crisis in the sense that demand has always outstripped resource. He thinks it’s most helpful to consider ‘distress’ – and the level of distress in our young people.

When [distress] becomes overwhelming, that becomes a mental health problem.

What we need to do is help young people with their resilience against distress and tolerate challenging emotions over time. Andrew worries that we sometimes try to get rid of everything when some level of distress, for example when experiencing bereavement, are normal. We need to provide support but not try to eradicate the ‘problem’.

Mental health is everyone’s responsibility. We shouldn’t just send a child to a psychiatrist or a psychologist – it should rather be about how we care, help and support young people to develop the emotional skills they need for the future.

However, there are a few things Andrew thinks we haven’t handled well enough yet like access to social media and therefore ’24 hour anxiety’. We are all now bombarded by images which cause anxiety and there are no longer the same places of safety for those who are bullied. These images are trauma. We need to think about how we are helping young people to cope with this kind of trauma.

How do young people cope in a young offenders’ institution – is the system broken?

Andrew believes that there are times we need to lock young people up for their own and others’ safety and security. However we need to think about how we are helping these young people through the whole intervention to improve, to be rehabilitated and to recover. If we re-create some of the chaos they experience on the outside, or we aren’t thinking about the complexity of their situations, then we can just reinforce some of their difficulties.

While the system isn’t broken, there are huge improvements which can be made. There is great practice out there but Andrew thinks this is likely to be in pockets. The bigger an establishment gets, the less resource there is and the more difficult it is for adults to build trusting relationships with children to help guide them where they need to go.

There needs to be a re-focussing of this kind of provision, Paul and Andrew agree, on education. Listen to the whole episode for their challenging views and their ideas on how we should be progressing.

Changing Minds website

Learning the rules and then breaking them – Taking a school to outstanding with Jonathan Clucas

Jonathan Clucas
Jonathan Clucas

Jonathan Clucas is the headteacher of a large, three form entry Primary school in Blackpool with over 600 pupils and 50% in receipt of pupils premium funding.

Blackpool is listed as the area with the lowest life expectancy in the UK, with the lowest average wage per household. It is the most deprived large seaside resort in the UK, and has the highest drug related deaths in the country.

In October of 2017, Layton was judged as Outstanding in all areas. The key to the school success is a combination of factors – understanding pedagogy and the most advanced research which backs this up, a relentless focus on a growth mindset and philosophy of improvement for all staff and pupils, and innovative use of ICT to develop children’s independence in their learning. The staff team are wholly committed to Growing great minds together. Standards are high and the school’s journey has taken them from the lowest 40% to the highest 100 schools in the country for achievement within the last six years.

Jonathan’s assistant heads, Claire, suggested that he listen to the Pivotal Podcast episode with Chris Dyson’s episode about his Ofsted inspection. By chance, Jonathan’s own Ofsted took place very shortly after listening to Chris and he says that it helped him a lot. Claire suggested to Pivotal that Jonathan appear on the podcast and we were delighted to welcome him!

Before Jonathan started at Leyton school it was rated satisfactory but, before he took up the post, all satisfactory schools were re-classified to ‘requires improvement’ and were given two years to improve. This meant he had less than 12 months to make a significant difference to the school.

What was the school like when you began?

What he found at the school were declining standards, a content- and scheme-driven curriculum and passive children. All learning was teacher-led and the challenge for the children was low. So the first job was to create a challenging curriculum which teachers knew how to lead. The focus was on assessment for learning.

Jonathan was very surprised to find that, in a 3-form entry primary school, the teachers were not really collaborating on planning. Changing this and implementing challenge and oversight from the senior leadership team was crucial in order for the curriculum change to be transformed effectively.

The proof of the success of this approach for Jonathan was when the whole staff were happy to listen to everyone’s feedback after the Osfted inspection. The inspectors did not have time to feed back individually but the staff were happy to let each other listen to their feedback because of the open, collaborative climate in the school.

How do you sustain improvement?

Student results also improved dramatically in a very short time but Jonathan realised that it was now important to let go to a certain extent to continue the improvement. The only way to enable teachers to keep improving is to stop making decisions for them – they needed to start making more and better decisions themselves. What they needed was a set of guidelines and to make this happen, Jonathan developed a questioning approach, to empower them to make their own decisions. At the same time, work was going on to help the children be much more independent in their learning.

Jonathan is keen to point out that teaching is so complex that nobody, including the SLT, has ‘cracked it’. There is now an open door policy in the school meaning that teachers and SLT members routinely observe each other’s lessons and give each other feedback. There has also been a shift in monitoring from judgemental to developmental – this has had a huge impact as well.

How have you supported children to become truly independent learners?

Jonathan believes that being independent means facilitating your own learning. It’s important that children can organise, present and talk about their own learning to others and also question their peers’ learning. Part of this process involves children projecting their work onto the smartboard in the classroom and inviting others to ask questions about it. They feed back where they think it’s effective and where it isn’t. The teacher facilitates this dialogue.

So you do truly end up with a system of 31 teachers and 31 learners.

What is your innovative approach to CPD?

Jonathan says that you can’t learn effectively through isolated CPD sessions – the real work is done between these opportunities. Also, the model has been too top-down in the past. So Jonathan encourages all staff to develop their own thinking via their own reading and research and to share in person and on Twitter what they have found out which could be of benefit to the school, particularly focussing on research which is outside the usual sources. For him, INSET days are just a starting point – it’s what happens between them which is important.

Jonathan on Twitter

Assistant Head Claire Jones on Twitter

How to be an equality champion with Claire Birkenshaw – PP193

Claire Birkenshaw
Claire Birkenshaw

It was great to speak to Claire Birkenshaw this week. Claire is a former headteacher and has also done a huge amount for LGBTQ rights.

Whilst in post as the headteacher of an alternative provision academy, Claire became (as far as she knows) the fist serving head to go through a transition.

Subsequently, Claire decided to change her career to working to promote trans awareness and LGBTQ rights.

What were some of the ups and downs of being a headteacher?

Claire says that if you haven’t been a headteacher you can’t understand the complexity of the role – everything comes to you.

“It’s very much like being the conductor of an incredibly complex orchestra.”

There is also the daily pressure of anticipating the Ofsted phone call and prioritising all the myriad of needs of the children.

Amongst the high points, though, were all the times young people demonstrate any kind of achievement. Claire singles out encouraging attendance, wanting to have a conversation with you and reading as some of the highlights of alternative provision work.

How do you build community in a challenging environment like alternative provision?

Claire believes that it has to begin as soon as the young people arrive:

  • Meet and greet
  • Smile
  • Know everyone’s name
  • Get into a conversation as soon as you can
  • Be interested in their lives outside school
  • Be good at deep, authentic listening

All this helps you to build the relationship with the children.

How tough is it now for our trans youth?

Claire says the picture is varied. It depends on factors like whether a young trans person is accepted by their family and how inclusive their school and local community is.

One thing Claire finds disturbing is the people who claim that parents who support their children in exploration of their identity are committing child abuse. There are other countries int he world which are a little more progressive around the basic concept of whether trans people should exist and how young trans people are supported.

How can educational establishments support LGBTQ pupils?

Claire points out that schools have a duty under the Equalities Act to:

  1. Promote understanding
  2. Tackle prejudice
  3. Foster good relations

Sexual orientation and gender re-assignment are two of the 9 Protected Characteristics so Claire believes that schools should be reviewing their policies and their CPD every year and identify opportunities to highlight and promote those characteristics.

Schools should consider taking part in National Coming Out Day, National Day of Trans Visibility, Trans Day of Remembrance or LGBTQ History Month as well as looking at the school environment. Simple signs like a Pride flag on the headteacher’s door or in a prominent position make a big difference.

“What happens in school shapes how they think society views them.”

Claire also discusses the area in much more depth so do listen to the whole episode.

Claire on Twitter

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 –