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.

Nottingham-Shire, a Voice for Education

The ‘Nottingham-Shire, a Voice for Education event held at The University of Nottingham, organised by Howard Stevenson, was part of the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science and billed as an opportunity for ‘students, parents, those who work in education or are simple interested in education’ to discuss and explore how we can ‘rediscover, reclaim and reinvent democratic public education’ in Nottingham City and the County. Intentionally broad, it covered all phases and interests. It was free and lunch was provided. Worth a shot.


The day was orgainised around four workshops that were presented in the morning and repeated in the afternoon, giving an opportunity to attend a couple of options. The opening thoughts centred around four themes:

  • Community – Forming a community based on collective values and our position in society amongst others.
  • Creativity – Challenging traditional notions of ‘activism’ (including the style of events like this one).
  • Connections – People are often triggered to come into something by being against it. We need to connect being ‘agianst’ with being ‘for’ something.
  • Co-construction – Challenging the notion ‘there’s nothing you can do about it’.

It’s easy for people to adjust to the environment they’re in and narrow their expectations. We should promote the idea that there’s ‘no such thing as no alternative’, a concept Stevenson illustrated with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Whilst I am a member of a union, and I do think it is important that we stay up to date and challenge things that threaten education (whatever the sector), I am not by any means an ‘activist’ in the common sense of the word. I am interested in the idea of how we can work together across education and in collaboration with wider society to establish what we need. Particularly how once we have come together over what we are against, we should work on what we are ‘for’.

Don’t get me wrong, unions are an important part of the collaboration. They are experienced and hold a high level of knowledge and skills needed to bring people together and have their collective voice heard. I can’t be the only one though that can feel intimidated by loud opinions that seem closed to debate, or presume that everyone has the same thoughts (something Martin Robinson wrote about in May), and I worry that there is public and education sector fatigue with repeated campaigns. To hold onto the proposal that we need to revise our notions of ‘activism’ and think creatively, I am encouraged by the enthusiasm for getting a wider community together – alongside unions – to challenge decisions but also to put together solutions.

Developing Collaborative Alternatives in Schooling

The first session I went to showcased the successful collaborations that have gone on in Leicester firstly to resist the acadamisation of their schools, but as a result of that, their city-wide reading initiatives including the ‘Everybody’s Reading Festival‘.   I have two pages of notes about this session which are pretty much crammed with ideas – from Storytelling Week and Author Week, to bookmarks with tips for parents and reading champions in schools. Elements that stood out for me were the combination of CPD, networking and sharing ideas; schools bidding for ring-fenced literacy project funding; the potential uses of data collected from the (required) survey completed by each school; and the spread of this beyond schools and into the community. I am very jealous of what they’ve got going on there.


Due to a small train hiccup, the keynote speaker, Hilary Wainwright, was a little late so her talk was after lunch. She spoke about how we need to break the idea that change isn’t possible (using Jeremy Corbyn’s recent success as an example) and deep notions of democracy as people working together to achieve this. Having already heard about how unions can bring a community together, I wondered about the idea that unions could have a role as co-ordinating drivers for change – rather than simply focus on wages and conditions for members, a wider social role?

The Action For ESOL Campaign: Protest, Professionalism and Pedagogy

For my afternoon session I went to hear about the Action for ESOL Campaign. The particular subject matter isn’t something I have anything to do with but as a very specific section of education I can see some parallels with special education, and when it comes to fighting for funding and resources, I wonder if there are lessons to learn from their success. Through the coming together of professional, national and local networks (outside of a union structure although there was involvement), they successfully fought to keep provision accessible.

Analysing how and why this worked is of even more importance now as the renewed threat of cuts to the FE sector move closer. Earlier in the day we had discussed as a group what our ‘ideals’ in education were and points about access, valuing education and lifelong learning were central to this. It seems to me that we all need to have a greater awareness of what is happening in FE at the moment because for something that encompasses all the things we value about education, it’s not being valued elsewhere.

Seeds of a Nottingham Campaign For Education

The round up of the day included space for some local campaigns and initiatives to have a say and a break of into groups to discuss some of the issues arising from the day. I joined the ‘City’ group to discuss how we felt we could respond to the current consultation into the 10 Year Plan for Nottingham City. The consultation period is only a month long which seems woefully short, particularly as there doesn’t appear to have been a great deal of promotion around it, and our group felt that whilst the proposals were reasonable, they weren’t particularly ambitious or joined up with other work being done nationally around issues such as teacher recruitment and retention. There was a suggestion that we could put together a Citizens’ Jury to bring together the community and build an idea of how our whole community feels and what it needs.

It was certainly an interesting and thought-provoking day that I’m sure will be repeated, and even with a small toilets-not-working issue (which Tom Bennett having fixed a few of those during researchED events would probably see as standard), there was definitely a spark of something that I am keen to see develop and bring together the whole community, creatively, to challenge those that tell us what we need with what we know we need. If there’s a next-time, I think it would be good to encourage more parents (other than teacher-parents) to attend and there is definitely space for the research slant on things. We’ve got two big universities in Nottingham so why not take advantage of that expertese. Having mentioned researchED, I also think there might be an opportunity for Howard Stevenson to present something about this at one of the conferences.

Incidentally, a tweet from Tom Sherrington in Februaary started doing the rounds again on Saturday morning. In many ways I think this fits brilliantly with the message that was being shared and it’s something we should keep in mind as we think about where we want this to go.


