On the subject of Anonymity. 

Originally posted on cherrylkd:

Last week I was quite distressed to read that Harry Webb, otherwise known as @webofsubstance had deleted his entire Twitter account and blog. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not a close friend of Harry. I didn’t follow him and he didn’t follow me. However, I read all his posts and agreed with some of his views, not so much with others. What Harry did was make me think. He opened my mind to other solutions. He challenged the norm and widened the debate. The dictionary definition of anonymity is

‘an·o·nym·i·ty 1. The quality or state of being unknown or unacknowledged.’

In Harry’s case he wanted to be anonymous. He caused no trouble, only sought to widen the debate on education and make us all think.

In the past there have been anonymous accounts which have been vindictive, trouble making and often not in the best interests of education. These accounts…

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For the Love of Books



“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

As a very young child, like so many others, my school reading consisted of Janet and John-style reading scheme books. Whilst these undoubtedly helped me develop my reading skills, the plots were a bit dry, and not particularly inspiring. I was fortunate, though, as my parents and grandparents bought me books, and we paid regular visits to our local library. I particularly enjoyed Paddington Bear and The Mr Men Series, and as an older child, I discovered Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, and other authors whose writing still endures today.

My own daughter is now seven years of age. At school, she learnt to read using the Jolly Phonics scheme. At home, she has literally hundreds of books, and is a voracious reader. Last year, for example, my father bought her the complete series of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven Books, which she went through like wildfire. Now, she actively seeks out other titles by Blyton and positively devours them all.

But not all children are so fortunate, and it’s here where schools should play a part. As an older pupil at secondary school, I became fascinated by the row-upon-row of class sets of books that lined the shelves of our classrooms. I began to borrow some of these famous titles to take them home to read. By doing this – and by reading the books were studying in class – I discovered a cornucopia of books and authors: I read Austen, The Brontes, Dickens, Harper Lee, F Scott Fitzgerald, among others, and plays by Arthur Miller, Seamus Heaney and Shakespeare. I also read poetry by TS Eliot, Wilfred Owen, Sylvia Plath and Walt Whitman and anything by Oscar Wilde.

Now, I know from experience that not all children are as happy to take a book home to read as I was; in fact, there are so many electronic distractions these days, that for many kids enforced reading is a chore. I think this is where reading in class might make a real impact.

To Kill a Mockingbird is still one of my all time favourite novels. I was introduced to this book as part of my GCSE Literature course. In class, we read it together, slowly, chapter by chapter. We pored over the characters and plot nuances until they became like old friends, until the story became so three-dimensional that we were almost there with Scout and Jem, running those dusty streets alongside them. Such is the power of good teaching.

The intricate study of this book gave me skills of analysis that I was able to apply to enhance my reading of other books, by other authors – a bit like adding seasoning or sauce to a meal. Skills which undoubtedly helped me through an English degree.

That’s why, this year, I’m determined to re-introduce the idea of a class reading book. I hope to encourage a love of literature in young people who might not otherwise discover it for themselves; young people who may not be growing up in houses full of books; young people who might not ever get taken to their local library – but kids who are are no less likely to be receptive to a ripping yarn as my daughter and I.

We have just begun a topic on Gothic Horror, and I’m about about to order class sets of both Dracula and Frankenstein. Let’s see if the evocative and macabre words of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley can sow the seeds of a love of literature in some 21st Century kids’ minds, as Harper Lee’s tale of love and injustice in the Southern States sowed in mine.

*This blog was written for Innovate my School (www.innovatemyschool.com)

Please follow me on Twitter: @cazzypot

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2014: Top 5 blogs.


These are the posts of mine that got the most views in 2014. Thank you to everyone who read, shared and commented.

1. Ofsted – carrying on regardless May 2014

In which I wrote about the traumatic Ofsted experience of my job share partner.

2. Lesson Observations: They’re just a game, really, aren’t they? February 2014

In which I wrote about my fears about graded lesson observations (again!)

3. School Leaders, Take Note (In light of the updated handbook for Ofsted Inspectors) July 2014

In which I tried to predict some of the effects of the updated inspectors’ handbook.

4. A Plea to OFSTED
March 2014
In which I asked Ofsted to produce a myth-busting document for schools spelling out what they will/will not expect to see during an inspection.

5. Gove or Wilshaw: Who should we believe? January 2014
In which I bemoaned the continued use of NC levels by many schools.

Thank you again to everyone who read my ramblings this year. Blogging is a real pleasure for me and the online support I’ve received has continued to be incredible!
Here’s to a happy, healthy 2015. :-)

Please follow me on Twitter: @cazzypot


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#Nurture1415 and #teacher5aday Combined


imageI promised Martyn Reah that I would try to contribute something to his campaign for teacher well-being (AKA: #teacher5aday). I also said that I would try to write something for #nurture1415. Not having managed either, I’m now going to attempt a kind of amalgam of the two.

Here goes…

On the face of it, 2014 was not exactly a stellar year for me. As you may already know, in April I fell down the stairs and managed to break both of my legs. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, they say. I am now (more or less) fully recovered, plus I had a real motivator to get moving again in the form of …

1. The ‘Don’t Change the Lightbulbs’ launch party:

I wrote my contribution for this book in the first few hours of 2014. Rachel Jones emailed on New Year’s Eve to ask me if I’d like to write some tips on behaviour for an ebook she was compiling. There was a 31st Dec deadline (?!), but I had a short extension!

I was delighted to contribute to such an excellent project, but more than a little apprehensive about book’s the London launch party in September. As it turned out, the event was a thoroughly lovely experience where I got to chat to many fellow teacher-bloggers (Heather F, Rachel Jones, ChocoTzar, Gwenelope, Thomas Starkey and Old Andrew, to name but a few!)
In preparation for the event, I took myself out for daily late-summer walks down the lanes at the back of our house. Had I not had such an important date scheduled, it’s unlikely I would have had such motivation to rehabilitate. A huge thank you to Rachel (and also to Gwen for thinking to recommend me!).

2. More Writing:
One of the singular benefits of incapacitation is having lots of time. This year I have managed to write posts for several different publications (Innovate My School, Forum Journal, UKEd Magazine, NAHT Edge, and Lightbulbs (above)) and am honoured and delighted that they’ve given space over to my ramblings. This has given me a slightly wider audience for my stuff, and it seems what I’ve written has generally been well-received.

3. Work Stuff:
The ongoing saga of my battles at work has continued to provide me with a rich seam of blogging material. As I have said before, it’s always a relief to know you aren’t alone with this stuff. On the occasions that I’ve come home from work feeling thoroughly beaten and battered and poured my out my feelings of despair in a blog, the online response has usually been wonderful. Seeing how many others are going through similar stuff has only caused me to redouble my efforts to tackle these issues.
Last month I had a bit of a break-through at work when they finally decided to abandon graded lesson observations. How much of a role I actually played in this decision I can’t be sure, but I like to think I just might have had something to do with it.

4. Ofsted Meeting:
At the end of October I was fortunate enough to attend a consultation meeting with Mike Cladingbowl (National Director – Schools), in Birmingham.
This was an excellent opportunity for me to air some of my worries and fears about the Ofsted process – I’m very aware of what a rare opportunity that is. Again, it was also an excellent opportunity to meet and chat to fellow-teachers from all around the country.

5. Home and Family:
There’s nothing like a crisis for making you appreciate what you’ve got. Now I’m back on my feet, it’s lovely to be able to do (just normal) stuff with my kids. Whilst unable to walk, I could hardly wait to take charge again of the housework and washing etc! In the inevitable moments of stressy anxiety that (I hope) all mothers have, I try to remind myself what it feels like to be unable to play any part in it at all.

6. Public Speaking
I’ve never done any public speaking before (unless you count college productions and Brownie church parades.) It now seems I’m about to be thrown in at the deepest end of all, having been asked by David James to speak about PRUs and behaviour at next June’s Festival of Education at Wellington College. In preparation for this, I’m making copious notes and rehearsing lines in the shower (which I usually forget by the time I’m out and dressed). Wish me luck..

2015 Plans:

1. To try my damnedest to do a good job of the Education Festival thing (above). I know I know a lot about this stuff. I just need to be able to communicate it all effectively.

2. To keep moving and try to lose a bit of weight.

3. To try my hardest not to be so permanently worried about things. A favourite singer of mine once said he was, “..smart enough to know that stress is what gets you”. If I can only try to heed such sound advice…

4. To keep writing my own blog, and also to continue to write for others – it’s always such a pleasure to see my own stuff in print and online.

5. To keep doing the best job I can do, both at home and at work. As I’m always saying to my pupils, “No-one can ask any more of you than your best.”

Please follow me on Twitter @cazzypot

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Please Help With The UK Education Bloggers Spreadsheet Version 4.0

Originally posted on The Echo Chamber:

The latest version of the spreadsheet of bloggers can now be found here.

Because of all the new blogs that have been found, there is an even greater need for work on filling in the spreadsheet. So can you please, please try to do as many of the following as possible:

  1. If you are a blogger, make sure your own details are on the spreadsheet and are up to date. (Once you have done so, put the date in the final column).
  2. Share this post (i.e. the one you are currently reading) on social media, particularly by reblogging and tweeting.
  3. Find some time to go onto the spreadsheet and look up some blogs where there are spaces and see if you can find the information needed to fill in the gaps.
  4. Let me know about any problems or difficulties. Reading the notes below may solve some of the most…

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The Engine Room of Schools


Middle leaders have on more than one occasion been described as ‘the engine room of the school’. If we take this at face value, the analogy suggests a school simply couldn’t function without its middle leaders just as an ocean liner couldn’t sail without its engine. Therefore, it seems wise to consider what some of the features of successful middle management may be. After considering some of my own practice and what I’ve seen in the schools I’ve worked at or visited, I’ve condensed my thoughts into the following list.

1. To raise standards

A lot of jargon is spoken and reams of data generated, but I think there are a couple of good starting points for success. Middle leaders should be up-to-date with the latest guidance and try to ensure their staff are too. Middle leaders should ensure staff have access to high-quality continuing professional development that’s useful and, preferably, chosen by the staff themselves. A team that’s informed and educated in its own subject is (arguably) the key to higher standards of pupil work.

2. Observing teachers and quality assurance

These are closely linked to the above. Middle leaders should ensure the observation and scrutiny process is as non-threatening as possible. Feedback and advice given should be genuinely constructive. This can be achieved by ensuring positive features are highlighted, shared and built upon, and areas for improvement are discussed. Individual teaching styles, lesson planning and structure should be at the teacher’s discretion. I hope it goes without saying there should be no grading of individual lessons.

3. Building strong teams

A good middle leader will know where the strengths and weaknesses lie in their team. In addition to offering opportunities for training and feedback, middle leaders should encourage sharing of skills between their own team of teachers. While valuing and promoting teacher autonomy, opportunities to see each other teach and share ideas and good practice should be given. Teachers should be offered the chance to plan together and team teach. Where appropriate, middle leaders should seek to involve and engage staff in the department decision-making process.

4. Behaviour

A good middle leader can be crucial in ensuring consistency of behaviour management across their department. Middle leaders should help staff to enforce school discipline policy while never undermining individual teachers. They should be prepared to chase up detentions and generally back staff in any way needed. It’s wise not to underestimate the importance of strong behaviour management in the overall success of a department.

5. The middle (wo)man

As a buffer between senior leadership and teaching staff, middle leaders are on the receiving end of an awful lot of information. However, they should be careful not to throw all the stress down the line. A good middle leader will know there are some tasks which should be undertaken by them and some information which should be held back. Teaching staff shouldn’t be given unnecessary tasks to complete or paperwork to trawl through. In addition to this, I would urge middle leaders to think very carefully before implementing any new scheme or incentive – especially if costly. Consider foremost, if it’s really as good as it first seems? And (crucially) will it raise standards?

An engine room, by definition, exists behind a closed door. It’s isolated from the rest of the ship. It’s here where this post must diverge from the engine room analogy. Middle leaders must be visible to both pupils and staff; they should be seen in corridors, greet people, smile and say hello. Middle leaders should enquire how people are (and genuinely care about the response). They should certainly not exist behind a closed door, but instead offer an open-door policy where they welcome everyday news and chit-chat as well as the inevitable crises and bad news.

Finally, middle leaders should have a teaching commitment. Even the smoothest, slickest of engines can be prone to rust, after all.

This blog was written for the NAHT Edge website

This list is far from exhaustive, please add your comments below, or contact me on Twitter.

Please follow me on Twitter: @cazzypot

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British Values and Character: “You will be judged on this.”

imageLast month the DfE released (non statutory) guidelines for schools , for the somewhat thorny issue of the ‘British Values’ that we are now required to nurture in our schools. Having read the document, I must stress that I think it outlines some fairly acceptable values, it’s not the list itself that’s the particular cause for concern.

My worry is the interpretation of this this list, or, to be precise, the potential SLT knee-jerk reaction to such guidance. I think there is a very real danger that fear will take over and, before we know it, evidence of British values tuition will be required in every lesson – I may exaggerate slightly, but not much. I have noticed that a variety of lesson resources for ‘Character’ and ‘British Values’ are already popping up online.

In our weekly staff meeting last night (Monday), a senior member of our SLT asked us to read the new DfE guidelines for British Values and told us he would email further resources on character education he’d obtained from a weekend training course he’d attended. He went on to sagely inform us that a box for referencing ‘British values’ and ‘character’ would soon be added to our weekly planning sheets.

Now, this is the same SLT team that Ofsted graded outstanding in May.

In doing this, I believe Ofsted simply confirmed to them that their practices are correct. In effect they have said that it’s okay to demand weekly (detailed) lesson plans and then criticise if the SMSC targets aren’t worded correctly, or if the learning objective is too vague. On this planning sheet we already have boxes for referencing SMSC, homework, deployment of TAs, Numeracy and Literacy, learning aims, assessment focus and learning objectives. There is also a larger box for detailing the lesson content itself – to include whether activities are ‘new’ or ‘ongoing’. Completed plans must be placed in a staff file on the computer system by 12 noon every Monday. They are then scrutinised by a deputy, who sends an email to all staff listing any issues. I can only assume that Ofsted saw and agreed to all this.

Now to be added to our weekly plans: a new box for ‘British values’ to include references to the other latest hot topic – character education. Why? Because my SLT are (officially) ‘outstanding’. I assume they believe they can continue to be so by being able to ‘prove’ how thorough and effective their quality control methods are.

In response to all this, I raised the matter with the manager in question this afternoon. I took with me a copy of the joint NUT and NASUWT guidelines for lesson planning, which clearly states that planning is a personal matter for the teacher, and should on no account be shown to, or shared with members of the SLT. I told him that I thought yet another box on this form would be a step too far. The boss seemed sympathetic, and agreed that the weekly planning sheets are very prescriptive. He also seemed genuinely surprised to learn that the planning is only there to inform our work, and not for the eyes of SLT. He left saying he would “raise the matter”. I am hopeful of a positive result, especially as they are now no longer grading individual lessons.

I do believe the law of unintended consequences is at play here. Whenever the DfE or Ofsted introduce a new initiative, they’d be wise to carefully consider what the consequences of this might be for chalk-face staff. Politicians, also (Tristram Hunt, for example) please think carefully before you extol the virtues of something as vague, invisible and unquantifiable as ‘character’. Personally, I sincerely hope we never see the day when ‘Character’ or ‘British Values’ become distinct lessons in their own right. It seems to me that both character and British values can be encouraged, nurtured and developed as part of any good school’s general ethos. I’m afraid that the recent guidance will probably do little more than reduce such important virtues to an easily manipulated evidence box – I assume this wasn’t what the authors of this particular document had in mind.

There is little doubt that we are still living in an age of fear – an age where the iron fist of Ofsted still has a firm grip on schools – no matter how hard they try to conceal this with kid gloves. Schools want to please Ofsted, it’s as simple as that. As ever, many SLT believe that the way to do this is to gather more and more evidence, in order to be able to prove that they are meeting all requirements, and referencing all initiatives.

Or, as the big boss somewhat ominously put it on Monday, “You will be judged on this”.

Please follow me on Twitter: @cazzypot

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Does Blogging Empower Teachers?


Late in 2012, I decided I’d start writing a local history blog. Although, having been an English teacher for the last 19 years, this possibly wasn’t the most logical choice. I did write one history post, but it wasn’t long before I realised that I had far more to say about issues that were happening In the world of education.

In order to provide myself with a bit of anonymity, I removed my real name from my Twitter account and drafted an article about the GCSE exam boundaries. The article was published in an online political magazine, and I was delighted.

Over the next few months, I had several articles published online. However, because they were featured in a general politics mag, the audience for these was sometimes very small. So in July last year, I decided to set up my own blog site. Thanks to the support of several prominent teachers, including Tom Bennett, who publicised a couple of my posts, and Andrew Old, who re-blogged some on his education blog site The Echo Chamber I had soon developed more of a readership than I ever dreamed possible.

I wrote about contentious issues – issues that were often having a direct effect on me, confounding things that happened in the course of my day to day teaching. I also shared Ofsted anomalies and discussed how the Ofsted culture permeates schools. I wrote about behaviour; the labelling culture; the removal (or not) of national curriculum levels; assessment and lesson observations and PRP. All quite positively received. Blogging had given me a voice.

My most popular post by a long way was what I call my ‘primal scream’ post It was written in the early hours of the morning after a fairly distressing experience at work via a learning walk.

It was the response to this frustrated outpouring of grief that demonstrated to me the true power of blogging. I had no reason to feel alone with all this, because I clearly wasn’t alone with all this. The level of support on social media was incredible. It wasn’t just classroom teachers, either.

And education bloggers are being listened to by the people at the very top of the education chain, too. Several groups of bloggers have now been to visit both Ofsted HQ and also the DfE. The top people at these institutions are clearly well aware of the influence of blogs. A cynic might suggest that they are trying to keep bloggers on-side and garner a bit of PR-style positive publicity. Either way, if the end result is the views of chalkface teachers being listened to, then this can only be a good thing. In addition to this, groups of bloggers regularly meet up with each other at social occasions. Then there are the courses delivered, the conferences organised and attended, and the books that are written and published – all as a direct result of teacher voices sharing their views and experiences through blogs.

If all of the above wasn’t empowering enough, I must also make mention of the professional development aspect. Many generous bloggers regularly share elements of good practice and resources via their blogs. I only wish such a wealth of real-life, reading matter had existed when I first started teaching. As it is, even now, I frequently incorporate teaching ideas I’ve gleaned from blogs into my lessons. Thus blogging has the power to improve and enhance teaching practice itself. As fellow-blogger @WatsEd said

“Reading the thoughts of other professionals is one of the best ways to gain an insight into what is happening everywhere else… it has taught me that I didn’t realise how little I knew! Well, now I am working to rectify that.”

I think that’s an excellent conclusion. Seconded.



*This blog was originally written for http://www.innovatemyschool.com

Please follow me on Twitter: @cazzypot

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Thoughts on Tristram Hunt’s Teacher Oath Idea

The problem with the teacher oath idea is that we have very few agreed values in teaching. We are still arguing about what constitutes a quality education. Of course, we can all agree that we want the best for kids, and want them to be safe etc. But if we reduced the oath to the few things we all agree on, it would become so vague and general that it might as well not exist at all.

If the oath had more specific requirements, the worry would be that some teachers wouldn’t agree with them. A bit like agreeing to obey your husband in a wedding vow, if the oath contained stipulations that you strongly disagreed with, that would make it very difficult to swear to. If your conscience wouldn’t allow you to take the oath would you then be banned from teaching?

I speak as someone who often disagrees with my own school’s view of what quality teaching is, this ongoing disagreement has had potentially career damaging effects for me. If their ideals of quality teaching were put in an oath, I wouldn’t be swearing on it.

UPDATE: Tristram Hunt has since tweeted the link to this post. What he thinks of what I said is unknown.



The above was written as a contribution to this piece from Edubag UK (http://about.edubag.com/): https://plus.google.com/app/basic/stream/z12jgfbhbqvpynpsq22jdl5xfyblx5dpk04

Please follow me on Twitter: @cazzypot

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The Resourcefulness of Teachers.


Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” Isaac Newton

I’m sure there must be other professions that are similarly prone, but it does seem to be that schools are particularly susceptible to the latest trends and fashions. New resources, gimmicks and ideas are introduced and expected to be integrated into lessons, often with alarming regularity. This would be all well and good if the evidence was there to support the effectiveness of these, but quite frankly it often isn’t.

Resources are usually sold to schools via glossy magazines or sales representatives. This salesmanship is reminiscent of home shopping channels or must-have toy crazes, such as Cabbage Patch dolls or the latest games console. But by spending freely on new resources, is it possible that schools are directing money away from areas where it might be more productively used?

English Teacher James Theobold noted the following in his recent blog

“If the resources were produced specifically to be sold and not to be used in the creator’s classroom at all (ie by a business that solely produces resources), then it’s worth asking: are they selling something that has not been tried, tested and developed in a classroom first? How effective is that resource?”

The truth is that more often than not we just don’t know how effective these resources are. Some might help with teaching, but is there really any point if they’ve little or no effect on learning? If teachers are required to use pre-published books or schemes the school has purchased, then, somewhat inevitably, this will impact on their autonomous right to choose and prepare what they deliver.

Likewise, technology can sometimes be very useful, but the cost of this equipment is growing exponentially so teachers might feel obliged (or instructed) to integrate it at every opportunity. The ubiquitous interactive whiteboards are an example that immediately springs to mind. I can say from personal experience that the pressure to use these in all lessons is immense.

So what really makes for successful teaching? How truly beneficial is all of this stuff?

Thankfully, an increasing number of teachers and their managers are basing their curriculum content and delivery around advice and evidence of what works. More and more people are considering what the key ingredients of successful teaching and learning really are. While differing on some points, certain themes do appear to recur. I’ve paraphrased a selection of these here:

Clearly communicated lesson goals: discussed with pupils at the start, and re-visited during and at the end of lessons
Regular (preferably open-ended) verbal questioning of pupils to check understanding
Practise: perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s been shown that pupils do better when they’ve regular opportunities to practise. They must be practising the right stuff – it’s crucial that it isn’t used to reinforce bad habits
Pupil feedback: it should tell pupils what they’ve done well and where they need to improve (offered verbally or through tailored marking)
Teacher flexibility: particularly concerning the pace at which each pupil learns. All pupils are different, so where possible provision should account for this
Regular testing and quizzing: widely shown to be the most effective way of ensuring long term retention of information

(Source: Top 10 evidence-based teaching strategies)

If we’re to believe the above list, it seems to me that none of these would necessarily require much in the way of equipment or resources to deliver successfully. In fact, it seems entirely possible that complex resources could even detract from the purity and simplicity of effective teaching and learning.

I’d like to suggest that school leaders, particularly middle leaders with budget responsibility, try to ensure their school is only buying, or enforcing the use of, materials and equipment that are genuinely beneficial to learning. Seductive as this stuff is, it’s vital not to introduce fashionable and costly resources which may ultimately prove no more effective than, say, a sheet of paper and a pen.

This blog was written for NAHT Edge (@NAHTEdge): Here

Please follow me on Twitter: @cazzypot

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