Readers are made, not born!

Some musings and thoughts on teen reading with a bit of  educational theory thrown in.
Last week I went to Hay on Wye, commonly known as ‘The Town of Books’ established by Richard Booth in 1962.

When I reached the Cinema book shop I remembered what it was like to visit the library when I was a teen. There were books piled high on shelves from all time periods on all subjects. I zoned in on the Education and Psychology sections (next to each other). In the Education section, there was not one author I recognised. Upon picking up a book from the shelf on the comprehensive school system, I discovered it had been written in 1961. I put it back, because not only was I put off by the date, but also by the size and its uninspiring olive green of the book jacket (sometimes it is Ok to judge a book by its cover).
When I was a teen I used to have two library tickets and visit two libraries. One which was in a hut on the Park, near where I lived and one within the city centre. I could walk to both and I would often walk to both, on the same day, depending on what my reading obsession was at the time (there have been many including my Agatha Christie Summer).
I liked the small library in the hut, because I knew it well and could take the same books out repeatedly, which I particularly liked to do when I was about 14 and discovered the Sweet Valley High and Sweet Dreams series. Both being ‘young adult’ romances which featured high school drama, first dates and first love. Both were set in the USA and were a world away from my working-class life on the edge of a City Centre.
In contrast, the City library, could have been the Cinema Book Shop (hence the reminder). There were rows of books which were meaningless and jumbled together, but in my crusade to be someone else and to be a ‘clever person’ who knew things I would select books at random and take them home to try and read.
However, in reality I never really got very far with Machiavelli’s The Prince, Thomas Moore’s Utopia, Greer’s Female Eunuch, or the complete works of Shakespeare. Instead I drifted off to the ‘choose your own adventure books’ or some other easy read instead.

Who could blame me, when the blurb was this attractive,
One of the tentacles wraps around your diving helmet and ruptures the seal to your suit. Thank goodness you keep an extra oxygen bottle in your giant chin…’ (Journey under the Sea)

Yes, books and reading are important.
But are sometimes we reading the wrong books?

How do we choose the right ones?

Should there be  ‘right ones’?

Shouldn’t we just read,
The ones which will inspire us?
The ones which change us?
The ones which stay with us?
The ones we must stay up all night reading?

The ones which improve our vocabulary?
The ones which will help us pass exams?
The ones everyone says we should read?
(I’m not proposing answers, I am opening up a debate and may one day pick these up and explore in another blog)

As a teen, I vied between what I considered high quality, which I could not understand and what could be considered escapism and probably if tested did not have a particularly high reading age or challenge.
Why did I do this?
I have documented in previous blogs that I lived in a non-academic household, and that there was some focus on books as these were seen as the way to a better life, but the books in my household were the complete set of Mr Men, ladybird books and recipe books.
We didn’t have Jane Eyre or Jane Austin or Thomas Hardy on our two shelves.

So how did I become a reader? Maybe some theory will help…
I’m going to use Vgotsky, as most teachers have come across him somewhere in their career.

There are two principles
1. Cognitive development stems from social interactions from guided learning within the zone of proximal development as children and their partners co-construct knowledge
2. The environment in which children grow up will influence how they think and what they think about
What this really means is that
1. There is a requirement for a More Knowledgeable other – Someone who has better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner


2. The Zone of Proximal Development is what a learner can achieve independently and what a learner can achieve with guidance from the more knowledgeable other

Some of the learners we teach are lucky, they have a more knowledgeable other in terms of a parent, when it comes to reading choices. I did not have a more knowledgeable other at home, my more knowledgeable other needed to be the school I attended and maybe the library.
My attempt to learn without a knowledgeable other, led me to make choices of reading material that was either beyond me or safe. I stopped reading romantic fiction (yes, I progressed to Danielle Steele etc!) when I started A level English because I was embarrassed by this reading choice.
I’ll leave this blog with a few thoughts,
As teachers, do we know which learners are reading ‘safe’ or material that is beyond them? And how should we guide these learners? Do we know which pupils,  need more input because they do not have a more knowledgeable other at home?

And lastly
Should we ever be embarrassed by our reading choices?

I think not, so I will share this.

A quick google search, tells me that there are two ‘Adult’ Sweet Valley High books published in 2011/2012. I don’t think I will be reading them. However, in the spirit of not being embarrassed by a reading choice, I have read Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland, this holiday, which is part romance and part historical as it is based on Louise De La Valliere.



So, What? Asking Research Questions. @ResearchSEND

With an addition about supporting pupils with SEND
I am not the only person who asks the ‘so what?’ question when questioning why we are undertaking research, it is used by Booth, Colob, Wiiliams & Fitzgerald (2016) in a publication called The Craft of Research.
I have started a research project with Robert Morgan from the University of Greenwich and we are looking at ability groups in primary schools.
We have initially asked students completing placements on ITE programmes and the twitter community, to tell us the names of ability groups in the classes they teach and to which ability each group relates.
So, what if we find out that most groups are named after colours?
So, what if we find out that only pupils in year one are named after biscuits?
So, what if we find out that the bigger the animal, the more able the group is considered to be?
So, what if we find out the more sides a shape, the less able the group is considered to be? 
At the moment, this is just data collection.
It gives us some interesting chats on twitter and anywhere else we may talk about our research project and it gives us lots of qualitative data on how many red groups and shape groups there are in the sample.
But the ability to make a graph on this, does not help us to identify how this may or may not affect every day classroom practice or provide us with any scope to consider how we might link it to improving Teaching and Learning.


The three step process used by Booth et al, 2016, to develop the so what question, is a good tool to expand the research question beyond a ‘so what’ and a possible superficial data collection exercise.

Foci could be thus,
1. Name the topic: I am trying to learn/find out about …
2. Ask an indirect question about the topic in order to identify what you do not know about the topic
3. Answer So What? by motivating your question by asking a second indirect question that explains why you asked your first indirect questions.

Worked example answer based on the ability group project,
1. Name the topic: I am trying to learn/find out about …
I want to find out about ability groups in primary schools

2. Ask an indirect question about the topic in order to identify what you do not know about the topic
Because I want to explore if unconscious bias exists once these groups are named and set up

3. Answer So What? by motivating your question by asking a second indirect question that explains why you asked your first indirect questions.
Because I want to know if incorrect assumptions are made about these ability groups how ‘fixed’ are they across the curriculum, especially if SEND needs are being appropriately planned for, i.e. a pupil with dyslexia may have strengths in the Maths Curriculum but may not have in parts of the English Curriculum but may be in the ‘red group’ for both subjects

This is a good process for not only looking at research questions, but also in developing knowledge and support for pupils who are experiencing difficulties, and as practitioners we want to explore why. I have used the four boards areas of the SEND Code of Practice, to illustrate the examples, these are by no means exhaustive, or the only examples.
Here is how I think it could work not only for supporting pupils, but could be written in a CPD format to aid Professional Development.

(Don’t forget we have a teaching standard that mentions scholarship!)
Cognition & Learning Focus
I want to develop an understanding of literacy interventions because I want to find out the most effective literacy intervention to deliver to a pupil who is finding reading a challenge.
Social, Emotional & Mental Health Focus
I want to observe playtime activity to implement some strategies to improve playtime behaviour because I want to identify what works for a pupil who finds it difficult to socialise during unstructured times
Sensory and/or Physical Focus
I want to develop a knowledge base around supporting pupils with physical difficulties, so that I can work with the teaching assistant staff to support a pupil in my class
Speech, Language & Communication Focus
I want to understand alternative communication systems such as PECs so that I can support a pupil with SCLN in my class
Therefore, Research and SEND equals @ResearchSEND
Join us at our next event in Sheffield


Booth, W. C., Colob, G., G, Williams, J. M., J., B., & Fitzgerald, W. T. (2016). The Craft of Research (Fourth Edition). Chicago: The University Of Chicago Press.


Are all ability groups named after colours?

I have been talking about a research project for a few months with a Robert Morgan from The University of Greenwich.
It started when we shared a car journey, and were talking about school based practice and ability groups.

We have both visited a lot of classrooms in various roles and we both thought that colours were the most common ability groups names. However, we questioned if this was just our experience, and believed that we could not make judgments based on just our view.
What if other colleagues were using inventive names?

How would we know if we did not ask?
Furthermore, what’s in a name? Is there some unconscious bias for example, around a certain colour, shape or animal?
So, our research project started.

Robert was to ask some of his departing students, what the names of the ability groups were in their placement schools, which he did and I was to look at a different sample and use social media through #AskTwitter. Robert completed his task some weeks ago, I’m starting mine today.
Both myself and Robert are research literate, Robert has worked in a University for many years and I am cofounder of @ResearchSEND, working towards a PHD, but for this research we are very much at the consumer stage of the #CUPID model (consume, use, produce, involvement & disseminate).

