Relationship matters….relationships matter

This post was first published on on September 9th 2015.

I think that, strictly speaking, Pedagoo is  meant to be about sharing classroom practice and I therefore have to start with a confession; I am currently not classroom based. Those who know me well will know that I have mixed feelings about this. While I am loving my secondment to the local authority central team, I am missing the contact with pupils. But that for another post…

Last week I had the tremendous good fortune to attend three fantastic events within two days. On the surface, the events appeared to relate to three quite different themes. The first was our launch of our Authority Self-Harm and Suicide guidance. The second was a learning session for support assistants on behaviour, delivered by two representatives from Education Scotland. And the third was a day of Leadership training for Argyll and Bute Headteachers. Having had time to digest and reflect on the sessions, it has struck me that there were two key messages common to all three.

The first is about the absolute crucial importance of relationships in education. Ged Flynn from Papyrus, the suicide prevention charity talked about the need for us to make ourselves available to anyone who is struggling to cope. By really listening to the person’s story and helping him/her to find strategies to manage the difficult parts of life, we can literally save a life. Giving the person the time and space to connect with another can make all the difference. Sam March from Education Scotland talked about the vital concept of nurture in helping a young person who is struggling to achieve. He spoke of the ‘turnaround adult’ who can provide a consistent, reliable and predictable relationship in a child’s life. Nurture is about more than being kind to a child; it is about having high aspirations and a willingness and skill to challenge the negative self-image or internal working model that has developed in that child. And Andrew Cubie, on leadership, stressed the crucial importance of getting to know and understand those you are working with and leading. He explained that we need to invest time in getting to understand others, in understanding their DNA and ‘clicking’ with them. He said that the chemistry of a relationship is crucial and that if you are faced with someone whom you initially find difficult, you have to work at understanding them better if you are to succeed together. He advised taking time to “talk out the issues, strategic and other” and to make the difficult relationships better.

This idea of the need to work at our relationships resonated with me. If I have had success as an educationalist, it seems to me that it is often because I have taken time to work at the ‘difficult’ relationships, whether that be with pupils, parents or colleagues. Often another person may present as ‘difficult’ because they represent a different viewpoint and experience to our own; we need to dig deep and look at what that experience is. Thus the ‘difficult’ child who cannot behave may be communicating distress or needing a different type of attention to the others in the class. The ‘difficult’ parent who rages down a phone about the faults of the school may be struggling to cope with a child at home and need the chance to express and work on this. And the ‘difficult’ colleague who resists implementing change for the better because ‘the old ways are the best’ may be feeling hugely insecure about her own capacity to change and need the support of a colleague to take things forward.

I have to confess that Andrew’s talk made me realise that I have probably been more tolerant of ‘difficult’ pupil and parent characters in the past and quicker to criticise colleagues where I have felt them to be putting up barriers. My note to self is to invest more time in developing these relationships and listening more intently to these colleagues in future.

And so to the second key thread touched on by all the speakers I heard last week. This related to the idea that, in order to function successfully as leaders of others, or indeed of our own lives, we need tools and structures that assist us with self-regulation. This might seem obvious; if you do not feel in control of yourself and you aren’t the leader in your own life, then you risk that things won’t go the way you would have wanted. But it struck me that all three speakers mentioned the conscious need to put structures in place around this and not to take them for granted.

Ged Flynn spoke of the need to create plans with young people in distress so that they have strategies that they can draw on to keep them safe. Sam March talked about the need for restorative, solution focused work that clearly identifies interventions that will enable children to move forward. And, perhaps most interestingly for me, Andrew Cubie spoke about his belief in personal development planning. He said that he writes a personal development plan in relation to each project upon which he embarks and it is against this that he judges his personal success within the project. I was surprised to hear that someone with Andrew’s vast experience would feel a need to do this but it also re-iterated to me the importance of attending to our personal self-management. This is not the stuff of therapy or a reactive approach to crisis but the pro-active stuff of life and education.

All three speakers also talked of the need for us to take care of ourselves if we are to provide support and positive role modelling to the children and young people with whom we work. Creating regular opportunities to think about our priorities and values is part of this. So what has stayed with me above all after attending these events? That relationships matter and should be at the heart of education, not seen as secondary to learning but as fundamental to learning. Building positive relationships with others but also building a positive relationship with our own self are crucial to our professional and personal success.

