Author Archives: impressionthatiget

Our first art adventure since February was a trip to Tate Liverpool and their ‘Constellations’ exhibition is AMAZING.

The series presents works by how they relate to each other rather than by individual artist, movement or chronologically. Each ‘constellation’ has a central piece of art that acts as a ‘trigger’; connecting the themes and relationships between other pieces. Alongside each constellation is a word cloud showing a visual representation of the common themes across the series of pieces.

In some ways this reminded me of the Glenn Ligon exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary a few years ago which showed Ligon’s work alongside the pieces that had inspired his art. It offered a fresh perspective and opportunity to see a broader range of work, bringing to life the artists’ process rather than reducing it to a step-by-step/do it for the next grade ‘formula’.

One of the most challenging things I find teaching GCSE art is supporting pupils to make links between ideas, artist and artworks and in many ways I think these skills are central to the whole qualification. I want to see if I can use the idea of ‘constellations’ to explore different ways of creating topics and allow pupils to articulate connections between work – making connections less obvious and yet more tangible.

With this in mind, I’ve created my own constellation using Rachel Whiteread’s ‘Ghost’ as a trigger for what I think has turned into an exploration of ‘memory’. Feel free to let me know what you think and how your own constellations might look.

Rachel Whiteread – Ghost 1990

I chose this for my trigger as Whiteread’s work provokes quite an emotional response from me. The piece is a cast of the interior of a room. It is not a representation of the room, it is the essence of the room. Everything that was the room, everything that happened there, the memories of the room, are contained, captured, the space of the room is frozen in time. Whiteread has described it as causing ‘the viewer to become the wall’ and I find this fascinating. It makes me consider whether a room is the walls and features, or is it about what goes on within the space? Is the ‘Ghost’ that of the room or is it the viewer, removed from the memory of the space?

Pompeii casts

The haunting casts of the negative space left by a physical form of the bodies that perished during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. As Whiteread has created a room that renders the viewer as part of that room, the ash surrounding the bodies bore witness to the creation of a space that has now been revealed.

Antony Gormley – Concrete Works: Sense 1990-93

The casts in Pompeii were taken from the negative space left from decayed bodies and Gormley creates the negative space of a crouched body within a cube. It is a representation of the space the body takes up; the viewer sees indications of the void within.

Herculaneum restoration

The town of Herculaneum was destroyed during the same eruption of Mount Vesuvius that saw for Pompeii however many of the organic materials in Herculaneum have been preserved including wooden beams, doors and window frames. The burnt timbers capture a moment in time. They appear timeless in their place and have been preserved in their position with wire and through conservation.

Mona Hatoum – Remains of the Day 2016−18

Everyday objects have been covered with chicken wire before they have been burned. The resulting pieces are reminiscent of sudden events such as the eruption of Vesuvius or an atomic blast, leaving behind common, domestic artefacts as they stood in one moment. The wire prevents the charred remains from disintegrating, however unlike the beams of Herculaneum they have been preserved before they have been burned. Elements that would have fallen and been discarded are trapped in their positions; a trapped memory, shadows of their previous form and are perhaps more akin to the negative forms left in the ash at Pompeii.

David Nash – Pyramid, Sphere, Cube 1997-98

These connect to Hatoum’s work through their materials but also their representation of space, movement and matter – continuing the thread of time and memory through the constellation. The burning of the wood transforms a solid object into something more fragile, questionning its permanence. These shapes appear frequently across David Nash’s work and I find we use them a lot in school projects. On a basic level the simplicity gives pupils something relatable and achievable to base their work on, but there’s something deeper to dig into and that’s why I’ve chosen them as part of my constellation. Nash talks about how we have a physical relationship with three-dimensional objects – we know the scale, can relate ourselves to the objects, and with two-dimensional pieces we have a mental relationship as we fill in the gaps and connect with our interpretation.  Moments in time will evoke different reactions for different people and this collection of six pieces combines these physical and mental responses.

Lynda Benglis – Quartered Meteor 1969, cast 1975

Whilst the ‘Pompeii’ arm of the constellation has a theme of negative space, this arm has more of a focus on creating art using the form of a space. This piece was originally created by pouring foam into the corner of a gallery before it was cast in lead. In Tate Liverpool’s exhibition this is used as a trigger for a constellation that explores materials however what struck me was the form of a piece that has captured the space in which it was created – the walls and floor of the original gallery – and is now placed in different spaces, hiding its underlying origin.

Rosanne Robertson – Chasmschism 2019

This series takes plaster casts of cracks in stones to create new works. The shape of the natural form is identifiable and yet neither the stones nor the cracks are the piece. Robertson describes how the works connect ‘qualities of stone, water and other aspects of nature with our gender expressions, sexuality and identity’ and I feel that this is an evolution of the literal representation created by Whiteread’s Ghost, to the adoption of a space to create a new form in Benglis’s Quartered Meteor, into the creation of a new piece that retains the memory of it’s origin yet is not defined by that.

Richard Long – A Line Made by Walking 1967

Rather than the physical representations of objects or beings, this arm of my constellation is about the traces left behind by events. Richard Long’s piece is a record of his physical interaction with a landscape, the flattening of grass as he has walked over it repeatedly. This is the sort of art that lots of people struggle to understand and yet I think it is just another way to record a relationship with the environment. Whiteread captures a space in time, the casts of Pompeii reveal a frozen moment and Hatoum preserves a memory. Long’s series of walks are recorded on maps, in found materials and in photographs but the physical traces such as this line are temporary, fleeting, and will be lost in time.

Covid Traces – An Idea

This is a photograph I took in our local Asda supermarket last week. Barely visible is a mark on the floor where a large sticker marking the direction of the aisle that was in place during lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic to regulate customer movement around the shop. Our world is currently full of signs, stickers and markers to remind us of how to behave and they are put there perhaps without consideration of what they represent. As much as they are practical now, they are fleeting and I think it would be interesting to record the traces that these measures leave behind. Once the markings wear off the pavement, the tape arrows removed from walls that take paint with them and leave a scar, the sticky residue left behind on carpets in schools where desk zones were marked. These are the things that will record the change in our environment from this moment.

