Category Archives: Podcast

Hywel Roberts in the Time Out Room – PP174

Hywel RobertsThere’s a new flavour to this week’s episode as we join Hywel Roberts who finds himself in the Pivotal Podcast Time Out Room.

Hywel reveals more than ever before about himself and his educational thinking in this fascinating trip into the mind of a man who never ceases to educate and entertain.

Paul asks Hywel some very revealing questions and receives some remarkable responses including tales of appearing in front of a uniformed Chief of Police and how effective Hywel’s mother be in the classroom today.

We also have the first in another new series – Pivotal Trainer, James Clark, gives us a rundown of his initial experiences on a 5 day Pivotal Fastrack Instructors Training Programme.

Finally, Paul is back with some Education News which this week includes the content of Education Secretary, Justine Greening’s recent speech to the Conservative Party Conference.

Contains sounds from the following sources:
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Bird Whistling, A.wav by InspectorJ is licensed under the Attribution License.

Yabba Dabba Dyson! PP173

Chris Dyson
Chris Dyson

In a very special episode, Chris Dyson returns to the Pivotal Podcast to tell us the full story of his recent Ofsted inspection.

Chris is headteacher of the larger than average size Parklands Primary School, on the Seacroft Estate in Leeds where up to a third of the children join or leave the school in Key Stage 1. 72% of the children are eligible for Pupil Premium support, which is about 3 times the national average and the proportion of children with Special Educational Needs is well above average. The school also has a 14-place facility for pupils with severe learning difficulties and their attainment and progress are included in the overall outcomes for the school.

Parklands was the very first school this academic year to have an Ofsted inspection and when the call came through, Chris was flying drones in year 2.

“I’ve been waiting 3 years for this phone call.”

Chris prefers to think of Ofsted inspections as great CPD and he feels that the school has been ready since last September. He was so excited to receive the phone call that he greeted Ofsted with, “Yabba Dabba Do!”

As the inspection was initially intended to be a one-day process, Chris reassured his teaching staff that there was nothing to worry about – it would all be about the senior leadership of the school.

“How long after the phone call did you get the lamb’s hearts out of the freezer?”

Chris assures Paul that nothing was put on specially for the Ofsted inspectors.

How did the school prepare for the inspectors?

Rather than ‘burning the midnight oil’, Chris and his staff only stayed at school the night before the inspection until 7.30pm. They were already ready. Chris contemplated a hug but stuck to a handshake in the end.

At the first meeting, Chris was pleased and surprised to see that all of the 6 or 7 points the inspectors wanted to discuss were already up on the wall in his office as part of the School Development Plan.

At the end of day 1 Chris knew they had done very well but wasn’t sure if they had done enough to be rated as outstanding. The lead inspector asked him if he wanted to convert to a 2-day inspection so that the school had a chance to go for outstanding. The Ofsted team were happy to do that if he wanted them to. Chris agreed even though it would mean lots of extra stress for the class teachers who would have their lessons observed on the next day.

“What’s the point in just settling for ‘good’ when you can go for something and stretch and challenge yourself? We challenge these children every day so let’s challenge ourselves, let’s really go for it.”

How did it go? Listen to the episode to find out!

Relentless Povey – How to turn around the impossible with less than nothing – PP172

Drew Povey
Drew Povey

This week, Paul spoke to the headteacher of the school which is at the centre of the Channel 4 series, Educating Greater Manchester, Drew Povey. His school is Harrop Fold in Salford and he became head there at the age of 32.

Harrop Fold was infamous for being ‘the worst school in the country’ when Drew took it over but it is no longer in Special Measures and despite a huge deficit (the largest of any school in the UK) is now thriving. Drew says that the only way through that kind of situation is to focus on the values of the school.

“The culture always comes first before any strategy is put in place.”

How did you start to get the parents onboard?

Many of the current parents were at the school themselves and some didn’t have a very positive experience as students themselves. Drew says he learned quickly that he had to go out into the community – he couldn’t expect the people who lived close to the school to understand what was going on there ‘by osmosis’. So he attended lots of community meetings where he expected to receive negativity at first but over time was able to spread good news about the school. He also instituted open days and gradually managed to create a positive vibe around what the school was doing which encouraged parents to trust them and get involved.

 Was it a tough decision to let cameras into the school?

Drew made sure it was everyone’s decision – staff, students and parents. Staff from previous series came into the school and everyone was consulted. This led to a vote and 90% of the school community voted to allow the cameras in.

In fact, a year 9 girl said to Drew that there were always businesses coming in to school to look at leadership and other topics and now they had the opportunity to do this on a national scale – so why not?

One of the biggest talking points of the programme has been the boy who wears make-up in school – why not make him conform?

Drew says that the guidelines are there for children but that we risk not encouraging young people to be individuals, to value and celebrate diversity if the rules are too restrictive.

“[Education] is all about preparing young people for life.”

What are the critical elements of managing behaviour in your school and what’s the impact of social media?

Despite what might appear like ‘soft edges’ on the TV programme, Drew is clear that the boundaries are very clear in reality at his school.

“What we expect of kids is probably what we’re going to get from them.”

