Tag Archives: curriculum

Headline hangman – get your pupils discussing today’s news

The chief complaint by pupils about schooling is that it is not relevant. It bears little connection to the “real world” as they experience it. As part of my ongoing series of practical activities to promote “critical thinking” I would recommend the following quick activity to address this in an engaging way.

  • Headline Hangman

Everyone knows Hangman. So, take any headline from the newspaper of the day and play “Headline Hangman”. You draw lines for each letter and separate each word. If pupils guess a letter correctly, enter that letter wherever it appears in the headline. Incorrect guesses lead to the gradual construction of the hangman.

Introduce local rules at your discretion. For example, pupils can’t call out 2 vowels in a row; if more than one pupil calls out a letter at the same time you can add to the hangman; pupils can guess a whole word but if they get it wrong, you can add 2 lines to the hangman etc etc.

  • Benefits

I have always found this game amazingly popular, with children, and adults on courses too. Apart from being quick, its benefits are many.

At word level, children can learn spelling rules or anomalies. If a pupil calls out a letter, you can ask them where they think it goes and why. It becomes quickly apparent those pupils who think strategically.

At sentence and text level, there is always room for discussion about the choice of words, because headlines often contain alliteration or wordplay. After the headline has been guessed, you can invite pupils to see whether they could improve on it, substitute synonyms to make it more or less shouty, more nuanced, less biased or whatever.

  • Real world events

But even more importantly, the language learning is undertaken in the context of real world events. When the headline is guessed, it’s important to show the actual headline from the paper or Internet immediately so that pupils know the material is of the real world and not made up for the classroom. The key is to select something that interests you but this activity lends itself especially well to global events or issues that invite discussion. The very topicality, the fact that the stuff is in the papers today, makes it gripping and relevant.

Obviously, the opportunity also arises to become immersed in media literacy – the nature of truth as perceived through the prism of a report and so on.

In a crowded curriculum, Headline Hangman affords you and your class the opportunity to discuss news stories frequently and you will be surprised at how this can inspire pupils to read about current events. Your discussion about the article can be as long or short as you wish, but regular practice can only enhance speaking and listening skills and the ability of your class to argue and disagree gracefully.

Simple, but effective (The Independent)

I’ve used this game for ages and can’t remember where I stole it from. Apologies, but I would love to hear of any similar games or activities you have to introduce topical events into the fabric of teaching and learning…

Inclusion and “Every child matters”…or do some matter more than others?

  • What is inclusion?

For me, inclusion is not simply the toleration of all pupils, but the active provision of opportunities for all to feel good about themselves and to have the chance to flourish, whatever their individual needs and potential barriers to learning might be.

  • Equal moral worth

Let’s start with the premise that all people have equal moral worth, irrespective of colour, gender, ability, ethnicity, religion, age or sexual orientation. People may act better or worse and there are rewards and sanctions for those but the inherent moral worth of each individual remains sacrosanct. Each individual must have the same opportunity to contribute to collective well being and “to participate in the making of decisions that affect them”. (Runnymede Trust, 2000)

  • Principle of difference

Secondly, according to Lord Bhikhu Parekh’s Runnymede Trust report cited above, there exists the principle of difference. Since  individuals have different needs , equal treatment means that relevant account has to be taken of the differences. When equality insists on uniformity of treatment that results in injustice and inequality. (Osler,2005). It is misconceived to conclude that African-Caribbean pupils attaining less well in the EBacc  has nothing to do with what is happening in schools. The fundamental principle of inclusive education is the valuing of diversity within the human condition. We abandon the idea that children have to become “normal”. But… “the challenge is to nurture diversity and to foster cohesion and unity” (Osler, 2005). 

  • Recognising racism –
Racism is not simply a moral issue. It serves as a barrier to participation and is therefore anti democratic.  This has profound implications for political engagement and the well being  of our society. The same applies in schools. So, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000) requires schools to be proactive in fostering good race relations, not merely respond to racist incidents as they occur. Anti-racism needs to be linked to democracy, not just multiculturalism.

  • Inclusion in schools

 Reinforced by the Equalities Act (2010), not to mention the Race Relations (Amendment ) Act (2000) , teachers are supported by a raft of legislation that seeks to ensure that no child is left out of the health giving spa waters of our education system. Schools are not just practice for democratic engagement, they should provide its exemplar. As such, the benefits of inclusive practices would encompass the breakdown of prejudice, the flourishing of all individuals and enhanced contribution to collective well being through increased participation of engaged pupils who feel they are valued. It’s not complicated.

  • Why it’s important

The findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in October 2010 were startling and did not paint a picture of an inclusive society, notwithstanding the excellent work that goes on in some organisations. Here are just some of the headlines:

Children aged five whose primary need is related to visual impairment are about half as likely to achieve a good level of development as pupils who do not have special needs.

Pupils with special needs are disproportionately represented in permanent exclusions – nearly three quarters of permanent exclusions involve pupils with some form of special need.

Disabled pupils, particularly those who are learning disabled, are more likely than others to experience bullying.

At age 16, there are significant differences in attainment according to ethnicity, and these vary significantly between England’s nine regions.

Overall, the attainment gap for African- Caribbean pupils was about 11 percentage points in 2009. But in the East Midlands and in Yorkshire it was close to 20 points, and in the North East over 30. There were also large differences between local authorities. The attainment gap in Lambeth, for example,was only four percentage points, whereas in Bristol, Camden, Hackney, Kirklees and Leeds it was at least 20.

Overall, the exclusion rate is 9 in every 10,000 pupils. In the case of pupils from African- Caribbean backgrounds, however, the rate is three times as high – 30 in every 10,000.

Irish Traveller and Gypsy or Roma children are the most likely to be permanently excluded and they are the only groups whose performance has deteriorated sharply in recent years.

Post-18, young people of minority backgrounds attend less prestigious institutions, study lower status subjects, are more likely to drop out, and less likely to attain the highest qualifications.

Women remain less likely than men to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects).

A survey by the NFER of teachers’ perceptions found that almost a half (46 per cent) considered that bullying of pupils seen to be LGB is common, but only one in six (14 per cent) considered that such pupils were supported by their school.

These are of course selective findings and no doubt you would choose different examples but I have tried to show a representative sample. This does not point to an inclusive education system at large. On the contrary, certain individuals and groups are being disproportionately disadvantaged. We ignore this at enormous cost to our social cohesion. 

  • What are we to do?

There are countless examples of excellent practice in schools which provide a counterbalance to the bleak picture above. Essential elements of good practice seem to include clear and positive culture, policies and practices which foster inclusion. Vital as a prerequisite is the need for rigorous assesssment of individuals and groups  to find out where gaps are appearing, why and to set targets. Crucially though, this assessment should not just scrutinise achievement but whole school attitudes and values regarding ethnicity, racism, acceptance of difference, distant localities, sexual orientation, and so on. (Consider using as a template RISC’s excellent “How do we know it’s working?”)

  • Curriculum

Evidence shows that a flexible curriculum serves the goal of inclusion best, in that the individual needs of all learners are catered for. As a former classroom teacher I fully appreciate what a challenge this provides, but the notion implicit in too many curriccula, particularly at Secondary level, that all pupils should learn the same material in the same manner, using the same methods is the antithesis of inclusive practice.  

  • Culture and whole school ethos

The most progressive way to embed inclusive practice in schools is through the whole school ethos – those attitudes and practices that take time and care to foster but which reap huge rewards. Perhaps the key ingredient is to include all individuals and groups in discussions about their own learning and representation within schools. Please also consider which positive images and positive role models walls are represented around your school. Is there a genuine diversity within your displays, in your library, of resources? (Please see my previous post if you think this may be tokenism!) Do any disabled parents come in, not specifically to talk about their disability but to help,say, with ICT? Is diversity accepted as valuable or is it seen as a barrier to children doing well?

  • Barriers
The uncomfortable truth is that the barriers to inclusion stem principally from the adults, teachers, governors and parents alike. Children don’t have prejudices unless adults show them. As the Council for Disabled Children noted: “It is our attitudes and policies, rather than the physical environment, that can be more likely to restrict and impede learners with a disability”. I would suggest the same is true for all groups, but similarly our attitudes and policies can just as powerfully enhance and promote inclusion and collaborative working.