It is not that I didn’t ‘know’ or believe this before;  as a former Dramatherapist I have read the books on Emotional Intelligence, Why Love Matters and the rest. But hearing these three inspiring speakers has reminded and re-enforced the message, giving me the confidence to put it back at the heart of what I do and what I invite others to do.

Ged Flynn is Chief Executive of Papyrus, the suicide prevention charity. Sir Andrew Cubie is an independent Consultant. He was variously Chairman and Senior Partner of a number of law firms, including Fyfe Ireland LLP, having specialised in Corporate law. He holds a number of non-executive Directorships. He has been engaged in education issues throughout his professional career.Sam March is a Development Officer at Education Scotland.

Welcome back

This week I did a welcome back assembly for my S4 year group. I had a lot to say. I decided against doing the usual ‘this year is massively important/pile on the pressure’ approach and instead to give a message about individuality. I asked them for feedback. It ranged from ‘hot’ (temperature in library) and ‘boring’ to ‘inspirational’, ‘helpful’ and ‘moving’.

So I think I made a difference to at least some. Here’s what I said:1

I hope you had a lovely summer. Some of you may have not and that is difficult; we all expect holidays to be a time to relax, have fun.


The other day, I was asked this question – are you going to do one of those…., Mrs C??

And I thought about it. And I decided that maybe not. Because as I thought about it, I realised that maybe not all of you need to hear that message just now.


Some of you may well need the first approach just now. You may well need to be told that ‘this is an important year’…and get the proverbial kick up the backside

But others may KNOW THAT IT IS IMPORTANT AND HAVE KNOWN IT SINCE S1. Me telling you is unlikely to help and may indeed make things worse.

Each one of you in S4 is an individual and each one will have a slightly different aim this year:


Some of you, as you know from the PSE work we did on teenage brain, may be finding it hard to have any sort of plan and may struggle to think beyond tomorrow!!




It is the job of the adults in this school to help you keep going in the right direction.


Prelims are the ‘practice’ exams you do if you are doing National 5’s. They may also help you and your teachers decide whether you should do N4 or N5. And they can be useful if you get struck down with an illness during the actual N5 exams – for example if you get glandular fever, which can affect people of your age and may or may not be caused by snogging……..


Here is another example of how one bit of advice does not work for all people. This looks quite sensible. This is the poster of the week for S2 this week.


For some of you, who lack motivation and can ALWAYS find an excuse for not doing things (“I’m too tired!!”), this might be great!


If Mo Farah had given up when he was tired after 4 laps, he would not have gone on to win an Olympic gold. Equally, if he had given up when he fell over, he’d never have got the gold…….

BUT I was terrible at your age and at university for pushing myself TOO hard – always working until I was ‘finished’ and not listening to when I was tired. I was always worried that I wasn’t doing enough, that there were always more books to read and I nearly made myself ill. Some of you may be like me. In some (most) jobs, there is always more work you COULD do.

But fact we all know, if we go back to Mo Farah, that for athletes, training is all about pace. Not doing too much or too little, listening to your body and stopping when you are injured or tired. It is the MOST competitive thing but it is also a field where it is MOST important to know what YOU can do.


Tom Daly gave a good example in the Olympics of how things don’t always go to plan, even when we work our hardest. He got a bronze medal in the Olympics which is beyond what most of us in the room could even dream of! But he felt he had failed.


He gives an important message about how we can fall and get up again (like Mo), learn and try again.

In fact Tom Daly is a very interesting example of how hard it can sometimes be to keep going to achieve what we want:

He competed in the Bejing Olympics aged 14.

His father, Robert, died from a brain tumour on 27 May 2011, aged 40 when Tom was 17.

He was also bullied at school and actually moved school after the 2012 Olympics when people called him ‘Speedo boy.’

He took his GCSEs in small batches to fit around his diving commitments. He persuaded supermodel Kate Moss to pose for a recreation of an original portrait by David Hockney, as part of a GCSE photography project recreating great works of art, after meeting her on a photo shoot for the Italian version of Vogue.

He obtained one A and eight A* grades in his GCSEs

In 2012, he did A-level studies in mathematics, Spanish and photography.  He received an A* in his photography A-level, and an A in his Spanish and maths A-levels.

In 2013 he came out and once again was the victim of horrific online homophobic bullying.

He is 22 and worth 4 million pounds.

Where are the people who were abusive now?

Another person recently who has spoken out about bullying is Nadiya Hussain. Last year’s Bake-off winner. Speaking on Desert Island Discs, she said she has experienced racist abuse throughout her life, had things thrown at her and been pushed and shoved.

She said: “I expect to be shoved or pushed or verbally abused because that happens. It’s been happening for years.”

Asked by host Kirsty Young how she reacted, she said she did not retaliate.

‘Be the better person’.

“I feel like there’s a dignity in silence, and I think if I retaliate to negativity with negativity, then we’ve evened out,” she said.

“And I don’t need to even that out because if somebody’s being negative, I need to be the better person.

This leads me to a message I want you all to hear in S4:


And if you are experiencing abuse or hurt from others, whilst I encourage you not to retaliate and to have dignity in silence, please DON’T suffer in silence. We will be doing more on this in S4 PSE this term as we look at hate crime.



Being well.

The end.

And a beginning.

The last Saturday of the holidays.

And back to it on Monday.

I have had a great holiday. I have caught up with lots of good friends and connected with my family, closest and wider. I have been to Harry Potter Studios, Cambridge, Dorset, The Larmer Tree Festival, Ben Nevis and the Edinburgh Fringe.

I have some new body art.

I have had reunions with friends not seen since 1989, 1992 and 2007 and it has been wonderful. So much has happened and changed in the meantime yet connection, friendship, love and understanding have remained.

I managed to complete a draft of my final ‘Into Headship’ assessment. It is far from finished and far from perfect but it will do for now.

Working for that has re-invigorated my desire to be a head teacher, to run a school. I have a new source of inspiration, having read “Leading the Strategically Focused School: Success and Sustainability” by Brent Davies.

How can you not admire someone who writes as follows?

“Education is a wonderful challenge. The challenge is to give every child the opportunity to learn and develop. We might consider that children are the messages we send intothe future. Clearly, we need to send good messages.”


“In setting the direction of the school, the way that leaders interpret externally-imposed requirements is a moral and curricular issue about the purpose of education. Obeying orders ‘from on high’ to the detriment of children’s education is a moral choice. In discussions, leaders often use the leadership mantra approach and ask, ‘What is in the best interests of the children?’ to determine what moral stance to take. Establishing a value system and set of beliefs for the school provides the moral template on which to judge current and future decisions and the direction of the school.”

I have cleaned the house.

I have done bits of preparation for the new term and blitzed my office.

Yesterday, I went to Alloa and did a piece of video work for an online resource for Scottish Autism.

I have walked or cycled every day except two.

I have blogged and kept an eye on Twitter but gone for the #teacher5aday and #summerofmildrebellion threads rather than anything too serious.

(Thanks so much to @MissVicki_V, @rondelle10_b and @Dorastar1)

I have particularly loved reading blog posts from @jw_teach @JarlathOBrien, @nancygedge and @JulesDaulby.

On the whole my work-life balance has been healthy and ‘life’ has come out on top.

I have switched off and pieced myself back together after running myself into the ground last year – as all teachers do. But I did find it harder to switch off this year. I found it hard to stop and when I did, I found myself in some pretty difficult places.

I realised that I needed to take a bit of a harder look. To do some ‘work’ of a different kind.

So, inspired by both Rob Macmillan’s amazing blog , Dr Tim O’ Brien’s book ‘Inner Story’ and Matt Haig’s ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’, I have written my story this summer. It is long. It is indulgent. But more than anything else, it is honest.

I am not sure that I will ever be able to make it public in the way that Rob has. I would like to, as I believe that it may help others who struggle with things going on in their head. But I am not sure that I am brave enough. A comment from someone a few months back suggesting that maybe my blog is ‘too’ honest has made me cautious.

Having written my story is a big step for me, though. A step towards greater honesty about who I am and why I behave and feel the way I do. A step towards acknowledging my vulnerability and my strength.

It is important to be honest with others but out first commitment must be to achieve honesty with ourself. Our self.

In writing, I have spotted some patterns, noticed some common themes and realised that I need to make some changes.

I know, I know.

I have said it before, made the resolutions, made the 5 a day pledges, been a wellbeing guru.

And at the time, I meant every word I said.

But as I sit here, on my 47th birthday, I mean it again.

Here’s a toast to wellbeing. To being well. To staying well.

In it for the long term…..


This week I have been into school and tidied my office. (Trigger counteraction for those in England; we are back on the 15th August and have been off for nearly 5 weeks. Don’t feel guilty!)

It was quite a monumental task as the 4 very large wall shelves behind my desk contained the legacy of my predecessor, who left 3 years ago, and that of the post-holder previous to him, the head teacher of the special school which was amalgamated into our campus 10 years ago.

I should have tackled it all when I first arrived 3 years ago but I had a sense of guilt about getting rid of things that I had not created.

Plus, as a hoarder, I was convinced that it might all prove useful ‘someday’.

Then I went out on secondment after just a year in post at school so left the office again for 16 months.

But now that I am back, I decided to bite the bullet.

I have thrown out masses. Lots of it simply outdated; circulars, briefings, initiatives. Copies of things that can be found online in an updated version. Things that are no longer legislatively compliant.

In looking through it all, though, I was struck by a few things.

We move on so quickly in education. Initiatives come and go in a matter of a few years and the long term view is too often lost in the face of the ‘quick fix’.

Example: “Let’s do inclusion and close special schools!”

But then, just a few years later:

“Let’s re-open special schools!”

Of course we need to reflect and let go of outmoded practices if they prove not to work. For an excellent piece on this, look no further than this:

But we also need to remember the long term view and avoid the knee-jerk.

I hope that we in Scotland will do this in the light of the recent ruling in the Supreme Court that very specific aspects of Getting It Right For Every Child needing looking at again. The knee-jerkers are saying that it is the end of GIRFEC and the Named Person. But it must not be. The best argument I have seen as to why not is here:

My questions to anyone who suggests otherwise are:

“Why would we not want someone in school (and in secondary in particular, where a child may have 15 plus teachers) to know a child well and look out for him/her?”


“So, if we are no longer going to commit to Getting It Right For Every Child, are we tacitly implying that we can Get It Wrong For Every Child?”

This week I also completed the first draft of my ‘Into Headship’ final assignment and reflected on the reading I have done as part of that. Certainly the key message from the guys who know is that we have to have a long term view.

These quotes from the work of Dimmock and Walker and Davies are particularly pertinent:

“Consequently, the leadership and management of school improvement needs to be holistic, but it must also be consistent and intentional”. (Dimmock and Walker 2004 p 43)

“…major change in schools often takes five to ten years to embed.” (Dimmock and Walker 2004, p 41)

“It is important that any strategic or operational decisions are set in a futures context. The school needs to scan its long-term environment to identify the developing ideas and trends that will form the strategic agenda in the future. Schools need to understand the world in which their pupils will seek employment and live and begin to formulate approaches that will enable them to succeed in the world in 15-20 years’ time. Fifteen years is only the length of one child’s educational journey.” (Davies 1998, p 467)

Finally, Priestley and Miller (2012) made me reflect on the need to consider the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ of policy implementation and to “acknowledge the importance of attending to the transactions between different actors, and between actors and their contexts” (p 100). I was interested to read their account of the Highland model of improvement that looked beyond the mere introduction of pedagogic techniques and sought instead to examine the “broader purposes of education”.

Let’s not knee jerk and be too short term. Of course the everyday crises matter, but as leaders, we need to have our eye on the bigger picture.



Davies, B. (1998) Strategic planning in schools: an oxymoron? School Leadership & Management 18.4 (1998): 461-473.

Dimmock, C. and Walker, A.(2004) A new approach to strategic leadership: learning‐centredness, connectivity and cultural context in school design, School Leadership & Management, 24:1, 39-56, DOI: 10.1080/1363243042000172813

Priestley, M and Miller, K. (2012) Educational change in Scotland: policy, context and biography, The Curriculum Journal, 23:1, 99-116, DOI: 10.1080/09585176.2012.650490

Wellbeing Update July 2016

  • It’s been a while since my last wellbeing update; the last one was in March and can be found here.

Back at the end of last year I came across the #teacher5aday wellbeing movement.

Reading what had been happening over the previous 12 months amongst teachers with a commitment to wellbeing inspired me and I wrote a blog. The whole piece can be found here
At the end of it I made three vows….and once again it is time to reflect.

Vow 1. To myself. It is time I sorted this out once and for all. I love the Facebook ‘memories’ function where you can see where you were and what you were doing on this day in previous years. But I am concerned that I have been saying the same things about needing to slow down and look after better myself for 10 years. Now is the time. My family needs more of me and I need to accept that excuses won’t do any more. Only I can do this but but I am hoping for a bit of help from @Doctob’s book ‘Inner Story’ which fortuitously came into my possession recently….

There have been lots of changes since March, all of which have had the potential to impact negatively on my wellbeing. On the whole, I feel that I have navigated them reasonably successfully and come out relatively unscathed.

I have had to stop running due to an arthritic hip. More on this here. The words of the physio were “you’re going to need a hip replacement sooner or later, so let’s try and make it later”. Running has always helped to keep me balanced and given me an opportunity to address my hyperactivity and excessive nervous energy, so hearing these words was a bit of a blow. I always used to say “I don’t know how I’d cope if I couldn’t run”. But coped I have.  I have turned to cycling instead, both on the roads and on an exercise bike. And I have had to push myself less hard and stop at the point of pain instead of carrying on regardless. And guess what? The world has not stopped and I can still eat chocolate.

I have finished my secondment with the central education team and gone back to school. I wrote about the learning from my secondment here. On the whole, I have loved being back in school and know that I made the right choice. But it has been tough. I have had to prove myself as a teacher all over again. I have had to re-build relationships with colleagues. I have had to remember that after 16 months out of school, I am not the same, the pupils are not the same and colleagues are not the same as when I was there before. I have stepped on toes, made assumptions that I have had to reflect on and apologised. Apologised a lot.

And there have been some exceptional highs and positives: a fantastic Easter staycation full of family outings and down time; trips with my girl to see 5 Seconds of Summer and Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ in Glasgow and the most brilliant weekend spent with colleagues who have become very special friends.

As I write this on the first day of the summer break, I am exhausted and have the usual mix of low mood, anxiety and disjointedness that always comes with the prospect of six weeks without school. But I am ok with those feelings. Because I know that these are common to me and many other teachers at the start of the holidays. I have my coloured pens at the ready and will be writing my schedule later today. Not a rigid, restrictive plan but a structure that will help me with the anxiety that inevitably bubbles up when I go from having every minute structured to weeks of freedom stretching ahead. A plan that ensure that my brain knows what is coming up,  that every day will have a balance of chores and fun and that there is an overview in terms of diet, exercise and expenditure.

For me, this helps with wellbeing.

Vow 2: To education. I am doing the Scottish ‘Into Headship’ course this year and intend to learn all I can about how to be a Wellbeing-motivated educational leader.
Update: I have completed the second part of the course which involved leading a strategic development. This involved me leading a working party to refresh guidance for education settings in our authority on meeting the needs of looked after children. Yesterday I presented the final draft guidance to our Corporate Parenting Board and it met with overwhelming approval. The next and final stage of the course involves writing up and reflecting on the process.


Vow 3: To Twitter. I will use this forum to engage in the debate about wellbeing and teacher ‘agency’ and to support and nurture like-minded souls. I will not beat myself up if I don’t manage to tweet or blog as often as other brilliant twitterati friends…..(as I have in the past) but I will use Twitter for all its potential….

Update: I have continued to write on a weekly basis, both on staffrm where I am now doing the #44week challenge and here on my blog. A while back, a mentor of mine raised the question of whether my honesty within my blogs may work against me in terms of one day securing a headship. He suggested that if potential employers read that I have a ‘tendency to overdo it’ and that I ‘push myself to exhaustion’, they may put my application onto the ‘no pile’ and look for someone who is less driven.

I have thought long and hard about this. I appreciate what my friend is saying and also still wonder whether there is a sense of solipsistic self-indulgence in my writing. But I am also committed to the idea that as teachers and leaders we have to be honest and self-aware and acknowledge that life has its challenges and ups and downs. If I were to write a blog with just the positives and perpetuate the myth that life is easy then I would buy into the deceit that I believe contributes to a cultural sense of unease and mental ill-health. There is more on this here and here.

The leaders I admire have acknowledged that leadership and success are hard-earned and that there is often rough with the smooth. Certainly the choice of speakers for the Scottish ‘Into Headship’ Spring Conference gave delegates the impression that Scotland is looking for educational leaders who are driven and passionate but also human, reflective and fallible.


And the words allegedly spoken by Tom Hanks are always a guiding force in my life: “The only way you can truly control how you are seen is being honest all the time.”

Don’t get me wrong. My blog is not all of me. There are things you don’t and won’t ever know about me if you read it. And that is as it should be.

But we need to understand ourselves and our motivations if we are to take on the hugely responsible job of teaching children and young people. And still more so if we are to take on positions of power and leadership.

We need to acknowledge that life is about both dark and light, yin and yang, positive and negative feelings. We are animals and have it within us to act with fear, anger, jealousy and hate. But the human in us means that we can consciously acknowledge those impulses and find ways to address them so that they do not cause destruction and harm. Honesty around this is the key to the wellbeing of our society. Perhaps if we had allowed more honest and open debate around the fears and doubts related to membership of the EU, we would have reduced the numbers of those who felt the need to grasp a stubby pencil in an anonymous polling booth and write an angry X in the wrong box. Maybe Boris and David need to reflect on this.

So for now, I will continue to be honest and human.

Because I don’t think I can be anything else.




I am feeling paralysed. Too many upsetting, infuriating things have happened this week.  Some in the world. Some just in my head.

Too much to think about. Too much to say. Too much to do. Overwhelming.

But on my angry, tear-fuelled cycle ride just now, I have realised. They are connected.


Miss Bell is a newly qualified teacher on a temporary contract teaching German in a secondary school. She is trained
to teach French but did German as a second subject in her degree and hopes that this job may lead to a permanent post in the new academic year. Today is the last time this term she will teach her Year 8 class. She has not had an easy ride with them; at first she found the class a challenge but she worked hard to get to know them and to understand their needs and recently she has grown to love teaching them.
Today she has planned a special treat. The lesson started as normal: structure, learning intentions, success criteria and a task whereby they presented a short speech, prepared for homework and based on the learning of the term. And they have aced it; every single pupil has presented to the best of his/ her ability and there has been collective and well deserved praise and pride. One pupil in particular has earned Miss Bell’s admiration and respect; Molly has out-performed all her peers even though she has ADHD and sits at the bottom in assessments in all of her other classes.
Miss Bell of course doesn’t make a huge fuss about this in front of the class because Molly would loathe that. But they have shared a secret smile and understanding.

And now the treat time has come. Miss Bell has long talked about a song which only very special classes get to hear when they have worked really hard. She has has said that it is her ‘German Winner’s Anthem’. And today the time has come for this class to hear it: Culcha Candela’s ‘Von Allein.’ It is a catchy hip-hop, rappy celebratory song and the video is a cool celebration of European culture and passion.

She has bought Gummi-Bärchen. (Not chocolate, as Jake is allergic and she does not want to draw attention to that.) She lets the class sit round the smart board and watches as they get to hear the song. She smiles as they spontaneously start to dance along and she encourages them to wave their arms along to ‘Deine Fahne in die Luft’. (Your flags in the air).
She smiles at their exuberance and wonder. She feigns refusal when they ask for a second playing but gladly gives in. She wonders what anyone passing might think at seeing pupils dancing and waving but then decides that seeing happy engaged pupils is entirely ok.
And then she steps back and feels overwhelmingly sad. Sad that she may not get to continue teaching this class. And sad that the multi-cultural diversity that is celebrated in the song playing and in her teaching of foreign languages is now threatened by the referendum results announced overnight.

Mrs Carter is exhausted. She has been up for all but three hours watching the referendum play out. She is shocked, depressed, angry. She also has too much to before the end of term. Staffing is a nightmare. Two English teacher posts still need to be filled after re-advertisement and the German situation rumbles on with Mrs Kawohl sending in sick notes but never actually admitting that she needs to retire. There is a girl in doing a good job on supply but she will probably get snapped up by another school….
And then there is Molly’s mother’s complaint to deal with. ‘Why aren’t teachers enabling my daughter to succeed? Do they even know she has ADHD?’. Well, Mrs Molly, maybe if you imposed some boundaries at home, Molly’s so-called ADHD would disappear and she would stop disrupting the learning of all the other children I the class…
Why did being a head teacher ever seem appealing?

She walks down the corridor, head pounding and hears the noise from the class. Music blaring. What the f***?
She looks through the glass in the door of the class. Kids out of their seats, jumping, waving their arms. Molly pirouetting madly.
Is the teacher even there?

She storms in. “What is going on?” She shouts. “Molly, what on EARTH are you doing?”
She spots Miss Bell at the back, looking somewhat upset and surprised.
“Molly, are you chewing? Spit it out NOW!…..Don’t you DARE answer me back! You know that we have a zero tolerance rule on chewing…. What? … My office. NOW!”

She turns to Miss Bell. “Sorry about that but Molly needs to learn some boundaries. Once again she has shown a complete lack of respect for my authority. I’ll take it from here”.

She leaves the class with Molly.

The atmosphere is flat and even the beat of the song still playing can’t get things back to where they were.

Miss Bell apologises to the rest of the class and tells them how much she has enjoyed teaching them and how much she has learnt from them.
Ending A
After the pupils have left, Miss Bell sits at her computer and emails Mrs Carter to thank her for giving her such a great learning experience in the school but stating that she will not be back next term.

Ending B
Mrs Carter leaves the class with Molly and realises at once that she has made a huge misjudgement. She knows from the expression on Miss Bell’s face and the empty Gummi-Bärchen packets on the desks. She walks with Molly to her office where she sits Molly down. “I owe you a huge apology”. She says. “I am tired and grumpy and I took that out on you by shouting. I made a judgement based on the fact that in the past you have been cheeky to me but I did not give you a chance to explain today. I am very sorry. I will not shout at you again.”

When the bell rings, she goes back to see Miss Bell. She explains that she has apologised to Molly and goes on to apologise to Miss Bell.
The two women have a mutual moment of weeping over the referendum result.
Mrs Carter then asks Miss Bell if she’d like to stay next term.
If they can’t change the world, maybe they can try to change things for the pupils in their school together…..

Miss Bell goes home overjoyed.

School is both a preparation for life and life itself. The relationships between staff and pupils, staff and staff and pupils and pupils are real and human.

We can use them as learning opportunities only if we admit to getting things wrong sometime and asking forgiveness.
Those in power need to be humble and see the truth of situations before making decisions that can have immeasurable consequences.

In a room somewhere, important men and women could now get together and apologise and learn from a huge error of judgment. There could be an ending B in the European story too.

Those in power need to be humble and see the truth of situations before making decisions that can have immeasurable consequences.

If ever I run a school or the world, these will be my non-negotiables:

Everyone must be willing to self-reflect and learn.

We don’t shout at others.

We all get things wrong and need to be able to apologise when we do.

We are all human and being in a position of authority does not mean you are better than anyone else.

Everyone needs to take time to see the reality of a situation and not fall into making judgements based on half-truths, prejudice or stereotypes.

Everyone is worthy of love.

An open letter to Mr John Swinney

12th June 2016

Dear Mr Swinney

Yesterday I went to an inspiring conference about education called #northernrocks in Leeds. You can read about it in my blog here:

But the blog post does not mention one really crucial part of the day,  which was a debate entitled ‘Can tests and exams tell us what we need to know about children’s progression and the effectiveness of our education system?’

I wanted to write and tell you about this because I believe that it has implications for us as we introduce the Scottish NIF (National Improvement Framework).

Lots of us in Scottish education have said a lot about this already, as you will know. I wrote this a while back, for example: George Gilchrist and James McEnaney are others who have written knowledgeably and eloquently on the subject.

I was born and educated in England and taught there until 2007. I was well-acquainted with standardised tests; I was a Key Stage Three Strategy manager tasked with closing the gap amongst eleven to fourteen year old and raising SATS (Standard Attainment Tests) levels was key. But my school had a sensible, inclusive approach to use of data and a commitment to measuring added value; comparing a child’s progress to an individual baseline, rather than to an age- or stage- related baseline. We used programmes such as Alis, Yellis and MidYIS from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University to achieve this. As a drama teacher, I was initially a cynic: “How can you tell me that a test taken with pen and paper can predict success in a practical, creative subject?” I scoffed. But the tests were actually sophisticated enough that they could, so I was largely converted.

On moving to Scotland I was surprised at the lack of any common approach to tracking and use of baseline data. I was told that it was not in the spirit of Curriculum for Excellence but that some schools used data such as CATS tests (Cognitive Abilities Tests) and PIPS and InCAS (also from CEM at Durham) but that there was no national requirement to do so.

I was also aware of an element of benchmarking and league tabling in the senior phase through STACs (Standard Tables and Charts) which have now been superseded by Insight (also from CEM).

When I first heard about the plan to use more data in Scotland I thought that it may be helpful; I shared my positive experiences of value-added tracking with people and was optimistic.

But there was and is a big caveat in my optimism and yesterday’s debate reminded me of this.

In the debate, Laura McInerney, journalist for Schools Week and The Guardian broadly spoke ‘for’ testing (replacing and partially representing Amanda Spielman, new chair of Ofqual (The English Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) who had pulled out).

Kevin Courtney, Deputy Secretary of the NUT (National Union of Teachers) broadly represented the ‘anti’ lobby.

Laura spoke of the need for accountability and said that tests and exams can tell us a lot, but not everything. She said that if we take people’s money and children, we have a duty to show what we are doing with them.

She spoke about two examples of how tests can be used.

Firstly, driving tests are useful in that they show that people are safe to be on roads. They are not there to help us judge the driving instructor, however.

Secondly, phonics tests show whether a child can do something specific in relation to literacy. If not, the test results should encourage us to consider what resources and support are needed to make it better for the child.

Laura felt that in general, tests can be useful but that in England, scores are being used to drive political agendas and for the wrong sort of accountability.


Kevin emphasised the negativity and stress amongst teachers, learners and families that has been created by the current high-stakes testing in England and spoke of a crisis; good tests can do some good things but the ones in English primaries just now are spectacularly failing and things are ‘beyond breaking point’. His comments receive great applause from those present.

He stressed that educationalists have been working on getting testing right for years, even if the DfE (Department for Education) has not.

He quoted research by Wynne Harlen and Cambridge University into the English 2014 SATS and urged that the conclusions of this research are not overlooked, as they point to important factors that should encourage a rejection of high-stakes standardised testing such as SATS.

He said that he liked the idea of looking at how the driving test works but added that the driving test is criterion-based, so that potentially all can pass; plus the instructor puts you in when you are ready and not because of some age-related structure of testing.

He explained that as school tests are currently norm-referenced, not criterion-referenced, they create a culture where someone HAS to fail. This in itself leads to a climate of negativity.

Kevin summarised by pointing to the research which shows that we need to be clear about whom tests are for and what the information gathered is for. If tests work, they need to link clearly to:


Teacher judgement;

Banks of materials that people use to judge standards.

I was encouraged last month to hear that those working on the NIF have agreed that teacher judgement is key and that we need to consider carefully how the information from national tests will be used in Scotland.

But yesterday made me want to write to you to urge that they really are serious about this.

I love England. I love lots of people who teach and learn in England. I have learnt a lot from teaching and from teachers in England. But I hate what they are going through at present. I also love Scotland and the Curriculum for Excellence.

A wise man learns from his mistakes. A genius learns from the mistakes of others. We have a moral duty in Scotland, in the interests of learner- and teacher-wellbeing, to learn from England’s mistakes.

All of the other delegates yesterday were given a postcard to send to Nicky Morgan (your counterpart in England) with a message from their profession. She may well get around 495 postcards next week.

You may not get any other messages as a result of yesterday so I urge you, please, to heed mine.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Kindest regards


PS If you get a chance, I would recommend that you get to know a young man from Edinburgh called Chris Kilkenny. He left school with no qualifications and referred to himself as a ‘chink’ in his school’s perfect data. At 21, he gave the opening speech of yesterday’s conference to 500 educationalists and he was phenomenal. A credit to himself and Scotland. He is a voice to be heard.