Posted in charity events, learning, reading

The Fantastic Mr Dahl


Sitting in an old and battered armchair in a worn-out shed at the bottom of his garden, one man changed the face of children literature for future generations. The 13 September will mark the biggest ever global celebration of this renowned author, the one and only, Roald Dahl.

Armed with a specifically designed writing board on his lap and a HB pencil on a yellow legal paper pad, Dahl spent around four hours a day bringing his wonderful and creative world to life. With characters ranging from witches to talking foxes, his stories have fascinated children for several decades and encouraged thousands to enjoy reading. Continue reading “The Fantastic Mr Dahl”

Posted in curriculum, education, exams, leadership, learning, National Curriculum, teaching, Uncategorized

Gaming the system?

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Recent analysis of the average point scores of pupils’ key stage 4 exam results from 2015, has revealed “staggering” differences between the results that pupils achieved in GCSE qualifications compared to the results from non-GCSE courses. Continue reading “Gaming the system?”

Posted in charity events, curriculum, education, learning, opinion, Primary, school leadership, teaching

Teaching finance in primary schools to halt rising consumer debt

This week’s blog has been brought to you by national debt advice and education charity, Debt Advice Foundation.

A recent report by the Bank of England revealed that consumers are even more reliant on credit than ever, as the rate of consumer borrowing has risen to its highest level since 2006. Continue reading “Teaching finance in primary schools to halt rising consumer debt”

Posted in curriculum, education, learning, opinion, parents, policy

Sex in class

Thursday saw relationship education at a technology college in Accrington eclipse England’s Ashes victory and the London tube strike on Twitter.

It appears that, for a nation notoriously tight-lipped about sex and relationships, we were all very interested in what Godedle Liekens, a sexologist and UN goodwill ambassador, had to say on the matter.

In an effort to promote her proposal that British sex education be revamped to include lessons on pornography and sexual pleasure, Channel 4 filmed Liekens as she spent two weeks giving Year 11 pupils a comprehensive sex and relationship education (SRE) course, similar to those in Belgium and other central European countries.

With British teenage pregnancy rates still ranking among the highest in Europe, and the documentary’s featured headmaster claiming that “without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest single influence on children is pornography”, the suggestion that a more comprehensive SRE course be rolled-out in secondary schools seems sensible.

After watching the documentary however, many were quick to realise that this is not only sensible, but very necessary.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the documentary was the deplorable attitude displayed by the majority of the boys towards consent in particular, and women in general. It seemed that, even taking into account teenage bravado, the boys’ SRE had been co-opted out almost entirely to the porn industry. Without a hint of irony, the boys fervently outlined the sexual acts and appearance they would expect (not appreciate, not prefer) from a female partner because: “respect, innit”.

The divide was pointed out by Liekens, who noted the lack of participation from girls in the class. In an uncanny parallel of the pornography industry, the boys discussed in great detail what they expected and required, and the girls, for the most part, sat meekly by and accepted this.

The microcosm of society played out in their classroom was shocking. It spoke not only to parents who, before the documentary, may have been ignorant of the fact that over 90 percent of UK children have viewed pornographic material by the age of 10, but also to women and girls about the way they continue to be viewed and what they are valued for in Western society.

For all the gender equality battles won via the UN’s “HeForShe” campaign, the Everyday Sexism Project, the UK’s recent global summit to end sexual violence, new police powers to end FGM etc., others are lost in the education (or lack thereof) of the men and women of the future.[1]

Even from the teachers, a degree of embarrassment was displayed as Liekens suggested SRE include topics such as consent and sexual pleasure. Yet if pupils aren’t going to learn about these important topics in school, and parents are ill-equipped to do so too (evidenced by one parent who confessed herself ‘naïve’, and another who called Liekens to complain about her lesson on female anatomy), their education will come from ill-advised peers and porn.

The need for SRE education isn’t just about intimate relationships, it’s about the gender divide and, in particular, the way our society teaches men and boys to view women and girls. 10-year-olds and teenagers viewing porn and other hypersexualised media are not doing so with the critical thinking skills an adult might approach these with.

The adults’ embarrassment in the documentary is misplaced – ignoring our sexualised and often gendered media is no way to tackle it. The boys’ calls for “respect” are perhaps fuelled by porn, but they are reinforced elsewhere too, in social as well as traditional media. Just because schools are not discussing the fact that threatening a woman with rape is now a frighteningly common way to shut-down her arguments over Twitter, doesn’t mean that pupils aren’t reading this and learning that this is an appropriate way to silence female voices.[2]

Sexual violence and the gender divide are complex phenomenon, but they stem in part from ongoing, misplaced notions of male superiority and power. If young people are exposed to these notions day-in-day-out by the media, why shouldn’t SRE combat this in the same way that promoting British values has been introduced to combat other kinds of misinformation learned outside the school gates?

If we’re not actively teaching young people that men and women are equal, that sexual pleasure is a non-gendered notion, then we’re letting the media teach them otherwise.

What emerged from Liekens lessons, more than anything else, was the empowerment of the girls and the boys. The concept that knowledge is power was very clear in their new found confidence, with the girls finally speaking up and one of the most outspoken boys admitting that he “didn’t know that’s what girls wanted”. Overall, all the pupils came out of the lessons with a new found respect for themselves and each other.

[1] Home Office (2015) ‘2010 to 2015 government policy: violence against women and girls’ <; [Accessed: 10 August 2015]

[2] Michael Asimow, Kathryn Brown, David Papke (2014) ‘Law and Popular Culture: International Perspectives’, p.86

Posted in education, learning, schools, teaching

Are you left or right-brained? Neuroscience in the classroom.

  • Do you know which of your students are left-brained or right-brained?
  • Are your classes comprised more of auditory, visual or kinaesthetic learners?
  • Is pupils’ academic performance better in the morning, afternoon or evening?
  • Do you know how your pupils’ personalities impact on their learning?

Neuroscience based approaches have been touted as the smarter way to teach and learn. Understanding how and when pupils best learn is supposedly a way to deliver more effective classroom time. But are commonly held beliefs about personality, neuroscience and learning valid?

There are thousands of sites on the internet dedicated to determining whether someone’s left or right-brained. Supposedly, left-brained people are more organised and systematic, while those who have a more dominant right side of the brain are more creative and intuitive. This is considered to massively impact learning and working styles.

Similarly, there has long been a commitment within classrooms around the country to vary lessons in order to cater for the three ‘styles’ of learning: auditory, visual, kinaesthetic. A recent article in The Telegraph pointed out that “over 90% of teachers…believe that a student will learn better if they receive information in their preferred learning style”. A similar number to those who believe that students’ ‘dominant’ side of the brain impacts their learning.

Taking the science around learning even further, there have been official moves by many schools to change start and finish times, in order to capitalise on teenagers’ mental alertness and so ensure better learning.

With such theories so popular, it’s little wonder many teachers feel the need to buy into these ideas and incorporate them into their lessons. Interestingly though, with regards to the most popular belief, learning styles, “there is no convincing evidence to support this theory” according to Dr Paul Howard-Jones of Bristol University’s Graduate School of Education.

This reality appears to be part of what The Wellcome Trust’s Hilary Leevers calls an “evidence gap” in the application of neuroscience in schools. Myths about how the brain works and how this can be exploited to ensure quicker and more meaningful learning are becoming very common, with many teaching practices “sold to teachers as based on neuroscience”, when in reality they have no sound scientific basis, says Dr Howard-Jones.

He also raises the concern that a lack of understanding about how the brain works means that many teachers are “ill-prepared to be critical of ideas and educational programmes that claim a neuroscientific basis”. This knowledge gap also means that teachers and schools might be vulnerable to being sold further myths, both by government and the private sector. Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, has highlighted this, stating that there is a need for “politician proof” information for teachers.

Knowing more about the brain is an incredible asset for teachers and students alike, and a great way to promote more meaningful learning. It’s important, however, for educators to be careful about the strategies they’re sold and for methods to be put in place so that genuine information about the brain and learning can be utilised in classrooms. Teachers will therefore no doubt be following with interest the results of six on-going experiments, comprising over 60,000 pupils, and testing innovative new ways to incorporate neuroscience in schools. More on these studies can be found here and there are loads of helpful teaching resources in our ‘Teaching’ section at TheSchoolBus.

Posted in creativity, curriculum, education, learning, technology

Can Doctor Who’s web game teach kids programming?

A new CBBC game was launched yesterday with the intention of making coding fun.

Doctor Who’s latest adventure, which is aimed at 6-12-year olds, sees him trying to save the universe with a Dalek. The underlying intention of getting children interested in computer programming.

With nine nephews and nieces, ranging from one to fifteen-years-old, I am fascinated to see how compelled they are by technology. I was particularly amazed to see my eighteen month-old niece remembering her dad’s password for his mobile phone, and taking over my game of Candy Crush once she realised my attention was not on her. This may be due to her father being interested by computers, and now having a career in that field. However, could it be from integrating technology so much into our daily lives that we cannot help passing on our supposed addictions to our children?

TV has always been a way to fill evenings, and with the amount of viewers, including children, watching Doctor Who, the ever-changing role models have influenced children into being fascinated by time-travel and historical events.

Doctor Who bridged the gap between education and entertainment in an easily-viewed 45 minute slot before children’s bedtimes. They continued their success with online games, creative craft ideas, and episode clips. As this programme has gained so many fans and interest, why wouldn’t they want to use their powers for good?

So many jobs insist on having computer knowledge, and available developing jobs are at their highest due to most companies needing websites and resources. Computing languages are becoming incredibly important skills, and Doctor Who has noticed that.

There are many educational websites which have blossomed after including games and puzzles, as children are more likely to learn something if they are entertained at the same time. It’s the same for cake – hide various vegetables inside, slop over some sugary icing, and they’ll never know.

From playing the new online game, I could see the basics of variables, loops, and logical reasoning, whilst making the adventure appealing for kids. But why is programming perceived as boring? I have personally always been interested in it, but that could have been from my brother as well.

I suppose the real question should be: why do we have to dilute the “boringness” of computer programming with an engaging game? After learning the basics, they would still have to carry on beyond the game’s capabilities. Should games be used as a way to get people to learn, if all our time is spent trying to get them off their computers?

So, is it the case that if we can’t beat them, we should join them? Do we have to sugar-coat education for children to make them interested in programming?

I am not sure it will make its way into schools as it is a game, even though it does encompass some of the key skills that make up the new computing curriculum. However, if Doctor Who thinks he can convince children to like programming, we may as well give it a try.

You can find out about the brand new primary computing curriculum on TheSchoolBus!

Posted in communication, education, leadership, learning, policy, schools, SEND, talk, teaching, technology

Speech and Language Therapy, What do I do exactly?

Today we welcome guest blogger, Claire Johnston, a Speech and Language Therapist at Springhill High School in Birmingham, who sheds light on how to support pupils with speech, language and communication difficulties, through the context of her day-to-day work.

“Hi, my name is Claire.”

“Hi, what do you do for a job?”

“Oooo, I know a little boy who has a lisp, I bet you loved the King’s Speech Film.”

And so it goes on!

For Speech and Language Therapists (SLT) I think that this is quite a familiar conversation. Certainly when I first start talking to people, most think that SLT’s just work with children who have difficulty with their speech sounds or we work with people who have a stammer. Many are surprised when I explain it as a birth to grave profession and that we are not a quasi-science. Our work is guided by evidence based practice and scientific research. Speech, language and communication difficulties can occur at any point in our lives and it may hit us like a ton of bricks, a life changing event. We are a birth to grave profession.

From birth we may work with families and new born babies who have been born with a cleft palate or other facial structural abnormality to support safe feeding, and will support the child and their family on a long journey.

We work with children who have an autistic spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), pathological demand avoidance syndrome (PDA) and other developmental conditions. We support them by working with the child and the team around them to develop communication skills using various methods from signs to symbols and voice output devices. We also develop behaviour modification strategies and support the school team with differentiation of the curriculum.

Click here to see a video about how speech and language therapy can help pupils with autism to communicate.

We work with teenagers, adults with learning difficulties and young offenders. It is estimated that up to 90% of young offenders have undiagnosed speech, language and communication difficulties. Negative behaviour for some is the only communication tool they have to express their anxiety, embarrassment at not being able to do class work, stresses, peer pressure, bullying, self-harm and trauma, or mental health difficulties. Never dismiss negative behaviour as “Oh, they are up to it again disrupting the whole class”. It is hard to find the time with the pressures of the school day to spend time with students but there is always a function to the behaviour.

Part of our caseloads may be working with adults with learning difficulties to support them in becoming fully active members of their communities. We also work with individuals who have had a stroke and lost their ability to express themselves or understand what loved ones are saying to them and people who have degenerative conditions such as motor neuron disease who lose their ability to speak, individuals who experience a traumatic brain injury, or Parkinson’s disease.

We work with every professional under the sun from teachers to social workers to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHs) to the police/young offending teams (YOTs) to carers to neurologists and audiologists. Most importantly, the person who needs us themselves is central to our role, for many we give them a voice to say thank you and I love you to the people who matter most to them.

And yes we work with children who have difficulty with speech sounds and individuals who have a stammer! This isn’t an extensive list by any means of the client groups or the professionals we work with but this video gives you an idea as to what we do!

I currently work in a specialist independent secondary school based in Birmingham, where we have young people from many different local authorities. Many of the young people attending the school will have experienced numerous placement breakdowns due to challenging, negative and often very aggressive behaviours but behaviour is communication, it is how it is interpreted that is often the challenge. The staff team within school and the residential placements (not all of our students live in our residential provision) work within, and have a thorough understanding of, social learning theory and the need for unconditional positive regard. Every day is a new, fresh page.

As a Speech and Language therapist, I support the staff team within the school and the residential placements in many ways. This is managed by working directly with young people and indirectly by supporting the staff team and families.

First is the development of a whole school approach to understanding speech, language and communication. This is achieved with training to understand speech, language and communication difficulties, starting with development, this is very important.  If a 14 year old child is scoring on an assessment of receptive language skills at an age equivalent of 6 years, what is the point of handing this information over to the staff team without the support to understand the developmental level the child is presenting to then differentiate the curriculum to meet their needs?

Many of our young people have not accessed speech and language assessments, for those who comply (not all do and there has been the odd **** it, I’m not doing that ****) assessment has been very useful in identifying areas of difficulty with receptive/expressive language skills that had not previously been identified. An example is a young person who was not able to recall sentences during assessment as they increased in length and complexity, secondary curriculum language is complex! These difficulties had not been identified by previous settings, by picking this up the staff team were able to plan with this in mind and chunk verbal communication and use additional supports, such as pictures and bullet pointed information, to support comprehension and engagement within the lesson.

I support the development of one page profiles, this is a very useful document which contains:

  • The young person’s details.
  • Diagnosis.
  • Statement objectives.
  • Speech, language and communication assessment findings.
  • Recommendations from speech and language therapy.
  • Recommendations from educational psychologists or specialist support teams to then differentiate the curriculum.

Using this information, and understanding the need to chunk information for one child to allow time for processing of information, or presenting information with visual supports for another, can mean the difference between engaging or not and interacting in a positive manner or not!

I work very closely with all departments within the school and work jointly with many teachers. Examples of this are joining a P.E lesson to support the staff team by modelling ways to encourage turn taking, waiting, encouraging eye contact and extending communication from one word, for example “Claire” to “throw ball to Claire”. Along with support to develop a sensory activity programme for students to engage with during the day to help students focus. I work with and join drama sessions supporting students who may have specifically focused on body language and communication in 1:1 sessions to then use those skills in drama.

I work very closely with the English department supporting planning for students who are working at P levels to GCSE, this can be from supporting sequencing activities to the development of narratives, understanding who, what, when, where questions and sentence structures.

I support some students with small social skills group activities to develop turn taking, conversation skills, and environmental awareness, as many of our students often start off with 1:1 or 2:1 staffing due to risk. This has developed for some KS4 students into coffee sessions at a local coffee shop where skills became generalised.

Support was provided to PSHE planning to support students with understanding passive, aggressive and assertive behaviours within social situations and how we communicate using different behaviours. This has proven very effective for some students to reflect on both theirs’ and others’ behaviours and then modify them.

1:1 work is provided for some students who have very specific difficulties due to trauma, cognitive, mental health, developmental or environmental challenges. This can be to support many areas such as to develop emotional vocabulary, develop inferential skills, consequential/problem solving skills, receptive language skills, expressive language skills and yes, speech sound work!

The support and benefit of a Speech and Language therapist in school can be massive and the feedback from the headteacher and staff team is that it has supported the understanding and development of the school’s special educational needs (SEN) and speech and language knowledge, but the key to this is good team working and communication.

If you have read this blog, I hope that you have found useful!

Claire Johnston

Speech and Language Therapist

If you suspect that a child or young person you work with has a speech language and communication difficulty you can find information to support at;

NHS – Referrals can be made to local speech and language services through GP’s, SENCO’s, child development centres and self-referral.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists