Category Archives for Education

Why child mental health matters to us all & why schools are key


I thought I’d mark mental health awareness week by writing a blog post a day on a mental health topic. First up, a blog about child mental health.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”. Fredrick Douglass (1855)

The above quote illustrates perfectly why child mental health matters to us all. The first signs of mental illness are usually seen in childhood or adolescence, with nearly half of all lifetime cases of mental illness starting by the age of 14. Early intervention at this stage can prevent more serious adult mental health issues developing.

So, it was disappointing to hear last week that despite the government pledging £1.25 billion to improving child mental health, they’ve axed the recently appointed School’s Mental Health Champion Natasha Devon, due to her expressing her views that the over-reliance on assessment was damaging to children’s mental health.

At least Child mental health is being discussed with increasing frequency in the media; The Times has been running an influential campaign based around the recommendations made by Professor Tanya Bryon and National Mental Health Week is receiving high profile coverage. National projects like HeadStart, have the potential to improve our understanding, but just how bad is the situation around child mental health and does it matter?

The statistics are out of date, but it doesn’t stop the need to talk about child mental health.

As pointed out in this blog post, the existing statistics around child mental health are well out of date – the last National study was over 12 years ago. Indeed the top recommendation by Tanya Bryon’s report is that the government commission a new survey, which they consulted for earlier this year – it will make interesting reading.

The youth mental health charity Young Minds gives the following stats which are rather sobering:
child-mental-health-statistics-young-mindsSo, while the claim that “3 children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health disorder” is misleading – is should at least say that the total figure equates to around 3 children in every classroom, the general message is clear – more children than we may realise have a mental health problem and this is confirmed by anecdotal evidence from child mental health professionals.

Talking to children helps

While we all have mental health issues at times in our lives. It’s when they turn into mental health problems and disorders, that there is an issue. 75% of mental health problems in adult life (not including dementia) start by the age of 18. Early intervention when a mental health issue starts to show prevents the personal, social and economic issues that mental health problems in adults and as Prince Harry stated at the opening of the Invictus Games this week, many mental health issues get better simply by talking.
As a society, finally we are getting more aware of mental health issues in general and campaigns such as Time to Talk and The Heads Together campaign fronted by William, Kate and Harry show that we are willing to discuss mental health and working to end the stigma around it. It should be no different for children.

So we can argue about the current statistics, but it doesn’t really matter. If as adults we can help children and adolescents feel better about themselves and prevent their normal feelings turning into a more serious mental health problem, then we really should. And talking to them is a really good place to start.

Schools can play a key role in child mental health

A tale of two schools

The first (enlightened) school I worked at as a teacher and Head of Year had a very caring pastoral team in place who were given significant time to deal with the wide range of issues that arose. The vast majority of the issues were to do with how pupils felt about things that had happened to them and encouraging them to talk, really listening to them and helping them come up with some possible ways forward really did make a difference.
There was a clear system for escalating issues where further intervention was needed and a school counsellor was in place long before it became de-rigour. And yes, it was a happy school. Pupils knew that staff would take time to talk to them and help. I have no evidence, but equally have no doubt, that this made a difference to pupils’ mental health and well-being.

It came as a real shock to my system when I moved schools and the pastoral support, let alone pupils’ mental health, was far down the list of priorities. Pupils were definitely not encouraged to talk to staff (and many staff sadly liked it that way). It was like a totally different world and, despite the fact that it was a more affluent and ‘successful’ school, there was a lot more stress and unhappiness amongst pupils and staff. Funnily enough, I left teaching soon afterwards.

Good teacher / pupil relationships are key

The whole school culture makes a difference and while teachers cannot be expected to be ‘mental health experts’, I’ll reiterate that many of the issues that children have can be helped simply by having someone listen to and talk to them. This is why schools are key as teachers are often seen as trusted adults and they do not have the same emotional ties as parents.

Such relationships are often easier to form in primary schools, perhaps as teachers develop deeper relationships with their pupils as they tend to see them every day, but all teachers have a role to play in simply being aware, noticing and raising possible concerns with more experienced or specialist colleagues. This article gives some excellent advice about talking to children about their feelings if you think there may be an issue.

Signs for teachers to look out for which indicate there may be a mental health problem include:

  • Withdrawal from social activity
  • Apathy or loss of interest in activities pupils usually enjoy
  • An usual drop in school attainment or functioning.
  • Problems concentrating or thinking
  • Illogical thinking
  • Uncharacteristic nervousness
  • Unusual or odd behaviour
  • Decline in personal care or changes to sleep and eating
  • Rapid mood changes

It is important to note that most children will exhibit one or more of these symptoms at some point in their lives – it just means they may need someone to talk to rather than being too quick to label them as having a ‘mental health problem’. But having someone to refer them in school to is a good first step.

Giving teachers mental health training

Giving some willing teachers in schools training in mental health, can help them to be more aware of mental health issues from a child’s perspective but also, and really just as importantly, recognise issues with their own or colleagues’ mental health…but that is another blog post

Courses such as the Mental Health First Aid training gives staff an overview of Mental Health issues and recommends steps they can take to promote mental well-being in their school. Staff who’ve had this training are then in a stronger position to help colleagues support students or to make referrals to professional services where necessary.

Referrals to professional services

Sadly, in February the NAHT found that two thirds of primary schools could not deal with mental health issues in their pupils effectively, feeling they lacked the resources needed. It’s always been difficult to get CAHMS referrals or access to an educational psychologist and CAHMS services have lost out to austerity cuts, although some would argue that schools do now have greater freedom with how they spend their budget, so getting in an Ed Psych or a school counsellor more regularly can be done.

Organisations such as Place2Be provide counsellors in schools to help to deal with pupils needing professional intervention. The government has pledged that every school should have access to a counsellor and are running a pilot to improve school’s access to CAMHS.

Such services are vital to help those young people for whom talking and supportive relationships are not enough. There is of course an irony that the government has cut the funding for such services at the same time as it pledges support for child and adolescent mental health. This of course places more pressure elsewhere and sadly it’s children who have mental health problems that suffer most. However, making sure all children have someone to talk to about their worries and concerns can make a difference and prevent them from developing into more serious mental health problems. And that’s what the best schools do without even thinking.


Psychology and Education

I started the final year of my MSc in Psychology last Wednesday and the focus on behaviourism in my cognitive psychology learning module got me thinking (again) about the place of psychology in education.

My teacher friends who completed PGCEs recently told me that they had not studied any psychology on their course – they had not come across Piaget, Bruner, Vygotsky, Skinner et al in any way.

That’s such a shame as I found that to be one of the most interesting areas of my course and certainly influenced my own teaching. Many of the teaching techniques we use as teachers have origins in psychology – collaborative learning, scaffolding, discovery learning, spaced learning anyone? All come from psychology and the subject’s scientific sister, neuroscience. The Royal Society’s ‘Brain Waves’ report in 2011 specifically recommended that teacher training should include a component on neuroscience and it’s relevance to learning.

A quick question to my very helpful twitter network revealed that there is widespread variance. For example, Scottish teacher education (not teacher training as Derek Robertson told me) deems studying psychology to be an important part of the course, and many teachers who had completed their training a long time ago, had also covered psychology comprehensively. Steve Wheeler of Plymouth University is helpfully detailing learning theorists in his superb blog. However, others who completed PGCE training in England said it was covered very briefly, or not at all.

So why should teachers learn about psychology and neuroscience?

Well, for starters, understanding how children of all ages learn, is pretty fundamental to being able to teach them effectively.

How people learn, retain information and the ways in which this changes as a child develops can help to give teachers greater knowledge and understanding about their pupils and their learning. It can help you plan and teach better lessons, identifying different approaches to learning that may be most effective for your pupils and can give a teacher an understanding of why pupils behave in a certain way sometimes.

Psychology can teach us how we learn and assimilate information, how we use our memory, acquire language and skills. It can also teach us about social groups, child development, behaviour and learning difficulties. All of which are key aspects of education.

So, while there are people, such as the author of this article in the Guardian who advise caution when applying psychology theories in the classroom, or indeed those who say it’s of little consequence, I would suggest that researching and thinking about how pupils learn and trying out different ideas based on psychological research is better than not thinking about it, or trying anything new at all.

More evidence needed?

Yes, further robust evidence is needed, as actually advocated by the previous article and Tom Bennett in this New Scientist article, but dismissing it all as neurobollocks’ (yes, gentlemen on twitter), is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, surely?  The wider world seems to agree that with more research, psychology and neuroscience may have much to offer education.

The Welcome Trust’s announcement this week that together with the Education Endowment foundation they will be funding 6 neuroscience (a branch of psychology) research projects, shows that there is an appetite for further research in this area. Their January 2014 report on educational interventions and approaches informed by neuroscience makes an interesting read for anyone interested in finding out more. The work conducted by Sarah Jane Blakemore and her team is also of great interest to anyone who teaches (or has) adolescents. Sarah is speaking at TLAB15 (so am I!) and I’ll certainly be looking forward to hearing her.

The psychology research community is determined to improve their reputation since Stapel and other high profile cases of false positives and inaccurately reported research. Indeed, the British Psychology Society’s research digest is often quick to point out issues with studies; in this case with a study claiming to show the detrimental effects of digital devices on children.

So, it’ll be interesting to see how psychology and neuroscience develop in education in coming years. Meanwhile, I’m getting my head down back to my studies!

Update: this recent podcast from Mark Healy gives a wonderfully insightful, funny and balanced view of cognitive neuroscience.

Minecraft Lindisfarne files

For you lovely people at the Digitally Confident Conference here’s the Minecraft Lindesfarne world.

Here is also a guide to staring your world for the first time.

If you need any more help, then do please get in touch!



Update on Using Open Badges with Year 7

Great homework badge

So, Year 7 and I are rocking and rolling with our badges! (If you want to know where we started read this post!)

The students have created some super badges, ranging from Great homework to Going the Extra Mile and Problem Solver. Almost without exception they have found the project fun, creative and have learnt a great deal. One noted; “This has been the BEST project ever”.  The criteria, as expected, was the hardest part with some students doing this very well and others needing more support – from their fellow students rather than me. I have only intervened to try to create a relatively standard approach to make it easier (and less time consuming ) to track and award badges.

The emphasis is on the student to track and then claim their badges (again, taken from Martin Waller’s work with his class). All students have created a table listing the badges they can earn, the criteria and a column to track them. I then tell them when I am awarding them a ‘credit’ towards a particular badge. For example, in Tuesday’s lesson two students who rarely speak earned a ‘credit’ towards their confidence badge as they spoke out voluntarily in class. They need 10 credits to earn their badge.

It’s an evolving project and the first time any of us have done this, so of course we are all learning along the way. Every single student has designed something creative and original in their badge and it been a great way of getting the students working together, encouraging their creativity, collaboration and critical thinking skills.

This has been one of the best projects I have ever taught in terms of the positive reaction from the pupils and the ongoing benefits. Anecdotally I have noticed a huge difference in the students’ independence, willingness to ask questions and collaborate. The process has encouraged them to work together, obtaining regular feedback and striving to improve their work. I’m going to be getting some analysis from the students and will publish the results when I have them.

Furthermore, producing a badge that others will earn has no doubteldy contributed to motivation and a desire to produce a high standard of work and I hope the ability to earn their own and peer’s badges will of course encourage the behaviours that the badges reward! It’s a shame we are not able to use the Mozilla backpack at the moment, due to the students being under 13, however Mozilla I know are looking at ways of resolving this, so I’m certainly hoping in the future we will be able to try open, rather than digital badges.

Meanwhile we’re going old school with a document table for the, to track but I intent for them to use a Google site later this term to be able to keep their badges and best work on – eportfolio style (similar to Carrie-Ann Philbin’s work with her classes). I’m also looking at getting some stickers made. I think seeing their work printed out and stuck in their peers homework diaries would be pretty cool. in I’ll continue to update you on how the tracking / monitoring works towards the end of term, however for now I am looking forward to awarding some badges to my very well-deserving students!

Also, do check out James Michie and Duncan MacLeod’s work with their respective students – both are very generous with their ideas and undertaking some excellent student-centred work involving badges.

Our badge design process:


  • What have you obtained badges or certificates for outside and inside school?
  • What badges would you like to earn at school in ICT?
  • What skills/behaviours can we reward that are not currently recognised?
  • What makes an effectively designed badge?


  • Decide on badge you will design & what needs to be included & sketch out criteria
  • Sketch 4 different designs & obtain feedback
  • Decide upon final design & mock up in detail
  • Obtain feedback & change as necessary
  • Design badge using Adobe Fireworks
  • Obtain feedback & change as necessary


  • Finalise criteria & gain further feedback to ensure is easy to follow for peers

Share & Track

  • Submit to shared folder
  • Design tracking sheet

Start earning / collecting badges!

Google Apps Training at St Joseph’s in the Park School


I was lucky enough on Monday to work with staff (and children) at the beautiful St. Joseph’s in the Park school in Hertfordshire, to help them to utilise Google Apps for Education effectively.

It was a really super start to the term and the enthusiasm, attitude and creativity of the staff was incredible.

I have never actually ‘led’ a training session, where everyone is off experimenting with different practical applications in the space of 5 minutes! 🙂

The school is already making great use of Edmodo with children to set homework and communicate and by linking up Google Docs to Edmodo, particularly using iPads, the hope is, there will be increased collaboration and effective learning. Connecting Google Docs to your Edmodo account is incredibly simple and adds another dimension to an already sophisticated tool.

Having worked with staff in the morning, it was really fun to have three children come in and demonstrate some instant teacher/pupil feedback via a ‘live writing’ task using Google docs. Each pupil worked on a different homework questions and their teacher, Graeme Ellis, ‘popped in’ and gave them instant feedback. The children said it felt a little ‘weird’ that their teacher was watching them, however they thought it was quite cool and helped them to get instant feedback from their teacher. I suspect these eloquent youngsters may be among the first Digital Leaders at the school!

Finally, it was wonderful to hear from Louise Martin about how she is using her blog with her Year 3 class. She explained how simple it has been to set up and use and the overwhelmingly positive response from parents and pupils. Hearing her discuss so modestly how she posts all her homework, spelling lists and activities on there in multi-media format was testament to the usefulness of blogging for all involved; I’m sure there will be some more great class blogs coming from St. Jospehs in the Park very soon!

I was made incredibly welcome at St Joseph’s in the Park (and had some of the best cups of coffee I’ve had anywhere, never mind a school!). Neil Jones, the headmaster is really inspiring when discussing, and demonstrating, topics such as effective leadership, sustainability of schools and using technology creatively. If you don’t already follow him on twitter (or the school), then I suggest you do!  I for one am very much looking forward to following how the staff (and children) are getting on!

How my ipad has improved my teaching and workflow


I’ve been using my ipad more and more in my teaching.

I just find it so easy to work with, both at home and at school and love the fact I can integrate the resources I plan at home (or quite literally anywhere) into my lessons so easily.

I thought I’d run through some of my favourite apps and my workflow.



I first fell in love with the keynote app a couple of years ago, and it remains one of my favourites. Presentations are super easy to design and. Depending on where I am, I either simply mirror my ipad to the projector (see below for more info), or I use my plug, or upload to Dropbox / Google Drive and I sign into one of those accounts and I’m off. I really do love keynote!

Good Reader

The good reader app allows me to hold large numbers of PDFs on my ipad and to annotate them. This has been a bit of a revalation, particuarly in terms of saving paper (no need to print out reems of print screens). Students save their work as a PDF and then I can transfer this either via dropbox or my mac to my ipad’s good reader account. I can then mark all the work using the annotation tools and return the work to the students, again either via email or dropbox. I’ve also saved the comments I’ve made in a document so I can use this to create a more official feedback sheet for large projects and have a copy of my comments in an easy place for Parents’ Evenings etc.

I started using Socrative last year after being introduced to it by Steve Bunce and I really like the simplicity of it. On the ipad it’s even easier to create and share quizzes with students and receive instant feedback. Response from students has been over-whelmingly positive and it’s really easy to use for plenaries, recaps or even summative assessments.

Puppet Pals
Looking for ways to introduce topics in ways that will grab your students’ attention? Look no further than Puppet Pals (and Morpho below). Puppet pals has a free version, although I’ve upgraded to . You can easily create little animated stories and I use it to set homework!

Morpho and PhotoSpeak are also fun apps that you can use to have famous people talking and setting tasks. Jessica Ennis introduced our last Year 7 project 🙂 I have found that they don’t always work with the reflector app, which is a pain as this is by far and away my favourite way to use my ipad in class.

Reflector App
Having seen how easy Apple TVs make it to display an ipad’s screen on a projector at during my work at Leverhouse and Leamore primary schools, I looked for a way of doing this. Although I’d love an Apple TV, budgets are super-tight, so reflector (previously called reflections) or Air Server it was. Having trialled both (you have to be REALLY quick with your reflector trial as you only get 10 minutes!), I plumped for reflector as it worked really quickly and effectively, and Airserver had a few download issues.

I love the fact that I can now reflect whatever is on my ipad onto my gorgeous big screen in the classroom. As I teach in a lovely, but slightly awkwardly shaped room, this has, quite literally, changed my teaching life as I can walk around into the nooks and crannies, ensuring all students are engaged and passing them the ipad to get involved directly in the lesson and WAY cheaper (and more effective in my opinion) than an interactive whiteboard!

If you’re considering doing this, there are lots of posts on reflector vs air server and I would recommend you try before you buy, just to see which you prefer.

So, there you go; a quick run down of my the apps that are helping me and my ipad be a more efficient, creative teacher 🙂

cc image: Sean MacEntee

First Forays into Open Badges

Badges I have been following with interest discussions around Open Badges, however it was C.A Philbin and Martin Waller’s blog posts that inspired me to get going with trying out Badges with my students

So, for the past week I’ve been introducing Open Badges to my Year 7 classes and thought I’d share my experiences.

I really wanted the students to get involved in deciding what badges should be awarded. The questions we used for discussion were:

  • What have you already got badges for?
  • Why do those organisations give you badges?
  • What badges could we have in ICT?

The discussions surrounding those 3 questions were quite enlightening, as shy students who had not said a word during the previous 2 week’s lessons, shared their achievements outside school and as the penny dropped that these were badges outside ICT competencies – teamwork, creativity, volunteering etc, the enthusiasm of the class noticeably increased.

The students are going to come up with the criteria for awarding the badges – we briefly discussed the need for them to be challenging yet achievable.

They will also design the badges themselves. We are undertaking a Graphic Design project and so, getting the students to design their own badges. This serves a few purposes, not least because it kicks off learning about the principles of good design (essential for other projects such as web and games design), but further involves the pupils which in turn, I hope, encourages them to earn their badges and those designed by their peers.

Giving the students some ownership over the badges they can earn and what their badges will look like is important. As an adult I know that if I am involved and I think my opinions count, then I am overall more likely to feel part of the group. I want my classes to be inclusive places of learning and so far, I am learning as much (if not more) than my students. I’m very happy with that.

Week 2: Pupils have been working in small groups on their badge designs and have come up with some impressive ideas!

Martin’s pupils have also been coming up with their own ideas and criteria – very cool!

You might also be interested to know that my pupils are particularly keen on the idea of having physical badges as well as the ‘virtual’ ones. After some discussion on Twitter (it seems Martin is having the same discussion with his class), stickers might be the way forward. I’ll keep you updated!

Update: 9th November

Having decided upon one final design for their badges (after getting feedback from the rest of the class), students have been working on the awarding criteria, learning how to use Adobe Fireworks and transferring their paper designs into a graphic design.

Awarding Criteria
The awarding criteria took some discussion, as students worked to communicate what they wanted people to do to get their badge in a simple, easy to follow way. Again, this was a great exercise as they really had to think about how we could monitor progress. For example, how do you decide when someone has ‘listened carefully every lesson’. They were all in agreement that their badges should be a challenge to achieve, with some teams coming up with a levelling system, so you could achieve different levels of their badges along the way to keep up motivation.  We tried to make it very simple – how will you know that it’s time for you to collect your badge / how will I know when a badge needs to be awarded.

Students also decided that the easiest way to monitor the badges was to have a chart, where they could monitor their progress and know when it was time to receive their badge (this also makes it much easier for me to monitor!).

Again, the fact that the students, with some guidance initially from me, then from their peers, came up with the criteria themselves has been important for their sense of ownership over their badges and I’m really impressed with the way they have developed an abstract concept into, in most cases, easy to follow bullet points – another great skill.

Graphic Design
It was then time to get going with the design of the actual badges. Rather than jump straight into the badges, we spent half a lesson designed an Angry Bird with Fireworks first, using this image as a guide, as the Angry Bird has been constructed from a series of basic shapes, manipulated using the software’s tools. This was both a great deal of fun and helped the students to consider what techniques they now knew that they could use when designing their badge.

The main techniques we covered were: creating shapes and changing their properties, using the sub-select and free-form tools to manipulate shapes, adding straight and curved lines, adding text, using the attach to path and punch-path tools.

The students will spend another lesson designing their badges, and so far I’m really impressed with the graphics I’ve seen and how they are solving issues they encounter along the way, often working together to solve a problem rather than waiting for me to be free.

This entire project is helping students to think creatively, work together to solve problems and I am very much looking forward to getting their badges finished and used in the classroom (I already have a few I need to award!). So the next update should be sharing their final designs!

Image by Semonuxe






Socrative Logo is a great “student response system” (think voting system but a million times better than the clunky, expensive ones).

If you are looking for engaging ways to assess your class, socrative should be added to your arsenal of tools.

I spent last Monday in a school in London where I shared some favourite web 2.0 tools with teachers and socrative was definitely top of the list.

Steve Bunce introduced me to socrative and it’s potential in the classroom, for where it was designed, is huge.
Teachers can get up and running with socrative in 10 minutes (possibly less). The interface is slick and it’s easy to use.

Use it for oral questionning, or create a quiz and set it for your students, deciding whether they do it at their own pace, or you control the timing. You can share quizzes with other teachers, see live results as they come in and download reports (some summative assessment sorted).

Students go to and put in the room number you give them. After that you control the activities they see on their screens.

The best things about socrative…it’s free and works beautifully with a range of devices. Time to get those mobile phones out of the bags!


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