Author Archives: impressionthatiget

This is one of several posts that I’ve started but never quite got round to hitting ‘publish’ on. Prompted by a tweet from Dawn Cox about the values we put onto children (and my recent thoughts about cultural capital) I thought it was a good opportunity. (Quick reminder that all our pupils are boys so when I refer to ‘the boys’ it’s because I naturally interchange ‘boys’ and ‘pupils’ when talking about work rather than me just stereotyping).

I started this post over a year ago in February 2016 after reading this Guardian article about white working class boys and university. I think by the time I came back to it the moment had gone and I never finished it. The article focuses on the aspirations of white working class boys and the role of universities in targeting underrepresented populations. One of the statements that caught my attention was “If these young men embrace academic success, they face entry into an unfamiliar and disconcerting world”. This is a theme I recognise regularly in our pupils.

I think for the majority of our pupils the experience they have of education is that it’s easier to fail than succeed. They know what to do when they fail – they know how to run off, know how to get told off, know how to respond in an aggressive manner, and know the sort of response they will get from adults. Quite often they find it very difficult to cope with praise (certainly open praise). If there’s a problem or issue at school or home, they will often try to get in a situation where they are stopped – physically or otherwise. It’s all about controlling a situation. They can deal with being picked on for not doing something right – can always fall back on kicking off.

As our school gets bigger there are more pupils that know each other, either from previous schools or their neighbourhoods (plus social media etc). I’ve noticed how this makes a difference to ‘showing face’ beyond what happens in school. We’re probably quite lucky in that it’s only fairly recently that the tentacles of social media have worked their way into our school – one of the benefits of having a couple of kids from each area of a whole city.

When it comes to aspirations though, why is university still seen as the be-all and end-all? There’s a massive rise in the number of apprenticeships – not just ‘trades’ now there are opportunities everywhere, but university’s seen as better. With rising fees and scrapping of grants, followed by questions about devaluation of degrees, there are legitimate reasons for not wanting to come out of university and be competing with those with three years experience for similar jobs (although I don’t believe fees and loans are any reason not to go and I do appreciate the earning potential stats). It’s not stereotyping to say that a high proportion of our boys will end up with a trade. We offer them vocational qualifications, and courses involving some sort of construction or motor engineering are pretty common next steps. It’s interesting that many of our pupils are likely to end up earning more in a trade professions than an NQT but are not likely to see themselves as our equals. So perhaps it really isn’t money that matters but education.

Something I’ve thought about is that despite the attitudes of our pupils, do the parents of these children – despite their background – aspire to university? Do these white working class boys that shun university for themselves want their own children to go to university? Anecdotally, I know of several people who I think feel they have to prove themselves to be just as good as someone who has been to university and it possibly gives them more drive, they’ve built up businesses and empires of their own, but they want for their children a ‘better’ life, and that includes university.

The discussion is one that has been played out before and will be again. The question of whether it is right for the educated, middle class to decide which values and experiences to pass on to white working class children is one that can be a minefield. Is it for us to decide what matters? Should we impose our own values on children? By thinking we’re aiding them are we curbing them? Either way, are we judging them and their backgrounds? We want them to study Shakespeare (the content of those final GCSE papers is class-blind) so taking them to see Shakespeare is part of that. Is Shakespeare OK but not opera? Is street-dance OK but not ballet? If we want them to learn languages is it OK if they go on an exchange trip? Not other foreign travel? Can we take them skiing at the Snowdome in Birmingham but maybe avoid the Alps? There’s never going to be an easy answer.

Part of our job is forcing our opinions on our pupils whether that’s the curriculum we teach or the language we use when we speak to them. I’m not going to oversimplify my vocabulary when I’m talking to the boys just because there’s the danger they’ve never come across a word before, I’ll explain it. I’m not going to apologise for wanting to build their ambitions – it’s a better place to start than not. Of course getting them reading and calculating (preferably maths, not crime) is the first step, but can’t we do a bit of both? I want us to open their worlds. I want them to ask questions and if nothing else, I want them to be really good at pub quizzes. I want them to know that whether they want to go into a trade or go to university, they are worthy of it. Some of them have dreams that we don’t think they’ll achieve and I want them to prove us wrong.

I’m not living in a fantasy world. I know what the future is likely to hold for some of them. At the moment I’m hoping that the future for some of them isn’t on the front of the Nottingham Post as they merrily go about their holidays, for others I’m hoping that come results day they get a couple of GCSEs. I suppose it’s not for us to decide where their limit is. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t judge them and do our best to get them to the next bit.


I asked Twitter for some holiday-read recommendations and all I offered was that I quite like murders. Twitter responded with force enough to mean Howard’ll be making more bookshelves in no time 😉

Some of them I’ve read, some of them I’ve got waiting, some of them I’ve not even heard of. It’s a pretty good list so whilst I try and decide which ones to start with, here they all are!

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
Patricia Cornwell
Kate Atkinson (Brodie Series)
Batavia – Peter Fitzimmons
Trigger Warning – Neil Gaiman
Robert Galbraith
Angela Marsons
Harlan Corban
Dennis Lehane
Poppy Z Brite
Tony Hillerman
Chester Himes
Jo Nesbo
Adrian McKinty
John Connolly
Peter Temple
The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau – Graham Macrae Burnett
Tarquin Hall

(all the links are for Book Depository but you can buy them wherever you fancy or pop into your local library if you still have one, obvs)


I came to the realisation yesterday that our whole school is a bottom set.

I was very much looking forward to hearing Professor Becky Francis deliver her keynote at rEDYork yesterday. I’ve heard her speaking a few times, both as presenter and as questioning audience member, and I pretty much want to be Becky Francis when I grow up. This time the talk was about ‘The problematic interface between research, policy and practice: the case of attainment grouping’, with an overview of the general picture and an introduction the EEF-funded ‘Best Practice in Grouping Students’ study.

As our school works up to full 7-16 two-form entry we are finding ourselves in a position where we’re starting to allocate children to classes based partly on their attainment. There are other things we consider and sometimes there are still very different levels in the same class, but there’s a general move towards a ‘higher’ group and a ‘lower’ group. I don’t think the pupils are ever explicitly told this is the case – perhaps in KS2 where they switch up the classes for different subjects a bit more, but I’m not sure the pupils are particularly aware. Anyway, as we’re just starting to get on the ‘set’ bandwagon I was particularly interested in the presentation to see what I could take back to school.

What I found was something much more than a few take-away bits of feedback. I tweeted that I felt like I’d had an ‘epiphany’ and I’m still trying to work out what that is exactly, but as I sat scribbling my notes I pretty much worked out that our whole school is essentially a bottom set and there are probably other schools that are similar. I’m not sure how coherent I can be with what I’m thinking but I feel like there’s an answer to something here.

Our general school demographic matches Becky’s description of the make up of bottom sets – disproportionate representation of low socio-economic status, gender imbalance (we’re designated a mixed school but all 75 of our pupils are boys). All our pupils have been taken out of other schools, possibly after a few permanent exclusions and a stint at the PRU, normally for their behaviour (regardless of ‘ability’). With all of this they’re statistically likely to have already experienced being in a bottom set and many already have low self-confidence and feel like they’ve been written off. Add to this that for every one of our pupils they’ve got a bunch of similar friends back in mainstream, it’s probably not something that’s isolated to our school.

I’m still trying to write about my recent thoughts on cultural capital for a separate post and whilst this has thrown a bit of a spanner in things, I still think that as a staff team, and as a general school ethos, we recognise that we need to instill an attitude that they can achieve and be successful – providing them with opportunities and in many cases, a future. What we probably don’t admit, or perhaps recognise, is that the symbolic implications of segregation and the societal associations between setting and ‘high standards’ are probably so ingrained that we are still creating limits for them. Even without putting any of our pupils in sets, they come to us already matching the criteria for a bottom set and I’m wondering if our associations between the demographic and expectations are so deeply entrenched that we don’t even realise we’re doing it. If staff have these societal preconceptions, pupils have them and parents have them, what happens? Do we just accept it?

If we really tried to analyse our practice we could probably identify quite a few of the factors Becky mentioned – both ones we thought we were tackling and ones beyond our control. Lack of fluidity in groups – we’ve got two classes of c.8 pupils in each year; fluidity is tricky. Quality of teaching – we have a few specialist subject teachers but run a mostly primary model through to KS4 with class teacher to class group in all subjects. Teacher expectations and pedagogy – success is brilliant, but if we’re honest, we aren’t surprised if they don’t get straight A*s (or, for some, Ds). I worry that we become complacent and lower expectations are normal. This isn’t just staff as I said before, this is entrenched in staff, pupils, parents, society. It makes the successes we have stand out – even the small ones. And we celebrate them, and we should.

We are highly aware of the limitations that have already been put on our pupils but I realise now that it’s possibly the tip of an iceberg that doesn’t just impact our pupils and maybe the Bottom Set Effect has a wider, self-fulfilling reach. In more than one session yesterday I found myself coming back to the thought that ‘Does everything just work enough not to be seen as an urgent problem?’ Maybe this is one of those things too.

So what do you do when you realise your whole school is a bottom set? How do you go about changing these subconscious preconceptions? Even if they’ve turned into conscious preconceptions, can we change things? Change is hard and it’s risky.

I’ve still not quite formulated what my thoughts are but I have questions about whether as we expand into KS1 it’ll be better – getting them before the Bottom Set Effect hits – or as we get them earlier, does that ingrain the bottom-set-ness earlier? Are we actually just creaming off the bottom set early? Is that self-fulfilling? What happens when you put the bottom set in sets? How does it work with our small classes? I know when I’ve looked at setting in the past there’s been evidence that the impact is less on small groups due to the focussed attention etc. We’ve got 8 pupils and two staff in a class so maybe it’s not too bad?

Regardless of whether we set or not, I’m still struck by how closely we seem to fit the ‘criteria’ for a bottom set and I can’t help thinking that if we can apply some of the advice that comes from either the EEF trials or other investigation in this area, there’s an answer to something somewhere and I’m not even sure what the question should be, but we can make things better. We can always get better.


Enquiry isn’t a specialist activity. It is something we all do regularly – making a mental note of something that went well or how we could change things for next time. As easy as it seems to reflect on what we do day-to-day, the starting point for deliberate enquiry can be difficult. Key to engaging with research in a genuine, long-term way as a practitioner is to start with reflection – reflection on practice and reflection of practice.Reflective-practice is sometimes presented as the opposite to evidence based practice; the qualitative vs the quantitative. Quantitative research is held up as the best research can be, whether that’s the EEF toolkit and trials or the What Work Clearinghouse measures. One argument for evidence based practice over reflective practice is that the latter risks pathologising the practitioner and finds fault with the teacher or student rather than the wider environment.

Action research (or at least the term) is gaining popularity and the close link between action research and reflective practice leads to arguments that they lacks value and relevance between settings. Cautious voices remind that quantitative studies don’t necessarily provide the answers, as Dylan Wiliam says, “[In education] everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere. The interesting question is ‘under what conditions does this work?”

It’s not realistic for everyone to be part of large-scale RCTs, particularly in settings that regularly don’t fit selection criteria like small or special schools. This can feel isolating and make research engagement seem irrelevant. Reflective practice is one way to get going and can take many forms, from keeping a diary to working in pairs or triads or developing cyclical action research projects, so where do we start and how can we incorporate research into what we do?

The Project

It’s frequently repeated that teachers don’t have time to trawl through and decipher research so I decided to have a bit of an experiment with taking a single research paper and setting it out in a way that can be used in the classroom. This is a paper I have used myself on several occasions to provide a framework to identify an area of focus and use as a starting point for enquiry.

The suggestions of how to use the document I’ve created are just that, suggestions. It doesn’t give instructions or solutions for practice and it doesn’t use multiple sources of evidence – the intention is that once a focus is identified, more refined research can take place if necessary around that area.

Whether it’s used for enquiry in the closed classroom or over a wider group; as a starting point for a whole school focus or simply to monitor the classroom over time, I hope it shows how research can be used in the classroom and it provides encouragement for more people to bring evidence into their practice.

So here it is in glorious pdf form. Let me know what you think.

A guide to ‘Evaluating the Learning Environment’ adapted from Ysseldyke, J. E. and Christenson, S. L. (1987) ‘Evaluating students’ instructional environments’, Remedial and Special Education, 8(3), pp. 17–24.


I’ve had a couple of interesting conversations recently about the reliability of ‘old’ research and whether it has some sort of ‘use by date’.

It is of course reasonable to be wary of over-relying on research that was published decades ago, and taking note of age when reviewing evidence is important, but it shouldn’t be a case of dismissing something because it’s been around for a long time if the points are still relevant. Fads come and go but that’s perhaps even more reason to look back at older research – new ideas quite often aren’t new at all. People use examples like ‘Would you trust your doctor if they prescribed using leeches?’ – maybe not for everything, but there are quite a few situations where leeches are still used in medicine today.

Should ‘good’ research be repeated to keep it fresh? Even if nothing new is being done? When this does happen, a quick look at the references and all the previous papers by the author/s are usually still there – of course there are likely to be a few changes but the general take-away messages remain the same and then the work is criticised for re-hashing the old stuff for the sake of it. We hear arguments that research needs to be repeated and ideas challenged as we learn more about how we can improve teaching but as soon as someone writes about a ‘debunked’ idea there are criticisms in the opposite direction.

For example, I’ve seen enough evidence from people I respect to believe that there is no mileage in the concept of individual learning styles but if those same people present evidence that has changed their minds (as solid as that would have to be) I would of course have to reconsider my own position. That’s a provocative example of course but my point is there – we can’t criticise research simply because it’s testing something we think is long-disproved – we need to criticise the research itself.

As research increasingly finds its place in schools, with different staff at different levels of engagement, it’s important to stress the need to develop critical evaluation skills. The role of research lead includes helping people to come at research from all angles – treading round popular ideas of the moment, being critical but not dismissive in the face personal bias. We need to be careful with new research that simply repeats itself rather than challenging ideas and be aware that not everyone has heard all the evidence around each theory –  however much we think it’s been discussed to death.

Those of us who have heard all the arguments to the point of fatigue need to make sure we use and develop our own critical eyes too and remember how easy it is to run about in the echo-chamber. As we focus on how we help our colleagues we can’t forget to challenge ourselves. As long as we are aware that the age of a piece of research may limit its value to our work then we’re a step ahead, but maybe it’s more ‘best before’ than ‘use by’. When it comes to it, we don’t have access to everything we need to make a fully informed decision and we need to trust what experts say. If I’m honest, whilst it doesn’t sound overly pleasant to be treated by leech I would have to trust that the doctor knew what they were on about,  and that some older ideas have a place.


The role for technology in education, and the impact technology has on children generally, is a thoroughly embedded topic for debate. I’m sure if twitter had been around at its inception, the Casio Databank would’ve been the topic for a whole half-term’s Edutwitter ‘civilised’ discussion but there is an understandable increase in these sorts of conversations as we try to keep up.

Casio DATA BANK watch

The latest story to hit the tech-debate radar is this one in the Toronto Star reporting that grade 7 and 8 students at Earl Grey Senior Public School are to have restricted access to their mobile phones during lessons. Now, I work in a school where the pupils have always handed everything in when they get to school – even before mobile phones were commonplace – so I’ve not really noticed the rise in personal tech use in classroom in perhaps the same way as other schools, but it still seems odd that this sort of ban (and not even for all year groups) would be newsworthy.

Screen-use in the classroom is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, so what concerns should we have with this? Carl Hendrick recently blogged about why the Internet should be kept out of the classroom, citing a 2016 study (Ravizza et al) looking at how university students use laptops in class reported the relationship between classroom performance and internet usage. They found that ‘nonacademic Internet use was common among students who brought laptops to class and was inversely related to class performance’.  A recently published Japanese study (Kawahara and Ito, 2017) looked at the ‘Effect of the Presence of a Mobile Phone during a Spatial Visual Search’ and found that even without using it, the mere presence of a mobile phone can adversely affect cognitive performance. This offers an opportunity for us to look at the impact of classroom technology and how schools can use classroom technology in a balanced way.

In response to an open letter published in December 2016 over concerns about children’s ‘screen-based’ lifestyles, a second letter quickly responded, calling for ‘quality research and evidence to support these claims and inform any policy discussion’. Whilst worries over increasingly sedentary lifestyles and mental health issues are understandable, the letter argues that there is little evidence to support the concerns in the initial letter and encourages the government and research bodies to invest in well-founded guidelines.

The evidence around the benefits and disadvantages of technology for children is ever-changing. In 2015 the American Academy of Paediatrics reviewed their guidelines for early childhood screen time, mostly based on old research into television time, which previously recommended that children under two should stay away from screen media. They have now provided more evidence-based guidance as to how children should use screens, including for unstructured play and the positives of video chatting with distant relatives.

At our school a decision was reached several years ago to provide each pupil with their own laptop to use in school. As we started to expand we found our ICT suite with 6 laptops wasn’t enough for 30 pupils and they were getting damaged etc so we started to roll out laptops and now we have 1:1 from KS2-4. Pupils use these within all lessons – we run KS2/3 on a mostly primary model of class teacher teaching most subjects with some specialist teachers/swapping (KS4 is more specialist). Laptops move with the pupil throughout day/years – it’s easier to track use and damage etc. Obviously (perhaps) laptops aren’t used in every lesson but they are used a lot. They are also used during some reward times and some break times (probably why online games are still accessible).

Certain websites are blocked from use like social media/YouTube/keywords and as websites appear that we want to block (YTPak as a YouTube substitute for instance) we can inform our blocking people (although I did find recently that I wasn’t able to access websites using the word ‘edge’ in the URL. This was an issue as I was trying to look at the knowledge organiser blogs and ‘knowledge’ was banned). We also use software for managing and monitoring what the pupils are using live. Teachers can view (and control) pupil laptops which is useful for both instances of inappropriate pupil activity and in-lesson sharing of work on the IWB. If pupils are using the computers inappropriately then we have reward/sanction systems that are used.

Clearly this is different to other types of screen use in the classroom but I do have concerns that we, staff and pupils, can be over-reliant on the laptops. Whether that means a reduction in the amount of handwriting pupils do, ‘lazy’ internet research (we’ve all heard amusing tales of Wikipedia regurgitation), or a slightly more concerning impact on processing information as described by Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) looking at laptop vs written note-taking by university students. Our pupils don’t take a huge amount of notes in lessons, but if we over rely on using the laptops when they do, the chances are we’re denying them the opportunity to process the information in a meaningful way.

Even if we can’t do much about what they do at home, we have a lot of control over how much technology pupils use in the classroom. There are some great resources out there and the deeper debate over this is perhaps for another day, but how much of school-tech is driven by what staff quite fancy having a play around with over the genuine benefits in the classroom? It’s almost becoming a cliché to ask whether the 1:1 iPads are essential or could you do it another way and save thousands of pounds (seems old but I had this conversation a fortnight ago). In a desire for an easy ride, doing something different’, squeezing in some of those illusive ’21st Century Skills’, is it actually more revolutionary to go without?

More robust research will hopefully lead to better guidelines, but we need to use our professional common sense as well. We’ll never be completely on top of it but we do have some control over our classrooms and probably just as well because with last month’s speculation that Apple are set to introduce a ‘cinema mode’ for iPhones, it seems like it soon won’t be single screen-use we’ll be discussing, but perhaps multi-screen use as well.


The other day I was going through some possible reading materials for upcoming journal clubs and came across this in this (pdf):

I found it amusing so I tweeted it and other people found it amusing. It was all very amusing.

The next day I was asked why I’d even consider looking at a paper from a computer science conference as a journal club text. I didn’t see this as a negative thing and I replied saying it was a case study of iPad use in primary (which the I assume satisfied as it was followed by the customary ‘like’), but it does throw up interesting questions about the types of reading we should be looking at in education journal clubs. My own stance is that the reading/s are used as a stimulus for conversation – this can be everything from discussing the ins and outs of current research in detail, to debating a wider topic (in this case I was thinking it might be interesting to compare how iPad technology was first introduced with how it is now), but I wonder how many people think we should only be looking at ‘perfect’, purely educational research?

The recent opening of Chartered Collage of Teaching membership, particularly with its free access to 2000+ journals has excited many on my timeline. I’ve got my own jealousy that I can’t join in with that part but it seems to have worked to change a few people’s minds and soon after the announcement I saw tweets suggesting people are wiling to join just for the access. I do have some misgivings about how useful journal access in itself will be but I think (presume) there will be different benefits of membership for those who aren’t interested in journals so I know it’s not all about that.

The way people use research in education is a recurring topic for debate and recently renewed. If teachers are thinking they’ll be able to search for papers that tell them ‘x is good, y is bad’, the chances are they won’t (and if they do then I think they should be cautious). I still believe that most people won’t have time to look for information in detail and if they do have time, wading through what’s out there can be hard and end up with cherry picking and sweeping assumptions. My choice of papers for journal clubs won’t always be a shining beacon of quality educational research or perfectly relatable to what we’re looking at in school (with or without access) but that’s an important part of the discussions we need to have.

I think the role of Research Lead now has an even greater chance to be pivotal in helping to translate research and point colleagues in the right direction. Journal club discussions can help with this of course and allow people to dip their toes in; but even for more rigorous investigation, knowledge translation is going to be important. I’ve delved into the world of Knowledge Mobilisation for various things recently and I’m convinced that there are exciting directions this can go in, whether that’s research summaries, brokering or bespoke investigations.

Increased access to research will be great for sharing original sources and following up of ideas. It will be used by some for deep academic study and inevitably by others to try and find a quick fix, tick-the-research-informed-box activity. It’s a brilliant opportunity for teachers but it’s also an opportunity to put guidance in place so that everyone can really make the most of it. I think it’s important we remember that just because something isn’t presented as ‘education research’ it doesn’t mean we can’t call it out for saying touching a screen with more than one finger is a ‘natural means of input’ and that this will motivate students, and recognising that something isn’t perfect is good for us too. In fact, I’d argue that’s exactly what we should be doing with our widening engagement with research.

For me, as I don’t suspect I’m going to have access to thousands of journals any time soon, I’ll just have to continue using the wealth of open and free access articles for starting discussions and helping focus ideas.


wp-1483200523164.jpg

Some people have noticed there have been some less than satisfactory bits to 2016 and it’s likely that it will be a year that gets a mention in the history books (hardcopy or digital) of the future, but I rather suspect that 2017 is queueing up to, um, trump it and we’ll look back on this one as a dream. wp-1483200640282.jpgEvery year we send out our Christmas cards (tree decorations) with a sheet of photos showing some of the things we’ve been up to; it saves writing about everything in detail and seems to get positive reviews so we stick with it. I’m always surprised at how much we’ve done throughout the year and despite worrying we’ll struggle to fill the sheet there’s always things we miss out. This year was no different and trawling through all our pictures from 2016 has served to remind me that we’ve done some brilliant things this year and maybe it wasn’t quite the shit-show I’m remembering it as.