For blogs about #CUPID see

Dr Gary Jones Blog

Michelle Haywood Blog
Our challenge if this research is going to mean something and not be an exercise in curiosity, is to move from ‘consuming’, were we have collected information from a range of classroom practitioners, have cast a ‘critical eye’ over it, and drawn our own conclusions to doing something with the information.
Our starting point may be in considering the work of Wallace and Wray, 2016 in Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates (3rd edn) around identifying the components of an argument,
An argument consists of a conclusion (comprising one or more claims that somethings is, or should be, the case) and its warranting (the justification for why the claim or claims in the conclusion should be accepted). The warranting is likely to be based on the evidence from the author’s research or professional experience, or it will draw up on others’ evidence as reported in the literature. p36
If for example, we find from our sample group that one group of ability is named prominently after one colour, we will want to triangulate this information with other sources. This could be further searching of library catalogues and reading about groups, on how they are set up and how they operate, for example.
We may not follow the #CUPID model in its linear form, but move onto produce, involvement and disseminate quite quickly, as we may find some striking results which warrant a written paper and wider dissemination.
We do however need to beware of illogical or incomplete arguments, especially if we choose to go for wider dissemination with what we find, for example drawing conclusions without evidence or insufficient warranting for the conclusion.
Wallace & Wray (2016) can help us out again here, with their ‘flaw in the argument model’, which the made up examples demonstrate,
1. Conclusion without Warranting – The Diamond group makes the most progress
2. Potential warranting without a conclusion – Attainment data from the Diamond group shows that this group makes the most progress. The School is a good school.
3. Warranting leading to an illogical conclusion – The Red group made less progress. Pupils don’t like the colour red.
4. Conclusion not explicitly linked to warranting – The wolf group are spending insufficient times on homework. The wolf group should be set more homework
5. Conclusion with inadequate warranting – Pupils learn more effectively when their group is given positive feedback. A pupil survey of year 6 pupils indicated that pupils preferred praise to criticism
This to me is where the difference may lie from consuming research and then drawing conclusions from what has been consumed, and moving our understanding further. The examples show how easy it is to make a statement (I made all these examples up!) and believe they may be research informed.
Is this what happens if we don’t read beyond the headlines of a piece of research?
I think it might.
As myself and Robert progress further with this research, we will be able to share with you our journey.

In the meantime if you would like to provide us with information on your class ability groups, we would welcome them to increase our sample size.

Please email us for more details



Congratulations you are a Researcher

As the co-founder of ResarchSEND, I think and talk about teachers and research a lot.
But as a group, we as teachers don’t think we know much about research.

We think that is what other people do, such as Universities and those with Masters’ Degrees and Doctorates.
Last weekend at the Chartered College #ThirdSpace event, it was apparent that teachers care about research, they want to learn more, they need time to research and context matters (@darynsimon) but discussion is ongoing about whether we are evidence based or informed and this was described by @mrlockyer as ‘evidence based… being told that its best to put jelly in a bowl and informed is choosing to use a bowl.
So, I’m armed with a bowl and some jelly, when did I know I needed a bowl to put it, what would have helped me, well Dr Gary Jones can step in here, with his description of the CUPID model taken from a blog a few years ago which explores research activity and indicates that the information I may have needed for this task, could have come from the internet…
What do we mean by the term ‘research’?

The BERA-RSA inquiry intentionally devised a general and comprehensive definition of research.

By research, the report’s authors mean any deliberate investigation that is carried out with a view to learning more about a particular educational issue. This might take a variety of forms and be concerned with a range of issues, for example: the secondary analysis of published data on school exclusions, interviewing a range of colleagues about examination performance in the English Department, taking part in a national Randomized Control Trial concerned with the teaching of Mathematics, responding to a survey about teachers’ use of the internet to inform curriculum planning, working with a university department of education on a study into teachers’ use of new technology.

Setting aside issues arising from the inclusive and wide-ranging nature of this definition of research, there is value in classifying the activities encompassed within the definition. Accordingly, different ‘research’ activities can be classified  into the following five categories: consume, use, produce, involvement and disseminate (CUPID).

Consume – involves reading texts, searching the Internet, with a critical focus and includes activities such as, the production of critical synopses of texts or discussions at regular Journal Club meetings. Most importantly, this is a state of mind of seeking out research and subsequently engaging in a meaningful and thoughtful critique.

Use – is where evidence-based practice comes to the fore – where colleagues use the best available evidence from a variety of sources – academic, school, pupils and other stakeholders alongside professional experience – to make judgements to bring about changes in practice for the benefit of pupils, colleagues, and other stakeholders.

Produce – this could involve undertaking action research projects, supported experiments or enrolling on masters or doctoral degree programmes. Alternatively, the collation and presentation of data is also included in this section. However, the main purpose of ‘producing’ research is not the generation of new knowledge, but rather developing the capacity of colleagues to engage in ‘disciplined inquiry’.

Involvement – this is when a school or individual colleagues engage in a research project either in conjunction with a higher education institution, be a site for a randomised control trial or answer survey requests from various bodies engaged in their own research. This also includes – department, school or college-wide activities designed to look at institution wide issues – where some colleagues are participants rather than active researchers.

Disseminate– an essential part of the research process as evidence, data analysis, discussion and recommendations need to be subject to a process of peer review. This does not mean the ‘research outcomes’ need to be published, but rather there is an open-ness and transparency with allows colleagues and others to explore the assumptions underpinning the research. It is necessary to check- for confirmation bias, and whether the researcher its over-claiming the reliability and validity of the findings.

In conclusion, Gary says that the CUPID model provides a simple mechanism for thinking about the range of activities associated with research. If, by allowing colleagues to identify activities fit for their context and school, the model makes research activity more likely to be undertaken, then CUPID will have more than served its purpose.
I would add that it would help us clarify what research is and how it can inform our practice, and in our own classrooms and schools we are all researchers and it goes a long way to supporting Teaching Standard 3 which mentions scholarship and a professional responsibility to engage in research. To be research informed we don’t have to undertake our own research, we can consume what others have done. How many of us for example have read books such as What every teacher needs to know about Psychology – David Didau & Nick Rose and changed our thinking our practice. I know I have.
Therefore, using the CUPID model, we are all researchers at some level,
If you taught a lesson today, how did you put your lesson together today, did you look something up, did you read something, did you amend your lesson after your research? Congratulations you are a researcher.

During and after the delivered lesson did you evaluate what your pupils did, did you change your lesson planning for the week?

Congratulations you are a researcher.

After school or in the staffroom did you talk about what you read in the TES over the weekend or discuss the latest Ofsted Report?

Congratulations you are a researcher.

Think about what you did today to inform your practice, it may have been as a consumer, but it was still a level of research and critical inquiry.

Congratulations you are a researcher!

I have taken the CUPID example used in this blog from here





Start your research journey with @ResearchSEND

As the end of the School year draws near, whatever role you hold in school, you will be evaluating the work that you and your pupils have completed and will be celebrating achievement.

You may already be looking forward to the next academic year.

How much of this reflection and forward planning, includes the link between good teaching and research? How many times over the last year have you used research to inform practice? How often have you discussed educational research with colleagues and used research outcomes to formulate a training/INSET session?

Most schools allocate about five days a year to whole staff development, on which several will often focus on delivering some aspect of curriculum content, others will focus on statutory responsibilities and the operational aspects of the role. Very little of this time, if any, is spent on translating research findings into effective classroom practice.

There are organisations, however, working to create a culture of researchers and make us more research literate, such as ResearchED and more recently The Chartered College of Teaching which aims to create a knowledge based community to share excellent practice and to enable teachers to connect with rigorous research and evidence. There seems to be an acceptance that we do not have an active culture of research in Education, and maybe we don’t but our professional careers did not start off this way (remember that research based course work on your PGCE? The dissertation on your B’Ed/BA?).

Using identified and published pieces of research can transform practice, and when teachers undertake their own research, it changes not just what teachers do, but what they think as well. The use of research contributes to gains in knowledge and encourages reflection and analysis of personal performance and in doing so, helps to understand and improve outcomes for learners.

For SENCOs and SEND Leaders in School, Research knowledge is invaluable in providing evidence of the success of research based interventions but there is no doubt that undertaking continuous professional development (CPD) which impacts on practice is a challenge, with limited time to undertake it and other demands on time getting in the way.

So, start the new year with a plan.

Use @ResearchSEND to get your School Research Journey started.

@ResearchSEND was launched with a Conference at The University of Wolverhampton in February 2017. It was developed to promote and recognize the importance of research in meeting the needs of learners with SEND.

There is research and researchers who are writing widely on the challenges facing learners with SEND and @ResearchSEND believes that some of this research is not widely known and used. @ResearchSEND believes that for all Learners, every day counts and that we as practitioners should have a repertoire of skills, strategies and interventions at our finger tips to support all learners in our classrooms.

@ResearchSEND has three strands,

Researching the bigger picture considers research undertaken across the educational landscape and considers research undertaken by large research organisations such as EEF, commissioned research projects and large scale work undertaken by Universities.

New researchers. New voices encourages teachers undertaking their own personal research to have the space to share that work.  This maybe to support their CPD and may be part of a further study project, for example a Masters Degree.

ChangeMonday uses the hashtag #ChangeMonday to make research accessible enough to be able to change practice, if that is what is required, easily and simply

Speakers at @ResearchSEND are a combination of professionals from each strand; class based teachers, Senior Lectures with Specialisms in research and specialists working with identified groups of learners with SEND. Speakers have included, Rob Webster, Bart Shaw, Jon Reid, Helen Curran, Christopher Rossiter, Jenifer Donovan, Roseanne Esposito, Nancy Gedge and Marc Rowland, Margaret Muholland, Dr Joanna Vivash & Professor Philip Garner

All believe in a system leader approach to sharing professional knowledge and expertise to make the learning experience count for all our learners.

@ResearchSEND events host a panel of members who have undertaken extensive research on education pedagogy. The first panel included Professor Michelle Lowe, Kerry Jordan Daus, Dame Alison Peacock and Sir Toby Salt.   Panel members are able to address a range of research topics including, integrating research findings into classroom practice, the challenges of being a teacher researcher and future thinking and development.

The next ResearchSEND Conference will be held on the 18th November at Sheffield Hallam University from 09:30 to 15:30 (GMT)
Sheffield Hallam University – City Campus
Howard Street
S1 1WB Sheffield
United Kingdom

Book your ticket for @ResearchSEND















SEND: Built in, not bolt on.

On Friday I attended the UCET (Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers) Conference for SEND (Built in, not Bolt on) at Swiss Cottage School, for Initial Teacher Education (ITE).

Early in the day, delegates were asked, when in their teaching career did they feel confident to work with SEND pupils. A straw poll survey demonstrated that it was around three years after completing an ITE course.

Throughout the day, there was continued recognition that ITE was the start of a journey and for New Teachers; their teaching journey is just beginning in their NQT year. I had last week submitted a commissioned piece on integrating SEND into the NQT programme, for a professional magazine. To continue the debate, I have included a version of the piece here.

ITE, NQT and the GBBO

As an NQT takes ownership of their classroom for the first time, they face a technical challenge, not dissimilar to baking an item on the GBBO. A new teacher on an ITE programme, will have started their teaching journey by choosing a recipe book and then modelling skills and styles suggested by their chosen book, but they will not have had time to learn all the technical vocabulary in the book and put it into practice.

After undertaking around a hundred and twenty days of teaching practice on an ITE course, of which an NQT will have taught another teacher’s class or classes, worked within existing structures and routines and following schemes of work created by someone else, an NQT will have a class of their own. This will be the first time they will have worked with a class from the beginning of the year, or the beginning of the term and it may not be until an NQT opens to the door to their own classroom for the first time, that they are aware that some of the key components to complete the technical challenge are missing.

The one key component that is commonly considered to incomplete is around working within SEND processes and providing provision for pupils with SEND. All ITE programmes, whatever form they take, address SEND and are obliged to prepare all new teachers to be able to support SEND in their classrooms. Some courses may include placements in Specialist provision, but these are not always available, so many of the skills and strategies that have been introduced may have only been observed in a narrow context.

The coverage of SEND content on ITE programmes, is not the only area which warrants more input, it does sit alongside other classroom preparation, which is equally valid and important and needs ample time spent on it, such as, planning & assessment, national assessments & exams, child development & learning, managing pupil’s behaviour, early reading, assessing & evaluating teaching and the use of evidence and research to inform teaching.

The ITE programme should be considered a starting point, and then the responsibility for the next stage of the journey lies with both the school to which the NQT is employed and the NQTs themselves. It has been advised in the Standards for Teachers Professional Development, that teachers ‘keep their knowledge and skills up to date, take responsibility for improving teaching through appropriate professional development, responding to advice and feedback from colleagues and demonstrate knowledge and understanding of how pupils learn and how this has an impact on teaching’ (DFE 2016). This links to the School Development plan (SDP) for every teacher’s performance management and for an NQT this will be no different.

The continuous evaluation of SEND processes and provision should be a feature of the School Development Plan (SDP) as part of SEND Reform (2014) and its focus on ‘every teacher is a teacher of SEND’. An NQT will be part of this process, and will undertake the same activity, but they should also have their own professional development plan which will focus on their development as a class teacher and supporting pupils with SEND should be part of an integrated programme of support.

Existing teachers will already know what ‘best endeavours’ are and who the designated person for coordinating SEND is in their school. An NQT will need to know how the school assesses the progress of pupils, how the school identifies the pupils who are making less than expected progress, what this looks like and interventions are available to support pupils.

Supporting an NQT to becoming a Teacher of SEND

An NQT will have a mentor during their induction year, who may or may not be the School SENCO. If the SENCO is not involved in the support package then this should be adjusted to make them an integral part.

The school SENCO should not be planning all the interventions for each individual class, but they will have an overview and knowledge of the provision that is taking place and what strategies can be used and this overview should be the first part of the induction process, from then on, the school SENCO with the mentor should develop a specific support plan for SEND which could include the following,

School Policy

  • Plan sessions on school policy, including how SEND pupils are identified, how they are supported and procedures for Statutory Assessment
  • What provision is available across the school and how is it allocated. What is available for the year group/subject that the NQT is currently working with
  • How to informally and formally gather evidence to demonstrate a pupil’s needs
  • Undertaking an assess, plan, do, review cycle
  • Managing TA staff and managing without a TA in the classroom

Understanding SEND Process & Procedures

  • Explain the process of acquiring an Education Health Care Plan (ECHP) and the statutory responsibilities around these.
  • How to integrate individual targets into lesson planning
  • Assessing pupils who are not working within the National Curriculum. Many schools are still using P levels, but others may be using other methods
  • Attend an Annual Review as an observer

Learning from others  

  • Plan times to visit other classrooms across the school and within other schools.
  • When visiting other colleagues, ask NQTs to observe the support pupils with SEND are receiving, how the room is organised, what resources are used
  • Spend time looking at children’s individual support plans and ask class teachers to explain how they support individual pupils in their classrooms.
  • Find opportunities to meet with external agencies, such as Educational Psychologists and Speech and Language Therapists. Some MATs hold sessions for NQTs where specialists are invited, if available, encourage NQTs to attend.
  • Visits specialist provision, such as Special Schools and PRUs

Managing personal professional development

  • Read key publications such as TES, Guardian Education, SchoolsWeek, TeachSENCO
  • Consider joining membership organisations such as The Chartered College, Nasen & The British Dyslexia Society
  • Sign up to news updates from Ofsted and the DFE, as well as organisations specifically supporting SEND such as Whole School SEND and the Driver Youth Trust
  • Attend networking events such as Teechmeets and ResearchSEND


  • Join twitter and follow some of the key voices and advocates for SEND, for example, Special Needs Jungle, Starlight McKenzie, Barney Angliss, Nancy Gedge, Gareth Morewood, Cherryl Kidd, Natalie Packer, Maria Constantinou, Lorraine Peterson, Marc Rowland, Simon Knight, Alison Peacock, Rob Webster, David Bartram, Michelle Haywood


  • Sign post to information areas such as The SEND Gateway and key publications such as Inclusion for Primary Teachers by Nancy Gedge


Ultimately when supporting an NQT in school, ensure that they do not become overwhelmed and impress upon them, that teaching as a profession is a learning journey, and we are always learning. There is always a new recipe or a variation to learn.

NB – The next ResearchSEND event will be held on the 18th November at Sheffield Hallam University. To be added to the mailing list please email and put ResearchSEND in the subject line.




View from a Bike

I started this blog, a year ago, over the Easter Holidays, and it remained unfinished and unpublished.

Today I have finished it.

I was sitting by the pool in Mallorca, and this is what I wrote.

The Peninsula de Formentor In Mallorca (The Formentor) is described in the guidebook as a 20km spur of The Serra de Tramuntana. It is popular with cyclists, of which I am one.

I started cycling three years ago on an old mountain bike and have progressed to a road bike and ride at least one weekly cycle of between 20 – 40 miles. My first ever ride was less than two miles, and included a hill. I had to get off and walk. Since then I have only ever got off and walked on a hill between St Ives and Zennor in Cornwall (the road sign does advise cars to use a low gear).

Mallorca is a destination for Tour De France competitors and many of the hills around the Island are used as training routes. I’m no Bradley Wiggins who can climb some Mallorican Mountains in seconds, but my current fitness levels enable me to climb mountains fairly well, including The Formentor which is reccommended for intermediate cyclists.

The route is a challenge to climb, but on the way up I was able to compare some of the route to the hills on Cannock Chase (Area of Outstanding beauty, close to where I live and when I’m not road biking, I offroad there), so the journey up felt very familiar, except it was very warm (unusual in the Uk, obviously!)

I was looking forward to the downward journey. I always think its lots of fun going down hills, with the ‘cliched’ wind blowing in your ears.

Not this route.

On Mallorican roads, drivers, drive on the opposite side that they do in the UK. This is Ok, going up the mountain, as on this route, the bike was hugging the mountain. On the way down, the outside edge of the road was separated from a sheer drop by a small fence.

It was slower to come down the mountain, than it was to go up. I was nervous and held my hands on the break.  I was also on a hire bike, which was unfamiliar and did not have as many gears or the suspension, that my own bike at home as.

The journey was not as exhilarating as I thought it would be and some faster cyclists shouted at me, for going too slow and getting in their way!

Sometimes we expect the ride down to be the best part, as we have worked so hard to get there, but sometimes the ride might take longer then we thought, as our destination can change, and obstacles can get in the way (including a cyclist from Guildford, who I had to overtake) .

Sometimes we have to admit that we have to change, as the route we are on, is not the one we should be on.

Its time for me to change the route and my destination.

That was last year and this is what I have written today.

I have reached my new destination, and like the ride in Mallorca, it has been difficult and unexpected.

This year, I am not in Mallorca (Teens on exam revision!) but at home. I’m still cycling but the hill is different. I have been ill, so cannot yet cycle as much as I like.

But I’m starting a new ride, with a new destination.

It will still be challenging, as I don’t know the route, or what lies ahead.

On the 1st May I change jobs and I will start working at The University of Wolverhampton, as a Senior Lecturer in  Primary Education.

I will always be a teacher, I am still a #SENDLeader, SENGovernor and Co founder of @ResearchSEND but now I’m a Senior Lecturer too.

I wonder what my blog a year from now will look like?

Talk is cheap -Why good conversation Matters


Talk is Cheap.

Yes, talk is cheap and good conversation matters.

A few weeks ago, it cost me time, petrol money, a car parking charge, and a small amount of forward planning.

I have two teens, one who is revising for his GCSEs, so is not interested in a day out with his Mum, but my younger teen, is still at the stage where he does not always need to be persuaded to go out for the day. He still likes looking around museums and exhibitions, and will happily spend a day in London in the Tate, The museum of London and The Science Museum.

Our trip, three weeks ago, was accidental, as I had been reading a review of a new exhibition at The Yorkshire Sculpture park, over breakfast one morning and I showed the teen some pictures which accompanied the article. Whilst doing so I asked him if he could remember going there before.

We had passed it on the motorway (M1) a couple of times, when some friends of ours moved to Leeds for a while and we had been to visit them. The last time, we had been, was probably when the teen was 7 and his memory was a little hazy.

I suggested we cancel what we were both doing on the up and coming Saturday and we had a day out, Yes, he thought it was a good idea. Dad could not cancel what he was doing and teen continued to revise.

It was just the two of us.

Mother and son out for the day.

Prior to our trip, we thought about,

·       What time would we need to get up? (we were going on a Saturday after all)

·       What time should we leave?

·       How long would it take?

·       What music should we listen to in the car?

·       Should we take a picnic? (Would be too cold! Let’s eat in the restaurant)

Yes, talk is cheap, we did whilst we were planning and putting together our Spotify list.

At the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, most of the sculptures are spaced out in agricultural fields, on the front of the brochure for example, there is a picture of a Henry Moore Sculpture with sheep grazing beside it. There is some walking required to get to a lot of the sculptures (brochure suggests shoes suitable for walking on muddy terrain)

So we both put our phones away (after I had posted a picture on twitter) and engaged in some hearty debate, as we walked around the park, and not all of it was about Sculpture!

Examples of some of the conversations included,

Did the series Friends have a happy ending?

How do you make a sculpture from glass?

How do you categorise animals? How do you decide a cow is a cow, when they can look so different (same with dogs!)?

If you were using dice in a sculpture – how would you use them? Would you create patterns, or put the same numbers together, or would it be random, and this would be the art?

What does The Pulp song – Es & Whizz mean? (was on the Spotify list)

How does Barbara Hepworth not make the same sculpture twice?

Why is the sculpture called 71 steps, why did the title describe how many steps, when it could have had a more interesting title.

Yes, Talk is cheap, and it can be started by a walk in the park.

These conversations reminded me of an annual writing competition that both my teens entered when they were in year 5. The competition included all the local Primary Schools, who were will all invited to the prize giving one evening in February. The oldest teen insisted on writing about Zombies, because everyone else was. However, Zombies only do a few things, in the imagination of a year 5 child, which was chase and eat people. His entry was predictable, and not very imaginative. Unsurprisingly, he was not a winner.

When it came to the second teen, he wrote about something he had seen on a holiday, which did not involve any chasing or eating of people. His story was called Rock and it described a man in a sweet shop making Rock, whilst being watched by tourists. The teen had been one of the tourists, but he changed the role and wrote as if he was the man making the rock, and how he we fed up of making rock every day, even though the tourists thought it was great. To end the story, the man loses concentration and chops his finger off.

That year, Rock was the winning story.

This story has started with an experience, which had been orally been retold and discussed, even after the holiday ended, as photographs had been taken to help recall the experience.  The retelling and showing of the photographs helped to tell a story and create a discussion point – does the man like making rock, that knife he uses looks dangerous, how does he avoid having an accident?

During the retelling, a template was being developed onto which a story could be told, which included feelings, action and a dilemma.  It was the talk around this experience which led to the winning story, not the experience itself.

As a teacher I have always believed in the talk for writing principles.  I use it a lot myself when I’m preparing to write, and I used it when I taught writing in primary classrooms.

The trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park reminded me that none of the subjects and debate we had on that day, would have happened if we had stayed at home.

Yes talk is cheap and we can all find opportunities to promote it.

It can be anything.

A trip to the Supermarket, a run around the forest, a bus trip into town, just something that starts a conversation and maybe next year or sometime soon it will show an impact in a piece of writing that may win a competition, or be a published piece or it may contribute to a higher grade.

Talk is cheap and good conversations matter.

Go ahead and talk




Cracks in the Pavement



Have you ever wondered as a teacher about the pupils you teach and what becomes of them? In the secondary sector, you may have some idea, as you will be aware of GCSE and A level results and destination data, but what about in Primary, when the pupils leave in year 6? Can you predict where they may end up?


I know what some of the first pupils I taught are doing. I can thank Facebook for that.


But do the teachers who taught me at the inner city comprehensive I went to, ever think of the girl who used to avoid the cracks in the pavement, who walked home alone and thought of a better life?


Do they think about the girl who wrote about being a silent and ignored white working class girl for inclusion in a publication called ‘learning without labels’ and then went to the book launch at The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple? Did they ever have such high expectations of me?


Do they know that the girl who wrote ‘cracks in the pavement’ describing what it was like to be a working class girl, was a girl they taught and were they aware that the girl used dream that she had a different life?


A life where parents where available to pick her up from school and drive her to music and ballet lessons.


A life where she could catch the school bus with friends.

A life where she could bring friends home and have sleep overs.

A life where if a friend asked her to do something that cost money, she would not have to say no


A life where she did not have to sit in lessons with pupils who did not want to work , or where others were allowed to steal your belongings and spit in your hair (yes this really did happen, pupils also spat sweets and chewing gum as well, both of which are very difficult to remove!)


A life where she did not have the free school meals and make her own clothes.


A life where she could fit with the other children who had aspirations to be more than cleaners and workers in factories, because they knew about other occupations


Instead, how much did my teachers understand about the girl who walked home alone, her mother too busy with her siblings and her Dad working shifts in a factory.


Did my teachers think what impact this might have on support for homework or when I was younger who listened to me read? Or did they consider that reading with someone was impossible with two smaller demanding siblings, and one parent, as the other was either at work or sleeping.


Did the teachers know that I shared a room with my sister, who was disruptive and could not sleep through the night, so consequently I would not sleep through the night either and some days would be very tired


Did my teachers know that I would walk to the library alone to change books so that I could read books, but often I did not know what I was choosing ? (which led to some interesting choices)



Who is claiming the prize for my social mobility?


I have decided that I’m claiming this prize. Its mine.


It could have been that I had a comprehensive education, and a Grammar School would have suited me better, but something made me self motivated and hard working, and that was poverty. It was not having things that I thought others had, and to someone poor this is material things, because this is what I could see. This is what I imagined when I thought about falling down a crack in the pavement and into another life.  


In the Learning without Levels book, edited by Marc Rowland. I list ten things which I believe could support working class children like myself, prepare for University, and considerations for  teachers.

We have to remember that we all bring different experiences, family backgrounds and values to our teaching, and it may not be the same as the children we are teaching.  


Disadvantage should not be a barrier to achievement. Being poor should not stop children from going to University, but it nearly happened to me.

We can learn from this and not let it happen to other children in similar and much worse situations.


For many more examples of Improving Outcomes for vulnerable pupils, do read a copy of Learning without Labels, Edited by Marc Rowland.