More information about the day all these things can be found here:

The Trivium and Me

Last week I finished reading Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21C. I knew it would take me a bit of time to process my ideas but I keep thinking about it in relation to things so I decided to write about them now even if my processing hasn’t finished yet. I started reading it in the summer, mostly in the garden and a long way away from work (there’s a squished ant inside the front cover and everything). Back to work and things take over and it took me a while to pick it up again, but I did.


First off. I loved it. There is a mixture of history and theory, working out of ideas and backing them up with evidence and viewpoints, and finally a plan of how all of this can work in schools today. His proposal explores applying the trivium (Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric) to contemporary education. Combining the building blocks of traditional knowledge with questioning and debate, before communicating and expressing what has been learnt. This isn’t just a book with a single idea or research at its heart – it’s a quest that Robinson has set out on to construct a better path for education, putting his ideas together through intense background study, seeking the views of others and debating different opinions before communicating his message via this book (see what he did there?).

There were times when reading this book that I felt very uneducated and did that very British thing of just rolling along hoping I’d understand at some point. Mostly I did, sometimes I checked back. I’ve not read a lot about the history and development of education. There was a bit here and there on my MEd courses but that was research centred and I found it fascinating to see how all these ideas of how to educate were formed and transformed – something I should probably look at more. I’m not going to focus on that here, I’m going to pick out my favourite bits from the last section of the book about how we can put it into practice, because that’s the bit I’ve been thinking about most.

This bit will make little logical sense as I pick out some favourite bits and ask myself questions. It’s only in this order because that’s how it is in the book.

The description of The Renaissance Person p.162

I love the idea that we’re all exposed to so much more information now and we should embrace this and allow it to shape us. Our pupils come from some pretty limiting backgrounds and we do our best to throw as much at them as possible whilst they’re with us. I think this is a really good foundation for any school ethos. I also found myself linking it with the recent ‘futurologist’ guff – not the learning styles stuff, but the many different careers stuff. Maybe it’ll be a Renaissancey thing where they can move from passion to passion because they have the opportunity?

Parental Engagement to Close the Gap p.191

Totally agree with this one. Especially working with the ‘naughty boys’ where you tend to get the ones ending up at the PRU and an SEMH school like ours, and the ones put in a residential school (or the well off ones packed off to boarding school). I’ve read a few things on parental engagement and we discussed it at our first TSA journal club. At the moment if there’s anything I’d like to do some research around, it’s probably this.

Active Citizenship p.223

LOVE this idea of pupils bringing issues into the classroom that they can work around and campaign for. Get to know their local and wider environment, build confidence and challenge opinions. Brilliant.

Awesome Quote p.227

“When teachers have the choice, they must not choose knowledge by how accessible it is, but by how important it is; they should then use their professionalism to make it accessible.”. I’m ALL about this.

The Authentic Curriculum p.241

I linked this with the Active Citizenship idea really. We need to make sure it doesn’t matter where they come from, they all get a chance and quite often we’re trying to keep ours out of prison. ‘Real experimental learning’ is a bit like extreme work experience with opportunities from all over the place. We do a lot of this already and I like the fact we can give it a name. I spent the best part of two years trying to start up a Scout troop in school and it’s fallen at an administrative hurdle. I hold out hope…

The simple tables on pages 236/7 of Teaching styles and Learning methods categorised with each element of the trivium have been the thing that has really shifted my thinking around. All the other things are interesting ideas I want to ponder on and see if there’s a place to use them in school. The trivuim set out in these tables is something that has prompted me to change the way I think about what I’m trying to achieve with my work.

The tables set out how to teach (and learn) within different elements of the trivium. From Grammar and getting a solid foundation, through Dialectic with more independence of ideas, to Rhetoric and the formation and spreading of thoughts and opinion; I think it fits the classroom well, but it’s also made me think about how we should approach research engagement in schools.

It’s easy to forget how little engagement most teachers have with research when you’re in the researchED/Edu-twitter bubble, but it’s said often enough about CPD that if we take into account the needs of pupils when teaching, we should take into account the needs of staff when training, and research engagement should be no different. I’m wondering where school research sits and how I can use the idea of the trivium in my role as research lead.

For me, most of the people I work with are at the beginning of their research journeys (I cringed too but I can’t think of another way of saying it). They need the grammar. Before rushing full pelt into research, I need to work out how we can build up a solid foundation of basic knowledge and terms, familiarity with things like EEF toolkit, get into the habit of asking for evidence. I need incremental steps, to provide resources, increase capacity incrementally and to scaffold. I need to encourage reading, accessing information and learning to deal with not understanding. Once people are in a position where they feel more confident they can move to the Dialectic – questioning, comparing sources, habits of discussion and critique. Finally we can move to the Rhetoric. Self-reflection, expressing opinions, positing questions and connecting with other institutions and expertise. Only at this point perhaps are we ready to use the full potential of things like journal clubs – too soon and it won’t have the impact.

I’ve also considered Lesson Study. The impact of lesson study on teaching and learning is still questioned and some of that is about chucking a process at staff that they might not understand. One of the things that gets mentioned when the Japanese version of lesson study is compared with the emerging UK versions is that in Japan the research element takes the form of a massive piece of work. I wonder if the scale of this initial research means that teachers work through each element of the trivium as they are producing it. The scale allows for the time they need to work through the theory, argument and form an opinion, and by reducing that for our programmes, do we miss stages out? If teachers don’t have time to get grounded and really understand the research lessons they’re planning, is the impact going to be less?

I know it’s important that there’s room for everyone to develop at different rates and with the structure of the trivium (even if it’s in the way I think about it rather than a formal programme of development), it’ll be easier to see where people are headed and I don’t think it’ll seem quite so much like it’s falling on deaf ears, rather a matter of building experience. One thing I have wondered is if we need to be able to teach the whole trivium or do we specialise in particular elements? Does a research lead need to be better at the groundwork or good at all of it?

Finally, the other thing I’ve been pondering this week is our school motto. ‘Choice and Responsibility’. Robinson discusses using each element of the trivium to create rounded school mottos and I’ve been trying to think about what we could add to ours to complete the set. Inform? Challenge? Share? It probably depends how you categorise each word into the trivium. Is ‘choice’ about us providing a choice/well-rounded information (grammar) or about questioning and making a choice (dialectic)? Is ‘responsibility’ about using their knowledge to make the right decisions (dialectic) or about the conclusions they make and take forward (rhetoric)? I’m still thinking about it and suspect I’ll keep on thinking about it. Until I read the next one

Baselines Without Levels


One of the challenges facing our school at the moment due to assessment without levels is our baselining procedure. Our pupils can come to us at any point from year 3 to year 9 (it’s rare that we take new pupils in KS4), with varying experiences of education. Some come straight to us from a mainstream school, some have been at the PRU and others have been allocated a number of hours of home tutoring.

We baseline new pupils upon admission in order to assess their levels, needs and eventually provide us with a measure of just how (hopefully) awesome our teaching has been. We use Hodder Oral Reading Tests and Graded Word Spelling Tests for reading and spelling (which we use across the school twice a year). Until last year we used the GOAL online assessments for English, Maths and Science, but with the removal of NC levels, this product was removed from the market and, much to the pain of SLT, nothing has replaced it.

We have reverted back to the paper version of GOAL formative assessment that we used before the online tests. This is a series of multiple choice questions with a simple ‘number correct=a NC sub-level’. There is information in the depths of the teacher’s guide to help analyse the results, but we just report the end level for our records.

An issue we find regularly with our pupils is that they come to us with huge gaps in their knowledge. Understandable if you’ve had a series of fixed-term or permanent exclusions. They’ve often missed whole topics and we find, for instance, that they’re brilliant at working out lines of symmetry but give them a 3D shape to identify and they haven’t got a clue.

Something that struck me as I baselined a new pupil the day after reading the ‘Commission on Assessment Without Levels: final report’ is how, as well as changing the way we assess generally, there must be a better way of assessing our pupils as they enter the school. We can’t rely on KS tests to give us a picture of what they can do and as the report says, ‘There is no intrinsic value in recording formative assessment; what matters is that it is acted on’. As we develop our school assessment systems we need to look at how we build baselines into this so we can identify exactly what the pupils coming to us can do and where the gaps are that we need to fill in. At the moment I give teachers an old NC sub-level that could be based on a pupil getting all the easy questions at the start of the test or all the harder ones at the end. To actually find out what the child can do, the teachers have to work it out themselves.

I was spurred further into thought as, aside from the Assessment Without Levels report, two other windows open on my computer were Michael Tidd’s resources of curriculum key objectives and Daisy Christodoulou’s slides from researchED with her focus on multiple choice questions. I’m wondering if we could use these bits of information to create our own baseline tests?


What do we baseline for?

  1. Identify what the pupil knows and can do/ may need help with.
  2. Set a starting point for us to gather data and measure progress.

For me, the first reason is the most important. I get frustrated when class teachers ask me how a new pupil has done and I have to report a vague ‘sub-level with caveats’. I want to be able to give them specifics, but specifics they will actually use. Even when we did online testing, I’m not sure how much of the data we printed off was actually used to assess pupil needs.

The second point is more linked to the development of the whole school assessment policy, and debate around the worth of measuring individual pupil progress would probably add another 1000 words, however we do need to follow the Assessment Without Levels report and ensure our ‘curriculum and approach to assessment are aligned’ and I’m very aware that whatever system we come up with, we don’t ‘reinvent levels, or inappropriately jump to summary descriptions of pupils’ attainments’. The report also specifically states that ‘for pupils working below national expected levels of attainment assessment arrangements must consider progress relative to starting points and take this into account’. Baselining is our ‘starting point’ and needs to fit into this.

How do we create our own, useful, baseline procedure that identifies where our pupils are?

Well we need to think about what our pupils need – no point coming up with something that’s great for some kids but our lot flounder with. I’ve done a lot of baseline assessments of SEMH pupils. I’ve had everything from pupils that hide under tables brandishing a weapon, to ones that fly through at genius level. In my experience, they are often quite de-schooled and not used to sitting and working for any length of time; they have lower levels of literacy and big gaps in their knowledge; they’re apprehensive of coming to a new school and scared they’ll ‘fail’ the test. We need something to put them at ease and keep them engaged. My, not necessarily complete, list of requirements so far includes:

  • Easy to read/can be read to them
  • Doesn’t have to be done in one sitting
  • Adaptive to very different levels
  • Questions that aren’t too lengthy (lack of stamina/ easily distracted/ simply don’t engage if a question even looks too long.)

