All posts by bloomsburypublishing

Embrace the Mess!

Having been on a personal ‘tuff tray’ journey myself, one which opened my eyes to the countless possibilities and benefits associated with using this versatile resource, I felt inspired to share these with others in the sector.


50 Fantastic Ideas for Tuff Trays is a simple guide for those looking for creative, sensory ideas for early years children. The tuff tray activities are linked to learning outcomes and offer next steps for practitioners to take ideas and motivation from.

Sharing my passion for these multi-sensory enhancements was the easy part, however, what the book does not provide the reader with is the aptitude to be able to embrace mess in the setting! Okay, so we work in the early years and we all know that children and mess are two interrelated things. We know it, but do we support it? Are we skilled at it? Do we actually completely allow mess to unfold in our provision? Real mess. The type which involves combining resources, moving items from one space to another, scattering, taking things apart, mixing, tipping and basically creating disorganised chaos. You see, ‘mess’ is a deposit of play and it takes a certain level of expertise to be able to  embrace it!


It may seem like a very simple requirement, yet so many struggle to truly allow the mess to manifest. Take me for example: I like order, organisation and everything in its place! I have this instinctive drive to clear and tidy up. Well unfortunately, order and organisation do not marry well with children in the early years setting which is the reason why we must condition ourselves to embrace the mess.  It is this capacity to allow disarray which will allow you to fully get the most from your tuff tray activities.

During a child’s play, if we continually spend our time ‘tidying up’ after them we are not supporting their work, we are in fact doing them an injustice. We are inadvertently controlling and leading their free play. In our need for neatness we are sending a message that reveals we do not value their innate prerequisite to explore.


It is simple fact that early year’s children like to transfer, transport and combine things. I have never prepared a tuff tray that has not had extra resources added along the way by the children. It’s how they choose to discover, to investigate and to learn. Dinosaurs in the foam soap, teapots in the paint, dolls in the play dough. It is meaningful to them. It’s interesting and the best way for children to acquire new levels of competence.


Albert Einstein stated that “Play is the highest form  of research”! I love this quote and I am fairly certain that he was referring to the child’s own aspirations  to explore and not play discovered in our measured and meticulous need for order and tidiness.

So, how do we obtain this skill? Well firstly we must not have expectations of how things should look or how they should evolve, this way we can never be disappointed when our anticipations are not achieved. Next we must acknowledge that we are indeed the ‘tidy upper’ the ‘put this away first’, the ‘don’t add that to that’ or the ‘everything has a place’ type of practitioner! Once we have done this, we ‘stop!’ It’s that simple. Stop yourself from intervening, instructing or taking over the children’s play. Allow them to work.


Of course, when supervising young children we have to contemplate certain risks so there will always be the ‘clearing for safety’ considerations and every setting will have different challenges such as space, cohort sizes and premises to name a few, but for wherever possible, we must allow the mess or ‘free play’ to unfold. Embrace the untidiness and see the magnificent learning which is going on amongst the disarray. When you do this, your children will truly get the most out of your tuff tray enhancements and provocations.

I hope you enjoy the book and the undoubtable jumble of chaos and wonder!

Sally Wright’s 50 Fantastic Ideas for Tuff Trays is out now!


June O’Sullivan’s Top Tips for Successful Leadership

Honesty and Integrity…Confidence…Inspiration…Commitment…Passion… Communication…Decision Making Capabilities… Accountability… Delegation and Empowerment…Vision…Courage…Passion…Emotional Intelligence… Resilience… Persuasion…Curiosity…

Leadership is constantly in the news. Mostly for the wrong reasons as we see example after example of weak leadership. Weak leadership is dangerous; it causes businesses to fail, organisations to collapse and for those working with children— especially poor children— it leads to failing education standards. But hey, it’s easy to criticize from the safety of an armchair. The reality is that leadership’s tough.

I have enduring admiration for good leaders, that’s because I spend my entire working hours trying to be one. Like most leaders, I have a lasting vision.  Mine was to create the best social enterprise childcare model where all children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, could thrive and succeed. I think it’s wrong that children from poorer families can’t easily access great childcare, especially when so much research demonstrates the correlation between good leadership in nurseries and schools and good outcomes for children.

Of course, a leader with a vision needs a team of people to support that vision. Great leaders make great nurseries and I am blessed with a team of staff and nursery managers who similarly believe in providing the best childcare. They want to make a difference and do something great every day, which is a continual challenge.

Let’s look at a day in the life of a nursery manager. Wake up to a text from two staff from the early shift telling you they both have diarrhoea and vomiting. Rush to the nursery so you can recruit an agency staff member to remain in ratio. Redeploy the team so that babies are not disrupted by the change of staff. At 8am, busy working parents arrive. One mum’s upset because of a difficulty at home and wants to talk, another has an issue with the fees. A child slips up and hurts his head. Two staff members need to reflect on their attitude to each other. The student tells you that her tutor has announced she is visiting later and she forgot to tell you. This is all before you’ve had a cup of tea.

You end the day with a staff meeting where you want to help the team reflect on the quality of their teaching. You’ve been observing and think they could differentiate and extend more. You’re keen to develop a new piece of action research because you want to measure the benefit of playing music during the day.

How do you manage all this with calm and confidence? I designed a model that summaries all the areas Early Years leaders need to be able to juggle.  It’s quite an ask given that nursery managers are often undervalued and their abilities underrated by the public.

June Blog Diagram

Most leaders are not superheroes, just ordinary people doing extraordinary things because of their great commitment. High management goes hand-in-hand with tremendous responsibility and power which needs to be respected and wielded with care and thoughtfulness. Good leaders buzz with emotional intelligence; they can read people in order to respond with sensitivity and humanity. They care about their staff, which includes having those frank conversations to pull staff into line. Performance management can be considered negative but it’s the framework that gives staff members clarity and a manageable set of expectations that help them recognize, articulate and ultimately achieve their next step.

Leaders need to get things done. I love the completer finisher staff who like to see things through within that SMART target. It’s marvellous to see change occur, no matter how small, like a new display or a whole refresh of the baby room. The joy’s in the sharing, praising, celebrating and evaluating what has been achieved. Even if it’s a fish supper at the Staff Meeting. The progress should always be documented, whether it’s face-to-face with parents, posted on Facebook, written in a newsletter or uploaded to YouTube.

Here are my top ten traits of strong leadership (in no particular order):

  Strong Leadership Consequences of Weak Leadership
1 Visionary with a sense of purpose and ambition You are lost and out of your depth and the business will fail
2 Credible and knowledgeable (a pedagogical leader) Nobody respects you and you will lose in the marketplace
3 Committed and passionate, caring for the staff and purpose Staff will neither follow you nor show loyalty
4 Brave and risk-taking Cowardliness leads to an unwillingness to face problems and a lack of innovation
5 Curious; keen to learn and support others to learn Disinterested staff and poor retention and loyalty. Risks business profitability and success
6 Persuasive, challenging and motivating Unconvincing so staff won’t follow
7 Great communicator Risk of poor organisation culture and brand damage
8 Decisive Doddering about so lack of trust and direction
9 Humble and humane Arrogant and unpopular so no leeway when things go awry
10 Emotionally intelligent; understanding yourself and your motivations Detached and distant so performance and retention likely to be poor


In my book Successful Leadership in the Early Years, I developed a  practical questionnaire to assess the quality of individual leadership. It might be worth having a look and completing it alone or with staff to review your leadership.

June O’Sullivan MBE is chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation and a regular media commentator. Her upcoming books 50 Fantastic Ideas for Nursery Gardens and 50 Fantastic Ideas for Engaging Dads will be out in July and September this year.


The Birds, Bees and a Giant Stork

For seven years, in what now feels like a distant and previous life, I worked to support primary schools with their sex and relationships education (or SRE). My role included training teachers and governors, speaking with parents and carers, and providing numerous resources. While all of this was helpful, in a nutshell, my job was really about managing people’s— often irrational— gut reactions to the idea of sex education.

“Won’t it encourage them to experiment?” “Won’t this disturb them?” “My daughter still believes in Santa Claus; I don’t want to talk to her about body parts.”

The reality is, we often have a response to talking about the body, sex and relationships in a way that mimics the attitudes held by the adults in our childhood. Once that reaction is unpicked a little, it doesn’t take much to help resistors of SRE see that, in actual fact, it’s always a good thing.

There are several reasons why it’s good for children and young people to have trusted adults who are prepared to talk about gender, body parts, puberty, reproductions, and sex. Here are some:

  • A Trusted Source of Information:

Without adults that are prepared to give children and young people accurate information and help them develop positive and realistic expectations about sex, our young people will flounder around with absolutely no understanding of what sex should or should not be about (or worse still, use pornography for information). It makes sense that children and young people who have never learnt about sex and relationships are more likely to ‘fall prey’ to negative sexual experiences.

  • Safety is the Number 1 Priority:

Having sex is potentially life altering or dangerous. (Think pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections or exploitative relationships.) Crossing the road is also dangerous. Imagine if talking about crossing the road safely was embarrassing. Would that stop you teaching your child how to cross the road safely?

  • Not Harmful When Discussed Sensitively:

Parents and carers who have told their children how babies are made at a very young age would argue their children are no less innocent for having this information.

  • Encourages Trust Between Parent and Child:

Talking openly about sex early in a child’s life teaches them that adults are prepared to discuss these topics and that there are people they can turn to for help and support.

  • Sets Realistic Expectations:

Children and young people are bombarded with information about sex, relationships and gender from a variety of sources (for example: TV adverts, graffiti, shop displays, posters, the internet, computer games, pop videos, TV programmes, their school friends, older brothers and sisters etc). Some of the messages children receive from these sources are not accurate or realistic and in the absence of adults to help them process this information, they are often left confused or with ‘unhealthy’ ideas.

  • Inconsistent SRE at School:

School SRE varies considerably in quality and quantity. Parents and carers cannot assume their child will receive comprehensive SRE at school. This can be illustrated by the fact that 10 % of girls in the UK start their periods without knowing what is happening to them because nobody has told them anything. This can be an extremely worrying experience for a girl.

For me personally, telling my children in simple terms at a young age how babies are made seemed the right thing to do. They knew as soon as they were old enough to understand. They were also still young enough not to have picked up anything about these topics being embarrassing or awkward for some people and they simply showed an innocent interest in what I was telling them.  They always felt they could ask questions knowing they would get an honest answer. I think I ultimately equipped my children to feel comfortable accessing support in this area.

9781472946416I strongly believe conversations about these topics between parents, carers and their children only have a positive impact. That’s why I wrote, Let’s Talk About the Birds and the Bees. The book is quite comprehensive and aimed at young children. It explains how boys, girls and adults’ bodies are different; it explores the idea of safe touching; what’s appropriate for public and what needs to be kept private; the changes of puberty; how a baby is made and that sex is not just about reproducing. It also explores pregnancy and birth, what love is, what is involved in parenthood and why some parents’ relationships go wrong. The simple language is enhanced with wonderful illustrations and the only euphemism is in the title! I never used euphemisms with my children. If I had written this book when my children were young, I certainly would have used it!



Molly Potter’s books Let’s Talk About the Birds and the Bees and What’s Worrying You? are out now. Her newest book, Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies is out on 4th October 2018.




Leaf Angles and Soggy Wellies: How to Take Lessons Outside

Imagine the scene—your Head comes in, looking harassed. The Government has ordered that all pupils should spend a minimum of 10% of their curriculum time outdoors, and PE is not to be included in this calculation.

What would be your first thought? That you don’t have enough space? What could you do with them? What would happen to the learning? What about rain?

As the Curriculum Enrichment Leader of a small Primary Academy Trust in west London, this is a long term aim of ours. All three schools are in built-up areas, and we have worked hard to begin developing our outdoor spaces to make them more curriculum-friendly.

All the evidence points to children spending less and less time outside, with 74% of children spending less than an hour playing outside each day. This contrasts with UN guidelines that prisoners have the right to one hour’s outdoor exercise each day as a minimum.

So why are we such advocates of outdoor learning? Being outside brings a multitude of benefits— children are able to concentrate for longer, ask more questions, and are more engaged with their learning when outdoors. We are working hard to bring more of the curriculum outside— Art, Maths, English, Science and Geography all leap comfortably into outdoor spaces, be it creating poetry under the canopy of a sycamore, to digging under the ground to test the acidity of the soil. Behaviour improves and different characters emerge. In one session recently, one child kept exclaiming “oh, I’ve never done this before” so often it became a catchphrase.

For some schools, shelter from the weather is a priority. Although the phrase “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” is generally true, children can cope with about sixty minutes of wet weather before starting to struggle. Children should, at the very least, be armed with coats to stave off wet or windy weather, and teachers can ask for a Welly Collection from parents— paired with beefy bulldog clips for hanging soggy gear.

If you have no outside shelters (either manmade or natural), buy a gazebo sail and find the funds to have three posts put up— these work perfectly. You could even look on websites like Freegle for actual windsails (we got four this way).

The first approach to taking more lessons outside starts with a good look at the timetable for the week. Look at the lessons which absolutely have to be taught indoors, and cross them off. Next, consider the lessons which would be enhanced by using outdoor spaces, although often just a change of scene can reinvigorate a class, make your outdooring more than simply this. Finding isosceles triangles in nature is ridiculously more interesting than a worksheet and greater depth can easily occur with protractors. Collecting and measuring leaf angles will position the memory far more successfully than the lesson you would carry out inside a classroom.

Try it, just for a week. Find two lessons which would zing by happening outside, then make the leap. You won’t look back.


Stephen Lockyer is the Curriculum Enrichment Leader of the Lumen Learning Trust in outer west London, where new staff are issued with fleeces as part of their welcome package.

He has written three books for Bloomsbury, which are available here, and his other books can be found here. His latest title, 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Interventions, is out now.

   100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Outstanding Teaching   100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Interventions


Alistair Bryce-Clegg’s Top Tips For Effective Transition Into Year One

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlistair Bryce-Clegg was head teacher of an infant school and Early Years unit for 10 years. Alongside his headship, he worked as an EYFS consultant working with a diverse range of settings to help them enhance their EYFS practice. In 2009, Alistair left headship and went into full time consultancy with his business ABC Does.

 This is Alistair’s 25th book for Bloomsbury Education; he is also series editor of the popular 50 Fantastics series.

A really good transition to Year One can make a significant difference when it comes to children’s well-being and attainment. As our children join Key Stage 1, it is really important to be mindful of the fact that they are only five or six weeks older than when they left Foundation Stage. In those five or six weeks, they have probably done very little (if any) guided reading, phonics or mega maths! It will take them a little while to get back to where they were before the summer. That is why the more familiar the Year One space is, and the more it reflects the way they are used to learning, the faster their progress would be.

There are lots of elements to an effective transition. Some are to do with culture and others are to do with activity, but if I had to give you my top five transition tips, they would be:


  1. Transition is a process not an event

One thing to keep at the forefront of your thinking is that children should enjoy the transition process – not just experience or endure it, but actually enjoy it. For this to happen, it needs to be planned well in advance. If it is practical, then pre-transition visits should be regular throughout the year, not just in the last week of the summer term. Children should have lots of opportunities to visit the Year One space, even if there is no guarantee that it house the same teacher next year. Every bit of familiarity helps.

  1. Play – it’s not a four-letter word!

A play-based approach to transition is not just about getting out the buckets and spades and some construction on a rug! We want children to be able to build on what they already know and to hone and extend their skills, resulting in them becoming effective learners.

A good EYFS environment is based on accurate assessment, skill development, and implicit and explicit challenge. It is not left to chance and it doesn’t happen by accident. When the children transition into Year One, there needs to be the same rigour applied to their play spaces as there was in Reception. High level engagement leads to high level attainment and children are rarely more engaged than when at play – whatever their age.

  1. Continuity is key

As adults, we can find the transitions that we make in our life nerve-racking and unsettling, such as starting a new job or moving to a new area. We often don’t feel happy and settled until things become a bit more familiar.

This sort of feeling is no different for children, in fact it is likely to be greatly magnified. As adults, we have a great deal of prior knowledge and experience of life to draw on, whereas children have significantly less. They don’t know from experience that everything is likely to be all right, nor do they have strategies for dealing with the situation if it isn’t. That is why good transitions are crucial, both for children’s emotional well-being, and their potential for attainment.

  1. Don’t forget the parents/carers

Transition is primarily about children, but it is also about their parents. Parents and carers need to feel well informed about and comfortable with all transitions in their child’s life. Children, parents/carers and staff need to be involved on an equal basis. Parents need lots of opportunities to access a variety of information to let them know what Year One will look like and what to expect. Transition is about the setting fitting the child, not the child fitting the setting.

23 effective transition into year 1

  1. Enjoy it!

The most important thing to remember about transition is that effective transition takes time. Effective play-based transition can have a really powerful effect on all children, capitalising on what they know and how they learned it, enabling them to be the best that they can be in Year One.

Effective Transition into Year One is available to buy now


Managing homework for you and your pupils: the checklist by Jenna Lucas

Many teachers struggle to manage homework. Many teachers would like to see it banned altogether, in fact, so would many parents! Homework has always been a subject of debate. Does it have any significant impact on children’s learning, or it an expected ‘hassle’ that increases teacher workload and tensions among families? As a teacher and parent, I don’t mind the extra work of arranging homework or supporting my children at home, when I can see its value. When homework builds upon the learning in the classroom, or helps to prepare for upcoming lessons, it can be of real value but it worth remembering these points:

  • Work WITH parents

Communication is key, as is a well-established routine. Right from the word go, share with your parents how much homework will be set, when it will be set, and when it is due. Many schools have a homework policy- as a class teacher, make sure you are familiar with this and are following the guidelines to ensure consistency across the school.

  • will be kids!

Every week, without fail, there will be someone who will lose their sheet! If your pupils have a homework book, it is worth any sheets being stuck in. Even better, update your class page with a copy of the week’s homework task. This allows parents/older pupils to easily access their homework, meaning you are not bothered when the child/parent is panicking at the last minute!

  • Provide a WAGOLL (What a good one looks like)

Things regularly change in education and often, the strategies used nowadays will baffle the parents. Recently, a friend of mine with a Year 1 child had no idea what it meant to ‘dot/underline the sound buttons’ of alien words. Providing an example of what the homework should look like, with an explanation can save families hours of time and avoid tensions when it is clear that the child was correct, after all! This particularly applies to many maths strategies.

  • Consider the workload (for you and your pupils)

Planning ahead is important here. Weeks vary in the teacher calendar. If you can see you have double parents’ evenings or an assessment week coming up, be careful not to set homework that will require marking- this is the last thing you need. Children also have busy lives, and similarly, when they have evening concerts or school trips, they will be tired. Homework activities that focus on pupils’ wellbeing are particularly useful during busy times. Chapter 1 of 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Homework focuses on pupil wellbeing activities.

  • Use homework to prepare for upcoming lessons

Share with your pupils and parents information about upcoming lessons and how they can prepare. This might involve finding out some information, asking questions or planning an idea. Once back in the classroom, the children can discuss these, meaning even those who forgot get the chance to hear from others before the lesson starts.

  • Prepare a bank of useful activities

Keep hold of homework tasks you set, as chances are they will come in useful the following year. It is also worth sharing with the parents a list of activities they can easily undertake on a regular basis. Idea 23 ‘Recall’ (100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Homework) provides a list of quick-fire recall games that parents can play with their children to support mental maths. These ideas can again be shared on the class webpage, or sent home as a booklet, for parents to refer to. If these games are also played regularly in school, the children are familiar with them, making it easier to play at home.

  • What is the point?

All too often, teachers rush around at the last minute, photocopying some worksheet for the children’s homework. But it worth considering the purpose of your homework tasks. How does it support/reinforce what is happening in your classroom? Is it an appropriate level for the children? Will it add hugely to your workload?

Jenna Lucas has been a primary school teacher for 12 years, originally in Bristol and now in Bournemouth. In her teaching career she has taught Early Years through to year 6 and led English as well as teaching and learning in the curriculum in her own school and in others in a coaching and mentoring role.

6 , 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers Homework.jpg


100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Homework is Jenna’s first book for Bloomsbury Education and is available now.

You can follow her on Twitter @JennaLucas81



Visit our 100 Ideas page to see the full range of titles in the series for Early Years, Primary and Secondary Teachers

‘IF’ For Teachers by Joshua Seigal

“I was inspired to write this poem during a workshop I ran for students, in which we looked at Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem ‘If’. I asked them to have a go at writing their own versions of the poem, based on their ideas about what constitutes an effective leader. I decided to give it a go too, and this is the result. Enjoy!”

If you can keep your voice when all about you
Are using theirs to bellow over you;
If you can dish out rules when all kids flout you
But see the humour in their flouting too;
If you can care and not get tired of caring
Or, being dissed, maintain a steady poise,
Or, being sworn at, not give way to swearing,
And see the stillness in amongst the noise;

If you can plan but not make plans your mistress;
If you can chill and have a nice weekend;
If you can still take care of all your business
And not let children drive you round the bend;
If you can bare to see the gifts you’ve given
Received by ingrates with a sullen grunt,
Or feel the fuel diminish, but stay driven
And smile when the Head is being a…difficult person to work with;

If you can make an ally of a parent
And both look out for what you think is best
For Little Johnny when he has been errant
And hasn’t done his work or passed his test;
If you can force your brain and heart and sinew
To teach the things that Ofsted says you should,
And so make sure the governors don’t bin you
And that the school maintains its place as ‘Good’;

If you can talk with yobs and keep composure
Or plug away when they don’t give a damn;
If you can act when there’s been ‘a disclosure’
And not display the news on Instagram;
If you can keep calm while you have to wing it
With sixty minutes worth of ‘drama games’,
Yours is the class, and everything that’s in it
And – which is more – you might not go insane.



For more content from Joshua, follow him on Twitter or visit his website.


What Kids are Reading and Why we Commissioned the High/Low Series by Hannah Rolls (Commissioning Editor for Fiction & Poetry at Bloomsbury Education)

I’m always interested to hear more about what books children are reading so I was excited to see the recent release of the 2017 ‘What Kids Are Reading’ report: perfect reading matter for a reading geek like me!

The report looks at the reading habits of over 800,000 primary and secondary school children over the last year and is fascinating to those of us who spend our days trying to figure out how to get children as addicted to books as we are.

One of the things in the report that makes me particularly sad is the list of the most read books by struggling readers. These are children who are reading well below the expected level for their age, but I can’t believe that 9-11 year old children are excited to be reading The Gruffalo (the second most read book by struggling readers in year 5 and the third most read by struggling readers in year 6).  Obviously Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s masterpiece is a modern classic but these are children whose classmates have moved on to Roald Dahl, David Walliams and the Wimpy Kid series.

One of the things I’ve been working on here at Bloomsbury education over the last 18 months or so is improving what we have available for struggling readers so that (I hope) children can find something age appropriate to read, with just the right level of challenge.

The books in our new Bloomsbury High Low series have a higher interest age than their reading age – making them perfect for struggling readers, those with dyslexia and those with English as an additional language. Both the reading age and the interest age are printed on the back next to the barcode to make it really easy to tell who a book is for.

We’ve used tinted paper and a font from a list suggested by the British Dyslexia Association to try and make things a bit easier for children with Irlen syndrome or dyslexia. And we’ve worked with literacy experts from the charity Catch Up to make sure the text is perfectly tailored to suit the needs of struggling readers.

Most importantly, we’ve worked with brilliant authors and illustrators to make these books as engaging as possible – I really hope all children will find something they can get excited about here.

For more information on the Bloomsbury High/Low series and the brilliant new titles please visit


Not another boarding school…! Jo Cotterill on creating the setting for the Hopewell High series

Jo Cotterill was an actor and a teacher before becoming a full-time writer. She lives in Oxfordshire with her husband and two daughters. She likes music and roller coasters. And cheese. And chocolate. And monkey nuts. And CAKE.

Before I was an author, I taught for a while at a girls’ boarding school. Boarding schools are completely different from day schools: they have their traditions, their schedules and their unique names for rooms! I used to teach in a room called ‘Nuts’ (make of that what you will…!) and the dormitories had wonderful names like Mousehole and Pink Panther.
When I came to write Hopewell High, I wanted to create a similar environment for my characters, who share a bedroom. I called their room ‘the Nest’ becaStage Fright 1use it conjures up images of a cosy place where people can feel safe. In fact, the series itself was originally called ‘A Nest of Secrets’, which gives a hint of the dark and difficult issues the characters are dealing with.
Hopewell High features a set of four friends, and each girl takes centre stage in a book inAll Too Much 1
the series. Each one is struggling with her own issues: in All Too Much, Samira resorts to self-harm as a way to deal with extreme academic pressure, and in Stage Fright, Alice’s anxiety attacks threaten to ruin her chance to perform in the school production of Legally Blonde. The last two books in the series will feature Hani, a champion athlete, and Daisy, a girl who doesn’t feel complete without a boyfriend.
Being a teenage girl is harder than it’s ever been, I think, thanks to educational reforms and the internet. Girls these days are expected to want it all, to aim high, to throw off the shackles of patriarchal expectation – and yet, still to be pretty and attractive and know when to keep quiet. Hopewell High touches on the issues many teens face without being too heavy, I hope – and also to emphasise the importance of friends and good friendship, which can overcome almost anything. Girls need to be encouraged to support each other in times of trouble, and a boarding school setting proved the perfect place for me to explore this. My only regret is that I didn’t manage to work in a midnight feast!

All Too Much and Stage Fright are available to buy now. Look out for the next two titles in the Hopewell High series: Eat Cake and Run and Like and Share which publish in early 2018

Re-learning to be wrong: philosophy in schools and metacognition

By Peter Worley 

‘Metacognition’ is one of those words that gets thrown around a great deal in education circles, but if you ask what it means, very often you’ll be met with silence or stammering. Philosophy is put forward as an exemplar intervention for metacognitive development in classrooms in a recent programme for the BBC World Service:  and in a short BBC film (in which ‘The Happy Prisoner’ from my book The If Machine is being used). So, what is ‘metacognition’ and how does philosophy help achieve it?

In short, metacognition is when one reflects on one’s own thinking or learning process, evaluating and monitoring it. Put as simply as possible, one is not merely thinking or learning when one is ‘metacognising’, one is thinking about how well one is thinking or learning in order to improve.

The Education Endowment Foundation has conducted research into metacognition and ‘philosophy for children’, but no link between the two is shown or claimed in either piece of research, and, as far as I can tell (please correct me if you know this to be wrong!) there is no research showing the link between philosophy interventions and metacognition. However, intuitively, it would seem that philosophy is par excellence the discipline of metacognition; after all, philosophy has for millennia been associated with classic metacognitive attitudes: questioning assumptions, demanding critical analysis, changing shifts of perception (even when unwanted!), problematisation and so on. Though this may be uncontroversially the case with adult academic philosophy I think we should be cautious about attributing all these metacognitive attitudes to philosophy interventions with children. Only if we can show that these attitudes are actually occurring within the philosophy sessions in schools can we perhaps make the claim that philosophy in schools develops metacognition.

I think that if, during a philosophy session in a school, the children merely respond to a stimulus and then discuss it, sometimes disagreeing with other along the way, then I would say that this is not sufficiently critical for metacognition to occur in any significant or substantive way. So, the easiest way to observe and measure metacognition (though, not the only way) is to consider how critical thinking skills are being deployed.

The Philosophy Foundation and King’s College London are currently looking into exactly this: how doing philosophy develops critical thinking skills. However, we are not only measuring and observing what critical thinking skills the children demonstrate, we are also implementing a critical thinking intervention: we are teaching the children (aged between 8 and 11) certain critical thinking skills (e.g. counter-example, distinction-drawing and conceptual analysis) and seeing what they do, in philosophical enquiries, when they have those skills at their disposal.

Ahead of the research I have been running some preliminary ‘test’ sessions using the critical thinking intervention in my philosophy sessions in schools and I’ve seen some fascinating anecdotal results:-

First of all, the children love learning skills and being presented with content in philosophy sessions; something that is usually left out of standard ‘philosophy in schools’ approaches (including our own).

Secondly, contrary to my own expectations, it is not only the high-ability children that respond well to the use of critical thinking.

And thirdly, it changes the climate of the discussions from a ‘sharing’ emphasis to an ‘evaluative’ emphasis. This, for me, is the most important change. There has been a lot of ‘talking up’ of philosophy in these recent heady days of ‘post truth’, ‘fake news’ and ‘alt facts’, philosophy and ‘philosophy in schools’ interventions are seen as antidotes to this extreme kind of relativism or ‘epistemological authoritarianism’. But I would be careful about being too confident about philosophy’s role here. Indeed, philosophy in schools – when it is done well – can provide the children with the critical thinking tools for tackling misinformation and misleading rhetoric, but philosophy when not done so well it can, I believe, itself contribute to the climate of ‘post truth’. Every time a practitioner of ‘philosophy with children’ says that ‘in philosophy no one can be wrong’ or ‘in philosophy there are no right or wrong answers’ then, I’m afraid philosophy interventions become part of the ‘post truth’ problem. This is why I think, in order to genuinely show that philosophy in schools develops metacognition we need to start teaching children critical thinking skills and have them evaluate themselves and each other. As one Year 6 child said, ‘If the counter-example against what [another child] said is a good one then [the other child] has to change what they said; they have to be wrong’. If we want children to become better thinkers and to be able to tackle what’s coming their way in the media, on the internet, or from a campaigning government, then we need to reacquaint children with the (currently ‘dirty’) word ‘wrong’. They need to accept that they, their peers and their elders can all, quite appropriately, be wrong.

If you are a school that would like to be involved in our research then please contact us:

Peter Worley teaches philosophy in schools every week. He is a Resident Philosopher at 6 state primary schools in London and he is the founder and CEO of The Philosophy Foundation (, a charity that specialises in philosophy in primary and secondary schools, based in the UK. Peter has over 20 years’ experience in teaching and regularly gives talks and presentations about philosophy in schools. He is a Fellow of the RSA and is a Visiting Research Associate at King’s College London.

He is the author of three titles for Bloomsbury Education, to find out more about any of them please click the jacket images below:

9781441155832978144117495617, 40 lessons to get children thinking Philosophical thought adventures across the curriculum