Sunday, 28 September 2014

Catholic REsource: Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands

Wednesday 1st October 2014 sees the official launch of a website that I have created called Catholic REsource (If you want a sneak peek, it's already live <here>). I have personally put many, many hours into this project as I firmly believe that sometimes 'that person has to be you'. It is easy to bemoan a lack of resources or networking, but seeing what has been possible via Twitter (The Headteachers Roundtable and ResearchEd spring straight to mind), I have been inspired to make this website happen.

I have had this idea for quite a long time. It is hard to find useful resources on TES for Catholic RE and not many people use the resource sharing offered by the CES (<here>). There are a few excellent websites I use, but I saw the need for a place to bring them all together, and give RE teachers an opportunity to add their own resources to be shared by others. Support via Dioceses can vary, and through speaking to others, there appeared to be a need for something.

Last April, I then got an email at school from a fellow Catholic RE teacher, Andy McMillan, which said:

"I myself am a Catholic RE teacher and after a conversation last year with my year 11 tutor group was surprised to know that many students used YouTube for revision videos for other subjects. However, when I asked them if there were any for RS, I was disappointed to find there was a scarcity of material appropriate for the Catholic papers. So, rather than bemoan the lack of resources, I decided to do something about it and create my own, which is why I am now writing to you."

Andy has been incredibly supportive, helping provide a list of email addresses he used. Make sure you check out his videos <here>; they are brilliant!

After building the basics of the site, I wanted to get more people on board and have tried via Twitter to recruit a few people. Completely understandably, it's hard to get people to commit to too much (who has spare time in abundance as a teacher?!), and so I hope the basic infrastructure is now in place that it will be simple to just add links. People can submit resources <here> and they can quickly and easily added. The site will really only be as good as the contributions made... I add the good things I find, and I hope others can do the same.

The most time consuming activity has been trying to find email addresses of people that can help promote this site. Andy had a large number of schools on his list, but I have gone through old emails connected to TERE meetings, my Catholic School Leadership MA, friends, family... as well as all the major RE organisations, Diocese education offices including England, Wales and beyond. On Wednesday, information will be sent to nearly 900 email addresses. 

This is one of the biggest things I've attempted.

I'm very apprehensive about the outcome. It's not about me personally, although I do worry that obviously my name is well attached to the site and I don't want to be the laughing stock of Catholic RE. It's more about this idea of sharing and networking... Can we do it? Can we find the time to do it? Can we do it via a website and social networks? Maybe the answer will be no, and the very idea of that is more crushing than the wasted hours put into this.

Perhaps the revolution will begin slowly, perhaps people will appreciate the site as it is and it will make a contribution for the next year or so for Catholic RE teachers (sadly websites and resources can date quickly).

However, it could be big, and it could be a great success. This would be brilliant for the Catholic RE community. Too often anything that does happen is 'top down'. This is our opportunity, this could be our moment... 

The internet, and especially social networking sites, have enabled teachers to reach out and become part of a 'sharevolution' (S Lockyer). This site is created for Catholic RE teachers by Catholic RE teachers. There is no budget, no time set aside, no agenda, no director... just teachers inspiring and helping other teachers.

If you want to receive the launch email, or know some else who would (teacher, head, chaplain, anyone!), please let me know their emails by dropping me a line <here>.

Perhaps I'll blog next weekend with the result. Wish me luck!

Edit: 1st October was the big launch! Read the Press Release <here>


Here are the requests that will be going out in the mailing:

What can you do?
  • Please spread the word. Forward this blog to every single Catholic RE teacher you know! Please forward within your Dioceses', your school, your friends, your family. Word of mouth will help the site grow and reach even more teachers.
  • Please sign up to our mailing list, join our Facebook page and follow our Twitter account
  • Please send us links to your best Catholic RE resources. We don't host (as that's expensive and we have no money!) so please use a site such as DropBox, GoogleDrive, Sky Drive and TES resources to upload and then send us the link. Please send links via this page <here> 
  • Please join the RC Dropbox - there are already 60 teachers sharing resources <here>.
  • Please consider helping edit the site. As it grows, we'll need people to help edit, add and tidy the site (only two of us so far!). We use a GoogleSites format. Let us know <here>.
  • Please consider supporting or endorsing the site. We'd love to add a few logos to the site of people/organisations that recommend us.
  • Please hit comment (or email) and give some feedback...

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Low-Level Disruption

Jonah from Tonga, courtesy of the BBC

So this time it was The Telegraph who got the leak from OFSTED, see <here>, on a report of low-level disruption in schools. I was asked by the Guardian for a comment, then a blog, and then they decided they only wanted my comment. However I had already started the blog (500 word limit), so here it is...

“9F were really chatty today… Sarah in 10/6 is always fidgeting… Danny can never stop swinging on his chair!”

Low-level disruption is often part of the daily life of a teacher; the above comments could be taken from any secondary school staff room. OFSTED suggest that this behaviour is becoming more prevalent, occupying more learning time. I’d argue behaviour is always an issue for schools as it is the most stressful things teachers have to deal with and directly affects the learning and progress of a class. The perception of behaviour (and whether it is an issue or not) is also something that varies greatly, even within a school.

Behaviour management is the utmost important thing a teacher needs to learn to do. You can have a PhD in the subject you are trying to teach, but without the ability to control the students in front of you, not much learning will take place. Despite being an established and experienced teacher, every year I go back to basics; I dictate a seating plan, go through my expectations and routines, and outline potential rewards and consequences. This means we are all clear on what needs to go on. Do my students still fall short? On a regular basis.

There is no magic solution for behaviour. OFSTED can claim they want to see an improvement and inspectors may go to a school looking for a specific strategy in place. What works at one school will not necessarily work in the next, what works for one teacher will not necessarily work in the classroom next door; this is equally as applicable for swearing and chair throwing as it is chat and pen-tapping. Often there is often “two schools” within the one (see Tom Bennett) and a culture of “good enough” behaviour (see Andrew Old), whereby some teachers experience good behaviour and others get the poor behaviour with no necessary correlation of teaching ability or experience. 

There are things that school leaders can do, and this perhaps needs to be a more positive focus for OFSTED inspections. Teachers ‘on the ground’, teaching six period days, with 32 books to mark on a near daily basis need help and support with all aspects of behaviour. Often they physically do not have the time to chase up every incident. Do school leaders really know if the systems they have put in place operate efficiently? They need to think carefully about the questions they ask, and how they ask them. Do teaching staff feel that their concerns are a sign of weakness or will they be genuinely and supportively addressed? Can they work out how big the divide is between the "two schools"? Is their behaviour "good enough" or could it better, relieving some of the pressure and stress of staff? Some of this may be a useful focus of OFSTED inspections.

However, what exactly is the behaviour that needs to be addressed? My classes can be chatty, but often I see that as a good thing. Teaching RE I may have just given them a hugely controversial newspaper article or shown them a video that has affected them emotionally or spiritually. If they sat there in silence waiting for a task, I'd feel uncomfortably awkward. I love having 32 real life human beings in my class.

Low-level disruption can often just be the behaviour of children; young adults on the route to becoming 'well-trained', civilised adults; every teacher plays their part in getting them there. Many students will spend 95% of their time attentive and hard working. Sometimes a student will make an off-topic comment that I’ll respond to as it’s interesting or funny. That helps me get to know them, and then I can teach them better. It is important to keep behaviour to the forefront of educational discussion, but it is equally important to make sure we don’t use a heavy-weight OFSTED sledgehammer to crack a chatty, teenage nut. Especially if it distracts from the real issues about behaviour in schools and creates more pressure on frontline teaching staff.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Don't Change The Lightbulbs

Me with my chapter!

Using Twitter as a teacher has got me involved in many different things. TeachMeets, and in particular TM Havering, ResearchEd, Andrew Old's blogger curry nights, Caroline Webb's charity calendar and this, Rachel Jones's "Don't Change The Lightbulbs".

Rachel is an incredibly enthusiastic and innovative teacher who I always enjoy hearing speak at TeachMeet and other education events. When she asked me to do the Top 10 Tips for RE teachers, it was a real privilege. There are lots of RE teachers on Twitter and this burden weighed heavily on my shoulders as I embarked upon writing my chapter earlier in the year. Hopefully it gets a nod of approval from my RE colleagues when they have a read!

Rachel launches the live stream Q&A

From what was going to initially be an eBook, somewhere behind the scenes, Crown House Publishing got involved and decided that the book would also be going into print. I'm not sure that it was my name's inclusion that got them interested and more likely Vic Goddard, Jim Smith, Hywel Roberts, Mark Anderson, Ian Gilbert, Oliver Quinlan... all already popular authors in their own right. A fantastic job has been done with the book and it is something I am really, really proud to be a part of. 

The book launch, the first of these kind of events that I've been to, took place in The Centre For Literacy In Primary Education in Southwark, London. It was a great evening, if not a little overwhelming. In a small space, there was a huge number people that I follow on Twitter. People that inspire me and that I look up to. There was also cake and wine. 

Part of the evening was a live feed with a Q&A. Various people either volunteered or got selected to answer a question... there was an RE-related one and up I got up. I made a passionate plea to people to remember the importance of RE in the curriculum. I told them about the fact we create a space in the curriculum for asking and answering the big questions, including those about life and death. I told them that our subject is more important than ever as we still encounter students who have various prejudices that need to be challenged. My final plea was that people did not judge the RE of today with their own experiences at school. It is one of the fastest growing GCSEs and it is often one of students' favourite subject; the teaching of RE (in many schools) has been transformed in the last 10 years and there is so much great stuff going on in RE classrooms up and down the country. It seemed to go down well.

We got our first 5 star review from Acadmies Weekly <here>. The review importantly pointed out, "Much of their advice really is first-rate but what stood out above even that, was the commitment they displayed for teachers supporting each other and developing as a community.". This is perhaps the reason why I tweet and blog, and will continue to do so. The book launch confirmed the ability that we all have to make a contribution to improving education and raising the standards of teaching, without government intervention.

None of the authors were involved for financial gain, it started as a project to simply share ideas. However, now it is a published book, a final reason to buy a copy is that all the profits go to Action for Children. Not only will you get a really lovely book, full of inspiration, but you'll be donating to a really excellent cause.

So, what are you waiting for? Buy a copy from the publishers, <here> or from Amazon, <here>.

Thanks Crown House Publishing for this present!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

You're 'The Tough Love' teacher...

"You are harsh and intense, but only because you know you have to be if your students are ever going to really learn. Your students may hate you in the moment, but will be grateful for your teachings later on in life."... The Tough Love Teacher

It's hard to resist a Buzzfeed quiz when it comes up in your social network feed. The "What kind of teacher are you?" one particularly slow, especially at this stage of the year.

I am always return to Tom Bennett's guide to returning to school at the end of August (find it <here>) as every teacher needs to remember that there is a real need to re-establish with new classes, whoever you are. Even established members of SLT need to show classes that they are 'good enough' (and ultimately this is why classes do push boundaries... they need to know you are good enough to teach them).

Entering my 4th year at my current school, I am reasonably well-established. As part of the RE department and leading assemblies, as well as now Head of Y10, I am also quite a visible member of staff who many students fell they know, even if I have not taught them. However, this counts for very little come September.

I always do a seating plan, except for 6th form. I always print off photos and try to learn names as soon as possible. I always spend at least one lesson giving out my classroom rules (this year, we're using <this>, my expectations (respect yourself, respect others, respect all staff, respect he environment and respect faith) and other basics' about how we are going to get along. 

Timothy Taylor and Jon Brunskill have recently written about training in slightly different ways (<here> and <here> respectively).

Tim focus' on the idea of tracking as a listening skill, as demonstrated in an accompanying video. He explores his thoughts on it and concludes (abbreviated):

"Children cannot be free in the same way adults are. They can’t just decide to leave school and do what they like. We can’t allow them the same liberties and opportunities we give to grown ups. But we can treat them with just as much respect and dignity... We all have to operate within limits – legal, social, financial, environmental – and children are just the same. Only they have more limits than adults.

I believe we should teach this to children. Being free is not about doing what you like, when you like, it is about thinking about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and having opportunities to affect your environment.

The problem I have with the strategy used in the video is that it is imposed, uncritically, upon the children in the class, without genuine discussion or understanding. It is not about learning or what the students themselves need, it is about adult control and compliance. It is teacher-centred pedagogy, where the adults know best and children are treated as people without the same rights as other human beings."

This raises may questions about the start of the year. I want to train my classes (although not explicitly in tracking, but I can see why you would, likewise for clicking - see <here>).

Jon gives a response that would be more in keeping with my thinking when he talks about the training of class room routines:

"This is not stuff that we would normally call learning, they are the things that have to happen for learning to take place. The better the children are trained, the more effective learning can be."

I expect my classes to enter the room, stand quietly behind their desk, get their equipment out and then go silent when I ask. We then pray (RE in a Catholic school), sit down, copy down the title, not the Objective, write the date and get going on with the learning ASAP. Someone is trained in GCSE classes to give out paper. Someone is trained in KS3 classes to go and get the textbooks to distribute them. I make no apologies for any of this.

As Jon points out, "We wouldn’t train children during an observation, but reap the benefits of being congratulated on children being well trained."

Like Jon, I agree that it is easy to slip in to the trap of not explicitly going through these things. Teachers sometimes want to be liked, want to be perceived as 'cool' or 'down with the kids'. However, I want to be clear here that I don't think this approach is what Tim is putting forward, some kind of 'kids know best free for all'; he just thinks maybe students should be allowed to consider certain learning behaviour.

Part of this training does come down to expectations, I expect excellent behavior. I do not expect certain things to happen in my classroom and if they do, I make it very clear that it won't be happening again. Likewise, there are many things that I do insist on, and dedicate time to it. For example, I expect GCSE folders to be neat and tidy... sometimes we need to spend 20 minutes of class time to get that in place. By Y11, generally speaking the folders are in good condition.

This all comes a lot quicker if it is done at the beginning. I am reestablishing myself as The Tough Love Teacher again. I have high expectations, I will tell you exactly what I want you to do, and you better do it! I don't see this as adult control taking away the rights of the child. I want to create an environment where learning can start as soon as possible in my room, and when it gets started it doesn't get interrupted by poor behaviour or silly distraction. 

"Do or do not do. There is no try." when it comes to some behaviour.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Reflections: As a new HoY

Me unwinding last Sunday in sunny Southend with my family

This year, as well as Assistant Subject Leader in RE (bigger deal that in most schools as it's RC), I began my adventure as Head of Year 10. Or Pastoral Development Coordinator, PDC, as my official title goes. Whatever the name, I look after the behaviour, learning, pastoral, moral, spiritual, citizenship, health... and more(!), of 125 young ladies.

A few things stick in my head. These are comments made to me when I was appointed.

"Ah... pastoral, the easy route to the top!"
"I thought you valued teaching and learning? Good luck with that now..."

The first two weeks have made it very clear that this job will be everything but easy. There were some attractive Head of Department jobs going in our Diocese, offering substantial TLR payments. I was confident I would be in with a very good chance and indeed got very close to applying. 

One day, I do think that I may end up as a member of a SLT. However I have always wanted to "walk before running"; learning and mastering the art of teaching. If I do get to that level, I want to still share the classroom skills I have learnt. I also worry about the day that I stop being in the classroom, that's the very part of the job I love.

Had I taken a Head of Department job, I could be applying for Assistant Head jobs within two years. Instead, I decided to stay at my current school and see what a pastoral role could offer me. If I was desperate for an AHT job, the 'easy route to the top' would be as a Head of Department for two years. It would never in a million years be this.

Is it a common perception of pastoral leaders? I can't understand it, but equally I struggle to shake it off.

These last two weeks have been an absolute baptism of fire. Obviously I can't and wouldn't go in to the details but I have seen, heard and dealt with a lot of things that have challenged me in so many ways. I have wondered for the first time in years, "Can I do this?" and have sat at my desk reflecting hard on my ability to cope with the demands of the position (not quite tears, but nearly!). I'll be honest, that's not often me. Maybe I've had it too easy until now?

On the flip side, I am really enjoying it. As I previously blogged, I love a challenge. I will do this job, and I will do it to the very best of my ability. I will put in every hour that I can find to do it well. 

Regarding valuing Teaching and Learning, I am already seeing in a very real sense that way in which factors outside the classroom get to the heart of teaching and learning. Why is that student kicking off in lessons? Why are they not doing their homework? It adds another level of understanding and helps me deal with those issues in my own classroom too. 

Additionally, I still have an 'academic role'. I lead KS3 RE, where we are still in the process of a complete syllabus overhaul. I am supporting a non-specialist, while also helping the Subject Leader in RE with all of her duties. I also still teach RE! 

I do understand that sometimes, something has to give and I need to work out how and what that may be. I need to get smarter at my marking. I need to use every second during the school day and thankfully many of my lessons are ready to go. This does not mean that I neglect differentiation, or lesson improvement, or creating things from scratch. I couldn't do that to myself, or my students.

It's going to be a tough year. I'm glad I've got a fantastic wife and family, a great department, brilliant colleagues, the best of friends, a highly effective PLN through Twitter/TeachMeets/Curries... plus lots and lots students who make it all worthwhile. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Healthy Teacher? Join Us.

OSHC 6th XI - I'm in the middle of the back row

The return to school in September always prompts new resolutions and new promises to yourself. This year, my personal one is based on health, fitness and losing weight. Nothing unusual there as resolutions go, although I was reminded of being told at the gym that actually they loose more members than they gain in January as people look at their finances and other commitments and then cancel. School life is busy - how can I possibly sustain this?

Why is this such a challenge?

I'm married to a teacher, in the same school. We arrive at 7am each day and leave at 5.40pm when the bell goes to kick us out. I often work my lunch break, and as a result can often pull a 11 hour day. Sometimes this happens 5 times a week, something I would imagine many teachers can associate themselves with. 

This is in part my choice. I really hate doing work in the evenings and at weekends. Obviously occasionally I have to, but largely I manage to avoid bringing too much home by using this routine.

However, like many other teachers, I am always tired! Too often the thought of going to the gym, or for a run, is too much to bare. Likewise, the last thing either of us wants to do is spend time creating a home-cooked healthy dinner or preparing packed lunches. Again, I'm sure we're not alone.

What I do do [Fitness]

I love sport; there is nothing like the feeling of physical exertion to make you feel better and more positive about the world; a healthy body is so often a healthy mind.
  • From the end of September to late March I play [field] hockey. This takes up 6 months-worth of Saturdays and it is something I have played since the age of about 10. I have only played for one team, Old Southendians, in my home town [Southend] and for the last 3 years, I have captained our 6th XI. I could play higher if I wanted, but I play for fun, enjoy the company of the players in the 6th XI and we are our unofficial youth development team. We introduce teenagers to the world of men's hockey; coaching and encouraging, while toughening them up!
  • On a Friday, the staff get together in the school sports hall for a bit of 5-a-side footy. We have a few guest stars from our local CoE church to make up the numbers. It's normally good fun, if a little competitive. However we do often undo our good work by heading to the pub for a shandy or two afterwards!
  • I have a Personal Trainer at the gym. This has really helped over the last year to increase the variety of exercise I do and introduced weights into my programme. My wife also has one and we do try to time our sessions on different days, which means that we go at least twice a week. However that is often it, two 30 min sessions a week.
  • Running... I've done the local ParkRun twice in the last 6 weeks and occasionally go out for a jog in an evening.

As I write this, I feel quite good about myself. However the reality is that since my wedding in February, I have put on 3/4 of a stone and certainly don't feel my best.


The life of a teacher is not conducent to eating well, without discipline. In the 8 days of term so far, there has been cakes in the staff room on 4 occasions. I still have three boxes of chocolates on my desk from students last year. I have a bag of sweets under my desk, used for students. I often eat my lunch 'on the run', and I've already mentioned the downside of working long hours in school with my wife being a fellow teacher.

There are ALWAYS the healthy eaters at school. Their little box of salad, a homemade soup... (although too often they also the first at the cake table!). In the lead up to the wedding, we cut carbs out, survived on high protein meals, ate salad, soup. The trouble was, I was too hungry! School is a physically and mentally demanding place. I simply wasn't getting enough to sustain my life in school on a long term basis.

That binging on sweets and chocolates is often because we are stressed, tired, sleep deprived and have a P6 with that Y9 next.


There is a LOT of them in school. I heard of three girls vomiting in school on Friday, one on the floor of a classroom. I got sneezed near, coughed over... we haven't even hit October.

I can understand why parents, especially working ones, send their kids in. Indeed my mother was a teacher and I still remember the day my sister was in the toilet vomiting and my mum was telling her to hurry up, brush her teeth and get in the car. It's probably why my sick record at work is still pretty impressive. 0 days last year, 1 day the year before (only as I was at A&E with a serious eye infection that was putting pressure on my brain), 0 days the year before that...

They are impossible to avoid; thankfully your NQT year seems to help build up an √úbermensch-like immunity for many... Although, that first day of the school holidays? Yeah I'm always ill too.

So what to do?

There are some things I can change, some I can't. This is what I am planning on doing so far:

  • Join a local running club - this will force me out at least once a week.
  • No cakes with my lunch - our allowance does include enough to have a cake, every day so far I've had fruit instead.
  • Taking a multi-vitamin tablet every day.
  • Drinking more water. I used to teach in 17 different class rooms. I used to always loose my bottle by break. Now I have an office and 1 classroom, there are no excuses.

However I imagine there must be lots of other teachers in the same position as me... are you one of the them?

I plan on doing a follow up blog and would like some other teachers to give their tips and ideas. If you feel able please...

Submit a #HealthyTeacher tip <here>

Monday, 8 September 2014

ResearchEd 2014: Just An RE Teacher's View

Image by Andy Lewis

There will be many, many blogs written about ResearchEd 2014. A large of number of these will give a far better and more in-depth insight into the conference than I have the time to even begin to attempt. I'm going to write about a few highlights, some RE particulars and my general thoughts coming away from a really fantastic day.

I tried to put together a Top 5 of things that I took away from the day for those who won't read any further:

  1. Education Research tells us what has been the case, not what could be.
  2. "It's more complicated that that."
  3. CPD needs to be more that a one off session; a project/research model may work well.
  4. We need a balanced diet: experience/tradition/research
  5. "Suspend Your Disbelief": There may be a better future for OFSTED

In the Beginning...

John Bradshaw and Tom Bennett welcomed us to Raine's with the news that, despite the invite, Obama couldn't make it. My only disappointment here was no entrance music; a missed opportunity I felt. Tom said that we were looking a conference that was part of a "modest revolution... a polite rebellion". I agreed whole heartedly; we need to be cautious and curious. He made it clear we are not replacing experience, but augmenting it, "blending research and craft".

Session 1 - Rob Coe, John Tomsett and Alex Quigley: "Beyond Guesswork: researching wisdom in schools"

This session began with an anecdote from John Tomsett, his wife [a teacher too] asked, "Does it make me a worse teacher that I've never heard of Dylan Wiliam ?". This is perhaps a reason why only one man was genuflecting as he [Dylan Wiliam] walked through the hall during our early morning coffee:

Image by Andy Lewis

The point being, it's hard to get research to teachers. Even with the conference, 600 in attendance and 150 on the waiting list, we are a small number! I feel that there is only a very small number of staff in my current school who are interested. How do we make research interesting, engaging, useful... and where is the time?

We were then saw a clip from one of my favourite TV series... People Like Us. I wish the whole episode was online and I dug out my DVD when I got home and watched the whole episode with my Chinese takeway:

John pointed out its a brave head who goes in the opposite direction to current trends. Although it is not an experience versus evidence 'battle'; quite simply put, if you put the two together you may get something useful!

Alex asked how we go beyond guesswork when things are constantly changing? By using evidence and research, someone needs to be the devil's advocate for the 'next big thing' (and I would add, particularly when this 'next big thing' comes neatly packaged from a company with a significant price tag). However, how do you take this from the SLT to the classroom? You need to make it easy, attractive, part of CPD and give people time!

Professor Coe rightly said, "In schools we get excited about a lot of stuff and most of it doesn't work at all." He suggested the EEF, <here>, is a good start (and will be going interactive very soon!).

John returned to explain how there needs to be changes in structure; he spoke of a 'leadership wisdom' whereby headteachers need to create culture and structures for research to have impact in schools. It simply won't happen otherwise. He finished with another clip from People Like Us and reminded us that there is still a lot of nonsense going on in schools...

John Tomsett's research project RISE is <here>
Watch the session <here>

Session 2 - Dylan Wiliam: "Why teaching will never be a research-based profession, and why that's A Good Thing"

He started out by saying he doesn't set out to wind people up; perhaps a necessary caveat given his session title, at a education research conference.

Dylan directly re-compared medicine to education (responding to Ben Goldacre at ResearchEd 2013 in some part presumably). He pointed out that 40% of GPs prescribe antibiotics for virus'; there is no effect but patients feel happy. He claims that the successful parts of medicine are compared to the failing parts of education and this is imply unfair. Dylan also said, "When teachers go to the educational research cupboard, it's usually bare."

He did not hold back in his criticism and claimed that , "Most of homework teachers set is crap". Preparation for learning is the most effective form of homework, but is trickiest to set.

Wiliam also addressed setting. He said that teachers queue their lessons with a student reference point. In top set, it is generally the most able student ("You should all be able to do this"). In other sets it is quite often a middle child and in low sets it may well be the least able ("If student X has done this, so should you"). This directly effects progress; it is not the setting itself, it is the teacher influence.

Traditionally the best teachers were given the top sets, now many schools give them the C/D borderline. Rarely are they given the bottom set. However the best teachers have the biggest impact on the bottom sets. This brought about a great sense of relief as there have been times in my career when I regularly got given the bottom sets!

Dylan also pointed out, "In education everything works somewhere, and nothing works everywhere", so we need to be very careful about holding up research that backs up or discredits certain educational ideas. 

He also warned schools to be careful of the EEF; one example is that it suggests that TAs are ineffective. However, it is clear that many TAs do have a very positive impact and most teachers realise that. his was the clear message; educational research gives us what was and what has been, not what might be and could be.

He gave another cautionary tale; feedback does improve progress but it has to be right feedback. The EEF is great BUT teachers are just told where to dig but not why; we are left as the equivalent of "intellectual navvies".

Finally Wiliam began pointing out some problems with research reports in education. Of 3000 tested, only 131 were reliable. It is important we know the science (and neuroscience got a good few mentions during the day), but we must temper with judgment. The purpose of educational research should be to move teachers towards more effective action. Too often the findings of research are what good teachers do already do and others can't or don't (or won't take the time?) to understand. Wiliam said when he first instructed trainees her just said "just do what I do, it works for me."

His final closing comment was that "all teachers should be seeking to improve - that is our moral imperative".

He spoke a lot of sense and it was hard to disagree with his notes of caution.

His PPT is <here>
Watch the session <here>

Session 3 - Andrew Sabisky: Nature and Nurture - the Genetics of Education

Opting to save Andrew Old vs OFSTED for home release (I wanted popcorn for the spectacle) I found my fellow RE teachers, Daniel Hugill and Neil McKain for a bit of psychological research.

Sadly Andrew's PPT wasn't working, which left us doing some mental maths... it was still too early!

However there was some clear messages here: 40-70% of the differences between individuals for some traits (e.g. behaviour, nicotine dependence) can be attributed to genetics.

Many classroom and learning behaviour may be down to genetics but overall behaviour can vastly improve with intervention. A very disruptive 'unteachable' student can become a charming pain in the butt!

This does not make us redundant as teachers, but is an important consideration. We may not be able to 'close the gap', but it may be more of a 'moving the bell curve' which is still raising standards and improving the education for all. Crucially chasing equality of outcome too far is a big mistake.

Andrew left us with the scary fact that cognitive decline begins at 25! But reminded us of his belief that that success "is not in our stars but in our selves". 

Session 4 - Martin Robinson: The teacher and the researcher: the time has come to talk of many things...

Martin began with a poem, performed with gusto, which entertained us all. It's worth watching via the link at the bottom of this section).

He began by pointing out that the strength of anything reduces over time: even mice in the lab react differently over time. However schools must ask, "do you want unquestioning teachers or rational thinkers? Would you silence someone who had chance to present research that undermines your institution?” Sadly, as Martin said, headteachers can be the 'ubermensch' attempting to guard against collapse of the system in light of inconvenient truth.

Martin then went to to make some science and health analogies; tummies rumbled at the talk of food and the smell of the near-ready 'Lunch of Champions'. Science has changed over the years... now you can eat butter, he exclaimed!

Firstly were told you needed 5 veg a day, but potatoes don't count (this was only because they were worried peoeple would count chips). Then 5 veg a day, but potatoes DO count. Others say 5 veg plus 2 fruit. Some say there is no difference.

Things change. Does anyone really know what a good diet is? We are just trying to get closer to it; we may need to contradict previous ideas.

As it is impossible to follow 'correct instructions', we must undertake a balance diet. This involves common sense, a bit of everything, a bit of exercise, a bit of educational research, some experience... "don't chase just one flavour!"

He went on to talk about many areas of education that won't be researched. Contact time, pay, & authoritarian school leaders... all things that may well be vital to the success of our schools.

Martin also pointed out that our "best teaching might occur when you're not trying" and that actually a plane without a pilot might actaully be safer.

We were then given a quote from Charles Darwin:

"...if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature."

Our schools are not based on pure reason, they are not clinical. They are "not rational places and if you question things too much you may damage its ability to do what it does". Often they are based on traditions and you may well destroy the things that hold it together if you try to get rid of this irrationality. However reason must also be part of the conversation, "It helps with the journey towards truth, but it is not truth itself."

He reached a conclusion asking the question for headteachers, "If you allow teachers to think things through, how far will you let this go?"

Watch the session <here>


RE Networking took place in the Science Garden where we met The Golden Calf. He tweets and blogs a lot of sense about the state of RE today. We investigated the CU posters (apparently very popular and student lead) and admired the views over London town.

Session 5 - Tristram Hunt MP

This was pretty dull, MP speak. Nothing really new, nothing exciting. A well executed script with a few shakily answered questions; I'd worry having him in charge of schools. He raised a laugh by calling ResearchEd "The Woodstock of Research in Education", but that was pretty much the highlight.

He did say that improving teachers was key, still hinted at the license, but played the crowd by saying wanted to give teachers the time & wherewithal to become “practice-informed & research-inspired”.

Session 6 - Michael Cladingbowl: Changing Inspection

"I think education is necessarily emotional... We all have a personal stake", Mike began. He made it clear something that is so often evident on Twitter and in the blogsphere: "We don't all agree... It is not self-evident what good is... and it has changed."

He said that RI has improved the system and helped get better deal for students especailly those schools working with HMI. 

Mike then started referring to AN Whitehead, "A merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God's earth. What we should aim at producing is men who possess both culture and expert knowledge ..."

He then stated that any inspectorate should be relentless in pursuit of success and that it's just as important to consider the how as well as the what. We do need to consider what kind of relationship the inspectorate needs to have with schools. It should not be as the 'DeathStar' or as "a toxic toad say on the head of school leaders" (real description of OFSTED given to MC)

Should inspection be war? Could it be more of a dance?

Then the promises began... a new slim, single framework. There will be more HMI and school leaders will be involved. All will be directly employed by OFSTED. There will be a regional structure that offers greater support, especially to struggling schools. Potentially there will be much less focus on grades (1-4) but just 'good enough' and 'not good enough' (I can't see exactly how this works personally!).

He asked whether or not good schools need full inspection. A short, robust, professional dialgue should be suffiecnt with a letter published rather than a report. It will be about redefining relationships. Currently 6/10 schools are Good and 2/10 are Outstanding (and the plan is to still leave them alone). However, it was made clear that inspections or visits can't take place with out visiting classrooms, but not with a clipboard. There is an open consultation taking place and as many people as possible are encouraged to join in; it's hoped at least 23,000 will.

He then began to point out the realities. There will be change from this September and more from next September, and it will continue to evolve. There will be a large consultant: what should we inspect? How? When? WHY?

However individual lessons WILL NOT be graded and heads CANNOT use OFSTED as justification for doing it themselves. He would say to the head "why are you doing it?" It's up to them but they CANNOT say it is for OFSTED. 

For RE teachers, it was pleasing to hear that OFSTED realise that they don't inspect SMSC well enough (NOT RE but often closely linked and often the responsibility of the RE department). There is more <here> from Dawn Cox.

The final message was "suspend your disbelief"; OFSTED may well be getting better. Mike Claddingbowl seemed like a good guy, who does want to listen to teachers and does want to make things better. Only time will tell if he can...

Session 7 - David Didau - not Ben Goldacre!

David pointed out that around 28-90k research papers are published each year: why hasn't this changed teaching?

We returned to one of the key themes for me, they only tell us what was, but not what might be!

He then went on to give a series of thought points on lots of ideas connected to education research:
  • We're all wrong, being human, it's what we do.
  • As Wittgenstein said (another for the RE teachers), "If it looks like a duck..." (but it may be a rabbit!). We sometimes only see what we want to see.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
  • Our brains protect us from being wrong - it's not a logical or rational organ. We have confirmation bias and a backfire effect: we don't like being wrong! We also suffer from illusion of asymmetric insight: we even think we know other people better than they know themselves.
  • There is Sunk Cost Fallacy: we sit through film even if it's crap but we've paid for it. We can't get money back but can get the time... but we can't back out as we'd look like idiots!
  • We are susceptible to the anchoring effect: if someone tells us a student is a c we believe them
David pointed out that even if we recognise these things, we often don't see our own bias. We prefer a reassuring lie to an inconvenient truth. When others disagree with us, we assume they are ignorant, stupid or evil!

This is the essential problem with educational research. It is not the same as proof; it can be used to prove anything. Context is KING, can we generalise? What do we do if it conflicts with our values? What is the unit of education? Time/progress/amount of knowledge?

SO, what should we do?
  • What research says?
  • We've always done?
  • Works for us?
  • What gets results?
  • What OFSTED wants?
Can we make predictions that are meaningful and measurable?
Does a physicist examine all atoms to give predictions about atoms?
Do we believe children are broadly similar or different?
Can we make generalisations about how we learn?

The Burden of Proof means we need to ask how likely is it a duck? Do we need to prove that it is a duck? Or that it's not a duck? Learning styles confirm what we think, "It's a duck!"

Always, always, remember the bias blind spot! (Just like cars with motorbikes)
Some of the things that are probable:
  • The spacing effect - we forget what we learn, ensure regular review of content
  • The testing effect - study test test test - test is best way. If we study study study study - test, it creates an illusion of knowing it.
  • Cognitive load theory - the working memory is finite; greater long term memory assists learning
David left us with the words of Carl Sagan, "a judicious mix is what we need". Ultimately we have to make guesses....

Watch the session <here>

Some other good REsearch Ed blogs:

Jo Facer's blog is <here>
Academies Weekly Special Edition is <here>
Tom's reflection is <here>


We then all piled over to the pub and continued the ed chat, meeting lots of people I follow on Twitter. Lot's of respected educational peeps were all hanging together in the pub... interestingly there didn't seem too many arguments!