The baseline tests we use now have multiple choice questions. Daisy Christodoulou’s work has prompted me to think about the use of these more closely and I’m wondering if we should use our curriculum to create our own questions. Is it worth going through the questions on the existing tests and evaluating where they fit our curriculum? Daisy shows the impact of different types of question, for example, using multiple correct answers to get them to really read the options, and thinking carefully about how our choice of the incorrect answers can inform us just as much.


Michael Tidd’s key objectives tables break down expectations for KS1 and 2 – do I assume that it’s worth measuring what they know of these before we move them on to our KS2 and 3 curriculum or KS4 courses? Does it work like that? Could we use Michael’s work to help us create our multiple choice questions? Certainly it would be easier to do for some objectives than others. How do we do that and avoid something like the old criteria based grids? (By recognising that it’s particular questions about that objective that they can/can’t do rather than securing that objective as a whole based on a couple of questions, I suppose.) It’s the gaps we need to find and fill in if they’re to access all the work we need/want to cover, so whatever we end up with needs to be both useful and used.

Is an administered test the answer? Might teacher assessment be more useful for teachers/ more specific? (Should probably mention we run a primary model of teacher to class for most subjects throughout 7-16, with some specialist subjects). We wouldn’t get the data for tracking progress in the same way but the data we start with at the moment is inaccurate anyway and whilst we used to, we don’t do the paper GOAL tests with them again to compare. But we need to bear in mind of course that we ‘should be careful to avoid any unnecessary addition to teacher workload’.

I’ve looked around for alternatives that are on the market since we found out GOAL Online was being removed and I’ve not found a lot. The Assessment Without Levels report warns against buying in products and this probably goes for baselining too. The most promising thing I saw a while back was Alfie as it covered English, Maths and Science (we want all three, most do the first two) and you can piece together your own assessment from existing questions. We tried the GL Assessment NGRT with the Closing the Gap trial we were part of and the kids couldn’t cope with that at all – too long and in one sitting. Most gave up and guessed so the results, as beautifully presented as they were, were useless. One of our teachers has been looking at what CEM has to offer and I think it’s worth investigating, but I don’t think it’s what we’re after as a ‘useful’ baseline, certainly with the criteria I’ve thought of.

Thinking about it properly is pretty daunting. It’s a lot of work to set up – the whole process for the whole school is, but surely as we get to grips with how we approach assessment without levels, it’s worth investing time and effort in the part that’ll start them all off? Do we wait for an online ‘bank’ of questions and go from there? Finding a balance between putting together a robust test, that fits our pupils and our curriculum, and avoids excess data management for teachers, whilst ensuring they don’t have to test them again after I’ve done it, is something I’m sure is possible. It’s on the tip of my brain but I’m not sure how we start.

I wrote some ideas about CPD in school last year and I rather suspect I overstepped the mark with that so I’m cautious about suggesting around this topic. Does anyone have any answers? What do other people use? Do I just carry on with what I’m doing ‘til told otherwise or I rock the boat a bit?


*The picture at the top isn’t an actual question from our tests. That’s just some stuff from our mantlepiece at home. Still, it’s quite similar to some of the questions so you can see where our problems lie.*

Ed vs Outcomes

The recent news features about state school students outperforming private students at university have raised a few questions and theories about how to explain the ‘unexplained gap’ from all sides of the educational domain. Understandably, if you’ve forked out thousands for years of education you’d rather not rely on any connections to get ahead in place of academic success, and equally, if you’re paying for extra tuition you want to know it’s having an impact.

Anecdotally I know of people who have been coached, by either parents or professional tutors, throughout their school life, achieving high grades until the point where they no longer had that support and found themselves unable to study on their own. Whether that’s due to constant nagging to get work done, parental ‘input’ in coursework or being given revision plans instead of working it out for themselves, it’s not an unusual occurrence.

When we talk about exams and qualifications with our pupils we place so much pressure on that particular moment, those particular results; yet for most of us they’re just a stepping stone to the next phase. There’s no way we’re going to downplay what they’re working towards of course, and I think for some children (certainly with our lot) focusing too far ahead is overwhelming, but I do think it’s something for us (the grown ups) to keep in mind.

Thinking about where my peers have ended up is an interesting (and perhaps scary) exercise. People I was in a class with from 7-16 are in jobs as wide ranging as pub landlord, shop assistant and deputy headteacher. People I was in a class with from 11-18 include a web designer, an MP, a psychiatrist and a chiropodist. We all had the same education (state FWIW). We all had the same access to the same subjects, with the same teachers, and we’ve all gone down different routes. Some went to university, some travelled, some had decided what they wanted to do when they were in infant school and some took a while to choose. Obviously parts of this can be put down to different life experiences and we all know, try as they can, schools can’t force outcomes from children. Even within my own family though my brothers and I have gone for very diverse pathways. Between us there’s a teaching assistant, an architect, and Andy kills Mufasa every night* in the West End. *not every night. The other day he mended the Sun.

My point is that… I’m not sure what my point is.

Education prepares you and takes you to the next step. For most people, once they’ve got the GCSEs to get into their post-16 experience of choice, no one asks for their GCSE results (maybe a requirement for a grade in certain subjects). Once they have the required A level grades for university, no one needs to know those. Once they have a degree it’s about experience and fighting for jobs with everyone else. None of that’s new information of course, but it shouldn’t be surprising that the same education leads to different futures with different needs and values.

We like to measure things though. Especially if we’re doing well. This article highlighted today by Carl Hendrick explains quite clearly our need to be one-up, how we see some things as intrinsically better or more valuable. In education this is the same; we’re held accountable for everything we do whether that’s in school, parents, government or in the press – no one wants to be the one that’s seen to break the chain of progress.

The thing I think is most important that we take from the performance at university story is that we have a responsibility to think about preparing pupils for the next phase so they don’t flounder. Yes, our job is to arm them with the knowledge and skills to pass the next set of tests, but the way we do that should ensure that once they’ve moved to the next step they can keep going, so if working without the supports that got them there turns out to be a factor in success, they’ve got a chance. Equally of course, we need to keep the curriculum as wide a we can to allow them to refine their choices as they go and find out what they really love.

researchED 2015 – the one with the stairs

The annual celebration of the release of Taylor Swift’s now classic album ‘Red’, took place on Saturday at South Hampstead High School in London.


There were some noticeable absences which was a shame (although there were people I didn’t see at all and I know they were there because of twitter, and I didn’t see one Bennett point-and-wink ALL DAY), but it was another jam-packed, triumph of a day as the researchED juggernaut hurtled through London on its way back round the globe. I’ve already written a bit about my own session so this one’s more of a mulling over of the themes and ideas that I’ve taken away from the day (not at all in the order of viewing).

2013 was the year of ‘no lunch’, 2014 the year of jealously staring towards the single box of air conditioning, and 2015 the year of a steep hill and many, many stairs. The overarching message of researchED though has remained and that is all about taking control, but now with increasing support. There still seems to be a determination to keep accountability away from this precious seed of control and I’m really glad this is the case. We’re still ‘working out what works’ and surely the whole point is that we’re open to shifting ideas – making schools accountable increases the need to find answers right now. I can sense it in the TSA requirement for research and development and I think this is great (certainly providing me with opportunities) but it’s important that there’s still the chance to find our own way.

Becky Allen showed clearly how accessible a role involving research can be – no specialbeckya equipment needed. Yes, she gave a mention to journal clubs and perhaps I’m biased towards that, but it’s a great example of how you don’t need a dedicated research lead or super access to research to get involved. She had a lot of advice about how to get going and I think the next steps for me need to be around developing areas for research in my setting. I know it’s not the direction for everyone, but I think I’ve got to try. I’ve got the added difficulty of working in a small school so numbers aren’t ideal for any sort of pilot, but maybe there’s room to use the TSA.

I was nickrreally interested to hear about Nick Rose’s research lead role and how he is coaching colleagues in teaching enquiry and using teaching logs as a scaffold. Allowing teachers to engage in enquiry and explore ideas in a low stakes environment, before using the outcomes to help inform professional targets is the best way I can see to encourage teachers to engage with research and use the information that comes out of it without people feeling like they might get it wrong. I’m coming to the end of a few projects this year so I need to keep the momentum up in school. Nick has sparked me to look at the SIP and see where I might be able to suggest ways research can inform our response to that. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before, but I feel I’ve tested the water with the support of other organisations and maybe now’s a good time to push it a bit further.

I’ve managed to gather a few ideas for my next issue(s) of Relay. Particularly drawing on the sessions from Daisy Christodoulou, Tom Sherrington and David Didau. Daisy and Tom both focussed on how we can use rdaisycesearch to inform the decisions schools are having to make. Daisy’s was first and discussed using research to develop assessment without levels. I’ve read most of her blog posts on these issues but she managed to put it all into an easily digestible capsule and I’m going to go back and read her blog again. Particularly the parts on multiple choice questions (had a course that used these as the exam at university, hated it but now have a greater appreciation of their worth), and comparative assessment (this is how we do it in art and it’s good to have some back up for our methods). I thought back to one of Daisy’s points on writing multiple choice answers during David Didau’s talk when he said ‘when we’re certain, we stop looking’ and I definitely think it’s something we should consider.

In a more personal way, Tom Sherrington took us through the process he had used to make decisions about literacy tomsprovision at Highbury Grove School. It is fairly easy for any headteacher to search for an answer on Google and run with the results, but not everyone would question what they found and email the researcher to ask. It’s actions like this that will change the way we use research in schools. Not by taking part in massive RCTs (although brilliant), not by sitting on government committees ( I know that’s good too), but by understanding how to read the research we find, questioning it and finding out how it really can inform our practice.

David Didau posed perhaps the most important question of the day; ‘Are you a fox or a hedgehog?’. Despite the slight hint of Barnum statement, I am deffo a hedgehog. Mostly because spikes and the grumpy face. daviddI don’t know if this was the answer he was after, but then again, we don’t know what we know we don’t know, if we know we know what we don’t know. Y’know? #teamhedgehog

My final session was in Sam Freedman’s Room of Despair. He took us through the top five issues facing the government including classics such as funding, capacity and infrastructure. Despite the lack of lols, this is a man who knows his stuff. I’ve already paraphrased him several times in school and whilst most of us left feeling a little deflated, Howard left with the new found ambition to become a Regional School Commissioner. It takes all sorts.

So that was my day. I suspect more elements of it will filter through over the coming weeks. Special mention needs to go to Davis Weston’s posture. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing and if you don’t give a fig for educational research, go to one of these gigs just to see him glide.


researchED Journal Club 2015

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At the moment I think my #rED15 blog posts will stretch across about 3. This is just a quick one about my session including a couple of bits I forgot to say.

Having bitten the bullet and volunteered to do a journal club session at the Cambridge Research Leads event, I decided there was nothing to lose and offered to do a similar one at the national conference. Turns out it’s a bit of a different affair. I was nervous before Cambridge and dealt with that through extreme preparation. This time I went into denial. On the day I felt so out-of-place I got told off by Tom Bennett for not going into the speakers room.

Anyway. I did it.

Despite the fact I was very aware that there wasn’t a huge amount of time to squeeze in all the ‘about’ journal clubs bit and the actual experience of a journal club, and the clock on the wall was one of those hilarious ones with backwards numbers, the response I’ve had in person, over twitter and email has been lovely. I think there are quite a few school journal clubs that are going to pop up now and I’m really excited to hear how everyone goes, so let me know!

The session was very similar to Cambridge so I won’t repeat all the information when I can direct you to that post:

Cambridge Journal Club

The slides from my #rED15 presentation are here:

Journal Club #rED15 Presentation (pdf)

The paper I picked was ‘The Relationship Between Student Engagement and Academic Performance: Is It a Myth or Reality?’ (Jung-Sook Lee, 2014). Which I accessed through the Education Arena collections. A few people asked why I’d gone for that specifically and how I go about picking papers for our clubs. This one ticked a few boxes for me. I wanted something with a general topic so more people would find it relevant in some way, not too long (10 pages I think), and something with some statistics for people who like that. I think the stats threw a few people, and I completely understand. There are plenty of papers without pages of numbers so I urge everyone to have a little look around. Once you’ve gone through the process a few times you’ll start looking forward to the next collection and gauging what will work for your group.

The things I forgot to say…

Education Arena are offering 30 days free access to their education journals – tweet, re-tweet, share or mention their hashtag #SharingEducation on Facebook and Twitter and they’ll private message you the access token allowing you access to all Education content from 2013-2015 for 30 days from activation.  See here.

Also, it’s worth following SAGE too as for the past few years they’ve given free access to all their publications during October. I think both access events are to do with National Teachers Day.

So. Not my most coherent post but I wanted to get something out before everyone forgot about it and their awesome journal club plans. Please let me know how you get on and I’m happy to point anyone in the right direction. Finally, Howard did an excellent job of shamelessly plugging the biscuit element, so props go to him for boosting the numbers :)

Summer Reading 2015


The amount of reading I actually do (rather than think I’ll probably do) during the year fluctuates quite a lot, but the summer holidays are definitely the time when I churn my way through a fair few books and this year was no different. A couple of them I’ve been waiting to read in paperback both because I don’t see the point in forking out for a hardback if I can wait and it makes sense to take lighter books on a plane. I’ve tried reading ebooks on both a proper, non-backlit eReader and on a tablet. I prefer to take books. I’m well into my thirties now so I reckon I can get away with picking and choosing the technology I want to engage with.

Dave at work says I should blog about books I’m reading throughout the year too (probably because he leant me a very good Doctor Who related one) and I probably should. Until I get round to that, here’s this summer’s lot.

Book 1: Blacklight Blue by Peter May
blacklightPeter May is a fairly steady presence in my reading lists now. This is the third in the Enzo Macleod series set in France and continues to follow Enzo as he uses his forensic expertise to do what the police have failed to do and try to solve another cold case.The premise of this series works around a bet he has made to solve seven prominent murders that feature in a book by his friend Roger Raffin and the series looks set to focus on one case per book.

The book starts with the abduction of a young boy on holiday 40 years ago and jumps to a murder in 1992. In the present day, when Enzo finds himself framed for murder, and his daughter is nearly killed, he reasons that it has only been a matter of time before the perpetrators of the remaining cold cases start to try to take him out before they get caught. Investigating ensues. Assisted by the now familiar characters of his second daughter and her boyfriend, his assistant Nicole and Raffin, his first daughter has more of a role in this one and we start to get a bit more of the characters’ back story. There’s the obligatory scrapes with death, bottles of good French wine and beautiful women.

I find May’s style easy to read and there’s a good balance of continuing threads and fresh storylines. I like the implied end to the series with the seven murders which stops a feeling of things dragging along that can happen with other detective series, and there’s enough of a question mark at the end to make me eager for the next one.

Book 2: The Tent, The Bucket, and Me by Emma Kennedy
Surely no family has had the amount of disaster befall them on their summer holidays as the Kennedy family have. tentbucketmeEmma Kennedy’s hilarious memoir following her family’s ‘disastrous attempts to go camping in the 70s’, hurtles you through storms, down French toilets and gangrenous wounds. The determination of one family to have a successful holiday is something to behold. Full of cultural references that paint a picture of 70s Britain (which isn’t too far from my memories of 80s Britain), this is a book that will have you in fits of laughter, cringing, wincing with pain and championing our heroes to get through to face another summer.

I’m not sure whether it was a good idea to take it on holiday or not. One of the flight attendants on our plane spotted it and said how much she’d enjoyed it (which vindicated my stifled giggling for a 4 hour flight) but there’s something about reading about disastrous holidays whilst your on one that seems to be tempting fate! Luckily we didn’t fall down anything nasty and survived to recommend this.

If you can’t be bothered to read it (which you should) the BBC have gone and done a whole TV series of the book. ‘The Kennedys’ should be on in the autumn I think.

Book 3: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
iletyougoThis is one of the Richard and Judy summer reads and I happened to see them plugging it on the One Show. Quite liking their description I thought I’d give it a go and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not sure what to say about this one. I really enjoyed it and definitely recommend it but I don’t want to spoil it. I don’t want to say too much really. I had more information before I read it and spent the whole time waiting for that to happen.

