Monthly Archives: February 2018

Scottish Power Energy Network – CPD event for teachers and practitioners: 28 March 2018⤴

from @ Education Scotland's Learning Blog

This is the first in a series of four opportunities which allows DYW representatives, teachers and educators to gain in-depth insight into what SP Energy Networks look for in candidates.

 The event will take place on 28 March 2018 and will run twice on that day. Attendees will have the choice of either a morning slot from 9-12 noon or an afternoon slot from 1-4pm.

The programme as follows:

  • Two sessions per day AM/PM with 32 places open for registration on each.
  • 30 minute presentation/interaction session on SP Energy Network activities and talent pipelines we have including Graduate, Craft Apprenticeship, Power Engineering, Engineering Foundation and Year in Industry programmes.
  • 1 hour tour of the training centre inclusive of a hand skill and overhead line demonstration.
  • Concludes with a 30 minute question and answer session.


The event will take place at the SPEN Training Centre in Cumbernauld:

ScottishPower Energy Networks,  Dealain House,  72 Napier Road, Wardpark, Cumbernauld, G68 0DF

 Booking should be made in the first instance through the Marketplace website. If you do not have access to Marketplace then please register your interest by contacting Alison Nimmo, DYW West Lothian at: 

Future events are being planned for the following dates: 13 June, 14 Sept, 16 Nov 2018.


Why I am striking⤴


I am currently on strike as part of the University and College Union’s (UCU) industrial action to defend our right to a fair pension.  Please support university staff by writing to university management asking them to resume negotiations with UCU immediately.

This is the strike notification from UCU and I stand by the Union’s commitment to fight for fair pensions for all USS members. It’s not a difficult decision to make, despite the loss of wages, supporting the strike is a simple ethical choice for me.  All my colleagues across the university sector are deeply committed to their work and their students, they work incredibly hard, and regularly put in many, many long hours for which they are not paid.  It goes with the territory and there is an expectation that we do it for the love of our domain, which of course we do.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve decent employment rights, fair wages and a secure pension.  Academia may be a calling, but it’s also a job.

However I also have more personal reasons for supporting this strike. As is so often the case, punitive moves like this have a disproportionate impact on women, who already earn less over the course of their careers than their male colleagues, and those employed on precarious contracts.  I was recently struck by this report in The Economist on the gender pay gap: The roots of the gender pay gap lie in childhood.  The research was undertaken at Princeton University using data from Denmark but I suspect the findings, which highlight the disparity in men’s and women’s salaries after having children, are equally true of the UK. Becoming a father has little impact on men’s earnings in the long term, while the opposite is true of women.

It was sobering looking at these graphs as they are a perfect illustration of my own career.  Like many women, since having a child, I have worked part time in order to accommodate childcare and I have only been able to apply for jobs that provide a degree of flexibility.  And this is with the support of my partner who plays an equal role in childcare.  Clearly this has had an impact on my earnings, but more importantly, it has also had an impact on my pension contributions. Like many women with children, my pension will already be lower as a result of working part time, so I really, really can not afford to see it eroded further.

So that’s my added incentive for joining the strike, but when all is said and done, we all deserve a fair and secure pension, and that is something we should all fight for.

Read more

Kleven, H., Landais, C., and Sogaard, J. A., (2018), Children and Gender Inequality: Evidence from Denmark, Working paper 24219.

Running Order⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

I am just back from a run. It was not very fast and it was not very far and I really did not want to do it. I wanted to stay in my jammies and eat square sausage rolls with my husband and kids.

I am not a glamorous runner. I do not glide along on slender, tanned limbs, gazelle-like, smooth ponytail swishing behind me. I do not glow. I sweat. I chunter along. I go bright red. I swear a fair bit. Especially going up hills. So I wasn’t exactly pumped about doing it, but I did it anyway and it was my first proper run in ages.

I did not have a watch. I did not set myself any speed or distance targets. I just started moving. I stopped when I got tired and then I started again. After a while, I found a wee rhythm and I knew my body was taking over. My breathing settled into a pattern of its own, in, in, out, out, my feet and legs moving in time.

The sun was shining and the sky was deep blue and I as I ran my heart swelled up with a feeling of total gratitude and thankfulness that I was here. Healthy, breathing and moving on this day, at this time, in this place. Sweaty, out of breath, looking a pure state, but here. What a privilege.

That’s what running can do for me. It simples everything down to in, in, out, out, in, in, out, out. I don’t need to be anything except me. I don’t have to answer to anyone except myself.