  • Conclusion

As educators we can’t right all of society’s wrongs and inequalities. Teachers should not be punished, or thought less of, if pupils across the board do not fulfill the highest expectations. Poverty remains the chief barrier to all children succeeding and we should not let our politicians forget their responsibilities. Racist, homophobic, disablist attitudes are rife outside the school gates. But, as educators we can ensure that no stone is left unturned to make our schools communities which others view as paradigms – places where the worth of every individual is valued with equal honour. What if society at large emulated that?

This is an enormous, overwhelming topic. I have barely skimmed the surface. Please let me know what your experience has been and what you think.


Osler, A. (2005) Teachers, Human Rights and Diversity                        Runnymede Trust report (2000)

Coles, M. (2008) Every Muslim Child Matters                                                              Insted: Equality and Diversity in Education  (http://www.insted.co.uk/articles.html)                                                                         Knowles, G. (ed)  (2011) Supporting Inclusive Practice

Learning – time to concentrate on what’s important

I really need to be persuaded that we should spend more time, in education, thinking about our assessment data than the stuff we should be learning about in the first place. Of course, assessment is a vital component of teaching and learning – but our obsession with it distracts from more urgent questions. This is an extract from a recent report I wrote, aimed at school leaders in the UK:

 “…The prevailing view of education stresses the importance of forming better individuals in order to produce a better world. Crucially, however, it is clear that the looming challenges of the next century cannot be solved by individuals, whatever their sensitivities, acting in an atomised way; politically aware communities of people acting collaboratively will be required. That takes practice – and school is where it should happen. We deny students the opportunity to become collaborative and active citizens, voicing their critical views about real world issues, at our peril.

“…I urge you to continue your opposition to the assessment culture, the tail which is wagging the educational dog. If only this vice like grip could be loosened, perhaps much that is creative would follow. Summative assessment records have their limited place but publishing results in league tables, whether national SATS scores or international test results such as PISA have had profoundly regressive effects on teaching and learning and are particularly inimical to Education for sustainability (EfS). They have led to a narrowing of learning as staff teach to the tests and subjects are divided into core and “others”. Although the interim report into assessment at Key Stage 2 conducted by Lord Bew states that “good academic outcomes do not have to come at the expense of a narrowing of the curriculum”[i], my experience, shared by many colleagues, is that a broad and balanced curriculum tends to suffer. Those schools without a confident grasp of EfS issues, tend to jettison it at the first sign of stress.

The American experience is one in which high stakes standardised testing holds sway, reinforced by performance related pay for teachers, which in turn has led to rises in cheating in tests and anti-collaborative practices amongst demoralised teachers. You need only follow Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch) and likeminded educationalists on Twitter to glean that this is a dystopia we would do well to avoid. Indeed, Finland, which ironically comes out top in the PISA tests sets minimal store by high stakes testing[ii]. The emphasis placed on the EBaac is evidence that EfS will always come a distant second to an education system built on high stakes testing preparing students for the job market. If [it’s right that] schools cannot be changed without the establishment of “collaborative cultures”,[iii] a principle at the core of EfS, then the high stakes assessment programme actively prevents this.”

So that’s what I said. What’s your view?

[i] BEW, P. (2011) Review of Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability-Progress Report [Accessed 12.04.11]

[ii] HORN, J. (27.11.06) Finns finish first without high stakes testing [online] http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2006/11/finns-finish-first-without-high-stakes.html [10.05.11]

[iii] BLENKIN, G., EDWARDS, G. and KELLY, A. (1992) ‘Recent and emergent theoretical perspectives.’ Extract from Chapter 2 in Change and the Curriculum, Paul Chapman Publishing In GRUNSELL, A. and WADE, R. (eds) (2000) p147 Unit 2 Reader, Processes and Management of Change. London: Distance Learning Centre, South Bank University.

Raise engagement and standards will follow

  • High expectations are good

Who seriously argues against this? We all know how it feels to be trusted to perform well and examples of pupils attaining highly thanks to expert teaching and high expectation are legion. Low expectations are patronising and demeaning. Sometimes they are downright racist.

  •  Raise GCSE results

But are Michael Gove’s latest ideas on raising GCSE targets for secondary schools really going to improve the education system in the UK? Whilst it is appalling that so many pupils leave school without a satisfactory level in English or Maths, additional pressure to succeed in the high stakes test is misguided. The motivation for better scores comes from the wish for UK pupils to succeed in the international comparison tests, PISA for example. Why? So our students prove themselves competitive.

American model

But…while we all want our children to be employable, this narrowly mechanistic view of teaching and learning is leading us into a cul-de-sac. Look to the US. Their “No child left behind policy”, so detested by the teachers who are forced to implement it, has led to a dystopia of inappropriate standardised tests, performance related assessment of teachers, teaching to tests, cheating in tests, less collaboration between teachers… Is this what we want?

  • Let’s pause

Standards are important. I’m not advocating a lack of transparency or an “anything goes” policy in the classroom. Let’s use everything we have to improve our children’s learning. Start with John Hattie’s “Visible Learning”,  in which he has analysed what really succeeds in the classroom (NO 1: effective teacher feedback!)…but the obsession with results as the focus is running fast in the wrong direction.

  • Pupil engagement

First, let us engage the students in their learning. This isn’t going to happen with a stronger emphasis on high stakes testing, which we know has the tendency to narrow the curriculum. Students’ chief complaint is that their learning is removed from the real world. So let’s blur the boundaries between school and real life. Engage them in issues that matter and are relevant.

And what’s the most important issue right now? Answer: How to live in a sustainable manner. Make that the cornerstone of your education policy, Mr Gove. Students are interested in it because it connects to their life. In high performing Canada, pupil engagement was as low as 39% but after reorienting to address sustainability, that figure rose to…62%!

And if they’re interested, the results will follow.

Climate change and the curriculum

Should climate change be in the national curriculum? According to Tim Oates, the government adviser on the current curriculum overhaul, the answer is no.

At first blush this seems absurd. Climate change is beyond serious doubt the major challenge facing humankind – how can we not teach it? But  Tim Oates is discussing not the importance or otherwise of climate change, but the very function of the curriculum.

  • Slim the curriculum

Personally, I am in favour of a slimmed down curriculum. Precisely because it will give schools an opportunity more meaningfully to integrate essentially cross curricular issues, like climate change, in their teaching. At present, certainly in Secondary education, the curriculum is so bloated that schools are failing or unable to tackle important topical issues, because their timetables are bursting.

As an advisor on Global Citizenship, I’ve been told too often that “we’d love to incorporate your stuff, but when could we possibly fit it in?” If the curriculum, as currently in play, does not allow schools to address real world issues in the heart of the lessons (not simply on an “enrichment day”), we need to address its function. Perhaps too much importance has been given to its role in our education system.

So keep the curriculum slim. Allow for as much regional variation as possible – schools should make learning as personalised and relevant as it can. Avoid a one size fits all policy. Let schools decide how to implement the curriculum.

  •  Dangers

Of course there is the danger that some schools, if there is no requirement, will avoid teaching about climate change. We have seen the same with some schools’ approach to community cohesion, now that that does not form part of the Ofsted inspection criteria. They simply relegate its importance.

Yet this is easily addressed. DfE can make recommendations or mandate schools to teach about climate change. Why does it have to form part of the official curriculum? But let chools decide how best it should be done – in which subject area, or cross curricularly. Let’s make no mistake -it is essential that climate change is addressed in our schools from the youngest age…How else are our young citizens going to have the wherewithal to address it?

Uk TE education sustainable development/Global Citizenship 4th annual conference

Plenty to take away from this very interesting conference at London South Bank University (28th= greenest university in the UK, ). It was interesting being in a room where people were broadly on the same page as far as education for sustainability is concerned. The dialogue is very different from that in your average staffroom, where you encounter everything from enthusiasm to contemptuous dismisssiveness.

What did I take away? Well, amongst many other things…
1) In our high stakes testing we are running very fast…in the wrong direction. Simple. What is that testing for in the long term? Yes, we want literate, numerate children. But much more importantly, we want them to live in a sustainable manner. That should be our goal in education.

2)Canada has very high PISA scores…second to Finland apparently. But, horribly low engagement by the pupils. I would rather have the reverse.

3) There are about 70 million children in the world who receive no formal education. That figure is equivalent to the number of school age children in Europe. Imagine the outcry if all those European children didn’t go to school. How have we let this happen?

4) We have got to make this decade of Sustainable Development count as much as possible and score some irreversible victories in the Education community.

Thank you to Sally Inman, Hilary Benn, Chuck Hopkins and all the organisers and participants for this fascinating day.