So who would like it. Well online and on-book comments suggest that if you enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ you’ll enjoy this. I read ‘Gone Girl’ last year and it irritated the hell out of me for the first half, got better in the second and had a disappointing ending. This book is far better and much more worth reading. It’s a psychological thriller that kept me gripped and eager to get back to. I invested thoroughly in the characters through the well crafted narrative and raw detail throughout. There aren’t any gun-wielding space aliens or Russian naval spies so I don’t think it’s quite Howard’s thing, but that might help you decide.

Book 4: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
I have invested heavily in Cormoran Strike, Private Investigator, since reading the first novel. Every time I have a pint of Doom Bar I think of him. I got this book for either Christmas or birthday and I’ve been saving it for the summer (might as well take a book we’re both going to read on holiday).silkworm

As predicted, the first outing ‘The Cookoo’s Calling’ was a solid introduction to the characters and all the key people were in place for this investigation. Strike’s still struggling with his leg (send him to a doctor please Mr Galbraith), Robin’s still his right-hand woman, and there’s still some murdering to solve. There are some classic detective story elements but it reads as a fresh set of characters and if you enjoy the genre then it shouldn’t seem like you’ve heard it all before.

This one focuses on the world of publishing with a swathe of colorful characters from authors to agents. There is a good balance between the case and development of Strike and his work so I’m looking forward to the next one. I’m being cagey again I know. I’d rather tell everyone to just read it without giving anything away, it’s kinder. Just know that if you liked the first one you should like this one, and if you’ve not read the first one. Read it.

Book 5: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

boneclocksRight where to start with this one. Well, this was the second of my ‘wait for paperback’ books after I heard the review on Radio 2 and thought it sounded really interesting. The book follows the character of Holly Sykes throughout different decades of her life with each decade told from the perspective of a different character; some of which interact with her more than others. It’s a long book and in many ways each chapter/decade is a book of its own.

There’s a bit of a Neil Gaiman style fantasy element feel to the story although I spent a long time not quite sure how it was panning out and this frustrated me a bit. I found the book easier to read for some characters than others which reflected in my pace of reading; it was a lot of work to remember characters as they re-appeared and it took me a while to get through some parts. Having said that, once the story started to reveal itself I really enjoyed piecing it together.

The book starts in the 1970s and works through to the 2040s. As the chapters entered the ‘future’ there was lots of subtle references that I appreciated (like a passing comment on Justin Beiber’s 5th divorce) and it didn’t seem like there were over the top attempts to predict what’s ahead. It allowed for the story to take centre stage as it reached a climax. Having had the climax, the final chapter was a proper slog. Set in a dystopian future there was an unecessary amount of explaining the changes to the world and the collapse of civilisation, I found it all very strained and fairly detached from the story-so-far.

It sounds a bit like I hated it. I didn’t. The premise of where everything leads to is a brilliant idea and as it got going and more was revealed I really enjoyed finding out new perspectives from different characters. I think the ending has jaded my view a bit. You know how a generic hour-long TV murder has the classic solve at 45 minutes and it’s all wrapped up in the last 15? Well this felt a bit like we had the resolution at 45 and there was another hour to wrap it up. I think I’ll be thinking about this one for a while to digest it properly. I’ll recommend it because a lot of people have enjoyed it and I didn’t hate it by any means. It’s a long one though and I prefer Gaiman.


Links to books are The Guardian Bookshop again because of tax and monopolies etc.

Sex In Class


Last night Channel 4 broadcast the latest edu-documentary, ‘Sex in Class’. Goedele Liekens, a Belgian sexologist delivered her programme of sex education at the Hollins Technology College in Lancashire. Armed with her vagina cushion and plasticine, she had 2 weeks to work with 13 students. She explored how pornography influences the pupils, both their behaviour and the expectations they have; she discussed masturbation and anatomy; and looked at relationships within families and with partners. It was brilliant. Her direct approach and understanding of what the pupils have experienced gained the respect of the pupils. Her shock at what the pupils didn’t know and hadn’t been taught was evident.

Something really needs to happen with sex education in our schools. Of course it’s a matter for our whole society, but schools are a significant part of that. It’s clear that adults in this country have no idea what our children are watching. The statistics on the programme show that 83% of children have watched porn online by the time they’re 13, and more than half view it regularly. Let me be clear. This porn isn’t the free 10 minutes at midnight stuff they put on satellite TV; this is hard-core, explicit, in-your-face stuff, and our children are normalised to this. They don’t have to look at the underwear pages of a catalogue to get their kicks, they have more than they want of the proper stuff online.

I’ve tweeted this in the past – Russell T Davies has written about this beautifully in ‘Screwdriver’ an online spin off from Cucumber on Channel 4. I would have every parent and every teacher watch this. It’s 15 minutes and the message is perfectly clear. Go on. Watch it. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again. (The irony of parental guidance notices)

I was aware of ‘Sex in Class’ because I had seen Goedele on This Morning talking about the project and taking part in their phone in. I was impressed by what she was saying but equally I was disappointed at the reaction of presenter Eamonn Holmes. I know that presenters are there in part to play the role of devil’s advocate and there’s nothing wrong with challenging what she’s trying to do, but the way he attacked her point of view came from a much more personal place. He’s not the only one to have these views of course, and the predictability of the professionally outraged in the media will be a reason for commissioning the programme. What I find frustrating is the assumption that people will find what Goedele is doing shocking. What I find most shocking is the naivety of the public as to what is happening.

Goedele wants to use her work to develop a GCSE in sex education and at the end of her course the pupils sat an exam. We saw her meet with Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the government’s Select Committee on Sex Education to discuss the content of sex education in schools. She set him straight on a few facts and stressed the importance of age appropriateness and pupils learning about sexual pleasure. He was so far out of his comfort zone that we witnessed the ridiculous situation where she’s talking to the chairman the Sex Education Select committee and he’s unable to talk about sex. He bumbled through a question about where the clitoris is and by the end of their meeting was declared as an Advocate for Sexual Pleasure.

The solution to all this is not to get rid of porn. We can’t. What we need to do is educate. We need to get over this uncomfortable, British attitude from government down. We can’t pretend it’s not happening. 10 year olds no longer cuss each other by calling each other a wally, they tell each other to ‘suck their mum out’. Obviously it’s not all of them, but it’s real and we need to do our part to educate. As Goedele so frequently stated; we can’t stop them from accessing online porn so we need to act to counterbalance this with facts and information across every aspect of sex and relationships education. I really hope the right people were watching.


Inspired by several people, especially Ffion Eaton, I decided to start a Learning and Development Bulletin at school.


I went with using ‘learning’ and ‘development’ rather than including ‘teaching’ or ‘research’ because I wanted to make sure it was accessable to all members of staff. I’m concious that ‘teacher’ gets used as a blanket term but for those of us that aren’t one there’s always a bit of doubt as to whether we’re included. The name Relay was the result of a frustrating afternoon with a thesaurus. I settled on it as it’s symbolic of the main purpose for the bulletin, to share and pass on information between members of staff. I want to encourage everyone to contribute to Relay – whether that’s writing an article or review, or simply prompting discussions in the staff room. I’m aiming for half-termly publication and so far I’ve managed this (with a bumper summer edition). At the moment it’s mostly stuff I’ve encountered at researchED or via Twitter but I’ve tried to go for a spread of topics and opinions, avoiding too much bias!

Printable PDF versions of issues so far are here:

April 2015 – Relay Issue 1

May 2015 – Relay Issue 2

July 2015 – Relay Issue 3

End of Year & Art

I’m still on the come-down from last week. I’m sure it’s not just us but everything always seems to speed up for the last few days before a holiday. I think I’m successfully avoiding the ‘funk‘ but I do find it difficult to turn off school-mode.


I don’t have any sort of work to do before next term and one of the only good things to come out of single status is I no longer have any guilt over the long holidays. I have however spent a fair amount of time so far reading about education, I know I’ll end up doing stuff on the school website in the next few weeks and at half eight yesterday morning I was reading the leaked assessment without levels report. Despite that I’m not really missing work.

The thing I am missing though is art. 2014 was a brilliant one for the work the pupils produced and the best results the school has ever seen (a bit about that here). This year has been just as good and even more ambitious, and I’m really hoping for the boys’ sake it’s just as successful.

art201505We don’t tend to produce the sort of work that springs to mind when I think of GCSE Art. There’s no ‘torn up newspaper background’ or ‘bright watercolour dripping eye’. Nothing wrong with that of course, we just don’t seem to do it. The room is set up with pupils in their own space and all their work up on boards that we shift round for each lesson (pro of four kids max at a time). We pop on art documentaries if they’re getting on and this year ‘Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow‘ about Anselm Keifer and some brilliant clips of Bernard Aubertin burning stuff willy-nilly have gone down a storm.

Many use the art room as a sanctuary (even staff if I’m honest). The art they produce really does reflect their state of mind. Kev’s bottomless art knowledge means we can art201502always chuck ideas at the boys to get them thinking and we can cater for different characters – the one that likes repetition and filling an IWB size piece of paper with thick, bold shapes; the one who likes detail and shuts himself in his own zone; the one obsessed with technology that distracts everyone in the room by never shutting up. We try to find something that fits. Last year the moderator seemed impressed at the massive scale of work produced and we really let them go for it this year (regretted it slightly when it came to displaying it all in our tiny room though).

Featured artists this year included Richard Serra, Tony Cragg, Basquiat, Rachel Whiteread, Kurt Schwitters, Mira Schendel, Gunther Uecker, Anselm Kiefer, David Nash, art201501Jean Tinguley, Arman, Bridget Reiley and even Eric Carle. There’s loads more but I can’t remember them all just now. Before we broke up we trawled the used books on Amazon and bought a load for the art room. There’s some brilliant stuff there. Kev’s well into the Zero art movement at the moment so I expect we’ll get more things like Uecker and Arman next year.

Kev and I have developed a way of working that really works. From the set up of the room to the way we mark. This year we’ve put together an assessment scheme for KS3 using our GCSE mark scheme that aims to get the pupils working on mini projects and hopefully KS4 ready. I’ll have to ask at some point if I can share what art201504we’ve done with the internet.

The argument for the place of creative subjects in the curriculum is played out regularly. I’m not going to bang on about it now. I do know that art has an important place in our school. Pupils who struggle to get a grade in core subjects are thriving in art and we will fight at every turn to give each of our pupils this opportunity. We’ve got a Richard Serra quote on the wall (heads up inspirational quote fans) ‘Work comes out of work’. All the kids know it, all the kids use it, and if you at any point decide to come and visit us, the chances are you’ll leave the room knowing it too.


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