Archive | December, 2015

The Great Hathway Book Giveaway

23 Dec

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Here’s the first of a good batch I offloaded to a friend. He’s a good egg and is passing them on with my notes

Every year I stockpile the books I’ve read over the course of a year.  You can see the hits and misses from 2015 here.  At the start of the next year I go about leaving those books for others to stumble upon.  In cafes, on trains, on park benches etc. all with a little note to say that they are a gift to anyone who wants them and with a simple request to just let me know what you thought on twitter.  It is fair to say my 2015 experiences were not all that successful.

Still, I am persevering.  I am a plucky individual.  I like to think of the world in the best possible terms and I remain convinced that sooner or later this will work.  Even if I am not seeing the recognition I can still, perhaps a little foolishly, imagine people cracking a smile when finding or finishing one of the books I’ve left for them.  Isn’t that a comforting, if a little naive, thought?

I have given a good few books to a friend home from England for Christmas (see above photo).  I am also giving a chunk to my brother and around 6 to friends holidaying over the festive period.  In that sense I’m already making a start as when they pass them on the network of book angels (that’s not too grand a title to give myself I don’t think?) is already widening.  I have no doubt the tidal wave effect will soon be in play and passing on books will become my full time occupation.*

*I can honestly say I will be delighted if I just get two or more tweets this year!

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5 Hopes For Welsh Education in 2015 Revisited

17 Dec

In January I wrote a blog looking at my 5 hopes for Welsh education in 2015.  The original post can be seen here.  I thought coming to the end of the year it would be worth reviewing them to see what, if any, progress had been made.

1.  Schools Challenge Cymru:

My original post had a lot of hope for this project, and indeed I still do.  I have heard excellent things about the London Challenge from teachers who engaged in that process and I really had/have high hopes that we can replicate similar results in Wales.  One thing I did warn of at the start of the year was that this could not be seen a s a quick fix.  That remains the case.

In October Plaid Cymru produced figures that showed the uplift in performance for schools involved in the challenge Cymru scheme was only 0.3% greater than those not in the mix.  There is a number of ways to look at this.  You can, as Plaid Cymru have, suggest that the scheme has not worked.  It is a relatively fair conclusions and where public money is spent it is naturally correct to hold results under a spotlight.  Certainly the way the initiative has been talked up by the Welsh Government you would perhaps have expected even more dramatic results.  It could very well, on reflection, be a case of the Welsh Government overestimating the initiation impact making it extremely difficult to reach expectations.

Personally I have two other angles in which I view these result.  firstly, the schools involved in Schools Challenge Cymru were identified as being those that would benefit most from, and who were most in need of, support.  With that in mind you can assume that their ability to show progress was from a lower base.  It is therefore perhaps not unfair to suggest that even matching the attainment uplift of other schools shows that the scheme is working.  Bypassing them should, in effect, be a point of celebration.  The other point is that this is the first year.  It takes time to get new initiatives right, and if there is one thing the Welsh Government should have learnt in recent years it is that getting the implementation a new policy right has to be a key concern.

The other point I made back in January was that this had to have long-term funding.  We have the £20m figure for the coming years, although the identification of the exact monies from within the education department still appears to be somewhat clouded in mystery.  However, there is no guarantee to ensure this policy lasts into future years beyond what has thus far been outlined.  We are playing a year by year game.  Still, it was very welcome news to see the Education Minister recently tweet he is committing to it for a third year at the minimum.

The jury may still be out on the effectiveness of the programme but overall I think we can put Schools Challenge Cymru down as a positive for the year.  The big test will perhaps come when we analyse the date for the coming 12 months.

2.  Support for supply teachers:

I started 2015 noting how the Children and Young People’s Committee were embarking on an inquiry into supply teaching.  The delays in publishing the final report have been frustrating to say the least.  That being said what finally did come out was very encouraging.

Sadly the reality is that little is going to be done until the Welsh Government’s preferred supplier contract with New Directions comes to an end.  As things stand schools and local authorities pretty much have their hands tied in terms of an ability to operate outside the stranglehold of this contract.  Yes they have the option of providing supply through other avenues but the truth is the pressures on them through the caveats that go with doing that makes it virtually impossible.

I think the committee’s report could have been stronger.  It appears somewhat watered down in places to me.  Perhaps that was in order to ensure that it secured universally support from members.  That said there are some very important messages around the ineffectiveness of essentially establishing a monopoly, which has all but happened through the current preferred provider contract.

The below statement in the report is of particular interest in this regards:

“The Committee is concerned that the current model for supply teaching does not appear to be working effectively. The Committee believes that consideration should be given to reforming the way in which supply teachers are employed, including the possible use of cluster arrangements or employment through a national body as just two examples. In doing so, the Welsh Government should give careful consideration to national models elsewhere, such as Northern Ireland.

“The Committee acknowledges that the existing contract will need to be honoured and as such any new system could not become live until at least August 2018. However, the Welsh Government should start work now to design a new model for the employment of supply teaching, to ensure that the new system is in place in readiness for the end of the current contract.”

That the committee have made the recommendations they have will hopefully put the sector and the Welsh Government on alert going into the next year or so.  Something has to be done about this issue if we are to see a real ability to ensure consistency of standards across contracted and supply teachers.  At least we have potentially made a start on that process.

3.  Funding:

It would be foolish to suggest that our funding picture has been made any better in 2015.  In fact the amount of money schools receive per pupil fell in 2015 for the first time in a decade.  Schools across Wales are looking at teacher redundancies as a way of balancing their budgets.  That will lead to a rise in workload, higher class sizes and even less quality teaching time spent individual with pupils.  None of this is good news for pupils in Wales.

We have to accept that the Welsh Government did receive a very difficult settlement from Westminster.  In many senses the budget they announced in December is an attempt to make the best of a bad situation.  We can also be somewhat pleased that within the education budget there was some additional funding for the curriculum, teaching and leadership.  Three key areas in critical need for investment as we seek to develop and implement the new curriculum and new approaches to continued professional development.  That being said I doubt anyone is particularly celebrating where we are at.  2015 has proved a dispiriting year for education finances and the future at present looks more difficult still.

4.  The New Deal:

Looking back over the year I have to say that I had expected more meat on the bone for the New Deal.  What the Minister announced sounded very positive but we were not given any real clear guidance on how that professional development was going to take place, what funding was going to be attached to it and how schools and teachers were going to secure it.  The best part of 12 months later and I am not sure we can say with any certainty that things at all that much further along.  I would have hoped that the New Deal would have developed as a concept into something more tangible a lot sooner.  In that regards 2015 is a bit of a disappointment for the policy.

That being said it is at least not a soundbite that has been forgotten as has often been the case with teachers professional development in the past.  We have seen the establishment of pioneer schools who are tasked with looking at the development of the New Deal.  I very much like the concept of the profession, through these pioneer schools, taking this forward organically and hopefully it can lead to a more clearly defined picture in 2016.  What is also really positive is that in conjunction to much of the workload campaigning that NUT Cymru did in 2015 those pioneer schools, and others looking at the curriculum, are also factoring in the impact on workload in doing this review.  That may just mean that what we end up with is something that helps teachers in more than one way.

5. Education isn’t 2015’s NHS:

I had a terrible fear at the start of the year that education would be used during the Westminster election as a way of kicking the Welsh Government and being sensationalist.  Thankfully it wasn’t.  In fact, education on a UK or Welsh level hardly featured at all.  As we approach the Assembly election, a much more appropriate arena for discussing education delivery, I expect that focus to come sharply into play.  Thus far, having heard some policies put forward by opposition parties I am feeling positive that what we will get is a battle of ideas.  You may agree or not agree with what each party is putting forward but they will be aiming to win votes on education based on the merits of what they want to implement not simply on ripping up everything that is currently being done.

Hath Booker Prize 2015

15 Dec

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My good wife got me this amazing book mark.  If you know me you’d know how much I love the number 53.  Sadly the Gryffalo got hold of it one day and it has not been seen since!

Last year I aimed to read a book a week and successfully hit that target.  Knowing that I was going to be undertaking a diploma this year I decided not to set myself a target but to just enjoy reading as often as time would allow.  I still managed a decent return and for the most part in reading books I very much enjoyed, in fact I ended up totaling 63 books.  I have posted infrequent reviews of the odd book here and there but I thought I’d collate all the books into a final end of year post here.

As always with my end of year posts if there are any books you are interested in let me know and I am happy to send them on to you.  Otherwise I will just do my usual thing of leaving them in random public places for strangers to pick up.

The Pick of The Best (in order of preference):

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The Humans – Matt Haig (1) I’m not going to claim this is the deepest or most cultured book I read this year but it was one that just gripped me.  The plot was enjoyable and it made me think a lot about human nature and my own relationships.  To many it may appear a tad bit superficial but for me it was a really excellent read.

Terms & Conditions – Robert Glancy (2) The first book of the year that I considered a contender.  Very funny and well paced.  Highly recommended.

Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz (3) One of the last books of the year I read and the final book to crash into the picks of the best. Great plot, with a lovely twist at the end.  Well paced and thoroughly entertaining.  I may even be a little harsh not having this higher up.

Chop Chop – Simon Wroe (4) I didn’t expect the plot of this book to take the turn it did but enjoyed it.  The authenticity of the characters and settings in particular were great.

Money – Martin Amis (5) This was recommended to me at the end of last year and I bought it in January.  For some reason I just couldn’t get enthused with it.  It wasn’t until many months later when I had no other books at hand did I crack on with it.  Delighted I did as there are some utterly fantastic characters here.  Lorne Guyland is up there with the best.

After the Quake – Haruki Murakami (6) Beautiful short story collection. Each and every one hit a spot with me. I enjoyed all the Murakami books I read this year but this was probably the pick.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson (7) This book completely changed my attitude to social media, for the better.  I wish everyone was forced to read it before being allowed on twitter.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (8) This is just a lovely, charming and whimsical read.  At times bordering on the ridiculous but none the worse for that.

Honorable Mentions:

The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simson: Time passing and easy-going feel good book.  As enjoyable as the first in the series.

Sharpe Objects and Dark Places- Gillian Flynn: Much improved on her more critically acclaimed and popular Gone Girl offering.

Salvation of a Saint – Keigo Higashino: Another very intelligent and well crafted locked room mystery from my favorite Japanese author.

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler: Some of the best one liners and quotable witticisms I’ve read for some time. Whispers of Oscar Wild.

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey: Possibly the first book of 2015 I really enjoyed.

After Dark, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki & South of the Boarder, West of the Sun: Haruki Murakami: Any one of Murakami’s novels I read this year could have made the best list and the rest deserve at least an honorable mention.

Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith: I’ve really liked the Cormoran Strike series and this was a really good addition to it.  If they get the casting right it could be really good news that it has been commissioned as a TV series by the BBC.

Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari: Part social study, part comedy.  Really interesting and funny look at modern day relationships. Made me both wish I had read it during my single days and extremely glad I am married.

Kill Your Friends – John Niven: Pretty brutal and explicit, often sensationally so, but none the less enjoyable in a Trainspotting/Money/American Psycho sort of way.

The Let Downs:

Half the Kingdom – Loe Segal:  Messy and confusing narrative. The book feels like a mashing together of the train of thought from far too many characters.  It just didn’t work for me.

Paper Towns – John Green: This wasn’t a particularly bad book really but I massively enjoyed ‘The Fault in our Stars’ last year by the same author and this just wasn’t close to that standard.

The Facades: Eric Lundgren: This book had a lot of hype and expectation.  I can imagine other people reading it and thinking it was stunning.  I just found it rather self-indulgent and uninspiring.

The Art of Killing Well – Marco Malvaldi: This just didn’t click with me. I found it really hard to get interested in it.

The Ring and the Opposite of Death: Roberto Savian: I really wanted to like this book.  There was a lot of hype about the author but it just didn’t do anything for me. It seemed messy and forced. Perhaps it lost something in the translation from Italian but either way one to miss.

Blackwater – Joyce Carol Oates: I am intrigued by the whole Kennedy family and as this was a loose fictionalization of the Chappaquiddick incident I thought it would captivate me.  Sadly I felt as if it was poorly written and a bit drawn out, which is particularly odd given it is a short book.

Pygmy – Chuck Palahniuk – Some people think this is some of Palahniuk’s finest work.  I hated it.  There’s a deliberate use of incorrect English throughout to give a voice to the lead character.  I’m hardly one to critique such things but I just couldn’t get passed it.  Made it a dreadful read for me.

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett – This was a good sliding doors style concept.  However three alternative timelines made for a confusing read at times and I’m not sure it was worth the payoff.

Full reading list in the order I read them:IMG_0899

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler (1)

Breaking the Chain – Willy Voet (2)

The Uncommon Reader – Alan Benett (3)

Trash – Andy Mulligan (4)

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey (5)

Cat Out Of Hell – Lynne Truss (6)

Saturday – Ian McEwan (7)

The Ring and the Opposite of Death – Roberto Saviano (8)

Half the Kingdom – Loe Segal (9)

The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide (10)

Holes – Louis Sachar (11)

Trash – Andy Mulligan (12)

Terms & Conditions – Robert Glancy (13)

Malice – Keigo Higashino (14)

Salvation of a Saint – Keigo Higashino (15)

Paper Towns – John Green (16)

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins (17)

The Facades – Eric Lundgren (18)

Random Deaths and Custard – Catrin Dafydd (19)

The Red Notebook – Antoine Laurain (20)

Who is Tom Ditto? – Danny Wallace (21)

Casino Royal – Ian Fleming (22)

Live and Let Die – Ian Fleming (23)

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop – David Adam (24)

The Last Treasure Hunt – Jane Alexander (25)

Chop Chop – Simon Wroe (26)

True Grit – Charles Portis (27)

The Humans – Matt Haig (28)

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson (29)

Dept. Of Speculation – Jenny Offill (30)

The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simson (31)

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (32)

BlackWater – Joyce Carol Oates (33)

Don’t Try This At Home – Angela Readman (34)

The Manual of Detection – Jedediah Berry (35)

Naive. Super – Erlend Loe (36)

Hotel Alpha – Mark Watson (37)

After Dark – Haruki Murakami (38)

Fadeout – Joseph Hansen (39)

The Art Of Killing Well – Marco Malvaldi (40)

Dark Places – Gillian Flynn (41)

After the Quake – Haruki Murakami (42)

A Class Apart – Gareth Evans (43)

South of the Border, West of the Sun – Haruki Murakami (44)

Every day – David Levithan (45)

Sharpe Objects – Gillian Flynn (46)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami (47)

Money – Martin Amis (48)

NYPD Red – James Patterson (49)

Walking Dead – Compendium 2 – Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard (50)

Pygmy – Chuck Palahniuk  (51)

Reykjavik Nights – Arnaldur Indridason (52)

NYPD Red 2 – James Patterson (53)

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett (54)

After The Crash – Michel Bussi (55)

A Boy Called Hope – Lara Williamson (56)

Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith (57)

NYPD Red 3 – James Patterson (58)

Walking Dead – Compendium 3 – Robert Kirkman, Stefano Gaudiano, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn (59)

The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas – John Boyne (60)

Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz (61)

Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari (62)

Kill Your Friends – John Niven (Book 63)

Music I’ve Discovered This Year

14 Dec

I would never claim to be cutting edge when it comes to music.  Far from it in fact.  I have an eclectic taste and tend to like most things but largely listen to mellow stuff while working and hip hop while training.  I’m not someone who goes to gigs but I have, thanks mainly to Spotify, listened more and more to a range of music this year and more frequently.  My ‘year on Spotify’ review says that I have listened to 610 hours of music in 2015.  Not sure if that is a good or bad thing though.  I try not to sit in front of the TV with the children so, while they do both watch it from time to time, I tend to have music on while we are all playing.  I’ve also discovered the real joy of walking for pleasure and active recovery from training this year and music has played a big part in that.

Below is a few of the songs/bands that have stood out with me this year.  Some are new/not very well known. Others may be very common and dated but I either discovered or re-discovered them in 2015.

Artists / Bands

Yelawolf – I came across Yelawolf as the song ‘Till It’s Gone’ was featured on the trailer for the Jonny Depp film ‘Black Mass.’  I loved that song and so dipped into his album ‘Love Story.’  There are some other great songs on the album, in particular ‘Empty Bottles,’ ‘Fiddle Me This,’ and ‘Best Friend,‘ and it has become a staple on my spotify.

X Ambassadors – I discovered these the way many people may have through their song ‘Renegades’ being featured on the JEEP advert.  Thanks to spotify I also managed to get introduced to other brilliant songs in their collection.  I especially loved ‘Love Songs Drug Songs,’ ‘Unconsolable’ and ‘Shining.’

Phillip Phillips – One of the best things about Spoitify are the host of random playlists that exist.  I stumbled across one called ‘I’m tired’ and found a host of really good songs and artists.  One of those was the ridiculously named Phillip Phillips.  He has a great tone to his voice. ‘Raging Fire’ and ‘My Boy’ in particular stood out for me.

50 Cent Generally I listen to folk music, soft stuff.  However, when I am at the gym its mainly hip hop and rap.  With that I have rediscovered 50 Cent this year.  Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is one of the best rap albums ever.  So many good training songs on there.

Kaleo – My good wife is a fan of the show Mistresses and one of Icelandic group Kaleo’s songs, ‘All the pretty girls’ was featured and I loved it.  Spotify only has another two of their songs available, ‘Way Down We Go’ and ‘Vor i Vaglaskogi.’ The latter in their native language.  All three are beautiful.

Matt Corby – Random YouTube videos led me to a Norwegian version of Corby’s song ‘Brother’ on their version of the Voice. I loved it, as I do the original.  I also really liked Corby’s songs ‘Resolution’ and ‘Made of Stone.’

Oh Honey – As stated above I do like a bit of folk music.  Listening to a random folk playlist on Spotify I came across Oh Honey and checked out their back catalog.  I really liked what I heard.  Some lovely background music for lazy Sundays at home.  Standout tracks for me are, Until you let me,’ ‘It can’t rain forever’ and ‘Sugar, You.’

Kwabs – Kwabs debut solo album ‘Love + War’ this year was a great addition to my music.  ‘Forgiven,’ ‘Perfect Ruin’ and ‘Walk’ are the picks for me.

Oasis – You know what they received a lot of unfair criticism for the later albums.  I never appreciated it at the time but the likes of ‘Heathen Chemistry’, ‘Standing on the Shoulder of Giants’ and even ‘Be Here Now’ may not have had the raw appeal of ‘What’s the Story’ and ‘Definitely Maybe’ but taken as stand alone albums they are genuinely decent.

Songs

Prisoner 1 & 2 (Lupe Fiasco ) –  This song was featured on the ‘Creed’ movie trailer and I just thought it was brilliant.

Gold (Kiiara) – This was song of the week in September on Radio One.  I never listen to Radio One so it was remarkable I caught it but thankfully I did.  Unique and catchy.

Gold – Thomas Jack Remix (Gabriel Rios) – I randomly stumbled across this song after a Youtube playlist took me there automatically after listening to the above.

Lean On (Major Lazer) – I spend a couple of nights controlled crying Llew at the start of the year.  Which is to say I spent the best part of 48 hours awake.  This was pretty much on repeat during that time.

Are You With Me (Los Frequencies) – My summer song for the year.

Bloodsport (Raleigh Ritchie) – Nice chilled melancholic tune I heard on a summer’s day while sitting in the car waiting for Llew to wake from a nap.

Blue Monday (New Order) – Is there a better crafted pop song than this? Every second of the 7+ minutes is gold.

Elastic Heart (Sia) – I love this song, especially the piano version on Spotify.

Nevermind (Leonard Cohen) – This was used as the title track for the second series of True Detective.  Haunting.

Homeostasis (Nostalgia) – Powerful song that builds really well.

I’m Home (Cee Major) – I love this song.  It has been one of the staples of my lunchtime walks throughout the year.

Class Sizes

10 Dec

For a while now I have wondered how class sizes have been absent from the political agenda in Wales.  Almost without fail when I attend a conference, committee of general catch up with teachers and they raise the issues that are concerning them the most class sizes will inevitably come up.  I couldn’t quite relate that experience with the fact it wasn’t being discussed at a political level.

With that I was pleased a few weeks ago when Kirsty Williams AM brought it up at First Minister’s Questions.  The leader of the Welsh Lib Dems challenged the First Minister on why 30+ class size were rising in Wales.  His response was:

“Well, you must ask the local authorities that. As you know full well, local authorities are responsible for delivering education. We have done our bit; we’ve protected education spending relative to the block grant that we have received and it’s a question that’s best answered by them.”

I have to say it is not a response that I think either addresses the question nor fills those interested in education with much confidence.  I am not absolving local authorities of their responsibility.  The First Minister is right that they have a role to play.  However, it is undoubtedly a situation where the Welsh Government must take a level of responsibility.

Since that exchange the Lib Dems announced one of their key election pledges on education for the Welsh Election next May.  They have come out with a pledge that infant class sizes will be capped at 25.  It is a policy I think will gain a fair amount of traction from classroom teachers.  Hopefully it will also instigate further thinking around this issue from the other parties who may also be considering class sizes in their manifestos next year.

As a side note to the above I did notice, and indeed challenge but without reply, the First Minister’s assertion on twitter that class sizes have reduced under the Welsh Government.  My reading of the Welsh Government’s own census data (pages 17 and 18) was that this is not the case.  In fact the opposite is true.  the average class sizes for both infant and junior age pupils have risen.  The percentage of those in classes of 30 or less has decreased while, inevitably I suppose, the percentage of pupils in classes of 31 and more has increased.