Lazy Stereotypes? Schools thrive on relationships but not like these.

How many great films about schools and teaching come to mind? Dead Poets Society? The History Boys? To Sir, with Love? The Breakfast Club? Each film has an ‘edge’, and an issue as the hook to its plot line: curriculum content, teaching styles, race, peer pressure

Television frequently uses the education setting too in serial drama (Teachers, Waterloo Road, Grange Hill), in comedy (Bad Education, Big School) and in reality programming (Educating Essex/Yorkshire/Cardiff) Each of these, like the films, at its heart is about the strength and impact of relationships in a school between and amongst teachers, pupils and parents.

It was with interest then that we looked what had been saved on the Healthy Toolkit HQ Digibox in the Summer Term. Ackley Bridge, a six part drama about the merger of two schools in a fictional Yorkshire town was shown on Channel 4 at 8pm, not their usual time for drama but a primetime slot aimed perhaps at a generation of viewers who as young teenagers might have watched any of a number of popular soap operas.

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As a vehicle for the undoubted talents of Jo Joyner and Adil Ray as well as a showcase for a range of terrific young actors, the programme certainly appealed to an audience who liked to see a few hard edged and real life issues. However there were, from an education perspective, a number of lazy stereotypes and a poor communication of the relationships that would be at play in a typical school. In fact much was unrealistic and in the realms that would have a school closely scrutinised in real life.

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The Headteacher

  • Mandy Carter (Jo Joyner) married to another member of staff Mr Bell (Paul Nicholls). Relationships between staff members develop in any workplace, not just in schools, but surely there would be some kind of expectation that a senior leader of a school would not be in a relationship with another staff member. Accusations of favourable treatment and of confidentiality would inevitably arise in such a situation. Codes of Conduct might discourage this, and a quiet sideways move to save professional integrity might have been in order. Kissing in the staffroom though? At least the laziest stereotype, the stationery cupboard was avoided.
  • Mandy has an affair, possibly a one night stand, with the school sponsor, Adil Ray. The lazy line of ‘it was a mistake, it was only once‘ is trotted out. His role however is portrayed as wealthy businessman with a sense of entitlement. He is outed, publicly, by his daughter and seems to pay the price at the hands of the Governors and his golf club. Ms Carter’s future remains unclear at the series end.

Ms Keane: English Teacher

A central role, Emma Keane (Liz White) would have been suspended or sacked several times over.

  • Emma arrives late for briefing on the first day of term, in flip-flops, straight off the plane. It is revealed that she missed the training day. Her friendship with Many saves her a telling off.
  • Estranged daughter arrives, drunk, at school and vomits in class. No school in their right mind would let her past reception. The bottle of fizz was a clear indication of her inebriation.
  • Said daughter takes mum’s phone, finds a topless picture from holiday and posts it on mother’s Twitter account with hashtag #AckleyBridge. Predictably picture goes viral. Emma escapes with little more than cosy chat with Ms Carter. Bringing the school and the profession into disrepute anyone?
  • The grandmother and carer of the key student character Missy Booth dies and Missy maintains a sense of normality for the sake of 15-year-old sister Hayley to stop her going into care. Once Emma finds out, no safeguarding procedures are followed; she takes on the matter herself. Once again when the correct authorities are involved, little more than a metaphorical slap on the wrist ensues.
  • Emma openly tries to pursue a relationship with another member of staff, Samir Qureshi, until his revelation of his engagement.

Mr Bell

Where to start?

  • Has already had an extra-marital affair resulting in a pregnancy. Great moral fibre!
  • Hit’s a boy and essentially acts to protect and support him to prevent being reported.
  • Same boy appears to have fathered a child, which he has in school in a sports bag! Mr Bell helps him keep the child safe (safeguarding) and to find the truth about the actual parentage of the baby.
  • I’m Mr Bell‘ he calls out on day one; insert your own response from the boys, it is that predictable a script.

