I’m going to say it. rED17 was the best one yet. There have been researchED conferences that rival of course, and the light-up pens have reached legendary status, but the atmosphere at this one was something different. Whether it was the venue, Chobham Academy, with its circular building that forced delegates to cross paths and talk as they found their next session, or whether on a more personal level I felt like I knew more people there, there was a buzz I’ve not sensed in the same way before.
Despite recent naysaying (and outright attacks) around researchED there appeared to be lots of people who put their hand up to say it was their first time so the great conspiracy doesn’t seem to have put them off. A noticeable feature was the conversations going on. In previous years dining room chatter was filled with overhearing people talk about the speakers they’d seen, in awe at who they were, and this year people seemed to be discussing the session and the ideas. Instead of the queue in the loos being all “I saw X, I love him. I’ve read all his books.” there was a definite vibe of “I went to see X talk about Y. That really fits in with what we’re trying to do with year 9”.
That’s not to say there weren’t ‘big hitters’ – 2017 attracted speakers such as Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb and Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman; but I wonder if one of the achievements, and I really mean achievements, of researchED over the past few years is to make it normal to see and hear these people in person and it’s taken away some of that awe – allowing the debate to take hold. Nick Gibb tried (I think. I’ll be generous for a moment) to stick up for researchED and its contributors by talking about those academics who hadn’t engaged as being stuck in their ‘ivory towers’. I have to say, I think a considerable amount of ivory-tower-placing comes from us, not them, and the more we do engage and interact the further down the tower they come. It works both ways.
I did go and see Nick Gibb’s session. To be honest I wasn’t impressed. I wasn’t outraged either though and used it as a good opportunity to catch up on Twitter. I can be a crazy note-taker during these things but my word-for-word notes from this one read:
- Telling us about rED
- Embrace challenge and debate
- Answering the h8ters
- Ebacc, reading
- Reporting G4+
Tell me what’s new with that? The most impassioned bit was the first bit and that was pretty much reading Tom’s blog out loud (we’re at rED, and whether we agree or not, we’ve probably read Tom’s blog haven’t we?). The Schools Week article made it all sound punchy – you can view it here and decide for yourself.
So. To the good stuff!
My second session was Sam Sims with Katie Magee and Dhana Gorasia talking about Journal Clubs. Now, I do like a journal club and this was brilliant to go to as it was Sam’s 2014 session that boosted my explorations into journal clubs to what I’m doing now. The session explored a pilot study of journal clubs as a way to break behavioural habits around teaching and the theory behind this. The second half featured examples of how it had worked at Canons High School. I always make a point to stress that journal clubs aren’t a policy meeting and to avoid getting bogged down in how one paper could be used in school; Katie and Dhana showed how the two can work together with requests for papers on specific strategies and discussions that lead to implementation in practice. I liked the advice that journal clubs can be used to spot positive strategies and behaviours that are already happening in schools and enable these to be shared more widely. There seems to be a few exciting journal clubby things on the horizon, particularly with the Chartered College of Teaching, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens and getting involved where I can.
Session 3 found me in the Britney-infused sardine can* that was David Weston’s session on Toxic schools. David explored how the school environment impacts on outcomes, looking a lot of things that Kev Bartle had talked about in York last summer. Coming from a school that has historically had a small number of staff with close relationships that is now expanding hugely, I’ve thought about this idea of trust and leadership a lot recently as the dynamics are being forced to shift. David took us through various biases to recognise and avoid (aided by occasional Britney) with some pointers to take back. His presentation’s here if you fancy it and I’m looking forward to any follow up sessions involving late nineties/early noughties classics with a dance routine.
It was me after lunch – good turn out, Journal Club info here – www.edujournalclub.com
I always find that once my own session is done I can sort of float through the rest of the day without the weight of it (literally, lugging biscuits is HARD) but it does make my notes a bit more relaxed. I went to see Martin Robinson give a warning about Growth Mindset. It does concern me that this is a bit of a bandwagon that looks fancy and evidence informed so it was good to pick up some ammunition for the time it descends on us here (and Martin was lovely, obvs). I went to an Institute of Ideas conversation about Mental Health in schools that was interesting. I agree with points that if we are over-cautious we risk medicalising ‘normal’ responses from pupils and found this idea that we have a ‘cultural script of fragility’ hit a point too. However I’m in a school where our pupils have (by definition) a range of mental health issues and I can see the problems of under-diagnosis and lack of intervention too. A teacher’s job is to teach but they’re with us a considerable amount of time – quite often the only stable time they have, and we have a role in safeguarding them too.
As has become normal at these things one of the best sessions was hosted by a local boozer (and a proper boozer it was too) where I had some great conversations with lovely people. Some about education, some about shoes, some about the Midsomer Murders Tour… I’ve stepped in to defend researchED a couple of times recently and I think we all know there are people who aren’t going to be swayed either way. It was, as always, a diverse day with rushing round behind the scenes that looked ripple-free from the outside. The familiar company was great, the new faces were also great, and I was left feeling overwhelmingly positive (even after the karaoke) about all the opportunities we have to do great things. If people choose not to engage with researchED then I really hope they find something they do like because it’s a shame to miss out.
I’ll be honest, I could’ve done more reading this summer but sometimes I just watched telly instead. I did however read some gudduns, particularly following my call for suggestions and I’ve still got a couple from that list that I’ve not got to yet. Last year I included my books from the Easter holidays in my summer reviews but I won’t get into the habit of that so I’ll just say that I read Sue Perkins’ ‘Spectacles’ and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Norse Mythology’ on holiday in April and both are worth your attention.
So. My readings…
Book 1: Cast Iron by Peter May
May’s books appear frequently in my run-throughs of summer reading and Enzo has had his place. This is the last in the series of six books featuring forensic expert Enzo Macleod and his challenge to solve seven of France’s unsolved murders. It’s been a while since the last book (and I waited for the paperback so they matched on my shelves) but worth the wait and some good plot devices to bring in characters from previous quests.
I was going to read this regardless of quality obviously but it didn’t disappoint at all and rounded off the series most satisfactorily. I think there were initially seven books planned (from memories of looking at May’s website) so I don’t know how the intended plot changed but it didn’t seem rushed together. All the main characters are there – from the people to the locations and if you’ve read the others it’s worth finishing them off.
Book 2: A Rage In Harlem by Chester Himes
This was an author suggested by James Theobald. Oh my goodness. I loved this so much I can hardly describe it but I immediately bought another one which is below. They’re set in 1950s Harlem and described on one of the covers as ‘mayhem yarns’ which I never knew was a genre but describes it perfectly.
The book is set on the streets of Harlem and this is the first of Himes’ novels to feature detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones – although it’s more of an introduction to them in this one. It’s a fast paced tale of a simpleton who gets swept up in all sorts of criminal activity with farcical slapstick that slams into grizzly reality at every turn. The language is so sublime that you almost don’t notice it – nothing is held back and it somehow comes across as both a throwaway caper and a raw snapshot of life.
From the con man dressed as a nun to the slashing of throats and a hearse chasing through the streets there is nothing to disappoint.
Book 3: Silent Scream by Angela Marsons
The body count mounts quickly and there are enough twists and red herrings to satisfy without them seeming too obviously placed or clichéd. Having said that I don’t know whether I’ll rush to read another one. There were bits that seemed a little clunky (sometimes I wonder if detective books are being written with TV adaptations in mind) and the parallels between the case and Stone’s history were a bit much at times – having said I won’t rush into the next one it’ll be interesting to see how she develops when the case isn’t as close to home.
If you’re looking for a new detective then give this a go and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I was probably still mourning Enzo a bit.
Book 4: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
I read ‘Case Histories’ quite a while ago and this is the second of Atkinson’s books featuring detective Jackson Brodie. I’d enjoyed the first and Twitter reminded me I’d not read any more so I was looking forward to it. My mistake was to have a break of 48 hours between starting it and picking it up again half way through. There are so many characters and interwoven storylines that I struggled to keep up with everything when they crossed over.