Running connects me to my body. It helps me appreciate the amazing things it can do for me if I just give it a chance. Instead of the depressing attention to cellulite and extra pounds, I can be glad and proud that I have a body that can run at all. I can notice what is good and strong.

When you strip away all the nonsense about how far and how fast and how many calories, running becomes about time and space to just move. To be inside your body and be thankful for it. To notice how lucky you really are.

Running has ripped my heart out more than once. When you strip everything back to in, in, out, out, you find out what’s really going on inside your own head. You find out what your self-talk is doing. If I find I am berating myself for walking before I get to that lamppost or cursing myself for stopping on this hill, I know I am not in a good place. Discovering I am being unkind to myself is never easy to deal with, but it is always better to know.

I ran once on a cold and grey Saturday morning, unremarkable in every way until my chest exploded with pure, white-hot grief that had been locked in tight until that exact moment. The force of it brought me to my knees and I sobbed at the side of the road until I was totally spent.

Running locates me in my own body and forces me to appreciate what’s good about it. Running helps me work out if I am ok or what I need to do next to be ok. It opens me up to creativity. It makes me a lightening rod for good, crazy, exciting and stupid ideas. I am too busy dealing with in, in, out, out to filter, so all the ideas and emotions get through. Unfiltered ideas and emotions are often the most powerful. It is time and space to be who I really am. Not a mum or a wife or a teacher or anybody’s anything. Just me, in my body, moving.

I don’t know if running does any of that stuff for you, but I really hope something does.

And I hope you do that something today, right now, on this sunny Sunday.

And I hope your heart fills up.


Photo by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash

LGBT History Month: Tales of an Orange Juice Boycott⤴

from @ robin_macp

This article is an adaptation of an assembly I gave recently to mark LGBT History Month.

1969 was a landmark year for LGBT rights with the Stonewall riots in the USA. As a consequence, the 1970s saw a dramatic level of engagement and activism, but the history of this period is far less well known than the campaigns for civil rights led by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and others. This is a fascinating – and ongoing – period of history and deserves a much greater spotlight from educators. This article will highlight one aspect of the campaign that shows how the boycott strategy was not just about buses in Montgomery, but also orange juice…

1977 was a wateshed year for the campaign for equal rights for LGBT groups. This was because a famous American singer called Anita Bryant launched the ‘Save Our Children’ campaign. She was a big name in America: she sang at the Superbowl, she advertised Coca Cola, and at this time was the prominent face of Florida Orange Juice. In 1977, Dade County in Florida passed a law that prevented discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. Bryant – a committed Christian – was furious. In her campaign against gay rights she argued that because homosexuals can’t have their own children, they recruit and groom other people’s children and abuse them. She succeeded in overturning Dade County’s reform.

This campaign gripped America – and it mobilized the gay community. They launched a boycott of orange juice which meant that something as simple as doing your grocery shopping became a political act. If you bought orange juice it could be implied that you were homophobic. If you didn’t, it could be inferred that you were pro-gay rights. The orange juice boycott meant that it wasn’t used in drinks in gay bars, and instead people ordered an ‘Anita Bryant’ cocktail (vodka and apple juice) which meant the money went to the campaign to fight back. Bryant ultimately lost. She was criticized by leading public figures such as President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan – soon to be President of the USA and also a man who emphasised his Christianity in his politics.

The events of this period are captured brilliantly in the novel Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. This novel was serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle, which meant that Maupin could react to events as they happened in each instalment of the book. One of the most powerful pieces of modern American literature comes when a leading character, Michael, writes to his parents about the Bryant campaign. Michael has moved to San Francisco and his parents have no idea that he is gay. When he discovers that they support Anita Bryant, he writes to them to tell them the truth about his sexuality. This letter has since been used by countless thousands of young gay people (male and female) as a template for telling their own parents about their true selves. It goes like this:

Dear Mama,

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write. Every time I try to write you and Papa I realize I’m not saying the things that are in my heart. That would be OK, if I loved you any less than I do, but you are still my parents and I am still your child.

I have friends who think I’m foolish to write this letter. I hope they’re wrong. I hope their doubts are based on parents who love and trust them less than mine do. I hope especially that you’ll see this as an act of love on my part, a sign of my continuing need to share my life with you. I wouldn’t have written, I guess, if you hadn’t told me about your involvement in the Save Our Children campaign. That, more than anything, made it clear that my responsibility was to tell you the truth, that your own child is homosexual, and that I never needed saving from anything except the cruel and ignorant piety of people like Anita Bryant .

I’m sorry, Mama. Not for what I am, but for how you must feel at this moment. I know what that feeling is, for I felt it for most of my life. Revulsion, shame, disbelief – rejection through fear of something I knew, even as a child, was as basic to my nature as the colour of my eyes.

No, Mama, I wasn’t “recruited.” No seasoned homosexual ever served as my mentor. But you know what? I wish someone had. I wish someone older than me and wiser than the people in Orlando had taken me aside and said, “You’re all right, kid. You can grow up to be a doctor or a teacher just like anyone else. You’re not crazy or sick or evil. You can succeed and be happy and find peace with friends – all kinds of friends – who don’t give a damn who you go to bed with. Most of all, though, you can love and be loved, without hating yourself for it.”

But no one ever said that to me, Mama. I had to find it out on my own, with the help of the city that has become my home. I know this may be hard for you to believe, but San Francisco is full of men and women, both straight and gay, who don’t consider sexuality in measuring the worth of another human being.

These aren’t radicals or weirdos, Mama. They are shop clerks and bankers and little old ladies and people who nod and smile to you when you meet them on the bus. Their attitude is neither patronizing nor pitying. And their message is so simple: Yes, you are a person. Yes, I like you. Yes, it’s all right for you to like me, too.

I know what you must be thinking now. You’re asking yourself: What did we do wrong? How did we let this happen? Which one of us made him that way?

I can’t answer that, Mama. In the long run, I guess I really don’t care. All I know is this: If you and Papa are responsible for the way I am, then I thank you with all my heart, for it’s the light and the joy of my life.

I know I can’t tell you what it is to be gay. But I can tell you what it’s not.

It’s not hiding behind words, Mama. Like family and decency and Christianity. It’s not fearing your body, or the pleasures that God made for it. It’s not judging your neighbour, except when he’s crass or unkind.

Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me the limitless possibilities of living. It has given me people whose passion and kindness and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength.

It has brought me into the family of man, Mama, and I like it here. I like it.

There’s not much else I can say, except that I’m the same Michael you’ve always known. You just know me better now. I have never consciously done anything to hurt you. I never will.

Please don’t feel you have to answer this right away. It’s enough for me to know that I no longer have to lie to the people who taught me to value truth.

Your loving son,


The first time I heard this letter was in 2005, when my older cousin Dugald registered his civil partnership with his long-time partner Gerald. They were one of the first couples in the UK to take advantage of this change in the law and Gerald read the letter at the ceremony. It was one of the proudest days of my life.

My simple message to my pupils is this. Your sexuality is an intrinsic part of who you are; as Michael says it is as basic to your nature as the colour of your eyes. It is a huge part of your identity. I hope that any member of a school community who has the bravery to come out as being gay is treated with the utmost kindness. It is an act that takes a lot of courage and is worthy of respect. I also passionately believe that any community is made stronger by diversity. Imagine how boring the world would be if we were all the same.

Evidence informed, or something else?⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a seminar at Edinburgh University's School of Education, Moray House. The title of the seminar was 'Reading the Evidence; Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning'. The title referred to one book edited by Margaret M Clark, and another 'Teaching Initial Literacy: Policies, evidence and ideology' again edited by Margaret. The first was produced in 2017 and the second is hot off the press, both being available from Amazon as either an ebook or paperback. Both are filled with contributions by leading academic researchers and writers on the subject of literacy acquisition and the use of evidence to inform this.

The main contributors to the seminar, beside Margaret herself, were Professor Sue Ellis of Strathclyde University, Professor Terry Wrigley Visiting Professor at Northumbria University and Professor Greg Brooks from Sheffield University. Given that Margaret herself is a Visiting Professor at Newman University and Emeritus Professor at the University of Birmingham, you can see that this was quite a heavyweight corpus we were having the privilege of hearing from and engaging with. One of the things that binds all of them together is their commitment to research and the use of data, especially to inform practice in the early years of education, and the development of literacy in young learners.

After a brief introduction and welcome from Professor Rowena Arshad, Head of School at Moray House, Sue Ellis took over as chair for the seminar. As part of her introduction Sue wanted to make three key points. The first was that good academic research should be used to interrogate all options, and looks at all of the factors that might be at play, not just some or one of them. Secondly, she cautioned that whatever our stance or point of view in regards to the debate around phonics and their use, classrooms should never be used, or become, battlegrounds fought over by different factions. Her third and final point was, that everyone should know the limitations of their 'evidence'. The evidence is never just 'black or white' in how it can be interpreted or used.

Having been given those words of caution, Margaret now spoke about both her books and why she thought they were needed at the current time. She started by telling us that, through Freedom of Information requests she had discovered that the government in England, through the DfE, had spent no less than £46 million in just eighteen months on the purchase of commercial Phonics resources for schools, and that over half of that had gone to one individual and their company who acted as an 'unpaid advisor' to government! What particularly raised Margaret's hackles was the continued assertion by Nick Gibb, and others, that the statutory requirement, and mandatory expectation that all young learners in England should be taught Synthetic Phonics as the 'first, fast and only' route to successful literacy performance, and that this was 'evidence informed'.

Margaret, like the rest of the panellists, asserted that her view was not that Synthetic Phonics is necessarily 'bad', just that there is no evidence to support any assertion that this should be the only method used to develop literacy in learners. Each speaker was to echo her view, based on extensive research of her own and others, that a mixed approach is one that is producing the best results in many systems. She detailed how synthetic phonics had become emphasised, above all other methods, in England following the publication of the Rose report in 2006. In 2012 a statutory phonics screening check was introduced in England for all six year olds. This consisted of forty words, twenty real words and twenty pseudo words, which the children had to read to their teacher. This started as a light touch diagnostic check, but quickly developed into a high-stakes accountability measure. The pass mark is 32 and the child has 'failed' the test with any mark lower than this, and has to retake the test the following year. Schools are expected to increase their pass rate each year, by the DfE and Ofsted, repercussions follow for schools and their leaders when this does not happen.

Margaret observed that her first book had been subject to severe criticism in England and elsewhere, much of this from those with commercial interests in the promotion of synthetic phonics. It has been challenged in the UK for attacking Nick Gibb for his enthusiasm for synthetic phonics, for the fact that some of the contributors had cited Torgerson et al 2006 whose research it has been claimed has been challenged, and that the evidence from PIRLS published in December 2017 supposedly demonstrated the success of the government's synthetic phonics policy and the screening check. She concluded that whilst her first book was written mainly in response to the situation in England, and the second as a result of concerns regarding a similar direction of travel in Australia, there were definite warnings for Scotland in what had happened in England. She was already aware of pressure being put on parents to see Synthetic Phonics as the only way of developing literacy, rather than as another tool, that may be suitable for some, but perhaps not for others.

Greg started his input by stating that he was a self-confessed nerd in terms of literacy, phonics and grammar and had spent his career working and researching in this area. His first strong statement was 'There is still no evidence that any one phonics approach is any better than any other' as he explored synthetic and analytical phonics, whilst also touching on the ITA (Initial Teaching Alphabet) something the younger members of the audience had no knowledge of. He was a member of the group that had produced the Rose Report and was quite dismayed how this had been used. He stated that he and a colleague had done a 'fact-check' on all of the commercially available resources available to deliver synthetic phonics and had found many of them contained basic language and grammatical errors and misunderstandings. 'Some don't know the difference between their diagraphs and their diphthongs'. They had been able to provide the DfE with a list of resources that had been checked for factual errors, but they were still unsure of their usefulness in teaching synthetic phonics. The quality of materials available to schools is questionable, to say the least, and now there is a move to roll out the use of synthetic phonics in adult literacy learning courses. He pointed out that if there was a lack of evidence for the sole use of synthetic phonics with younger learners, there was absolutely none with regard to adult learners.

Step forward Terry Wrigley. Terry had looked closely at the 'evidence' and data being cited by Nick Gibb and others, and had found some interesting results. He started by looking at the expected impact of synthetic phonics on reading for understanding by the end of KS1 at age 7. He observed that most schools actually began their mandatory synthetic phonics courses in 2007, but he looked at the data for this factor from 2001 through to 2012 and had found no statistically significant improvement or change in the results for 7 year olds. He then turned his attention to the expected impact on reading tests at the end of KS2 at age 11. Again there was no significant variation in results, except in 2016 when percentages plummeted following Michael Gove's imposition of harder tests to bring more rigour into the process! When he had looked at the PIRLS data published in 2017, he found that England  had risen from joint tenth, to eighth. However, they had gained only half as many points as in the previous cycle prior to the imposition of synthetic phonics as the sole mandatory way of developing literacy in early years. What he also noted was the significant improvement in literacy levels being achieved in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, so had contacted colleagues there for their observations.

In Northern Ireland (6th in PIRLS) when pupils meet unfamiliar words they are encouraged to use a 'range of strategies to decode them'. Children are also encouraged to use their 'current knowledge of the phonetic code while cross-checking with meaning.' In the Republic of Ireland (4th in PIRLS) the approach adopted is one of mixed phonics, along with sentence and textual focus. His colleague in the republic confirmed that experiences were used to support emergent literacy in early childhood, with a consistent emphasis on oral language, in the context of play. Emphasis was given to both word identification and comprehension, and there is a focus on genre as a basis for comprehension and writing. Terry observed that the results in both these countries, and how they had been achieved, were definitely worthy of further investigation.

There then followed a short discussion around issues and questions raised by the audience. A significant element of this was around  the ethics for teachers in adopting and applying a blanket method approach to all learners. Sue said she had concerns with approaches that identify those who are behind, using means that may or may not be valid, then putting all of those learners onto the same programme. She feels passionately that it is the teacher's job to diagnose learning issues in children, then address these as required, rather than the adoption of a resource or programme where everyone gets the same input. Such an approach might not only pedagogically questionable, it is also ethically questionable.

It was a fascinating and illuminating session for me, and I suspect for others in the room too. There is no doubt this is a controversial area at the moment, but it is important that we all engage with the evidence and differing opinions to help us find our way forward, and one which will produce the best outcomes for our learners. There are no 'silver bullets' in education and learning, but it is too easy to allow ourselves to be driven by political ideology and dogma, or by the loudest voices, rather than taking the time to consider what the evidence and data is telling us. As a school leader, I always favoured a mixed approach, including synthetic phonics, which was tailored to individual needs, rather a slavish adherence to a particular programme, resource or approach for all. This is not always the easiest approach, and may not be possible in all circumstances, but is one I think we should be aiming to get back to as soon as we can. I really do hope we, and Australia, learn some of the lessons from England to prevent us from sharing many of the same outcomes.

I would commend Margaret's two books to anyone who is interested in this area and wants to find out more. They are full of chapters from academics and researchers from across the globe. Thank you to all the speakers for making the one and a half hours so interesting and informative. Thanks for the pre-prepared notes which helped and allowed me to fully concentrate on what was being said. Sorry if I have slightly misquoted anyone, I did make some of my own notes, and I wanted to write this as quickly as possible whilst everything was still fresh in my mind.

One month in.⤴


Some reflections on having been in my permanent post for a month.

That’s it. No more Acting.
No more imposter syndrome.
No more making excuses.

I am here.
It is different to before. I feel a little more empowered and a lot more privileged to have been chosen to be doing what I am for real.

But some things are no different. My vision. My aspirations. My optimism and passionate desire to make every child and adult in our school community achieve the absolute best they can.

I have been reflecting and looking back over the things I said I wanted to be and achieve as a school leader and I am glad to say that they have not changed:

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.


These non-negotiables were arrived at after working in a number of settings over many years but I would assert that they are absolutely essential in any successful school.

And they are still what I hold true to.

My job is the best job in the world.

iDea – Quizlet⤴

from @ EdCompBlog

This is the first of a semi-regular series which will outline suggested apps/tools/technology that could help enhance learning and teaching.


Quizlet icon
After the exams last year, I asked the pupils if they used technology to help them study. Quizlet was one of the most commonly mentioned tools. At one level, Quizlet is an electronic version of good old fashioned flashcards (see Wikipedia for description of flashcards) which can be useful when trying to memorise terms and definitions. Since Quizlet is computer based, it has the potential to be much more powerful than paper based flashcards. In particular, the ability to share sets as well as being able to borrow and adapt sets that others have created could be a significant time saver.

There are two things I particularly like about Quizlet. I like the potential for collaborative work. Pupils can create and share sets; they can work together on Quizlet Live and teachers can build on and work with other educators. I also like the diagrams feature; not something I've used with a class yet, but it looks particularly promising (examples on the Learning In Hand page cover Spanish, French, Geography...).

If you are unfamiliar with Quizlet, the website gives a quick introduction in the form of a Teacher FAQ. There are a set of useful links at the bottom of this post but for visual learners, here are a couple of videos:

1) Brief look at the iPad app - focus is on how pupils could use it to help them learn terms.

2) Brief look at the website - focus is on using classes to share cards with pupils including a quick look at diagrams.

If you are unfamiliar with Quizlet, here is a slideshow that takes you through the basics:

Quizlet - other links: