Wednesday 28 November 2018

Finish this sentence: “The future is...”

The future is not orange (a clever commercial campaign that has longevity, humor, something of the ridiculous about it). The future to me seems grey, smothered in a thick, shocking and blinding fog.

The future is... 

What would you say the future is? For you, for the elderly, children, those who require special assistance? It’s important we stop to think.

For some young people currently going through the education system, they don't see a bright future. An inspiring young man, Michael, spoke at an NEU rally on November 20th. He joined thousands of teachers, parents and MPs marching to the Department of Education (DfE) to raise awareness and promote growing feelings of outrage, shock and disappointment towards real-term funding cuts to special needs, post-16 and early years education facilities in the UK. 
At 11 years old, he stated confidently and clearly that he felt he had “missed his chance” at an education. He spoke eloquently about his experience of being abandoned by his school which was unable to provide for his needs. Michael, like 700,000 people in the UK (that’s roughly 1 in 100), has autism ( His closing line was what hit home the most: “we are the ones who will be looking after you when you’re old, so look after us now.” How can anyone deny the truth in that?
So what is making Michael feel this way and what can we do to alleviate this sad, sorry state of affairs?
The NEU, the largest teaching union body with over 500,000 members, called for a rally to the DfE as part of a wider initiative and series of events to raise public awareness of the real terms effects of budget cuts and belt tightening required by schools leaders. In addition, they are balloting members and calling for #handsup support through social media to force the Government to amend their failing promises, which amounts to 12% of public spending UK (that’s about £34bn). There are serious concerns about the impact of the 2018 budget announcements by The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond on schools, early learning centers and sixth forms across the country, particularly in low economic areas and in low income families, who are already feeling damaging and demoralizing effects of the new Universal Credit system.
A short scan of the new UK TV series ‘School’ is enough to provide a behind-the-scenes honest account of the real lives and everyday challenges of students, teachers, parents and the expectations of leadership in school - whose success varies greatly across the UK. This seems like a great and accessible way to reach the greater public. Unfortunately, it might not reach the eyes and ears of those in power unless the public take action and speak out, write to their MPs and support their local schools.

So on behalf of all children, all parents, all teachers and leaders who are trying to look after every child in their care, I appeal to the Government to look carefully at their budgets and spending, to look carefully at what they invest their money in: are Academies really making the difference they promised? And how much did it cost the UK taxpayer to bail out Carillion, the firm hired by the Government to complete school building developments?).
Dear Government - think carefully about who the money is for? Because it certainly sounds like, at the moment, it’s not for Michael.

Wednesday 14 November 2018

A Letter of Application...

When ever you are applying for jobs, after filling out the personalized, bespoke to each company/school/Organisation (pain in the ass) form - which basically asks for your CV different format that can’t be copied and/or pasted into, you quite often have to also write a motivational letter. I was once asked to write it as an educational philosophy...

I really loved this. I got into it and worked on it for hours... it was the first time someone has asked me - why do you do it? Why are you a teacher, really? What’s in it for you? And it was the first time I had to use my values and beliefs to justify getting a job. Not just over a pint with a friend or in the staff room with like-minded people.

Here was my first attempt:

Dear Sir/Madam,
I have been teaching for 11 years, completing my PGCE Secondary teaching qualification twelve years ago in 2006-7. However, I still feel that there is still an incredible amount to learn and to discover about teaching, learning and about myself, as a teacher. That is one of the joys of this career. Every day is a new challenge, an exciting journey, for everyone.
As a lover of learning I instill in my students a joy for discovery, an understanding that it is ok to make a mistake and to use these errors as a way of finding humor, finding something else and maybe more than you planned, to be adaptable and to be a conscious, awake person in this ever  changing, fast paced and exciting society that we are a part of.  Working collaboratively is very important to learning - whether it is group work, discussion, debate, problem solving or research, children need to learn the social skills and communication skills required to exist in the ‘real world’.  Equally, I understand and promote the benefits of working alone - finding space and quiet with yourself is a very important skill that we all, but particularly young people, need to be trained to do. 
As such, I see school as an opportunity to not only acquire knowledge and understanding, and a place where learning is facilitated by passionate, educated, inspiring staff and peers, but - as well as this - school is a community: it is a place where every student should be able to find a sense of place, a sense of who they are, who they want to be and have the guidance and support to work out how they can achieve this.  As well as an acceptance that this can change and evolve as they grow as an individual. Because they are all individual and unique.
I have a record of success with my classes - this year I achieved a 100% grade 5-9 pass rate; of a class of 32 they achieved 11 grade 9s (to put this into perspective, there were only 14 grade 9s in the whole of the Year 11 cohort (250students), in the English department). In previous years I have also helped my students achieve 96% and 100% grades A*-C.  Last year, one of my A level English Language and Literature student achieved A** which I am very proud of: he worked hard and was over the moon with his achievements. This I hope shows my consistency and my commitment - two elements of my professional attitude that help me to achieve ongoing successes. That and an ability to reflect, share and grow.
In addition to my commitments to the students I teach, I have spent the last two years as Deputy Team Leader for KS5: my role has been to coordinate the A level English Language an Literature and the English Literature courses across the whole school. This year we achieved outstanding results as a team. As well as this, I organized extra-curricular opportunities for all of the A level students, such as: The Big Debate (with a panel of six guests - six members of the public from different careers - debating hot topics and challenging issues put forward students from my school and other schools, who were invited to attend), theatre trips, University seminars, visiting authors, careers meetings and 1:1 mentoring. These extra opportunities are something I feel very passionate about.
Yours Sincerely,

Monday 5 November 2018

The Gender Gap - is it real or is it fantasy?

Why is it that males, compared to females, underperform at school and yet outperform women post-school?
The conundrum of The Education System vs. The Corporate World...