Lots of us have taken the opportunity to dip into the vast array of CPD that has sprung up during lockdown. Whether it’s collaborative discussions with the Teacher Development Trust’s #CPDConnectUp, daily conference sessions from researchED with #rEDHome, online courses from the likes of Seneca Learning or FutureLearn, or simply taking advantage of the array of publisher discounts that have popped up – there really seems to have been something for everyone.

Some schools have directed people to specific courses or made suggestions of things staff may like to look at, but with any of these there’s a risk that CPD is done as a way to keep busy and our eye on how this fits into the bigger picture is lost. So how can we make sure that what we’re learning during lockdown is useful and informs our practice in a meaningful way once we return to the classroom in a more regular fashion? In many ways this is similar to the ways we should approach our own learning at any time.

Types of CPD

It’s worth thinking about the different types of CPD that you are doing to help have an idea of where it fits into the bigger picture. Rough categories you can use include:

  • Mandatory and procedural​ – those routine things like learning how to use a new online delivery or report system perhaps
  • Subject-specific (including SEND)​ – deepening your own knowledge, maybe with a particular curriculum topic in mind
  • Pedagogical​ – broad teaching methods
  • Pedagogical content knowledge – how the broad teaching methods can be specifically used in your subject​
  • Wellbeing – some things aren’t necessarily linked to the classroom but still valuable!
  • Personal career development- more structured (probably ongoing) courses such as NPQs or degrees

Structure and purpose

It’s also worth having think about the structure and purpose of the CPD you’re doing. Is it a one-off activity or an ongoing programme of work, and is it intended to have direct or indirect impact on your practice? Most people will think about ​this in black and white – that one-off presentations or courses are more likely to be ‘nice to do but easily forgotten’ and ongoing learning with continued opportunities to practice are preferable. I actually think it’s more nuanced than that and, particularly at a time like this, we can make connections between the variety of learning we are doing now, along with previous learning and plans, to curate our own, personal, ongoing CPD.

At the moment it’s likely that most of what we do is going to have an indirect impact on practice. Of course, lots of people will have engaged in CPD that focuses on remote delivery and learning for pupils which will have a more direct impact, but there are lots of things that might wait until we’re back with more pupils and a more regular structure that, at the moment, seem more indirect so it’s worth considering the bigger picture.

Your own needs

In more usual times, the depth of engagement in a CPD activity we engage with is more likely to be linked with our prior experience and the level of expertise we want to build up. The first time we come across a topic it’s appropriate to get some one-off information and a general overview of it. As we become more experienced we introduce more view-points, more detailed information and we try things out, sometimes collaboratively, and seek feedback. The more experienced we become, the more automatically we apply our knowledge and the more adaptive it becomes to different situations.

Everyone will be at a different point in this process and it is useful (at any time, not just lockdown) to have an awareness of where you are with the learning you are doing and by reflecting on where you need to build your personal experience and expertise you can make any learning opportunity part of your personal, ongoing ‘programme’.

Obviously this all sounds well and good but how do we actually undertake this reflection in a useful way?

Think about the types of CPD you’ve done

Some of us might have rushed in and done the lot. Make a list of all the CPD you’ve done. It’s useful to have a record – you don’t have to use all of it right away but think of how you’ll ‘bank’ it for later.

Why did you choose it? Were you directed or was it a personal choice? Were you looking for more information on a common subject, exploring a new theme, finding out more about something you’ve have prior experience of CPD on? Do you just like the speaker or did you just have the FOMO need to ‘collect them all’?

Where are the links or common themes? This should include links between the things you’ve done as part of your lockdown learning, but also think about wider learning. Can you make connections between other things you’ve read, had an INSET on, been working on with your PLC or enquiry project?

What next? Where are the opportunities for further learning? Are there recommended books to read, links to follow up or ways you can use your learning to adapt ‘back at work’ plans? Once you’ve taken stock of the learning you’ve done so far, can you identify where you could narrow your focus and be more selective, or have you found new ideas you want to explore in more depth?

The more we make these connections, the more we stop CPD becoming ‘one-off’ and the more we can see how it connects to our practice.


We can’t necessarily evaluate impact in practice or on pupil outcomes directly at the moment but we can focus on our initial reactions to CPD and begin to identify our personal next steps and barriers (organisational, personal or with the CPD itself) that may need to be resolved to support any implementation.

You might find it useful to frame your reflections and evaluation through the areas of guidance covered in the Standard for teachers’ professional development:

  • Focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes – self-review before, during and after CPD event to identify where pupil outcomes can improve and how this CPD might support that.
  • Underpinned by robust evidence and expertise – How is/was CPD underpinned by evidence? Can you follow up references? Why should the recommendations work and how should they be implemented?
  • Collaboration and expert challenge – Use discussion boards within CPD, share your reflections and wider learning, think about how to share with colleagues. How can leaders support this?
  • Sustained over time – Where does it fit with your existing learning and how does it support your ongoing plans?
  • Prioritised by school leadership – Where CPD activities have been directed, ask where it fits in to the bigger picture. Look at your school’s priorities and consider how your learning can support these.

To support recording learning reflections and evaluation, you might find it useful to use Cornell note taking or fill in a PMI grid with your positive, negative and interesting follow-up reflections.


With so much potential for learning away from the checks and balances that conversations and collaboration with colleagues affords, it’s of course important to be aware of things to avoid. Be aware of your own bias. There can be a risk if we dip in and out of things we already find interesting and agree with (confirmation bias) that we place increased authority on speakers and organisations we like (halo effect) and once we’ve done that one-off course or read a book, we suddenly find ourselves an expert and rush to change all our systems for September (Dunning-Kruger effect).

With any CPD you do – lockdown or otherwise – take your time to evaluate claims, check your bias and the bias of those delivering CPD. Leaders need to be aware of this too. If you’ve directed staff to complete online learing, be aware that this doesn’t make them an expert and plan how you will support follow-ups before creating any snazzy new whole-school responsibilities!


So many of us are finding that the combination of having (slightly) more flexible time and the veritable explosion of generous online CPD opportunities means we’re dipping into all sorts of things we might not ordinarily have done and this is fantastic. We need to make sure that we harness this learning and use it to benefit our collective practice. Whilst the suggestions here are bent towards lockdown learning, with any CPD it is valuable to evaluate your own learning journey and where a CPD event fits with your needs as well as the wider picture of your school and pupils.

As we shift from our different patterns of working back to a more regular in-school routine, consider what you have learnt now and take it forward to plan and support your ongoing development.

It’s not going to surprise anyone that I’m pro-researchED. It’s genuinely changed my life – places I‘ve been, friends I’ve made, the job I do, hangovers I’ve suffered… For me it came along as I was finishing my MEd and offered a place for me to continue engaging with education research in a way I thought I wouldn’t be doing anymore.

Conferences are popping up all over the place now (researchED and others) and I don’t actually go to that many but I do follow what’s going on and as it happens I’ve got two in a row: researchED Birmingham yesterday and off to researchED Haninge next weekend. After a while following from the side-lines it was really great yesterday to be amongst it and maybe this is why it particularly niggled me when I caught up with Twitter last night and the usual voices were there just to sling insults at it all.

No-one is going to agree with everything and nor should they, but the constant snark and spiteful rhetoric is draining to watch and unhealthy to be involved in. I’ve gone from someone who debates ideas to someone who just keeps quiet to avoid the sniping; someone who follows a range of voices to someone who mutes and blocks just to be happier.

Anyway, questioning ideas and voices is healthy and hating based on assumptions and prejudice is not, so for what it’s worth I’ve decided to address some of the criticisms and write about my own experiences of education conferences – naturally, mostly researchED but I’ve been to several others so I’m thinking about those too.

Forcing an Ideology

People seem to believe that there’s one message being peddled and the hoards are being brainwashed. I would hope that a look at a programme for one of these events would allay some fears of this. My experience is of a broad range of speakers and ideas but of course there are going to be topics that people are more interested in and this has evolved with the education landscape. I think it’s a good thing that something like researchED has fed into the landscape but I truly believe that far from forcing an ideology at the expense of blocking others, this has happened because of the space given to debate and different voices.

I’ve heard MPs promoting their own well-honed propaganda and I’ve disagreed with them. I’ve been sat in a presentation when several audience members start debating the ideas with the speaker. I’ve seen people I’d never have thought I’d agree with but have and people I thought I’d love that have made me cringe.

I know what it feels like to be on the opposing side of the current vibe but that’s not a reason to shut down valid experience. There’s space for everyone and they need to be able to decide. I’m a grown up and capable of doing that.

All about Bennett

He’s put his everything into researchED. He’s the face in the programme and bats off the constant flack, but crediting Tom with every researchED event does a disservice to all the people who are organising conferences across the world in their own time for free. People put all their spare time into these things and what they don’t need is ridiculous assertions that they’re part of some sort of conspiracy. If that’s what people genuinely think then it’s a real shame but it’s not going to stop people engaging with what is an amazing, international community of educators.

Research content

I’ve seen sessions that are like a masters crash course and sessions that just have a nod to the research they’ve looked at. Personally I prefer the heavy ones, but I know others aren’t so ready to engage that way. I wrote a while ago about ‘rED the next generation’ and this still holds true. It’s easy to have the curse of the expert (broadest sense) and there are novices just getting into it. Of course there’s the risk of mega Dunning-Kruger effect but that’s not unique to education conferences – it’s a bias with its own special name! We just have to be aware of it.

Same people, same themes

I understand it might seem like researchED peddles the same stuff at each conference but there are several things to bear in mind here:

  1. Everyone does it for free. If you can get a popular speaker to come and do your event for free then you’d be stupid to say no. The presence of a big hitter means people will come and see the unknowns.
  2. There are loads of speakers and not many slots. Having the same people at different events means you get another chance to see something you missed. I’m always surprised I still get asked to talk about journal clubs and equally surprised people turn up.
  3. The timetablers are good at getting it right but I’ve been to lots of these things and there’s always a surprise room with people spilling out. Almost like people can choose who they want to see rather than being told who’s going to be popular…
  4. ‘Ah, but if everyone was an unknown then you wouldn’t have that problem’. Yes. New Voices does that. It’s ace and I’ve also seen how going for it and speaking at that has given some people the confidence to do other conferences. Double aces.

Political leanings

This is woo-woo. We’ve had a Tory led government for 10 years and this spans the whole of the boom in education social media-led  stuff so there’s nothing to compare it to. For what it’s worth, and I know it won’t be worth anything to those who’ve made their minds up, I don’t think the government would be too chuffed with some of the stuff speakers at edu-conferences level at them.

So, my own experience

I’ve done the rounds. I’ve seen some big hitters who are shit – don’t prep, use old, 90 minute presentations in a 40 minute slot and despite being a disaster, have people nodding along because they love their book. I’ve even been disappointed by a presentation and then had the misfortune to have to sit through it again as the keynote at another thing.

BUT. I’ve also seen people I’d never get the chance to see for £20, big names in the audience of a classroom-teacher sharing their passion and awesome first time speakers who’ve prepped beyond perfection because it means the world to share their ideas. And then seen them speak to their heroes at the pub afterwards and get involved in a new project.

My experiences are of events where you can choose to play it safe and go to see your friends and a twitter celebrity or embrace new ideas. Or do both all in the same day. There’s more criticism of ‘dogma’ within researchED presentations than people perhaps think. Some people were well known before they started going to education conferences, others have become more well known as events like researchED have been part of their career journey and they’ve met people and made connections.

There will be a ton of reasons people are wary of or don’t like things like researchED.  I understand that to some extent everyone is a gatekeeper of knowledge and it can make people uneasy to see new faces rising. It does nothing for my imposter syndrome to suddenly see all these enthusiastic new teachers hit the scene, I can tell you! The thing is though, this is an evolving landscape and I’d rather be part of that and call it out from within if I can than poke at it from outside.

We keep being told how the majority of teachers don’t use Twitter or know what researchED is. Don’t use that fact as a stick to beat rED with at the same time you’re accusing it of infiltrating the whole of the education sector. Makes you look silly.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking about how to get the most out of professional development opportunities at the Chartered College of Teaching’s Early Career Conference in Manchester. It was fantastic to see so many enthusiastic early career teachers investing in their own learning and taking the opportunity to answer questions and share experience.

During his fantastic keynote, Amjad Ali’s briefly explored the phrase ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’ and spoke about the importance of promoting teaching as a valid and valuable career option when we’re advising pupils. I can’t be the only one who was prompted to reflect on this however there was something else about that day that has made me think about it a bit deeper.

As a completely wonderful surprise, as I was sat nibbling a pre-conference biscuit and working out which room I’d be in, I spotted my cousin with a group of friends (hurtling across the room, hugging and promises of a catch-up ensued). My cousin is training to be a primary teacher, specialising in science. This is not her first career; she was previously a pharmacist, working for the NHS, with the raft of high-level qualifications necessary for this. I’ve not seen her since she made the decision to change direction and having chatted throughout the morning I’m certain that she has made completely the right decision. She’s not gone into this blind either – both our shared grandparents and both her parents have had long careers in teaching and she knows it’s not all about sharpening pencils and long holidays; what surprised me was that she said she’d always wanted to teach but had been advised not to go into it. I can only speculate why this was but I suspect it was a combination of family who’ve seen growing accountability and stresses of the profession, and advice to a highly skilled scientist who’s talents could be ‘used better’. I know that everyone around my cousin fully supports and embraces her decision and my reflections now are in no way an impression of her situation, but meeting her was one of a combination of things yesterday has prompted me to think around this.

When talented, qualified people choose to teach I think it is often viewed as disappointing. Maybe a step back, or a waste of the time they’ve spent on building their skills and qualifications. Someone who is so clever they can be a doctor, lawyer, architect, and all they want to do with their life is teach children – something that’s often seen as a back-up option or for those who haven’t got what it takes to become highly specialised in a more ‘valued’ career. I think some of this comes from the fact that in order to teach you need, with varying degrees, to be a generalist, and we live in a society that places a lower value on generalists than it does specialists.

We gear everything towards becoming more and more specialised when it comes to prestige – even in medicine a GP is seen as less important a career path than a specialist consultant. There’s an unwritten rule that you’re supposed to specialise more and more as you progress in your career; more money’s attached to it, more status. It’s a failure to stay in the same role for years, it’s stagnating or not ambitious to want to stay in the classroom and not move on to management. It’s self deprecating to admit you know a little about a lot rather than a lot about a little.

Teaching is generalist. Even with a subject specialism you need to be across that broad and balanced curriculum you’ve plotted on a twisty pathway poster and you need to be able to teach at different levels and stages. You need to be able to draw from other subjects, manage behaviour, work with data, engage with parents, and all the other things that come with the job. I wonder that one of the reasons primary teaching is sometimes seen as ‘less’ than secondary is the necessity to be more generalist.

Of course we need experts and specialists, but we need to value the generalists just as much. I have a sneaky suspicion that the specialists we place so highly would be rubbish at it. Generalism is a skill and a talent. To be an excellent generalist you need to be across a wide range of expertise and we need to value people who can do this across all the demands teaching requires – whether that’s being able to work across three different sciences from Year 7 to 11 or have an in-depth knowledge of twelve novels; understand not only the intricacies of a subject, but the appropriate level of intricacy for each of the pupils you teach.

In my presentation I discussed making decisions about interests and the direction of your career, but I started with a firm declaration that it is 100% OK to be a classroom teacher for your whole career. As long as teachers continue to develop and hone their practice, it shouldn’t be a bad thing to not want to specialise. We need generalists just as much and the people who do this best should perhaps been seen as a different type of specialist.

Maybe there’s an element of truth in the whole ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’. Maybe though it’s that ‘those who can hold the expertise and professional judgements essential to be a generalist, do; those who can’t manage to be a generalist need to focus on one thing really well and make sure they pass on their bit of expertise to the generalist’.

I’ll admit it’s not as catchy.

Due to a small amount of technical gremlin activity my participation in the Teacher Development Trust webinar on CPD leadership yesterday didn’t quite go as planned but it was good to take a step back to prepare for the questions I would’ve been asked so I thought I’d pop some of my responses here.

I was in the second cohort of the Teacher Development Trust Associate in CPD Leadership course last summer and whilst I did it to kick off my role as Learning and Development Lead for our Trust, I focused on my own school for the purposes of the course.

What are the key readings for CPD leaders?

There’s something out there to suit everyone’s taste, but to be honest I don’t think you can go too wrong using the 2016 DfE Standard for teachers’ professional development as a starting point. It distils the key research down into an easily usable format and I’ve come back to this again and again over the last year. If you’re leading CPD and haven’t got the funds to use external guidance or don’t feel experienced to delve into the research, this is an excellent place to audit what you’re doing, plan from different points of view, and check yourself against. I wouldn’t advocate stopping there so I’ll actually cheat with my recommendations a bit and say to look at the references to follow up a few links, particularly the Developing Great Teaching report (and since the Standard’s publication there’s been the Developing Great Subject Teaching report), and I should also mention Unleashing Great Teaching which I’ve plugged before but it really is like a text book for the course.

I looked at a lot of research for my project, following references down rabbit holes. It was useful to identify areas of need particular to our school like vocational education and find research more bespoke to us, and I found work that centred on change management useful, particularly Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott and this paper (pdf) by Stouten et al (2018) that allowed me to work through how the process might happen for us.

In terms of research that changed the way I was thinking, Kennedy’s 2016 paper ‘How does professional development improve teaching?‘ is fantastic for starting to challenge some of the other key readings (which reference a lot of the same stuff, and sometimes each other) and prompted me to focus my ideas on individual levels of need, and look at what other research was saying in terms of that. I think my entire assignment could’ve been on this angle but word count (thankfully?) stopped that and things I’ve written about since (here, here, and here) have all stemmed from me linking this paper to some of David and Bridget’s work in Unleashing Great Teaching. I got properly into it.

How can leaders assess the effectiveness of their current CPD programme?

Talk to people.

Gaining an overview from different perspectives (all staff, not just teachers) is crucial. Assuming ‘effective’ will be a mixture of how it matches the list of features of good CPD and whether it’s doing what you wanted it to, you will need to run some sort of audit and decide whether to go for an external (independent but costs) or internal (watch out for bias but free) process. I had the benefit of access to the TDT online survey and triangulated these results with 1-1 interviews with staff across school and a document search – but you’ll know where to get information in your own setting and once you’ve spoken to people you should have an idea of where to find the rest!

I found the interviews particularly revealing. There were powerful comments that highlighted just how far we’ve got to go and pockets of expertise and interests that came to the fore. I was grateful that everyone I spoke to was so open and trusted me with their (at times intense) opinions. Since completing the course I’ve repeated the audit process with the PRUs in our trust and used a similar format (swapping the TDT membership survey for one I created based on the TDT framework) and once again the interviews proved the most insightful element, including one member of support staff revealing she is doing a secret degree.

How did the learning from readings and assessing current CPD provision inform your CPD plans for the coming year?

For me, everything pointed to culture. Without building a culture where CPD is valued and people know they are expected to invest in their own learning, anything I tried to implement would be temporary. In addition to this I also looked at how we could provide more time and reduce our focus from a heavily administrative one, to a more subject specific/ pedagogical one. I worked with SLT to introduce a programme of low-stakes, independent study, and rearrange the directed time budget to add a weekly half hour of CPD in the form of a menu of sessions which have included things like journal club, presentations, individual CPD feedback and an opportunity for joint feedback on the new Ofsted framework consultation.

Implementation has been mixed and there have been times where I have felt like I’ve carried it, and I know there are some people that haven’t bothered to take part, but I need to remind myself that this was never meant to be a transformation; this was to start to build that culture and expectation. Before this year there was INSET and external courses when people asked – this year there has been CPD available every week and over 50% of staff have accessed this at some point. There are staff who are frustrated that not everyone is seen to take part but there are others who have dived head first into their own learning as if they’ve finally been given permission. This I think is success and it’s where we go next that will matter most as we need to keep the momentum we’ve built and celebrate what we’ve done.

What was the biggest learning from the programme overall?

I suppose this has been about recognising that change is a slow and steady process and the value in viewing a system from others’ perspectives. I think I’ve been on quite a personal journey with this course and it’s certainly built my own confidence and resilience in enacting change. As I start working more across our trust I’ve no doubt that there are elements that I will return to and draw from when I need to.

Why should others do the course?

Doing CPD about CPD can be a bit of a mind twist and this is an opportunity to have excellent, ‘text-book’ CPD modelled by experts. Benefits of the course are that it’s adaptable to different settings, it is an investment for both the organisation and in the person taking part, and an opportunity to work with colleagues in similar positions, with similar interests (and similar uncertainties) over an extended period of time. The CPD leadership course allows you to slow down your process, providing time to think and insisting that you are challenged. I don’t think I’ve had the same intellectual stimulation since my MEd and wasn’t quite prepared for just how much time I spent thinking about different theories and ideas.

The final day of my course was exactly a year ago today and it would have been entirely possible to have left it there, writing up my report, getting a certificate and carrying on in pretty much the same way, but I haven’t wanted to. The support from David and his team, and fellow course participants, has continued beyond the course and it has been genuinely transformational both for me and, in time, for my organisation.

In the words of the great Tess McGill, ‘I read a lot of things. You never know where the big ideas could come from.’ (Working Girl, 1988).

The University of Cambridge publishes a research magazine ‘Research Horizons‘ containing all sorts of articles about the impact of research from the university. A recent edition focusing on the East of England featured an article about digital manufacturing and agricultural technology (which I now know to just call ‘agri-tech’) that discussed how businesses decide when to adopt new technology and how they need to find the best upskill strategies to do it properly.

The article describes how agricultural businesses have no way of predicting the skills they’ll need because even where technology is emerging it’s often a leap of faith to invest, so they need flexible workers who have a grounding in their industry with the willingness and ability to develop. It strikes me that what every industry really needs, including education, is an upskillable workforce.

The past few weeks have seen educators across the globe rapidly get to grips with new skills. From converting a file to pdf, learning how to use the staple feature on the photocopier, or figuring out Google Classroom, it’s all happened in order to continue providing for students. Of course it’s not just been teachers that have had to do this – isolated families are now Zooming and Facetiming where they had never considered it before and as everyone has adapted, a tremendous amount of learning has taken place.

One of the problems with preparing for things that haven’t happened yet is not knowing what needs preparing for. For our pupils, the argument for a broad curriculum is well worn and the world of agri-tech is a brilliant, concrete example of why it’s important to offer as many opportunities and pathways as we can. Whether that’s adapting to technological advances or those jobs that haven’t been invented yet, offering a broad base of knowledge that ensures people can apply themselves to a whole host of possibilities, and be whatever they want to be, is a pretty good idea. As pupils become more expert they can be encouraged to make comparisons and connections between ideas because even if we knew their destiny – even if we know they come from a generation of farmers and that them and their children and their children’s children will do the same, we don’t know what the future holds for technology or climate or crop choices but we can prepare them to cope with leaps of faith and adapt to the new when needed.

Throughout their lives pupils will need to adjust to different working practices and innovations and, as in the world of agri-tech, one of the most important issues facing workplaces is ‘how do we know what skills are needed by who and how [do] they get them’. In the same way we can’t predict a specific innovation that will take off, we can’t plan which skills will need to be upped; it’s no use trying guess what we need to teach and narrow our curriculum in order to meet these specific unknown needs but what we can do is open as many doors as possible and promote lifelong learning, best practice in professional development and ensure that our own professional development and training needs are identified well and that the process is effective.

The rapid upskilling we’ve seen over the past few weeks gives us clues as to what is important for the workforce and one area where education has a head start over some other sectors is professional development. Rather than worrying about changing our curriculums to include new and potentially fleeting fads, schools should focus on upskilling teachers to understand and include new ideas in order to deepen and enrich their existing knowledge, and where important, be informed to make decisions about when to introduce new innovations and integrate them expertly in their existing systems.

We often ignore the need to share with pupils and parents what we do for professional development but one consequence of the recent changes has been the visibility of adult learning and this is a crucial part of making continuous, life-long learning the norm. We need to continue to make our learning visible to pupils; share what we’re doing, enthuse about it with pupils and help them understand that they will always need to learn. We can be guilty of drilling into pupils their learning deadlines – leaving school, staying in education ’til your 18, but it’s worth pausing to think about this message because if we’re truly preparing them for the 21st Century workplace and world of the future what we actually need to be doing is teaching them that to be successful they’ll never stop learning.

