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.

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.

Journal Club TSA Style

TSA JC 01(image via @Mrs_Rob_says)

I’ve recently become involved in our Teaching Schools Alliance’s Evidence Based Teaching group and last week I lead our first TSA journal club (orgainised brilliantly by Nicky Bridges).

A bit swankier than my portakabin at school, we met at the University of Nottingham in a thousand degree heat in the middle of what is essentially a greenhouse. Pictures of us looking mighty studious exist but we’re all a touch pink and frizzy so feel free to look past that. There were about ten of us from all across the TSA – secondary, primary and special schools all represented. Sustenance came in the form of cake (I know this is an important factor to JC followers).

We decided to look at two papers – something I’ve not tried in a journal club before. Aware that we would have people from a variety of settings we went with the loose theme of ‘Assessment’ as we felt it was topical and would be relevant to all of us. The two we picked were:

After a brief introduction into the whats and whys of journal clubs, we started with the Birbili and Tzioga, Greek context paper. Interestingly, quite a few people said they had found this, more typical research paper, easier to read than the second article from an online magazine.  I know the ‘look’ of a journal paper can be intimidating so it bodes well for the future that everyone could get into this.

Unlike my school JCs and the researchED  one back in March, I think we used the papers as a starting point for our conversation more than have a deep analysis of the studies. I suspect as we have more meetings we’ll get into the analysing side a bit more, but as an environment for a group of professionals sharing their experiences, the format worked well as a way of talking round a topic.

I started the session by reading a summary of the first paper and we had a general discussion. The parental observation and assessment outlined in the paper is described as new to the Greek context and certainly as a group we highlighted that the participating teachers had seen the process more as a way to gather information about their pupils than about cooperation with parents. Although the study was conducted in an EYFS setting and there was an element of ‘easy to observe’, we thought the methods could be adapted well to some areas of further education. We thought that parents may feel once their child is in school that there isn’t as much of a role for them and PHSE was suggested as an area where the questionnaires/diary may be useful as a way to involve parents in observing how their child develops.

A lot of our discussion was around the importance of getting parents involved in school and how we could go about it. We talked about how we can level the playing field and empower parents. We recognised that parental engagement is key to narrowing disadvantage but were aware of the barriers that exist for some of our parents. Many of the parents we want to engage with have themselves had poor educational experiences and are reluctant to engage with teachers as a whole, based on this past experience.

We discussed involving parents with SATs set up – even inviting parents to complete a paper. As many parents struggle with academic elements it was suggested that it is important to make use of parental expertise in different areas; one school has recently found out a parent is able to make costumes for instance. A few schools organise events such as family activity days or ‘bring a parent/grandparent to school’ morning. Ideas ranged from stickers and certificates for parents, to teaching parents a skill and then getting them to teach their child.

We felt it is easy to make cultural assumptions based on our own experiences and we need to be mindful of our pupil and parent backgrounds, however, we also thought we should perhaps raise our expectations of parents and not decide something isn’t worth trying on the basis we don’t think parents will take part.

We didn’t spend as much time on the second article, ‘Assessment and the Learning Brain: What the Research Tells Us’ (Hardiman and Whitman, 2014), and our conversation started with the limitations of the text (examples given were in the setting of one of the authors, is it a plug for their ‘Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning’, is creating a collage evidence of a mastery mindset or do students pick it because they like picking out fancy fonts more?).

There were lots of elements that we did like too and we thought it was important that schools are familiar with developments in research about how the brain learns. Of course things like learning styles and Brain Gym (tick your researchED bingo cards) have made people (at least the people who will be trying to keep up to date with developments) wary of new information and this is probably a good thing. We felt there is an element of trying to get the balance right between teaching for the final/external assessment which we know will be presented in a fairly traditional manner, and adapting formative assessment in different ways.

The Hardiman and Whitman article had some interesting points about barriers to how information on how neuroscientific research is used. Often teachers and leaders have little understanding or it is only seen as relevant to struggling learners. This linked in with thinking about parental understanding of assessment and how we should be aware of the need to involve parents at every stage of a child’s education.

I think I’m safe to say that everyone at the journal club found it useful. We might not have ripped apart the readings as thoroughly as some would, but it was interesting to be able to compare different texts and use them as a prompt to discuss our settings. We’re going to hold another meeting next term and sticking with two papers. Topic suggestions are most welcome!

Reading to Survive


For the ‘Tried and Tested’ section of our latest Learning and Development Bulletin I’ve chosen Stephen Lockyer’s idea of marking popular songs in a SPaG lesson. Stephen was surprised to find the high use of non-standard grammar and punctuation in popular songs and had worked it into a SPaG activity for his pupils, highlighting and correcting the mistakes. I think this is a brilliant idea and a really adaptable lesson for all levels of our pupils. Along with several other things I’ve come across recently it’s made me think more about the idea of ‘reading to survive’.

Reading for pleasure is a wonderful thing and I’m delighted that this is given prominence in the curriculum. But before pupils read for pleasure, they need to be able to read to survive. That’s not to say we should differentiate between types of reading; for most children this blends together and we never notice the seam, for others there is a gaping chasm.

When Daniel Willingham tweeted a link to an article about how the majority of popular music has a third grade reading level, I thought it was quite apt having just written about Stephen’s idea. It’s not an academic study, it analyses the numbers and it’s a bit of fun, it sounds nice and shocking but I was interested in what ‘grade three’ meant in terms of reading ability. Grade 3 is 8-9 years and looking at the Hodder Oral Reading Test pack we use in school, a reading age of 8-9 reaches words like ‘cyanide, chivalrous, candidate, opaque’ and sentences like ‘The rock star was an inveterate self-publicist and opportunist of irresistible charisma.’ and ‘The apparatus is equipped with an ingenious configuration of micro-filters’. I know this is a crude way of looking it and I don’t know if American 8-9 year olds are expected to read the same words as ours, but to be honest that seems OK for pop songs to me.

On a tangent here, but with the recent Eurovision Song Contest, I’ve been very enthusiastic about all sorts of songs in different languages. We have a French teacher at our school this term (French national, not here to teach French). He is amused at the level of conversation I’ve generated about Eurovision and said some interesting things about French songs. He said that French music is all about the words and the tune is secondary to the lyrics. He told us that when his English was good enough to actually understand the words to his favourite songs he was disappointed that the words were rubbish and there wasn’t more to them. It would be interesting to see where French songs are on the grade/level scale.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about where our day-to-day language sits. Does it matter that the majority of song lyrics are at a grade 3 level? Most of our conversations are probably at a level that an 8-9 year old could understand. We have specialist pockets of information for given situations or subjects and pupils learn these – first in a context specific way and then hopefully transferable to wider areas. Of course we want them to have a wide and flexible vocabulary. Of course we want them to do much more than survive. But surviving’s a good place to start.

I know we’re a special school but I also know that our pupils are the lucky ones that got a Statement. For every one of ours, they left behind another handful in mainstream. These are the ones who will be ‘failing’ their KS2 SATs. If the scenarios that Bill Watkin recently put forward play out then there’s a high possibility that by focusing on the magic level 4 they get left behind without us thinking about why level 4 was chosen. At a basic level we need them to be able to access the curriculum and pass exams. A simplistic view but that’s pretty much what we want. Everything else grows around this and the more we can give them the better.

Reaching level 4 means they can survive. They can read instructions, fill out an application form, understand their pay slip. They will get some GCSEs and other qualifications* and get into college or an apprenticeship. They might not be headed for the heights of university, they have their own heights. That’s the reality. Not for all of them by a long shot, but a good few. Still. We can only individualise for so long. We know that they’ll sit the same exams as everyone else, do the same BTEC courses, follow the same GCSE syllabus. We have to ensure they can read, write and handle numbers well enough to survive, but also to get a certificate that says so. All whilst making sure we don’t squeeze out other subjects.

It makes great headlines to say X% of songs/school pupils have the reading age of an 8/9 year old. Well, the expected levels for 8/9 year olds mean they’re pretty good at reading. They’re in a position to build their skills and develop their preferences for different texts.  They can hold intelligent conversations and write normal, multi-million selling, song lyrics. Does it mean they’ve failed though if it takes them longer to get there? Are they less likely to achieve if we decide they’ve failed?

I’m not quite sure what my point is with all this as I’m bringing together several ideas that I’ve been thinking about. If the goal posts are shifted for GCSE content, of course the level required to be ‘secondary ready’ is going to shift as well. *Whether our ‘surviving’ students will continue to be able to succeed in this way, I don’t know. I’m not advocating a dumbing down of curriculum content or saying grade 3 or level 4 is good enough for a 16 year old. It’s clearly not good enough to only expect the minimum but what is good is having a realistic target for the minimum.

