Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The TES Awards 2016

Photo by Hannah

The TES Awards 2016 took place on Friday 24th June at the The Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London. It is the first time I have been invited, and I was surprised by the sheer scale of it - over 1000 guests fitted into a huge function suite under the hotel. It was a glitzy affair with a champagne reception, "grab as many glasses as you can" I told my wife - how often is there free booze for teachers? 

It was nice to be seated with Natalie and Paul who I met for the first time, plus Heather who I have met on numerous occasions at blogger curry meet ups. Sadly Zoe couldn't make it and there were two empty seats at our table - they were in touch via Twitter though! (And we ate their food, as the waiting staff insisted on leaving it...)

TES provided plenty of wine yet the six bottles on the table seemed to evaporate in no time - huge thanks to Rachel and Sarah from the TES team (and Lara who passed on our dilemma!), who kept us topped up when we ran dry! This did compensate for a tasty but slightly small dinner... After paying £90 for my 'plus one' ticket, the wine was sadly out of price range for most teachers.

As much as it was a night to celebrate all schools, teachers and their achievements, I was there as a representative of the blogger community. These are teachers who are able to share, reflect and question some of the important ideas of the education world. Blogging, alongside social media more widely, has brought about change, allowed different voices to be heard and promoted engagement and great thinking with some of the toughest challenges education has to pose. 

I know my blogs are not the most well written prose out there, they are often thrown together during a stolen 5 minutes at break time, or drafted at midnight as I lie in bed - I'm a full time teacher with more than enough going on in school... plus a 8 month old son! I am glad that someone somewhere thinks I have something worth sharing and it was nice that some of the judges came to find me to say they found my writing interesting and of value. Thank you. 

A final huge thank Andrew for encouraging the blogger community to nominate blogs such as mine (see <here>). Bloggers should be promoting one another, and encouraging others to blog and respond; Andrew does an impressive job with his various Echo Chambers. I know there were reservations about the shortlisting (see <here>), and then some compromise (see <here>), but I do think it is an important award, but one that could perhaps be developed further by TES, perhaps by better engaging with the blogger community.

I haven't see a list of the bloggers linked anywhere else so here they are:

You're on my blog, so you don't need a link...

Thanks again for the shortlisting TES. For next year, remember teachers on a Friday will drink more booze than you imagine, and hopefully a plus one can be included too...

Who knows if or when I'll be back again...

Friday, 24 June 2016

When Trips Go Wrong...

Yesterday we attempted a trip to Tate Britain. I was quite excited as I hadn't been before, and via Twitter, I had got a few tips about what to head for and what to see. However due to the heavy rain and thunderstorms in the early hours on Thursday, the day would take some eventful turns, and not quite turn out how we had planned.

I arrived in school at 6.30am to get some work done before the trip. On arrival, I found my desk flooded. A significant pile of students work (mainly KS3 projects completed with the promise of prizes) had to be binned, as did a few textbooks. I tried to peel them apart to dry them off, but I was left with a paier-mâché ball. I mopped up with the help of the cleaners, left a bucket on my desk and when to find my group.

Unsurprisingly, many were late as roads were closed due to flooding (Romford was hit pretty badly, see <here>). We decided to cancel the first part of the trip (in a park) and leave at 8.15am instead. Boarding the double decker bus parked out of school, little did we know that it would be over 3 hours when we next got off, and that our destination would only be McDonalds in nearby Dagenham!

The A13 was shut, traffic was horrendous, every route we tried, and tried again, was stationary. In the end, we just got off and walked back to the McDonalds that we had passed 4 times already, leaving the bus and driver on a jammed duel carriageway. There was mixed feelings from students, the excitement of free wifi, but fear that their batteries wouldn't last the day. All credit to the staff who were unfazed by 70 students arriving at once.

We decided to try and do something, so phoned the Valence House museum to see if they could accommodate us. They could. For many of the girls, the biggest excitement was the baby frogs, which were literally everywhere on the grass. I learnt some fascinating things, like Gandhi came to Dagenham.

During this trip, I got a phone call from Santander to ask if I had been taking money from a cashpoint in New Delhi during lunch time. I politely pointed out that I had spent 5 hours travelling, but that had only got me Dagenham. My card being cloned and fraudulently used seemingly just another of the days challenges.

We then headed back to school, tired, but filled with comedy stories of the day: getting lost on multiple occasions, taking wrong turns, singing funny songs, holding our bladders, sketching McDonalds instead of the Tate's artwork...

I'm not a fan of those KEEP CALM signs, but that what we have to do as teachers... whatever is thrown at us, we make the best of. I had a great day, so did the students (one was overheard, "BEST TRIP EVER! We just went to McDonalds!"). Everyone went home smiling with fond memories, I also made a storify... hopefully it was some kind of antidote to other stories in the news.

This is why I love the job: it can be crazy, totally unpredictable and you often get to laugh. Lots.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Star Thrower

In my 10 years of teaching, I have been called upon to do many last minute assemblies. You always need a few stories up your sleeve, and this one has been a trusty companion, weaving it's way into many different assemblies on many different themes.

It is adapted from an essay by Loren Eiseley (1969), but is often found without attribution and in various different forms. He is one such version:

“While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, stagnant in my work, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. There were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, "It makes a difference for this one." I abandoned my writing and spent the morning throwing starfish.”

I think it is also a useful reflection for weary teachers, wondering why they are doing the things they do. 

Watch a version here:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Purpose of Catholic RE: #AmIBothered? RE Conference 18/6/16

I spoken on a panel about the purpose of RE at the "Am I Bothered?" RE conference. I shared something on what I believe the purpose of Catholic RE may be - it was deliberately provocative and resulted in various conversations during the day. I broadcast my contribution via Periscope:

Many, both Catholics and non-Catholics, presume that the core purpose of Religious Education in the Catholic school is either to bring unbelievers to the faith or to grow the faith of the baptised. Sometimes it is referred to a form of indoctrination, with the negative connotations that come with that term.

Good RE in the Catholic school can function as both evangelization and catechesis. This will largely depend on the state of those receiving the education, and it is important to note that neither of those aims are properly educational. Nor do we proselytise in RE; we are not trying claim the non-believer.

Whilst the whole school functions as a catechetical community, the purpose of RE within that community is to ensure that every pupil has a good knowledge, understanding and critical engagement with Catholicism, irrespective of their faith.

Many, both within the Church and outside of it, see RE as a form of moral education; an increased study of ethics is rooted in this. However moral formation is part of the whole school and curriculum. Many schools are talking about a need for “character education” and many are attempting to teach RE in a way that it becomes a religious version of good citizenship. But, as Paul Barber of the CES said: what others are calling “character education” is what Catholic schools have always simply called “education”.

RE may also be a catalyst for community cohesion; good RE leads to greater understanding of other religions and therefore to greater respect for those of other faiths. It may be an outcome, but it should not be an aim. Being respectful of difference and expressing difference in a way which is sensitive to the rights of others, is not a skill which is exclusive to RE.

The Catholic community are not immune from the debates surrounding breadth versus depth; one religion or many; religious studies from the outside versus religious education from the inside; theology versus sociology.

Is it as simple as RE improving religious literacy? This is the most commonly cited purpose recently, yet the term remains fiercely contested. Are we simply moving the question further down the road. What does it mean to be a religiously literate person? Knowledge, understanding of religious belief and commitment, respect for difference and acknowledgement of the important place religion plays in the lives of individuals and communities, as well as a critical engagement, and a thorough understanding of the religious or non-religious beliefs of the student.

Studying “The Big 6” of RS, in a “non-confessional” way, provides a set of beliefs and practices of others. This may lead to an assumption that all religions are basically the same and that the differences between them are cultural rather than substantive. Some call this an agnostic privilege; the study certainly appears as a form of anthropology, rather than delivering anything theological.

The ‘depth over breadth’ argument is often cited in RE. I recall Claire Fox telling me she thought her Catholic education served her well as at least she knew one religion really well! This is why many Catholic schools are happy to refer to RE as a study of theology. There is much depth to the rich intellectual heritage of the Catholic theological tradition.

For some, RE should be evolving to become a sociology of religion, asking questions about what religion itself is and analyzing the divergence within traditions and the interplay between politics, culture and religion – this is often called a study of the “real religious landscape”. This aims to detach the Church and other religions from the RE taking place, which some may claim is preferable.

Catholics have a distinctive vision of education, but we are not alone in our passion for educating. The wider world of RE in 2016 poses both challenges and opportunities. Catholic RE teachers are engaging now more than ever. We may not agree, but there is common ground. I finish with a quote from a friend and fellow Catholic educator: “We want to make sure that when the meal is served we have our seat at the table, even if we reserve the right to select our meal from the a la carte menu while everyone else has the dish of the day.”

Friday, 10 June 2016

When Saturday Comes...

Saturdays are made for relaxing, family and sport. I used to have a season ticket at Southend United, and travel to many away games. For the last few years, I have dedicated myself to hockey and recently helped break a Guiness World Record for the longest ever game (see <here>). I also now take my son swimming, one of my favourite times of the week.

