Access To Research

Unless you are studying at a university or work at one, it can be very difficult to access academic research. It’s all very well encouraging people to become critical thinkers and take their CPD into their own hands, but if you are relying on the information provided by others it can be restrictive.

Following every ResearchEd there has been a ripple of frustration at the lack of access to published research – there is even an online petition to ask the Secretary of State for Education to make online journals free to access for teachers. Whether or not this is a feasible idea (corporate sponsorship of research and all the reliability pit falls), it shows that we are in need of a solution. This is an incomplete list with just some of the ways to access research. I intend on adding to it as I find anything else that may be useful.

  1. Free access articles –

Taylor and Francis Online/Routledge @educationarena have a selection of articles available to access for free. There are monthly collections available around a certain topic (cyberbullying, autism awareness month, leadership etc), and topic selections available for a longer period of time. This is fantastic but does limit it to what someone else has decided and there isn’t the ability to read around a subject.

  1. Public library access –

In February, thousands of free articles became available in public libraries The major downside with this is that you can’t access anything outside the library and you aren’t allowed save anything. If your local library isn’t currently part of the scheme you can ask them to apply. This is a really good step but it is limited.

  1. #icanhazpdf

Using this hashtag you can ask twitter members to access an article for you and someone will save and send you the article you’re after. Not an option if you are after a large amount of information and not necessarily legal.

  1. CORE –

‘CORE aims to facilitate free access to content stored across Open Access repositories’. This looks promising but it is tricky to navigate. There is a lot of information available but it might not contain exactly what you’re after due to the limitations of Open Access.

  1. Email researchers directly.

If there is a specific paper you require it is a good idea to contact the author. Contact details are often available alongside the abstract of a paper. An advantage of contacting the researchers in person is that they may be able to provide further reading and up to date advice in the area you are researching.


A way for academics to share research papers online. It is free to sign up – you don’t have to be a researcher or employed at a university. Users can follow the research or a particular academic or institution. Think of it as social networking for academics.

  1. Research libraries

Many educational organisations have online collections of research or links to research.

CfBT – Research Library

Curee – Links to research


  1. Education Endowment Foundation

The EEF are funding a huge amount of research at the moment. The website has summaries of research findings and descriptions of what is underway. You can download the full reports of completed projects. A good starting point and their Toolkit is a great resource.


This is a small, searchable database which is Ontario based. The focus is on day-to-day practical challenges in schools and there are a limited number of papers. This might be a good source of articles for use in journal clubs and as starting points for further research.

  1. Self-Published Work

A small search online reveals several easy ways to publish your research online and Open Access. This has the benefit of being low cost and reaching a wide audience but the downside of lacking peer review and regulation. As a starting point, self-published articles can be brilliant to start off a debate or as a journal club article for picking to pieces. That’s not to say what you find won’t be worthwhile, but critical analysis is key.

An example of where self-published work can be valuable to both producers and consumers of research is the Sandringham Learning Journal ( An annual, anthology of research and reflective practice from Sandringham School. A valuable piece of internal and external CPD.

  1. Local university library membership.

Universities often offer membership to their libraries to members of the public. Birmingham ( and Nottingham ( offer membership for around £50 a year to access their libraries. Again, great, but this includes limited electronic resources and you can’t print or save any of them.

  1. EBSCO

The ‘leading aggregator of online resources’. Familiar if you have used online access at university and with the OU, they’re fairly comprehensive. They have education specific collections for institutions to purchase membership. If you are lucky enough to be registered with The General Teaching Council for Scotland you will have free access to journals through EBSCO (, but if you aren’t, these are some options.

All figures are from May 2014.

A subscription to Education Research Complete ( would be £995 + VAT.

They provide a smaller version of Education Research Complete called Professional Development Collection which is £250 + VAT. ( This also includes free access to Teacher Reference Centre. (

You can coordinate with a number of institutions to allow them to also have access to Professional Development Collection or Education Research Complete, then they offer a buying group discount of 3% for two Schools purchasing, 5% for three, 10% for four and 15% for five Schools all purchasing their own version of PDC or ERC.

  1. Subscription

E.g. Taylor Francis publish a large number of academic journals. Their prices for each journal are available here –

They list for individual and also for institution. For all their educational journals, online only access would probably be around £2million per year which is quite a lot, but you may be willing to subscribe to key publications.

  1. Societies – BELMAS, SEBDA, Nasen etc.

Societies and associations in more specialist areas of education often have their own academic journals. It may be more cost effective to join an association in order to access a journal than it is to purchase access to the journal directly. There are different levels of membership available for different organisations. Some have special rates for students, TAs, whole schools etc.

BELMAS offer your first year’s membership free and this includes access to journals.

E.g. Nasen produce the journal ‘Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties’ on a quarterly basis. Taylor Francis list this for £79 a year (individual use, hard copy). Membership of Nasen is £55pa (individual member, online access to current and back issues), and of course that comes with other benefits of being a member.

ResearchEd Leads Network 2014: Part One

Part One: In which I doubt my position and get inspired by two blokes off of Twitter.

I’ve blogged about ResearchEd before and Saturday’s Research Leads Network was an equally empowering and exhausting day as all the others. I don’t know if it’s one of those ‘end of term’ things but the further away from ResearchEd 14 we’ve got and the more stuff I’ve taken on, I get an increasing sense of ‘what the hell and I doing’ and I was really looking forward to spending time with lots of people all thinking about the same stuff.

There was a lot said on the day about how all of us in a research lead role (or thinking about it) are in new territory and no one really knows what they should be doing. I know everyone’s making this up as they go along, but I really have bullied my way into doing this. I basically prattled on without taking a breath in my support and supervision last year and was rewarded with a nominal role in the operational handbook. I didn’t particularly know what I was going to do with it, I just didn’t want anyone else to get there first. As it turns out, school (and particularly our deputy head) are being great and letting me do lots of things.

One thing that struck me on Saturday was the emphasis on how this is a leadership role. I’m doing a lot of new things, but there’s no getting away from the fact that I’m not even a senior TA – let alone a qualified teacher or on the leadership team. I’m not saying everyone’s wrong about this – it’s more that it adds to the feeling that I’m in the wrong place (or at least not being paid enough).

Alex Quigley and Carl Hendrick’s session did a lot to encourage me (even though they didn’t dance. Something about cables and dangerous break dancing). Their summaries of their respective roles included quite a few of the things I’m trying to do – albeit on a greater scale than mine.

I found the structure of Carl Hendrick’s system interesting and I suppose sort of a standard to aspire to. Having said that, I don’t think it would be for everyone but before Saturday I thought anything these guys were doing would be way out of my league and I could at best pinch some tips. Actually, what I found was that I’m already involved in quite a few things:

  • Conducting research – We’re taking part in the Closing the Gap: Test and Learn research trials with the National College of Teaching and Leadership. We’ve part of their Research Lesson Study trial and we’ve just had our second training event with Curee. As well as co-ordinating this in school I have taken on the role designed to be filled by a member of SLT which will include disseminating our work to the staff team.
  • Journal Club – I’ve started holding a semi-regular journal club at school. All are welcome, at any level and it’s been a really positive experience.
  • Links with University – I want to do more on this. I have started by signing us up to have MA students coming into school next year and attended a free event in October so far.
  • Critical friend/ Devil’s advocate – Our Deputy Head asked me to be her critical friend in the development of the ECHP transition meetings format.
  • Body of knowledge – MEd and ResearchEd for fun count as this surely?
  • Translating research – Advising colleagues where they can provide evidence to support initiatives they are running and sourcing information for them. I think there’s a good opportunity to do more of this.
  • Consulted by leadership – So far this term I have been consulted on two draft policies for our federation, the EHCP process and asked to complete a couple of follow up question sheets from staff meetings I wasn’t at.

When I write it down like that, it doesn’t seem like too bad a start.

One of my favourite parts of this role is my Journal Club. It’s bit rough and ready at the moment, but I’ve got some regular attendees and it’s them asking me about when we do the next one. It’s nothing as regular as Carl’s fortnightly literature reviews with his staff research fellows; and rather than selecting them through written application, I’m bribing with biscuits. It is my baby and it’s wonderful to see how everyone who has taken part so far has loved it. Realistically it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but everyone is invited and my personal crusade is to persuade those who are interested but think it’ll be too hard for them to give it a go.

