Tag Archives: 2017

I wrote a 2016 post last year and thought it might be nice to do the same again this year. I’ve been sitting on the vague headings of ‘personal’, ‘travel’ and ‘work’ for a couple of hours now and my frame of mind appears to be one of mild gloom which is making it bit more difficult. I’ll start with travel this time…

Travel

We’ve done a bit more travel than we meant to this year. It started with the planned trip to Stockholm for researchED in February – I got a new coat and everything. I love Sweden but have until now stuck to the south and my friend Cecilia. It was lovely and snowed (a teeny bit) and some good funtimes until Howard was poorly and I didn’t get a bus tour. Put a bit of a dampener on things but was still a nice trip and we’ll give it another go next year.

Last year we did big holidays in April and October and, whilst they were brilliant, I kind of missed having a summer trip so our plan this year was to have a week away at Easter and one in August. The first was our cheap package holiday to Mallorca (lots of reading by a pool and working through the all inclusive cocktail menu) and the second was a week in Lisbon (industrial tourism with some amazing art and sea otters). With the odd weekend away here and there, that was the whole plan. Then for various reasons we ended up in Cape Town in October. Still not quite sure how we ended up there (Expedia and Emerites had a hand in it but there was a slight element of ‘whim’)… We did so much in under two weeks but my favourite bits were a duck parade and cuddling penguins in actual real life.

Next year we really do think we’ll rein it in a bit. Long haul flights have turned into the only way we see recent films.

Personal

Plodded along this year really. We did some Ikea hacks for the living room and the decking in the back garden that we’re chuffed about.

We saw some awesome art this year including two of my favourites, Anselm Kiefer at White Cube and Rachel Whiteread at Tate Britain. I squealed at all of it.

I embraced my inner Hufflepuff (official sorting off of the Pottermore website quiz) and I committed to a favourite post-One Direction member of One Direction (Niall).

Work

As I predicted the academy conversion (and MAT formation) has meant extra website work and, not quite as predicted, this has meant a few things have been put on hold for the start of this academic year. Hopefully I’ll be done with setting things up in the new year and can get some other bits done. There have been moments where I feel that I’ve stalled with a lot of things but as a wise Creaby once told me ‘You’ve just got to keep plugging away at it’. I’m trying, honest, and Relay is on issue 17 now – I’m not even sure it gets read but I’m plugging.

Another thing that’s stalled for various reasons is What Matters (the thing with the University of Nottingham). My enthusiasm knows no bounds however and I’ll see if we can revive it in some way next year (I’m still using it in conference bios, I’ve got to try something).

My focus for next year involves some professional development bits, some writing bits  and some researchED bits so far. I may be picking brains.

2018

Who knows. There have been moments when I wasn’t sure we’d get to 2018 this year but unless the next few hours goes to pot we will. With all the shifting round at work I’ve no idea what route that’ll be taking so I’m going to make a conscious decision to keep going with the work things outside of work. I’ve met so many fabulous people this year and my brain has ideas.

We don’t have particularly crazy travel plans for next year either. As long as there’s a bus tour or 6 I’ll be dandy. It’s been an interesting year but it looks like we’ve made it. Here’s to the next one.

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I’ll be honest, I could’ve done more reading this summer but sometimes I just watched telly instead. I did however read some gudduns, particularly following my call for suggestions and I’ve still got a couple from that list that I’ve not got to yet. Last year I included my books from the Easter holidays in my summer reviews but I won’t get into the habit of that so I’ll just say that I read Sue Perkins’ ‘Spectacles’ and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Norse Mythology’ on holiday in April and both are worth your attention.

So. My readings…

Book 1: Cast Iron by Peter May

Oh, Enzo. How I have enjoyed the wine-soaked romps across France with you over the years and now our time together has come to an end.