I don’t want anyone to read this and think for a second that I (and my school) don’t have high expectations for our pupils. We stretch them as far as we can and go out of our way to make sure they can access everything they should be able to. I just wonder if in the rush to be top of the tables the core reason of education for some of our pupils is pushed aside. At least according to the Hodder reading assessment, at an 8-9 year old reading level they should be able to read ‘ Vote for one candidate only’.

Easter Books


We were lucky enough to have some good reading-in-the-garden weather over Easter so I took advantage and finally got round to reading some of the books I was given for Christmas and Easter. I’ve got quite a few that I still need to read but I went for either ones that Howard wanted to read ASAP or ones that he isn’t likely to read at all – or at least likely to want to take away in the summer. As you can see, I was being observed as I sat there… Anyway, I’ve not written a post for a while so I thought I’d do another mini book review.

Book 1: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovich

This is the fifth book in the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovich. I wrote about the fourth a bit in my first booky post a couple of summers ago and whilst this one’s been out for a while, I’ve only just picked it up again after starting it and getting distracted. This is the one Howard wants to read ASAP so I read it first (he’s still not had time to start it though).foxglove

Whilst the first four books are set in and around London, this one takes a jaunt out to the countryside. There are of course nods to what’s happened so far in the story but equally it could be read as a stand-alone novel. As Peter Grant steps out of the city and gets away, the tension of the series is paused momentarily and I highly suspect it will prove to be the calm before the storm. There are a couple of characters we know, but if the books are ever filmed, this is the one where actors who have other jobs on or are on maternity leave can get away with being at the other end of the phone.

We get as many new questions as we get answers but I enjoyed the change of pace and once the hazy, magic filled summer is over and Peter goes back to London and the Folly, he’s probably going to be grateful for the get-away as I don’t think he’ll be getting another holiday for a while.

Book 2: The Critic by Peter May

I’ve loved the Peter May books I’ve read so far. A colleague recommended the Lewis Trilogy and I whipped through those. I’ve read the first of the Enzo Files and have some more stacked up. The Critic is the second of May’s books featuring Enzo McLeod, a Scottish forensic expert living in France. critic

Self-tasked with solving a series of cold cases, the second installment leaves Paris and heads into the countryside for a spot of wine making. If ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris made you crave cocoa, this one will make you perfectly happy to reach for the corkscrew. To be honest, I’m not a wine drinker, but I was taken in by the whole world of it all and was perfectly prepared to declare myself as a sommelier by the end of it. The character of Enzo fits most of the clichés about middle-aged detectives – the strained relationships, the drinking, the maverick persona, but it works and it’s different enough not to seem tired.

The Enzo Files aren’t a love letter to France in the way the Lewis series is to the Outer Hebrides, but the plot is strong and if you like a bit of murder then I recommend you give these a go. I’ve got the next one waiting for me already.

Book 3: The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

I missed Don and Rosie. I knew I would. Since reading The Rosie Project last summer I’d been waiting for the sequel to come out in paperback. Not so much because I’m a bit cheap, more that I had the first in paperback and it’ll look prettier on the bookshelf to have them the same. I decided to go for this one now as a break from the detective genre and for that purpose it was perfect. rosie effect

Set in New York, Don and Rosie are still around and mixing their life of science and cocktails (there is also some real ale in this one – much more me than wine). Don is just as logical, and his unique take on life is a welcome return. Whilst the first book had me giggling like a loon by the pool, this one had a touch more heartbreak. I’m trying not to spoil anything really, so I apologise for being a bit vague, but rather than laughing at the predictions I was making from Don’s oblivious actions, I was hoping that I wasn’t right. Don’t think I didn’t enjoy it, I really did, just don’t think it will be as carefree as the Rosie Project.

Hopefully this will still encourage people to read all these – or try earlier books in each series. I’m not sure what I’ve got to read next. Most of our books are in boxes as we construct some new shelving for them all so I suspect I’ll wait for a bit and then uncover hundreds more I’d forgotten about when we fill the new shelves!

Journal Clubs feat. Biscuits

rED slideWhen Ben Goldacre mentioned Journal Clubs in his keynote speech at researchED 2013, my husband Howard, who works for the NHS, became very enthusiastic about the opportunity for me to introduce something like that at my school. Journal Club became part of my pitch to become Research Lead and I’ve had a series of regular meetings that are gaining support.

After Sam Sims’ theory based presentation at the September national researchED conference, I wondered whether a more practical session would have a place. The December Leads Network day confirmed that it might and I realised that if I was going to make the suggestion, I’d better be prepared to do it myself. That is how I ended up running a Journal Club with a bunch of Research Leads and other interested parties at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

2015-03-14 13.19.09

Most of the session was given to the discussion of a paper as practical experience of taking part in a Journal Club.  I used my brief presentation to outline a few basics and how I run my club in school. Along with some additional points that came from talking with people afterwards, that’s what I’ll outline here. If you fancy looking at the presentation, it’s here – researchEd Journal Club

What is a Journal Club?

A journal club is essentially a book club for reading research. Widely used in medical settings, journal clubs form part of professional training and CPD for more senior members of staff. This is an informal and social way to discuss new research that may otherwise sit unread after publication, keeps practitioners up to date and acts as an opportunity to develop critical analysis skills.

Why start a Journal Club?

A significant theme at the December Leads’ Network was about how we can familiarise staff in school with research. I think journal clubs are a great way to start engaging with research, facilitate evidence based practice and get people used to how it all looks in its raw form. It may not be that everyone has the time to hunt down research papers, but having the chance to develop skills that mean they have the choice can be valuable. This is especially the case where staff have studied subjects where research in this format isn’t touched.

Journal clubs are a way for staff to keep up to date, improve morale and network in ways they might not during a normal school day. In addition to this, you don’t need to have a large number of people to start off, so unlike some other routes into research engagement, you can adapt your club to meet the needs of your members and timetable.

Who is Journal Club for?

I’m a firm believer that journal clubs are for staff at all levels and across the whole school. I have members from leadership to TA and everyone contributes to our meetings. I’m lucky enough that our school is small enough that if they wanted, we could probably accommodate everyone if they chose to come, but I realise that this isn’t necessarily practical for everyone. I think there’s the opportunity for clubs in a range of settings –  key stage, department, around a particular school focus, within a group of schools (federation/ teaching school alliance etc.), and I also suggested that it might be useful as part of the ‘expert input’ element of Lesson Study.

If you’re more confident in working with research, Dr Gary Jones (@DrGaryJones) has written more information about critical analysis and evidence based practice in a series of blog posts, including introducing journal clubs. To be honest, the way we run journal club is very similar to some INSET activities I’ve taken part in; given some information and asked to evaluate its worth and whether we could apply it in school. Those were attended by all staff, journal club can be too!

How to run a Journal Club

Space and time is something to think about, and not just in a Timelord way. Finding somewhere with room for everyone and not picking a Monday or Friday afternoon is my advice. In my experience, illness, unexpected meetings, detentions, will all get in the way at some point and you just have to keep going. I’ve seen varying advice about how often to hold a meeting. I’m trying to go for one a month at the moment. Some have been closer together than others, but I think if you could only manage one a half term, that would be great. Definitions of a successful journal club being 50% of staff, weekly for more than two years are perhaps a bit ambitious, but go for it if you want!

There are various ways you can find something to read in your club. I’ll write about access in more detail further down, but one of the joys of journal club is that you can go for anything. I have so far gone with a variety of different topics in our’s. We all work across a 7-16 school and work with a primary model (one teacher to a class for most subjects). This means we can look at maths, behaviour, literacy, PE and keep everyone interested. You may want to select a theme to build a knowledge base, or fit a department. It’s completely up to you.

A crucial rule for our journal club meetings is that they are NOT a policy meeting. If we think something we’re looking at is worth trying out, we need a separate meeting for that. This means we keep to the task of analysing the text and don’t get bogged down in the details of how we’ll get it going in school before we’ve even decided if the evidence is strong enough.

You need to have a designated leader or facilitator for your club. Someone to keep up the enthusiasm, send out reminders, provide access to the chosen paper, write a summary of the paper (bit more detail than the abstract), and keep your discussion on track. This is also the person who needs to provide the biscuits. You will learn to appreciate the importance of the biscuits.

fingersStructure of a meeting

  • Biscuits (I have actual evidence for this).
  • Read out summary of paper to familiarise everyone with key points.
  • Discuss and analyse paper – use guide questions to keep on track.
  • Pick next paper (I tend to choose two abstracts and print them on different coloured paper for easy reference).
  • Disseminate notes (I type up our notes and whack them on the shared drive).

Things that might go wrong

  • People think it’ll be too hard
  • No one reads the paper
  • No one turns up
  • Too many people turn up
  • No one wants to go home
  • You forget the biscuits

The only one I’ve not had is the bit about too many people. The important thing is that it really can be for everyone and keep plugging away. There is always the Co-Op for emergency biscuits.

Access to Research

Types of research

  • Academic papers
  • Blog posts
  • researchEd briefings
  • Self published

The joy of journal clubs is that you can use anything you like. If you were conducting a formal literature review then you’d have to worry about things like bias etc. With a journal club, this actually gives you something to discuss. Briefings and blog posts are a great place to start, but a quick warning, they tend to be written in a more balanced way so they might not be as easy to argue for/against.

Where to find it

  • Open access – will stay available
  • Free access – available as part of a promotion probably, limited time
  • Subscription/ Membership – often a cheaper way of subscribing to a single journal

There are lots of ways to find things to read for free (links below). Increasing amounts of research funded by the Research Councils UK is being made available as open access. There is a timetable for this to reach 100% eventually. Education Arena‘s promotions are a wonder for Journal Club so have a look there.


researchEd Journal Club

Effects of an emotional literacy intervention for students identified with bullying behaviour. (Knowler & Frederickson, 2013)

I picked this as an Open Access paper that people could look at in advance. It covered a topic that was fairly wide-reaching, had a few statistics but was suitable for all levels and was hopefully a relevant place to start.

  • Pre-read paper
  • Read out summary – rED summary
  • Discuss using sheet to guide/ questions on screen – rED record sheet
  • Decide on ‘next’ article
  • Feedback
  • Biscuits

Things to think about

  • What type of literature?
  • What are the hypotheses based on?
  • What is being claimed?
  • Are the claims supported?
  • Agree/Disagree
  • Contradictions/ Competing hypotheses
  • Ethical issues/ bias
  • Relevance to own setting
  • Further research/ changes

It seemed like the people who attended got something out of the practical experience and had lunch not been on the horizon I think the discussions could’ve carried on for longer. There were some interesting comments around peer-nomination and the ethics of labeling pupils as bullies, and I know there was much more mentioned than this! Perhaps there is room on the researchED forum for something journal clubby? I enjoyed putting myself out of my comfort zone for a bit and would love to do it again, so who knows, maybe I will.


The basic concept of journal clubs is fairly straight forward – read paper; discuss. There is a wealth of research on journal clubs in medical settings and some of the ones I’ve looked at are here. Most importantly, of course, evidence in favour of biscuits.

Alguire, PC (1998) ‘A review of journal clubs in postgraduate medical education.’ Journal of General Internal Medicine 13(5), 347-53

Denehy, J. (2004) ‘Starting a Journal Club’ The Journal of School Nursing 20(4), 187-188

Golde, C. M. (2007) Signature Pedagogies in Doctoral Education: Are They Adaptable for the Preparation of Education Researchers? Educational Researcher 36(6), 344-351

Linzer, M. (1987) ‘The journal club and medical education: over one hundred years of unrecorded history’ Postgraduate Medical Journal 63, 475-478

Mazuryk M, Daeninck P, Neumann CM and Bruera E (2002) ‘Daily journal club: an education tool in palliative care.’ Palliative Medicine 16(1), 57-61


Sidorov, J. (1995) ‘How are internal medicine residency journal clubs organized, and what makes them successful?’ Archives of Internal Medicine. 155(11), 1193-1197


Blind Dating Books – Staff Style

I wrote about the Blind Date With A Book day I organised at school last year, and briefly that we also did the same for staff. Over the past year I have read several books from the staff list – some of which I would have chosen to or were already on my pile waiting to be read, and some that I don’t think I would’ve gone near. No point in telling the kids to broaden their reading horizons if we don’t give it a go ourselves eh?!

The basic set up for this was everyone suggesting a book and everyone picking one blindly. We’ve created a small library in the staffroom and we’ve continued to exchange and read them. I’m not sure how many people take part now, but there’s an obvious coming and going of books so I know it’s not just me.

The full list is here in glorious pdf form.

These are ones I’d already read and I would recommend them all if you fancy giving them a go:

  • The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson
  • Kill Your Friends by John Niven
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon
  • Foreskin’s Lament by Shalom Auslander
  • Faceless Killers: An Inspector Wallander Mystery by Henning Mankell
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  • Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
  • Stuart A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters

I suggested a couple of the books on the list as some staff couldn’t think of one. I’ve mentioned The Rivers of London series in previous posts. We like those. Foreskin’s Lament is one I read as part of the Jonathan Ross twitter book club years ago, which I enjoyed at the time and have lent to people as something they might not pick up normally and thought it was a good addition to the staff list.

The one that was my first choice suggestion was Stuart – A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters. This was lent to me by the DT teacher at work about 5 years ago. They weren’t a big reader but they’d seen half of the film by accident on tv and been so taken by the story that they bought the book. He came up to me one day and asked if I’d like to borrow it because he thought I’d like it and he really wasn’t wrong. Please, please give this one a go. Don’t judge it by the cover. The new cover looks like one of those ‘Why did you leave me Mummy’ books that run in swathes down supermarket book aisles, and whilst we’re not in the zone of judging here, I know you will and Stuart really isn’t a book like this. Really. It is a biography. It, as the title would suggest, tells Stuart’s story backwards, starting with his death and working back to his childhood. You could read Wikipedia and get the whole story, but I think it’s worth reading it and letting the story unfold. Whether it’s because Stuart reminds me of quite a few of the boys I work with, or whether it’s because of the way I came across it, I love this book and I want other people to love it too.

Books I have read from the list since 14th February 2014:

  • Perfume by Patrick Suskind
  • Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
  • Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver*
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  • The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
  • The Blackhouse by Peter May
  • Bitten by Kelley Armstrong*
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • Headhunters by Jo Nesbo

When it came to picking my book I chose ‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes. Now this is something I would never pick up to read. I would very much judge by the cover and this one is pink and frilly to sit beautifully in the chic-lit section and be ignored by cover-judging people like me. I read it in 24 hours. Not at all the story I expected. I fell for the characters, I didn’t want it to end, I happily recommend it. Ok. So I still don’t think I would head to the pink frilly section but I’m willing to give a recommendation a shot.

I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of the ones I’ve gone for so far* but the two I’ve really loved have been Perfume and The Blackhouse. Perfume’s been on my to-read list since I read Daniel Pennac’s ‘The Rights of The Reader’. It was great. Read that one if you haven’t. The Blackhouse was recommended by our Deputy Head. Part of a trilogy and set on the Isle of Lewis it starts with a murder and the return of an islander tasked with solving it. The book isn’t so much about solving the crime, but that the crime is the catalyst for a return to the island and reconnecting with the past. It’s brilliant. I’ve read the whole trilogy and other Peter May books since. If you don’t at least fall in love with the landscape then I don’t know what else I could suggest.

*I really tried to give these a good bash but couldn’t for the life of me get into them so I gave up (which of course is my right as a reader).

Blind dating books has turned out to be fun and has introduced me to some books I might not have chosen and hopefully done the same for some other staff too. I’ll keep ploughing through the list as they work their way back to the library and see what I can find. I heartily recommend having a go yourself. Next time you’re in a book shop or supermarket, go to the book charts and pick a book. Use the day of the month, your age, shoe size, whatever you like. Pick something up and give it a go.


Blind Date With A Book


I’ve mentioned the Blind Date With A Book event at our school a few times but I’ve put off writing about it until now because I thought if anyone was tempted to have a go themselves, it was silly to be thinking about it too far away from the sort of time you’d want to be organising it. Anyway, it’s about a year since I started planning ours properly so now’s probably the time for other people to start.

Quick background first. We were in the fortunate position that Ofsted told us we’d got too much money left in our budget and needed to get some spent (I appreciate the money aspect might be the sticking point for most people but you can still do it in some ways). Staff were asked to put in bids for specific items and having recently seen some images of Blind Date With A Book events and wondering if we could do something similar at school, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give each of the boys a book to take home. So I typed up a very official looking bid and was told to go for it.

The premise of Blind Date With A Book is that people get to pick a book without knowing what it is and get the chance to read something they might not normally go for (generally speaking I’m a believer in judging a book by its cover but I understand that we’re not supposed to do that). I’ve seen pictures of schools, bookshops and libraries going about it in a variety of ways – plain wrapping, fancy wrapping, brief descriptions on the front, clues to the book, only the scannable barcode revealed, small and big displays – all around Valentine’s Day*. I’d originally thought about just wrapping up some books in the library, but given the sudden injection of a bit of cash I went for buying an awful lot of books instead. *I also saw a Halloween one with a whole ‘Dare To Read’ theme.


I knew that I’d need more books than boys – they’d need something to choose from. I knew I’d need a wide variety of levels of book – we’ve got pupils from 7-16 and within that, reading ages that stretch in every direction. I wasn’t too concerned with excess books as everything left over has gone in the library or classrooms, but other than that I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to work out.

I started by being completely indulgent and buying books I thought they might enjoy; books I like and recommendations from colleagues and best-seller lists. Then I moved on to bulk buying and making up the numbers like a loon. I got quite a lot of books from Scholastic. They have a good selection of all sorts – you can filter by price and age quite nicely plus there’s the bonus of earning money to spend on books for school as you’re buying. I managed to get quite a lot this way, including lots of free ones. Quite a few of our pupils are into things like Robert Muchamore’s CHERUB series and Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books. I love these books and I’m perfectly happy that if they’re reading anything, they’re reading and this is a good thing. I did include some of these books in my haul, but I also took the opportunity to introduce things like The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, some Terry Pratchett and a bit of George Orwell.

This was about getting them to read something new, but also about getting them to actually give it a go. The most difficult books to get were ones for the kids with a much higher chronological age than reading age. They need books pitched at their interests but often they’re completely beyond them reading-wise. Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature is good for helping to gauge the words, and I found some books published by Dorling Kindersley that have proved quite successful. The DK Readers books have levels (some more subtly than others) from ‘Beginning to read’ to ‘Reading alone’ and include a variety of non-fiction and brands like Lego, Star Wars and Angry Birds. One of our Year 7s with a reading age of about 5y 6m has really taken to these books now so at least something good has come from it all!

In our Key Stage Two group we have one pupil who is working at very low levels. During our whole-school 10 minutes of reading after lunch, he reads picture books with his TA. I decided that a picture book was the best option for this pupil so I got a handful and fell in love with all of them. These were my favourites:

Eleanor’s Eyebrows    The Great Dog Bottom Swap

two books

I have genuinely dragged people into Waterstones to show them how brilliant they are.

So. I had boxes of books suitable for 7-16 year olds with reading ages of ‘not’ to ‘adult’. I had the morning of Valentine’s Day to fill and I needed a logical way for 50+ boys to pick something that was at least pitched at roughly the right level.

I decided the best way to make sure they got a suitable book was to divide both the pupils (within Key Stages) and books into similar level groups and get the pupils to select books from the right group. I needed to do this in a way that wouldn’t embarrass the lower level readers and make them stand out so I decided to stick with the ‘Blind Date’ theme and get the whole school to fill in an online dating questionnaire. I didn’t sign them up to anything dodgy, I created my own simple WordPress questionnaire. I didn’t need to know what the actual results were, I’d already grouped them, but I was able to give each class a list of the pupils’ ‘results’ with which corresponded to the colour of heart I’d stuck to the front of the wrapped books. The kids happily thought their result was down to their choice of car or ice cream and none of them were singled out as low readers.

table 02

Valentine’s Day was upon us and our very enthusiastic Deputy Head decided that was needed to start the day off was a whole-school assembly, in which we would explain what was happening and also the concept of ‘Blind Date’ the TV show to the pupils. This turned into members of staff acting out a game of Blind Date as book characters and Sherlock Holmes going on a date with Miss Dixon (she turned down the Wicked Queen from Snow White and The Gruffalo). Throughout the morning each class took it in turns to visit the (beautifully decorated) library and each child picked their book. I think most of them were happy with what they’d picked. I had a couple of subtle swaps as children were upset with their choice – I wasn’t going to swap everyone’s but I did want it to be a nice event rather than a miserable one, and they asked nicely. I’m not sure if any of them did get their ‘Dream Date’, but I know at least some of them have been read and now if they’re asked by one of those national surveys if they own any books, at least they can all say yes…

I know something like this isn’t going to be possible for everyone. We’ve got a manageable number of pupils and I had the money to do it. I do think it would be something more schools could introduce to their libraries or for individual classes/ year group to do perhaps. I left it up to class teachers as to whether they followed it up with book reviews or class blogging and gave them some rewiew pro-formas, but as we broke up for half term that day, I think they all left it there. It was a lot of fun to do with the boys, especially as it fell as an end-of-half-term event and we did our own version as a staff team. My reading of 2014 was swamped with those books, but I’ll leave that one for another post.



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