Yet I do find myself giving up a reasonable number of Saturdays for 'work related' activities. So far this year:

  • ResearchEd (September)
  • Michaela Debate (November)
  • TeachFirst (March)
  • London RE Hub (April)
  • RE – Am I bothered? (June)
  • HEI Credo Days (July)

Despite wanting to attend, I've said no to:

  • Culham St Gabriel's Weekend (October)
  • Strictly RE (January)
  • Deabting Michaela (April)
  • Northern Rocks (June)
  • The Big Homerton Education Debate (July)

I had to pay out of my own pocket for all conferences I have attended on Saturdays, as well as my travel and any sustenance. This also doesn't include the many evening events I have attended including TeachMeets, talks and meetings.

The world of Edu-Twitter is not in any way representative, but I did a quick poll back in March:

This is quite astounding. I am not some isolated 'teacher-geek'; there is a substantial number of teachers regularly giving up Saturdays to attend conferences and education events. 

My reason for doing the poll as I felt a real sense of guilt for hosting The London RE Hub on a Saturday when a number of RE teachers had already given up a good number of Saturdays. I was sure that their husbands, wives, partners and children were cursing me. I also knew that at the previous years' conference, around 20% had paid for their ticket out of their own pocket. It was a heavy weight. 

Why run an event on a Saturday?

  • Equal access - Some courses can sometimes be the reserve of heads of department or senior leaders. This is sometimes well cascaded, sometimes it is not. Sometimes teachers without leadership responsibility can be well positioned, enthusiastic and keen to improve and use the knowledge from the course. 
  • 'Rarely Cover' - This has resulted in far less staff being let out. It is out core purpose to be in school, teaching our students, but if we want to be better teachers, sometimes we need to spend a day out of school learning, reflecting and networking.
  • School Budgets - This is linked to the above, but if you are self funding, you can't be told no. 
  • Social - You can go for a beer and curry afterwards. I have made good friends, and fantastic professional connections this way.
However there is some serious concerns here:
  • Are schools going to expect staff to do CPD in evenings and weekends?
  • Will staff continue to fail to balance professional and personal lives?
  • Should staff be expected to pay out of their pocket for CPD?
  • Do CPD records held by schools recognise the quality of grassroots, teacher organised CPD?
  • Is there greater expectation to take part in these events if you are a Tweeting/Facebooking teacher who probably already spends several hours a week doing informal CPD via #SLTchat #UKEdChat, Facebook groups, forums?
I have had to start saying no. Even though sometimes I feel like I am missing out.

I have a young son, and I love spending my weekends with him. I also love playing hockey and spending time with friends and family. I also can't afford to spend £100 on a ticket / travel / food / hotel for such events. I also need a break. I need to switch off and forget about my job every now and again. 

For what it is worth, I am sorry that I have had to organise events on a Saturday. I am sorry that the current climate demands this. Thank you for coming. I'll see you in the pub afterwards, and I'll even buy you a beer!

Tommy and I at the hockey club

Image: The Guardian

Monday, 6 June 2016

Read My Textbook

Read the current proofs <here>


The final, printed version will reflect the approved spec and sample assessments. Exam support will be provided and all tasks in the textbook will match the final, approved spec.

To request inspection copies and class sets from this series, please email, quoting K42995. For each title that you order on inspection, we will send you the corresponding free online drafts as soon as they are available.

It has been a shame that Edexel (Pearson) have been so late to be approved, and I worry that some schools will have picked specs for the 'wrong reasons' (first approved, first textbook available etc) rather than what they genuinely believe is the best spec, with most straightforward assessment and best resourced. 

The CES has been directly involved in the writing of the specs for Eduqas and AQA, which does mean that those specs are to a high standard. However the CES have also worked with this textbook to ensure that, as a resource, it is of the highest quality, authentic and accurate in every detail. 

Many staff have said they want to plan over the summer, and despite the delays, now with the electronic version ready and available to view they are now able to do that. 
  • Read more on my website <here>
  • Read more from OUP <here>
  • Download latest SAMs and Spec from Edexcel <here>
  • SoWs / Course Planners etc <here>

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A Lesson in Character, Resilience and Grit

In December 2014, Nicky Morgan and the DfE launched a scheme to help promote the teaching of character, resilience and grit in schools. It was ridiculed by many working in schools - how can these things possibly be explicitly taught, let be alone measured?

As many teachers opened a bottle of wine last Friday to celebrate the end of a busy half term, I arrived at Warners Bridge, the home of my hockey club, Old Southendians. At 6pm, we began what was to become the single, biggest challenge of my life. I was unprepared for the physical, mental and emotional demands of playing what was initially a 50 hour hockey game, which became a 53 hour, 11 minute, 18 second marathon.
  • I played for around 36 hours of the 53.
  • I had just 7 hours sleep.
  • I travelled (walked/jogged/sprinted) somewhere in the region of 80 miles.
  • I scored 23 goals (somewhat irrelevant in our team total of 336), which was 23 times my total for the last 5 seasons.
  • I played more than 28 full games of hockey in just over 2 days.
  • I was still running around at 11pm on the Sunday night (my last goal was around 9.30pm...)

What training did I do? Little more than my usual fitness routine of gym, 5-a-side staff footy and, of course, hockey. I always knew this game was to be one of mind over matter. I didn't know if this made it easier or harder. How can you train for this? You could go for a 5 or 6 hour run, trying to mix up the sprint, jog, walk, stand of a usual game. But you can't go home for 2 hours and rest before doing it again, and sleep for 3 hours and do it again...

At various points, I really felt like we wouldn't be able to do it. Waking up at 7am to play, having finished at 4am, with everything hurting, and barely being able to walk, knowing there was so long to go...

I got really bad knee pain early on Saturday morning (not a previous injury) and had to get both knees strapped up. I could barely move before I put on knee supports, but thankfully with them, I was up and running again. Playing in the middle of the night was also really tough, I had 10pm to 4am slots on both days. It gets really cold, your body is trying to shut down for sleep and you are running around the pitch trying to score goals!

How did we manage?

The support network in place was phenomenal. Our organiser, Fliss was amazing - and also a Physio! Dr Laura (who injured herself and couldn't play) provided minor surgery, drugs and everything else we needed. James who broke his thumb on the Friday but carried on in his support role. Leanne from KeyMed/Olympus and the ladies from Age UK (Essex) who encouraged us and supplied with non stop sugary food! Every umpire and witness who turned up for 2-4 hour slots, plus family, friends and supporters. I felt bad for the people who came to see me as I was either on the pitch or struggling to compose myself in a seat off it! It was amazing that they came down, and I am very grateful.

My teammates, and opposition, were really just one. The majority of players came from my club, but others joined us from local clubs too - one big hockey family. Some started off the weekend as strangers, others as people I vaguely knew, but all ended up as friends who shared in something very special. There was a special bond created between us, that will last for a very long time. I agree with all those who have said the memories of this weekend will last a life time.

The other thing that may also differentiate us from other attempts, and eventual record breakers, is that this was a club effort. We were not a group of 'elite athletes'. Our first XIs (mens and ladies) were represented, but so were our lowest XIs (3 players came from our mens 6th XI). We had 16 year olds, and those in their 50's. There was no selection process, anyone who wanted to join in was welcomed. Our differences in age, ability and experience united us in a potentially unique way. 

Those little smiles, funny jokes, walking past and giving a pat on the back, a hug, a point and "you're amazing", a little tease, passing a donut or a bottle of Lucazade. That's what kept us going.

It was also the shared vision and responsibility. We all had our eyes set on the prize, 52 hours of hockey. We also had a shared responsibility, with only 16 players on each team, if you couldn't play, someone else would have to play more.

"Nobody wins unless everybody wins" - Bruce Springsteen

Many months ago we intended to do 50 hours, breaking the World Record by 10 hours. However a few weeks before the event, we found out about an American University who had claimed to have done 51 (due to various unverified claims of others doing 50). We decided to do 52. It was around the 51 hour mark when we were told that a Dutch team had done 52.5hrs very recently (and a huge thanks to the person from Chelmsford hockey club who came down in person to tell us) so at just past 9pm, thinking we had an hour to go, we had to pull every last thing we had to push to 11pm. We owe the supporters and the DJ as they really helped with this final push.

We then had to play to the end of a half and at around 11.10pm we had the final 10 second countdown. We were world record breakers. No one had ever played as long a hockey game as us. Some fell to their knees, some started hugging those around them, some screamed, some cried.

The feeling of elation was unparalleled. We congregated around the clock for a final photo. The plan of heading to the clubhouse bar for celebratory drink was postponed. No one had anything left to give. They needed their beds!

As my friend Andy B said, "this is very much a world record for the beating and not the keeping, so we wish the other clubs taking on the challenge around the UK this summer the very best of luck." - I have no idea why this record has become so popular with 5 attempts this summer around the world (we are the 3rd club to break it this year).

I am so proud to have taken part in this. We showed character, resilience and grit in abundance - measured by the longevity of the game and the amount we raised. I have no idea where we found it, but we did. We broke the world record. We raised over £13,000 for Age UK (Essex) to help pay for dementia and befriending services for the elderly, vulnerable and lonely - an amazing cause.

What did I learn for the classroom? 50 mins of bottom set Y10 on a windy, rainy Friday afternoon really isn't that long after all...

Huge thanks to all who have sponsored me, I never thought I would break the £1000 mark. I am so grateful. However, it's not too late to sponsor me: