Scarcity of Use

How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time. Seems obvious right? But what if being hungry means that you literally cannot decide where to start; and that you stay hungry, despite the calorific (but inhumane) feast before you.

When we are lacking a fundamental need, our cognitive pathways shift – bandwidth narrows. If you need cash, it’s hard to think about anything else other than getting some quickly- to the exclusion of budgeting, avoiding high risk situations, or seeking more secure income. It helps to explain why the financially poor make bad decisions about money  – even if they were once prudent when wealthier.

(Click on the arrows to start this animation)

The principles of the science around Scarcity, described by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir,  have informed lots of areas in social research – from understanding hunger, to the time-poor, and loneliness. Short term wins dominate, even when they harm long term outcomes. There is no evidence that ‘educating’ people out of the scarcity trap works, so just telling people what they should do doesn’t work either.

This research does skim close to stating the obvious, but it does help shift the way we think about our problems, and the problems of others. The Hidden Brain podcast, Tunnel Vision – provided below – provides an excellent summary of this work.

I’ve been experiencing a few different types of scarcity for a while and I think it’s changed my behaviour in ways that follow this model.  For one reason or another, I have been underemployed for over four years. Like so many freelancers: I go through periods of feast, but more often famines, in work.  I’d like to think I also do useful things at home too, but a lack of regular income is only part of the problem.

I have a scarcity of usefulness.

I am at home too much, without a structured day, regular interactions or set of jobs to be done. When I have work, it is unpredictable and often inconvenient – throwing up barriers more than creating opportunities.  This situation has stopped being excitingly ‘on the edge’. I am on the wrong side of a happy balance. The ache is tangible. It fills my thoughts constantly. I’ve been living with depression in my head for a few years now, and while I am not suffering as much, there are days when I am overwhelmed by the perception of a lack of purpose.

I have been effective, productive and kind to myself in the past. I know the productivity advice. Often, I am asked to give it to others – and I seem to be able to apply these lessons beyond myself. I know there are thousands of simple small steps that could make me more productive and, perhaps secure more ways to be ‘useful’. I get advice, ideas and support from friends and family that I know is sound.

Yet,…I feel like my hands are tied and my foot carefully positioned so that instead of stepping forward and upwards – I only end up kicking myself and falling on my face. I grab at (often unsustainable) work or networking opportunities in a less and less effective way. I can feel myself doing it and there is a quiet part of my brain trying to stop me.

Is it the depression? Is it a failing in me? A lack of capability? I’m not sure it’s not these things, but I also know now that the very dynamic I am in makes it harder to get myself out – however amazing I might be. This might be familiar to us as the simple truism that “It is easier to get a job while you are in a job”.

There are some great suggestions from Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir about how to work against this trap – but they do not pretend there are easy answers. Ultimately, the poor cannot think themselves out of poverty – they need more money. The hungry need more food. The lonely need friendship. And the underemployed need purposeful work.

(Click on the arrows to start this animation)

So, if you have read all this and need something doing  – put my capabilities to work. Just use the subject heading “Breaking the Scarcity Trap” and claim your time.

Your generosity can set me free.

Why? We need to Get Real

Panel at #LGRYA17


Why do we educate our children in the way we do? Our current public debate seems stuck on  raising standards, improving parental choice, and beating international league tables; rather than considering this deeper question. Yes, kids need to be prepared to work – but we also need to nurture their identity and feed their creativity.

Yet, most children in the UK are being deprived full access to a cultural education.  There are 2500 museums in the UK, and 10x as many schools. This does not mean that there are 10 schools working with each museum, or that all children, wherever they live in the UK, get access to a museum for 1/10th of their education.  If you start to include the numbers of theatres, galleries, heritage sites, libraries and other cultural spaces that could be part of the education (both formal and informal) of a school aged child, it is hard to look at the numbers of opportunities kids get, as being acceptable.  Yet we know that middle class urban kids receive more cultural capital than rural, working class kids and this gives them an advantage.

It is easy to look at “digital” as a solution to these problems of access. Considerable amounts of public money have been spent by cultural organisations on digital projects to improve this situation. However, there has been very little sharing of what works, or progress in working more collaboratively with schools and children.  To look more carefully at this issue and bring people together to share ideas, Let’s Get Real is a research project and conference  organised by Culture24, who work connecting the arts and cultural sector.

There have already been wonderful posts summarising the wonderful speakers, workshops and discussions from the day – such as this from Arts Council England’s  Adam Koszary . As one of the speakers, and workshop facilitators, it might be a little unrepresentative for me to share too much of my view of the day.

My own talk was slightly impacted by the cold remedies I was taking  and I talked way too fast!

So, with all my speakers notes included – here is it for those who would like to take a bit more time to digest the ideas I shared.

Throughout the day,  I was blown away by some of the wonderful work being done that we heard from our inspiring speakers, such as the Holocaust Centre’s virtual testimonies, and the practical interventions of Amy Cotterill in Essex.

The Let’s Get Real action research projects themselves were also deeply impressive in how well they had connected with the needs and questions from kids. However, in all the conversations I had with people in the breaks, I heard another narrative.

Breakout at #LGRYA17

I heard it first from Finbarr Whooley, the Director of Content at the Museum of London, who had introduced the day for us.  Finbarr came to talk to me after my presentation about one slide in particular – where I shared my experience of conducting the 5xWhys activity with an arts organisation – for them to admit that the reason they were working with schools was to raise the profile of their work, rather than to help children learn or teachers to support that learning.

They started with what they wanted to do with young people, and worked backwards to find a rationale. Finbarr confessed that he’d seen this reverse thinking all too often and that it almost defined the way that the cultural sector worked with digital. I spent the rest of the day listening for this story, and it was not hard to find.

Cultural, arts and heritage organisations are struggling to make good use of digital with young audiences – yet seem to have no vehicle for improvement – no way to change the narrative.

I think some of this can be explained by institutional inertia, incentives for gaming the funding process, and ignorance. However, there are things that we can do.

1 – Create a sustained platform/space for sharing and collaboration with educators and young people. Both #LGRYA17 and #TMCulture24 were proof that more is needed.

2 – Maintain a focus on a genuine purpose for authentic learning. Publishing the aims of a project and evidence of working with learners to iterate a better experience would help to encourage others to keep their ‘Why?’ more meaningful.

3 – Develop more meaningful metrics than trying to link event impact to exam results, or prove engagement via hits on a webpage.

4 – Tell the stories, especially when they fail. Cultural professionals should be able to reflect on their practice, and admit where they made a mistake and show they are learning. There needs to be a more compelling framework for doing this and an incentive to counter the

I loved being part of #LGRYA17 and hope to maintain my involvement with the organisations I spoke to. Thanks to Anra Kennedy for inviting me to help curate the day and to the whole Culture24 team for their support on the day.

I help organisations create and support  more engaging learning through the use of digital technology.

If you’d like to talk about how I can help your organisation, to build on the learning from #LGRYA17, please get in touch eylan AT ezekiels DOT co DOT uk.




There is a simple joy in creating a TeachMeet – that of bringing people together in a space for sharing ideas and stories. This week, #TMCulture24 brought teachers and cultural professionals together to form new relationships and new ideas. More than that, it demonstrated an opportunity.

It all started with a first. I don’t think a Major-General had ever attended a TeachMeet before. I am proud to say that TMCulture24 changed all that. Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter kicked off the evening, representing one of the main sponsors, Waterloo200 – Age of Revolutions. A fascinating man, who set the scene perfectly – reminding us that we can learn much from the past and from the best of what culture has to offer – and that children and young people deserve to access all the complex strands of culture.

Sir Evelyn opens proceedings – while I tweet in the distance!

Though evidently slightly bemused about what was to follow, Sir Evelyn was the very model of a modern  Major-General, and remained open minded, generous and took part in the presentations throughout the evening.

The fun began with with a take on Ready Steady CookReady Steady Teach! Two lucky people were given three ingredients for creating / remixing a digitally flavoured lesson. Digital artefacts from across the cultural sector were randomly selected and combined with one digital tool.

Dawn Hallybone volunteered (!) to go first, and was able to cook up a D&T/history/science project looking at the design of military uniforms through the ages.

Oliver Quinlan, given the story of the preservation of an 8m squid specimen, found a meaningful connection to making music using GarageBand – which was not a huge surprise given his musical background… though the ingredients were chosen by random!

These very quickly created ideas were proof of the skill of teachers in connecting ideas and information worth sharing with kids, in an engaging way.  It also demonstrated that there were ways for cultural professionals to generate new ideas for educational resources, quickly and with teachers.

We were then hit by a series of quick, 5 minute presentations, interspersed by breaks for libations and connection making. Where possible, links to the presentations are given as links, below.

First up was Oliver (again) who spoke about the power of Raspberry Jam community sessions to unlock digital making with kids. Presentation

Bill Lord, whose impassioned plea for connections into the cultural wastelands of rural Lincolnshire was both funny and important. If you want to connect your collections and cultural work with kids who really need you, please contact Bill. Presentation

Bill Lord on form at #TMCulture24 Photo from @CrawleyMuseum


Next up was Kay Topping, who shared the #Museum4aDay project – directly grown from the #Teacher5aDay project – to encourage teachers/cultural professionals to stay healthy – and #connect #notice #learn #exercise #volunteer.


After two (slightly more promotional) talks from Pobble and the Shakespeare Schools Festival, we make it back from the break ready for the last few talks before we had to wrap up.



Pran Patel gave us a rousing talk about outward facing leadership, innies and outies, and collapsed arches!


Finally – we heard from Carol Allen, about ‘figure ground perception’ and the implications for accessible digital resources.

Photo from @MadeByMikeJones

Unfortunately, we had to leave before we could hear the presentations from Julie Neville and Victoria Grace–  (Sorry!) – but both were kind enough to share them here.

I was knackered by the end of the night, after an early start and busy day at #LGRYA17, and nursing a cold. However, I was elated by the evening, not least as it proved the need for more events like these.

This TeachMeet was a result of a conversation with Anra best ideas come through collaboration where purpose and values were clear. While #TMCulture24 was not the first Culture focussed TeachMeet, I know the team at Culture24 and I will not give up until we have found a way to build on the conversations started this week.


My thanks to Anra Kennedy and the team from Culture24, The Museum of London, Pobble, Google, and (of course) Waterloo200.



Pimp your PGCE

The one year PGCE is one hell of a test of the human spirit. Amongst the few days out of school placements, there are brief deluges of information at Uni;  drenching trainee teachers with professional wisdom. Somehow, they are expected to manage this, and accommodate all this information into their practice. Somewhere in this heady rush towards the classroom, students are expected to find ways to bring digital technology into teaching – and I helped a few do that at Oxford Brookes University.

My contribution to the learning for these intrepid PGCE students was a workshop entitled “Pimp your Planning” – as part of their PGCE Tech Day. Given that they only get 16 hours of input on the digital aspect of their professional practice, I knew that any time I had had to be used well. I created a session to encourage these students to find ways to introduce, not only digital tools, but digital literacies, into their classrooms. It was a redraft of an experiment from a year ago – so  huge thanks to the fabulous Clare Fenwick for inviting me back: after my session last year got such great feedback (or at least that’s what she told me!).

A determinedly practical session, my hope was to use a very artificial task – to find a way to use 3 digital tools in the planning for this term – to encourage students to try something new, something digital:  

To take risks. To work and fail in the open. To share their experiences. To reach beyond the easy sometimes. To show the kids that digital technology offers a set of capacities that deepen learning across the curriculum skills.

While there were some fantastic ideas – I was particularly impressed with the group given Scratch, Videoconferencing and Twitter; who had to incorporate these tools into a topic on dinosaurs for Year 4.

Though none of the five people in the group had used this tech in school (though most had used Skype for family and friends) – they quickly reimagined the plan,  innovating a Twitter account for Mary Anning, to reimagine how this 19th Century Paleontologist might have shared her momentous fossil discoveries. Instead of hot-seating, with the teacher as Mary Anning, they conceived the idea of calling her (or a friend of the teacher for more authenticity to the interaction).  Perhaps obvious to some, these were new to them. And they were very excited!

Most impressively, they raised the issues of confusing the kids with ‘magical thinking’ – in terms of time-travel/anachronistic use of tech/impersonating a real historical person. We discussed how to handle this – and the issues for digital literacies (such as IP, and digital identities).

Though other groups were also awesome, and conversations deeper than I think the participants expected to be having, there were some challenges for me:

One of the students questioned if I was seriously encouraging her to be seen to ‘fail’ in front of the kids. Was this ok?

I did stumble to answer this without ranting. (OK, I failed to avoid ranting!). Although (I think) I enthusiastically urged her to positively rethink how important it is to model taking risks and the demonstrate value of a first attempt in learning to kids – I now realise that she really trying to say something much harder. I think she was trying to say that she didn’t feel comfortable failing.

This really worried me. I looked around the room – and realised that she was not alone – lots of people were nodding in agreement.

Now, I realise that I probably unsettled them a little (I do that when I am excited!). However, these were people on a highly stressful course for one of the most pressured jobs in the public sector (others are available!). A career under constant scrutiny – and where getting something wrong can mean a damaging Ofsted classification that hurts the lives of staff and students in a community.

And yet, here I was, asking them to be more risky – to fail (in a safe and appropriate way – where learning is enhanced by reflecting and improving on the failure) and be proud of it. Was I mad?

Now I am quite sure that one of the most important lessons digital technology has to teach us –  children and educators alike – is that (for now) there is a gulf between humans and our tech that means we will always be just about to lose any grip we might have on it.

For example – you might become an expert in using a Microsoft Office product – and then they update the software and change where all the icons are and how the menus operate. Sounds familiar right? My guess is you complain for a while, but soon go and find the learning you need to get working again. Right?

The most important gift that edtech folk have is not their skillset. It is their mindset. If you bring digital technology into your teaching, you will inevitably model important capacities to the children you work with: a familiarity with failing; the joy of the challenges that come with change; an open door and an open mind – able to ask for and give help in learning; and (crucially) resilience in the face of adversity.

Many people believe that we should teach coding in schools because it is a language / subject worthy of time in the curriculum for relevance to future careers. I do not agree.

I believe computing belongs in the curriculum because it forces teachers (and trainee teachers) to look beyond the hard but familiar walls of curriculum, and fixed pedagogical paradigms – and experience learning as their children do.

It ain’t easy – but nothing worthwhile is. That’s what we tell children, so why shouldn’t it be true for us.

My thanks to all the students who shared their time and trusted me with their time today.


Larkrise 365

Our governing body has started using Office 365 improve collaboration and improve the way we work with school staff. Although we are right at the beginning of our journey,  we have started to find paths through the forest of our school communications, and the light is beginning to get through. Here is our story so far.

Photo by Alex Chen – CC by-nc-nd

Larkrise Primary School is a smallish, maintained school in a diverse part of Oxford. There is more about our school on our website (awaiting a major refresh!). The governing body has a huge range of technical competence in the use of digital tools, though, crucially, we also have a willing and very able clerk!

None of us are/were 365 experts, and only one person uses it regularly for work. We have no extra support, no funds for training, and we could not find many stories of governing bodies doing this before!

Why do it?

The main driver for the Larkrise governors moving to Microsoft’s Office 365, for the work and administration of the governing body, was to draw together the work we were doing with staff (SLT) onto a common platform.

The SLT and office staff all use MS Office on their desktops, and an initial foray into using Google Drive for governor work last year had meant that staff were having to shift between platforms to work with the governing body. Quite a few of the governors (including me) are Google fans, but this enthusiasm did not translate to everyone. Something had to give.

It was a simple matter of making a choice of forcing the school to move towards Google Apps for Education and changing the whole school technology profile  – or adapting and enhancing the way they used the powerful technology they already had.

Oh, and 365 is free and already set up to work. The 1TB of data for each user, plus the ability to access MS Office tools, was also kinda tempting.

As mentioned in earlier posts, we had already identified communication as an area for development, and we had tried to improve it through other aspects of school life (such as improving our use of Parentmail) but we kept hitting issues. For example, shaping the use of a new tool to fit with strategic objectives is hard to do without it is tricky to cue up and organise feedback via emails, without crossing into ‘operational’ instructions; eg “Change this. Do that”. We wanted to stay ‘strategic’ and allow SLT to find solutions to management issues. We needed a way to cue up and organise feedback and ideas – into a Trello like system, rather than overwhelm SLT with requests and suggestions.

It is also a matter of safety. By giving all governors our own accounts on the school system, we can keep all emails about school matters confidential and within the domain. It also modelled to the staff how serious we were (as governors) about personal emails not being used for school business and professionalising their use of IT systems.

What happened?

All governors were given a login to 365 (with varying success in getting going) and, to begin with, chairs of committees and SLT experimented with how to use it. As none of the governors or staff have had proper training in using 365 fully, and we knew that this shift was going to be a matter of learning together, through making mistakes! And boy, did we make a few!

Step One- Moving folders from Google Drive into 365

Google Takeout made the first part of this pretty easy (thanks to Doug Belshaw for the pointer!). I had an archive of all the folders, but no clear idea how to organise them in 365. I placed them in Sharepoint, and started to organise them there. Mistake #1!

Step Two – Setting up Groups.

We started playing with Groups in 365, and set one up for all the workstream that had been going on in the governing body, to try to organise and draw people in. Some were private, some were open. Worst of all, files in the sharepoint folders were not accessible from the Groups. At all! It was infuriating. Mistake #2!!

Step Three – Emails

Moving from emailing from our personal emails took a while, and as we explored what 365 could do, we tried posting to ‘Conversations’, comments to docs, and responding to threads in OneNote notebooks. This created a LOT of notifications, the biggest impact being on the headteacher, who hadn’t explored how to change settings for this aspect of the system. Mistake #3!!!

Where are we now?

Group focus

We have decided, after a few months of experimentation, to focus our work around 3 Groups. The governors have one for the Full Governing Body (FGB), for Accounting for Resources, and for Performance and Outcomes committees.  That’s it.

Collaborative docs

We are starting collaborating through one simple feature in having a place for all our documents online, within each group: to comment and edit via the cloud.

Building up from committee meeting pre-reading towards drawing some of the ‘back and forth’ out of the face-to-face sessions and into comment threads in docs: we hope to make much better use of our meetings to hold the school to account, develop the strategic aspects of our work, and get home home on time more often after governor meetings.

Although there is a LOT more we could be doing (and a few of us are quietly experimenting with the Planner (an almost direct copy of Trello) we felt this was the lowest common denominator for everyone to be able to make use of a familiar system in a new way; that would have the maximum impact on the working practices of both the governing body and staff.

No surprises

As the committee meetings roll around next term, we will build up agenda using the collaborative docs and social features, perhaps via the Planner. Crucially, SLT will be able to see what we are interested in before the meeting, so that they can prepare. We’ll have time to interrogate the data, and SLT can plan to take feedback on when it suits them, and not be overwhelmed by notifications.

That’s all folks

As I type this post on my lovely Chromebook, I still find myself surprised at how we have come to use 365 rather than Google. There have been lots of moments that I am amazed that I am working in the MS ecosystem again. However, it is really important to remember how varied the skill levels are in the school and governing body, so even getting everyone on one system is a huge step in the right direction.

We are not yet using Office 365 in an exemplary way,… In fact, I think we are probably missing lots of tricks. That said, I’m proud to say that we are clear in why we are using it, what problems we want to fix and how we will know if we are getting it right. We are working and learning hand-in-hand with the SLT and there is (at the moment) a lot of positive feedback to encourage us.

We’d welcome any suggestions, advice and free training (if you don’t ask…) as we continue our journey. Please get in touch or comment below.

I will update on how we are doing later in 2017 – but for now, to governors, teachers and parents, …Have a great break! We all deserve it.

Message in a bottle – Assessing what matters



CC Brett Jordan

I am part of an exciting project to measure what matters in a primary school. We think others might be interested in working with us, or have already started this journey. This blog post is a ‘message in a bottle’ because we’d love to hear from you if you think you we can help each other. This post explains our rationale to gather information to help our children, beyond literacy and maths attainment.

I am a parent governor at Larkrise Primary School in Oxford. As a governing body, we are increasing our commitment to making the values that underpin our school more explicit. Like many happy schools, we know that there is a culture at the school which adds more than warm fuzzies to the life of our community, and that has tangible educational benefits.  Some years before Guy Claxton and Bill Lucus came up with their 7Cs, Larkrise developed the 5Cs.

Our 5Cs are:  Caring, Confident, Curious, Creative, and Celebrating.

The governors want to support all staff to focus on what matters to us all – balanced children who have a love of learning; who are able to use a fronted adverbial at the right time, but can also sing the right song to cheer up a friend; or cheer when a peer asks a fantastic question and presents possible answers. We feel this is proving harder as the weight of workload and data forces teachers to focus on a narrow view of what education is for.

We believe professionals should use a wealth of evidence to enable depth and richness in learning – and, alongside the SLT, have decided to support the staff to focus their teaching, informed by greater knowledge of each child and their capacities/capabilities/character.  Quality relationships are the beating heart of education.

In collaboration with the truly amazing Ed Finch, Deputy Head, I am trying to coalesce this into more strategic and actionable work. As I mentioned, we want your help. But we have already started a project to create a 5Cs Dashboard – so we can check the ‘pulse’ of our school. 

Here is what we know, so far:

  • The 5Cs dashboard will be an assessment tool, not a tracking system.
  • It will be a mechanism to raise the profile of the 5Cs in the teaching and learning.
  • We are not trying to prove kids are making progress in ‘caring’ (for eg)
  • It will be a personalised analysis tool for the adults to support the children better.

This is an assessment experiment. We expect to make mistakes over the first few years, and adapt and evolve this dashboard. Initially, we expect less robust data – but we expect to see it develop and be more useful as time goes on.

We have started creating a Minimum Viable Product  –  which we hope to use this term – and which will be reviewed and iterated on a termly basis.

If you’d like to learn more, have a similar project going on, or can help us – please get in touch with me at , tweet, or comment on this post.

We’d love to hear your views on this and genuinely appreciate challenge or helpful critique.

What do you think?

Be Upstanding

This is a post about our failure to tackle bullying. We are locked in an ongoing story, predictably and painfully continuing to blame victims, and normalise anti-social behaviour, often through exclusion. I want to move towards a positive narrative, especially in schools; and share a few useful sources of support for those who want to ‘flip the script’, and move from being bystanders to being upstanders.

Photo by Malcolm Madders

The quotes in bold in this post are from parents sharing experiences to help each other with bullying and are included, in full, at the end of the post. Like these parents, I only have my experiences to guide my views and cannot claim any expertise – so feel free to ignore or dismiss any assertions herein.

“Whilst being wrong, unfortunately bullying exists throughout life.”

Most of us believe that bullying is a fact of a life; one that most kids will experience.  You’d probably never say this out loud at work, especially if you’ve recently had safeguarding training! However, when teachers talk in the staffroom, or parents huddle under umbrellas in the playground; there is a sad shake of the head and a sigh that goes with the admission that ‘It’s inevitable – but it will prepare kids for adult life’.

This is the problem. Bullying, or rather the state of being bullied, leads the victim to feel powerless, degraded and doomed to remain in a situation that has no escape doors; and which everyone around them seems to accept.

Those teachers in the staffroom are failing the kids in their classes who are being broken by bullying, and those parents in the playground are turning away from the responsibility to help their offspring be good citizens and know how to develop positive relationships.

We tell kids to go and talk to a teacher; or employees to go to HR: and explain what they have seen or what is happening to them. Which is often nearly impossible, right?  Schools and employers wait for an employee, child or a parent to come and report ‘bullying’. It is only then that a bullying policy would be activated. So, it is up to the victims to say that the environment is not as protective as it might seem.

I think it is this ‘fixed mindset’ that perpetuates bullying. Though it is partly caused by the depersonalisation of care – as we attempt to systematise all our societal problems, it is this poisonous belief that we all deserve bullying in our lives that makes it so hard to remove .

As a meme, bullying has embedded itself as a hidden sickness within the body of our institutions and society.  We tell ourselves bullying is inevitable because we carry the virus inside us: transmitting the tacit acceptance of bullying to the next generation.

Flipping the script is hard, and takes effort, trust and some cooperation. Firstly, we should be good bystanders. Anyone can stop bullying. No policy or complex intervention is required. We should expect anyone; child or adult – at school or the workplace,  to be ethical and caring, and say “No! That is not ok. I will not stand by. Please stop this now.” This simple video sums this up pretty well.

For more information on elementary education visit

We should more directly praise ‘pro-social’ behaviour and let those who feel bullied know, from the get go, that it is a failure of the environment – not the people in it.

That means not claiming that your organisation has no, or very little, bullying. Yes, Ofsted, and employment tribunals will be confused by your honesty – but they are also likely to impressed by your commitment to depriving bullying of the oxygen of deceit that it needs

“My advice would be avoid the use of the word bullying if at all possible as it is a very inflammatory term.”

Even as you try to report bullying you run up against the first of many challenges. We know this is a label that we can use – but are too often afraid to use it.  We are afraid of the power of this simple term and the admission it points to: that we are largely failing ourselves and our children.

Labels are painful and often unhelpful. Bullies are often victims too and people can feel bullied without there being a bully/bullies.  We are so often searching for the simple binary dynamic of aggressor and victim that we miss the more complex problems that really corrode character and resilience.

We should be focused on the environment and the values of the people in that place. So what can you do to make a more healthy environment?

Make a clear statement of inclusion. All the time. Every day. Invite openness – bring conflict out of the shadows, and manage your people, yourself and your spaces – to ensure that no one feels damaged by their place of work or learning.

Society is held together by bonds between people. If you don’t actively make bonds stick, and actively create a caring environment where exclusion (selection) is part of the norm, you are (de facto) being anti-social. This is true of workplaces, classrooms, and whole systems (see the debate over Grammars/Independent schools).

I believe that in schools, we become complicit with the ‘looking away, and that children believe that bullying is something that they have to accept and that their weaknesses are real and are something to be on constant guard for.

Of course, some find alternative remedies and thrive – yet others stay fractured; either perpetuating the problem or turning in on themselves and self-harming.

Bullying is not just about disruptive or visible abuse. All too often, schools and workplaces focus on the bullying that impacts others apart from the victim. To reach for a lazy stereotype, teachers will arrange classes so that boys stop fighting, but are happy to leave the girls because however much pain they might be causing one of their number through exclusion and subtle cruelty, it is rarely disruptive to learning.

Finally, I have ‘skin in the game’. I was bullied from nine till fifteen years old. It shaped me, creating social callouses where the daily abuse rubbed away at my trust – and leaving fractures in my confidence, protected by habits of self-deprecation and avoidance. My recent brush with depression quickly uncovered the painful scars hidden beneath. After thirty years, I am shocked to find that despite all the increased knowledge and work to reduce bullying, I am seeing children being broken in the same way that I was.

We all deserve better. So, let’s do better. 

There is, of course, wonderful help and great advice out there – but I really liked what I found here:


Parental quotes – Thanks to those who gave permission for me to use their words.

“… bottom line: if it doesn’t work change schools. From the experiences of friends with girls this kind of toxic queen bee shit is very difficult to stop simply because the “rewards” for the queen and her acolytes are so great”

“My M suffered with ‘queen bee’ rubbish in primary. I talked to one of the parents and although she reacted appropriately it didn’t change in the long run. This issue whilst being wrong unfortunately exists throughout life. My tactic was to empower M to have the resilience to cope. It took time. Now there are new queen bees and she seems to be able to see them for what they are And get on with things.”

“We went through this with E. She was on the receiving end for a while, and we did deal with it via the school. Not always satisfactory and ultimately ended up with girl being removed by her parents”

“I think almost anyone can become a bully, and conversely almost anyone can be bullied, so it is not anything ‘wrong’ with the bullied person, just the circumstances, mix of children, etc. Therefore once bullied, NOT always bullied thereafter. We’ve done talking plus giving them some tools for their toolbox when the bullying occasions arise. Including a bit of humour (eg “if all else fails, deck ’em!”, which they know is a joke but lightens things…)”

“I was bullied by girls. Solidarity (not sympathy) is what is needed. (It was the 70s, no one dealt with it properly, sorry no suggestions of what to do right)”

“Try and make sure that they continue to confide in you, and doesn’t try to deal with it alone. It’s probably not the right message, but when it was one of ours, after months of dealing with the school, standing up to the bully was the only thing that worked. Not being afraid to not tolerate their behaviour. And maybe sympathy isn’t such a bad thing: knowing that others widely recognises that the behaviour is awful, having support, is understanding not pity, & stops that feeling that you are in some way to blame.”


Grammars, Faith and Pedagogy

It's a dead end baby

The debate about opening the doors to new grammar schools is being well covered in the news media. There is a battle of ideologies and the tried and tested weapons of that argument have been wheeled out and fired across the battlements. But there are fundamental fractures that are being overlooks and threaten the best of Britain.

I’m against grammars, and the planned changes.  I think there are two additional problems that are not getting the attention they deserve – the fixation on academic pedagogy and faith.

That said, I do also accept that the current offering for many families is not offering the social mobility promised by the comprehensive ideal. We do have selection by postcode and most of our children do not get the education they deserve.

However,  grammars are not the solution, or are they about adding choice or improving outcomes for more of our kids. They will, once again kill off choice and progressive shifts in our society. But all this is being well covered elsewhere.

Firstly – the grammar ideal – of an academic education for the smartest kids, contains the pernicious view that the most able are best suited to an ‘academic’ pedagogy. Academia is great and an essential part of the picture – but all corners of our society deserve and need leadership and excellence.

We are also still only using a single measure (examination results) to judge success for children and across the system, which doesn’t capture the range and breadth of human talent and experience. Grammar schools double down on this narrow measure – like going ‘all in’ in poker.

Grammars, and the academic model of pedagogy they perpetuate, are wrong and dangerous for our economy and society – as they take those most likely to transform our world away from the modes of learning with connect most to the ‘real world’.

If there were choices of selective schools that offered Project Based Learning, or work-based learning models – with different accreditation or qualification routes … for the brightest and most able… and our society valued those as much as business does… then we would have choice.

We have an unspoken agreement that politicians and society will not tell teachers how to teach – and that the modes of teaching are not to be politicised. However, we know that exams and structural aspects of schools are being  shaped to an academic ideal ill suited to our society. This is not just my opinion – but also one shared by the CBI.

So, when we talk about choice – maybe it is time to offer real choice in terms of what happens inside the classrooms. I think much of the promise of the free schools policy was in the model of what has happened in the US – where charter schools have grown highly successful groups of schools offering a range of pedagogies – including the wonderful Expeditionary Learning and High Tech High schools.

Worse than this, the plans to allow faith schools to select based on religious belief (or professed beliefs) will further divide our society into smaller cultural ghettos.

The faith school system is the basis of our mass education and we have many reasons to grateful to the Church for creating a model of education embraced our children and communities in learning. However the history of our school system also shows that church attendance was more important than coin in children attending school.

Faith schools are the reason that we still have selection in our school system – as they have grasped this principle jealously – and we have allowed the idea of schools ‘choosing’ which children to teach to remain.  

The exclusivity is not only divisive, it is unfair and should be illegal. In Oxford City, we are overwhelmed with faith provision, where only a handful of community schools provide an non-faith ‘choice’ for parents. In a hugely divided city, where a there are more children attending private schools than average we also have the destabilising impact of selection by wealth as well as academic ability.

The implied growth of new grammars comes with the promise of new faith schools (as the old free school policy has failed) to answer the pupil place crisis.

If there was an opposition worth lobbying, (sigh!) we should not only be urging them to fight grammar schools.

If we want better and appropriate education for our children, to fuel our economy, and enrich our society, then we must also take on the white elephants of academic learning and faith.

  • We must, once and for all, take academic learning off the pedestal it is wobbling atop.
  • We must remove all faith provision from our state funded sector.

Until these things happen, the logic of grammar schools, high stakes testing, ignoring the well-being of our children and teachers,  and increasing workload for teachers, will continue unchecked.

What I know about Edtech. #3 – Bikes without Wheels

With 15 years of experience in the edtech sector, I’ve seen great examples and things go wrong. This is the third in a series, sharing suggestions for how to make great edtech.

Don’t see users.          See Teachers and Children.  

Don’t talk amongst yourselves.                Create in the open.

Don’t wait for a community to come to you.                      Close the loop.

If you know anything about Lean/Agile, or have heard about the Open movement (eg, Open Source, or Open Data), then the statements above will seem self-evident. However, they are far too often misunderstood or ignored by Edtech creators.

Photo by Craig Whisenhunt

Photo by Craig Whisenhunt

I have watched the Agile and Open movements grow and evolve over the years, and seen how they have transformed some parts of our digital infrastructure.  There is plenty of evidence that lean/agile leads to ‘better’ projects. While Open is more of an ideological approach that has transformative benefits for social groups, it matches the

I am not an evangelist for agile or open, though I think they are awesome. I am an evangelist for great learning experiences, and that is why I want leaner and more open edtech.

So, when I read the 37Signals manifesto their way of working seemed radical but resonant with my values and experiences working with schools. The first item in the manifesto reads:

Sounds like a bunch of junkies or gigolos, doesn’t it?

The people who visit web sites aren’t “users,” click-throughs, hits, numbers on a spreadsheet, or some other form of dehumanizing jargon. They’re your husband, your mom, your friend, the guy who sits in the cube next to you. They’re real PEOPLE, just like you and me.

That’s why we think a successful site is one that makes real people’s lives easier; One that makes them say, “This site worked for me.” So we’ve made it our mission to ensure this kind of experience at the sites we build. At 37signals we don’t see users, we see people.”

If you forget this basic and simple principle, your project will be a bike without wheels. OK, you might create something that is successful in some ways, but it will not go as far as it could. It might even be commercially successful in the short term, but you won’t be able to shift with the people it is for. This does not mean that you build one huge solution that seeks to please everyone, for all their needs.

Build for where teachers teach and children learn. Pick a point in that relationship and make it better.  The only way to find out where these places are is to be there too. Don’t just have an engagement strategy or marketing plan: be there, now. You should have decided whether you are a step ahead of the majority of teacher, clearing the way to new pastures, or following the crowd, helping them along.

If you don’t have anyone who spends time there in your team, then you need to work even harder to build in classrooms, staffrooms, playgrounds, bedrooms, or the places that your edtech will be used, with the people who will use it.

By creating in the open, you demonstrate your commitment to the work that educators do, and to the learning that children value. You will also get feedback, when you need it, in the iterative and informed development of the edtech that you are working so hard on.

Don’t tell them you have the solution. If you get this right, they will see that it is better than the competition and shout about it because it works, and because they trust you. Be really clear about why you are doing it – answer the 5 ways – and discuss it with them

When this happens, close the loop, and make it a conversation. Don’t leave your community once you’ve got what you think you needed – talk with them.  Not as a customer service activity – but because it is polite and respectful. Say ‘Thank you’, ask them how they are doing, listen to the answers, show you understand that life is complex, and respond honestly. If you can help them because it fits with your purpose and their needs, do so. But if you have to say no, don’t be afraid. If you don’t know, say so, and explain what it is you need help understanding.

How do you build better edtech?

  • See people
  • Create in the open
  • Close the loop

I’ve helped organisations create awesome edtech, but also learned a lot of lessons from my mistakes. If you’d like to learn more from my experiences (rather than find the bear traps on your own) then let’s talk about what you are trying to achieve and how these simple principles can be applied to your context.


What I know about Edtech. #2 – Lead or Follow

With 15 years of experience in the edtech sector, I’ve seen great examples and things go wrong. This post is the second in a series, giving tips for your next edtech endeavour.

It is possible to follow the majority of professionals or to lead (with the support of inspiring teachers) towards new practice.

But it is (all but) impossible to do both.

Photo by Cristian Bortes

Photo by Cristian Bortes

As I wrote in my first post, The 5xWhys, far too much edtech is created without clear reasoning behind it. One of the hardest conversations to have with a client or programme lead, once the 5xWhys have been worked through, is: Where do you want to be; leading or following?

Let’s say you’ve cleared up ‘Why?’ you want to create edtech and are set on your path. You’ve probably also told yourselves :

  • You want to create something that has the ‘Wow’ factor.
  • You want to be associated with innovation and creativity.
  • You want to be connected to (and with) those award-winning teachers and inspire more.

Except, these statements are also true:

  • You also want mass adoption / sales
  • You’d like resubscriptions / regular visits
  • You want to offer easy integration with current practice
  • You’d hope for support from policy makers
  • You’re secretly dreaming of awards and recognition from key stakeholders

Can you see the problem? The dream of aligning both these goals misunderstands the nature of the education sector. Being part of the formal institutions of learning, most teachers work in places that move very slowly. Innovation struggles at the edges, only breaking through to the mainstream despite (not because of) the ‘wisdom’ of that crowd.

The children might need and want more exciting edtech – but they do not get to select or pay for it. And highly innovative teachers rarely make it into SLT/Administrative roles.

Of course, notable exceptions exist, in terms of people (Dawn Hallybone, Dan Roberts, Nick Dennis, for example), and organisations (NightZooKeeper).

So – here are some hard truths for those creating edtech:

  • If you aim at the cutting edge, then you’ll likely only draw the very brave early adopters.
  • If you go for mass market, then you’ll not be cool or exciting.
  • If you are fresh and using the newest tech, you put off the majority of teachers who struggle with change and who do not have control over the tech they use.
  • If you create more of the same, then it’ll be harder to stand out from your competition.
  • If you try to match to current practice in classrooms, you will end up confined by static objectives, data driven activities, and .
  • If you try to share new pedagogies, assessment practices or try to change the culture in schools, as brilliant as it might be, it will be be pulled back by the inertia endemic in a fear filled profession, crushed by policy (*NB I make no apologies for polemic or broad brush strokes).

Of course, there are other compromises that can be made, and although you cannot lead and  follow at the same time, you can find other ways to reach a mass market without creating lumpen, but nutritious stodge; or open new doors in learning without scaring the horses. How might that be possible?

You need to be really clear about why you doing this (see the previous post), decide whether you want to lead or follow, read the rest of my posts in this series, and…

If you’d like to consider which route is right for you, I can help you understand where your work could fit in the education sector. It starts with a chat, so get in touch to begin your journey to better edtech.