As leaders’ minds turn to their next steps, it’s worth considering what we can learn from the upskilling of a whole population at the moment. There’s a need for a clear process of delivering professional development that promotes enrichment of subject specific knowledge, increasing awareness of changes in individual fields which will broaden and deepen the knowledge of our students. Whether that’s about keeping up to date and adding some information about recent innovations to a topic, introducing new technologies such as 3D printers, or adding in entirely new schemes; rather than replacing what’s already there, schools need to provide the time, space and resources for teachers to upskill.

Sometimes people are reluctant to change and there are many valid reasons why this happens. We have recently experienced the forced upskilling of entire generations and witnessed that they have been able to succeed in this. As we lay the ground work to enable our pupils to upskill in the future and promote a culture of upskilling our staff, what we can’t afford to do is forget that this is not only possible, but crucial and more importantly, for everyone.

I accidentally went and picked a particularly relevant paper for my #rEDBrum journal club presentation this weekend and it’s got me thinking…

When I’m choosing these things I never know who’s going to come to the session and I’m aware I need to find something accessible (interests, language, and literally) and for the first time ever, due to my time-poor life, I chose a paper that I’d already selected for another conference I’m presenting at in a couple of weeks so I really didn’t know that the overarching themes of the day – curriculum, community and culture – would resonate with the paper choice so much.

The paper I used was ‘Teacher collaboration in curricula design teams: effects, mechanisms, and conditions’ (Voogt, Pieters and Handelzalts, 2016) which looks at 14 doctoral theses to establish the features and effects of collaborative design teams, and identify the mechanisms and conditions necessary for these to be successful. The focus for the design teams is curriculum and the paper sets out the effects of collaborative teams on both teacher learning (so a professional development slant) and on curriculum change (something particularly relevent in these times of everyone rushing to redesign their curriculums in the face of a new Ofsted inspection framework).

Half my work-life is now about professional development, both in our school and increasingly across the trust, and six months into our professional development changes we’re starting to evaluate how it’s going and thinking about how it’ll move on next year. Curriculum has had its place in some of our CPD conversations and it makes sense that we combine these in some way, so aside from making some general notes on the paper for journal club I was prompted to think about what it meant for us in terms of professional development and so much of what I heard at #rEDBrum cemented this.

There were a few things that struck me about the paper. It clearly comes from a place that already believes in the value of collaboration for teachers and talks about a shift in methods of professional development to involving teachers more and the increased use of professional learning communities (PLCs); commenting that PLCs are about generating knowledge of practice whereas more traditional CPD conveys to teachers knowledge for practice. I’d not particularly thought of this difference before but it seems so obvious now that all the desirable features of CPD that I’m trying to build into our model are about shifting from just giving people things to do, to getting them to think about why and how they’re doing things.

I’m familiar with benefits of collaboration including development of ownership, trust, and support for changes, particularly in forms of collaborative enquiry and models like lesson study. I’ve heard numerous warnings about schools rushing in to these structures of CPD without proper training, time or follow up and I’m personally cautious of introducing something that may amount to faux-research engagement for show. I’m wondering now about whether collaborative design is a better model than collaborative enquiry – working towards something tangible that’s going to be used and has a reason that’s more likely to engage staff. Certainly the findings in this paper seem to suggest that this could be a way of providing ongoing, long-term professional development, both subject-specific and pedagogical, whilst creating a curriculum that works for us and our pupils within a sustainable structure.

The paper nicely sets out the effects something like this can have on teacher learning and curriculum change including:

  • uptake of pedagogy
  • increased subject knowledge
  • making connections within and between subjects
  • development of curriculum expertise
  • creation of concrete curriculum products
  • improved, higher quality practice
  • systematic structure to curriculum
  • links with external providers and expertise

…the mechanisms that account for these effects:

  • teacher prior knowledge and up to date knowledge
  • level of teacher involvement
  • justification for change/process (stressing the importance of analysis)
  • focussed support
  • time to try things and adapt

…and the conditions that affect change:

  • support (organisational, process, expert and technical)
  • leadership (massive importance)
  • external (national curriculum, staff turnover etc)

I’m still thinking it through a bit really, but as a theoretical concept, if the whole year of CPD was dedicated to this process we’ve got what would probably be two whole inset days (maybe some time as twilights), the weekly half hour of CPD we’ve introduced that could shift a little, and add in opportunities for instructional coaching and expert input. It’s a model with room to account for individual staff needs and levels of experience, building on what we’ve put in place already.

I’m not saying it will happen (or will turn out to be the right thing for us) but as something providing a framework to combining CPD and the curriculum reform we need to make, allowing us to keep the elements of CPD that are working and affording the time necessary for it to work, I think there’s more than a spark of an idea so (before my meeting with SLT on Tuesday) I’m going to think about it in more detail.

There were a lot of moments in Birmingham that made me more convinced about this as having potential. Comments during the panel debate about how the process of curriculum design might work, how to avoid it being ‘scary’ for staff and how to go about building a school culture could all be addressed by collaborative design. What made me more eager to explore this was a fantastic session from Summer Turner on subject communities. Ideas about how these could be structured and where we could access the necessary expertise alongside cementing the benefits of this sort of model are all swishing round in my head now and I just need to try to control it a bit.

Obviously I’ve not mentioned everything in the paper and there are some features that make me pause for thought, but it’s a cracking read and whilst I feel bad about breaking my rule of using the same paper twice for a conference, attendees of the Habs Girls Conference are in for a treat because I’ve got so much more to discuss about this one now.

There has been a lot packed into this year and it’s nice to reflect, so here’s some of it under the now reasonably traditional headings of personal, travel and work…


I suppose the biggest thing that happened this year was the loss of my lovely little Grandma in May. She was naughty and awkward and utterly marvelous. I documented a great many of our phone calls on #grandmacall on Twitter and it’s pretty special to be able to see them and remember just how tedious it was to hear the entire week’s meals she’d just bought or the clockwork precision of her calling to sing Happy Birthday the day before my birthday every year. I miss her.

We got two new twin nieces (and decided now there are a thousand of them, nephews and nieces is too long and wanted a catch-all so stuck with the ‘n’ and added the ‘iblings’ of siblings to coin the term ‘niblings’ which we shall expect to appear in next year’s dictionary). They are small and gradually unfurling.

I think quite a bit of the ‘personal’ side for this year has cross-over with the travel and work bits. Maybe more separation of those next year.


We’d said that we’d slow down the travel a bit this year but researchED came along again and put a stop to that. I did rEDHan in Stockholm again and we finally got todo the (non-open-topped) bus tour. It was all very super. The next one (conference and bus tour) was Toronto. This wasn’t planned but it was also very super. We charged around Toronto for a week looking at towers and museums and black squirrels, with a day trip to Niagara where we saw a waterfall and tried wine and saw an actual real life made-for-tv-Christmas-movie being made. Then we hopped on over to rEDOnt where there was an ice-storm and we had our first experience of being de-iced on a runway.

Our summer trip was a pretty good adventure as we decided to have a pre-Brexit blow out and go Interrailing through Europe. We did Nottingham > London > Amsterdam* (it was Pride and we saw an actual Spice Girl) > Frankfurt** > Zürich > Chur > Tirano (on the Bernina Express through the Alps on a panoramic windowed train) > Lugano (on the Bernina Express bus) > Milan* > Verona* (for the day) > Milan > Paris > London > Nottingham. I Listened to audiobooks and we ate a lot of mini carrots. *bus tour **boat tour

In October we decided that as we hadn’t done a restful break, we’d get a cheap all-inclusive holiday and went to Ibiza where we didn’t have todo any charging about or anything and it was lovely. We read and napped and completely forgot about work (which had got crazy by this point) and drank green cocktails. We did do some sightseeing (because we can’t not) but it wasn’t quite as intense as the other trips.


Work has been a mix. I spent the first part of the year having conversations with our MAT Director of Education about working across the trust around CPD and research which is all very exciting. I’ve two days a week on trust stuff since September but I don’t have a job title yet so probably one to sort out next year.

I also spent most of the year completing the Teacher Development Trust Associate in CPD Leadership programme which was amazing. Obviously this fits in with the trust work, but it was something that I found all-encompassing, exhausting and thoroughly fulfilling. To work with a group of people with so much experience and advice, and be guided by the man who literally wrote the book, has been a fantastic thread through the year.

I’ve spent the first term of this year introducing a CPD programme for our school and auditing another trust school which I’m sure I’ll write/talk about next year. It’s a slow process but I’ve run a range of sessions for staff and it looks like journal club might’ve sparked a curriculum special interest group.

A slight spanner in the works has been my accidental shift to teaching all the GCSE art. I’ve supported it for several years now and our art tutor has been off long-term sick so I’ve taken over. It’s not been the most relaxing of activities (I’ve cried a lot) but my boys have been very understanding and are producing some awesome work.  I’m determined that they aren’t going to be at a disadvantage because of it all.


I suppose because the final third of 2018 has been quite work-focussed I feel like there’s been a bit of a shift away from the ‘personal’ side of things. A lot of what I do away from work has turned a bit work related so I think there’s room for shifting back again. I think we’ll have a year of decorating and Bert’s going to have a new hutch.

I’ve no idea what’ll happen with work – either CPD stuff or art. I’m going to try to introduce some English revision to art lessons and see how that goes. I’ve got a few conferences booked in for the first half of the year and travel so far involves Sweden for rEDHan again (I’m talking about CPD) and we’ve just booked a Brexit-proof (hopefully) week in the UK at Easter.

As far as the rest of 2019 goes, who knows what the UK has up its sleeve. It’s pretty embarrassing to be part of it all so I hope it works out OK.

This is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t read all these books over the summer. Normally we go away and I have suitcase full of books to work though but this year a combination of having a mega assignment to write and deciding our holiday would involve interrailing round Europe so lugging books wasn’t a priority, meant that I didn’t really read a huge amount in summer and never got round to blogging. Anyway, having just grabbed a week away with plenty of time to read, I thought I’d get round to it. So here, in no particular order, is my reading from the summer, October and a couple from in-between.

  1. All Shot Up by Chester Himes

I think I got this one for Christmas and I saved it. This was one I took interrailing because it’s nice and thin. I love a detective and these are ones I’ve written about them before here. There’s something so ridiculous about the situations that happen in these books but the writing is exquisite. There are whole passages that serve as supreme examples of everything we try and get kids to write about. I loved it. I’m trying to read them in a sort of order but you don’t really need to (although the first one ‘A Rage in Harlem’ does introduce the detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones). I think this might be my favourite so far and there is a chase scene so perfect that I read it out loud to Howard.

2. Around The World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings by Nellie Bly

Well this was a find. A sort of ‘summer and ongoing’ book really. This is a collection of writings by Nellie Bly, one of the first female journalists and ‘stunt girl’ reporters.

Starting with her work in 1885 and moving to 1919, it covers some extraordinary undercover reporting where she gets herself committed to a lunatic asylum in order to expose hideous treatment practices, and her solo journey around the world to break the fictional record set by Jules Verne. Quite why she’s not more widely known I have no idea, but she was one hell of a woman and I urge you to have a look – you don’t need to read it all at once as it’s comprised of articles she wrote across her career and easy to dip in and out of.

3. Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

It’s been ages since I read the first Harry Hole book and whilst I bought this almost straight afterwards it became a casualty of my need for small books to take on holiday I think. Whilst he’s a Norwegian detective, the first one’s set in Australia and this one is in Bangkok. I quite like the change of scenery making for different story elements but I found the writing a bit clunky in places. I don’t know if that’s down to the translation or the originality of an alcoholic detective but I reckon it’ll be a case of remember to buy the next one at some point rather than ‘collect em all’.

4. The Armada Boy by Kate Ellis

Now these I love and there’s loads of them. I took this one of the epic train journey because it’s small.

I haven’t written about this series before but this is the second one. The central detective is Wesley Peterson – the cop from the Met returning to a more rural life (Devon in this case). The thread through these is that he studied archaeology at university and his cases invariably have a link to local archaeological digs run but his friend Neil so there’s ongoing snippets from the past (not necessarily connected with the case, just running alongside). It’s got a sort of Midsomer vibe (but Devon and with history) with them covering a wide area with lots of murder potential in tiny villages.

5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen

It’s the end of the world and there’s an angel and demon who aren’t particularly keen on this happening so they set out to stop the antichrist and everything else. My brother bought it for me a bit ago and I never got round to it (spotting a theme here) and I rather wanted to read it before the TV series is out. It was everything I was hoping for (and I always love a Dog).

6. An Unhallowed Grave by Kate Ellis

Number three in the series. This one starts with a hanging in a churchyard and a trail though Devonshire villages and history with an archaeological uncovering of another body from the same tree five hundred years earlier.

The Wesley Peterson series started in the late 90s and are still going, but it means these early ones must’ve hit the shelves as Time Team (which I adored) was peaking and there’s a good element of that in there. It also means that there’s not a huge amount of mobile phone/ internet stuff so I’m looking forward to carrying on the series and things like that changing the feel of the books a bit.

7. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

Ooh, this was lovely. I bought ‘The Five People You Meet in Heaven’ on a bit of a whim years ago and I leant it to a friend who then read everything by Albom she could lay her hands on and I finally read another one. This follows the life of Frankie Presto with his talent for music – from a war-time birth, journeys around the globe, to a dramatic ending. Throughout his life Frankie finds inspiration in and inspires musical icons like Duke Ellington, Elvis and KISS (kinda Forrest Gump-ish but not really). It starts, and is threaded, with people remembering Frankie at his funeral and there’s something about knowing a character dies that I find quite comforting. That’s not to say there aren’t shocks and surprises, but it knew where I was heading. I never like giving things away when I’m talking about books so this really doesn’t do it justice but I loved it and kinda miss it, which I always think is a mark of a good book.

8. Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry (audio book)

I’ve not actually finished this yet. I took it for the train journeys and loved it. I had a lot of cassettes of comedy sketches and stand up when I was younger and quite a few had Stephen Fry’s voice on them which I found surprisingly nostalgic when it came to this. I really enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s retelling of Norse Mythology so I was looking forward to this and when the Eleanor Oliphant audio book failed to impress I swapped it and wasn’t disappointed. The stories are brilliantly told and I managed to produce some excellent background to sculptures in galleries we visited. There’s a wealth of etymology for etymology fans and so many names it’s impossible to remember everything (I tried listening to it in the car but it stuffs my working memory and I can’t listen and drive ) so I’ll probably get the book too.

Last weekend saw the annual behemoth that is the researchED national conference come to Harris Academy St John’s Wood in London. Despite some navigational challenges it was rammed with people enjoying themselves speaking and listening and questionning in the way these things should be and I’ve seen various accounts blogged over the past week.

My role at work has changed this year as I start working for our trust on various bits including CPD so I had a mixed focus on the sessions I attended which included:

  • Karen Wespieser and Jules Daulby on Dyslexia
  • Becky Allen on Pupil Premium (OMG, if you weren’t there, or even if you were, read the blog version here)
  • Rob Coe, Steve Higgins, Philippa Cordingley & Greg Ashman on Meta Anaylsis
  • Daniel Muijs on Research at Ofsted
  • Sam Sims, Steve Farndon and Emily Henderson on Instructional Coaching
  • Christine Counsell charing a panel on 21st Century Curriculum

It was a guddun.

This year was also a bit different for me as I took a step out of my Journal Club comfort zone and gave a presentation on my experiences developing the research lead role in a special school (don’t worry JC fans, I’m already booked in to give those a good plug, with biscuits, at rEDBrum and the Habs Girls conference next year). I debated whether to include the term ‘Special School’ in the title of my talk as on one hand it provides a level of SEND visibility to rED, but on the other hand I worried about people dismissing my presentation as not for them. I do think visibility is important so I went for it and as it turned out I was up against Gibb and at least three other keynote-worthy sessions so I don’t think I needed to over-think the attendance too much.

One of the things I focussed on, aside from the logistical bits of being a research lead, was the element of ‘oh no, not you of course’ that I seem to come up against. I think SEMH is an interesting sort of SEND when it comes to research as our pupils can follow a reasonably mainstream curriculum and don’t generally have the needs people associate as ‘special’ so we find ourselves in the middle where if I point out something doesn’t quite fit us in either the mainstream or SEND I get the ‘ oh no, not you of course’ response. This seemed familiar to some of the people who came to my presentation too and is perhaps something for me to explore a little further.

Criticism of researchED is healthy and there have been some interesting reflections following Saturday, including a continuation of a conversation started by a comment on the amount of SEND representation on the line-up which Karen Wespieser and Jules Daulby have pretty much reflected my thoughts on already in their post ‘ResearchED 2018: Everyone’s a teacher of SEND’. I want to pick up on their point about an ‘us and them’ position because I keep coming back to it as I think about the day. I have spoken at lots of events, mostly about journal clubs, and for researchED this includes at least three national conferences, Washington DC, Sweden and Ontario. In addition to this I have attended many more and at each of these events, speaking or not, I was SEND representation. I am a teaching assistant, in an SEMH special school, and also happen to be the research lead – everything I take part in is framed in my context.

My presentation hit on some of the challenges I have faced as a special school research lead because there are differences and barriers. I completely agree that we have a responsibility to include SEND pupils and issues in our questions and reflections on any form of professional development, conference or otherwise. What ‘counts’ as SEND will differ between people but I know that researchED events are attended by the whole spectrum of educators including those from special schools, AP, PRUs, SENCOs and teaching assistants. I think presentations addressing some specific issues will be welcomed but I don’t want there to be tokenistic SEND presence to ward off criticism either. The thing is, we don’t know why everyone is there or what their motives are, and I think if we truly recognise that everyone is a teacher of SEND, then we must recognise that everyone is also a representative of SEND.

As always the researchED national conference has given me food for thought to start the new year. There are already exciting things coming up and I’ve got plenty of ideas to keep me going (in my SEND setting) and hopefully there are plenty more to come!