Drew talks about a combination of barriers, chances and the  belief you set for the students.

Mobile phones are part of school life at Harrop Fold. Drew points out that mobile phones are crucial to how he operates as an adult and he sees it as his responsibility to prepare students for adult life. He is aware of he risks but he believes it is essential to get young pe3ople to use mobile phones responsibly. The children use their phones as learning resources, including social media applications. Drew is aware of he difficulties of always being accessible on social media but he and his staff are proactive in teaching children about social media, how to keep themselves safe and how to get the best out of it.

What’s holding Drew at Harrop Fold after 13 years?

Drew talks about the ‘Salford Spirit’ and says it’s a brilliant place to work. The people there are straight-talking but also the most supportive people he has met.

How does a school get saddled with £3Million of debt?

In 2004-6 the school was spending money to get out of Special Measures. The debt was never meant to be managed by the school itself but a series of circumstances including the global financial crisis meant that it ended up having to pay the whole sum back. There was also an overspend situation and a falling school roll on top of he original debt. Everyone said it couldn’t be paid off. However, the staff came up with brilliant ideas and they started to make huge savings, despite not making redundancies. The school has paid a lot of money back now but it’s not in a sustainable position yet. It’s even impossible for the Harrop Fold to convert to an academy because of its financial position.

Drew has just launched a Just Giving page but is keen to point out that this isn’t connected with the TV programme – they did that because they are proud of their students and their school. However, he is hopeful that businesses who have contacted him as well as other organisations and sources of income may all come together to enable them to finally pay off the debt.

Drew is also about to publish a book and is developing leadership advice for companies which will help the funding effort.

Harrop Fold website

Drew on Twitter (consultancy site)

Headteacher Simon Smith – Literature and Imagination! PP171

Simon Smith
Simon Smith

After a twenty-year journey to get to headship, via teaching  and advising roles, Simon began leading East Whitby Academy in 2014.

Simon has leaned a lot about trusting your instincts in a particular role – and particularly acknowledging when a job is not for you and having the strength to make a change.

How important is it to foster a love of literature in young people?

Simon believes reading is probably the most important thing we teach children. He is not very keen on book lists, however. He sees them as limiting.

“I want children to see books as a way they can find things out but equally a place where they can visit other places.”

Simon’s parents were not readers and there were very few books in his house. So school was the only place he could access books. He remembers a teacher sharing Animal Farm with his Year 4 class (rather young?) but he found it was a formative experience for him. He recalls crying at the injustice in the book and says that this indicates the power of picking the right books to open up our children’s eyes to the world, to feelings and emotions.

“I am the human I am because of the books I have read.”

How do you ensure the right range of books are made available to children?

Simon believes the most important element is to develop the staff’s knowledge of literature. He would also love to have a librarian in school but sadly it’s a luxury most schools can’t afford. So staff need to know books and know their children so they can match them up with books which they will appreciate – and sometimes surprise them.

“The best thing about books isn’t the reading, it’s the talk that goes alongside them.”

A focus for the school this year is to develop the love of reading amongst all children and Simon cautions against being snobbish about what kinds of reading matter we recommend to children. There is a lot to be said for children finding whatever interests them, regardless of what we think of the ‘quality’ of the writing.

Does the way we present books to children sometimes switch them off?

Simon absolutely agrees. He was turned off books by his own GCSE and A Level studies and was ‘saved’ by a cool teacher who managed to turn him on to Shakespeare by delving deeply into the themes of, for example, The Merchant of Venice. Later on, he picked up a copy of Trainspotting which was unlike anything he had ever seen and was hooked again.

In order to make sure children are excited by and appreciative of books without having to analyse them unnecessarily, Simon has ensured that every class in his school has the teacher reading a book to the class every day – just reading the story. He feels that, as SATs reading tests have taken over, there is a danger that books are always pulled apart and you can forget that it is supposed to be a whole work – not just passages to analyse.

“There is a simple joy in just reading a story to a class of children.”

What challenges and opportunities do books bring for children with social and emotional needs?

Simon believes that books can be very useful indeed for this group of children.

“Great books can allow routes into exploring those emotions.”

A great book can help you to realise that it’s not just you who is having these issues. Also, in a predominately white British area, books are helping Simon to challenge some entrenched beliefs. However, the book is only a way into the talking session – it won’t work on its own.

The school employ a therapist who works a lot in groups and individually through books to develop and support children’s empathy. Simon says that his own journey to understand other people’s feeling has been helped by books.

Simon’s links:


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 Toettcher

Before 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.

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 were 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’s move to Pivotal coincides with the relocation to a new office in Kings Langley. Ben believes the new Pivotal offices are much more welcoming for people to visit the team. Pivotal has always visited schools to work with staff. Now there is the opportunity to come away from the school environment and reflect on what is required in the school’s behaviour journey.

Ben is excited about the many ways in which Pivotal can help schools. He wants to make sure Pivotal can get into schools and talk to staff and students even more. He also wants to help develop training 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:
Phone 020 7000 1735
Ben on Twitter
Ben on LinkedIn

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
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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 –
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