Retrieval Practice by @Mroberts90Matt

Development in the understanding of how the mind works and how to improve retention in learning has come a long way over the years. I remember when completing my Initial Teacher Training that one of the objectives was about knowing how children learnt and applying teaching strategies to improve learning in this way. I always remember achieving very well in this area because I simply did good teaching and learning habits but if anyone were to actually quiz me on how children learnt I wouldn’t have the foggiest – and I don’t think that those quizzing me would either. Today, I think I know a little more but as with many things the more I have learnt the more I realise that I don’t actually know.

Cognitive development and processes are a very complex beast and I am no expert in this area but in my delve into educational research it is very hard not to run across terms such as working memory and cognitive overload. I have done a little digging into these areas but I am no where near the level of some educators whom I marvel at for their knowledge and explanations of these areas. This is partly why I began my podcast, Primary Education Voices, so I (and the hundreds of other teachers who listen) could learn from highly-recommended practitioners and be given some practical ways to implement tried-and-tested approaches into my practice.

One of these discussions was with Ceridwen Eccles (Teacherglitter) and we have a brilliant, sparkling conversation about a number of topics including her route into primary education, using picture books for the development of PSHE and integrating the arts into the wider curriculum. The full episode can be listened to for free here:

During our conversation, Ceridwen spoke wonderfully on the importance of retrieval practice and how to embed it across the curriculum. Retrieval practice is a technique which taps into children making more consistent use of their long-term memory to help them solve more complex questioning and bring vital number facts to the forefront much quicker in order to do this. Many people who champion this technique cite research which shows how humans forget things as time progresses. One of the more often quoted individuals who have shown this is Ebbinghaus. His research was focused on memory over time. The theory was that humans start losing the memory of learned knowledge over time, in a matter of days or weeks, unless the learned knowledge is consciously reviewed time and again. For many, this may seem like common-sense but he attempted to quantitively demonstrate this. Many of you may have heard about his ‘forgetting curve’ which looks something like this:


There is a problem or two with this research. Firstly, the sample size that Ebbinghaus used in 1885 was a grand total of one, himself. Also, it was based on him memorising a series of three letter nonsense syllables (e.g. JOP), hardly a practical example of things we have to remember in everyday life. This makes it problematic to categorically state that, for example, in 31 days people only remember 21% of something that they learnt 31 days previously. Memory and learning are far more complex than that and are influenced by a number of factors, including the person’s interest in the subject, the way in which the content was delivered and the natural ability of the individual learner.

However, whilst we may look at this curve with a hint of caution, I think it visually represents an important phenomenon that we as teachers have to contend with – the longer it is since a pupil has engaged with learning content, if it is not consolidated or practised then more will be forgotten. Just think about your class that learn a topic in Maths – say, measurement – for two weeks and then at the end of the term can’t remember how many centimetres are in a metre, despite you modelling it well and providing purposeful practice over those two weeks.

As well, there has been a recent study which attempted to replicate the research of Ebbinghaus and found success in producing similar results to his curve – you can read more about that here:

So, what is the solution? As suggested, learning has to be revisited and consolidated to improve the long-term memory retaining it. Doing so not only helps the learner remember it for longer but also reduces the decline of the forgetting curve as demonstrated below:

forgetting curve

Retrieval practice is a wonderful way of doing this. It encourages children to recall information, knowledge and skills they learnt previously for questions posed to them. This can be done in a variety of ways and across the curriculum. Ceridwen provides a number of great examples on how you can do this right across the curriculum: Reading, Vocab, Science and even the arts.

In my role as a Maths Lead of course I wanted to find a way to apply this in my class for Maths and find ways to integrate it in my school. Currently, we are relaunching a concept of ‘Early Bird Maths’ in our school which is simply every classroom for the first 15mins of the day as the children enter. It is outside the allotted Maths lesson for the day and it provides a practice of key skills for this subject. I became keen to develop a way that teachers could apply this in a purposeful manner to support the retrieval of previously learnt content. Ceridwen spoke about using questions that are based on ‘Last Lesson, Last Week, Last Year’ and so on. So, I created a very simple outline/structure that teachers could use. The one I share below is a Y6 example:

Early Bird Maths Y6 Example with Retrieval Practice

One thing that this approach ensures is that content across the curriculum is reviewed and revisited because if this is done consistently then all content is addressed as you go through the year. There is also a larger focus on Arithmetic questions on the right hand side as from our Question Level Analysis (QLA) from Spring Assessments after Lockdown 3.0 we found that Arithmetic was a real area of need in our school. You may decide to do a times tables challenge or other number facts in that area.

I have shared my example as well as the blank version on TES here:

Let me know if you find it of any use!

Primary Education Voices: Episode 7 – Rich Simpson

When I was recommended to interview Rich Simpson – or, as most of Twitter will know him, @richreadsalot – I was pretty certain I knew what we would be talking about. As our Zoom session began and I saw the multiple rows of bookshelves behind Rich, I figured I knew we’d be in for a lot of book chat. However, whilst we did have a sparkling conversation about books and the power of stories in the classroom, Rich brought a lot of other great thoughts and ideas as well which I was so grateful for! He has a great passion for all things Primary Education and was very willing to share (being our first podcast episode to go over an hour!)

Let’s get stuck in – let’s dive into the key takeaways from the conversation with Sophie Bartlett.

What inspired you to become involved in Primary Education?

Rich’s love of books and stories really was the way in to his inspiration to become involved in Primary Education. He shared fond memories of being curled up with his Granny listening to wonderful adventures and experiencing various worlds through these exciting portals to another life. Rich also had a very military-based upbringing where every male in his family spent time in military service and so this was something which he was intending to carry on the tradition of doing. However, he felt this wouldn’t be his long-term career and so planned to get some sort of education at university. Two particular teachers at high school had a large impact on Rich, one of whom had also had a military background and would march along the school corridor carrying books under his arm and so this was some part of Rich’s decision to look at education. This seemed appealing to Rich to have a job where he could talk about stories and reading every day.

The decision of Primary Education came when Rich realised that he wouldn’t want to teach about books and stories every lesson every single day. That repetitiveness wasn’t for him personally. The notion of teaching a variety of things was far more attractive to him and so he begun his journey on a B (Ed) Primary Education course. We talked about how being a primary school teacher also means you can use the power of stories across the curriculum, rather than just focusing on skills in English as you might have to in Secondary Education.

What is you funniest story from Primary Education?

This one had me in ‘stitches’…

In Rich’s area, there is a big influence of Queen Victoria. He lives in the Isle of Wight and in his school’s local area there are Queen Victoria museums and many other attractions dedicated to the late monarch. One such resource for his school was that they would loan out Victorian clothing for schools to see and learn about their use and context. As such, the school decided to put on a ‘Victorian Fashion Show’. The headteacher at Rich’s school loved this topic and led a whole, year-group activity on putting children in these outfits and talking about the purpose of that clothing. There were other items that were available to hold up and discuss – one such item was a lady’s corset. A plain white corset with red ribbons. There are over 120 Year 6 children sat in the hall learning about this item of clothing. Then, that one Y6 child put their hand up. You probably have a couple of THOSE Y6 children in your school – the one who if they put their hand up for a visitor to ask a question, you hope they don’t ask them. This girl puts her hand up to say what the item is and of course the headteacher asks her. She replies by saying “I don’t have a clue what it’s called but my Mum has one and Dad loves it when she wears it – it’s got leopard prints on and everything!”

At this moment, Rich and a couple other members of staff had to leave the room for fear of catching each other’s eyes and bursting out laughing!

Primary Three #1: Books

Surprise surprise.

Enjoyment, study, learning other topics, continuous professional development…the list of usefulness from books goes on and on. It is really a huge topic really but Rich pinned down the most important thing for him about books is that it opens our eyes to other people’s stories and that doesn’t just apply to fiction books with literally other worlds. It can apply to non-fiction books – any books with educate and enlighten us to other perspectives and points of view. It can also be a similar world to yours where you can relate very closely to the characters in the text.

Rich referred to the period of time that we are in where we are being blessed with a great variety of children’s books with great quality. Too often, we will see the same authors (rightly or wrongly) on the shelves of the supermarkets and we need to broaden our children’s horizons when it comes to the work from authors that they are experiencing. In fact, Rich’s diverse love of books is what led him to Edutwitter in the first place. Through this platform he has been able to connect with an incredible amount of authors and find great gems to read with the class.

Naturally, after springboarding into a great explanation on why we need to provide a wide diet of books to read and study in the class, Rich got into naming current discoveries he’s made in the book world so we explored a few of those for a couple of minutes.

The Last Bear – Hannah Gold: Rich described this beautiful story of a girl who witnesses the impact of global warming on the habitat of a significant polar bear.

True Adventures Series – These are great stories documenting real life events from historical people that you probably haven’t heard of. Rich mentioned one in particular called The Mysterious Life of Dr Barry (Lisa Williamson) which details the life of Dr Barry who was the first person to perform a modern Caesarean birth amongst other great achievements. However, his identity is not as clear as it seemed at the time…

Barrington-Stoke Publishers were referred to by Rich as publishers as a group that produce books with speciality in providing for those who struggle to read. They aim to make high-quality texts accessible for those with reading needs but without diluting the content that they read. Rich mentioned one book by Tom Palmer called ‘After the War’ which was about Jewish refugees that came to the Lake District to settle after World War II which had a great impact on him. They also sent Rich a non-fiction book about the Titanic which his son took from him before he even got a chance to have a look!

Amazed by the knowledge and awareness that Rich has of all these books, I asked him how can all teachers find these high-quality texts. Rich said Twitter was the best place to go – he obviously one who can give you places to go. He also referred to Andrew Rough, @thereaderteacher, Chris Harrison, Tom Griffiths, Simon Smith…so many! Just ask the question it seems and you’ll find the information on Twitter. Rich also advised teachers to look at publisher websites of any books you want to study and they are starting to deliver a teacher resource page which can reduce your workload whilst enhancing the study of the book you want to use in class.

Primary Three #2: Collaboration

Expanding your view on things is an important philosophy according to Rich. Changing your stories you use, embark on external projects that provide new opportunities and trying out new things that may not work – in fact, those failures are important lessons for the children as well as they see that attempts at things that fail are ok and chances to learn. For Rich, the geography of his school have forced him to look outwards more creatively. They cannot go and visit the History Museum or Science Museum easily where they are based in the Isle of Wight. Now, especially with the world changing in light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, more opportunities for personalised learning experiences are being offered remotely. In many cases, these remote opportunities are far cheaper as well and less disruptive on the school day. This does not mean that we should forego live author visits or school trips in the future but perhaps there will be more occasions where enriching experiences can take place more often because we can collaborate more widely, more easily.

Twitter is another wonderful platform where connections and collaborations can be made. Great practice can be shared so easily in today’s world – teachers shouldn’t have to innovate in isolation. It does take the time on our part to connect but once we do, there are amazing great ideas out there. I admitted to Rich that if I had to plan and create the entire curriculum for my class, it would not be anywhere near the quality it can be when I tap into the resource-rich world of Edutwitter.

If you are reading this blog post or have listened to Primary Education Voices you are probably the converted that I am preaching to but for Rich this is one of the foundational philosophies about Primary Education that if we can engage in, it can have one of the greatest impacts on our practice.

Primary Three #3: Visibility in and out of the classroom

This one intrigued me when Rich sent it through. What he means by this is that he, as the teacher, tries to make sure that he is present and aware as soon as the children enter his classroom that they are there and they are welcome. He cited that it must be disheartening for children when a teacher is busily typing away when they come in to the classroom and the teacher doesn’t acknowledge their presence.

As Rich said this, my mind rewound 12 hours earlier when my class were entering the room and I was busily pinging out last minute emails in my role as a senior leader in the school to get things sorted before the start of the day. I felt so ashamed! Of course, I didn’t completely ignore them and Rich was quick to point out that at times we cannot manage to completely be visible and present at all times – teaching is an extremely demanding profession – but we should certainly aim to make our learners feel welcome and visible to the teacher in the classroom. It could be with the handshakes at the door (post-COVID obviously), or if that’s not your style then a few post-its on selected children’s desks, a quick chat about the last evening or even just a smile and a hello. Showing you have that awareness of those children is about being seen to care as the role model in the room.

Rich pointed out that he is a teacher that will encourage reading a fascinating new book that he read the other night – but of course that not may be your passion. For me, it will be all about Maths and the love I have for that, maybe when I make my way around the school I could quiz out a times tables question or two. Just little things like that can make you an enthusiastic presence around the school (you may seriously annoy some teachers when you keep giving book recommendations to other classes but you can’t be blamed for being a scary, aloof presence).

Now, if you see that there are areas you could improve in this no problem. We are busy – just think what your regular routine may be in the morning to show your class that they are present to you and you are visible to them.

In a similar vein, Rich referred to his #kindnessripple on a Thursday morning. He tweets out a number of people who have done something for him that week and tags them in the #kindnessripple and the impact goes from there. It’s such a lovely start to the morning – I likened it to the power of a smile which I led an assembly on in a previous school where I challenged the school to smile at someone that day and see if they don’t smile back and inevitably, they couldn’t do it! Kindness is contagious and showing you care is important in the classroom.

Who do you recommend for a future interview?

Oliver SLT – @oliverslt – works for Twinkl and runs their SLT resources area

John Magee – @KindnessCoach_ – advocate of all things kindness and a great motivating person

What is the best thing about Primary Education?

Rich said that no two days are the same. It really brings him great pleasure to embark on each new day and new year and experience something new. He has been amazed by their resilience through the events over the COVID-19 pandemic and looks forward to seeing how they move forward.

Thank you Rich for your incredibly generous offering of your time and the brilliant ideas and experiences you shared. I loved our chat and hope that anyone reading this does these two things:

  1. Share it with someone
  2. Subscribe to the Primary Education Voices podcast

These will really help raise these wonderful voices and generate more discussion in various ways about Primary Education. You can follow Rich Simpson here @richreadsalot

Primary Education Voices: Episode 6 – Sophie Bartlett

Primary Education Voices: Episode 6 – Sophie Bartlett

I was really excited about Sophie’s interview – she sent me through an excellent Primary Three which I really connected with and I couldn’t wait to start talking about it. She has a real love for both English and Maths and has really reflected on her pedagogy in these two core areas. She has a real habit of coming up with some incredible resources and ideas with things that are really relevant in the world of primary education at that moment so if you do not currently follow her she is well worth looking into.

Let’s get stuck in – let’s dive into the key takeaways from the conversation with Sophie Bartlett.

What inspired you to become involved in Primary Education?

Sophie was pretty much destined to be a Primary School Teacher. Her Mum was a teacher and Sophie used to spend her childhood days lining up her teddies and taking a register on a clipboard. She would read stories to the tree, write things on the board in her own Mum’s class and even started teaching primary age children gymnastics from the age of 15. However, even when she got to choosing what to do at university she wasn’t sure. After a suggestion from her relatives that she look into teaching after all the coaching she had done, she took the plunge and hasn’t looked back since.

The moment it felt right was when she was in front of the class without another adult observing her. From that trust and the opportunity to build her own relationships, that was the time when the love of teaching really began.

What is you funniest story from Primary Education?

Sophie shared this story and I couldn’t decide if it was funny, or downright terrifying! However, looking back on it, it definitely gave us a good chuckle.

It took place before Sophie qualified from being a trainee teacher. She was having the opportunity to teach from the regular classroom teacher’s plans and was teaching a lesson around diseases and transmission. They were conducting research and Sophie was feeling on form – she had circulated the room well, great research was being done and work was being completed.

After collecting the notes in, she found notes had been made by one pair who had found research about how STDs are transmitted through prostitutes! After that heart-stopping moment of finding this out, Sophie went straight to her headteacher with this concern. They were very supportive and reassured her that the two sets of parents would be ok with this and understand the mistake that had happened – however they did say that she had to call and explain what had happened.

I just have to pause and marvel at the wise approach of that headteacher. If I were in their position I might be tempted to aid a terrified trainee teacher and call the parents myself. I certainly remember as a trainee teacher the thought of calling parents for trivial things would scare me – never mind calling about something like this! Incredible guidance by the headteacher there and amazing strength from Sophie as a trainee to make that call and I’m sure she will be the first to say how she learnt from that experience.

Primary Three #1: The Writing Revolution

To begin with Sophie shared a specific book with us. ‘The Writing Revolution’ has transformed the way she teaches the writing of a sentence with her class. It is a strategy that is mainly aimed at older children but the first half works really well with Primary-age children. Sophie herself has written quite a few blog posts on using the content of this book which we can direct you to.

The whole approach and use of this is to help children become more purposeful in crafting high-quality sentences step-by-step. It begins with sentence construction, providing activities that are easy to integrate into your own planning and context. An example of this will be sentence unscrambling and there are many others like that.

We likened this approach to teaching children small steps in Maths through a Mastery approach. This book is able to support teachers in really building the small steps in Writing beginning with clauses, through to sentences and onto building paragraphs. Sophie commented that we seem to have fallen into a culture that, especially in the older year groups in Primary Education, we need to have consistently long, extended pieces of writing and whilst this is an important objective, we cannot sacrifice the quality of the writing in order to do this. In one lesson, even if we create a few sentences of really good quality, this is far better than writing a page of unfocused waffle!

For those that want further support using this excellent resource, Sophie’s blog posts on using The Writing Revolution to enhance your teaching and learning can be found here:

Primary Three #2: Whole Class Guided Reading

I will be frank here. I loved my carousel in Guided Reading. Sure I may not have known what was happening over all the five texts I had going in all the different and yes, a couple of the activities were spelling-focused rather than developing reading – but they were well organised and I knew exactly what packs in which to find my resources. Although the ‘Reading for Pleasure’ slot did seem a little disingenuous as I expected them to read silently with the threat that I would be checking their activity they chose from a ‘menu’. I would require them to complete that before the end of the session, which I would always (never) check.

Of course, I am speaking a little tongue-in-cheek here, but it is the realisation I had after a number of years doing this. As both Sophie and I were quick to point out, a Guided Reading carousel may well suit your context and staff better and you can still see great progress using it I’m sure.

Sophie that when using your carousel you are only focusing on your children in their Reading once a week and that when they were not in your focus group, they were often completing some spelling or handwriting task to fill the time. In using Whole Class Guided Reading, she feels there is more of a love for the high-quality text that you are diving into as a class. Even those children who struggle to decode a text more than others, their understanding of the text can still be developed.

Of course, we cannot forget the needs of those children who do need specific support with decoding texts to keep up with their peers. This can take place outside of the Guided Reading because Whole Class Reading may not give the full support for this, but through extended support this can be given at other times, or pre-teaching, or use of assembly times.

In terms of resources, Sophie has used great things from Literacy Shed to support her work in Whole Class Guided Reading, Emma Stanley got a specific shout out for this, as well as Sophie’s own blog posts and I even created one myself a few years ago when I climbed aboard the Whole Class Guided Reading train. Choo choo!

Primary Three #3: Mixed Ability Maths

Sophie highly doubted the effectiveness of teaching a mixed ability class for Maths altogether. She went from teaching a one-set group for Maths in Y6 to teaching a mixed ability class with children from Y5/6 and she really couldn’t see how this approach could work. However, after training and time to implement, she has found that she wouldn’t have it any other way.

After using this approach for a year with her Y5/6 class, she found her Y5 children, who maybe should have struggled with a mixed ability setting, came up to Y6 really well prepared for that year’s learning. She recognised that in setting children by ability for Maths, she had been putting a ceiling over certain children’s learning.

One of her misgivings of mixed ability maths in primary originally was about how to challenge her higher ability learners in a setting where she was also trying to support those children who struggle a little more in Maths to embed concepts. However, Sophie quickly learnt how she could do this. After some initial AfL, she sends those children who understand the concept well to go and complete individual tasks whilst she directly teaches and gives further input to those who need a little more scaffolding for the concepts. Once they have completed this, Sophie then directs them to explain how they solved these problems using a variety of means – representing them in a different way, giving a clear explanation why a certain answer was correct and another was not and so on. They are also challenged to create a similar problem for a friend. Another great example is ‘Think of another question which has the same answer but different numbers in the question.’ There are many ways your higher ability children can be extended in a mixed ability classroom – the challenge is setting the culture in that class that they do not complete the regular activity and then sit there doing nothing. Stretching is possible, it does require some forethought.

Who do you recommend for a future interview?

Jas Newton @missnewton91 – someone that really gave Sophie support when working on representation in the curriculum

What is the best thing about Primary Education?

Sophie said, surprise surprise, the kids! She said that no matter what life brings you, a day with them can make things feels so much better. If you create a good environment in the classroom with them, it can make every day wonderful.

Thank you Sophie for your incredibly generous offering of your time and the brilliant ideas and experiences you shared. I loved our chat and hope that anyone reading this does these two things:

  1. Share it with someone
  2. Subscribe to the Primary Education Voices podcast

These will really help raise these wonderful voices and generate more discussion in various ways about Primary Education. You can follow Sophie Bartlett here: @_MissieBee

Primary Education Voices: Episode 5 – Ed Finch

Ed was an absolute inspiration to have on the Primary Education Voices podcast. Each guest so far has brought something really unique and refreshing and Ed really brought a lovely touch of insight into our role as primary educators. This natter with him really got me thinking about our role as the adult in the primary classroom and the influence we have on the culture within the classroom that we work in.

Let’s get stuck in – let’s dive into the key takeaways from the conversation with Ed Finch, a well-experienced colleague who has had a real journey in Primary Education so far. And, he is in a Biff and Chip book – if you find yourself published in a Biff and Chip book you know you have been places!

Can you spot our guest Ed Finch?

What inspired you to become involved in Primary Education?

Ed, again very similar with a number of our guests so far, joined teaching later on in his life in his 30’s. He engaged with a number of odd-jobs trying to achieve a dream in theatre. After a decade or so of this not quite working out, he decided he would quit that for a time and work abroad and after coming back see how things progressed from there.

He got in contact with a group who were looking for unqualified teachers to teach English either in Ethiopia or Rwanda. He went to Ethiopia for two years teaching English and found out, in a completely different continent, that he absolutely loved teaching. It wasn’t like in theatre where you are creative only really in the rehearsal stages whereas in teaching you have to be creative and are on your toes every single day. Primary Education was still not on Ed’s radar even after these two years, he continued with working in Poland for a while but then was drawn into teaching English and Drama in a middle school and was here that Ed’s love of teaching primary age children really came forward – these children were really eager when they were younger and this got him hooked into primary schools.

What is you funniest story from Primary Education?

Many of us have little games or tricks to fill those spare five minutes and Ed found a great one using these new-fangled things called interactive whiteboards. He found some interesting software where if you write using your finger it would then turn that writing into written text. So, Ed decided it would be a great game to get the children to try and write their name on the interactive whiteboard using the back of their head in the neatest scrawl possible. Mr Finch would then use this software, turn that scrawl into what the computer thought it was as written text. What could go wrong…?

One day, this was done and it the word it thought was written was ‘tits’ – using his quick thinking Ed stuck his hand in front of the writing to block it. What this resulted in was the Deputy Head walking in at that moment with him having the word ‘tits’ projected onto his hand rather than the board…the things that happen in Primary schools!

Ed then treated us to a bonus experience where they were working together to try and find new names for the classes in the school based on birds. The TA was googling the names of these birds and…let’s just say you can listen to the podcast to find out what was unfortunately shown on the screen before the teacher could stop her!

Primary Three #1: Bringing your authentic self to the classroom

Earlier in the conversation, Ed spoke about his time in Ethiopia and how early in his teaching career he believed you just had to act at being a good teacher and naturally you would be seen as a good teacher. Whatever this looks like can have some consequences: copying mannerisms of other teachers you admire, using materials based on their passions or perhaps using verbal cues that they do. Of course, in some instances this may be useful – otherwise why would observing other teachers teach be considered a good way to bring some professional development for your staff. However, it can also be very dangerous trying to imitate the style of other good teachers and really get in the way of building authentic relationships with the children that you work with.

When I was personally in my second year of teaching, I felt that I was doing fairly well but still felt I needed to change further to improve my practice (of course I did, I was only in my second year of teaching and I still need to develop now)! Unfortunately, I looked at some other teachers in my school and mistook what I needed to change as my approach in how I came across in the classroom, rather than the quality pedagogy they implemented. I tried (for a very short time fortunately) to be someone other than me in the classroom. A more dramatic version perhaps. However, I quickly found that this could not be sustained and all that happened is that my class looked at me quite funny and I realise now they were probably thinking I’d lost it a little, rather than ‘acting’ like a better teacher.

As Ed says, you can’t pretend to be someone you are not. Relationships cannot be built on an inauthentic foundation. When you are yourself, you become more at ease. You can then approach children with a more open relationship and also be more consistent in the classroom – they need to feel safe and that they are encountering the same person. They need routine – and this can only work when you are being more authentic yourself. This for Ed has led to less variation in his days because then the children know what to expect and are more comfortable in their surroundings.

Primary Three #2: Be the Adult in the Room

Ed feels this is obvious to him now but it took him a while to learn. He used to think it was important to be clever – now he knows it is more important to be kind. When he was younger, he was showing off what a great teacher he was and how much he knew, rather than being a kind and compassionate adult in the room.

He had to learn that if there is a child in the classroom that is acting in an inappropriate manner or perhaps is angry with him as the teacher, they are probably not angry with him, Mr Finch. They most likely have a wide variety of factors and influences inside and outside of school that are causing them anxiety and difficulties and they are simply expressing the emotions that have been bottled. As Ed pointed out, this doesn’t mean they have a pass to act in whatever way this wish but it does give him perspective on recognising that, as the fully developed adult in the room, he should be more in control of his emotions and deal with the incident in a calm and respectful manner.

Of course, if the child is angry because the teacher has made a mistake, then Ed explained that as the adult they should be grown up enough to apologise. I loved this point personally – I have experienced an example of this where I did make a mistake in a lesson and I could have very easily stood my ground and said that as the teacher and this is my classroom then that’s the way it was going to be. However, with great fear, I decided instead to apologise for what had happened. This act, rather than giving the children permission to see themselves as superior in some way (for why else would we as the teacher be reluctant to admit fault and apologise?), actually had a really profound effect on the class and they were very respectful to me and how I had apologised for something, even though I was the adult and could have easily said that was how things were going to be.

Ed then took this further to the teaching and learning in the classroom. We may well have a tendency to blame the kids if something does not work out when we have spent hours planning a lesson. We may fall into phrases such as ‘We are going to have to do this again tomorrow because you haven’t got it,’ or ‘I don’t know how I can make this any clearer.’ It takes great humility to put our hands up and say ‘I’m sorry, I’ve not made that as clear as I can, do you mind if we can come back to it tomorrow?’ However, the difference between those two statements are tangible and can have a real impact. It removes pressure from the children, but it is difficult. Ed suggested that we practise saying these types of things when we are being reflective because we say things very easily that slip out and we are unprepared. Even script those responses so they can come more easily in those moments.

Primary Three #3: Protect children into the story

This relates to storytelling and how we get children to be engaged in an experience. Ed referred to an initiative called ‘Every child a writer’ which in essence meant staging an event in the school where they were convincing the children these events were ‘real’. There was an element of trying to fool the children. Ed fully believed that the children full well knew that the children don’t believe it for one second. They are more than willing to go along in the story with you but they do not believe that a UFO has really landed on the school field. If we do try to fool the children there can be a really unhealthy dynamic. If, for example, you are ‘tricking’ the children into believing a story that a burglar is loose in the local area, the last thing on their minds is that they want to write a newspaper report about it. I actually shared a personal experience of something like this in my own education where my Year 6 teacher planned to have three rather large Y5 children dressed in regular clothes and wearing balaclavas to come into our classroom and stage a robbery. These three Year 5’s burst in loudly, banging the door, shouting threw a few things around and then grabbed a few books and dashed out. I, to this day, can remember the shock I received when that door slammed open. I didn’t believe for one second we had actually just witnessed a theft but my main lasting memory of that lesson was not the newspaper report that I wrote, it was the fright I got for that split second with the door banging open.

Now of course, Ed is not saying we should not use engaging scenarios or stories to stimulate wonderful writing or other pieces of work – far from it. However, we need to bring the children on the journey with us rather than drag them in kicking and screaming. Instead of staging a surprise riot, tell them that there will be a big event that they have nothing to worry about but we are going to pretend that there is going to be a robbery in this classroom. Pay attention to what happens and how you would feel if you were witnessing this event first-hand. Using props like hats or jackets to say when we are wearing this item we are this character and we can interchange between ourselves and the character easily and enhance the learning further.

It is also worth considering with an intentional rationale where we place experiences such as this. At the start when we haven’t learnt anything yet, in the middle where we have gained some knowledge to apply or at the end when it is a summary of their learning.

Ed directed us to an excellent resource called Mantle of the Expert, which is all about creating this imaginary scenario which we bring the children along on – not to say we are trying the trick them but that we want them to be immersed in a specific role. Their website can be found here:

Who do you recommend for a future interview?

Ruth Swailes @SwailesRuth – a real push to bring Ruth to talk about Early Years, an aspect of Primary Education that we really need to understand. She knows where the handle to the secret garden is

Simon Smith @smithsmm – a real advocate for picture books and other wonderful principles

What is the best thing about Primary Education?

Ed had to say it is the kids. It is a real privilege to work with them – particularly shaping young lives for the future. We also get to be changed by them.

Thank you Ed for your incredibly generous offering of your time and the brilliant ideas and experiences you shared. I loved our chat and hope that anyone reading this does these two things:

  1. Share it with someone
  2. Subscribe to the Primary Education Voices podcast

These will really help raise these wonderful voices and generate more discussion in various ways about Primary Education. You can follow Ed Finch here: @MrEFinch

Primary Education Voices: Episode 4 – Allen Tsui

Allen was a wonderful guest to welcome on Primary Education Voices. Enthusiastic, friendly and he brought something which we hadn’t had yet – a specific love of a particular subject area that we teach in Primary Education. As the interviews roll on we will hopefully hear from all aspects of the Curriculum and the issues that we as primary educators encounter in the classroom. He was also very accommodating for a last minute time change I had to make due to personal circumstances and so have great gratitude for that.

Let’s get stuck in – let’s dive into the key takeaways from the conversation with Allen Tsui, a Computing enthusiast who has a real drive to raise expectations for all his learners!

What inspired you to become involved in Primary Education?

Allen came later on in his life to the Primary Education sector. Allen was working as a civil servant for 24 years and in 2010 he was given the opportunity to live his dream. He found he was a good people person and training fellow staff in the civil service and so teaching was suggested to him. This was not necessarily something that Allen had a goal for earlier in life but he had an opportunity to volunteer in his local primary school (similar to @gazneedle and @KyrstieStubbs in previous interviews) and found that he absolutely loved being in and around the atmosphere of the primary setting, at this stage as a reading volunteer. He was very quickly able to apply his computing knowledge and became a technician. This progression continued and Allen has now been able to become a Primary teacher, utilising these skills to be a leader in the Computing area.

What is you funniest story from Primary Education?

Classic marking story. Allen was in his first year of teaching and was assessing some Year 1 work. At that time, the class had an opportunity to write about an experience during the holidays. He came across a beautifully written piece of writing, grammatically on point and punctuated perfectly that read like so:

“I had a brilliant summer sitting on the b****. It was a very dirty b**** but me and my grandma sat on the b**** everyday eating ice cream.”

She meant beach. Enough said on that really – a classic experience I’m sure we’ve seen examples of before – unfortunate writing mishaps!

Primary Three #1: Microbit

Now, I am not a Conputing guru and so I am going to defer to sharing the website and resource that Allen gave us. He wanted to get these devices to his children in his school, despite them only being available to Year 7’s at that time. His governing board were supportive in procuring these Microbits, enough for a class set. They found that children in a Primary setting were more than capable in using these even in Year 4. I thought this was inspirational and a principle that could be applied for many subject areas – if you find something that would be useful for your school, even if it aimed at other age groups, why not have a go?

These Microbits are basically small, credit card size, programming boards which you can easily plug and play in a device. For further information on how to use them and resources to try in the Primary classroom, you can visit this website. By the way, not only does the website give you ideas on how to use the Microbits, but they also provide entire units of work complete with resources, differentiation and support! Well worth having a look:

Code Club UK was also mentioned by Allen in relation with using these Microbits:

Primary Three #2: CAS – Computing at School

This organisation was something I was aware of before our interview so a bit more familiar territory for me! @SimonHumphreys spoke at a lecture recently and Allen was really inspired by this group. All of it is free to subscribe to – you do not have to be a Computing lead or specialist to sign up. There you can find loads of ideas in the teaching and learning of Computing in schools. They also regularly publish a Bulletin Board where again, ideas are shared. However, more than this, Allen found an organisation on there who was willing to collect unwanted tech from businesses and companies and rather than recycle them, they were willing to provide schools that would willingly accept them for free. Since linking up with this group, Allen has received over £2,000 worth of equipment for his school absolutely free! Just because people wanted to update their equipment.

I couldn’t support this suggestion more from Allen – in my early Primary journey I was looking into Computing specialisms and the Computing at School network is an incredibly invaluable tool for Primary colleagues who are Computing leads but actually any Primary educator that wants to upskill themselves. I found it really useful and from my exposure to this network early on I would say I am a lot more comfortable in the planning and teaching of primary computing and have been for several years from this short experience in working with them.

Their website can be found here:

Primary Three #3: National Centre for Computer Education

In 2018, the DfE decided to give about £84 million to fund and develop the National Centre for Computing Education. Using their network along with the National STEM Centre, they have developed a vast amount of training courses that are completely free for teachers. This of course would have been a wonderful opportunity to have made the most of during the first lockdown where professional development would have been given more time and space online maybe but it is still a wonderful resource to access to upskill yourself in this curriculum area. As a Computing Lead, I would think this would be a gift and if you want to inform and train your staff, where better to go?

However, it isn’t just training opportunities they offer for no cost. Allen also explained that they provide a wide range of resources that teachers can use in the teaching of Computing, as well as a wide network of computing mentors that can support and train you in your leading or teaching of Computing.

It just highlights to me how possible it is to enhance and improve the teaching of Computing in primary schools. Too often teachers lay off the importance of really develop their teaching and learning of Computing and stick to creating a Powerpoint at the end of the year, or using their Computing time to write up their Writing from the last couple of weeks. These are good exercises but when you look at the Computing curriculum, we have a duty as teachers to equip our children for a technologically developing world. Allen gave the advice to just be brave and have a go. That is the best place to start. Don’t be put off by those few who perhaps are more confident in teaching Computing – and if you are one of those who do feel more confident then offer a small idea or resource that a teacher can easily implement, don’t overwhelm others.

There will also be times when the technology fails you – that is not your fault as the teacher and any reasonable onlooker would recognise your desire to have used that technology. As long as you have a simple back-up plan in place, then it is still a great lesson. Have a go, ask for guidance if you feel you need it, sign up to CAS and every now and then just pick out one idea every half term to try out! The National Centre for Computing Education website can be found here:

Who do you recommend for a future interview?

@MissSDoherty – referred to Shannen’s Maths BrewEd and the great chance it would be to hear from her

What is the best thing about Primary Education?

Allen related that his favourite part of Primary Education is around the time of Spring – the Spring Bulb moment he coined it – where progress suddenly seems to pick up and develop. March and April was a brilliant time when he worked as a reading volunteer because he saw their skills really come along. #SpringBulb

Thank you Allen for your incredibly generous offering of your time and the brilliant ideas and experiences you shared. I loved our chat and hope that anyone reading this does these two things:

  1. Share it with someone
  2. Subscribe to the Primary Education Voices podcast

These will really help raise these wonderful voices and generate more discussion in various ways about Primary Education. You can follow Allen Tsui here @TsuiAllen.

Primary Education Voices: Episode 3 – Kyrstie Stubbs

I’m really enjoying going back through these great conversations about primary education. It gives me a chance to really digest what the guests we have had have said do a little bit more digging myself into the great things they have sent me or signposted us to. I hope you are enjoying reading them as much as I am writing them.

This week, our summary focuses on @KyrstieStubbs – The Tattooed Headteacher. She had some really fascinating insights into primary education and her Primary Three really left me considering my own practice. Let’s get started!

What inspired you to become involved in Primary Education?

Primary teaching could not have been further from Kyrstie’s life ambitions. She didn’t even like children growing up into adulthood, never mind stand in front of a class of them and try and teach them. She had ambitions to work in business like her father and began with a role in Tesco, working her way up to the Head Office and managed of their superstores. This all changed when he had her children…

After some time taking care of her own children she felt the need to be keeping busy outside the home and so volunteered some time helping in the local school. It was then she found her inspiration…and it was observing, what she described as, a boring Science lesson. As Kyrstie looked on she said to herself that she could do this really well and was given the opportunity to teach a small group. She was then hooked!

Fortunately, there was a SCITT scheme available where the government paid for your childcare to train to teach – this was a golden opportunity for her. She took and and thus began Kyrstie’s journey into primary education! I find it fascinating how these wonderful colleagues find their way into the roles they love today and Kyrstie’s really demonstrates that there are a variety of ways to get involved in teaching.

Primary Three #1: Wellbeing

This is incredibly important to Kyrstie in her role as a headteacher – it isn’t just the wellbeing of the children that is valuable, it isn’t just the wellbeing of the teachers, it is the welbeing of everyone in her school that makes the difference for her. Children cannot learn if they are happy, safe and secure but this applies also to staff. They will not develop and flourish if they do not have a safe space in which to grow and make mistakes.

Quite rightly though, Kyrstie warns us that wellbeing isn’t just about being a token gesture, such as chocolates on her desk…although they are greatly appreciated! If you genuinely care for the staff and their workload, then they will see the efforts you are making to make things easier for her. She shared about how she missed out on her own childrens’ assemblies as they were growing up when she was teaching in the classroom and that this really bothered her. As such, she has made it her personal goal to make sure teachers in her school do not need to miss out on those key events.

This led to a really interesting point Kyrstie made about relying on goodwill. I have thought a lot about this since our conversation and she is totally right. Most people that go into education are generally more care-giving and selfless as that is what the role requires them to be – to be in amongst young people and care about their future. Kyrstie made the claim that for too long individuals in leading education had taken this for granted and expected teachers to do things in their own time with their own resources because ‘it is what’s best for the children’. As such, she believes that school staff such be given time back for the extra that they put forwards.

Wonderfully, she had a couple of examples of things that she has implemented in her school that has done a lot for the wellbeing of her staff (and therefore the children) which have really made a difference:

a) Ask annually what is one thing she can do as the Head to make their job easier: This may seem a little unrealistic but according to Kyrstie, and she’s been doing this for 10 years now in Headship, in about 90% of the requests made there has been a change made that has made an impact for that staff member. It is not always possible, more iPads may not be viable, but asking the question often leads to uncovering things you may not have thought about. A PPA teacher once asked for a base to work from – brilliant example of something very simple that may have gone unnoticed if the question wasn’t asked.

b) Giving time back for extra-curricular clubs: This was a wow moment for me. Often in schools leaders are pleading with members of staff to take on an extra-curricular club as this will widen the opportunities for children and help them build relationships outside of the classroom. The unfortunate thing is that teachers are often reluctant to do this, not because they do not have a passion but because they have so many things that take up their time. Therefore, Kyrstie offers her staff a day in lieu to take whenever they want for running an extra-curricular club for a half-term. This promotes goodwill and flexibility. As a result, 30 different clubs were being run through the year in her school!

Primary Three #2: Representation

Children have to be educated to be part of today’s society. This passion for Kyrstie all began with meeting a headteacher who is transgender. They outlined to her the bullying, prejudice and difficulty they experienced and Kyrstie’s eyes were opened to the importance of this topic. This led her to recognising the wide diverse categories in her school and needing to find a way to help them feel represented and included in their school community and not in a tokenistic manner. Do all individuals feel accepted and safe? The answer to begin with in her school was no.

She recognised that, for example, children with two fathers would not feel present in their curriculum. It goes beyond holding a Black History Month or a Diversity Week. We agreed that these events, whilst useful and important, are not enough to drive home a sense of representation for all children in our primary settings. It has to come through your ethos, curriculum and practice.

There is a quality text in every year group which touches upon key populations in her school community, migration is represented in the History Curriculum and may more things are in place in her school to get this right. Kyrstie signposted us to her website ‘Empowering Equity in Education’.

There are all sorts of things to help know where to begin there, including Resources, Frameworks and her own school’s curriculum planning to underpin representation through the curriculum. She was also very quick to point out that these are only suggestions and what her school has done. Her culture and context in her school may well be very different to yours and your plans should reflect your school population. Having said this it gives you a good place to start.

This discussion for me was a real eye-opener, as I hope it was for many of our listeners, because I can see elements and groups who may not feel represented in my classroom or in my curriculum content and this needs to change. Kyrstie was very quick to point out that her school does not have this perfect yet and they have been on a journey of four years. They are not there yet but they may have some guidance to help you get started.

Primary Three #3: Extended Curriculum

Kyrstie’s final Primary Three was about developing an extended curriculum throughout her school. Kyrstie really loves the apporach to education that we find in the Early Years and has been reflecting on how to integrate this further in the school day. As such, her school have developed something called an ‘Extended Curriculum’.

Every day, every year group spends a part of the timetable engaging in something that is outside the National Curriculum, or runs alongside it.

The rationale behind this is once again focused completely on the context and make-up of the children and families that attend her school. It was felt that these children, without this Extended Curriculum, would not have the opportunities that other children in the country may do to take part in these types of activities. These activities include:

Outdoor skills, mental health and wellbeing, lifeskills (sewing, DIY, tiling, all sorts) and cultural heritage and equity.

I was amazed! In primary education I see countless teachers asking how on earth they can fit the lessons that they are ‘supposed’ to teach in a given week and here was Kyrstie and her school claiming that they teach everything on the National Curriculum that they need to, as well as set aside time every day for strands from this Extended Curriculum! Naturally I had to dig a little deeper to find out how this was done!

Prioritisation was the answer. Kyrstie pointed out that if you actually look at the National Curriculum, you can fit the statutory objectives quite easily into the school year and still have space to provide these key skills that Kyrstie and her team have picked out. I pointed out that this may be down to teachers using ‘Schemes’ to help them outline what to teach in a half term and sometimes these schemes may actually provide content to fill a half-term of work in that subject when actually, some of those lessons in these schemes may cover non-statutory content to bulk it out! Hence, why we have so much to get through.

It is taking curriculum design in a different way – looking at the objectives and planning them in through the half term/year rather than saying we have all these lessons to fill on this subject.

Parents and children love the Extended Curriculum. She said Ofsted loved it because they recognised the rationale and how this Extended Curriculum was tailored and put in place for their specific children. I had a little nosy and indeed, they made a number of references to the wide range of activities that promoted children’s wider life skills and how it was embedded into the curriculum at her school.

This may be an ideal or dream for some schools at this stage but it can be done and it can be seen in a positive light by inspectors. If you want to find out how such an extended curriculum can be put in place in your school or even classroom, I’m sure Kyrstie is willing to share a conversation about it.

Who do you recommend for a future interview?

Kyrstie did really well keeping her recommendations down to a minimum! She stated these two:

Tom Griffiths – @TJGriffiths

Has really inspired Kyrstie with his love of books

Chris Harrison – @MrHtheteacher

Someone who has developed a real niche of reading in his school which has struck a chord with Kyrstie

What is the best thing about Primary Education?

We can make an impact for life. It is a real worthwhile vocation which has a lot of power and influence in society.

Thank you Kyrstie for your incredibly generous offering of your time and the brilliant ideas and experiences you shared. I loved our chat and hope that anyone reading this does these two things:

  1. Share it with someone
  2. Subscribe to the Primary Education Voices podcast

These will really help raise these wonderful voices and generate more discussion in various ways about Primary Education. You can follow Kyrstie here: @kyrstiestubbs.

Primary Education Voices: Episode 2 – Dr Victoria Carr

I’ll let you in on a little secret here – my interview with Dr Victoria Carr was my very first for Primary Education Voices and I was very nervous for this. I certainly felt a little imposter syndrome having such an influential educator take some time of their day to chat with me! Nevertheless, Vic was very gracious and even before we began recording there was wonderful ideas that didn’t even get recorded – including a new school puppy that she was going to be getting for her school which the classes would be able to base their learning on in the first few weeks after Lockdown 3.0.

Let’s get stuck in – let’s dive into the key takeaways from the conversation with Dr Victoria Carr, a headteacher who has had a number of roles in Primary Education, including on a global level!

What inspired you to become involved in Primary Education?

Vic was certainly not planning on going into Primary Education. Whilst she loved her education personally, particularly the security it brought her, it wasn’t a career destination for her. There was a love to join the RAF but there was also pressure to go to university from her college. Vic decided to take a chance – whichever letter came first through the post she would go for. University came calling first and so that was where she went – and how grateful as a profession we are for that! Whilst university didn’t begin with the best of starts, she completed an environment science course which led her to working with children. She found very soon it was a role she loved. There has been occasional thought about what if she had become a helicopter pilot, but there are no regrets.

What is you funniest story from Primary Education?

Working in senior leadership can be a very challenging role. Not only is it challenging in itself, but when there are crisis talks to be had they can be very serious atmospheres. Not for the faint-hearted. Having said this, I think you’d have to be not faint-hearted to deal with the situation Vic found herself in…

In one of these very important senior leader meetings, she received a phone call from a number she did not recognise. Thinking that this call was in relation to the challenging information she was working with, she answered the phone. Unbeknownst to her, one of her friends had entered her into a ‘Burlesque Photography Shoot’. The caller introduced herself as calling on behalf of the Burlesque Photography Shoot, to which Vic responded – completely out loud – ‘Burlesque!’.

Well, that was it – the team enjoyed that moment, and we won’t go into the details of what happened with the photoshoot after but it certainly highlights how sometimes the funny things that happen are with the staff that we work with.

Primary Three #1: Lose the Ego/Do all things with Love

Vic is passionate about doing all things with a empathetic approach. Many of the problems or challenges that arise are from a place where that person feels upset or worried about something that involves them or someone close to them. When we take these challenges or questions personally then there can be issues. On a personal note, I have experienced this myself where there have been situations where I have just assumed the worst of someone because of a preconceived idea I have about why they wanted to do something a certain way. Naturally this was during the middle of a half term and so I riled myself all up about it for the rest of the week and when Monday came, it turned out they had very valid and understandable reasons that didn’t involve me or my ego at all. Vic’s words of advice would have been useful to me then.

Working with parents was cited as an example where we often can see our ego get in the way of the anxiety that parents may feel about their children walking into school. They school doors are very often the first place that their children will be entering on a daily basis for most of the year that isn’t their own home and so many parents will feel the worry that naturally comes with this big step. Often, a ‘difficult’ parent will be one that just wants to know that right has been done by their child and they are not present for any incidents or concerns that come up during the school day. From our perspective as the professional, recognising with compassion that they are coming from a place where they just want their child to be happy is important and will prepare us for many difficult conversations.

One important point Vic made about this is that mistakes will be made and having a growth mindset about this is important. If children make mistakes in the classroom, many of us know to encourage them to learn from them and that mistakes are great for their learning journey. It is interesting though that as teachers, many of us then really struggle with mistakes that we have made. It is probably important for us to take a leaf out of our own book. Sometimes we may hide behind our position in class and justify our actions because we are the teacher and they are the children. I once had to apologise to a class for something that was said (don’t worry, it was nothing major or erroneous) and that recognition I had made a mistake to the class was actually one of the most powerful things that has happened in my classroom because the children respected me for treating them with respect and also, they learnt that they could make an honest mistake and not feel anxiety over that. Vic’s words about working with compassion and taking away our ego are important to develop in our own practice.

As a school leader, this principle can ripple out wider within the school community. A culture that fosters and promotes mistake-making will lead to more innovative and creative approaches from teaching staff. Vic spoke about how developing this culture, along with enthusiasm to be a life-long leaner, can help staff to improve their practice and be motivated to engage with wider research and approaches. With this culture, staff feel less anxious about trying new things out and this will only lead to an improved education for children in your school. Whoever we work with in a school – children, staff, parents – we have a chance to build learners for the future, today.

Primary Three #2: Collaboration – Always

Vic outlined perfectly how everyone has strengths – that naturally means that each of us have weaknesses, areas in our practice where we do not perhaps have the same level of skills or qualities that would be beneficial in our role. As such, collaboration for her is a really important principle within Primary Education which helps us provide the best resources to help us teach and lead. Whether you work in a senior leadership team, a department/key stage or with a teaching assistant, every single Primary Education colleague will work with one form of team or another. I challenge you to name one member of staff or adult in a primary school who doesn’t work at all with other adults in collaboration to complete their role – @Mroberts90Matt with your answers!

These various members of staff we work with will often be the key to unlock an innovative answer. Vic referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as one example of a situation where she was able to work with the senior leadership team and other key groups within the school to organise teaching and learning, pastoral care, physical support and support for vulnerable children very quickly. She offered her opinion but more importantly, collated the skills of all those involved to create the mission statement for her school on how they would support the children and families during this time. It all boils down to relationships and collaboration.

Vic then went on to expound on the importance of collaborations outside of school. She mentioned the work she is doing with a number of external organisations to develop her own skills but also really promoted using platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn. She was amazed at the number of individuals who contacted her about the remote Ofsted inspection her school went through for example. If you would like to read that document or find out more I’m sure she will be more than happy to share that information.

These online platforms are a way to find out current educational issues and provide your own voice as well to support others. As mentioned, we all have our own weak spots in our roles and that includes teaching and leading in a school. I personally feel my Maths teaching and learning is stronger than my English because that is just what I enjoy more. Therefore, I have less of a natural inclination to go out and find books to read and prepare for my class, yet (as you will be finding out in these podcast interviews) books are one of the most valuable resources we can have in the classroom. I, therefore, can use the brilliant minds on the Twittersphere to find thoughts and ideas on where to find the best books rather than trawling through myself.

A personal plug here – after having recorded 10 episodes of the Primary Education Voices podcast, I have to fully support this view on collaboration. I have personally learnt so much about primary education in these discussions and even listening to this weekly podcast will be a great place to start to hear more ideas for the primary classroom. Vic talked about her ‘Vic-Carr’ calls and how they have really boosted morale amongst others – why not send a supportive text/tweet/smoke signal today and build further relationships with just one person? Collaboration is a key to enhancing our practice further.

Primary Three #3: Consistency – Returning to your Core Values

For Vic this was fundamental particularly in her large three-form entry school. She desires to have a wonderful educational experience for all children in all her classrooms. This means that the teachers need to have a clear and consistent approach to delivering the curriculum so every child gets a quality education no matter who their teacher is. She also ensures that she has embedded those practices in her day-to-day leading and teaching so that whenever someone sees her at work, in whatever role or function that is, they know exactly what they are going to get.

Further in her explanation of this, Vic shared a very personal experience about how she feels this has stemmed from living with her father who was a schizophrenic. This meant there was very little consistency with how he would behave and how he would respond to news on a daily basis. She never knew how he would react to certain situations. Understandably, this meant that she wouldn’t feel the security that would come with working with a consistent approach. Vic refers to this childhood experience near the beginning of her TEDx talk which can be viewed below at this link. It is powerful listening and will help you understand why consistency is a primary principle for her.

Who do you recommend for a future interview?

Vic also really struggled with this question and, after I tried to narrow her down to a couple of names she was able to give me a handful:

Kyrstie Stubbs – @KyrstieStubbs

Those eagle-eyed or regular listeners to the podcast will notice that this recommendation was actually already planned to be the next interview for the podcast!

Matt Jessop – @mejessop

Chris Parkhouse – @chrisparkhouse

Phil Sharrack – Twitter handle unknown

Simon Smith – @smithsmm

Referred to an individual who works in an SEMH setting – and I think we got them pinned down for a future upcoming podcast also!

What is the best thing about Primary Education?

It has to be the impact you can have on children, their family and staff you work with. Outside the medical profession, it has to be the one where you can leave the most lasting legacy. Vic still gets messages from people she has had an influence on and they say how she has not changed one bit (consistency!) and what she has done for them.

Thank you Vic for your incredibly generous offering of your time and the brilliant ideas and experiences you shared. I loved our chat and hope that anyone reading this does these two things:

  1. Share it with someone
  2. Subscribe to the Primary Education Voices podcast

These will really help raise these wonderful voices and generate more discussion in various ways about Primary Education. You can follow Dr Victoria Carr here: @HappyHead74.

Diagnostic Questions in the Primary Classroom by @Mroberts90Matt

During the first lockdown in Spring 2020 I had a little more time on my hands. I had gathered quite a little collection of books I wanted to read through and so I began to pick my way through this mound of professional development and got stuck into the wonderful book by Craig Barton – How I Wish I’d Taught Maths.

There are a variety of excellent ideas and approaches in this books that can be implemented across primary and secondary age ranges. One blog post (that I can muster in the time I have) cannot outline all of them. However, one particular section that blew me away was the chapter on Diagnostic Questions. In this, Barton outlines the power in using carefully selected and devised multiple choice questions to identify learning gaps. These multiple choice questions have to be created specifically with key misconceptions in mind rather than randomly generated. To help, Craig Barton has created the Diagnostic Questions website where literally thousands of tried and tested questions are free and available to any person. I read this book all the way through during lockdown and I literally spent a sleepless couple of nights with my mind buzzing with ideas! I couldn’t wait to try them out in the classroom.

This is a fantastic resource and well worth drawing deeply from. The only problem for primary practitioners is that these diagnostic questions are primed for remote use – teachers can sign students up with their own log in, set tasks involving these questions and receive instant, analytical feedback. All this is brilliant but with primary pupils this may be a little more tricky to navigate, particularly those younger than Upper Key Stage 2. Such access would then require support from home which in itself if not impossible but it does reduce the impact as some households would find this more challenging – either with parental understanding of how to access and sign their children up or with time that parents have to focus time on this, particularly when sending a piece of paper home may be much more simpler for these younger age groups.

However, after a few months of plotting and preparing ways to use these invaluable questions I have found a couple of ways to use them which have had a real impact in being able identify key gaps in learning in the classroom – something which the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly requiring the need for more than ever – and also as a retrieval practice resource to enhance retention of key learning concepts.

Where to find them and how to access the bank of questions for use

The first thing to know really would be how to get to the actual questions. They are brilliant but being honest if you’re not setting up the questions to set virtually it is not the easiest site or bank of resources to work through. If you go to the main Diagnostic Questions website you will find options to ‘set’ these questions and you can only see one question at a time. What I wanted was the option to see the entire bank of questions for my year group altogether in one place. This is possible but you need to know where to find them. When you go to the Diagnostic Questions website ( ignore the fancy home page and click ‘Scheme of Work’ at the top, then click ‘Get Access Now’ for Eedi.

This will take you to the site where you can actually find the banks of excellent Diagnostic Questions. You’ll need to create a free account but once you’ve done that you’re in!

You’ll then need to click ‘Set Work’ and then ‘Collections’ and there you are – hundreds of questions from Year 1 all the way up to Year 6 and way beyond! I will point out at this stage that they are based on the White Rose Schemes of Learning in the way they are categorised. (This is what I hope will take you to the exact page but you will need to have registered first for it to work –

From there it is easy. All the questions are banked into year groups and then ‘Number’, ‘Geometry’ and then alphabetically so it will be fairly simple to find the concept you want to teach and there are two sets of questions with each concept. On closer inspection you will notice that ‘Set A’ (or Quiz A as they are called) look almost identical to the questions in Quiz B. You’ll then realise they are not but they are the exact same question but with the numbers changed (more on the genius of this later…)

So, now you have found this incredible free resource how can it best be used? These are not to be used as general activities in class although they would be useful as a task for your more able children if you ask them to identify what went wrong with the three incorrect answers. I will outline below two ways I have integrated them into the primary classroom and see if you fancy trying them out however I’m sure given some time you’ll find some other ways…

A resource for informal assessment

One great way to use these powerful questions is as a hook into the lesson. These questions are easily snipped from your screen and can be pasted onto an IWB slide or a PPT (whatever your preference) and shown to the class.

From that point you have a few options:

You could ask the class to write the letter they think to be the right answer on their mini-whiteboards. Simple, straightforward, no tech or fuss. One downside to this is you get the inevitable few in Primary Education (and beyond I’m sure) who will have a sneaky look at their partner’s answer which of course will impact on your informal assessment.

We often forget how our children have very useful resources at their fingertips (pun totally intended) which can be used to indicate an answer. As you may notice, these Diagnostic Questions have multiple choice options: A, B, C or D. So simply assign a number of fingers a letter (1 finger = A, 2 fingers = B and so on). This requires even less resources than mini-whiteboards and is less clear to other children around who may be looking for answers from others, but is more obvious to any children behind, potentially influencing their responses.

This is by and far my favourite. It does require more prep time and the teacher to have their own iPad with the Plickers app – but if you can do that then this is the way to go. Basically you print and laminate a QR-code-style image for each child which they can keep in their table tray or some other accessible place. You can visit here for the website and create a free account. Once you do this – create a set of questions and away you go. All you have to do in front of the class is select the questions you are asking, the iPad camera goes on and you point it at their raised images. They select their answer by rotating the code the correct way for the answer they want to give, which is shown on the code itself. What you get then is an instant response and graph indicating who got the answers wrong and therefore who you can focus on during the session.

I know that may sound complex to some but once it is all set up and the class have done it a few times, they love it and it becomes second nature. Well worth doing – arguably more so for KS2.

Whatever method you use to collect the responses, these are really useful at the start of the lesson to identify which children need more support to begin with. As Barton suggests, I use two to just narrow the likelihood they have just made a lucky guess.

The DQs are also a great tool for an exit question – imagine having 55% of your class getting the initial questions correct and then at the end 80% get the exit question correct! You can’t argue with the numbers! Maybe it’s the Maths Lead in me but that is a wonderful tool for formative assessment!

Retrieval PracticeLow Stakes Quiz

This is probably my favourite use for these wonderful Diagnostic Questions.

Educational research laid out in Barton’s book from other sources suggest that long term learning is affected over time. In other words, if learning is not referred back to and practised then it will diminish. Specifically, three to four weeks is the window in which if a concept is not revised then the most learning and retention will be lost. This is why so many teachers pull their hair out at end-of-half-term assessments. The learning they had worked so hard to embed early in the half term will have been affected greatly.

Enter low stakes quizzing. The idea of this resource is to integrate a short 5-10min quiz on a concept that was taught 3-4 weeks ago to keep that practise sharp. This is an example of one I created in Autumn for Year 6:

As you can see, this is a mixture of some multiple choice questions and short answer questions which have been collated from Diagnostic Questions, WR and my own questions. Sometimes I draw from Classroom Secrets as well. I give this to my class on a Friday at the start of the Maths lesson (to highlight the importance of doing it), they go through the answers and record it at the back of their book. The children then take it home to revise any questions they weren’t sure on and then, Monday morning, they receive a second quiz. Take a look at the corresponding quiz below from the Monday morning:

Very similar right? This is what I use the ‘Quiz B’ for on the Diagnostic Questions website. It helps me create a brand new quiz that is based on the questions from Part I so that the questions are the same but just with different numbers. With this, children who even struggle with Maths can be confident that if they practice those questions for their homework then they will make progress and that is success in a Maths lesson that they really need. Motivation is built on success (as much research shows). The children then record their ‘Score B’ in the back of the book and that’s it. I may dip back occasionally to see how it is going but this is for their eyes.

The impact of low-stakes quizzing is widely backed and being able to remind children and cognitively challenge on a concept they learnt three weeks ago is so important as that is usually about the time that long-term learning needs to be embedded. These are just one way of doing this that has worked for me.


You may well see these banks of questions, from Year 1 and beyond, and see ways in which you can implement them – an exit ticket, a discussion question, a hook and so on – they are extremely versatile and too important to not use in a Primary setting. Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on using these going forward!

Primary Education Voices: Episode 1 – Gaz Needle

So, having recorded 10 inspirational episodes of @PrimEduVoices thus far, I can’t help but be blown away not just by the knowledge and skills of incredible Primary colleagues in the country but also by how diverse and yet still so interesting and applicable their comments, ideas and philosophies were. In doing this, I felt inspired to write a snapshot of these brilliant conversations and see if fellow Primary colleagues were interested in having these ideas and discussions recorded in the written word.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the key takeaways from the inaugural conversation with Gaz Needle, a headteacher in Manchester who is also a co-founder of the highly popular #PrimaryRocks twitter chat every Monday evening at 8pm.

What inspired you to become involved in Primary Education?

Primary school teaching was not something that was an ambition that Gaz had. He did like school growing up but it was only towards the end of his education this awareness came. After a brief and disastrous foray into Design and Technology to pursue a career in teaching it, Gaz then went on to study a different area in English – but he was required to go into a primary school to complete his university degree. He met an inspirational teacher there who got him involved and from there (with one life-sized paper Roman later) Gaz carried on this journey which felt completely right for him.

What is you funniest story from Primary Education?

Picture the scene: sports day, sun blazing down and Mr Needle is leading his pack of young children showing them around the events and modelling – like all excellent teachers do – how to complete the activities on offer. The long jump was next and, not wanting to show a half-hearted attempt, put everything into his jump. Olympic standard. He stuck the landing and…well, let’s just say his trousers gave a half-hearted attempt. Unfortunately, as Gaz didn’t have his spare pair of trousers in the car like most teachers, he rushed home to correct the situation.

Primary Three #1: Persevere/Try Your Hardest/Never Give Up

Gaz began with outlining a key principle that he thinks as teachers we need to remember. Teaching is a tough job, with the expectations, deadlines and the fact we work with a group of people who can be as unpredictable as the weather in Manchester that we mentioned at the beginning of the chat! Children are notoriously wonderful but tricky to manage – why else do people use the adage ‘never work with children’? They are the entire focus of our profession.

When considering this, Gaz gave the advice that when teachers do go through inevitably challenging times, they should persevere. In the live #PrimaryRocks sessions (which I am yet to enjoy personally but have heard wonderful things!) Gaz recounted numerous teachers who came to him and thanked his team for their work putting on these life-changing events, citing that they were very close to leaving the profession until they attended this event. When reflecting on this conversation I had to wonder: what was it about #PrimaryRocks Live that changed the minds of these wavering teachers?

It can seem very difficult to persevere when you have to face day after day of exhausting educating and maybe you have a senior leadership team who are not proactive in seeking to improve wellbeing or offer support when the struggle becomes real. However, perhaps returning to the reason you began teaching in the first place could help you hang on in there. Perhaps connected with inspirational colleagues through Twitter or podcasts (like Primary Education Voices) could give you a little boost. Perhaps thinking back to the positive and happy moments you have experienced could remind you about why it is worth not giving up during this turbulent time you are going through.

Upon reflection I had to draw a conclusion it was a number of factors: a sense of solidarity with like-minded professionals, great ideas shared from enthusiastic colleagues that they would be excited to take back to their classroom and simply just a buzz about primary education that they may not find in school on a wet and dreary Monday morning. In other words, life was breathed into their motivation and those difficult days were able to be viewed through a lens of perspective.

Gaz quite rightly says we need great teachers to stay in this noble profession, and if you are reading a book about teaching then you are certainly a great, reflective practitioner. If you need support but you do not think you can find it where you are based, reach out to these great practitioners you will find in these blogs. I am positive, despite the time pressures they have, they will take the time to give you some motivation – I personally experienced this when they gave of their valuable to sit and have a natter with me, this guy who they had never met with whom the only thing they had in common was their profession, and we both came away invigorated. We need you.

Primary Three #2: Keyboard Shortcuts

After that heavy opening, Gaz then went on to describe one of the secrets of managing his workload, the way he reduces the time that working on that laptop for hours on end – keyboard shortcuts. Now, when Gaz sent me this as one of his Primary Three I had to chuckle. It’s that sort of quirky but powerful idea that I am all here for. If you add up all the time teachers spend on their laptop creating lessons plans, devising resources, completing paperwork and inputting data it would be a pretty impressive tally. However, Gaz identifies how we can shave seconds off those times, and believe me – those seconds will turn into significant amounts of time, over time.

Gaz kindly shared his top keyboard shortcuts which give him full control over the interface of his device so take a look and, as with all things primary education practice, maybe pick one or two that you would find useful and start embedding them in your keyboard use daily. I personally love the ‘Windows -> Right/Left’ which allows you to have two windows open either side very easily!

Some of these you will use already, others you will not – I am quietly confident that the vast majority of teachers will not necessarily have used or internalised all of these shortcuts. If you can get to know a couple more than you do already, watch the time be saved.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a more quirky and obscure ‘teaching resource’ but it is a serious one to consider. Time is a precious commodity as primary school teachers and any time saved will be valuable. These keyboard shortcuts will not solve the workload issue but they can help you individually work smarter, not harder and complete tasks that bit sooner, freeing you up to enjoy your time a little more.

Primary Three #3: Instil a Love of Reading

The final choice in Gaz Needle’s Primary Three was the importance of instilling a love of reading. You would be hard pressed to find a teacher who did not think that this was important. However, we had a great chat about how we promote this love of reading. One issue we talked about was the benefit of whole school events like World Book Day. This is a debate that rears up every time the first week of March comes along. You have those on one side of the camp saying they love World Book Day and how it really sets the school up for another calendar year of enjoying reading whereas others state their dislike of it and how often, that dislike is stemmed in the feeling that this is a token gesture, a tick box for a school to show they support reading, but it is not enough to instil a real love of reading. Ultimately, Gaz and I agreed that World Book Day is well worth the effort – it does promote a love of reading but it is not enough to instil a love of reading on its own.

He began with the importance of outlining to all involved in the classroom that whatever they want to achieve, it all begins with a solid understanding of reading. It doesn’t matter what the children we teach want to do, an ability to read will unlock doors. Gaz outlined some careers that wouldn’t typically be associated with reading – including footballers who would need to read to be able to locate a credible agent to read contracts for them! Reading is interwoven into our day-to-day live.

However, Gaz then went on to extol the virtues of reading for pleasure. For him it is such a relieving experience which can open worlds beyond our imagination and yet, stories within these worlds that deal with real-life dilemmas that we come up against in our own. One top tip that he shared is to try and select authors occasionally who have been a little more prolific and written multiple books or who have written a series so if some children get hooked on a story, then they have further places to explore with that same style of author. I’m sure many of you have had the wonderful experience of seeing a few children in your class get their very own copy of the book you are studying so they can rush ahead and digest the narrative you are exploring together. What a feeling it is to know you have sparked an imagination by being a gatekeeper to these multiple worlds!

The process of reading from Early Years all through to Year 6 is a miraculous process. Gaz explained his wonder at how children progress through these stages and he stated that to be able to read is a right. It is not a gift. Throughout Primary Education we must be focused on developing that love of reading from the beginning. He shares that one of his most important tools in the kit for teachers to get children loving reading is to be expressive and lose all self-awareness when we read to them. Have fun with it. And if you aren’t enjoying the reading of it, put it down and get a different story. You are the teacher and have the power within your classroom to change the flow to continue to find those magical moments that will spark an interest in reading.

Who do you recommend for a future interview?

Gaz really struggled over this question, as many educators have done to be fair, and could have listed many. He managed to narrow them down to these two:

Graham Andre – @grahamandre

An educator with a fascinating story about how he got into Primary Education and shares so many wonderful ideas and resources in the Education world

Nina Jackson – @musicmind

Gaz selected Nina due to remembering a talk she gave at #PrimaryRocksLive and how inspirational she was and how she can make many people smile very easily.

What is the best thing about Primary Education?

It had to be the penny-dropping, lightbulb-illuminating moments for Gaz. Primary educators live for those ah-ha moments and that is one of the best things in his opinion.

Thank you Gaz for your incredibly generous offering of your time and the brilliant ideas and experiences you shared. I loved our chat and hope that anyone reading this does these two things:

  1. Share it with someone
  2. Subscribe to the Primary Education Voices podcast

These will really help raise these wonderful voices and generate more discussion in various ways about Primary Education. You can follow Gaz here: @gazneedle and don’t forget to join #PrimaryRocks at 8pm on a Monday evening!

Primary Education Voices: A Teacher Voice Podcast by @Mroberts90Matt

So, I’ve been enjoying getting back into creating content about Primary Education. I’m limiting myself to one blog a month but even then that is hard going for me. I don’t know – I just guess I don’t like sitting and typing about things that much. Ironic considering I have written a 250 page book (not about Primary Education) but I find it much more compelling to speak with others. I think this is why Twitter holds much more appeal to me because there is a sense of discussion and dialogue more so than on a blog. I experienced this when I was also blogging on a personal capacity about my faith. Loved the concept, struggled to find the time to sit and write. So, I begun a little daily podcast about my faith and found this to be really meaningful.

Over the past couple of months I have begun more active on #edutwitter and in the blogging world of Primary Education. This will be because I started in a new role as a KS2 Lead and SLT member. I felt I needed to be challenged more and was able to finally make this step, despite a pesky worldwide pandemic! Hoping this desire to engage with Primary Education will continue more with this.

However, this time I noticed something. After a year and a bit of really getting into podcasts I thought, why don’t I combine two things that I love – the Primary Education-based chats on #edutwitter and podcasts? I couldn’t find anything like this and so…Primary Education Voices has been born.

I hope to have a chat with some truly inspiring primary education-based practitioners from Twitter. They could be headteachers, teachers, TAs, support staff – work in mainstream, special education and so on. We will hear a bit about them and what inspired them to be in primary education and then find out what their Primary Three are.

The Primary Three is a little clever word play – the three ‘primary’ things they are passionate about, three things about ‘primary’ education that they think are important and ‘primary’ and ‘three’ are a little half-rhyme which doesn’t hurt 😉

I find it much easier to find 30-45mins in a given week then allot a certain amount of time each week to write part of a blog post, I’ve been practising making podcasts for over a year now (in which I’ve interview a few people already) so it was a no brainer really. Do stick with me though – I hope to publish one episode each week on a Monday morning at 6am for your morning commute but after all I am a full time senior leader in a primary school so I will do my best to keep up!

All I ask is that you tune in and share this exciting project with others. Subscribe, rate and share the podcast and let’s hear more from the inspiring primary education twitterers that we engage with each week!

Hope you enjoy!