Tara Elie shares with us an amazing interview she recorded with the Dutch Detective Inspector Thorlief. It’s an amazing, thought provoking and deeply affecting episode with lots of parallels in every educational setting.
Find out why Thorlief was accused of ‘Rolling out the red carpet for the Jihadis’ and why Tara was immediately by his compassion.
“It was hard to believe he had achieved what he claimed with such simplicity of approach.”
Thorlief has been subjected to mockery but still manages to see the big picture. His intelligence and empathy are striking.
Some of the parallels between his work and ours in school is in his work with mentors on life skills for the radicalised young men. He works hard to create belonging in the men who have no sense of it when they first meet Thorlief.
What is the ‘prevention triangle’ and why is prevention key to success with these men? Thorlief explains what happens when young men are unable to be reached by the community – that’s when he comes in.
“He allows them to be open and candid about their experiences and he talks about ‘raising them again’ as citizens.”
It’s a remarkable and very important episode of the podcast.
We had such a fun time this week talking to Juliet Robertson all about outdoor education. We learned some amazing things about settings which spend 90% of their time out of doors as well as a huge heap of tips and strategies for every classroom!
Juliet is one of Scotland’s leading consultants on outdoor learning and play.
Is outdoor learning only for younger learners?
“Anyone can be outdoors and anyone can learn outdoors.”
Juliet also believes that any outdoor space will do fine for outdoor learning – a concrete playground is fine. She also points out that 90% of people live within a 10 minute walk of green space.
How much planning and form filling needs to be done in order to take children outside?
“Often, fear stops people from realising the freedoms they have.”
Juliet says that the Health and Safety Executive have, over recent years, been making it clear that we shouldn’t confuse health and safety with other matters – we need children to experience risk. We now have risk/benefit assessments – there needs to be a balance. As long as reasonable precautions have been put in place and the benefits outweigh the risks, we should be happy to carry out any reasonable activity.
“Schools, teachers and other people who work with children dynamically risk assess all the time.”
Having risk assessment conversations with the children is also very important.
Is learning more efficient inside or outside?
Juliet believes that this depends on how it is being mediated – she has seen rubbish lessons inside an outside. There is a lot of added value in outside education and children are more active and less stressed:
“Outside, you are constantly problem solving.”
Half to a third of younger children would rather be outside learning and often the gap between the least and most able is often closed because, for example, the need to decode text is removed. Juliet refers to a Scottish study into maths taught outside where dramatic increases we seen.
Are our children getting less likely to be outside in their daily lives?
It’s a complex picture, according to Juliet. There is a growth in parents who believe that their children should not be inside too much and are doing a lot about it.
“The fastest growing sector…is outdoor nurseries…we have 23 in Scotland.”
Juliet shares many practical ideas for outdoor lessons – do listen to the whole episode!
In a different kind of episode to normal, Paul and Kevin discuss a voicemail from Hannah who is looking for inspiration on research topics around behaviour and answer a question about how to persuade the last few children in a school to wear black shoes. The Varndean Goats get a mention as well…
Then there is a selection of audio clips from the recent Pivotal Fastrack Training event where a week was spent in a hotel. The variety of experiences and backgrounds of delegates is fascinating and it sounds like it was an amazing event to have been part of.
‘Jonathan doesn’t so much teach as create an atmosphere in his classroom that is magical, engaging and exciting and that makes the children desperate to get on and learn. And, as you would expect from a ‘guerrilla teacher’ he doesn’t let anything the government might say or do get in his way when it comes to doing the right thing for his young learners.’
“If we’re not taking the opportunity to dress our children as farm animals, then they’re definitely missing out” – Guerrilla Teaching
What three pieces of advice do you find yourself giving regularly?
Teachers starting out:
A history lecturer at Jonathan’s college used to say, “Catch the child good” and he believes this is really important. Whatever issue a child has there will be times when they are doing what you want them to be doing and it’s your job to notice.
More experienced teachers:
Tim Brighouse said, “Creativity without rigour is crap.” Jonathan is not a fan of creativity which involves just ‘dancing around at the front of the class being an idiot’ while learning nothing – it just wastes everyone’s time.
“We’ve got to be clear about the learning and just use our creativity to enhance that…make it stick, make it memorable.”
Just because something works doesn’t make it educationally desirable. Jonathan believes that when we look back at today from 50 years in the future we may wonder why we were doing some of the things we regard as ‘working’ today. He identifies testing as part of this.
Is it the children’s responsibility to listen to the teacher or the teacher’s responsibility to engage the children?
Jonathan started off teaching believing it was his fault if the children were not engaged but he says his perspective has changed now. He sees the climate and culture of the school as a crucial element in engagement of children. It’s a collective responsibility of every single person in the school, children, teachers, support staff and everyone else. You can’t set the tone yourself as a teacher, you need that whole school ethos to make everything fit together.
Why should I dress a child as a donkey?
Jonathan says that we should only do this if we are prepared to do it ourselves. He is a fan of ‘childishness’ and says that children are growing up too quickly. He thinks there is a danger we treat year 6 children as mini adults and their classrooms sometimes feel like sterile lecture theatres. He found that his year 6 classes would do anything for a sticker or a pair of comedy glasses. It’s all about teachers being willing to laugh at themselves.
How important is planning?
Jonathan thinks planning is essential but he thinks the format is unimportant – it’s the process of planning which makes the difference. A lot of the time we end up writing down meaningless things as part of planning. It’s so much more important, for example, to focus on the specific language we use in any given lesson. Young children can be thrown if we use different language to describe difficult concepts but if we think precisely about what language is the best to use for a particular concept, we won’t end up using vaguely correct language which confuses our classes.
Why bother taking risks if we know what we have always done works?
Jonathan believes this partly has to do with your ideas on what the purpose of education is. If you think it’s all about passing tests and you have found how to do that, you’ll stick with it but if you have an optimistic mindset and you think it’s about creating the environment for children to flourish, we will continue to ask questions and try and improve.
What is Guerrilla Teaching?
Guerrilla teaching is about regaining control. Jonathan has always been a militant and when he thought an imposed change wouldn’t make any difference to the children in his class he just wouldn’t do it. Nothing bad happened. He found this addictive and it became a pattern. Later he spoke to colleagues and found out that they were doing the same. He found he had more power with his own class than he thought he had.
There is a huge amount of additional detail and anecdotes in the episode so do listen right to the end.
Dr. Phil Wood is a former geography teacher, subject leader and AST and is now at the School of Education at Leicester University. His research is about changing pedagogy and challenging organisations and teachers to look at their pedagogy. Phil is also an associate trainer with Independent Thinking.
Phil is concerned that a lot of schools are now driven by numeric data and senior leadership teams are concentrating on accountability rather than being part of the extended group of teachers. He would prefer to see accountability being more community-led rather than being driven by improvement targets based exclusively on exam data. He thinks this is partly due to the ways in which headteachers are judged at the moment – a bit like football managers – by their most recent set of results. Phil advocates a more nuanced and multi-channel approach which takes account of much more long-term aspects.
What is the ‘what works’ agenda and what’s wrong with it?
Phil explains that the ‘what works’ agenda is based on the flawed premise that there are ‘end of the rainbow’ solutions to all the issues around pedagogy. If only we can find them, they will present us with all the solutions to our problems.
This is shown in the recent fetish for randomised control trials and certain elements of systematic reviews. Once you understand ‘what works’ it can then be applied to all contexts and thus the whole job of pedagogy becomes quite simple.
Phil sees this massive reduction of complexity as impossible. It’s not chaotic – you can see patterns and work out what approaches have the best chance of working well but the place of the teacher is always to mediate this – to work out which of the better-evidenced ideas are going to work in their context.
The way this has been implemented in recent years – to attempt to create speedy change – has meant that nothing has the time it needs to be embedded, monitored and analysed.
How do we give teachers in training access to the thought processes of expert teachers?
Phil has been involved in trying to embed lesson study into teaching practice. Because of time and other pressures, student teachers can be ‘running parallel’ to the department they are in. They tend to be planning alone and maybe getting a little feedback on their plans from their mentor but then they go back into working by themselves. To counter this, Phil had the mentor and student teacher working much more closely together. Lessons were taught in threes – the first by the mentor which the pair would then evaluate and plan an amended version for the student teacher to deliver to a parallel group. Thus, the expert teacher was opening up their own thought processes to give the student involvement in and access to them. The student is part of the discussion and learning a whole raft of different aspects of the lesson planning and delivering process from the expert teacher.
This makes it much easier for the expert teacher to share their experience where they might find it much more difficult to explain in a de-contextualised manner.
Feedback from students teachers has been very positive as they feel involved in the process and are learning a great deal from the expert teachers. The expert teachers are also happy with the process because they can gain new ideas fro the students and also develop their own practice by having the opportunity to analyse it for this purpose.
Are teachers too busy to engage in research beyond their classroom?
Phil points out there are different kinds of engagement in research from reading digests to engaging in practical classroom-based research. There has been a reduction in those who feel able to be involved in research as the pressures of teaching have grown in recent years. However, there are plenty of examples of great practice underway, for example a small study Phil is involved in to do with growth mindset.
This is much likely in a Multi-Academy Trust or Teaching School Alliance or where individuals are keen. Partnerships with universities can be extremely productive but Phil believes it has been counter-productive in recent years that the impression has been given that research is easy and quick – the best research is very a time-consuming and taxing process.
However, Phil does see research as a core activity for a profession that wants to be sustainable and truly professional – tie should be devoted to it and it shouldn’t be seen as something you need to give up your own time to get involved in.
Can you train a teacher in six weeks?
Phil believes this is impossible and in fact there is evidence to suggest that what Phil and his colleagues refer to as ‘pedagogic literacy’ can only be fully developed over a whole career.
There is always more you can do. You never reach the end point.
If pushed, Phil would recommend a two-year course, based in schools but with proper partnership with universities. Then there must be development throughout the career.
Can teacher work be reformed to aid teacher retention?
Phil believes that bringing back trust in teachers but blended with a genuine sense of responsibility leads to getting more out of people. This also means that vast amounts of paperwork can be eliminated which exist in a hyper-accountability system where the majority of it has nothing to do with children’s learning.
Alongside this, you have to accept there will be lots of people who will teach in different ways. As long as it is evidenced, it should be allowed.
Is behaviour training in universities really that bad?
Phil says that it isn’t. The best way of training in behaviour is in the classroom and so schools who have systems in place to support the students while they train are the most effective, with the support of universities. As Paul points out very few trainee teachers sit down with their mentors and plan for behaviour.
Our first guest in 2017 was English teacher and author of ‘Reading for Pleasure‘, Kenny Pieper. Here’s how his author biography describes him:
“Kenny Pieper has been teaching English for seventeen years and still loves every minute of it. He stands shakily on the shoulders of giants in the shape of his amazingly inspiring colleagues. Deep down, he still can’t believe his luck that he gets to do this.”
Kenny is also an associate tutor at the University of Strathclyde and a Partick Thistle football fan. Originaly he had no plans to start work as a teacher, initially travelling to Romania and doing admin for a charity. He was ‘tricked’ into entering a classroom with 30 15-year-olds in it who he had been told were university students who wanted to talk to him. In fact, despite the shock, Kenny left the room knowing that teaching was the career for him. He started out teaching for two years on a Greek island before moving back to Glasgow and taking up a job in a large secondary school where he still is today.
Are there still too many children in Scotland who leave school unable to read?
The latest PISA results showed that the situation in Scotland has deteriorated in reading standards. This is in the context of the implementation of the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ and a ‘broad general education’ in the first years of secondary school. Kenny is keen on the child-centred nature of the changes which he realises is a controversial aspect but he is concerned that people don’t seem to know what to do about the dip in reading standards. Primary schools, he thinks, are doing some amazing things but may have moved away slightly from a former emphasis on literacy skills. Kenny doesn’t see many children coming to secondary school unable to read and write but he does see some weaknesses. First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has introduced a reading programme in lower primary school which Kenny hopes will mean a gradual improvement in literacy.
Can you teach (force) children to enjoy reading?
Kenny is sure that it is not possible to teach or force anyone to enjoy reading.
We need to develop habits…and teach young people strategies so they don’t give in and tell you it’s boring.
As a teacher, Kenny tries to get to know the kids and find out what they are interested in and do everything he can to find a book which will interest them. He is happy that children are reading anything to begin with but then he tries to ‘slide a book across to them’ to help them to develop. A lot of children don’t have what Kenny describes as ‘reading histories’ and we need to take the time to help them build this up. The joy and happiness he sees when children finish a book helps them to move on and finish more and more, with the support of a teacher to maintain and increase the challenge.
Kenny feels we often mythologise about our own reading histories which isn’t helpful – we sometimes don’t acknowledge that we also read ‘nonsense’ when we were younger. However, if we keep the reading habit going and read better books, big things begin to happen.
How important is the child’s background?
Kenny believes that one of the greatest challenges is where children come from homes which don’t have books.
Teachers can be the one significant adult in a child’s life who reads.
He ensures he reads in front of children and talks about books. he makes sure children in his class have the best quality books, even if he has to buy them himself. It’s crucial children from backgrounds without books know what it’s like to be a reader.
Does format matter – are electronic books just as good as paper?
Kenny prefers real books. In his research, he has found that we take in less information from a digital book than a paper book. We focus more on the reading as we turn pages and we see the left hand side of the book getting bigger as the right hand side gets smaller. He thinks real books are ‘a wonderful aesthetic experience’.
How can other teachers help?
Kenny tries to encourage his colleagues to talk to their classes about subject-specialist reading books. The younger children in Kenny’s school created an e-book last year which contained short interviews with 30 adults from all parts of the school and included a photograph of them reading. This helped to get the message across that reading is important to everyone not just the English department. There are many ways to promote reading in a school, with prominently-displayed photos of site managers and admin staff reading, for example. All of Kenny’s classes start with 10 minutes of reading time.
No-one is allowed to speak – everyone learns what a reading atmosphere is and ‘what readers do’.
How can parents help?
Kenny asks parents, “What can you do in 10 minutes?” He means that we should identify where there are 10 minutes – half time at the football, while you wait for your dinner, etc. 10 minutes gives you a start which may well grow. 10 minutes in the classroom and 10 minutes at home at night is 20 minutes a day and that’s a good start to the reading habit which Kenny thinks is crucial. It’s all about encouragement not enforcement.
I say to parents – the first thing you should do is read in front of them.
It might be uncomfortable but reading the same book as your child heelps to support them to build up a ‘reading history’.
Pedagoo – what is it?
Pedagoo began as a way of connecting with others in Scotland who wanted to talk aobut what was happening in education. It was a blog, an online community, a space to talk for Scottish teachers. It grew into events – virtual and real-world – including #PedagooFriday on Twitter and the whole focus is on positivity.
What are the benefits of staying at the same school for a long time like Kenny has?
Kenny believes you build up a reputation and connections with colleagues, with parents and in the community. As he teaches in the community where he grew up, it also gives him the opportunity to help some of the more reluctant kids – those who don’t believe education is for them and don’t believe they can get a good job. He points out to them that he lived in the street next to them and he did it.
In the first of a couple of shorter episodes over the festive period, we raid the cutting room floor as well as some of the most interesting episodes of 2016 in search of what’s important in education. We find fun, motivation and creativity!
Featuring some additional thoughts from Julia Skinner as well as a whole host of others, we take the opportunity to look back through archives for some of the most inspirational content from the past year.
We hope you enjoy listening in the midst of your Christmas and New Year preparations.
It was great to have Lisa Ashes as our last guest of 2016. Lisa is an Advanced Skills English teacher, a development trainer, a writer, Independent Thinker, charity worker and a Reflective Learning Geek!
Lisa’s latest book is called ‘Manglish’ and she aims to encourage the practice of fusing cross-curricular subjects in a challenging way. The ideas came from a time when Lisa realised that every teacher in the school she was in was teaching numeracy and literacy in different ways, trying their hardest, but were focused primarily on the needs of the exams they were preparing the children for. The book follows everything Lisa did to persuade teachers to look at what they were already doing and ask, ‘Where’s the literacy in that?’ and ‘Where’s the numeracy in that?’ Originally a secondary project, Lisa has now been working with primary colleagues and in FE.
Lisa points out that Manglish originated from listening to what teachers were already doing rather them hitting them with another new initiative. She looked at what was being done, found what was already good and then found ways of joining all the subjects together.
Have we got inclusion dreadfully wrong and what should we be doing about it?
Lisa believes there is the will to get inclusion right but schools often don’t have the time, the resources or the expertise to make it work in the mainstream. She has gone ‘under-cover’ as a supply teacher so she can go into lots of different schools and observe what’s going on. She has seen several schools who have created what they call ‘nurture groups’ or ‘stage not age’ groups while the teachers mainly focus on the groups they need to get through the exams so they don’t lose their jobs.
This often leads, in Lisa’s experience, to children ‘just being baby-sat’. To look after these children properly takes time, money, training and expertise. Lisa has been excellent special schools who get it right but mainstream secondary schools are not always geared up to provide what is needed. Primary schools teaching assistants are often brilliant but simply don’t have the time to devote to these children.
What do you mean by ‘doing education to children?’
This comes from Lisa’s own experience of school. She didn’t care about exams when she was at school – it wasn’t that she couldn’t do it, she just couldn’t see the purpose in exams It wasn’t until she needed to pass exams to become a teacher that she had a real purpose and succeeded in exams. She talks about the children in ‘nurture groups’ or those set up for children with behavioural difficulties and asks us to imagine what it’s like for them having education done to them until they are actually released into ‘real life’. She believes that we need to include them much more and help them to understand the purpose of education far beyond the exam.
While Lisa was a classroom assistant before becoming a teacher, she was put in a cupboard – literally. So she studied the experiences of the children from their own perspective. She could see why and how the teacher was boring her students and this ‘CPD’ went on for a year. She was then a project co-ordinator, given a budget of £70,000 to help students receive exam passes – she approached the task as much as she could from the point of view of the students.
What needs to be changed in order to free us up from the obsession with exams?
Lisa thinks we are forgetting what she calls ‘the whole journey of the child’. She feels we focus far too much on the exam years, to the detriment of the rest.
We need to focus on development, not just the end result of the exam.
We also need to think about who is accountable and how we deal with failure. Lisa’s controversial view is that, in secondary school, teachers should take a cohort of children through from year 7 to 11. That’s what she wants in her role. Rather than this, she finds that Key Stage 3 gets forgotten about.
What were your experiences of Ghana and Nepal like?
As Lisa has had flexibility, working as a supply teacher, she has been able to take part in volunteer work. She has been to Nepal and Ghana with WWEP – a combination of organisations, committed to improving education where it is most needed. In Ghana, the work is around SOS Villages where women are employed to be ‘mothers’ of orphans and there is a school, funded by SOS but where the teacher training is done by WWEP. However, the local community schools were the real focus of Lisa’s work when she was there. These schools have nothing. Eventually, advanced skills practitioners will go out to the community schools from the SOS schools and and provide support to the teachers there. There will be another 5 visits. If the project is successful it will be replicated across the world.
In Nepal, the situation is very different. There is a well set up single school and the focus is more on teacher training, linked with WWEP. Lisa worked with teachers there as well. Seven more teachers will go back in April 2017.
For the third year in a row, we present the mayhem and madness which is the Pivotal Podcast Christmas Quiz. Play along with our guest participant, Pivotal Education’s own Mike Armiger, as our Mystery Question-master takes us through rounds about Education – past, present and future!
What will your score be?
Will you beat Mike?
The Christmas Quiz is also available in glorious technicolour via YouTube:
Dr. Mary Bousted, General Secretary of ATL joined us this week to talk about the state of education, initial teacher training, recruitment and retention and a lot more besides!
Originally a teacher in Harrow, Mary was a union representative for the National Union of Teachers and eventually became General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in 2003.
Mary believes that too often DfE speak to leaders and managers, assuming they will get the voice of the profession. It’s very important to speak to techers’ representatives as well.
The views of teachers and leaders are often complementary but they are not always the same and you need to listen to the majority of the workforce.
Is there a new direction of travel at the DfE?
Mary is impressed by Justine Greening, the new Secretary of State for Education. She likes the way in which she is asking questions like ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘What’s the evidential basis for this idea?’ So we are moving to a much more careful and considered phase in education. One of the problems is that the previous decisions are still being implemented and working their way through the system. This has impacted very severely on teachers and leaders.
Is the mixed economy of routes into teaching working?
Mary believes that particularly in shortage subjects, the recruitment situation is serious and targets have not been met this year which compounds the situation from previous years. This is in the context of primary school numbers increasing and then following through to form increases in secondary numbers. Mary is also concerned to know what will happen to the thousands of overseas teachers who are already teaching here. So Mary thinks that the teacher supply model is not working – with a highly-confusing picture of different routes which she believes have been implemented far too quickly and without proper planning.
Mary says there is nothing wrong with schools taking more responsibility for teacher training but there is a limit to what schools can do. Most schools want a partnership with Higher Education institutions rather than to do all the training themselves. She worries that a lot of trainees are getting a good grounding in classroom management and school policies but not enough input on subject knowledge development or complex issues with a big theoretical base like assessment.
I think it’s a full-blown crisis.
Mary points out that 1 in 5 maths and English lessons is now taught by a teacher who doesn’t have an A Level in that subject. Schools, she believes, are putting their best-qualified teachers into Key Stage 4 and 5 exam classes which means that teaching lower down the school is often done by those who are teaching out of subject and this is bound to affect student performance.
How do we retain excellent teachers?
Mary thinks teacher retention is as big if not a bigger problem than teacher recruitment. She mentions figures like 52% of teachers in England having less than 10 years’ experience. The research shows that young teachers are looking at the 50-60 hour week combined with the high pressure in schools where too often they feel their professional expertise isn’t valued and ‘voting with their feet’ – leaving the profession after 3 or 4 years.
Mary says that teachers in England are getting on average 4 days of CPD a year while the OECD average is 10 days and in Shanghai it’s 40 days a year.
Teachers are over-worked and under-supported.
We have to address the issue of pay
We have to do something about teacher professionalism – they need to be able to focus on the things that matter like teaching learning and assessment
Grammar schools – can they be re-designed or will they simply be a mirror image of what we have?
Mary is very concerned about the 11+ exam. She says that the Government is looking for a ‘tutor-proof’ test but that this does not exist. She cannot see how the rates of free school meals children getting into Grammar schools can be increased. She believes that it is impossible to have selection without the negative consequences it has now.
Mary also sees the location of Grammar schools as problematic because she thinks that the areas they are established in will quickly become ‘very middle class’.
Of course some Grammar schools are excellent – just as many comprehensive schools are excellent.
Mary cites a report which states that the most able children do just as well in good comprehensive schools as they do in Grammar schools and that standards are reduced in Grammar schools when selection is increased because of the need to take more children.
However, Mary points out that there is no guarantee that this policy will be implemented, particularly as it has to get through the Lords.
Where should we be looking for examples of great education systems? Just Shanghai?
Mary thinks that we have to be careful using any examples from other cultures. She points out that Shanghai are having difficulties around creativity and that many children are not included in the schools used as examples because they are internal migrant workers who do not have the right papers. So the pupils are disproportionately from the Communist Party Cadre Elite – this has a significant effect.
We do have to be very careful about ‘Policy Tourism’.
There are other examples like Sweden where deregulation of the curriculum and assessment has had very negative consequences. So it’s important to look internationally but we can’t assume that policies from elsewhere will work in the UK.
What excites you about education in the UK?
The creativity in classrooms
The real moral and ethical purpose that teachers have to try to enable every child to achieve
The much greater focus on teaching and learning and effective pedagogy
The much kinder way children are treated – as individuals in schools
The fact that schools are such civilised places to be
Our teaching and school leadership profession are overwhelmingly excellent professionals
The National Education Union
Mary tells us about the new union which has been proposed, formed from the NUT and the ATL.