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Twixtmas magic⤴


Today I have been to Harry Potter Studios as part of my 50th birthday year celebrations. It was just brilliant and well worth a second visit after we had been previously three years ago.
Back then I wrote this. It was no less magical today.

Colours, light, sound, texture, energy, creativity, passion, intelligence, detail, commitment, cooperation, imagination, magic.

All of these and more.

Face after face after face of wonder, excitement, emotion, curiosity.

Amongst them those of my two. She, happier than I have seen her in a long time. Moved to tears.

Beyond expectation. Way beyond.

A step into another world. A world of fiction and illusion but a world that has become part of our psyche, culture, history, archetypes.

I wanted it to go on for ever. I reconnected with my imaginative, creative self and remembered the person that I used to be; the dramatist, the one addicted to make-up, wigs, costumes, gels and gobos. And most of all addicted to telling stories, to using creativity and imagination to solve problems, fight monsters and invent a better world based on hope and dreams.

JK Rowling is nothing less than a genius.

But the studios show the power of a team of spirited and passionate individuals in making the arts all they can be.

Yes, a money-spinner. But for us, worth every penny.

For me, a reminder of what matters.

The Arts.






Have a Happy but not Perfect Christmas.⤴


As we approach another Christmas, here are some thoughts, from me, as I approach my 50th festive season. I’ve written much of it before but I think it still holds true.
This morning I saw a post by Action for Happiness which said “stop waiting for everything to be perfect to be happy.”

Life is complex. 

We are both animal and human.

We are both conscious and unconscious. 

We both love and hate.

We both live and die.

We both marry and divorce.

We both do wrong and right.

And in our modern world, we are bombarded with so much conflicting advice from the ‘experts’:

We are told: diet, don’t diet

We are told: work hard, don’t work hard

We are told: love, don’t love

We are told: be yourself, don’t be yourself

We are told: drink red wine, don’t drink red wine

We are told: eat red meat, don’t eat red meat.

And so on.

But of course ultimately, the only expert in your life is you.

Life is complex. But that is its simplicity. If we understand that, we can own life.

Don’t aim for a perfect Christmas. Don’t try and follow the advice of the faceless experts. Look around you at the ones you love and look inside to know what will make you happy this Christmas. And do that. Have a Christmas that is happy for you.


#recycledwriting I wouldn’t want it any other way.⤴


I have been feeling bad recently about my failure to write much in the way of  new blog posts. This has made me read back over some of my old ones and I have realised that many of them are still as relevant today as when I wrote them. So rather than beat myself up about producing constantly new ideas, I am going to re-share a selection of my posts in the lead up  to Christmas.

This is a post that a wrote a couple of years back in the run up to a holiday.

I was going to start this post by saying that I am at the end of probably the most challenging term of my career. That I am exhausted, that I feel almost overwhelmed by the dramas and demands of my job.

But the joy of blogging is that evidence shows that I have been here before. I have felt that sense of being beyond tired, over-challenged, over-stretched…… And the reality is that I have survived before and I will survive again.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with being tired after working hard; it is a bit like the tiredness you feel at the end of a long walk or run. The ache in your legs shows that you have put effort in and need a rest before the next exertion.

We are in a difficult place in schools just now. But has it ever been different? I don’t think so.

The reality is that there are always challenges but there are also always positives, however small. It is hard if the things that we judge to be positives are not viewed as such by others who are looking for hard evidence and hard data. It is hard when we are surrounded by those who want to weigh the pig instead of looking at it to see if it is thriving. And it is hard when others take more perverse pleasure in being critical and apportioning blame than in celebrating small successes and seeing a glass half full.

Small things to celebrate include:

*The hello in the corridor from the pupil who never says hello.

*The pupil who is there every day for a week after not having been.

*The class which produces the most sublime anti-bullying drama after a short year of studying the subject.

(Now don’t get me wrong. My learnt (not natural) tendency is to ALWAYS see the negative first….. But I know now to fight against that because it is not a helpful way of being and if I can’t look for solutions to problems, I am part of the problem.)

Life is amazing and it is awful. It is sunshine and rain. Every life has its ups and downs. As teachers in a school community, we will be touched by the ups and downs of the lives of every member of that community: the pupils, staff members and their family members beyond. In a large school that can equate to thousands of lives.

Being a teacher will never be without challenge and drama. We have chosen a vocation that makes us engage with lives in all their wonderful and terrible reality. But we have also chosen a vocation that allows us the privilege of helping children to navigate the opportunities and challenges of life.

Personally, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The keys within the key⤴


677D1AC8-99E6-442B-93D8-3C600DC0890DAnd twelve hours on, the things that have helped me to undo the padlock and step out of the armour:

1. Time at home with the three humans who make everything feel ok.

2. Coffee and chat with two beautiful friends.

3. The astonishing beauty of the sunset.

4. Time to cook a meal for the family.

5. The excitement of advent eve.

6. Re-connecting with my physical self through yoga.

7. Properly seeing the frosty world in daylight and taking some deep breaths of cold air.

8. Cold white wine.

9. Clean washing.

10. Singing along to Bublé.

11. The smell of fresh thyme.

12. Allowing some happy-sad tears to flow.






‪This morning I am my anxiety.

After a too busy week with time away from home, I should have expected it; not enough of the routines and rituals things that keep it at bay.

It is like a protective armour which has served its purpose in past times to protect me as a catalyst to fight, flight or freeze.

Today it is uninvited, like a guest who has turned up on the wrong day for a party but now won’t leave.

Today, I am temporarily locked inside the armour and cannot find the key.

But the acknowledgment of temporary means that at least I will look for the key, instead of marching on regardless into a battle against myself that I won’t win.



How do you see me?⤴


Below is a re-post of something I wrote on my other site a while back.
I was reminded of it as last night I sang in a concert and had a terrible crisis of confidence before I went on about what image I would portray and how people might judge me. I got through it in one piece and the feedback was ok but it has made me wonder whether to leave performing to the younger ones from now on.


From July 2017:

Last night I played a game at the train station.
As we sat on the bench and watched people pass, I tried to work out which passer-by was most like me. Not in the sense of complete physical resemblance but in the sense of type, aura, energy.

Am I the together business woman with perfect sleek bob and immaculate suit, free of creases and dog hair?
Of course not. That is how I always hoped I might be one day but have never managed.

Am I the confident, alternative but cool DM wearing, striding bohemian type?
No. That would be another aspiration never achieved.

Am I the woman with hunched shoulders, badly dyed hair and a world-weary look? A bit scruffy. Lacking in togetherness? Out of kilter?

That is how I feel. That is how I have always felt, I think.
Different. An outsider. Uneasy. Disconnected from my physical self.

But I wonder how all of those women who fall under my scrutiny actually feel on the inside?

Maybe not together?
Maybe not confident?
Maybe not world-weary?

I have a sneaking suspicion that lots of us feel different on the inside than our external appearance and image might indicate. And that if we could encourage each other to be a bit more honest about this, we’d all find the world a bit more accepting, kinder and compassionate.






The sky hasn’t fallen in….⤴


On Friday, I took a very big risk.

I am involved in an authority wide project to make our children’s services workforce trauma informed and trauma reactive, based on the type of excellent work that has been done in Brighton and Hove and Greater Manchester.

We have the support of Scottish Government to roll out training and ensure that anyone working with children has an understanding of trauma, the impact of trauma and, most importantly, what can be done to mitigate the effects of trauma through positive relationships, love and Bruce Perry’s safe and predictable experiences and environments.

I quoted several other greats in trauma research and education: Dr Karen Treisman, Lisa Cherry, Dr Bessel Van der Kolk, Carol Craig, Jaz Ampaw Farr, Judy Furnivall and Edwina Grant. And I made use links to the presentation at the Early Years Conference that many of us had attended that day before where Dr Ferre Laevers had spoken about the need for us to value wellbeing as highly as other aspects of attainment and use observations and relationships to ensure that all children thrive.

And then I explained why this work, perhaps more than any other in my professional repertoire, is important to me.

When I was 7 years old (and yes, I both love and hate that Luke’s Graham song), I was abused by someone whom my parents had entrusted to look after me.

I told no one. I did not have the words.

I lived for years with the absolute sense that it had been my fault and that I was bad. I embodied shame.

I went to bed every night and prayed that my family would not be punished because of my badness…even though I did not believe in a god.

And I developed coping strategies and behaviours to help me survive in a world that I saw as unsafe, scary and sad.

I made myself the best at everything. Exam results, rôles in school plays, singing and viola exams, Head girl. I was out-standing.

But it was never enough. I was never enough. Inside, nothing was ever enough because I was bad. The song from “The Greatest Showman” tells my truth as it was back then….and still is, if I am not very careful, today.

And at that time, none of the adults in my life looked at those behaviours and saw them for what they were. No one was curious because we didn’t have the science, the knowledge and the language that we have today to see that the behaviours of some children are telling us things about which we need to be curious. I don’t blame them because I know that they were doing the best with the knowledge they had at the time.

At the early years conference, Professor Kate Wall spoke about attunement and the idea that as, adults working with children we need to take time to read the things that people and children can’t or don’t verbalise but show in other ways. I can say without doubt that if the adults in my life had had the science and knowledge to read my behaviours better and to help me understand my feelings, then I wouldn’t have gone on to develop anorexia or to spend years trying to unlearn my unhelpful defence mechanisms. Without being overdramatic,  I’m lucky to be alive, as anorexia is the mental health condition in which death is most prevalent, either due to starvation or to suicide.

I have written about these experiences in my book, where I go into more detail about why having adults who understand trauma in children’s lives. I first wrote that book three years ago under a pen name but have gradually been sharing it as me over the last year because I have a strong belief that my authenticity is what might help change things for others. https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/embed?asin=B01KP8XT86&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_yNodyb2G7M8DZ&reshareId=ZPD0HMP64M4PPKVP9Q3E&reshareChannel=system

And on Friday, I brought that story to the people who know me professionally. My bosses and my colleagues will never see me in the same way again. Maybe that will have negative consequences for my career but I felt that it was necessary for me to take that risk. I know that, on the whole, people are “either” an “education professional” or an “inspirational speaker on trauma with lived experience”. But on Friday I tried to show that it is possible to be a hybrid, a professional human and a simultaneously outstanding and flawed.

48 hours on and the sky hasn’t fallen in, so I’m hoping it might have been a risk worth taking……..

UnsustainED? Why ESD isn’t working.⤴

from @ robin_macp

“Why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more, when no one is doing anything to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts when the most important facts clearly mean nothing to our society?” – Greta Thunberg

2019 has seen millions of schoolchildren across the world strike on Fridays because of inaction on climate change. As a teacher, this poses an ethical dilemma. We want our pupils to show exactly the kind of intelligence and integrity that Thunberg does, but we don’t want to see formal education being excluded from the solution. It’s a damning indictment of our profession if pupil empowerment comes from skipping school rather than being in lessons. 

At the heart of this is a significant issue that isn’t widely enough acknowledged; the drive for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has singularly failed to improve the sustainability consciousness (SC) of young people. This is despite UNESCO organising an entire decade (the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, or DESD) from 2005 to 2014 on the issue. National programmes of certification of eco schools have been rolled out on different continents, but the research done so far on their efficacy all points to one uncomfortable truth; its impact has been negligible. 

There are big questions to answer here. What problems has research into the approach revealed? Why has the approach largely failed?  And, crucially, can it be rescued? Let’s begin with the issues that have been thrown up by schools that have followed some form of certified approach which requires standard practices like audits of the curriculum and basic operations. Different research papers have focused on Belgium (Boeve-de Pauw and Van Petegem 2013), Sweden (Olsson et al, 2015), Taiwan (Olsson et al, 2018) and America (Higgs and McMillan, 2006), to name but a few. There are some common themes that emerge:

  1. Gender gap: girls are more likely to exhibit behaviours and attitudes that show sustainability consciousness than boys. This may even be due to implicit gender stereotyping in how programmes are constructed. 
  2. Age fluctuation: young children (typically up to age 12) show genuine interest in ESD programmes, but by age 14-15 this actually becomes negative – what Olsson calls the ‘adolescent dip’. There is an improvement by age 18, assuming the programmes are continued to that age.
  3. Socio-economic background: schools in areas with higher levels of income struggle to make any inroads on SC, and in fact the overall effect may be negative. 
  4. Death by Certification: schools that have followed certified programmes show little if any improvements over schools that do not, in terms of the SC of their pupils. Effect sizes where eco programmes are adopted are 0.2 at best. Worryingly, many of these schools think they are making a difference when they are not.

Much of this is due to the limited interpretation of what sustainability really is. When the focus is restricted to environmental issues only, the knowingness, behaviours and attitudes of pupils shows little change. What schools are failing to emphasise are the social and economic dimensions. In his PhD thesis (2018), Olsson goes into depth on his development of this model:

Olsson diagram

In this context, ‘knowingness’ is defined as a “theory of knowing” about the fundamentals of sustainable development, where critical thinking is an essential component. This addresses a core issue: much of what is going on in ESD-focused classrooms is about imparting knowledge without understanding. For example, pupils may know that eating less meat is good for the environment. Do they know why? And are they able to critically debate the dissonance about environmental sustainability (reduced water consumption) and economic sustainability (the impact on farmers)? This is where ESD is currently falling down: there is an absence of both breadth of the concept and critical thinking about it.

