5 years launch blog speakers onscreen

The Launch of It Takes 5 Years...

What a happy day Saturday 24th October 2020 was! That was the day we held a virtual launch of #ItTakes5Years…

It was my good friends, Dame Alison Peacock and Professor Sam Twiselton, who persuaded me we should have a launch and it was Richard Robinson’s idea to ask Emma Turner to host the event – and a brilliant idea it was. She’s a natural and keeps the flow going beautifully.

I wrote to all the original eight co-authors who had so swiftly and willingly contributed moments from their early careers for inclusion in the book, asking if any would be willing and able to join us on a Saturday morning and to my amazement every one of them replied promptly that they would. How I wish I could have invited all the other eighteen contributors but it would have made us all so small on ‘streamyard’ that we wouldn’t be seen, and there would not have been enough time for all to do more than introduce themselves… We shall save the full team appearance for the live launch post the pandemic.

Explaining the thinking behind this high-speed publication – seven weeks to write, three weeks of proofing and assembling and one week to publish thanks to Richard and Ben, my colleagues – was an important element of the introduction to the event between Emma and myself; that innocent  conversation over a Chinese meal with Kirstie and Ben led to the fastest turn-around I have ever known. Yes, that all-important  throw-away remark by myself to Kirstie all those years ago over dinner in a hotel when she was my front-of-house, before she converted her degree into a teaching , certainly led to the fastest write over long hours six days a week to produce this guidance and advice for early career teachers in time for the new school year. And we did it! And we made the remark the title of the book!

It was when the sections from the co-authors came in that I suddenly realised, to my great surprise, that every one of the eight of us had had such similar experiences and emotions at the start of our careers. That was what led me to throw the net wider and ask on twitter if anyone else would be so generous as to contribute, and I am deeply grateful for the additional eighteen contributors who stepped forward so willingly.  And yes – their early career experiences replicated the pattern. Yet no-one had told any of us how hard it would be at times in those first years in the classroom, how much we would want to bare our souls to someone and say how we were really struggling at times, even though it seems safe to assume that most of the lecturers who taught us and the colleagues in the staff rooms had almost all had similar experiences and worries.

So that was the premise of the book – to make the great reveal and to announce to our newly qualified colleagues the best guarded secrets of education – that ‘the emperor has no clothes on’.

My sincere thanks to all who contributed in any way, to all who ‘attended’ on the 24th and to the thousands who have viewed the video since, as well as to the many who have purchased the book and for the warm and generous feedback they have given us.

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It Takes 5 Years...

I was sitting chatting with Kirstie Pilmer one Sunday afternoon in late May (at a safe ten feet of course) when Kirstie started telling me about how much she was enjoying her fifth year of teaching as a qualified teacher.

“Do you remember telling me it takes five years to become a fully effective teacher?” she asked. “I thought that must be an exaggeration and I remember thinking in my third year that I really was a fully effective teacher. But now I see what you mean. I don’t have to think about it anymore. I can sail into my classroom and start, I can respond to wherever the children take the learning, I can throw in anecdotes and jokes and illustrations and examples… It has become a fluid and natural process and I LOVE it!”

“That certainly won’t be how this year’s NQTs will be feeling in September, having been in lockdown since March,” I said. “Nor even those in their second year, as they only completed half of their NQT year in normality.”

We discussed the stresses and issues teachers in their first four or five years would be facing during lockdown and whatever came after it, and the fact that they would need lots of help and support.

“The trouble is,” I commented, “everyone will be needing help and support for as long as this lasts, regardless of how long they have been teaching, because it is a new crisis for everyone. No-one has ever been through this before… no-one can advise… there isn’t a book on how to do it. Headteachers have been amazing at keeping schools running in such terrible circumstances.”

And that’s when the penny dropped! We couldn’t write a book to help experienced teachers through the worst pandemic ever to hit the globe, that would be a job for the future if ever needed, but we could write a book to help those in the early stages of their professional career.

“Do you think you could tell the story of your first five years in the profession, Kirstie?” I asked. “Warts and all, that difficult class you had last year and the stresses and problems you have met on your journey?”

It didn’t take long to persuade my professional friend of ten years (Kirstie used to be my ‘front of house’ and driver for almost three years after she graduated and before she trained as a teacher) that her input would be invaluable for those new to teaching and that her contribution could be a vital part of the book. And it was thus that the idea was born.

“I have just finished my fifth year of teaching and it was a completely different experience. I was confident in my ‘teacher skin’ for the first time… it feels as though someone just flicked a switch and suddenly, I got it. Things I wasn’t sure about previously slotted into place, and now I feel like I can see the whole picture rather than lots of little parts of it.”
(Kirstie Pilmer, August 2020)

As I started to take down notes and ideas and the book started to take shape in my mind, I suddenly realised that the experiences of just two teachers (Kirstie and myself) was not enough for a balanced picture and I approached the seven esteemed colleagues at the peak of our profession, who all agreed to be co-authors, contributing pieces of two hundred words or more on their early experiences in the classroom. Then I had the idea of tweeting to see if anyone else would be interested in joining us and this resulted in eighteen absolutely fascinating accounts of teachers’ journeys into teaching, some written by teachers in the very early stages of their careers and others by colleagues close to retirement, by consultants and by university lecturers. These contributions give the text authenticity and I am so grateful to all the co-authors and contributors for their enthusiasm and time.

“Then came the wrath of the former PE co-ordinator. I naively thought he had happily swapped from PE to maths… There was bad feeling, which came my way by association… I remember one day in a crowded staffroom he said:

‘I bet she doesn’t even know the off-side rule.’

That night I enrolled in evening school to become a qualified football referee. Needless to say once I qualified, I knew more than he did about the off-side rule. Boom! Back of the net!”

(Ginny Bootman August 2020)

Meanwhile, I commenced the writing of the actual book in June and wrote solidly for seven weeks. The words just poured out… I scarcely had to refer to my research or notes. I was staggered at the way details from over fifty years ago and on through my career came flooding back – particularly the trying and tough times. I often wrote for between six and ten hours a day and my part of the book was finished in first draft in seven weeks. The fastest write ever for me.

The seven co-authors and eighteen contributors had a tight deadline too. We considered it essential to have this book available from the start of the new academic year in September. Every single one of them met the deadline and I then switched to compiling the book itself.

I spent a full week on proofing, editing and rewriting my own contribution (sixteen chapters) and on proofing the contributions as they came in. Then the document went to Richard Robinson for two consecutive proof reads and the process of publishing. Richard is the best proof reader I know – alongside my brother who also did one proofread. When all proofs were complete and all edits had been made we had exactly met our deadline of the 19th of August and the completed manuscript went to print on target, on the 31st of August. On Wednesday the 2nd September a large palette of boxes of books was delivered to Richard’s office. The remainder of the week was spent signing pre-release orders and all the co-authors’ and contributors’ copies and the big post-out occurred on schedule with books available from Friday the 4th of September. Job done!

It was during this intense process of compilation and proofing that the amazing fact hit me – the experiences of almost every one of the twenty-seven of us at the start of our careers were so very similar. That is when I finally realised how important the book might be. All except two of us had experienced similar fears, worries and stresses and a significant number of us had had to find our own way through, with little or no real help. That is the experience that has driven so many to leave our profession after only one or two years recently. ‘It Takes Five Years to Become a Teacher’ aims to help these teachers to survive and to thrive!

“Little did I realise that the window was unfastened and as I leant back, smiling and feeling cocky, the window opened right out and I literally fell backwards straight out of the window – proper Del Boy style – and landed on the back path…

Safe to say no more work was done that afternoon, and during the three more years spent in that classroom,  I never sat on the side again!”

(Alex Caunt August 2020)

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Scottish Exam Results

Such a controversy! The Scottish Government battered into an apology and total backdown – and quite rightly too. If the reason many students’ grades were lowered was truly their post code, it is not surprising that the powers that be are humiliated. The First Minister admitted that ‘serious errors were made’.

A total of 133,762 individual results were adjusted by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) from the 511,070 initial estimates of grades that were submitted by teachers. Only 9,198 of the estimates were adjusted up. 124,564 were adjusted down. Almost all (96%) were adjusted by a whole grade. Fewer than 10,000 were raised.

The SQA felt that many teachers had been too generous in their estimates of grades.

One of the factors the SQA decided to use to decide whether a grade should be changed is the performance of the school over the previous four years. This was potentially a life-changing decision for a significant number of students. Students who had consistently achieved highly in school found their grades reduced to reflect their school’s previous performance rather than their own abilities.

Of particular concern was the disproportionate effect on students living in areas of economic disadvantage as SQA were influenced by their historical evidence that the poorer the area the less well students performed. In the most deprived areas, moderators reduced results sufficiently that the proportion of students getting A to C grades fell by 15 percentage points compared to the schools’ teacher estimates. In the most affluent areas, the drop was only by 7 points.

Nicola Sturgeon claimed, initially, that this step had been necessary to make the results credible, and that without this moderation system 85% of students in the most deprived areas would have passed Highers this years, as opposed to 65% in previous years.

My only comment would be, that this flattening of results through so called ‘moderation’ has gone on for many years. Without annual ‘flattening’ of scores to reflect history, perhaps a steady rise towards 85% might have been seen? We shall never know. However, hopefully, one good outcome of this tragic pandemic could be a proper re-examination and reform of the marking of our examination systems.

My own experience in education led to my underperforming in term time throughout school, yet mainly performing well in examinations. Had I been a student of the pandemic, I might never have been admitted to the profession of education. More on this in my next blog, following the release of the English results.


Myrtle Marple book cover

Myrtle Marple

I love this book! I had great fun writing both the first two books of this series – yes, the second has been finished as long as this first one – it just hasn’t gone through publishing yet. Why am I so keen, when I am truly proud of ‘Journeys’ and ‘Bonkers Boris’ cracks me up? I think it is because – secretly – Myrtle is me!

The house is a house I once lived in… the setting is a setting I once loved. The only things I never had are Myrtle’s gadgets – but I wish I had! The extraordinary relationship that develops between the twins and Myrtle is the heart of the series. The twins are so alike and yet so different… Dan (Daniella) is far the more sensible one, although far from afraid of going on an adventure, while Dom (Dominic) is much more of a risk taker, albeit with a touch of flatulence.

This unusual trio haven’t even met at the start of this first book and, when they do first meet there is some caution and a couple of clashes. However, when Myrtle’s precious virtual friend, Doogle, goes missing, they become a tightly knit team. Which is just as well, as Dom gets himself into quite a scrape.

This was the first book for children that I actually completed and submitted for publishing, and I was thrilled when Olympia accepted it. However, due to my insistence on receiving hard copy for proofing – I always used to proof on hard copy – the second proofing was lost by the British Post Office and the publishers started the process again. Consequently, Bonkers Boris Meets the Mayor sailed past Myrtle and pipped her to the post. And I stopped demanding hard copies!

The two series are not in competition of course, mainly because the target ages are quite different as demonstrated in their length, form and illustrations. Bonkers Boris is aimed primarily at six to ten year olds, while Myrtle’s main audience will be nine to twelve year olds, although with parents or teachers reading them to children, wider audiences will enjoy the stories.

So, much as I adore the disaster-defined Boris, Myrtle will always have a special place in my heart!


Ros Wilson signing her new books

A Nerve Wracking Week

The publication of my 1st 2 books for entertainment.

I thought I would be so excited when my first 2 books for entertainment arrived from the publisher. Of course, I had already had several educational books published but that was not the same. They told it like it was, if you believed in what I was writing about the books made perfect sense, if you didn’t – they didn’t. Both attitudes I was perfectly comfortable with.

Now, in semi-retirement, I had written my first three ‘books for fun’. One (It’s Just a Journey With Ros) had been started in 2014 and abandoned due to pressure of work, the second (Myrtle Marple and the Vanishing Virtual) was started in the same year and the third (Bonkers Boris Meets the Mayor) was started in 2015 and also abandoned for the same reason. All of them were resurrected and completed following my relocation to Leeds.

I think the publishers (Olympia) were a little horrified when this trio of books followed each other to their desks in rapid succession in the last months of 2018 and the early part of 2019, but to give them credit they stuck with me and accepted all three for publication. Sadly, Myrtle Marple was lost by the Post Office when it had been returned for a proof read and that book had to restart proofing again (usually there are 5 proofs before signing off, one by the Olympia proof reader, three by myself plus one by a person of my choice). Myrtle Marple is now moving successfully through the process.

For my personal choice of proofer it was a no-brainer. Richard Robinson is the best proofer I know and is so thorough and such a rigorous critic. It meant a huge amount to me when he actually enjoyed my books, saying they were well written.

Having gone through all these steps to achieve publication, and the wait of over a year in the case of Journeys, it was a great shock to me how nervous I was when the first set of complimentary books arrived. I gave all those away to educators I admired and was surprised to find that suddenly – of the 25 of each book I had received – I had none left! Not even one of each for myself.

Silence! I waited and worried and feared that I might be exposed on Twitter or similar as the emperor with no clothes on! And then, the next day, the rash of tweets started with lovely comments and photographs of people opening or holding up their copies and expressing excitement to be a recipient.

I shall always be grateful for those first generous words of feedback, as I pursue my new career in writing.


#ThankATeacher

Today is May 20th – the national ‘Thank a Teacher Day’. Now I am a 24 hour news addict and have already listened to and part watched 3 hours of the BBC 24 hour news, but I haven’t heard anyone thank a teacher for anything.

I try not to get involved in political issues on Twitter, a social media I love and engage with almost every day. The truth is I am a swing voter – I go for the person rather than the party – and that has led to me getting my fingers burnt quite a number of times. I never voted for Margaret Thatcher, I felt she was arrogant and self-serving, and I voted for Blair twice – the first time I was delighted with his leadership and the second I was devastated – but now I am behind Boris in principle, purely because he makes me laugh and he is so positive.

My point is that no politicians and parties seem to really value our profession and want to thank the hard working and dedicated people working within it.

When all is well in the world, teachers rarely get a mention in politics. When there is a crisis, such as a rise in disease, in poor behaviour,  in unwanted pregnancies, in knife crime or similar – it is ‘Why don’t the teachers sort it out?’ Not the parents… not the politicians… In most countries in Europe social education is not the responsibility of the teacher, they teach the curriculum and little else. I am not saying we shouldn’t teach social behaviour, I am saying we get no thanks when we do it and we get the blame when we don’t.

One headline this morning referred to teachers ‘going back to work’. News Flash! They never stopped working! Most schools are still open with teachers in classrooms alternate weeks and preparing home learning resources and lessons in between.

At this moment, there are countless zoom meetings and leadership team planning sessions for a possible re-opening from June 1st, with much measuring of classrooms and tables, route planning and re-timetabling to allow staggered breaks and outside play. And a huge amount of stress!

No-one consulted the teachers and now there is a hotbed of objection and a political tug-of-war with the BMA, the teaching unions and Michael Gove (who doesn’t improve in the eyes of the profession) all throwing their two-penn’orth in. Will it happen? I doubt it. Who can justify the bizarre suggestion that you can teach a 4 year old to read by sitting 7 feet away from them with a book in front of them? If anyone should be back in school it should be Key Stages 2, 3 and 4. The 4 and 5 year olds need contact, are tactile and need rich stimulation and play – social distancing is just what they DON’T need and will not be able to respect.

The political battles wage on around us, the blame game continues and those who know nothing put down those who know so much and know what won’t work, isn’t safe or isn’t right. And no-body seems to have remembered to just stand up and THANK our wonderful, selfless and dedicated teachers.

Regardless of politics, teachers love their job, the privilege of working with their pupils and their schools and communities. They only want what’s best for the children they teach and the community they serve. They have worked and continue to work all hours despite the view that schools are closed. They want to be back at school more than anything, but only when it is safe for everyone.

So I say a huge thank you to all the teachers, teaching assistants, leaders, headteachers, cleaners, cooks, and support staff in our schools across the four countries of the United Kingdom. The government should rise and salute you!