Other issues

  • One teacher begins, then halts a relationship with a pupil. At least one pupil knew of this. No response has been apparent so far. We know these relationships occur and we know what the consequences of them should be. Here is an opportunity in a future series to explore this theme, fully and accurately.
  • Emma’s would be boyfriend reveals that he has been in jail for drug offences. The production company, The Forge, and Channel 4 must surely be aware of DBS. A jail term, and it must have been recent, would discount the teacher from a post. What school, in its right mind is even going to entertain the notion of employing somebody with any known link to drugs, user or dealer?
  • There is a stereotypical ‘school stud’ who chances his arm with any number of the young women students. Whilst again there will be characters like this, he had no depth other than an awareness of his image and at a different level from the school sponsor, to a sense of entitlement when it came to relationships.

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There was much to recommend the series though. It explored developing aspects of sexuality, cultural traditions in a changing society, social and class interaction as well as the integration of two school communities who we were led to believe were polarised.

The series has been commissioned for a further run of twelve episodes. Someone at Channel 4 must appreciate it.

The crux of the matter is that relationships are the key to the culture of a successful school. Get it right and the school will be a harmonious and trusting environment; get it wrong and toxicity reigns. Only this week Natasha Devon commented on how schools are getting the ‘S’ right in SRE but now need to focus on the ‘R’: well worth a read https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/schools-are-making-good-progress-s-sre-now-we-must-focus-r

We are teachers, not television executives, and we appreciate that teachers arguing makes better TV than teachers marking or answering emails. But if you are reading this at Channel 4 or The Forge, think about the importance of healthy relationships in a school and making them work to the advantage of everyone, not just to the viewing figures.

End of Year Teacher Gifts: It isn’t a competition!

As the end of the school year approaches like on oncoming train, the thought of many parents are turning to an end of year gift for their child’s teacher.

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This year this story has appeared http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/education-40503048/what-do-you-gift-a-teacher linked to a survey on a well known parenting website. Past articles suggest that gifting has become increasingly competitive among parents http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8585605.stm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8588733.stm

Should teachers expect end of year or end of term gifts? At this time of the year parents’ and pupils’ wellbeing might suffer due to the pressure to comply with the expectations of parents and children. What can we do as professionals to relieve this pressure?

We know that in some schools parents will organise class collections and that in some cases there will be social pressures on parents and children to comply. A £5 contribution from every family will result in a substantial gift for the lucky teacher. Think back to that social pressure. The very nature of society isn’t equitable and unless you are in a school in a Stepford Wives kind of community, unanimity among parents is unlikely. There are those who will contribute to the collective gift and to an individual present. On the other hand there are parents who will not purchase a gift for their child, not from ingratitude but because they don’t believe teachers should receive a gift for doing their job.

The class collections tend to come about in more affluent areas. If you work in an area of higher socio-economic challenge, talk of Mulberry handbags and champagne hampers will be unfamiliar. Here though we see the most heartwarming examples of generosity. In one of our schools, one mother made extraordinary sacrifices to buy the departing Headteacher a bouquet as thanks for the years of support she had given to her and her daughter; a touching moment that brought more than a tear or two. Handmade cards or cakes, made from love and not with any competition in mind: those are the gifts with the greatest value. Like the old woman who gave her last coins in the temple, families in these circumstances give more than those with the designer label aspirations.

We know also that the gift profile will vary dependent upon teacher age and gender, between class teachers and school leaders and most markedly between sectors; primary teachers are more likely to be recognised at the end of term than their secondary counterparts, having spent 90% of the school year with their class rather than 90 minutes a week.