What is emphasised as making a difference is the need for pluralism and holism in teaching methods. What this means is teaching the full range of ESD concepts (not just environmental) from multiple disciplines and angles. This leads to ‘action competence’ in pupils, which means they understand a range of possible options, have confidence that they have agency, and then show willingness to turn this into concrete actions. Research conducted so far suggests that ESD can have an impact if it leads to this, but all too often it is ideologically driven, lacking in solid pedagogy, confined to environmental issues, and the agenda is driven by agencies outside of education. 

Back in 2007, Vare and Scott made an important distinction between ESD 1 (education for sustainable development) and ESD 2 (education as sustainable development). ESD 2 offers much more promise, as it focuses on critical thinking (which the authors emphasise is domain specific) and metacognition. This approach appeals to me and I hope that it will be the basis of ESD going forward.

There is no doubt that making all systems that support human life more sustainable is ethical and desirable. What we need to do is make sure that education about these issues is itself sustainable, and that is what bodies like UNESCO and the OECD have yet to get right. The Incheon Declaration of 2015 and the laudable goals it sets out have 15 years to deliver. Four years in, the Greta Thunberg effect suggests that a lot will need to be done in the next 11 years if this is going to make a difference.  


Lyons Higgs, A., and McMillan, (2006) V.,‘Teaching Through Modeling: Four Schools’ Experiences in Sustainability Education’, Journal of Environmental Education, Vol. 38, No1

Olsson, D (2018) ‘Student Sustainability Consciousness: Investigating Effects of Education for Sustainable Development in Sweden and Beyond’ Doctoral Thesis, Karlstad University Studies

Olsson, D., N. Gericke, and Chang Rundgren, S.-N. (2016) ‘The effect of implementation of education for sustainable development in Swedish compulsory schools assessing pupilssustainability consciousness’, Environmental Education Research, Vol. 22, No. 2, 176202,

Olsson, D., Gericke, N., Boeve-de Pauw, J., Berglund T., Chang, T., (2019) ‘Green schools in Taiwan – Effects on student sustainability consciousness’, Global Environmental Change 54, 184–194 

Vare, P. and Scott, W. (2007) ‘Learning for a Change: Exploring the Relationship Between Education and Sustainable Development’, Journal of Education for Sustainable Development 1:2, 191–198

Citizenship education: confronting inequalities (part 2)⤴

from @ curriculum for equity

by Gary Walsh

This is the second part of a series of blogs I wrote after the NECE 2019 conference (24-27 October, Glasgow) in which I summarise the key points that I took from the presentations and seminars I attended. Click here to read part 1.

David Kerr provided a quick summary of approaches to citizenship education across UK. He said that the emphasis on citizenship education has dropped from the educational and political agenda since 2010, and we need to ask why this is happening. It could be due to a combination of radical changes in the economy, the process of globalisation and the rise of populism. He asked if we should reframe citizenship education to suit current political context (that’s a clear YES from me) and if so, how do we do that?

Professor Bryony Hoskins introduced her book Education Democracy and Inequality, which details her research on participatory citizenship and knowledge acquisition. She found that, generally speaking, middle class students take up more participatory opportunities, and this lack of access to participatory citizenship is increasing inequality. She emphasised that the development of critical, active citizenship is required, and that we should not simply expect students to accept a form of citizenship that is defined by the economic roles they should play in society.

Next, Dr Daniela Sime spoke about her research on the Migrant Youth project: a study of identity, citizenship and belonging among settled Eastern European migrant children and young people in the UK. She said that identity formation is a constant process in flux that is currently being shaped by factors such as the Brexit ‘rupture’, neoliberalism and precarious employment. She outlined a theoretical view of citizenship that sees it in a holistic way, an ’embodied category’ that focuses on the lived experience of citizenship. Her research indicates that Brexit has increased feelings of ‘unbelonging’ among migrant young people, and that they have experienced an increase in racism as a result of the current political context. She concluded that citizenship education has a key role to play in (re)creating a sense of social cohesion.

Next I had the privelege of listening to Professor Kathleen Lynch talking about affective equality, gender and the intersectionality of injustices. She first outlined her understanding of the dimensions of inequalities. Inequality can be generated in the economic, cultural, political and affective systems. The economic dimension refers to inequalities in resources, wealth and income; cultural inequality is about respect and recognition where, for example, being feminine is defined as inferior; and political inequality refers to unequal representation, power and influence.

These dimensions are well understood in social justice theory, but Lynch argues that these theories tend to forget about the affective domain and relational inequalities. This is about inequalities in the level of love, care and solidarity in people’s lives. She gave examples of care work being lowly paid or unpaid, older people living in isolation, and women being the ‘default carers’ in society. Lynch argued that affective relations of love, care and solidarity matter because they are what makes us human. In her conclusion she argued that gender equality is about addressing masculinity as well as femininity; education has a key role to play in how we think about concepts such as gender; gender inequalities should be addressed intersectionally in ways that recognise politics, race, disability and sexuality; and neoliberal capitalism has resulted in rising inequalities which disproportionality affect the most vulnerable citizens, especially women, immigrants and young people.

All in all, it was a very thought provoking second day at NECE 2019. The final part of this blog series will discuss justice-oriented citizenship, racial inequalities and Global Citizenship Education.

Citizenship education: confronting inequalities (part 1)⤴

from @ curriculum for equity

by Gary Walsh

I recently attended the #NECE2019 conference – a yearly event organised by the NECE network (Networking European Citizenship Education). It took place at University of Strathclyde from 24-27 October. Live streamed recordings and other conference materials are available on the NECE website.

I decided to write a summary of the key points that I took from the presentations seminars I attended. It is not possible to cover everything from such a rich and diverse event here. I have split the summary into three separate blogs covering all three days. My thread of live tweets from the conference might be useful . These posts will hopefully be of interest to anybody who is keen to learn some more about the role of education in relation to citizenship, democracy, social justice and inequalities.

Darren McGarvey, author of Poverty Safari, kicked off the conference. His refreshing style was irreverent, honest, brutal at times, and perhaps a wee bit ‘ranty’. He spoke about his life and the views he has developed as a result of his background and his new-found fame – two massive parts of his life that clearly come into conflict. His background is one that includes poverty, drugs, violence, prison and hip-hop. He contrasted middle-class and working-class lives and attitudes, addressing the oft-contrasted individual and collective approaches to empowerment, saying that both approaches are needed. He spoke about the need for people to cross-pollinate, creating solidarity across social divisions, to walk alongside people without being scared or put off by how they dress or speak. He challenged the myth of social mobility and addressed the role of education in the achievement of social justice.

Next, Professor Anja Neundorf drew on her research looking at citizenship education and levels of democracy across Europe. She said that ‘inequality of voices leads to inequality of policy output’ and that people from socially deprived backgrounds tend not to be heard or represented in politics. This creates a feedback loop, leading to apathy, resentment and ultimately more inequality of voices. She claimed that people become active in politics due to knowledge and motivation, so civic education can compensate for lack of parental socialisation into political engagement. Her key messages were that we need to break the cycle of schools perpetuating inequality; she recommended compulsory civic education and quality teacher training in this area; and challenged attendees to consider how technology can be used to promote civic education and democracy throughout life.

Prof Anja Neundorf at NECE 2019 conference, University of Strathclyde, 24 October 2019

After listening to Darren, Anja and other inputs from day 1 of the event, a key issue in my mind was about the education system itself recreating inequalities in various ways. This contrasted in my mind with the title of the conference, ‘citizenship education confronting inequalities’. In addition to confronting inequalities it seems vital to me that the education system confronts itself. This can be uncomfortable territory. It involves recognising that education for social justice involves being ‘in and against the state’, prepared to recognise the dilemma of being an instrument of state policy while also retaining a critical view of the very system in which we work. Getting its own house in order in relation to social justice and democracy might be the most effective strategy that schools can pursue, despite being asked by policy makers to sort out society’s problems.

With that in mind, below are three ways that the education system can ‘confront itself’, which I offer here by way of conclusion to Part 1 of this blog series:

  • Representation: Working to achieve democratic, inclusive, equitable representation of voices from all sections of society. This means confronting educational myths of social mobility, ‘bad behaviour’ and ‘hard to reach’ parents.
  • Recognition and Respect: Recognising the aspirations, frustrations, struggles, lives, cultures, abilities and strengths of working-class families.
  • Redistribution of rights and resources. Recognising the urgent need to become human rights defenders. Meeting the radical challenge of justice-oriented citizenship (I ran a session on this at the conference – more about this soon)
  • Hope: Remaining hopeful while doggedly pursue the challenges above. To put it another way: seeking to grow roses in concrete.