The novel is set in Edinburgh during the festival and the feel of this was spot on. I think every aspect of the criminal world is covered somewhere is this with most of the characters having a hand in another’s business but there was just a bit too much crammed in for me I think. One of the characters is a writer who imagines writing a book like a matryoshka doll with layers fitting together and this is clearly the concept for this one. I just think I’d prefer a 5-doll set to the 15.
I did like it and I don’t think I’ll wait as long before reading the next in the series (there are four I think), but I’ve got to go back to Harlem first…
Book 5: The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes
I saved this one for after the others rather than getting to it too quickly. I think I slightly prefered this to Rage In Harlem as it kept all the features but had a more flowing plotline and featured more of the detectives. It would stand on its own but there are threads that follow on so definitely read the first.
This one gets in quickly with a bar fight that is both brutal and hilarious in its farce. There’s a chase, a kidnapping, a fart scene. The language is on point once more and I wish I’d made a note of some of the descriptions and off the cuff remarks but I wasn’t going to break my flow. It’s described on the cover as ‘Hieronymus Bosch meets Miles Davis’ and I think that says it all.
I can’t believe I’d never heard of these before and at around 200 pages they’re perfect for polishing off in a day. I still can’t quite describe what they’re like so I’ll just end up sounding like a gushing thesaurus and there’s no use in that so I shall just ask that you give them a go whilst I buy some more.
Links to books are (almost all) The Guardian Bookshop again because of tax and monopolies etc.
I’m not too enthusiastic about ‘teachers doing research’; I am more enthusiastic about the opportunities for schools to take part in larger, more formal research trials and partnerships with higher education. My position set out, I think that what school staff can do is question things.
The staggered start to the new academic year for schools has caused my timeline to be peppered with INSET tweets throughout the week. A few have caught my eye and one particularly seemed to connect with last night’s #UKEdResChat which asked “Are we in a research bubble? Is so how can we pop it?”. The tweet’s from a locked account so I won’t embed it but it read:
“Really pleased how positively staff took on board our drive to embed a #GrowthMindset across school! #ThePowerOfYet”
This tweet was from a primary school colleague in our TSA Innovation Hub – a follow on from the Evidence Based Teaching Group we had, and shows engagement and dissemination of research we have touched on within the group and whilst it’s not bursting the bubble it is perhaps stretching it a bit.
It strikes me though that if research informed staff, including research leads, are striving to build research literacy in schools, is the ultimate goal not to have everyone on board, but to have them questioning? I appreciate that this single tweet doesn’t have a lot of information in it and there may have been a discussion around the approach – it’s just 140 characters. However, if we are to break out of the cycle of the same people driving the research-informed agenda in the same schools I think we need to be looking to encourage the critical eye rather than introducing top-down initiatives. It’s almost a cliché.
Taking the example of Growth Mindset, I know from my own reading that there has been a lot of debate around implementation in the classroom and my basic understanding is that it’s questionable as to whether there’s an impact and to be implemented properly staff need formal training. I don’t know how this school is approaching it (hopefully it’ll crop up at our next Innovation Hub meeting) and I feel uncomfortable using them as an example when I don’t know any detail about their method so putting that to one side, I think introducing something like this is an opportunity for the type of enquiry that should be encouraged in schools.
Questioning things isn’t the same as resisting change but about exploring initiatives and measuring the impact. Introducing school-wide initiatives should involve reading around the subject both for those driving the programme and those who are taking it on. When new ideas are put to staff it should be a positive thing to be met with questions and leaders should be able to answer those questions – either having read around the topic and predicted them, or by offering the opportunity for staff to answer the questions within an implementation and review process. We don’t need to be doing big research projects but at least exploring evidence for and against and looking for change if you do do it. And leaders shouldn’t be afraid to say that something hasn’t worked.
We need the rhetoric to move from ‘we’re going to do this’ to ‘we’re going to find out if this can work for us’. Doing with, not to. This isn’t something that should threaten leaders but that they should embrace. It can be difficult to accept if you have spent a lot of time in preparation but when changes are met with constructive questions that are taken on board and incorporated into the way we work, I think it will be an indication that the research bubble is at least expanding and we are truly embedding research in everyday practice.