25% need a Plan B

25% are leaving!

Last year, whilst speaking at several conferences, I met a large number of teachers who were just beginning their careers.   I loved their passion, ambition and positivity.

Those I met who have been working in the education system for a while were not quite so enamoured, and that includes Further Education.

In fact headline figures from the 2016 workforce census highlights a worrying trend that a quarter of teachers are leaving the profession within 3 years of joining it.  These statistics do not include FE lecturers, but I know it would show a similar story.

This means that there is a constant demand for new staff, trained teams, specialisms and an understanding of SEN in the mainstream classroom.

But worse than that, there are many highly trained educators looking for a new career!

A number of articles written in 2016 outlined teacher despair:

“I just want to do what I love without all the red tape and stress”

A survey conducted by UKEDChat was entitled: Workload and Bullying Main Reasons for Teachers Leaving the Profession

A commenter stated “The workload demands are crazy meaning there is no work/life balance – you just have no life. There were constant instances of ungrateful children and parents. I wanted to make a difference but I felt what I was doing was useless and it was making me ill.”

So if you’ve trained to be a teacher, and this is your calling, what happens when the bubble bursts and you look elsewhere to fulfil your passion?  What is the Plan B?




Don’t mix up negative reinforcement with punishment

Skinner’s operant conditioning – positive and negative reinforcement – comes into play in many areas of our lives. Often without us even realising it!

Negative reinforcement is behaviour which is strengthened by stopping, removing or avoiding an undesirable or unfavourable outcome.

But to make this work in your classroom, consistency is the key. Recognise your own behaviour, do you sometimes negatively reinforce?

What’s the difference between punishment and negative reinforcement?
One mistake is when you confuse negative reinforcement with punishment. I’ve had many conversations with teachers who say they are ‘powerless’ because detentions and sanctions don’t always work.  But this is punishment, NOT negative reinforcement.

Negative reinforcement has several strands. It can involve a negative situation which strengthens a behaviour, or it might be that you pre-empt a negative by putting a plan in place to reduce the impact of the negative.

Whereas punishment – such as detention – involves presenting another action which might stop the behaviour from recurring.

Some examples of different types of negative reinforcement (taken from www.verywell.com )

•  Before heading out for a day at the beach, you slather on sunscreen to avoid getting sunburned (removal of the unfavourable outcome)

•  On Monday morning, you leave the house early to avoid getting stuck in traffic and being late for class (removal of the unfavourable outcome).

•  At dinner time, a child pouts and refuses to each the vegetables on her plate. Her parents quickly take the offending veggies away. Since the behaviour led to the removal of the aversive stimulus (the veggies), this is an example of negative reinforcement.

Here’s another example of negative reinforcement, taken from one of my own experiences.
Donna, a tricky student, turns up more than 30 minutes late for her maths class. She does this because the ‘rule’ states that students will be declined entry from class if more than 30 minutes late. Donna dislikes maths, and uses this rule to her advantage by arriving late and being turned away.    This strengthens the negative behaviour.

What negative reinforcement takes place in your class?

If you want to read an example of positive reinforcement, check out this recent blog post about slot machines and pigeons.

Training resources. Shall we or shan’t we?

I’m not often irritated by other people’s opinions, but if they create a place or learning environment where their obscured beliefs are not ‘inclusive’, I must admit to feeling rather irked.

An example of this is where teachers or trainers exclaim proudly that they don’t (in their words) provide “death by powerpoint”.  Fair enough.  But by avoiding use of visual interpretation of the spoken word, they are excluding a good few attendees at their sessions.

Now, I’ve been to many a few CPD events where I can’t read what’s on the slides (because the font is too small) and the person just reads it out to me anyway.

This is unacceptable practice and of course is the death knell for anyone, let alone when you’re working with a room full of educators and support staff.

Which, I guess, is why some trainers avoid powerpoint altogether??

But if there isn’t any copy, am I expected to remember what’s been said?

It must be acknowledged that people attending training will need:

a) An opportunity and place to make notes
b) A route to follow along through the session with the presenter
c) A reminder of the content to take away

To my mind it is the job, indeed the DUTY, of the lead trainer/teacher to include these as part of the guided learning.  And it meets the needs of more than half of the audience.

I don’t have dyslexia, nor any other learning disability, but I don’t sign up for training in the same way that I book tickets for a good musical show.  I’m not there just to watch and listen for hours.  I want something serious, a thought-provoking learning experience with interactive activities, and I expect a booklet with a summary of the training to keep for reference.

So the next time I hear or read that the course I’m attending “….is not over-reliant on the powerpoint” I will sincerely hope that this does not mean that I get nuffin’.

LSA and Teacher – co-operation or ?

I read the blog from Joe Baldwin “Together not Against. The Teacher / LSA Synergy” and can totally relate to his position.  I realise that this is an emotive subject, and one where feathers may be ruffled or opposing opinions are given.

The ‘them –v- us’ is not a new phenomenon, in fact I can’t remember a time in my career when that divide didn’t exist in some way. Sometimes this is due to the low esteem of the LSA, due perhaps to a lack of training as a ‘professional’.  (I should add here that I have line-managed teams of LSAs which I hope clarifies my opinions.)

For many years the role of classroom assistant was filled by well-meaning mums or people who liked to give something back. All of these are excellent credentials, and I realise that this is far from the reality in many cases, but in education now the stakes are higher than ever.  The learners are more complex and the support needed should be the right kind of support. It should be given with confidence and received with gratitude.

But the scenario described in Joe Baldwin’s penultimate paragraph is reminiscent of an adventurous attempt at whole-department cohesion, where I was asked to pull together a training session including both teachers and LSAs from the same staffroom.

In my experience, having teams who sit/work together in class and staffroom offer a much higher chance of solidarity. The best models I’ve seen in practice are where the LSA is from that industry (like a technician) or has previously taken the qualifications themselves (often seen in hair/beauty and construction for eg). They all know what’s expected from the learners.

In spite of this set up, in this instance the training I provided only seemed to aggravate the feeling that the contribution from the LSA was not valid or reliable. LSA staff were therefore deliberately boycotting the staffroom and creating a chasm which was running into the classroom.

Some teaching staff felt that the LSA was critical of their methods and the communication between them had completely broken down. Professionalism gave way to petty grievances and unmet needs – definitely not challenged at the root.

The LSA staff were under the impression that they were indispensable and this gave rise to feelings of injustice – they were routinely “in the dark” about what the lesson was actually about.

Teachers did not give LOs or lesson plan to LSA because:

  1. there wasn’t one, or
  2. didn’t see the point in the LSA having one, or
  3. had no plan for the LSA

But even more worrying, paradoxically, in a couple of cases the teacher was over-reliant on the LSA (which can cause just as much friction (“I’m not paid to do this….”)) and did not think this was in any way unreasonable.

The least experienced/the most needy
I observed classes where the LSA took small groups off to re-teach the section. A recent article in the TES slated the way that TAs (and therefore, I guess, LSAs) are deployed in this way.  And while I don’t agree with everything covered in the article, it does strike me that we occasionally tend to put learners who have the most need with the person who is the least qualified.

My Utopia is

  • LSAs are PTLLs trained – easily achieved in-house
  • It should be the teacher who works with small groups who need additional support in class, with the LSA on hand to provide guidance for other learners
  • LSAs trained and deployed in their own skill area
  • Cross college and small group support needs to be covered by knowledgeable/experts
  • Teaching staff should receive an induction to working with learning support
  • LSAs supporting specific SEN should be highly trained (to give the right kind of support)

Last point – a couple of years ago I was team-teaching (mentoring) in a class where the assumption was that I was an LSA.  At the time I wrote a blog The Plight of the LSA “You’re Not My Teacher”  where I truly felt the heart of the problem – from any angle.

I’d welcome other thoughts!

Did Shakespeare first notice ADHD?

Is ADHD a 21st Century phenomenon?

A lot of people I meet ask me why ADHD wasn’t around when they were at school (pre 1985).

My answer to that is that it WAS around, it’s just that probably it wasn’t in our ‘non-inclusive’ classrooms.


The first reference to ADHD could be in 1613, in Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII, where he mentioned what he called a “malady of attention.”

ADHDFollowing this, a character affectionately called Fidgety Philip was created within a collection of children’s poems, written by the German doctor Heinrich Hoffmann in the mid 1800s.  Fidgety Phil was a little boy who won’t sit still at dinner and – obviously – fidgets constantly.  Another of Dr Hoffmann’s book characters was “Johnny Head-in-Air” due to his day-dreamy inattention.  These characteristics were drawn from Dr Hoffman’s observations when working with children in his professional practice.

Later, in 1902 Sir George Still (a paediatrician) wrote and presented lectures which were published in the Lancet (a highly respected medical journal). In these he wrote about his work with 43 children who all had normal intellectual ability but also had some unusual behavioural symptoms where he could see a pattern:

Poor self regulation
Low attention span
Mood swings

He concluded that this was a Defect of Moral Control because there seemed to be no particular reason for the behaviour and that they were beyond the control of the individual.

Later in the 20th Century, the names for the condition became a little more familiar and the timeline looks like this:

1931    ‘Hyperkinetic child’ (Winnicott)
1934    ‘Hyperkinetic Disease’ (Kramer – Pollnow)
1940    ‘Minimal Brain Damage’.
1957    ‘Hyperkinetic’ Impulse Disorder / Behaviour Syndrome
1960    ‘Minimal Brain Dysfunction’
1968    ‘Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood’ in the DSM-II
1977    ‘Hyperkinetic Syndrome of Childhood’ in the ICD -9
1980    ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’ (ADD)  in the DSM-III
1987    ADHD in the DSM-III-removed sub-typing


My view is that we can all experience some inattention and lack of focus at times, and this can be driven by tiredness, stress, trauma etc.  If you have, you’ll have a tiny insight into how difficult it is to operate at that level.

ADHD can appear to a lesser or greater degree in individuals (spectrum) and it’s the extremes of the condition which cause such impairments in everyday life.

So the next time someone questions whether this is a ‘new’ condition, specific to the age in which we live, tell them it isn’t.

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