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.

researchmid14

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’*

*Filming

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.

Cambridge

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.

Edinburgh

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!

Stratford-Upon-Avon

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.

Copenhagen

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.

Barcelona

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.

Oxford

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?

versgrad

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!

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References
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.

ResearchED 2013

Well I wasn’t quite sure how the direction of this re-started blog would go and it turns out that it’s going to be eclectic.

Next weekend we are popping over to Paris for my Open University MEd graduation. It’ll be a small, intimate* affair at Versailles *might not be. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I chose that venue but it will be the culmination of three years spent squeezing reading and research, tutorials and assignments, into everyday life and holidays. Whilst it doesn’t lead me to any particular job and there’s no pay rise, it was worth every minute.

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It seems almost perfect that this final part of my MEd journey comes the weekend after the first ResearchEd conference, bring together teaching professionals, educators and researchers to open up the debate of research in education.

It all came about when Ben Goldacre spoke about research and education and it created a spark on twitter. Within a day Tom Bennett found himself ploughing forth with a conference and a huge amount of support from all corners of education. It turns out that people are interested in bringing high quality, reliable research to the forefront of education and maybe what happened yesterday is the catalyst for bringing everything together.

The Day
I have to say, not everyone at the event was in education. I dragged Howard along as I had a spare ticket – he works for the NHS as a data and systems manager for sexual health services. This isn’t exactly the coal face of education but he seemed interested by most of the day.

There was a lot crammed into the programme. Following Ben Goldacre’s keynote speech (with classic use of the non-connecting laptop/projector combo so many of us are familiar with), there were six sessions with up to six parallel speakers.  It was difficult to choose what to go with but most of the sessions were filmed and hopefully I’ll be able to see some of the ones I missed. So here’s what I went to:

  • Ben Goldacre – ‘The need for a better infrastructure to support evidence-based practice in teaching, and how to get there.’
  • Dr Frank Furedi – ‘Scientism in the classroom: opinion masquerading as research.’
  • Kay Yeoman – ‘School/University Partnerships Programme at the University of East Anglia.’
  • Stephen Lockyer – ‘Copyrights & Wrongs: The rapid decline of provenance in Education, and why giving credit matters more than ever.’
  • Daisy Cristodoulou – ‘Statistical significance &theoretical frameworks: how can we discover the root causes of successful teaching & learning?’
  • Becky Francis – ‘Addressing gender gaps in attainment: what doesn’t work, and what might.’

I enjoyed everything I went to and managed to choose a good spread of topics, with contrasting opinions on the value of different research methods within education. There were some points in the day where I felt like I was at a rushed INSET event, but I think that may have been mostly down to the 5:30am start and no allocated lunchtime!

I suspect that on a professional level, the most immediately valuable session for me was the focus of gender gaps with Becky Francis. Working with boys who are (mostly) working at low levels, there was a lot that I’ll follow up from her presentation. On a more personal and long term level, I really enjoyed the session with Kay Yeoman and I am eager to get involved in some sort of School/University Partnership. There seem to be so many Trusts and Networks that work in this area that there’s surely something I can get involved with.

I only had a couple of disappointments from the day. The first was networking. With such a packed programme and short gaps between sessions/no lunch break, there wasn’t as much time to talk to people as I would have liked. Following the day up on twitter and through blogs will ease this but maybe next year it needs to be more spread out. My other disappointments are more selfish. In the whole day I didn’t hear anyone mention teaching assistants or special schools/SEN pupils. Obviously I wasn’t at every presentation or workshop, but even Howard got a mention of sexual health from Ben Goldacre so I felt a bit left out! I really believe there’s more space for integration with TAs and research, and as a special school we often have the opportunity to be more flexible in our approach to different pupil needs and I think this could be an ideal environment for pilot schemes.

My Reflections On It All
In some respects a conference like ResearchEd is preaching to the converted. Everyone there was likely to already be involved in practitioner research or interested in how it might fit in for them. I actually think you’ve got to be quite brave to get involved with research in schools. You face coming across like a bit of a nobber if you start arguing a point with references to academia, and it can be difficult to oppose the opinions of those higher up when you know you’re right but they’re in charge. For those who haven’t been ‘converted’ educational research is thought to be carried out by people locked away on a university campus and a waste of time.

We’re quickly getting to the point where most people working in schools, including a lot of TAs, have a degree and most of the pupils in schools, including those with special educational needs, are in the mind set that they will go to university and get a degree. It would surprise me if this wasn’t connected to the increased appetite for research in education – we have a host of people who have studied research methods and conducted research of their own and events like the one yesterday are perfectly timed to feed this appetite.

So how do we keep the momentum?
There are calls on twitter for journal clubs, virtual and live, lots of people are blogging about it and lots of people will go back on Monday to disseminate their experience. The focus of the session lead by Stephen Lockyer was about maintaining a level of provenance in our work. Throughout my MEd we were taught to conduct critical analysis – not take anything at face value and read around a subject to draw our own conclusions. There isn’t time to do this for everything of course, but a difference between universities and schools is access to journals. Our school subscribes to three journals and until last Christmas I had access to the online journals though the OU. Without this resource, how can we expect people to at least have a look at how research is conducted and what is out there? How can people be expected to take an interest if they can’t make an informed decision?

Another difference between schools and universities is the loom of Ofsted. It’s lovely to think you can try things out and find out ‘what works’ but it takes a brave teacher (or teaching assistant) to go against the routines in school and try out something new. When you’re given paperwork on how to deliver the ‘perfect Ofsted lesson’ you need to be brave to rock the boat. It’s not necessarily Ofsted who need to be open to new theories, it’s school leaders who need to be brave and take a leap of faith (too dramatic?). When it comes down to it though we are experimenting with children’s lives and the ethical implications of that. You can offer a successful drug to placebo patients after an RCT, you can’t offer a science intervention once the GCSE results are out.

Of course practitioner research doesn’t have to be massive or whole-school. You can conduct your own action research in your own class and it’s good to take a step back for a bit of reflective practice. The thing that has really excited me is the potential for partnership with academic researchers, not only in the education faculties but other departments in universities. Getting pupils interested in research, how to do it properly and how it relates to the ‘real world’ is a fantastic opportunity. I think the fire has been lit for research in education and it’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t go out. Let’s be brave!

Summer Reading

A long first post for my re-jigged blog!

I read five books (and some short stories) whilst we were in Portugal this year – all of which I very much enjoyed. When I was thinking about what to write about them I initially thought they were quite different books but actually there is an unintentional thread of crime going through each them (all be it a very fine thread in one).

Book 1: Broken Homes by Ben Arronovitch
This is one of the books I had been saving up for my holiday. Pre-ordered and stacked tantalisingly in the living room to be taken away. My brother Andy bought me the first in this series a while ago completely on a whim and I’ve really enjoyed the whole lot so far. It just dropped on my doormat and by the next day it was finished and I’d ordered the second one both for me and one for Andy.BrokenHomes

I quite appreciated that I came into these books without really knowing what they were about and I think that I’d like to keep it that way for anyone who’s new to the series so I’ll be quite vague if that’s ok? This is the fourth book featuring the character of Peter Grant, an police officer in modern day London. He’s also a trainee wizard. This may seem quite a revelation regarding the whole ‘keeping it vague’ thing, but it does say it on the book sleeve and that’s pretty much all I’ll give away. The supernatural world is expertly woven into the mundane and acts as a brilliant way to see crime from a different angle, keeping the stories fresh and open to absolutely anything happening. The best thing is, it all seems completely plausible.

I always think that the mark of a good book in a series is making you want to re-read the previous ones. This certainly did that. There were quite a few moments where I felt it was building up to to something and I was churning through the book without getting there, but when it did get there it was worth it. Most of the family read it whilst we were away and there were a few comments about how it comes across as a bridging novel between the others. I can see why they thought that – like I said, there was a lot of build up, and I don’t think it could be a stand alone story, but I do think it was more than just a connection. I wasn’t disappointed by it at all and I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes with the next instalment.

Book 2: The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman
Loved it. Neil Gaiman has a wonderful way of writing things that stick in your head and come back to you without any notice. He makes you continue to try and work things out, come to startling realisations and start to doubt what you think. This was no exception.

This was my other book that had waited for Portugal to be read. I kept picking it up and stroking it, especially as it has a matt dust cover and although you aren’t supposed to judge and all that, it’s nice when they make an effort. OceanWe’ve taken Gaiman books away for the past couple of years and each time we’ve taken them they’ve come back in pieces as the spine glue has melted in the sun. This time it didn’t happen as we had the hardback – our very first brand new, first edition Neil Gaiman book on holiday.

Again, I’m not going to give a run-down of the plot, that would spoil it, needless to say this is a story about remembering a childhood. It has fantasy and terror and warmth and safety. It’s always said that if a writer gets the everyday things right, the fantasy simply slots in. Gaiman’s a master of this and of course this is exactly what he’s done. It’s not as long or intricate as some of his previous novels and there were moments when I wasn’t sure who the target audience were. Sometimes it seemed like a book about children, for children, and then suddenly smacked you in the face with something very adult. Regardless of some pigeon-holed audience however, I read this in one sitting and was completely absorbed in this world.

It won’t be the book I recommend as the first Neil Gaiman book that someone should read (that might go to American Gods or one of the anthologies), but it’s definitely not one to miss out and perfect for the summer.

Books 3-5: Rebus: The Early Years – Knots and Crosses / Hide and Seek / Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin
More books that I’ve been waiting to read but this time it was because I hadn’t got round to it.

The Rebus series was recommended to me by @AhcomeonnowTed on Twitter. We met (on Twitter) when we were taking part in the Jonathan Ross book club and I asked if he had any suggestions when I’d run out of things to read. There are a lot of Rebus books and I wasn’t sure where to start but I found this volume with the first three novels in, bought it excitedly and then didn’t get round to reading it. In my defence I mostly read in the school holidays and I have spent the past few years doing my Masters degree. Anyway, three books in one I took it on holiday.

I like detectives, reading and telly ones. I love most things that are sponsored by Viking River Cruises on ITV and I’m unnecessarily excited at a new series of ‘Death In Paradise’ (Howard’s Grandma calls it ‘Murder On The Beach’ though and we much prefer that). I was looking forward to discovering a new detective (if I’ve seen any of the TV Rebus it’s been a long time since) and these books did the trick. Gritty, Edinburgh, classic detective and at times seemingly clichéd. He’s divorced, grumpy, bit of a maverick, he’s constantly giving up smoking and he likes a drink. Everything’s there. I had to stop myself from criticising for this though. The first one was published in 1987 and this means that actually most of those other grumpy, drinky, smokey detectives are probably copying him and it’s not clichéd at all.

There were plenty of twists to keep me guessing and the pace is perfect. I’d worried about three books about the same character getting a bit much on holiday but each one is quite different and kept fresh. The first gives an insight into the background of Rebus, by the second there’s a familiarity that feels good to get back to and I was interested to see what he’d been up to. The third book takes him out of Edinburgh and into London, a move which I really enjoyed. I’m definitely going to read more of these and I’ve bought the next two omnibus editions second hand already. It might take me a while to get to them and I might not go for three in a row but I want to see what happens next!

(I’ve not got a picture of this one, Dad’s still got it to finish it off ) :)

Short Stories: Sherlock Holmes
I whacked these on the tablet as they’re free and brilliant. I’ve read them before and I’ll read them again.

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I’ve linked to the books on the Guardian bookshop as I’m pretty sure they pay tax n ting, other book sellers are available.


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