I was pleased that neither Carl nor Alex seemed concerned about getting everyone to rush forth and conduct their own research. Facilitating this is certainly part of a Research Lead’s role, but personally, I would much rather get my school involved in large scale research projects coordinated by organisations like the EEF than worry too much about trying to squeeze any sort of reliability out of our 50 pupils. I do want to encourage people to critically evaluate their practice and if they want to do this through some sort of investigation I am happy to help. I just won’t get caught up in trying to have everyone conducting RCTs. As a few of us are venturing into Lesson Study for our CtG research I can see that this is possibly the best way to ease staff into using evidence in their everyday practice so I’m hoping that goes well.

Translation of evidence is something I’ve been very keen on doing – equally I am an annoying devil’s advocate so I think I can manage to play that part too. Hopefully the more people see that I am happy to source evidence for them, the more they’ll ask me to do it. One of the most important things I learnt during my MEd was that it’s OK to realise sometimes research is unreadable and makes no sense. So many people assume that it’ll be beyond them and if I can help by translating and summarising important and relevant information then I think that is a good use of my time.

I’m going to have a bash at the whole Devil’s Advocate thing now…

Every ResearchEd event stirs up the pain of access to research. I love access to research. I love finding interesting studies and following a trail of papers. I really miss having access through the OU – I looked into all sorts of things during my three years. A lot of people want research to be free for teachers, but someone has to pay and whilst free access would be a lovely thing, I don’t know how achievable that is. The cost of access is a big issue in the university sector with the major publishers and providers charging huge amounts of money. So much so that even universities have to be selective in their subscriptions. Even when I was studying I’d get my Dad to access some things for me, or one of the students doing some work at our school. We want to avoid a situation where the free to access research is the bits sponsored by profit making organisations or lacks peer review and I suspect in the long run, the best way to provide access is through membership of a professional body. I’ll let you fight it out about that, but I will add that it shouldn’t just be for teachers. I want access too.

The Quigley-Hendrick experience was a good way to knock me out of doubting what I’m doing. I may be in a small school with a handful of staff and pupils, but we still have to fulfil all the criteria other schools get and I’m quite convinced that what I am trying to achieve is benefitting the school. That should keep me going ‘til March anyway.

I have put together a list of some ways to access to research, free and not free, which I’ll post after this as a light break before Part Two which will feature the SUPER Network, some CPD and my thoughts on the next ResearchEd Leads Network.

Art and Tea

I’ve been part of our school’s GCSE Art department* for a couple of years now and this year I’ve got all the Year 10 and 11 groups. Me and Kev (art tutor) have developed a good routine of lessons and marking, the kids get to experiment with a vast amount of techniques and processes – a hell of a lot more than when I was at school in the olden days, and they are producing some amazing work. I know they are producing amazing work because last summer we got our best ever GCSE results. Not only did we get the best results ever in Art (A, B, C, D), we got the school’s best ever results and the school’s first grade A GCSE in anything ever. We were unbelievably proud.

*it’s pretty much just the two of us

GCSE Art 2014

My own exposure to art has increased immensely – I’ve always had an interest and we trek round galleries with the best of them, but Kev’s knowledge and passion is infectious and I’m feeling it for the better. Every now and then I’ll dabble in some arty project or other and these are happily dotted round the house. At the moment I’m filling the house with rusty teabags.

There is a definite influence of old, rusty, textured stuff in the art at school. Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Richard Serra, and so many more, all work their way into the boys’ projects, and during a research trawl I came across the work of Jennifer Coyne Qudeen. I fell a bit in love with her rusty tea bags and decided to have an experiment. I don’t drink tea but this hasn’t stopped me – we didn’t have any rusty washers either but we do now. Anyway. Having told a few people about my teabags, I thought the easiest way to communicate my endeavours was a quick description.

teabags 04

I started by finding some rusty stuff. We’d got the odd nail and bits of old fence in the garden but for pressing it’s better to have something flat so I bought some washers. After a bit of a mooch online I decided to get zinc plated rather than galvanised ones. The plating is thinner and it’s easier to get the washers to rust. I scuffed the surfaces up a bit and put them in with some other wet, rusty stuff Howard had rescued from burning. It didn’t take too long to get some colour going and the more I’ve used them, the better this has got.

For tea bags, I started by using the few we have for visitors and the odd one I took from hotel rooms etc. I discovered that the best ones are Twinings as they don’t have a seam at the bottom and are easy to fold out into a full sheet. I’ve experimented with different flavours including some herbal teas and there are occasional differences in the reaction of tea and rust. If I could only go with one, it’s probably Assam at the moment, but there’s not a huge difference.

The paper I’ve used is Khadi Handmade Paper. I bought it because that’s what Jennifer Coyne Qudeen shows on her blog. I got a book and A5 sheets. I do like it – it soaks the colour well but the moisture doesn’t destroy the structure. It’s nice to rip, but only on one direction, so I may try different papers once I’ve run out.

My method is fairly simple. Once I’ve got a used tea bag, I open it out and layer it on paper with the washers and any other rusty material. With another sheet of paper on top, I weigh it down with whatever I can find. Mostly recipe books, but I’ve used all sorts as long as they’re heavy.

tea bag 01

After at least 24 hours I separate the layers and leave it all to dry. The tea bags take a while to dry out, but when they’re ready I open them up and get rid of the tea (I’m sure at some point I’ll try using that too) and lo, I have lovely flat bits of fabric stained with tea and rust.

tea bags 02

It’s taken me a while to decide what I’m going to do with all these tea bags and bits of paper. I’ve bought some thread that I think compliments the different shades of tea and the blue-black marks of the rust so I think I’ll try sewing some of them together. I’ve put together some bits into a couple of arrangements but I’m going to keep having a play with them – as long as Howard doesn’t mind the growing pile of tea bags, I can keep coming back to them and trying out new things. I’ll write a part two when I do!

tea bags 03

Art isn’t up there with the biggies like English and Maths when it comes to targets, but it has an important place in what I do and in our school culture. Pupils who have never thought of themselves as ‘artists’ are achieving success and it’s really interesting to see how some of them use art as an outlet. In a school where all the pupils are boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties, a strong, macho element is ever-present. Art allows our pupils to be creative and explore cultural perspectives previously closed to them, alongside the football and the motor engineering. Our ‘A’ grade promised us before left school that he’d visit Venice one day and send us a postcard. We’re holding out hope.

Restorative Approaches and Mediation

In the same week that Ofsted reveal 38 days of teaching are lost every year to low-level disruption, I went along to a talk on Restorative Approaches to Conflict in Schools as part of Nottingham’s Week For Peace.

Last summer when I was given the go-ahead to lead the research agenda at our school, I did a bit of searching to see if I could make some preliminary links with our local universities and came across a name that was familiar. As it turns out, our school was part of a research project some years ago with Dr Edward Sellman (I do remember it happening but I was at a point in my career when I spent my days identifying a spectacular amount of nits and reading all the best voices in ‘The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark’). I reasoned that this might be a good place to start (at the university, not nits or Plop the barn owl) and when I made contact I was offered a free course for two members of staff and a link back with the University’s Student Volunteer Programme.

Our free course was, as I said, part of the Week For Peace. It was due to be a full day event but changed to an evening so schools could avoid the cover issue. I mention this because I think had it been a full day, there would have been more opportunities to discuss the different elements presented and that would have been useful. My comments on the session are more ongoing thoughts than a defined position and I’m skirting over Edward Sellman’s comments rather than deeply analysing them.

The session covered the following areas:

  • The characteristics of restorative and punitive approaches to conflict in schools.
  • What is meant by ‘restorative approaches’ and what they have to offer.
  • What restorative approaches to conflict in schools look like.

There were a series of explanations and examples, a regulation IT hiccup and some group discussion that introduced each of the areas. I have a grounding in behaviourist approaches and appreciated the challenge to my professional practice. There were moments when I thought it sounded ‘brilliant in theory but how was it supposed to work in the ‘real world’. However, so as not to be a hypocrite, I’m not in a position to argue without any evidence to back myself up… I have looked into behaviour systems in the past, but this has been from the angle of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, focusing on token economies without exploring the alternatives. After some admittedly provocative titles such as “Why is there so much punishment in schools?”, my colleague and I were a bit defensive of the system we use, yet both of us have come away thinking about how we can use these ideas in our setting.

Edward Sellman’s research shows that for a restorative approach in schools to be most successful, it needs to be across the school with every member of staff and pupil committed to making it work in an all or nothing approach. I understand how pupils may be confused if an incident is dealt with in a restorative manner in the playground, and a punitive way in the classroom. He didn’t argue that there should be absolutely no punishments or points systems. They have their place, but his research advocates a middle step of negotiation and mediation.

He argued that in the ‘real world’ good behaviour doesn’t always merit reward and bad behaviour doesn’t always get punished, but the real world operates under a behaviourist system, and whilst it will never be perfect, if a restorative approach in schools requires a level of universality to have an impact, might it not also be the case in society? If we teach pupils that their disagreements and incidents will be mediated, once they are out of our care, will they find things equally as confusing?

I have worked alongside pupils with Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties for over 11 years now. A behaviourist approach is central to our whole school day. We start the day with a whole-staff briefing, and we de-brief at the end of each day. We have a reward system that feeds into every part of school life and for the most part I think we are successful. It is rare for us to have major incidents, there are good relationships between pupils and staff, and our pupils are achieving both personally and academically. I have to say, I don’t think behaviourism is purely about punishments and rewards; there has to be an element of incentives and motivation as well. A sanction doesn’t need to happen for it to have an effect, pupils can merely be reminded of what might happen if they continue or what they need to do in order to get to the ‘reward’. We have introduced changes to our reward systems over the past couple of years and keep in mind the need for pupils, certainly KS4, to develop intrinsic motivation whilst recognising that many of our pupils struggle to see as far as their next lesson, let alone the impact of exams.

Our school is clearly a different entity to many schools – not that for a second I think the same behaviours don’t occur elsewhere regularly. After the talk I stayed behind for a discussion; Edward is familiar with our school and it was clear that he understands that it’s not often that people want to change a ‘working’ system and introduce the polar opposite, so there is little chance of our school adopting a universally restorative approach. There are areas that I think we can improve and I have discussed these with a few colleagues. Rather than change the systems in place, we need to remind ourselves of the times we do what we do so well.

  • We need to use detentions or break bans to get to the bottom of why a potentially vulnerable child is behaving a certain way.
  • We need to recognise if a pupil is receiving sanctions for the same thing too often and find out why.
  • We need to explore de-escalation techniques and learn from each other as a staff team.
  • We need to analyse the reasons for physical interventions – and involve the pupil in this.

We already do all these things – and most of them we wouldn’t even think of as a ‘thing’. As the school expands and staff time gets tight, we need to remember to keep on doing them.

Edward Sellman talked about the importance of pupil self-worth and the voluntary nature of a restorative approach. Without the first, you can’t have the second. Many of our pupils are very low on self-esteem and before we think about using any of the suggestions made, this is something of crucial importance. They will get their self-worth from many places. A lot of them will get it from their academic achievements – boys who entered the school unable to read and leave with a raft of qualifications. Some will accept the emotional support we offer – others are so lost that it will take more work.

Behaviour management advice is usually to have clear levels of intervention, consistency across school and for every member of staff to be involved in upholding the school’s policy. I think this is possible with both a behaviourist and restorative approach. As long as everyone understands the ethos of the school and works together in the best interests of the pupils, the system has a good chance of working. As far as our school is concerned, I think we need to take a step back sometimes and recognise that we already have  a lot of features of a restorative approach in place and remember that they are valuable tools for us to use.

Research Champion/Lead/Overlord/Jedi: A ResearchEd Thing

So in a garbled, tacked-on-to-the-start-of-the-staff-meeting speech, I’ve managed to introduce my new role as Research Champion (name change pending) to most of the staff at our school. I thought it might be useful to set out in writing how I see my role and how I hope it will develop following all the ResearchEd conferences, but particularly Saturday’s national conference.

The role of ‘research champion’ in schools is fairly new – certainly on any sort of scale. So new in fact that the title is still under discussion, as it turns out most of us think ‘Champion’ sounds a bit silly. When I muscled my way into the role last summer I asked to be Research Champion because that was the term I had seen bandied about online and at the ResearchEd events. I have a few projects on the go in school and my hope is that having an official title (and mention in the operational handbook) will give what I have to say a bit of clout.

Champ Lunch

Over the past six months there have been more and more people taking on in-school research roles and everyone is at different stages and doing different things. A suggestion was made on Twitter that it might be useful to form a network and to use the ResearchEd 2014 national conference to meet and discuss our roles over lunch. A fine idea; I said I was in. It turned out to be a rather surreal affair – suspended in a glass box above all the other conference attendees, with the great and good of education and me. Others have blogged about the lunch and to be honest, in the whirlwind of it all I don’t think I can remember it all too well, so I’ll brush over it. I did however choose my programme on Saturday with championing research in mind.

Having read several articles and blog posts recently, I have decided what I want my role to be about and not about. This is for both my own clarity of position and that of my colleagues who I really don’t want to scare off. This is what I came up with:

It is about: quality/ evaluation/ empowering/ expertise/ networking/ scepticism/ familiarity of research methods/ engagement/ consuming and producing research.

It is not about: scrutiny/ accountability/ politics/ ‘tainted ideology’/ everyone doing research.

I see my key role as facilitating access to research, encouraging an environment of critical evaluation and reflective practice, creating links between the school and researchers, and helping to provide ways that our school can be part of research. So this is my plan so far:

Closing The Gap: Test and Learn

My enthusiastic leaps following the first ResearchEd gig prompted our Executive Head to put me forward to lead on this. CtG is a scheme from the National College of Teaching and Leadership providing grants to schools within a teaching school alliance to take part in a series of RCTs. These have to focus on ‘Closing the Gap’ in literacy and numeracy. I won’t go into vast amounts of detail, but our school was allocated Lesson Study. This was piloted last year and at some point in the near future I hope to find out what will be expected of me.

In June I attended an event at Swiss Cottage Development and Research Centre focusing on developing research in special schools and nurseries. This was organised by CfBT and we worked through the possibilities of starting our own research and were provided with practical advice to having a small cohort, accessibility of post/pre-tests etc. Hopefully this will prove to be a continuing network and as I scribbled in my notes for the day, they have some money to spend and non-CtG schools are welcome to join in if interested.

University Links

One of the things I have been keen to do is create links with our local universities. I started by looking through the biographies on the University of Nottingham’s website and found someone I thought might be both valuable to us and us to them. The name was familiar and it turns out he was a governor a while back, so I emailed him. I now have a contact, a free course on restorative approaches for two staff, and we have re-engaged with their student volunteer programme. Sometimes a brazen emails work wonders.

Journal Club

Howard, my husband, works for the NHS and whilst his job isn’t clinical, his office is opposite the room where they hold their monthly journal club. He has always encouraged me to start one at school and I’m hoping this can become a reality soon. The hospital journal clubs are held every 4-6 weeks but in between this they hold patient case reviews in which they apply the knowledge covered in journal club to individual cases. I’m planning that this could be a feature of the way we use journal clubs in schools eventually.

After announcing it as a proposal in the staff meeting I have had a couple of people express their interest, including one person who was unsure as they might not be ‘academic enough’. I really hope this isn’t too common a feeling and I can open this up to everyone as I see that as the main reason for the whole job.

Introduce EEF and ResearchEd Websites

My first moves are going to be introducing the EEF and ResearchEd websites. I mentioned them briefly in my hasty introduction to staff but I will make a point of going round and showing people individually. As a taste of what this is all about, they are clear and undaunting sources that will get people interested. I haven’t settled on an article for our first journal club yet, but I am contemplating using some of the EEF reports to kick us off before delving into something more intensive.

I’m also hoping to be able to contribute some things to the ResearchEd website. I’ve sent emails anyway.

ResearchEd 2014

RED sign

I won’t go into much analysis of my day at the conference but I should mention the sessions I attended.

  • Session 1: Prateek Buch – Evidence Matters – getting the public and the teaching profession to stand up for evidence in the classroom.
  • Session 2: John David Blake – What’s class got to do with it? Education research in the UK is obsessed with class.
  • Session 3: Michael Cladingbowl and Sean Harford interviewed by Andrew Old.
  • Session 4: Martin Robinson – The teacher and researcher: the time has come to talk of many things…
  • Lunch of Champions
  • Session 5: Toby Greany and Chris Brown – Schools, universities, evidence and partnerships: Getting it all to work.
  • Session 6: Wayne Holmes – The lure of the next miracle cure. Thinking about the evidence base for educational technology.
  • Session 7: Rebecca Allen (and the House of Cards man whose name I didn’t write down) – Can teacher journal clubs improve classroom practice?
  • Pub session: Several pints of real ale and a few lovely chats with some lovely people before winding our way home.

There were clashes with almost everything I fancied seeing so I’ll be an avid viewer of the filmed sessions.

Some things I learnt:

  • If you are reporting about impact of social class, have a good definition of social class. Also, one of the best differences between ResearchEd and a normal INSET is the chance of witnessing academics having a scrap.
  • Scientific rhetoric is everywhere and we need to be careful about how we present the research agenda in schools.
  • School-university parnerships need a bit of work.
  • Journal clubs are proven to work in medicine for a number of reasons so let’s give ‘em a go in education.
  • Everyone loves a flashy pen.

Some things for next time:

  • A journal club focus with smaller, seminar style sessions would be great.
  • Larger print on name badges.
  • A couple of blank pages in the programme for notes.
  • More drinks (not necessarily real ale).

There are exciting times ahead for ResearchEd and I think they’ll be some exciting times for me too. I’m looking forward to seeing where all this takes us.

Summer Reading 2014

I’ve read rather more books than usual this year thanks to the Blind Date With A Book project at school. It’s only now that I have realised how many I’ve churned through so perhaps I should review those too, separately. Needless to say, I have read quite a few books I would never have thought to pick up and that is pretty much how I chose the books I took on holiday. Like last year’s reviews, I’ll try to give my opinion without giving anything away. One of the things I’ve enjoyed with all these books (and the Blind Date ones) is coming to them completely cold and hopefully the feeling of finding something great.

We booked our holiday six days before we were due to leave and I suddenly realised I hadn’t thought about books to take. I can’t quite remember my process, but I basically chose four books on Amazon that had good reviews and I thought Howard might be interested in (might as well double up if you can help it).  Last year I unintentionally read books with a vague ‘crime’ link. This year I seem to have gone with a sort of (mental) health theme – albeit quite loosely. There’s only one of the six I ended up reading that I wouldn’t really recommend, but I’ll get to that in a bit. So. The books.

Book 1: The Shock of The Fall by Nathan Filer
shockThis was actually one of the staff Blind Date books. I’d thrown it into the mix because we hadn’t had enough staff nominations and it had just won the Costa Book of the Year award so I figured it wasn’t going to be completely rubbish. It hadn’t made it back to the shelf in the staff room so I thought I’d pop it in the basket and give it a go.

The book is written from the point of view of Matt and pretty much starts with the death of his brother. The book follows how this has affected Matt into adulthood and because it is being written by him, it allows the story to be told with a depth and honesty that portrays mental health as a very human experience. Different typefaces are used to indicate where Matt is at a particular time and this is done well, without being a distraction. The author, Nathan Filer, is a registered mental health nurse and it is clear that he knows the subject matter and genuinely understands not only the processes a character like Matt might go through in these situations, but how this impacts on a family and the wider circles of a community. There were moments of humour and moments of raw honesty, and I was completely absorbed by this book.

Book 2: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
This is the one I wasn’t so keen on. There are lots of recommendations splashed on the cover and it’s a bit of a whodunnit so I was looking forward to it.gonegirl

The book starts with a wife who goes missing on the morning of their wedding anniversary and a husband who is in the frame. It’s not a conventional thriller and the author twists and turns the story so you are never quite sure who is telling the truth and who is lying as it switches from the husband’s real-time account and entries from the wife’s diary. If I’m honest, I found the first half of the book a bit of a slog and quite irritating and only stuck with it due to the emergence of a good twist. Obviously I’m being cagey about it, I’m not going to spoil anything, but from the book picking up pace I was then left disappointed with the end.

It was an interesting format and I’ve not read anything like it before. I don’t regret reading it but I don’t know if I’ll rush back to the author. I think it’s one to borrow or buy second hand rather than fork out for and if you don’t think you’ll ever read it but I’ve piqued your interest, I’m happy to tell you what happens.

Book 3: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
rosieI loved this. Howard found me very irritating as a was laughing constantly at this beautiful  journey through life with Don Tillman; the man with Asperger’s who doesn’t realise he has Asperger’s, and sets out to find a wife in a perfectly logical manner using a sixteen-double-sided-page questionnaire. This of course isn’t something that can be done in a logical manner and makes for a wonderful story that is more than a joy to read. It’s not a book about Asperger’s – I don’t want that aspect to put any one off reading it. It’s just the reason for the scientific, logical personality of Don which then contrasts with Rosie, the inevitable female lead. The balance is perfect and the story does follow a sort of quirky rom-com path. The fact that we, as readers, can see what is happening for most of the time doesn’t matter because Don is always completely oblivious.

I really loved this book and I recommend it whole-heartedly. I know there’s a follow up coming soon and I’m sure some film studio’s bought the rights, but I would love people to read the book because it’s thoroughly absorbing and  to be honest I still miss Don a bit.

Book 4: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (it’s a pen name dontcha know)
Howard read this first. It was his Blind Date book from me – I just chose the one that was at number 4 in Asda’s book chart. We’ve obviously read the Harry Potter books but neither of us have read ‘The Causal Vacancy’ so it was our first foray into JK Rowling’s adult writing.cuckoo

This is a proper crime novel, and with the promise that it’s the first in a series of books following private detective Cormoran Strike, this book serves as an excellent introduction to what I hope will become the main set of characters throughout the series.  The story is one of a supermodel suicide. The brother doesn’t believe she killed herself and gets Strike in to investigate. In some ways, the plot didn’t matter too much for me a I felt I was getting to know the main characters and how they interact with each other. There are moments where the characters appear to fall into the stereotype – the smoking, failed relationship, ex-army detective (with added quirks of a lost leg and a rock star dad), but I didn’t let it bother me as the story flowed and turned into an easily read novel.

It’s a definite adult book and there a few c-bombs here and there – nothing gratuitous though and in fitting with the characters, I actually think it’d be quite nice if the whole JK thing had been kept secret for a bit longer. It’s a good book with a clever storyline and I’m looking forward to getting back in with Strike and reading the next one.

Book 5: The Psychopath Test – A journey through the madness industry by Jon Ronson
psychopathI got this for either Christmas or my birthday so I’ve had it for a while. I actually started it just before the summer but I didn’t want to take it on holiday because I’d have finished it fairly quickly and why waste luggage allowance on half a book when you can take a whole un-read one. I enjoyed The Men Who Stare At Goats and I like the sort of journalistic-storytelling style with which he writes. That was probably offensive – I didn’t mean it to be.

The Psychopath Test is an interesting book that tracks Ronson’s investigation into the world psychopathy – including talking to people who diagnose, people who have been in prison and people who deny that any of it exists. I am aware that this is a book that has been criticised by various sources and I at no point took what was written here as a definitive ‘guide to the psychopath’. I did however enjoy the book. I think it is more an investigative journey that Ronson has taken – as he comes up against a question he hs attempted to answer it. He’s spoken to people from different backgrounds and the book is written in an entertaining manner. There is no glorification of any of the medical conditions talked about, but it does ask some interesting questions that I would hope anyone who reads the book might want to answer by taking up their own exploration of the subject.

Book 6: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
This was brilliant. This was my couldn’t-put-it-down book. I got cramp in my knees from sitting cross legged on the sofa reading this and as it’s a hearty 900-pager I got aching wrists from the sheer weight of it. pilgrimThis is definitely not the sort of book I would ever choose to read if someone described it to me. I’ve been rubbish at describing it to people so far so ignore my description and read it anyway. I believe the film rights have been bought for this one too but I think I can picture the trailer and it’s really not a film I’d be bothered about seeing.

It enters the world of super intelligence where people don’t exist and the things they do never happened. The central character was the head of such a force and has now retired. The book starts with a murder in a hotel room and goes on to take us round the world as we find out about Pilgrim’s past and how he deals with the future. Alongside Pilgrim’s story is one of another man set on a very different journey. That really tells you nothing, but I don’t want to tell you. Like I said, I’ve not been able to describe it successfully so far – I don’t want to spoil the plot and as I never read stuff like this I can’t even say what else it’s like without risking giving the wrong impression.

The book is current and when taken with the news headlines, it’s quite disturbing at times. In with that are characters you can understand and follow the motives of. It’s graphic and human. A fast paced thriller that it is easy to skim over the elements of the story that may or may not be entirely plausible.  Also, the chapters are nice and short (which is a joy when you need to go for a wee and have to put it down, but a curse when you decide, just one more chapter…) so the length isn’t really an issue – don’t use it as an excuse not to give this one a go.


Links to books are The Guardian Bookshop again because of tax and monopolies etc. (even though I did get some of this year’s from the big A).

All Made Up

Make up post! No education mumbo jumbo, pure self indulgence and something I know my favourite Margo will enjoy.

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So here’s what’s in my make up bag at the moment:

Eyebrow pencil – Body Shop: 03 Brow Definer – Dark Brown
Eyelid primer – ELF: Sheer
Eyeshadows – MAC: Star Violet; ELF (a creamy colour. They don’t seem to do it anymore)
Eyeliner – Boots Natural Collection: Black eyeshadow – Midnight
Highlighter/Blending – Boots Natural Collection – Butterscotch
Concealer – ELF: (Tone Correcting) Rosey Beige
Mascara – ELF: Volume Pumping Mascara – Black
Lipliner – ELF: Mineral Lip Liner – Peachy
Lipgloss – ELF: Hypershine Gloss – Bubblegum
Blusher – ELF: Baked Blush – Peachy Cheeky
Bronzer – Too Faced (palette) – Snow Bunny, Sun Bunny, Pink Leopard
Brushes – Body Shop and EcoTools

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I’ve used the Body Shop eyebrow pencil for 15 years. I know this because I bought the first one just before we all went to Tenerife after our A levels. It’s a perfect combination of being firm enough not to crumble but soft enough to be blendable and avoid sharp lines. I’ve tried a couple of other types but they’ve always either looked very harsh or rubbed off. I do however have a lid for it with an in-built eyebrow brush that I’ve taken from a different brand. Even for something I use everyday, I always think £8 seems a horrendous price for a pencil, so last time Body Shop had a 50% sale I bought 3. They last forever so expect to never have to buy another one again.

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Eyelid primer is something that I really don’t know how I lived without. Eyes are my thing. I love playing with eyeshadow and always have. For a no-crease, well blended, lasts-all-day-and-night eye, you need a good primer. I’ve tried a few over the years and found my favourites. My first was the Urban Decay Primer Potion £16 – expensive but lasts a good while, especially if you only use it for nights out and special occasions. This is my favourite product-wise. It’s a great texture and has perfect coverage for me, but the downside is the price. Not an every day use sort of price. Another in the expensive category is the  MAC Prep+Prime Eye, £13. This one I don’t get on with. It’s very oily and doesn’t seem to dry very well – for something that’s supposed to stop creasing, it creases all by itsself. I’m not a fan.

In my hunt for a good but slightly cheaper primer I was introduced to ELF (Eyes, Lips, Face). You can see from my list above that ELF feature heavily and I promise you that once you’ve gone ELF you will both love me and hate me in equal measure. Big tip here, they are cheap, but wait for them to have an offer on before buying, They have frequent 20%, 30%, 50% off offers so keep an eye out. The ELF Eyelid Primer £1.95 is cheap and a brilliant product. It has a spongey aplicator but I use my finger. It’s slightly thinner than the UD one, but at a fraction of the price it’s worth waiting an extra second for it to dry. The colour doesn’t alter eyeshadow colour and it lasts pretty much all day and night. Perfect.

Eyeshadows are also my favourite. 2014-07-15 18.37.49 I’m not a snob. Any price will do – whilst more expensive will tend to have more pigment and go further, in my experience, price doesn’t always indicate a good texture. I could do a whole separeate post on eyeshadow so I’ll focus on a few I use2014-07-15 18.48.13 regularly at the moment. When doing eyeshadow I tend to use two colours, a main colour and either a darker shade for depth, or a lighter shade for highlight (depending on the main colour). At the moment, my everyday colour is MAC Star Violet £13 on the outside of my eye, blending into a paler colour (the ELF one they don’t do anymore) on the inner corner.

I use a black eyeshadow (£1.79) for liner – I find it blends well and I don’t have to be precise. It’s worth saying that the brush s important here, you need a brush with a good shape so that the liner doesn’t invade the whole lid.2014-07-15 18.37.20

Once everything’s on, I use a nude eyeshadow (£1.79) to highlight under my eyebrows and blend the edges of coloured eyeshadow. This removes harsh lines and softens everything.

I have bizarre eyelashes that stick in all directions and hate me. They hate me so much that I have to use eyelash curlers and mascara every day and even then they’re still evil.2014-07-15 18.41.49 Especially the left eye. I’m not particularly precious about mascara either, although I favour a thick wand rather than a scratchy thin one. At the moment I’m on an ELF Volume Pumping Mascara (£3.95)  but I have been going through small sample-size ones that have come as free gifts and as long as they aren’t flaky and clumpy then I’m happy.

I always wait until my eyes are done before putting any sort of foundation or concealer on. I only wear foundation for nights out and special occasions and I find the (again) ELF Tone Correcting Concealer (£1.95) is PERFECT2014-07-15 18.42.16 as an in between. It’s cheap enough to use a reasonable amount every day and gives good coverage. It’s forgiving of different skin tones but one of the beauties of ELF is that you can afford to try a few colours out and pick one you like. When I do an ELF order I stock up on primer and tone correcting concealer always.

I’m a bronzer girl when it comes to cheeks. My favourite is my Too Faced pallette (about £20 years ago when I got it)  with the Snow Bunny 2014-07-15 18.43.10most of the year and Sun Bunny/Pink Leopard when I’m a bit more sun kissed. I go for the classic ‘3’ shape on my face and I like this brand because there’s a bit of sparkle but I don’t look like a glitter ball.2014-07-15 18.42.54 Due to the cheap, can-afford-to-try-everything nature of ELF, I have started using their baked blusher in Peachy Cheeky (£3.95) which I really like. It’s more subtle than the Too Faced but this is good for a bit of pink with the bronzer and for all year round. Sometimes baked products are a bit hard and fairly useless but this has been good for me.

I don’t bother too much with lips. I buy all the lipglosses and all the lipsticks but they never last for long so anything with more than a hint of colour tends to take a back seat. 2014-07-15 18.36.25My current favourite lip glosses are ELF, of course, in Bubblegum at the moment (£1.95). I also really like their mineral lip liners (£3.50) 2014-07-15 18.41.23 in Peachy or Rose for a bit of a matt stain that doesn’t leave a weird tide-line when it’s half rubbed off.

So, all that’s left is the brush collection. I have a few old faithfuls – the Body Shop ones I use for eyeliner and highlighter. I like the wooden handles and they haven’t sold those for years.2014-07-15 18.43.45 I use the Too Faced bronzer brush with anything cheeky. It’s soft and a good shape. My newest brushes are EcoTools that I got for Christmas a couple of years ago. I like these a lot – bamboo handles win with me and the brushes are robust. I never seem to use brushes for their named purpose and I use my fingers a lot too, but I don’t think that matters.

As I said, I use a lot of different eyeshadows so whilst this all seems a bit neutral in colour, I have a wider palette that I use regularly. Maybe I’ll get round to writing about those at some other time.

ResearchEd Midlands 2014

So there’s been another ResearchEd. This time a smaller affair and the first of what looks like many regional conferences; bringing researchers and educational professionals together to look at what everyone can do to make an impact.


I have to say, despite the fact that we didn’t have to get up before 5am this time and there was an official break for lunch, by the end of the day I felt as if my brain was full and I’d suffered a bombardment of information. I’m pretty sure this is all down to timing though – September’s was after 5 weeks away from work with a graduation to look forward to, this one was after a hectic term with two (ridiculous) days left of next week before the Easter holiday!

Another difference was that I helped out at this one. I say helped, Helene Galdin-O’Shea is some sort of Goddess that seemed to have everything smoothly under control, and my duties really only stretched to pointing cameras in the right direction and pointing some people to the loos. She even didn’t mind that I wasn’t keen on introducing speakers in front of the crowd. I was particularly pleased to be filming Richard Churches’ session as I am currently leading the Closing The Gap: Test and Learn trial at our school. Again, I say leading, we were assigned Lesson Study which is currently being piloted so I haven’t had to do much so far, but I’m sure I’ll be snowed under by September!

So. Here’s what I went to this time:

  • Dr Lee Elliot Major and James Richardson ‘After the Toolkit: the next steps for an evidence informed profession’
  • Susanna Greenwood and Stuart Mathers ‘Research Priorities: What are the key gaps and questions in education?’*
  • Sarah Kitchen and Amy Skipp ‘Research in real-life schools’
  • David Weston ‘Why most “dissemination” is useless and how we can fix it’
  • Philippa Cordingley ‘Meeting the needs of the most vulnerable pupils; what makes exceptional schools exceptional’
  • Richard Churches ‘Transforming practitioner research with teacher-led small scale RCTs’*


Dr Lee Elliot Major and James Richardson looked at how the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is producing research and perhaps more importantly, how it is embedding this into schools.

One of the first things that was mentioned was that the work of the EEF was never intended to be about accountability and I was happy about this. One of the problems with (education) research is that people like something if it fits their agenda but are more reluctant when it starts to challenge the things they’ve invested time and money into and there’s little critical evaluation of what is being used. Research evolves and is questioned and I think quite often, not just in education, the prefix ‘Research shows that…’ makes for a convenient qualifier to whatever comes next. I want an opportunity to see that evidence and make my own mind up. Obviously when it comes to something like Teaching Assistants the issue can quickly become very emotive and it’s a shame to hear stories of sweeping personnel decisions being put down to findings that are meant to start a conversation and inform the development of further research. On that note, it would be great if the EEF Toolkit could be used to help guide TA deployment in a more effective way.

When the EEF first got going the majority of the evidence used was from overseas but now that the first EEF evaluation reports have been published the conversation is turning to how they get this information into use. There’s a drive towards ensuring access to research, disseminating and embedding in practice. I quite fancy this idea of being a ‘Research Champion’ – obviously Research Overlord is slightly more catchy, but I reckon that would probably prove more of a barrier to the whole dissemination thing…

A major focus of this session was they use their data to understand how different methods are used in real schools. How direct does instruction have to be (including levels of support) and what happens if you deviate from the model? Interestingly, their results show that whilst pupils made significant gains on the Catch Up Numeracy programme, pupils receiving unstructured 1-1 TA support made even greater progress. Another one for the ‘deploy TAs properly and get results’ bank.

The other thing to mention is a plug for the EEF DIY Evaluation Guide to use with small scale investigations. Currently in pdf form, soon to be interactive.

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I was filming Susanna Greenwood and Stuart Mathers, the guys from the DfE, so didn’t make any notes and was slightly more concerned about whether the battery would last on the camera than making sure I took everything in. Having said that, half the session was a more interactive experience allowing people to look at synopses of research carried out by the DfE and discuss them. Post-it notes and everything.

I’ve read accounts from people that make it sound heated and tense. I’m not sure it was quite that bad – more a case of people not quite saying what was on their mind! The thing that’s stuck with me from this one was an audience suggestion that the DfE shouldn’t set its own research questions and I very much agreed with him. The example given was the question of ‘How academies work’ which infers that they do work and a better question is perhaps ‘Do academies work?’. There will always be a bias towards current policy that could be reduced with independent input.

Sarah Kitchen and Amy Skipp were from NatCen Social Research and are part of the Children and Young People team. Schools should know about these people but I don’t suspect they do. They are the people who do those surveys that then get quoted and everyone says ‘Well they didn’t ask me whatthought’. The thing is, they might!

They explained how they work and the obstacles they have come across working with schools, and asked for suggestions as to how they could make it easier for schools to take part. My favourite suggestion was offering something back to schools in the form of time. Payments and rewards can only go so far but I really think schools would jump at the chance to have someone come in to talk to pupils or offer work experience. Another important thing is maybe to publicise themselves more because I think so many people are wary of seemingly random phone calls that it would just be nice to know these people are real and not cold callers. Might see if we can get our names on their lists (it’s the sort of thing a self-titled research champion would do I think).

We had lunch after this. A treat for those of us at ResearchEd 2013. I could quite happily have had a nap after lunch – so much information for my tiny brain to process, but I had filming duties to perform and perform them I did.

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I was eager to hear what David Weston was going to say about dissemination. After all, I want to effectively disseminate all this research stuff don’t I? The crux of it all was pretty much that we spend so much time ensuring information is disseminated well to pupils, and yet as professionals, we regularly have to sit through sessions that we haven’t particularly chosen and all nod off in. Keeping it relevant, differentiating, clear learning outcomes and following up are things we all want to do in the classroom and we just have to learn to do that as staff.

Sounds obvious I suppose but I suspect the dissemination of this one will be a bit more tricky. I think it may be a case of email a link to the session to management and duck. Having said that, it may well help shape my entries on the school’s Staff Share blog and when it comes to kicking off our Lesson Study next year I may need all the dissemination advice I can get!

So, speaking of Lesson Study, the next session I went to was by Philippa Cordingley from Curee who is currently running the Lesson Study pilot for Closing The Gap: Test and Learn. Had I not been filming the next session I would have spoken to her about it all but I didn’t get the opportunity which is a shame.

The discussion was looking at the differences between strong and exceptional schools with a high number of vulnerable pupils. The presentation is available here so I won’t regurgitate it unnecessarily.  There was a small opportunity to explore some of the questions in small groups and some interesting points about cross-school models of pedagogy and the use of performance management. Our group discussed how performance management and CPD needs to be a working programme that develops alongside staff rather than simply ticking boxes. I seemed unusual in the group that our school practically pushes us to do CPD and it is a key part of our working life.

I felt quite proud that most of the things that were talked about are features of our school – or rather, I recognised them as features of when our school is at its best. Staff working together, from office to teachers, TAs, management, with a consistent message to the pupils; support in behaviour management, using staff subject knowledge to benefit pupils and working with other organisations. Obviously there are always things we can improve but it is good to know that what we do as a matter of instinct has some grounding in evidence.

The most contentious issue was around rigorous and systematic performance management with high stakes accountability. The idea of getting rid of staff who don’t live up to the exceptional expectations was difficult to agree with and I think it would be good to have more detailed information on this process.

Last up was Richard Churches, Principle Adviser for Research and Evidence Based Practice at CfBT Education Trust and Technical Director for NCTL’s Closing The Gap: Test and Learn. He was keen to show everyone that it’s possible to conduct valuable research in school setting with only a small amount of correctly placed knowledge. Again, I was filming this session so I didn’t make any notes but I did speak to Richard Churches through the day and at the end of his presentation.

The session started with a small audience based RCT with statistical analysis before our very eyes – a demonstration that it’s not difficult to do these things and you don’t need hundreds of participants or 18 months to do something worthwhile. The session included a number or real research questions and designs from schools which showed the range of opportunities and practical ways to go about it. The most important messages were that the design of a study – small-scale or otherwise – is important. Sometimes an RCT isn’t the best design and if schools are going to conduct their own research they need to be aware of a range of approaches and methods.

The other key message was about the use of statistical analysis when data has been gathered. Schools with Psychology departments may have access to programmes such as SPSS to help with data analysis and there are add-ons for spreadsheet applications like Microsoft Excel. It’s still a bit daunting though – I have Psychology degree and all the terms are familiar but I haven’t used those skills in any depth for nearly 12 years now and I think there’s a gap in the market for a way to help people out and encourage rather than scare off.

Quite a lot to think about there then. The videos etc. should be working their way online soon.

Thoughts from the day
I was happy that there was a bit more of a mention of TAs this time round. I really believe that there is an upward trend in TAs that have degrees or are qualified teachers. I hear about lots of people leaving teaching due to the stresses and workload but still wanting to work in the classroom. I overheard someone talking in between sessions about being a TA and not wanting to do teacher training for those very reasons – I’m not alone! All this means that there is likely to be an increasing hunger amongst TAs to be involved in research and development of the programmes they are delivering.

I mentioned in my post about ResearchEd 2013 that it can be difficult to go back into school and not sound like the nobber going on about research when educational research still has a mixed reputation. Add to that the fact that even though we have a reasonably level playing field across staff in school, I’m still a TA trying to give advice to experienced teachers and I have to respect that feeling that no-one wants to be told there’s a better way. Another barrier to this is that even at the conference there was, with some attendees, a sense of righteousness at being there – making over complicated statements and trying to sound intelligent when it’s not necessary. The whole point of this for me is getting rid of the barriers and that means it’s for everyone. It’s OK to say you can’t remember what a one way ANOVA is. I can’t. These attitudes are why you face a barrier in school when you go back and say you’ve been on a course.

I would like to hope that people are starting to get the courage to get involved in carrying out their own studies. Howard got annoyed when he overheard a couple saying ‘Well they should do some research on…’ and wanted to scream at them that the whole point is that they can do it themselves! (I say scream, I mean in a manly way. He also learnt the word pedagogy during the day). We need to look at ways to help people do this and do it properly.

We need to teach people how to critically analyse research but we desperately need to have research available. It’s great to have selective summaries available but there are biases attached to that and people should be able to get hold of the primary sources if they want to. Every time a publisher makes papers available for free I save them just in case. I ask my Dad to access papers now and again and I’ve been known to email researchers themselves for information but it’s not good enough. Comprehensive subscriptions are expensive and schools aren’t going to pay for that. Maybe there could be some sort of limited subscriptions available? I wondered if there could be a central subscriber with members like the Open University? I want to be able to dip in and see what’s been published. I want to check the sources that get thrust at me with the latest big thing. There isn’t always the time or inclination but I want the option. Maybe that’s my mission.

Anyway. There’s another regional conference in York next month (not going to that one, off to see Vikings) and the national ResearchEd conference in London in September (got my ticket and pencilled in to help already). It looks like this is all turning into a mega-movement and I like being part of it. Hopefully more and more people will be part of it too.

Bus Tour Professionals

I love a good open top bus tour. If we’re mooching round the internet for somewhere to visit, at home or abroad, package holiday or DIY, one of the first things I’ll do is check for a bus tour. I should add that I love other tours too – trains, boats, guided tours all have their place, but I really love a bus tour.  Boat tours are a very close second and actually, I think I like the open topped buses most because it’s like being at sea.

I reckon my love of the bus tour is sufficient to enable me to provide a guide to how to get the most out of them. So here we are.

tour 02

There are lots of different bus tour operators but City Sightseeing Tours are a familiar sight in lots of places and are definitely the company we’ve toured with most. I shall list my favourites.

  • Cambridge
  • Edinburgh
  • Stratford-Upon-Avon
  • Copenhagen
  • Barcelona
  • Oxford

They are my favourites for different reasons, which I’ll go into in a bit. Generally speaking, doing a bus tour is a brilliant way to get to know a new place or city. Tours take you to all the main attractions, with a commentary and are hop-on, hop, off so you can use them to get to any of the places you want to go. Most often you get a 24 hour ticket and sometimes there are longer options. Some tours have a selection of routes.

Our strategy is pretty much to fit the tour in during the first couple of days. It’s best not to go for an early start – remember, this is a 24 hour ticket. If you race to get there for 9:30 you don’t get anything the next day. Although some buses have tour 03human guides, most tours have recorded commentary and you get some free headphones from the driver when you buy your ticket. The ticket has to last so keep that safe but the headphones can be replaced on each bus so don’t worry if they break or you lose them. The recorded commentaries are good value with some cracking incidental music and a vast array of idioms.  Some tours have a children’s commentary from Horrible Histories but they’re pretty much the normal one with added poo and fart noises.

We always go round the whole circuit once without getting off. We get to settle down, look at the map and listen to the whole commentary. This is a good technique for familiarising yourself with the layout of a new city and working out where everything is in relation to each other.  It is also a good way to work out when to get the best photo opportunities. Buses tend to slow down for key attractions but not always and it’s good to learn where traffic lights are and perhaps more importantly, which side of the bus to sit on. Another reason to take a bus tour is for the different angle you get to take pictures from.

Once you’ve completed a circuit, decide where you want to go. Remember, you’ve got the next morning too but it’s a good idea to do things that are further out first and work your way in. If you don’t get it all done and still want to visit some of the places you can probably do it on foot or by public transport. Quite often we’ve found that seeing somewhere from the bus and getting a picture is enough and we don’t feel we need to explore it more. Of course it’s always a good idea to leave things for the next time you visit too! You may have discounts for local attractions or shops/restaurants with your bus ticket so have a look at the leaflet to help you decide. If you timed your ticket buying right (or starting time, you can buy tickets online) then you should find that you can get a full circuit in the next day, possibly with a visit. As long as you get on the bus with time on your ticket, you can get back to where you need to be!

So. Why are the ones above my favourites? I shall let you know.


tour camb

Not actually the most rockin’ of all the tours we’ve done but for the one thing that I have missed with all the other tours we’ve done. One of the stops is at a Park and Ride. Might seem a small thing, but when you’re paying a lot for a bus ride it’s a pain to have to spend extra money and time parking the car. Quite a lot of tours have a train station stop but this was brilliant especially on day 2.


tour edin

Five different tours (not all City Sightseeing). It cost more for a ticket that got you all the tours, but it didn’t break the bank and was really worth it. Some of the routes overlapped with major attractions but it was a good orientation technique and one of the routes took us out as far as The Royal Yacht Britannia which is quite a way. We were there for the Festival so we did our fair share of hill climbing, but it’s always nice to be driven up and down a city!


tour strat

Our most recent tour so I can give you prices and everything!  We opted for the £30 each tickets. With this we got 24 hours of bus, a boat tour on the Avon and three of the five Shakespeare houses. The price seems steep but there is an option without houses and that still gets you the boat tour. It’s definitely a money saver if you’re going to do the houses anyway and again, a couple are a few miles out of the centre. Another positive is that the boat ticket didn’t have to be used in the same day as the bus ticket was bought and the house tickets last for twelve months.

In addition to all this, in the peak tourist season there is a second tour ‘Heart of Warwickshire’ runs and this takes you much further afield. The 48 hour ticket includes both tours and I think that would be a great option.


tour copen

We had a 48 hour ticket here and there are two routes included (Summer only). We really did use it to learn where everything was and as a form of transport. Copenhagen doesn’t have a metro system like Barcelona or Paris and there’s quite a bit of stuff spread out. I’ve been to Copenhagen a few times as I have a friend near Malmö just over the bridge in Sweden but we spent a week here for the first time and really got to see the city well. The bus tour gave us lots of ideas of places to go that the guide books and maps hadn’t so I really do recommend it.

As a side note, if you do visit Copenhagen, the one thing that I tell everyone to do if nothing else is the Netto boat tour. Netto really is Scandinavian for cheap and this tour is half the price of the other boat tours but takes you all round the canals, with live commentary. Promise me you’ll try it even if you don’t go anywhere near a City Sightseeing bus.


tour 01

Three routes this time! Can’t remember if we did a 24-er or 48-er but this really was one where we felt we’d seen things from the bus and didn’t need to trek through 40 degree Barcelona to take a picture from ground level. A good, comprehensive tour of the city from Gaudi to the football stadium and down to the beach. Sun screen is definitely a must for one like this but with the wind in your hair and history in your ear, it’s a great way to cool down and there are worse ways to travel.


tour oxf

Last for a mention, the Oxford tour really only gets on the list because it was a brilliant holiday and I loved the whole long weekend of it! It was hot, it was Easter and we were away for our wedding anniversary. Add to that the fact I was in Oxford and new Lewis was on the telly at the same time it was amazing! I made Howard recreate a scene where someone vomited near the Bodleian.  It was a great tour too of course, but I think they all are.

There are quite a few more tours we’ve done and I like them all. I love that you can’t be anything but an unashamed tourist on an open topped bus. I’ve got the route planned out for one of Nottingham if anyone’s interested in taking up the franchise.

If you’ve not done one, give it a go but remember my super top tips for bus touring wonders:

  • Time your start well to make full use of ticket.
  • Go round once to get your bearings – maybe once on each side of the bus…
  • Have a look for discount deals in the ticket options or on the leaflet.
  • Make sure to put sun cream on if there’s a hint of Sun (don’t forget hair partings)
  • Don’t use umbrellas – they blow inside out at the slowest of speeds. Go downstairs if you’re a wuss.
  • Take your own headphones if you’re fussy (Howard is but I think the cheap tinny sound adds to the experience).
  • Charge your camera and wildly point and click!

Master of Graduation

A few people have asked me about the Open University’s Masters in Education programme and now I’ve completed everything I shall impart my wisdom upon the internet and hopefully persuade other people it’s a good idea.

The OU hold several graduation ceremonies across the year and graduates can choose any one, so a couple of weeks ago I ditched the UK for the Palace of Versailles in Paris. I’m not an extravagant person, I promise, so quite how I convinced myself that opting for Paris was a good idea, I don’t know. Actually, I blame Pam Jarvis, my third course tutor, for putting the idea in my head. She was tempted to opt for it as her next OU venue – I wonder if she did?


As it turned out, it was a brilliant way to round off my whole OU experience. I actually finished my MEd last year so I’ve had a whole school year’s worth of holidays without having to write assignments which has been lovely, but I’ve enjoyed the reminder that Reasearch Ed and graduation have given me that I loved it and hopefully I’ll keep it up.

I’ve worked in the same school as a teaching assistant for almost exactly ten years now. It wasn’t a plan that I’d be doing it for this long but in that time I’ve worked across the school, in class with KS3 and KS2, delivered on-to-one literacy full time and closely supported GCSE English and Art. The school has grown from twenty secondary pupils to forty-five 7-16 pupils, staff numbers have more than tripled, we’ve federated with another special school and there are plans for us to expand even more. So whilst I’ve had the same job on paper, I’ve had a huge number of roles and work in what can seem an entirely different school to the one I started off in. As I say though, I never planned to be doing this and I’ve still not worked out what I want to do.

A few years ago I decided that if I wasn’t physically going anywhere I’d have a look at other options – it’s hard to do anything in education without a PGCE but I really don’t want to go down that route, and I stumbled across the OU Masters programme. It seemed quite a lot of money and a lot of time to invest, plus I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to do it. I graduated in 2002 with my Psychology BA and hadn’t really done anything academic since. Even though it wouldn’t lead to a new job or a pay rise, I decided to give it a go.

OU work(Guess where I sat to do my work…)

Open University Masters in Education

The OU programme is modular and uses a points system. You can take up to seven years to complete the qualification. Most courses are worth 60 points and you need 180 points for the MA Ed/MEd (same courses, you choose your title). One of the things that helped me decide whether to go for it is that each 60 points is its own qualification so if I decided not to keep going I wouldn’t have wasted my time or money.

  • 60 points = graduate certificate in education
  • 120 points = graduate diploma in education
  • 180 points = masters in education

Throughout my studies, the cost of each course was around £1100 but it went up each year and I’m not sure what they’re on now. I was lucky enough to have some money towards my courses from school but for qualified teachers there is a scheme to help with funding too. They estimate that you should spend around twelve hours a week studying but this varies. The course materials are well structured and some give time breakdowns for activities.

Most courses are assessed by a series of tutor marked assessments (TMAs) and a final, longer, end of module assessment (EMA) which is double marked by other tutors. There is one compulsory course, ‘Educational Enquiry’ which is a 60 point course and is a sound introduction to research methods in education and foundation to the rest of the programme. Courses change slightly each year and are listed with their end dates to help make choosing a bit easier.

There are a lot of courses available and it can be difficult to select the ones to do. The OU seems to be moving towards more and more online delivery. Resources are both posted and online, with online academic journal access. There are forums for qualification, course and tutor group which are very useful and an online tutorial facility ‘Elluminate’ for long distance tutorials.  One of my reasons for choosing the courses I did was that they offered face-to-face tutorials. Even though I had to travel to Leicester, Birmingham, Canterbury, London and only a had a couple in Nottingham, I value these ridiculously highly and think it would be terrible if the OU got rid of them completely.

So. My courses.

E891 – Educational Enquiry

This is the compulsory course for the masters. I think it’s designed to be studied first as it has some really step-by-step elements (which you can skip if you’re confident) for people new or returning to academic study. There is a focus on where educational research sits in relation to other academic spheres and different methodologies/ methodological techniques. Running throughout the whole masters programme is an emphasis on critical appraisal and E891 guides students through this. There is the opportunity to study in relation to your own setting and conducting literature reviews is central to the course.

I found that there was a range of people with different backgrounds on all my courses. There were teachers from all areas of education, TAs, early years practitioners, prison services, and at all stages of their careers. Some had read academic papers before, others didn’t know what an abstract was. Everyone had a different perception of this course and I think experience and whether they had already studied other courses influenced this. I enjoyed it and found it exercised my brain without being too daunting, but for others it was a dry course that they just had to get through. I don’t know quite what the course is like now because they were changing it as I was finishing and I think they have moved it to online only.

E804 – Managing behaviour in schools

I managed to get this one in before it was retired. It was written in 2004 so had been running for a while and the coalition government had just been formed. Everything in education policy was changing and as a lot of the course was looking at policy there were many aspects that were on the verge of being outdated. I believe that they are re-writing it and will bring it back at some point. I was required to evaluate my own abilities and conduct a whole-school needs analysis.

This was my favourite course. I loved the content, I loved the tutorials, I loved doing my own research. This was a course that I felt everyone working in education should do and when I had finished it I felt like I had shifted my perception of so many things that it had left me on a completely different track to the people I work with. That sounds a bit nobby but it’s true, We discussed it in our tutorials, how we were finding things out but it was difficult to pass any of it on because you sound like the ponce doing a masters. Quite suitably I recently found reference to a paper that talks about this very subject. It’s in a collection of papers (Part 1 (3) W.C. Clay). I’ve bought it second hand to give it a proper read!

E804 was co-written with The University of Waikato in New Zealand. New Zealand has similar behavioural issues with Maori children as we have with black boys and there was a lot of information about these groups across the course. I found the cultural references, not only with New Zealand but around the globe, very interesting. There was a particular focus on the Clover Park Middle School, now Kia Aroha College, and their cultural approach to schooling. The passion for their school that these pupils held was stunning and the whole story of the school inspiring.

There was the opportunity to conduct two pieces of practitioner research in this course. I looked at background music in lessons and our whole-school rewards scheme. I found this challenging and I don’t know whether there was any lasting impact of my research but I found it an essential part of the course. One of the difficulties of E804 was the topic of policy and the TMA dedicated to this. We found that policy was constantly changing and had to decide on a point to stop and leave our assignments as they were. As the government shifted, entire websites disappeared and the online forums were awash with people posting links to archived material just so we could complete our references!

Useful reading that springs to mind:

Ysseldyke and Christenson’s (1987) framework to assess characteristics of the classroom learning environments in which students are placed.

ED841 – Understanding children’s development and learning

My final course was much more psychology based. This course is also an option for some of the other OU masters programmes and I think it had a slightly different feel to it. There was a focus on different methodologies and approaches to child development looking at the influence of Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner etc and different learning strategies associated with their work.

As a significant part of my day job involves literacy I thought these aspects of the course would be interesting and I hadn’t chosen the OU module specifically related to literacy. When it came to it, this part of the course seemed out of sync with the rest of the course material and I opted to leave it out.

I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of this course, it was a bit more scientific and although the thought of remembering my undergraduate statistics brought a mild sense of terror, I had enough knowledge to understand the papers I was reading but wasn’t really required to put any of it into practice. As with E804 there was a research element but this was small-scale and the final EMA was a research proposal akin to a PhD proposal.

This was the only course where I had to buy most of my books in addition to the course materials. Most of them were al right but Garton (2004) was a very difficult book to understand and I don’t think I used it to its full potential. I also have to say that this was a bit of a slog towards the end and I didn’t put my heart into it. I knew the end was in sight and after three summer holidays filled with critical analysis I was ready to stop. When I think back on this course I remember it being difficult but actually I think I just needed a break!

Useful reading that springs to mind:

Child Psychology – Schaffer (2004). He made sense of things when other people didn’t.

Vandermaas-Peerler, M., Way, E., and Umpleby, J., (2003) – Scaffolding.

Wood, D., Bruner, J.S., and Ross, G.(1976) – Scaffolding.

Sun, J. and Rao, N. (2012) – Scaffolding in other cultures.

Was it worth it?

Of course it was worth it and I would recommend it to anyone working in education. I met some lovely people with brilliant ideas and perspectives. It’s made me more confident to express my opinion and challenge those of others. When Nottingham City were consulting on the 5 term year proposals my initial thoughts were that they handled it appallingly but I needed to find out what the background was. I found some research, emailed the researcher and received a reading list which I followed up. I still think the council were wrong but I’d had the confidence and skills to find out for myself.

What would you get out of it?

The Open University Masters in Education teaches you to read academic journals critiaclly, questioning the methods and findings of research. It develops your ability to pick out key information and be aware of bias and ethics. You’ll question research and ask questions when you don’t understand. One of the most important things I learnt was that if I don’t understand something, I probably will if it’s explained and if it already has been then maybe it wasn’t a good explanation and maybe other people don’t understand either.

I’ve learnt that most people use reflective practice all the time, it’s what you do with the knowledge that makes a difference. I’d love it if more people took an interest in education research and not just to grasp on to an idea or wildly trust what someone else says. I want people to investigate before dismissing and have the confidence to try things out.

Bef grad

My graduation ceremony was extravagant and fun. Everybody walking up on that stage, no matter the qualification, had made a concious decision to study and further their minds. I think that when I did my BA it was just ‘what you do after A-levels’. I worked hard and loved it but there was something about watching all those people who have opted to study alongside jobs and families, mortgages and children, that made it all feel a bit more special.

I’m not sure how I will use my MEd now. I’ve had an interesting conversation with out Executive Headteacher and there may be something around the corner which is exciting because the past few weeks have shown me that I love all this academic stuff and I’d love to do more of it. I just have to work out what and how!

Garton, A.F., (2004) Exploring Cognitive Development: The Child As Problem Solver, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.

Schaffer, H.R. (2004) Child Psychology Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.

Sun, J. and Rao, N. (2012) ‘Scaffolding Interactions With Preschool Children: Comparisons Between Chinese Mothersand Teachers Across Different Tasks’, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 58 (1), pp 110-140

Vandermaas-Peerler, M., Way, E., and Umpleby, J., (2003) ‘Parental guidance in a cooking activity with preschoolers’, Applied Developmental Psychology, 24, pp 75–89

Wood, D., Bruner, J.S., and Ross, G.(1976) ‘The role of tutoring in problem solving.’ Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, pp 89-100

Ysseldyke, J. E. and Christenson, S. L. (1987) ‘Evaluating students’ instructional environments’, Remedial and Special Education, 8(3), pp. 17–24.


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