Clare Erasmus – Wellbeing Warriors! PP202

Clare Erasmus giving her TED talk!
Clare Erasmus giving her TED talk!

For Mike’s last episode of the academic year, he speaks to the remarkable Clare Erasmus who shares her insights around wellbeing – what a great end to a great year!

Clare is Head of Faculty for Mental Health and Wellbeing at Brighton Hill Community School and describes herself as very fortunate to have experienced unconditional love in her upbringing in South Africa. When she arrived in the UK, she didn’t have the urge or the desire to teach until she had her own children and she realised that it was such a privilege to teacher other people’s children.

Having seen discrimination in South Africa, Clare became a champion for equality and leading anti-bullying, anti-racism, anti-xenophobia and aniti-homophobia campaigns. Her passion was for finding ways in which young people could speak about and lead work in these areas. This lead her to the world of mental health.

She found a lack of resources in the UK for mental health in the 1990s and 2000s and she found herself championing mental health and wellbeing in schools.

When you are teaching do you adopt different personas?

“When I first started teaching I was trying too hard to be someone else.”

Quite quickly, Clare realised the only way which would work was for her to be herself and the students be themselves. The only differences between her and the learners were:

  • she had experience
  • she had insights into the institution they were in
  • she had good communication skills

Authenticity is vital, for Clare and since she realised this people have gravitated towards her. She also thinks it’s important to share a little bit of vulnerability with students – for example she let them know how nervous she was about doing a recent TED talk.

Why is wellbeing so important to you?

Despite having a wonderful childhood, Clare realised that wasn’t a ticket to having a wonderful life. Everyone has challenges and sometimes everyone can be hit quite hard – which can be a huge shock and you can find yourself crumbling. She discovered resilience which for her means the ability to recognise when things aren’t working and you aren’t feeling great. Even if you look like you should be able to cope, you can’t but you can – and do – ask for help.

Jon Tait – Professional development and the C bomb – PP201

Jon Tait
Jon Tait

As we start a ‘new era’ for the Pivotal Podcast (actually it’s just that we have gone past episode 200…), Jon Tait makes a very welcome return.

You can listen to his first interview on the podcast here.

Jon is Director of the Acklam Grange Teaching School in Middlesbrough and joined Paul to talk about ‘flipping’ CPD and how it can be done better.

As a teacher, how do I know what I need to know next?

Jon believes that it’s important to build up a toolbox of strategies and skills for teachers – teachers have to be masters of the content but also be able to access the ‘craft of the classroom’ – different techniques, strategies and skills for different lessons, different students and times of the day.

What should the mix be between CPD for a subject and for techniques and strategies?

Jon says there has been a focus on content CPD over recent years due to changes in the curriculum but the techniques and strategy side is equally important.

“We need more reachers than teachers.”

We need to engage with students, to get them on-board and that doesn’t always come from getting the most highly-qualified people into the profession – they also need to be able to reach the students in an effective way.

How do you organise CPD for staff to meet their personal learning objectives?

Jon banned the term ‘CPD’ when he took arrive at Acklam Grange. For him, it has too many negative connotations. He is concerned that a lot of CPD practice would not be tolerated in a classroom with students. He has worked to change the culture around professional development and has developed a brand called ‘AGS Inspire’. All the sessions are delivered in ‘flipped learning’ style. This essentially means that the order of how we teach is reversed and in this context, staff are given content to watch or listen to or read before the training session. This means that, in the session itself, they can spend more time discussing and doing group work on material which has already been learned.

Typically, Jon will send out a shorter than 10 minute video for staff to watch usually of himself speaking to camera explaining a concept or approach. In the face-to-face sessions, the discussion can them be around reactions to the videos, how to apply the technique in the classroom, other points of view etc.

“People learn best when it’s on their own terms, in their own time, when they are ready to learn, not when they are forced to learn.”

What’s the balance between individually-directed CPD and whole-staff?

Acklam Grange still has whole-school professional development – including with outside trainers – when it’s necessary – based on the senior leadership team’s in-depth knowledge of the needs of the staff.

Does technology excite you about the next steps for CPD?

Jon believes it’s most important to have a range of options for staff so everyone has wheat they need. Some teachers would rather read, others would rather watch a video. Technology has opened the door to 24 hour access so teachers who want to access materials in their free periods or at home can do so. If a worker in a manufacturing role had a training need to improve their performance, they wouldn’t be expected to wait for 6 months, so why should a teacher?

What’s the best professional development for a senior leadership team?

Jon says that when you reach senior leadership, it’s very unlikely you will have had any significant leadership development. Leadership is the key to school improvement so it’s very important that leadership development is considered early.

“The better we get in our jobs, the further we move away from what we are good at.”

This is something else which needs to be flipped so emerging leaders get the development they need.

Is social media useful in professional development?

The fact that social media is unfiltered is both the beauty and the danger of it. Jon has found it really positive over the years but he knows it’s possible to get caught in a bubble of like-minded people. You need people who will challenge your own thinking.

Jon’s books:
100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers – Engaging Learners
Senior Leadership

Tony Meehan – Working in the shadow of Grenfell – PP200

Tony Meehan
Tony Meehan

Paul met Tony for the first time as part of the TBAP Multi-Academy Trust. He is a headteacher, a consultant, Founding Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching and an expert in working with some of the most vulnerable “and damaged young people.

What do teachers most often get wrong when dealing with the most challenging behaviour?

Tony believes that bad practice in behaviour management is typified by people who feel they need to fix things then and there, before things escalate without really taking on board what’s really going on. Staff who harangue individuals and are ‘loose with language’.

“If they just tell them several times in different tones, louder and louder, it’ll fix it up – and it doesn’t.”

Being loose with language is dangerous because it risks sending a child into a spiral where behaviour gets worse.

What’s the best practice you have ever witnessed?

Tony tells the story of seeing a brilliant practitioner in a PRU reacting to a learner who stated that he was going to ‘trash the place.’ The teacher said, “OK, hun, but just don’t hurt yourself while you’;re doing it.” She then carried on as if nothing else was happening. This is, Tony tells us, incredibly powerful use of language and shows the demeanour of the teacher and the strength of her relationships.

“When a member of staff is at ease with themselves, secure in their own skin, pupils sense that.”

  • Use language
  • Use humour
  • Make pupils feel they are important

“You have to love the job and your pupils in order  to do the job we do because it’s incredibly intense.”

Another example of this is the girl from an incredibly difficult home situation who was often absent form the PRU for extended periods. When she re-appeared after being missing for a week, the staff all reacted in the same way. No-one asked where she had been – they all exclaimed her name, welcomed her back and gave her hugs. The result of this is when at leavers’ day, the pupil is sitting in the event, having done all her GCSEs – and her mum is sitting next to her, as Tony puts it ‘in utter pride’. This, for Tony, is what the job is all about.

How can a leader in Alternative Provision help staff to soak up the level of trauma they experience day after day?

Tony believes you have to share the load. Any support staff need, they should receive. He spent a lot of time walking he floor, testing the temperature in classroom and provide opportunities for staff to offload and talk things through when they need to.

“[In a PRU], no matter how prepared you are – you aren’t prepared.”

Why are young people carrying knives and what can we do about it?

Tony thinks we don’t fully understand why young people carry knives.

“A lot of young people live in micro-societies on the estates almost parallel to the world we live in.”

Even a short trip to the shops carries a perceived risk to young people. They feel they need to carry a weapon to protect themselves. They don’t feel they have any future in main society. It’s not necessary to be a member of a gang to be affected by gangs.

We need to be able, on a national level, to provide hope to these young people – we need to keep talking to them. This is particularly true for those who are excluded from school. Once they have been rejected from school, they become prey to the forces which exist in gang culture.

A lot of the time, young people are trying, for example, to help their mothers or families – they need to get money quickly which forces them into illegal activities. There is a feeling that they have been abandoned – theirs are ‘disposable communities’ – there is no hope or chance to change things.


Includes Creative Commons sound clips:

remix of 62176 Fanfare (before-after)#.wav by Timbre
This work is licensed under the Attribution Noncommercial License.

cheering and clapping crowd 2 by AlaskaRobotics
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons 0 License.

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