As a committed teacher, working in the UK state school system for several (11) years, the annual start-of-term, post-summer holiday, meeting would always include a section on the Summer Exam Results; as well as the headlines, and department achievements (putting backs up and creating a culture of competition between staff before term starts - thanks!), the most significant discussion would be about the gender gap in education. Not just in our school but nationally.  
There are many reports available to show this is a ‘problem’ for children who attend school (not including the “263 million children, adolescents and youth [who] were out of school, representing nearly one-fifth of the global population of this age group” reports, 2016). The reports that, in the UK, “data analysis suggests that boys are struggling to keep up with girls at key curriculum milestones. By Key Stage 2 (7 to 11 year olds) girls are already moving ahead of boys in their test scores. In the 2015 test scores, around 83% of girls achieved a level 4 or higher score, whereas only 77% of boys in the same age group were able to attain level 4 or higher. These trends continued up to GCSE level, with around 10% more girls earning 5 or more A* – C grades than boys who were achieving the same standard.” From experience, year-on-year, the gap keeps widening, despite strategies, endless meetings and the ritual bollocking of teachers who don’t know what else to do...
Head teachers would herd their sun bleached, bleary eyed staff: teachers, support staff, office staff and caretakers, together in the dreary main hall, sitting them like a naughty class on hard plastic chairs facing the front, and ask them: “looking at the results for this year groups, it would seem that females have outperformed makes by ...%. That’s an increase on last year. What do we need to do to ‘close the gap’ on gender?” They never offered an answer and I never felt that I had the right one (unless, of course, they accepted the utopian vision shared by the hopeful among us that if we tore up the Tory funded National Curriculum (looking everywhere, I could not uncover the cost of this... but I did find out that the new SATs cost £44millions for schools in their first year!) and created an exciting and engaging learning environment focused on and designed for our learners and their needs, preparing them for the ‘real world’ and including a range of practical and literature cross-curricular based study, with a focus on health and wellbeing, employment experience and effective careers advice... you know, like the successful Finnish do it. Other than that, I never found out the answer to this question).  
Around the world, Head teachers are singing to the same tune as they share a duty: to provide a successful learning experience for all. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS - the official and trusted source of internationally-comparable data on education, science, culture and communication) has a duty too. As part of the International Observatory on Equity and Inclusion in Education, their mission is for the achievement of: “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with Target 4.5 specifically aiming to “eliminate gender disparities and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations” ( So with all this hot air and policy making, why are males continuing to be thwarted by our educational establishments whilst reveling in the real world?
I don’t know, is my answer.
Perhaps the questions leaders should be asking are not only why is there this ‘gender attainment gap’ in school but how is it that these very same ‘underachieving’ males go on to have the most lucrative, successful careers compared to their female counterparts - which leads us onto the next highly contested phenomenon: the ‘gender pay gap’?
One of the issues might be the deeply embedded popularity, in many cultures, to focus on RESULTS as a measure of schooling success.  Results are religiously and rigorously compared against peer groups and year groups this creating a system which ignores the individual differences between students and removes their autonomy.  In other words, maybe male students are not performing after all! Schools might be using the wrong measurements for success...?
Secondly, the school environment. How well are modern schools adapted to the learners - learners who now own a computerized phone from the age of 4 or 5, can coherently communicate electronically from a similar age and has a network of friends and followers by the time they are starting secondary school? Have you seen the popularity of the YouTube channels these youngsters are setting up?  Yet when they enter a school they are forced to sit, faceless, complacently, in plastic chairs listening, writing, reading from white boards and papers, demanded to remember up to eleven different subjects (whose content are dictated by the ‘new’ 2016 National Curriculum, which is in fact backwardly set in a ‘slimmed down’ archaic model selected by ex-education minister Michael Gove and written by civil servants, with no teaching experience)  - not because it’s that young person’s passion or strength - but because the Government has decided it is so. And what for? Each student has to pass up to twenty exams in the summer. Is it any wonder that there are reports of a rise in poor mental health, stress, anxiety and battles with identity? And I’m sorry school leaders, adding ‘mental health and wellbeing’ to ten minutes of tutor time once a day isn’t even scratching the surface or contesting this complication. 
This autocratic style schooling system doesn’t seem to suit our male learners, yet they still go onto to be managers, bosses and leaders in many companies and corporations. Despite this, school seems to nurture many females into achieving outstanding results year on year, yet in later life they fall off the band wagon. Is it fortuitous? Or do schools need to adopt a business model system to strive for and possibly achieve more equal gender attainment, or to ‘close the gap’?
School: a controlled environment, offering lack of choices, of free movement, of opportunities to explore and express independence or identity. All concluding in a few momentous months of examinations, back to back, followed by a long wait and then a brief arrival of the envelope with your results: success or failure, future or no future, joy or shame...
Work place: a controlled environment, offering an abundance of more autonomous choices that demand self motivation and self reflection: what do I want to do, what tasks do I want to take and how will I undertake them, what are my strengths and where do I need more support or training; offering chances to specialize, to have successes and receive rewards, bonuses and social recognition (and not only once at the end of your career!). And of course, there are more serious consequences if the work isn’t done: you could lose your job, lose your wages, lose face amongst your peers and more.
So females lead in schools and males overtake them post-school.  
But the UN and UNSECO, as well as other organizations, want themto be going head to head in school exams for the top grades  and in the board room for the top jobs. What is the future of this gender inequality battle?
The introduction of a ‘gender equality quota’ has been issued in many countries to level out the playing field. Governments are promoting the use of quotas to curb ‘inequality’ in employment and provide a preference for the minority group in question, or reduce common cases of “preferential treatment” - for instance, when candidates are equally qualified, a man is almost always appointed for the job. Is this the best way of striving for equality in the (corporate) world? And, how powerful is an equality employment quota: is it not discriminating in itself?  In a statement by Linda Senden, Professor of European Law, an expert in the field of European equality of the sexes and a member of the Utrecht University hub of a Gender and a Diversity, she aims to settle these concerns: “A quota arrangement is not discriminating in and of itself, but merely aims to prescribe a certain result.” The results are often without sanction but some are, such as a fine. 
In California they seem to be making history with the introduction of SB 826: this is a new bill that “requires California-based public companies to have at least one woman on their boards of directors by the end of calendar year 2019.” According to, “Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law on Sept. 30 that requires publicly held companies headquartered in California to include women directors on their board of directors.” Sounds like a pioneering move by the US state. Sadly, however, this newly born bill has already faced fault finding as there seem to be a number of loop holes that could affect how the bill is applied.
 In the Netherlands, gender inequality is acknowledged yet the Government moved the goalposts: the 2016 30% target was changed to 2020 because it wasn’t being met. “There is a women's quota in the form of a target figure: on 1 January 2020, 30 % of the seats in big companies must be occupied by women. A good ambition, but as long as this isn't tied to strict sanctions, it's mostly a symbolic arrangement,” commented Sinden. Doesn’t moving the date make a mockery, somewhat, of the whole proceedings?
The Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency report that: “Australia, along with many countries worldwide, has made significant progress towards gender equality in recent decades, particularly in education, health and female workforce participation. However, the gender gap in theAustralian workforce is still prevalent; women continue to earn less than men, are less likely to advance their careers as far as men, and accumulate less retirement or superannuation savings. At the same time, men have less access to family-friendly policies such as parental leave or flexible working arrangements than women.” With the rise in stay-at-home dads and bread winning women isn’t it time country policies caught up?
The UN has been a driving force for change; they recognize the benefits of a world of equality, evenness and equanimity. Gender equality is defined as, “not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”  It is evident that change is happening: for instance, compared to 18% in 2007, in 2017 in “46 countries, women now hold more than 30 per cent of seats in national parliament in at least one chamber.” Positive progress.

Thankfully, talking about ‘gender equality’ has moved the debate quite far in a few years: its no longer the stale conversation about men vs. women, or Mars vs. Venus. From now on, there is a need to engage in exchanges that mean ‘gender’ encompasses all people and all identities - cross-gender, trans-gender, non-binary individuals, the whole of society! Perhaps we need to stop talking about ‘gender’ altogether and start to focus on ‘individuals’ as learner, member of society, employee. Subsequently, don’t we need school, societal and employment systems and laws which give equal weighting to ANYONE, irrelevant of their gender, sexuality, race, class status? So we can stop talking about the ‘gender gap’ and start finding ways of helping everyone to be their best, whoever they are.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Four well-being ways to save you this Christmas season

This festive season, what don’t you want?
‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la la” blah blah blah - a traditional time when we strive to be jolly, to coordinate fun with friends and family, light a candle and remember those lost and celebrate new additions. But what does the cost of Christmas need to be? In this weeks post I will suggest some Wellbeing ways to help cut back on some unnecessary evils this wintry season.
Wellbeing way 1
Before the madness commences, if it hasn’t already (some of you Christmas keenos have been hoarding presents all year, haven’t you? Be honest!), forget ‘to do’ and make a ”To don’t” list
Take a moment. Reflect on those things you end up doing every year and maybe slightly resenting. If you are still holding onto any bad feelings or bad memories, let them go and forgive yourself. At this time of year, more than others, we all too often have to put ourselves out for other people; we are haunted by that mountain of unavoidable tasks (the cogs of Christmas) and that tremendous ‘to do’ list... as well as wanting to change the pace and purpose of Christmas this year, maybe you acknowledge that there are other things (bad habits?) that you would like to change for yourself: we know we sometimes make poor choices when we’re stressed, anxious, over-worked and tired... how can we ensure that it’ll be a healthy and happy Christmas this year? 
So don’t wait for the New Year to make resolutions (you’ll have burnt out by then), pick up a pen and paper or your note book, iPad, phone, whatever takes your fancy, maybe even a quill, and make a list of things you don’t want: make a ‘To Don’t’ list . Here are a few of mine: don’t judge, please...
  1. Don’t fall asleep on the sofa - a decent nights sleep can really make the world of difference. 
  2. Don’t buy more than meaningful presents - spend a little more on a little less and opt for ethical, sustainable and local choices (see Wellbeing way 3 below). 
  3. Don’t have the second bottle... am I alone here? After a bottle has been comfortably consumed, everyone is feeling merry, there’s a delicious moment of temptation when another bottle seems like the absolutely best idea and right thing to do. Unfortunately, one leads to two, to three, to... getting off with an inflatable Father Christmas. And a nasty hangover to boot writing off  the next day, adding to the stress and strain of an already busy time.
Wellbeing way 2
Rather than Christmas cards this year, take time to make a personal ‘Christmas Call’. 
Don’t opt for the e-card substitutes. Although they may well be one way to save the trees - Christmas card and wrapping paper production contributes to an estimated 30 million trees being cut down (see wellbeing way 4 for some waste saving tips) - they are even less personal than the sentiment a hand written card can achieve. Your friendship is important; it’s scientifically proven that hearing a human voice can improve a sense of identify, wellbeing and other mental health benefits (
Because your ‘to don’t’ list has been so effective, you will find yourself with more time to do the things that will warm your heart, giving you a glow from the inside out; the sharing of love will light you up like a festive fire place. What do you need to do? Simple. Find somewhere to sit down (somewhere comfy... in bed even!), have a nice drink on the side, get your phone book or contacts open and make some Christmas calls. Everyone will be busy this time of year so keep it short, meaningful like a Christmas card note and you’ll both feel better for it. It could be a chance to arrange an overdue meet up, another call - when you’ve got more time in the New Year perhaps, or a time to exchange addresses/email addresses for some ‘life updates’!
Wellbeing way 3
If you’re determined to shower your loved ones with presents this year, for what ever reasons, then please - I implore - adorn them with ethical, sustainable and/or local choices. There are lots of places you can do this that can fit around your lifestyle, so there are no excuses. 😉
The World Wide Web does exactly that - connects us across the whole wide world over the web. Online shops are abundant with a plethora of ethical, sustainable projects in other countries and within your country of residence. You’ll find companies and organizations that have made a bridge between the haves and the have nots. If you read their ‘about us’ section you’ll be able to find out about the better pay conditions, living conditions and education programs these groups are setting up for locals living and working there.
Alternatively, find out when your local flea market is, put in your diary when the late night Christmas shopping event is in your local shops (not those big high street giants) and/or check local facebook pages or if your short on time, check out the local shop’s online proffering. They have families to support too remember and by shopping local you are cutting out the middle man whilst contributing to the UK economic success of these small, independent stores. 
If you’re like me and always struggle with superfluous Christmas present purchasing my advice is to: 1. Talk to the person/people you’re buying for. 2. Make a list of things you think they’ll like. Make a budget per present if you need to, 3. Take spare bags (don’t accept plastic bags from stalls and shops). 4. Wander through the market or street and buy on impulse - trust your nose to sniff out something 
Wellbeing way 4
Your ‘to don’t’ list has proven a hit; your colleagues, sister in law and uncle have made their own too because you have been raving about it! If that’s not ‘sharing is caring’ in it’s purest form I don’t know what is. You have made some successful Christmas calls, you’ve gathered gifts and now need to prepare them for the receivers. There are many ways of making those seasonal surprises suitably wrapped without buying some ghastly, generic paper or pointless plastic wrapping paper. 
More importantly, there are health benefits to you - taking part in creative activities can improve your wellbeing so why not find out some crafty ways to wrap your gifts this year? 
For instance, the Ardington School of Crafts found that “more people, (especially more men!), should take up a creative activity in order that they can benefit from better health and wellbeing, feel less anxiety but a stronger sense of purpose and achievement... study results show conclusively that people feel much happier, have a stronger sense of purpose and are more relaxed because they are involved in arts and crafts activities.” The charity mind promotes ‘Crafternoons’ as a way to bring people together to be crafty and to “provide a safe environment for people to talk in”. Fancy getting your friends together to share wrapping ideas? You could set up a Christmas Crafternoon. Go to for more inspiration.

Useful web links
These websites might provide a starting place for wrapping ideas (please don’t be put off by their ‘hippy-ish’ website names!) or search yourself for ‘green’ or environmentally friendly wrapping. It’s a wrap!
These websites are my suggested starting places for exploring online ethical, sustainable and organic shopping options, but please explore your own avenues:
Top Exeter local tip - my personal favorite:
You matter the most! For more on wellbeing and how to look after you and yours this Festive season use the links below:

Unleashed Creativity: The Digital Society School’s showcase

‘Unleashed Creativity’ The Digital Society School’s 2019 showcase was a show stopper! Fortunately, you’ve got all week to immerse yoursel...