Personal stuff

Mixed bag but nothing too tricksy here. I turned into a 35 year old and I won’t lie, I was grumpy about that. New box to tick on surveys, increased likelihood of diseases, sure I should feel more like a grown up etc. But hey, who wants to be a grown up anyway?

bhRather fabulously it was our 10th wedding anniversary this year. It means we’ve spent a lot of time looking at things we got as wedding presents and saying ‘That’s 10 years old now’ and thinking of people and saying ‘We’ve not seen them for 10 years now’. wp-1483195164527.jpgIt also means I was particularly shocked when I was off to do the Christmas shop and Howard asked, for the first time ever, for Twiglets. How can you be married to someone for 10 years and not know they like TWIGLETS?! Clearly keeping some air of mystique.

wp-1483195285814.jpgWe said goodbye to Jemima Destroyer of Worlds – the little white rabbit with blue eyes and a propensity to nap. Bert’s still here though and flourishing. We said hello to two new nephews, Frank and Thomas, born a couple of weeks apart. wp-1483197975916.jpgMeant a lot of travelling up and down the M1 but they seem like groovy enough chaps.

Finally, I’m pretty sure I made these happen:

Not had any confirmation or freebies yet, but it was me, wasn’t it?

wp-1483195328246.jpgTravel stuff

We ended up doing rather more exotic travel than we were planning this year. Our honeymoon had been a trip to Japan and we’d always fancied going back – particularly to see the cherry blossom – so we thought the whole ’10 years’ thing was a good enough excuse and went to Tokyo at Easter. wp-1483198023386.jpgWe did lots of fabulous things including bus tours (obvs), art, blossom watching, cultural stuff, and most amazingly, cuddling hedgehogs at the hedgehog cafe. I love hedgehogs and Tokyo.

Our plan was a small UK get-away in the summer and perhaps a cheap package deal for some October sunshine, but I put a stop to that by putting myself forward for researchED Washington DC. Our cheap holiday turned into a trip to New York and Washington DC during which we did industrial strength tourism (mostly via bus tours, I have so many ponchos now) and witnessed pre-election America. We really did pack an extraordinary amount of stuff in, but if we could recommend one thing, both of us would go for the nighttime bus tour of Washington DC (part bus, part guided walking tour) where the monuments and memorials take on a whole new feeling.

Arguably the best thing we did during this trip was our tour of The (actual real-life) White House organised by researchED. Didn’t think that would be happening this time last year. Now we can look at it on the telly (it’s been on a bit) and say ‘We’ve been in that room’. Next year we’ll be able to look at it on the telly and say ‘We’ve been in that room before it was gold’.

wp-1483197997065.jpgWork stuff

Obviously some of the travel stuff is also a bit work-y so I’ll start there. I hadn’t really planned on doing any researchED presenting this year and I attended a couple of events just to participate – the usual eye-opening presentations and sharing of amazing projects, with good pub-chat afterwards. The opportunity to go to America was one that I couldn’t (Howard wouldn’t let me) turn down and I’ve met some brilliant people – all quite surreal.

This kicked me into action with Journal Clubs and I got myself sorted with a website to bring together all the Journal Club-y bits I’ve got (mostly on here) and add some more detailed bits of information, templates and helpsheets. ejclogolongIt’s here if you’re interested EduJournalClub.com

Slightly connected to this is the launch of ‘What Matters’, an initiative led by the University of Nottingham School of Education to bring together schools, University and interested parties in Nottingham. I’ve spent some time this year working through ideas for activities and events with Howard Stevenson (another Howard) and the project was officially launched in November with a lot of initial interest.

bdwab0202At school we had another year of good Art GCSE results that make us increasingly confident in what we’re doing and proud of our boys. I also organised another ‘Blind Date With A Book’ event alongside organising the creation and publishing of a ‘We Are Writers’ book with work from every pupil in school. I’ve managed to keep going with Relay. Box-of-booksStill not sure how many people read it but there are occasional mentions of something I’ve written about so I shall keep going with it. This year I’ve said goodbye to my two best work-mates, Courtney and Alison. One to go and have a baby, the other to relocate down south. I do have my lovely new room-mate Neihal now who is suitably nuts and a perfect addition to the team.

Onwards to 2017…

Despite impending global doom (I am a very good worrier, I’m trying not to think about it all too much) there is a good little line up of things happening next year. ‘What Matters’ is set to really get going with a series of special interest groups and bigger events on the horizon. I’m all signed up for researchED Sweden, had to decline the offer of Oslo as it’s our wedding anniversary, and I shall attempt to update the Journal Club website with some more factsheets and ideas.

School is ready to academise in March. We’re setting up our own MAT so hopefully it’ll be fairly smooth. As the person doing the school websites it’ll add to some challenges I’m sure. On top of the academy thing we’re also expanding both pupil-wise and building-wise. This will add a few more challenges but I’m trying to look at it as opportunity rather than impending chaos.

In amongst all this we will hopefully have a think about doing something with the back garden and I’ve started looking for some new living room curtains (who said I wasn’t a grown up?). Also thinking it might be good to get that cheap package holiday with a swimming pool and reading time in too – if Tom fancies #rEDAlgarve, we’re there!


So one minute you’re planning which cheap package holiday to book for half term and the next you’re flippantly replying to a tweet about an educational research conference in Washington DC. ‘Do they want to know about Journal Clubs?’ you ask. ‘Keep going…’ comes the reply.

redwash

So Portugal turned into Washington DC, and a tour of a local church turned into a tour of the White House. There are a lot of people who have done a lot of unexpected things because of researchED, but walking round the White House is pretty epic even by rED standards. It came at the end of a fairly intense week as we decided we’d go to New York for a few days before DC and it essentially turned into 7 days straight of open-topped bus tours which is hard-core even for us. To be honest, one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to write about it is that I’ve not quite come down from the whirlwind. The downside of this is that now I’ve had more time to process it, I’ve got so much more to say.

whitehouse

Other people have written about some of the sessions I went to like Kate Walsh’s and Ben Riley’s, and they’ve covered Dylan Wiliam’s brilliant keynote in varying amounts of detail so I won’t repeat that, however I did love that some of his themes were picked up throughout the day and this made for a unifying thread among some challenging ideas.

My favourite session by far was Ruth Nield‘s session on ‘Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships’. One of the reasons it’s taken me so long to write about #rEDWash is the amount of time I’ve spent looking through and getting sucked into her links – there’s some brilliant stuff out there! I went to this session partly because of a project that I’ve been working on with the School of Education at the University of Nottingham around collaborations between schools and researchers and I’m always up for new ideas (‘What Matters‘ – I’ll probably write about another time), and also to hear more about the wider picture of research use in schools in America. The day before we had been hosted by The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning at St Andrews Episcopal School for lunch and one of the questions they were asking us was about how to widen the scope of education research in American settings. I got the impression that there are lots of pockets of activity and it’s a question of how these can come together – perhaps easier with the smaller scale of the UK – but also the more limited use of social media with practitioners in the US.

Turns out there’s quite a bit of stuff going on with the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) (apologies if I get muddled with this, I wrote my notes furiously and interpreting my special shorthand a week later is proving awkward). Ruth set out the different strands of work they are doing and it sounds amazing – if the College of Teaching wants research to be at its core then they could do worse than looking at what’s going on here; the US may be behind in regards to practitioner involvement with research, but it’s all there for the taking. Their work is independent and covers a range of practical approaches, much more than just RCTs.

She started by discussing the value of education research, the disconnect between schools and researchers (something we’re all familiar with) and how their researcher-practitioner partnerships (RRP) are aiming to address this. Researchers and practitioners work together over time to co-construct agendas of work for mutual benefit. This allows them to work on research that is more relevant and hopefully more likely to inform practice; they are able to form long-term working relationships and both sides can develop professionally. To support these partnerships (which can be in cities, states, cross-state, cross-district) they have Regional Education Laboratories (REL) working with”Research Alliances” of education practitioners and policymakers. They identify areas of need and work together to analyse data and conduct research to develop and test strategies. The IES provides seed-grants of around $400,000 to develop projects for which they can go on to apply for further funding if required. Projects mentioned included one that created software to track progress and now has a national audience.

In addition to the RELs, the IES has the What Works Clearinghouse (how had I not seen this before?) which ‘reviews the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education’ and hosts intervention reports, reviews of individual studies and a series of practice guides that they are now seeing schools adapt and use for their setting. Tom Bennett came in to the session towards the end and drew similarities to the EEF in the UK; this is so much more than that; it’s sort of like a cross between the EEF Toolkit and the Literacy intervention review Tom Sherrington talked about at rED15, but it’s nicer to look at with simple infographics (including a lovely representation/summary of the setting for each intervention). You can see effectiveness, improvement, and my favourite bit – you can compare interventions. Something that really impressed me was that all their reports go through peer review before they are released (see picture for questions). Ruth was clear to point out that they aren’t just interested in the ‘gold standard’ of research – they publish a cross-section of work, summaries and of course RCTs.

IES peer review questions

IES peer review questions

On top of all this they have ERIC – the Education Resources Information Center. I did know about this one and they’ve recently changed the website to be a bit more easy to use. ERIC is a digital library of education research and other information – in their words ‘ERIC’s mission is to provide a comprehensive, easy-to-use, searchable Internet-based bibliographic and full-text database of education research and information for educators, researchers, and the general public.’. How can we not be excited about this? Perfect for Journal Clubs too…

One of the issues the IES, and research engagement in US schools generally, seems to have is with ‘reach’ and I asked how they get their message out to schools. They use social media, professional associations and each REL has a governing board with regional commissioning officers that work in their localities. I’m sure there could be more. I was already following one of the IES twitter accounts and have since followed more, but when I look at how many followers these accounts have or how many RTs/Likes the posts have they are no where near the amount that similar UK accounts have.  This is a bigger issue than the IES of course; one of the things that stood out to me and others was the low number of classroom teachers at rEDWash in comparison to the UK events. I’m certain that if more teachers engaged with this work, the impact could be massive. I don’t know that I have any answers to the questions this throws up, but I’m sure researchED has a part to play.

There’s so much I’ve not written about yet, just with Ruth Nield’s session, and I’m at a ludicrous amount of words already. I’ve not talked about my session, the people we met, the pub, what’s next for me and research. This has been an amazing, crazy week and I’ve thought about researchED a lot – as always it’s about keeping up the momentum and sharing ideas. I’ll have a think and write about it more next.


redtng

A theory I’ve had at the back of my mind for a while now is that there’s an emerging ‘2nd Generation’ of researchED goers. I’ve increasingly found that discussing the day with people I’ve now spent time with (both during conference and in pub afterwards) at several events is quite different from some of the conversations I’ve had throughout the day with people who were just starting to engage with researchED.

When researchED began in 2013, no one knew quite what it would be like but it looked like it’d be a good day out. I’d had a year without studying and I was eager to see how I could keep my foot in with all the research stuff I’d slaved over for three years. On the day there were people you recognised, a wide variety of sessions to attend, and there was nothing to lose. It was grass-roots – but not yet a movement. I felt the same way I did after my first MEd tutorial – there were all these people interested in the same things and I wanted to do it again. I scribbled notes for my first blog post as we drove back up the M1 towards home, and so did other people. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to do it again – there was a hunger for more. We all took different things away from the day but we’d gone along to take part and be part of that day.

There was a rhetoric at the first couple of Research Leads events that centered on the need for head teachers and leaders to have a ‘vision’. The vision to drive their institution forward and properly engage with research on a whole-school level or it ‘wouldn’t work’. The message seemed to have shifted from engaging individuals, to ‘how do we familiarise people with research’, to the requirement for a ‘whole school vision’. I don’t think anything is wrong with this. I agree leadership need to be on board of course, but I think there is now a group of people who have skipped the first bit and are aiming for the last. They may have been sent to a researchED event by their Head in order to bring back the magic bullet, or be that Head looking for ideas. They want to know how it’s all supposed to work in practice; where the common ground lies between schools and what the bigger picture is; what the point is. The theory sounds great but it’s turning into a big job.

At one of the events Tom Bennett made a comment about whether researchED was the new Brain Gym yet. There does seem to be a reflexive reaction to the growing interest in research in schools, “that looks good, we’ll try that, Ofsted will love it”, throwing everything into ‘research’ without stopping to think about what it means and what will work for your individual setting – perhaps heightened by Research and Development as one of the ‘Big Six’ key areas of focus for Teaching Schools. I’m part of it myself I suppose. I asked for the Research Lead role because I didn’t want anyone else to get it. I’m still happily moving along, picking up ideas and things to try out.  I’m in a different situation to a lot of people though; our school is small and think there are quite a few things that aren’t suited to us so I’m not so worried about figuring out how we’ll fit it in. I’m happy to cherry pick and try to work out what we can try whilst I continue to meet with interesting people and build connections for us.

Jude Enright used Pasteur’s Quadrant model of scientific research in her session in Cambridge. Our group discussion about where the Research Lead lies within the quadrant was interesting. pasteurtableWe pretty much decided that we can flit from place to place depending on what we are engaging with. I like to think that even though I’ve got a responsibility as Research Lead to consider how research is relevant and used, I can also delve into research for the sake of it; it’s like the indulgent me-time of research. As Research Leads I think a lot of our work is helping others find their quadrant and supporting them. Be that individually, as a whole school or perhaps as part of a TSA. I understand that schools don’t want to be left behind, and I really understand the need to be part of this – it doesn’t mean it has to be about finding ‘the answer’ all the time though. People can be nominated to do the role but there needs to be an element of personal interest.

I know the Leads events are more focused on what we can actually bring back to do in schools, the national conference has a broader scope and I’m glad it has continued to be that way. One of the best things about researchED is that it’s a hobby; I’ve seen people at teachmeets getting a bit haughty about research  – feeling like they’ve got to question things for the sake of it. It turns people off and spoils it. A speech from Tom Bennett is never complete without astonishment that so many people are giving up their Saturday to attend. We’re doing it for fun, it’s enriching but it doesn’t feel like we’re at work. At least that’s how I see it.

My advice to the 2nd Generation, for what it’s worth, is you don’t need to worry about rushing to find the answers. Take the opportunity to see what other people are achieving and think about how you can adapt it to fit. That’s part of working our what works, right?