May’s books appear frequently in my run-throughs of summer reading and Enzo has had his place. This is the last in the series of six books featuring forensic expert Enzo Macleod and his challenge to solve seven of France’s unsolved murders. It’s been a while since the last book (and I waited for the paperback so they matched on my shelves) but worth the wait and some good plot devices to bring in characters from previous quests.

I was going to read this regardless of quality obviously but it didn’t disappoint at all and rounded off the series most satisfactorily. I think there were initially seven books planned (from memories of looking at May’s website) so I don’t know how the intended plot changed but it didn’t seem rushed together. All the main characters are there – from the people to the locations and if you’ve read the others it’s worth finishing them off.

Book 2: A Rage In Harlem by Chester Himes

This was an author suggested by James Theobald. Oh my goodness. I loved this so much I can hardly describe it but I immediately bought another one which is below. They’re set in 1950s Harlem and described on one of the covers as ‘mayhem yarns’ which I never knew was a genre but describes it perfectly.

The book is set on the streets of Harlem and this is the first of Himes’ novels to feature detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones – although it’s more of an introduction to them in this one. It’s a fast paced tale of a simpleton who gets swept up in all sorts of criminal activity with farcical slapstick that slams into grizzly reality at every turn. The language is so sublime that you almost don’t notice it – nothing is held back and it somehow comes across as both a throwaway caper and a raw snapshot of life.

From the con man dressed as a nun to the slashing of throats and a hearse chasing through the streets there is nothing to disappoint.

Book 3: Silent Scream by Angela Marsons

To Birmingham for this one and more of a classic detective dealing with a dead body . This is another Twitter suggestion and the first in the DI Kim Stone novels.

The body count mounts quickly and there are enough twists and red herrings to satisfy without them seeming too obviously placed or clichéd. Having said that I don’t know whether I’ll rush to read another one. There were bits that seemed a little clunky (sometimes I wonder if detective books are being written with TV adaptations in mind) and the parallels between the case and Stone’s history were a bit much at times – having said I won’t rush into the next one it’ll be interesting to see how she develops when the case isn’t as close to home.

If you’re looking for a new detective then give this a go and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I was probably still mourning Enzo a bit.

Book 4: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

I read ‘Case Histories’ quite a while ago and this is the second of Atkinson’s books featuring detective Jackson Brodie. I’d enjoyed the first and Twitter reminded me I’d not read any more so I was looking forward to it. My mistake was to have a break of 48 hours between starting it and picking it up again half way through. There are so many characters and interwoven storylines that I struggled to keep up with everything when they crossed over.

The novel is set in Edinburgh during the festival and the feel of this was spot on. I think every aspect of the criminal world is covered somewhere is this with most of the characters having a hand in another’s business but there was just a bit too much crammed in for me I think. One of the characters is a writer who imagines writing a book like a matryoshka doll with layers fitting together and this is clearly the concept for this one. I just think I’d prefer a 5-doll set to the 15.

I did like it and I don’t think I’ll wait as long before reading the next in the series (there are four I think), but I’ve got to go back to Harlem first…

Book 5: The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes

I saved this one for after the others rather than getting to it too quickly. I think I slightly prefered this to Rage In Harlem as it kept all the features but had a more flowing plotline and featured more of the detectives. It would stand on its own but there are threads that follow on so definitely read the first.

This one gets in quickly with a bar fight that is both brutal and hilarious in its farce. There’s a chase, a kidnapping, a fart scene. The language is on point once more and I wish I’d made a note of some of the descriptions and off the cuff remarks but I wasn’t going to break my flow. It’s described on the cover as ‘Hieronymus Bosch meets Miles Davis’ and I think that says it all.

I can’t believe I’d never heard of these before and at around 200 pages they’re perfect for polishing off in a day. I still can’t quite describe what they’re like so I’ll just end up sounding like a gushing thesaurus and there’s no use in that so I shall just ask that you give them a go whilst I buy some more.

 

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Links to books are (almost all) The Guardian Bookshop again because of tax and monopolies etc.


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.


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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!