Whether we receive a gift in any of the above circumstances, we should show our appreciation and gratitude for it. Here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we have received over 100 ‘Best Teacher in the World‘ mugs over our combined careers. In recent years some teachers on social media have been caught out making disparaging comments along the lines of ‘How original: a best teacher mug!‘ and then we saw this in The Guardian from 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/jul/22/teachers-end-of-term-gifts-the-good-the-bad

Now think about this. In the primary sector in particular, you are this child’s world outside of home. You have metaphorically held their hand, wiped their nose and been the consistent and reliable presence in their learning. They want to say thank you. They are not to know how many boxes of Maltesers, smelly gel pens or key ring fobs you have received in the past. This one is for you, the special one, meant with every ounce of their little heart and with every drop of feeling they can muster.

If you receive something from your class, however large or small, expensive or otherwise, it has been bought with genuine feeling and been chosen just for you; even if next year’s teacher is ‘The Best Teacher Ever‘ it is your title for now!

Remember, it is the children’s way of saying this!

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Pulling our weight? Did the ‘New Man’ ever exist?

A couple of weeks ago our attention was drawn to this article in The Guardian, set out as a comic strip but with a serious message at its heart: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/26/gender-wars-household-chores-comic?CMP=share_btn_tw alongside the question ‘How would you make this work?’ It may be appropriate to consider this topic on Fathers’ Day.

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In the UK equality legislation was enacted within the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and most recently the Equality Act 2010. Common sense would dictate however that the true impact of equality comes not for the power of the law but from personal and societal attitudes and values. Nowhere is this more powerfully demonstrated than in the home and in a family environment.

Two weeks after the birth of the youngest child of one of the Healthy Toolkit team he was introduced to a new member of staff as ‘our token New Man’. This was in the late 1990s for those unfamiliar with the phrase. It was a term he was entirely comfortable with, our colleague asked the DHT why she had described him so. ‘You’re a man who knows his way round a kitchen, you read, watch sub-titled films, wear pink without being self-conscious, don’t flirt with your female colleagues and you cry. But most of all you’re a great dad.

Though anecdotal, this does reflect upon the place that living by decent values has. Fairness and equality would feature in the values spectrum of any man, particularly one who has become a father. Fatherhood isn’t a status symbol; is a role with great responsibility.

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Responsibility doesn’t stop at conception! Though men will never know the discomfort of morning sickness and the pain of childbirth, but they should be there to support in much more than a tokenistic manner.

It is after your baby has arrived that you really show your mettle. Gentlemen reading this may have taken their fair share of night feeds, nappy changing, washing soiled clothes at unearthly hours. Equally there will be plenty who don’t. Have you sat up all night cradling your unsettled offspring to allow your wife or partner to rest? Have you taken the car out at 3am and driven up and down the bypass until the little one drops off?

Or do you come home and expect your dinner to be ready and the house spotless with the children already tucked up in bed? Do you play the ‘I can’t work the hoover’ card? Or play the ‘kitchen buffoon’ gambit? Even if you are no Jamie Oliver, any fool can fry an egg, make an omelette or even cook a ready meal or a tray of oven chips.

Parenthood is an emotionally and physically draining experience, but it is one which needs to be shared as equitably as possible. Both partners have lives, both have careers, both have responsibilities. Are the men making sure the balance of life, career and responsibility is equal? Aforementioned offspring barely slept the night for 18 months. She has grown to be a cultured, sensitive, intelligent, creative and progressive young adult, because we got the balance right.

Rights to paternity leave have changed in recent years. Gone are the two day limits. https://www.gov.uk/paternity-pay-leave/overview provides more information and parental leave can be shared https://www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay/overview though we still have a long way to catch up with the Swedes who have 40 days of paid parental leave to share.

We know in our profession that many of our children do not have a stable male role model in the home. Many of them will have a father that indulges in macho posturing at Parents’ Evenings, at the school gate or on the sidelines at Sports Day. Some of our children have absent fathers, through marital breakdown, domestic violence, substance misuse or simply through a denial of responsibility. Many of us will know of at least one child who has never met their father and others who don’t have the father’s name on their birth certificate.

Male teachers aren’t substitute fathers, but they do for many children represent the only stable, reliable, consistent and responsible male presence in their lives. Our conduct sets an example to them: in not fulfilling macho stereotypes; in the respectful way to treat women and girls; in settling conflict with words not fists; in our responsible conduct online and on social media.

Any fool can make a baby. Responsibility is much more than blood type and DNA. You have created a life. You have created that life with someone you love, and that life needs to embody the values, culture and responsibility that both parents hold dear. To be a father takes time; takes dedication; embraces a mindset to share the role and to take on more than a fair share of responsibility.

It takes heart, it takes soul, it takes spirit, it takes a real man to be a daddy!

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Happy Fathers’ Day  to all fathers, near or far, gone but not forgotten.

 

 

Arrogance and Insolence or Authenticity and Integrity?

Egg on face? On the 18th of April the election was announced with a reported twenty point lead in the polls, with the intention of delivering a mandate for Brexit. Seven weeks later there is no clear mandate and a chaotic and uncertain situation in Westminster.

For the second time in twelve months a British Prime Minister has had the arrogance to assume that the British people would do as they were expected. For the second time we have been left with uncertainty, instability and a lack of clarity. ‘Strong and Stable’? ‘Pale and Pasty’ would be more pertinent.

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As the Prime Minister returned from the Palace on Friday, her words to the press barely acknowledged the result. The fact that a projected hundred seat majority had overnight returned a minority administration, dependent on a minority party in a part of the UK that the ruling party has paid lip service to in recent times, barely seemed to register in the facial expression or tone of voice of the Prime Minister.

Of course as the largest party, the Conservatives have the right to the first attempt at forming an administration. If you aren’t aware, the first Labour Government in 1924, resulted from an election where the Conservatives were unable to form a ministry and Ramsay MacDonald as leader of the second largest party was invited to step up. Reliant on the support of the Liberals, the Scotsman was ultimately undone by fatigue, by having only 191 MPs, and by fears of the ‘Red’ threat culminating in the forged Zinoviev letter. A further election was called, ten months after the previous one. Political arrogance and sly trickery are nothing new.

As teachers we are required to teach British Values. Of course they are not uniquely British. If they were they would also include queuing politely and grumbling about the weather. They are fundamentally universal human values, applicable in a range of contexts. Here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we strongly advocate values and authenticity in education, especially in leadership. The five British Values are good values at heart. These were contained within a government publication published in November 2014 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/guidance-on-promoting-british-values-in-schools-published . Schools live by them; so should the politicians!

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Democracy

Whatever the issues with first past the post, this was a democratic election with the people able to make their choice and express their opinion. However  we heard Crispin Blunt saying “Like everyone else I was astonished. Some people say the electorate never get it wrong, clearly they have got it wrong. They’ve made it clearly tough for any party to form a government.” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/election-results-hung-parliament-tory-mp-voters-got-it-wrong-crispin-blunt-conservatives-exit-poll-a7781216.html

Well excuse us Mr Blunt for our sheer impertinence as an electorate but we will not be told how to vote and if we choose a hung parliament that is what you are going to have to deal with. We teach our children about ‘one person, one vote’ and how we respect each others opinions.

Calls for a second referendum, be it for Scottish Independence or over Brexit, likewise impacted upon the SNP and the Lib Dems. The electorate spoke once. We don’t need to be asked ‘Are you sure?’ whether as individuals we agreed with the outcome or not.

The Rule of Law

The Fixed Term Parliament Act was designed to firstly ensure some stability for the Coalition, but also to prevent the game playing about calling elections that the Thatcher and Blair administrations played. This election need not have happened until May 2020. Although the letter of the law was applied, the spirit was not. The game playing has backfired.

Individual Liberty

We teach the children that they can’t do whatever they want, but they can do what is right. Is it right to allow advisers more say in policy than ministers? Is it right for these advisers to reportedly abuse and bully cabinet ministers, democratically elected ministers? Perhaps this value should include an element of accountability.

Mutual Respect and Tolerance

Will these two erode under the proposed arrangements to keep a lame duck ministry in office? The days and weeks ahead will be intriguing.

If you lived through the 1980s you might concur that the prevailing political mood impacted on attitudes in society. It was the decade of self above society, individual advancement ahead of the collective good. The period from 1997 to 2008 was broadly similar in tone. Politicians have it within their influence to impact upon societal attitudes.

The last few weeks and days however would indicate that the electorate cannot be swayed by marketing and that the use of the printed, visual and digital media to promote or to demonise is not as convincing as might be thought.

What was supposed to be a single issue election was far from that. Education fell high on the agenda as the reality of spending plans became starkly apparent.

There is a funding crisis in schools. There is a staffing crisis in recruitment and retention of teachers and in finding effective school leaders. However many millions of pounds were spent on this election, and however much is supposedly being spent on education, it does not address the issue of schools with leaking roofs, with worn out resources, with decisions about staff deployment to deal with over the next few years. There are children in infant classes who should have the support of a teaching assistant as well as a teacher, but whose schools have had to restructure to balance budgets. There are schools with children who need EHCs but are unable to provide the support needed because funding, expertise and local support is no longer available. Schools are having to pay for services from their authority, previously available within support packages, and authorities are top slicing greater percentages of budget shares from their schools which haven’t yet decamped to academy status.

This is an unusual post for Healthy Toolkit. We are here to promote wellbeing in schools but in truth, and politicians of all parties need to listen to this, we will not deliver wellbeing alongside the best quality education without the appropriate funding to do so.

Do we want to see leaders of our country and of our schools who are Arrogant and Insolent, or those who have Authenticity and Integrity?

#SayYes2Wellbeing

Since our foundation, the team at Healthy Toolkit HQ has promoted the importance of wellbeing in education. Wellbeing is high on the education agenda and, as we have identified before, it is on the development plan of many schools across the UK. As the Summer Term began, the Times Educational Supplement dedicated an edition to the subject, to which we made a contribution. We believe that wellbeing needs to remain in this prime position as its importance cannot be underestimated. It is from this premise that we announce our new hashtag #SayYes2Wellbeing.

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There is a significant issue, some call it a ‘crisis’, with retention and recruitment in the profession. Whilst recruitment is one particular challenge (persuading NQTs to relocate to the capital with high housing costs or to some coastal locations) retention is another matter. With some sources suggesting 30% of teachers are leaving the profession within five years of qualification https://www.teachers.org.uk/news-events/press-releases-england/teachers-leaving-profession and others identifying which subjects will be left wanting for staff http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/teachers-crisis-education-leaving-profession-jobs-market-droves-who-would-be-one-a7591821.html retaining our teachers has to be a priority for all schools.

And how do we retain them? By looking after them and by helping them to look after themselves. That is why schools, leaders, governors and especially teachers, driven by shared healthy values teaching assistants and other staff need to #SayYes2Wellbeing .

Culture and Principles

Do we want to see Hard Wellbeing or Soft Wellbeing?

Wellbeing is best promoted in schools where there is a positive culture, one in which everyone in the school, children and adults alike, can thrive, perform at their best and be happy. Happy. Key word that one. For many of our children, school offers the most stable part of their lives. They are going to be best served by teachers who are satisfied in their own environment, not by those who are grim-faced, snappy and stressed. Only this week children in the UK were categorised as ‘some of the unhappiest’ https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/uk-pupils-among-worlds-unhappiest

A positive and energising culture in a school has to be a starting point for any wellbeing process. Wellbeing can’t be ‘done to’ staff. It is a shared and egalitarian process which has to be there to benefit the whole school community equally. Generating this culture cannot be a top-down process, though leaders do need to set the example and take the lead in planning. A model of ‘sideways-in’ to which everyone can contribute is a way forward in developing and maintaining the appropriate culture.

Wellbeing also needs to be principled, which we have blogged about before https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/putting-wellbeing-and-workload-into-practice/. Alongside developing an energising culture, principled wellbeing can actually determine direction and processes. Core principles and deeply held values can really demonstrate how committed the school is to the concept of wellbeing.

Culture needs to be driven by everyone; principles need to be bought into by everyone.

Hard wellbeing is driven by principles, by culture, by values and by planned actions and interventions. Soft wellbeing is characterised by gimmicks, fads and a tick-box approach to the care of staff.

Leadership

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The most committed leaders will know that wellbeing isn’t a simple concept to lead or manage as the graphic demonstrates. However modelling a sincere commitment to it demonstrates an empathy to our colleagues. Knowing what makes them tick, what their strengths and areas to support are, alongside showing that we wish to support our staff in their career path; these demarcate leaders with deeply held values and an ethical approach to their role. School leaders should be there to nurture their staff and children and to act in alignment with their healthy values so they can #SayYes2Wellbeing.

If the culture is one of ‘buy them in, burn them out, replace and repeat‘ such a cyclical approach does not allow for continuity, consistency or stability. Again from the press this week this piece https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/older-teachers-careers-destroyed-sake-saving-a-few-bucks is a concern. We face financial cutbacks, but playing games with experienced teachers careers also pays games with their mental health, with their financial wellbeing, with their mortgages, with their families and their relationships.

Another link on Twitter and Facebook this week brought up one school where plans had to be emailed to SLT by 5pm on Saturday and were returned by 7pm on Sunday with suggestions for improvement. This is too much. Weekends should be email free times. Teachers are not lazy. Each and every teacher will do what is best for the children in their class and that will involve a number of different strategies. To fret over an entire weekend will bring stress, burnout, anxiety and probably absence.

If as a leader you haven’t yet done so, we urge you to read and act upon the recommendations about workload. Planning, marking and assessment are addressed, and though far from perfect they do provide an excellent starting point for a professional conversation in school about the necessity and impact of some of the tasks we have to do.

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The best schools work on a good team culture. Staff support each other, step up when there are problems and leaders support them. If you are in such a school, celebrate it. Perfection does not exist. There will always be cause to evaluate, improve and to recognise mistakes.

Whether you are in such a setting or not, this graphic clearly demonstrates how positive thinking can help us as individuals to #SayYes2Wellbeing.

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Look after yourself. Seek support if you find things a challenge. The best colleagues and most supportive leaders won’t be judgemental and they will listen.

Take time for yourself, look after yourself.

Promote Healthy Values in your thoughts, words and actions, in the real world and on digital platforms.

Sleep well. Eat well. Teach well.

Show yourself, and your colleagues, some love.

#SayYes2Welleing

 

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WomenEd: #HeForShe

Yesterday it was our privilege and pleasure to present at the WomenEd West Midlands Regional event in Coventry. Massive thanks are due to @DaringOptimist and @TheHopefulHT for organising, hosting and directing an event which was inspiring, engaging and informative.

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For any readers unaware of WomenEd, where have you been? Over 10,000 Twitter followers gained in less than two years and a network of regional leaders and events is testament to the dedication of the founding team and to the chord struck by their message.

“#WomenEd is a grassroots movement which connects existing and aspiring leaders in education. Even though women dominate the workforce across all sectors of education there still remain gender inequalities, particularly at senior leadership level. The situation regarding BME leadership is even more dire considering the fact that the student population is becoming increasingly diverse. This situation is clearly unacceptable and rapid change is needed.  #WomenEd will therefore campaign and use its collective power to make improvements, so that there is a more equitable balance in terms of gender and ethnicity at leadership level across all sectors of education.” http://www.womened.org/

As it says on the tin, #WomenEd is pro-women, women leaders in particular. The movement is most definitely not anti-men. We provided two of the male attendees at the ‘unconference’ and we were made to feel most welcome and valued.

Any negative attention that #WomenEd has attracted has focused upon statistics about percentages of women reaching headship in the primary and secondary sectors. Whilst we can all quote statistics, the oft misused quote attributed either to Mark Twain or Benjamin Disraeli raises the point that to actually impact upon those statistics what really needs to change is attitude and culture, in a large part that means male attitude and culture.

Much of British society is still inherently sexist, and in some cases misogynistic,  with a combination of long-held and unchallenged tradition, a ‘lad’ culture, assumptions about childcare and an element of gender stereotyping. As Jill Berry told us yesterday, in her experience a fellow candidate  boasted that he had never failed to be appointed to a post for which he had been interviewed. This is indicative of a shocking level of arrogance and entitlement. Even though the reasons for the barriers and challenges that hold women and men back are complex, in a profession staffed in the majority by women, there are a lot of alpha males out there with attitudes that need to change.

Though representing a minority in education, particularly in the primary sector, our male teachers need to be positive role models, challenging gender stereotyping, promoting positive and appropriate conduct and demonstrating the value of respect. Our male leaders and governors in turn also need to be aware of the values they project and the culture they promote.

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As Claire Cuthbert told us yesterday, she learned to be 10% braver in applying for her roles. Claire and Jill, together with the other keynote contributions from Christine Quinn and Dame Alison Peacock gave everyone inspiration, hope and a few good laughs too as they recounted their personal journeys to leadership.   Sue Cowley’s message is embedded as a clarion call for #WomenEd.

So come on chaps! Be 10% braver to change too!

World Book Day: “Think before you speak. Read before you think.”

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

It is strange how an event aimed at promoting one of life’s simple pleasures seems to stimulate argument and World Book Day 2017 featured on social media and heavily this week, to a range of responses.

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The most common line of discussion is on dressing up as a book character and the impact that it has on the appreciation of books. The intrinsic value of dressing up is probably little; children will not become more skilled or knowledgeable readers by dressing as Willy Wonka, Matilda or The Cat in the Hat. Nor will decorating a potato as Little Miss Messy, Wally or Thing 1&2  necessarily motivate a child to pick up an unfamiliar text.

The fundamental point is that World Book Day is a celebration of reading, of authors, of the lives and settings they create and of the pathways to the imagination that they generate. Walk into any good primary school on any given day and the importance of reading will be evident through book corners, displays and, most crucially, children engaging in reading. On their own, completing online book quizzes, in pairs or groups, with the adults, with parent and volunteer readers; it is in the very fabric of the school day. World Book Day is just one day a year to mark reading in a slightly different manner.

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The costume aspect of World Book Day can of course be a challenge to parents, financially as well as creatively. For every parent with the time and resources to create sparkly red slippers for their little Dorothy or a tail and ears for Fantastic Mr Fox, there will be some for whom a purchased costume will be necessary. This has become a commercial opportunity particularly for the supermarkets, and in the vacuum between Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day the racks were filled with dressing up items. Just one look last weekend revealed that alongside Horrid Henry and The Gruffalo sat Batman, Spiderman, Hulk, Woody and Buzz Lightyear, several Imperial Stormtroopers and a sizable force of Disney Princesses. If anyone from the main supermarkets is reading this please think of the impact financially on parents, but also think about the difference between a film and a book.

World Book Day has become part of the cyclical routine which is at the heart of the familiar pattern of the year; Harvest, Nativity, Carol Service, the Easter Egg Hunt, Sports Day. Parents and children like this routine; it is safe, comforting and expected because primary schools have at their heart a sense of community, belonging and teamwork. And of fun… don’t forget that; that’s why teachers dress up too! At their heart though, schools and teachers are promoting the love of reading in itself as well as a means to future progress. Do you share your favourite books with your classes?

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Books aren’t just for World Book Day, they are for life. They are a healthy habit, and here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we believe that escaping into a good book is just as important to our wellbeing as exercise, good food and sleep.

Whether you like World Book Day or not, the best activity to promote reading is to read a book. Why not share your current and favourite reads or inspirational book quotes as part of #MagnifyMarchHT?

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“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” Groucho Marx