International Women's Day

I lay in bed and listened to the 24-hour news. A young lady kidnapped, abused and murdered by a policeman. Women saying they are afraid to walk our streets at night. I am afraid to walk our streets at night. Was it ever thus?

I used to stop on my way home from school at the garage of the wealthy elderly woman across the road from us. Mr. Pearson – her chauffer and mechanic – sat me on his knee, gave me sweets and stroked my bottom inside my knickers. I liked the sweets. I was 11.

When I was fourteen, Alex asked me out. We met through chapel and I knew he had just ‘broken up’ with his girlfriend of 2 years. I also knew he was not over her and that I was second best, but I was pleased to be asked. He was very 16 and very attractive, and I was flattered. On our second date we went on the tram to Harehills. In those days Harehills was a thriving hub of coffee bars and the first ever Chinese restaurant in our locality of north Leeds. Alex and I had an expresso coffee In Hernsndo’s where my sister worked (and I would part time in one more year). It felt so sophisticated

When we left the coffee bar, we walked down to the main road between Leeds and its suburbs. As we approached the tram stop a group of about 6 lads in what was known as ‘teddy boy’ gear  (drainpipe trousers, long jackets with velvet collars and long hair tied back) fell into step behind us. They followed us to the tram stop, boarded the tram behind us and seated themselves downstairs at the rear by the exit while we went upstairs.

As we disembarked at Oakwood clock, the gang of lads also rose and followed us off the tram. They strolled along Wetherby Road behind us, speeding up as we sped up. Alec and I never spoke. We did not acknowledge their presence. I was afraid. I dare not say so.

We turned up Ladywood Road. The lads crowded in on me and Alex crossed the road, keeping pace but separate. They crowded round me, then started groping me. It was autumn and I had a thick coat on. At first, they explored my private parts through the thick blue and green shaggy coat, but then they started to reach inside… laughing and shouting and encouraging one another.

Alex walked on the opposite side of the road with his head down. I was very afraid.

A car turned the corner from Springwood Road into Ladywood Road. Cars were rare in those days, especially after dark. It was 1958.

The lads panicked, they shouted at each other and they ran back the way we had come. Alex crossed the road and asked if I was OK. I said I was. He walked on up the road and I turned down our unmade private road to my home. He didn’t ask me out again, in fact we never spoke again and within two weeks he was back with his original girlfriend.

It was International Women’s Day. I have never told anyone about the events of that night, and I have never felt comfortable being out by myself after dark.


Filmclasspod

Recently, I was privileged to record a podcast with Shain and Sean for @filmclasspod. When I agreed to doing this, I had assumed that we would be talking about children’s writing, my work or my recent books. Wrong! Guess who hadn’t done her research well enough? Shain and Sean were in the middle of recording a series of interviews with people known in the world of literacy – specifically, at this time, focussing on JK Rowling and the Harry Potter Series.

“Of course, that’s fine.” I confirmed with a gulp – not daring to point out that I had never finished reading the series. “I’d especially love to discuss the very first book…”

“Oh no, sorry, we are on to book 3 now, The Prisoner of Azkaban. Is that OK for you?”

“Of course it is, I would love to review that with you,” I croaked… and I went off to weep on the loo.

Book 3 of the Harry Potter series was the book that turned me off the series! I didn’t finish reading it when it first came out in 1999 and I never read another of the series after that. It had a lot to answer for! I had loved books 1 and 2 – and like so many fans – I had waited eagerly for book 3. What a disappointment it was to me when it came out. It seemed complicated and confused, as though JK Rowling thought that to write as a boy now in his teens, you needed to write a complex and tortuous text. I barely read four chapters before abandoning Harry to his wizarding ways and finding myself a new hero.

So, I got on Amazon and bought the book… I watched the movie with my grandchildren… I re-launched myself into the book… AND I ENJOYED IT!

Perhaps because I had such dreadful memories of it, The Prisoner of Azkaban turned out to only have miniscule glitches and – for much of it – held me in its thrall. Perhaps watching the movie first clarified some of the confusion I had felt first time? Certainly, the book clarified some plot mysteries in the movie the second time. All in all, it transpired to be an enjoyable interlude in a working week.

I also learnt a lot from Shain, who is extremely knowledgeable on the entire Harry Potter series. She explained so clearly how the 3rd movie was the first that really strayed away from the text at certain points, and we agreed that perhaps the director had felt a similar disquiet to my own at times, leading to this change in interpretation. The first two movies had followed the plot of the appropriate books so closely.

In retrospect, I enjoyed the whole experience very much and was only left with one small area of irritation: poor proof reading in the early and late sections of the book – despite reprints.

Enjoy this podcast and other great discussions on their website or on Twitter – @filmclasspod.

 

A few proofing errors (in the form of contradictions) from The Prisoner of Azkaban:

Page 50:

Harry follows Tom up ‘a handsome wooden staircase’ in The Leaky Cauldron.

Page 74:

The boys heave their trunks down ‘The Leaky Cauldron’s narrow staircase.’

 

*****

 

Page 76:

‘Harry and Mr. Weasley led the way to the end of the train, past packed compartments, to a carriage that looked quite empty. They loaded the trunks onto it, stowed Hedwig and Crookshanks in the luggage rack, then went back outside…’

Page 78:

Harry, Ron and Hermione set off down the corridor looking for an empty compartment, but all were full except for the one at the very end of the train. This only had one occupant, a man sitting fast asleep next to the window.’

Page 83:

‘People were chasing backwards and forwards past the door of their compartment.’

 

*****

 

Page: 363:

‘Ron crawled to the four-poster bed and collapsed onto it…’

Page 363:

Lupin enters the room, ‘His eyes flickered over Ron, lying on the floor…’

Page 368:

Black and Crookshanks climbed onto the bed and ‘…Ron edged away from them.’

Page 372:

‘Harry caught him (Ron) and pushed him………… back on the bed!’

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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.


#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!


Reflections

Welcome to my website. Whether you are wanting to read a blog, get some ideas for resources, book an input for a conference or other professional development, catch up on my books or just see what I am up to – this is the place to be: my very first personal website after 55 years in education.

Not many people are lucky enough to be active in education for as long as I have, and I am eternally grateful for the series of un-planned events that have enabled this good fortune.

Who doesn’t believe in fate?

  • I didn’t plan to develop Big Writing: I discovered the missing links through thorough assessment of thousands of pieces of writing.
  • I didn’t plan to spend 17 years of my life around the Bahamas and the Caribbean: I went for ‘fun’ for 3 years!
  • I didn’t plan to start up a whole new career path when I returned to England: I was just looking for a teaching job to support my two children.
  • I didn’t plan to be an LA Advisor in 1992, I was invited to apply when it was recognised that – due to the influence of a significant Caymanian advisor who had vast knowledge and understanding of assessment from working in the USA – my knowledge and understanding of assessment was beyond most at the time.
  • I didn’t plan to go back overseas, having been abroad for seventeen years previously: I was asked by a dear professional friend to help him do a ‘start-up’ of a brand new school and it sounded too good an experience to miss (not to mention fun).
  • I didn’t plan to work as an independent consultant in education: I was just afraid that no-one would employ me when I returned to the UK aged fifty-six, so decided to give it a go.
  • I didn’t plan to work as Primary Strategy Manager: I was approached by a former colleague and loved every moment of building a strong and talented strategy team.
  • I didn’t plan to write my professional life as a book: I was told repeatedly by colleagues all over the world that I should put some of my funny – and true stories – into print.
  • I didn’t plan to seek out new and highly valued professional friends: I was invited to speak at the first ‘Beyond Levels conferences in 2015 and met so many wonderful people there and through the many following events - and through Twitter.

All I ever wanted to do was to help children to succeed and build their futures – and in doing so I inadvertently built my own – unplanned! But I always wanted to be a WRITER and an ACTRESS! I had more half-finished books stuffed in a case under my bed than I have had homes (and the latter is over 30!). Hopefully, I am now achieving the dream.

My advice would always be – give it a go! Don’t be afraid to seize exciting opportunities that come your way. Life is a journey and the decisions you take shape the directions you travel.

Welcome to my website and welcome to my world!