What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?

These can be experiences that directly harm a child (such as physical, verbal or sexual abuse, and emotional neglect) to those that affect the environment in which a child grows up (including parental separation, domestic violence, mental illness, alcohol abuse, or drug use). These experiences can have a negative impact on that child’s life experiences and health when they become an adult.

The term ACE came from a study that was conducted in Southern California from 1995 to 1997. Around 17,000 university educated people completed surveys about their childhood experiences, current health status and behaviours, and received physical examinations.

The findings of this research resulted in the development of the ‘ACE Pyramid’, which represents the link between childhood experiences, adult health and wellbeing outcomes:


Comparative studies were then conducted in the UK in 2012 & 2013 and found that there were similar links as in the U.S. to ACEs being strongly associated with negative behavioural, health and social outcomes for the people studied.

The 2013 study also found that almost half of the general population reported experiencing at least one ACE, with 8% identifying at least four (Bellis et al, 2014bc).

It is important to recognise, however, that there is a distinction between ‘normal’ stressful life events, such as parental divorce or illness of a loved one, and adverse childhood experiences which are very traumatic life events, such as being or seeing someone else physically or sexually abused. It is the latter experiences that will often be associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

When exposed to stressful situations, the “fight, flight or freeze” response results in our brain producing hormones as part of a normal and protective response to danger. These hormones will usually subside once the stressful situation passes. However, when repeatedly exposed to ACEs, the hormone is continually produced, which results in the child remaining permanently in this heightened state of anxiety and unable to return to their natural relaxed and recovered state.

Children and young people who are exposed to ACEs, therefore, have increased and sustained levels of stress. They are unable to think rationally and it is physiologically impossible for them to learn or develop in the same way a child not having these experiences will; the more ACEs a child experiences the greater the chance of health and/or social problems in adulthood.

If a child discloses that they have experienced a traumatic experience there are things we can do to try and minimise the impact of those experiences. This includes:

  • Listening to the child’s experiences & think about how those experiences will have an impact on their healthy development and on their behaviours.
  • Recognise the signs, and don’t just think that the child is just misbehaving.
  • Try to help them become more grounded, give them choices and allow them to feel more in control.
  • Understand that it is likely this will have an impact on any attachment for that child and there will be mistrust. We need to try and build a relationship with the child that is different to ones they have experienced previously, or are currently experiencing.
  • It is important to remember that ACEs tend to be passed from generation to generation if parents do not receive support to reflect upon childhood stressors, and to explore how these may feed into current problematic behaviours and ongoing health issues, this, in turn, will impact on their ability to parent well.


About our Community Expert



Community Expert
As an experienced practitioner Child Protection, Safeguarding and Behaviour are key areas for much of Karen’s expertise and experience. She has been working with children, young people and adults for over 15 years in a multitude of settings which include dance and performing arts companies, local authorities, youth clubs, education and the welfare to work sector.

Karen’s main expertise is in safeguarding and behaviour management and modification strategies, with her most recent role being a national Safeguarding Lead. Karen has also been a school governor for nine years, two of which have been as Vice-Chair.

Karen has also run a behaviour unit (inclusive PRU) within an Academy and worked with the most disaffected students whose behaviour was disruptive who weren’t accessing the curriculum within the mainstream setting. She has and also worked with disaffected young people within a youth club, most of whom were at risk of permanent exclusion and carried out safeguarding audits whilst working for a multi-academy trust.

Managing Conflict in School Leadership Teams

Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end of a message like the above? I have. It hurts. It can be embarrassing or sometimes, it can be unexpected and offensive. When it comes to managing conflict, I’ve found myself in all types of situations as a receiver and as a giver, and how I manage these situations as a teacher and school leader has varied significantly throughout my career.

Such is the busy nature of school life, rarely are difficult conversations or conflicts of interest conducted in a climate where the process can move calmly or at a steady pace. Unless conversations are carefully engineered, individual thoughts and clarity for both the receiver and the giver as less likely to be well-managed and are likely to be emotive rather than logical.

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Safeguarding aside, what tends to happen in schools is that conversations are often conducted on their feet in corridors or constructed to be completed where both parties can meet together to discuss the issue before the next ‘school bell’ rings. In more serious cases, during the day or after-school hours are often best placed for serious investigations with various people and organisations in attendance to act as advisers and conduits of support for both parties, particularly when legal issues are involved and the implications are serious.

Once I received a difficult conversation as a teacher and I was supported by my union after a parent complaint. This was constructed during the school day when I had a free period. Naturally, I left the meeting feeling aggrieved but thankfully with very clear expectations. At the time and as a young teacher, I did not contemplate how difficult this conversation may have been for the person having to provide it. With hindsight, the person acting as my mediator provided an objective point which offered much-needed support and challenge.

However, I sometimes found myself in positions without support. Why? Well, as teachers we conduct countless conversations on our feet every day, with pupils parents and colleagues.

As with any school, incidents may be rare but sometimes unusual circumstances can unfold, such is the busy nature of school life.

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After the first three years of my career, I found myself working as a middle leader in charge of other teachers, leading a team of 13 members of staff in a large secondary school, supporting and challenging processes, thoughts and decisions as well as managing my own workload. It was highly rewarding, exhausting and challenging.

After seven years, as a new school leader, I suddenly found moving from a position where I was a leader of a small group of staff to being partly-responsible for all 200 staff and 1,500+ pupils. As one would expect, the shifting responsibility was dramatic and under strong leadership from Head Teacher, various difficult conversations were delegated according to need, time and personality.

What causes conflict?

In an educational setting, a conflict might be defined as ‘challenging’ for many reasons. Therefore it is important that every leader has a good definition of the type of behaviours that lead to a challenging situation, not only with pupils but with adults also.

When conflict does occur, a clear definition should be used to offer support to the people involved, and this and is likely to follow suit with professional Teachers’ Standards or the school’s code of conduct for employees. Generally, these rules follow typical human being attributes, but within the profession, there are specific details that will align with, for example, competency, professionalism and safeguarding.


Whatever situation you find yourself in, and I too have found myself receiving and managing a difficult conversation as a school leader, it’s very unlikely that the person leading the conversation will have had any formal training in managing difficult conversations.

The first time is always a steep learning curve, so it is critical to have a dress rehearsal to ensure the conversation is clear, objective and that you adhere to the facts. Most importantly, the person involved leaves with clear expectations and a potential resolution or consequence.

It is a really important process to get right, so below I’ve offered 7 tips to help get you prepared and in the right frame of mind.

Positional Power

The role of leadership brings with the position, positive and negative territory. Knowledge is power, but so is it positional and monetary. Often school leaders find themselves in two of these three positions in terms of power status.

They are is often the source of all knowledge – or at mostly perceived to know the answers – and they also have the positional power to be able to make decisions. In toxic school cultures, this status can be threating to the workforce, whereas in environments in which teachers thrive, potential difficult conversations, although they may still happen, are less frequent.


With this positional power comes the responsibility to eradicate poor behaviour in adults, but also minimise the risks. It is for this reason that I’ve always argued that leaders need to build their potential to become a ‘problem finder’, not just a ‘problem solver’.

Another way of looking at this is the glass half full, half-empty scenario. I’d like to consider myself someone who has a glass half full perspective on life, but I would clearly accept the others viewed my approach as a glass half empty stance.

For this reason, constantly looking for problems, gaps in knowledge or strategy ensure that schools, teachers and school leaders can be the best that they can be by adopting an approach in which one looks for potential issues prior to before they arrive, rather than solving them after they have come to fruition.

The nature becoming a problem finder is that you often seek out potential issues and have to deal with them. Equally, in the role of a school leader, you can find yourself acting more often as a problem solver. Whether this is solving other people’s problems, picking up issues that have been missed, or acting as a mediator between two or more other people.

Critically, how these conversations are conducted is what matters most. As the saying goes, people don’t often remember what you say, but they remember how you make them feel. So it is my conclusion, after 20 years of delivering difficult conversations and very high stressful environments, is to learn to deliver the difficult message, but provide it fairly, humanely and in a timely manner.

As with most things in education, funding and timing are often lacking, but there is never a good time to deliver a ‘bad-news’ message, so gathering the facts and knowing when to seize the opportunity is fundamental.

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So, if you find yourself in a position where you have to provide a solution to managing conflict, and the chances are that this will be high as a school leader, then not only will you need some training and tacit knowledge, but how good you are at having those difficult chats with colleagues will be your legacy towards sustaining credible leadership for the future.

How to manage a difficult conversation?

1. Have the conversation sooner rather than later

Too often we postpone the difficult conversation because we know that it won’t be easy, and potentially we drain our own energies and emotions. While it is important not to rush into something, procrastination simply makes the situation worse. Keep the matter private and professional.

2. Stick to the facts

Describe carefully the behaviour that has led you to speak to the individual. Have all the facts ready. Describe the impact of the behaviour on others, for example, students, colleagues or yourself. Ensure the person understands why there has to be a change in behaviour.

Always have to hand professional standards and school policies for reference or for non-verbal cues. If you do need to quote from them, allow adequate time for the individual to read the details before responding. Hopefully, this level of detail won’t be needed as an initial conversation is usually all that’s required to rectify most situations.

3. Focus on the future

Talk about what is going to be different in the future. Depending on the nature of the conversation, this could be specific procedures that are required to be put in place, or simply a verbal commitment from the individual to take what has been said and act on it.

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4. Show respect

No matter how important the issue is, always ensure that you show respect for the individual as a person. You are taking issue only with the behaviours and not the individual. Give the member of staff time to digest, respond and reflect.

5. Allow time

Even where the issue is perfectly clear and must be addressed, ensure the individual’s voice is heard. While you are dealing with a particular issue, you are also modelling a process that shows respect for all.

6. Keep tight control of your emotions

Don’t allow your emotions to get the better of you. To raise justifiable concerns in an unjustifiable manner simply creates more problems. Always be professional, and remember that the other person is not enjoying this either! Oh, and always have a box of tissues in close proximity and learn how best to respond or end the conversation if needed.

7. Reflect

Beware of replaying conversations again and again in your head; what you should have said or not said – this can be exhausting. Accept what is done and move on. Sometimes a small follow-up conversation or nod of the head is enough when next seeing or meeting with the same colleague.

If you recognise an issue with a colleague, you should talk to them honestly. It’s a matter of professional respect.



About our Community Expert


Ross Morrison McGill
Community Expert ~ Founder of @TeacherToolkit

Ross Morrison McGill, also known as @TeacherToolkit, is the ‘most followed educator on social media in the UK’. Ross has been a teacher for 25 years and is the founder of one of the most popular education websites in the world. He is an award-winning blogger, author and today, has worked with over 100 schools in 8 countries. The Sunday Times listed Ross as one of the ‘500 Most Influential People in Britain’ and today, he remains the only classroom teacher to have featured.

Dear DSL, who heals the healers?

Reflexive in that one doesn’t just focus on how you impact a pupils’, young persons, service users or prisoners life but how the interaction affects you professionally and personally. Which leads me to the question of ‘who heals the healers’?

stuck helmet

Over the last year, I have had the fortunate opportunity to train, consult and build strong partnerships with individuals and teams across the country who have a remit around safeguarding.

That being said, one thing that was apparent is that hardly any of them access clinical supervision despite their roles consisting of complex and difficult decisions around young peoples welfare. Such instances involved cse, grooming, youth violence or in some cases suicide.

With that in mind, how do we ensure that those of us working with vulnerable young people safeguard ourselves from compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and in some case the Stockholm syndrome?

In short, the answer is we have to take the lead. This is especially true since the conversation around being trauma-informed is slowly gathering momentum. However, in the short term, we have to find outlets and ways that lead us to a place of self-care.

A practitioner shared with me recently that she had to have a child removed from a household and although it was the right thing to do and involved other siblings, she ended up crying in her car for an hour afterwards. As it happens, this practitioner at the time was 6 months pregnant and felt she wasn’t getting the appropriate support.

Whilst it is true that we are all wired differently and our individual self-care methods are different, safeguarding our young people is becoming more complex to deal with.

It is almost certain that all of us supporting young adults with today’s problems need support from one another so please check in with another rather than assuming that going home, having dinner and watching Netflix will heal us of the burdens we face.


About our Community Expert

Raymond Douglas
Community Expert

Raymond Douglas is one of the UK’s leading thinkers and “doers” around working with at-risk pupils and young people. A prolific trainer and curriculum developer he has created numerous intervention programs tackling youth conflict & violence aiming to reduce the number of those at risk of life-threatening behaviour involving guns, gangs, knife crime & extremism.

Ray has been an approved trainer for governmental departments and currently delivers within schools colleges, universities and prisons. Ray has spoken at TEDx and has worked nationally and internationally training & advising schools and local authorities around reducing systemic youth violence.

Today his Minus Violence program reaches over 10,000 young people & pupils per year and 2019 see the release of his first book Gangs Kitchen.

How schools can become employers of choice

In a competitive environment where demand exceeds supply, the best teachers, leaders and support staff can pick and choose where they will work.

Schools need to become Employers of Choice to retain, attract and compete for talented staff. Demand for quality teachers and leaders is high and will continue to grow. Demand is already exceeding supply and the education system is on the brink of being in a NET deficit as class sizes increase.

Being an ‘Employer of Choice’ simply means becoming an employer whose potential and existing employees want to work for, over and above others in the same marketplace, industry or geographic region.

Teaching is demanding. Engaging, managing and motivating today’s students, requires high levels of skill, energy and intellect. As a result of growing up in a digital age, many of today’s students have shorter attention spans, expect all the ‘bells and whistles’ of full production and demand immediate, personalised attention. That’s not easy in a traditional school environment with finite resources.

Demand for educators who are positive, enthusiastic and dedicated team players is high. The staff of this calibre have a range of employment options and can almost choose which school they would like to work at. When the packages offered are largely comparable, other factors come into consideration.

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1. Benefits

When it comes to retention, research shows us that benefits and development opportunities have a larger impact than pay. A reputation for flexibility can help your school to stand out and it is useful to be explicit in adverts and on websites.

Some examples of this are;

  • Holidays: how much work is required during the holidays? Are holiday dates, frequency and length in line with standard school practice, or are they unusual?
  • Flexibility on leave: what are policies for taking time off during term? How easy is it to get permission for family events, childcare or training?
  • Childcare: is there any support, facility or subsidy for looking after children?
  • Personal development: would the employer support personal studies, such as academic or professional qualifications, or would they subsidise or loan money for these?
  • Housing: does the school offer any support for finding housing, for relocating, or for subsiding costs? Some schools or schools offer their own housing at a much lower fee to teachers, for example.
  • Other benefits: employee discounts for certain purchases (e.g. certain shops or experiences), health and dental care, mental health support, fitness suites, etc.
  • As before, sharing stories can be powerful. Do you have employees who can celebrate a positive story about how they were helped back into flexible working after paternity or maternity, for example? Could you produce a case study of caring for an employee through a family trauma or serious illness, to emphasise how you value wellbeing and treat people with respect?

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2. Work-life balance

Employees will be interested in whether this job will still allow them time to live their own lives. Increasingly, schools are making more out of updated marking, data and lesson-planning policies that save teachers significant time.

Some leading headteachers are making waves on social media and sector publications by sharing their efforts to ensure that staff are out of the building by 6.00pm at the latest and only rarely have to take work home. With these schools increasingly in the limelight, there’s greater pressure on others to showcase their own sustainable workload practices.

School employees remain highly dedicated individuals, happy to go above and beyond, but a better work-life balance is ultimately better for employee and employer to get the best out of everyone.

Some questions to ask yourself about how you manage wellbeing in your school are;

  • Will employees have lunch times protected or will they be expected to work through?
  • What are the expectations on taking work home to do in evenings and weekends?
  • Are there policies on sending or answering out-of-hours emails?
  • How many meetings will there be outside of main commitments?
  • What is the email burden – is it manageable?
  • What extra-curricular activity is expected or encouraged?

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3. Development and recognition

Employees will be interested in the amount of training and learning that they can access. The Teacher Development Trust’s CPD Audit award is often seen in job adverts to signal how seriously some schools take development, while others are trumpeting their success on social media and local newspapers to ensure that their attention to development is visible to potential new recruits.

Employees will be interested in how the appraisal process works. With many schools moving away from graded lesson observation, teachers will be looking out for employers that are up to date in their appraisal practices. This could also include the extent to which teachers are held to account for their students’ exam results – there are so many factors outside of their control that we are hearing of more schools that are dropping hard performance targets and instead of following the evidence toward effort-targets instead.

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The recruitment and retention challenge shows no sign of easing in the next few years so it is increasingly important for schools to take this agenda seriously and not only review and address these areas in-house, but also ensure that they are looking externally for new and improved ways of working through trusted partners, like Opogo. Schools that fail to grasp this nettle could be seriously left behind, but the prize for making it a priority is becoming the Employer of Choice with the sort of reputation that money cannot buy.

If you can adopt a strategy that develops your school’s reputation as an Employer of Choice then you will find people are coming to you, wanting to work for your school and putting the choices in your hands. When partnered with streamlined technology that makes the candidate experience simple and time-efficient for a candidate, you can put your school in a powerful position and ensure that you are winning the fight for top talent.

Opogo’s latest release Opogo Talent is a fresh way for you to save up to 20% off of your current supply spend. This saving can be directly placed into offering some of the suggestions offered above, on top of the added employee perks offered through partnering with Opogo such as; Perk Box, free CPD and Leadership and NQT events.


About the CEO


Justyn Randall

CEO  |  Founder

With extensive experience and strategic skill in building leading global marketing businesses across multiple sectors, Justyn is the CEO and founder of Opogo.

From his deep understanding of the industry and its challenges, Justyn launched Opogo with the prime motivation of transforming the experience of educators within the industry.

Top books for special education (SEND)

It gives a brief breakdown of the content of each one and why they may be useful in practice. I have personally used every book in some way for my own school practice and training and find each one incredibly helpful for different circumstances.

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1. The SENCo Handbook
By Elizabeth Cowne, Carol Frankl and Liz Gerschel

It is always useful, as a new or experienced SENCo to have a handbook to ‘go to’ on the occasions that you are unsure of something. This seventh best-selling edition of ‘The SENCo Handbook’ is updated to reflect the new Code of Practice. It contains statutory guidelines and practical advice in order to help develop effective SEND practice in schools.

2. Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants
By Rob Webster, Anthony Russell (Contributor) and Peter Blatchford (Contributor)

Having used this book myself for staff INSET and training it offers much research and evidence-based guidance about how to effectively deploy teaching assistants and support staff.

The research carried out is detailed and the thing I like about this book is that it provides easily photocopied templates and resources to support decision-making and action planning. There is also a wealth of case studies to give practical and real examples of how to maximize the impact of support staff.

3. Inside I’m Hurting: Practical Strategies for Supporting Children with Attachment Difficulties
By Louise Bomber

This easy to navigate practical guide provides educational professionals with much-needed strategies, practical tools and the confidence for supporting children with attachment difficulties. The book places an emphasis on promoting inclusion in the school system by supporting the whole family.

Chapters within the book include: how attachment difficulties can affect a child’s ability to learn; providing an ‘additional attachment figure’ in schools; the benefits and challenges of getting alongside children who have experienced trauma and loss. The book also includes a photocopiable template for an initial meeting with the parents.

4. Take Control of the Noisy Class: Chaos to Calm in 15 Seconds
By Rob Plevin

This new book by teacher Rob Pelvin is an easy read and is written with humour and understanding. Pelvin has 20+ years’ experience in special education and mainstream settings; in his book, he provides a step-by-step plan for successfully managing the most challenging individuals and groups in today’s toughest classrooms.

Packed with powerful, fast-acting techniques – including a novel routine to get any class quiet in 15 seconds or less – this book helps teachers across all age groups connect and succeed with hard-to-reach, reluctant learners.

5. When the Adults Change, Everything Changes
By Paul Dix

This new book shows that it’s far more effective to change the behaviour of the adults in a school than it is to try to change the behaviour of the children. Dix draws on his own experience as a teacher, leader and trainer who has spent 25 years working in some of the most challenging schools, referral units and colleges.

Having firsthand experience of one of Paul Dix’s training sessions, this is powerful stuff and in this book, he manages to capture ‘real’ case studies alongside tried-and-tested strategies that have been used in a range of schools with a variety of backgrounds. The book demonstrates how these approaches place the focus back on adults and reiterate the importance of simple human interaction. Most importantly, it provides a clear message about the importance of children knowing who they can trust.

6. Learn to Read for Kids with Dyslexia: 101 Games and Activities to Teach Your Child to Read
By Hannah Braun M

Learn to Read for Kids with Dyslexia makes reading enjoyable and rewarding with fun-filled games and activities that teach children how to read fluently and confidently. Specifically designed for children aged 7-12, these engaging activities offer children daily opportunities to practice and hone their reading skills.

The book highlights areas such as, skill building in phonemic awareness and dysgraphia for each activity; it also allows parents and teachers to focus on strengthening specific areas that will help children become lifelong readers.

7. The Red Beast: Controlling Anger in Children with Asperger’s Syndrome
By K.I. Al-Ghani

“Deep inside everyone, a red beast lies sleeping. When it is asleep, the red beast is quite small, but when it wakes up, it begins to grow and grow. This is the story of a red beast that was awakened.”
This is an illustrated children’s storybook which was written for children aged 5+.

I have used it myself with many autistic children, as it is so accessible. I also find reading it and talking about anger in a fun way useful to help children with tips about how to ‘tame their red beast’. I also signpost parents to this book so that they can further understand how anger affects children with Asperger’s Syndrome.


About our Community Expert


Rachel Endacott

Community Expert
Rachel has over 21 years of teaching experience in a range of primary, junior and special provision settings. Rachel has held various leadership roles including Deputy Head Teacher and is currently Head of Inclusion in an outstanding Junior School in Maidenhead. Rachel has held the title of SENDCo for over 20 years and is passionate about helping every individual reach their full potential.

Recently recognised by Ofsted as having the skills to ensure staff take ownership of the support and progress of pupils with SEND, they also praised her ability to imbue staff with a desire to do the right thing for these pupils.

Her drive and ambition continue to improve the exceptional support within her own setting and Rachel’s satisfaction comes from seeing children with SEND thrive.

How to improve student vocabulary

The number of teenagers reading is dropping at an alarming rate, as they shun books and newspapers in favour of social media.

According to data taken from Mentoring The Future, more than 80% of teens reportedly used social media every day, but only 20% read a book or newspaper daily for pleasure. It is to no surprise then that student vocabulary is limited. According to Oxford University Press, “Students need to be able to do so much more than reel off lists of vocabulary.

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They need to be able to manipulate the language so that it can support their communicative needs.” This can happen through memorisation, voraciously reading, the use of a dictionary and online games.

To teach vocabulary effectively, teachers must first learn the techniques and methods required to deliver them. Student vocabulary instruction is an art that helps pupils retain new terms that will allow them to prosper both in school and in their futures.

Here are a few tips to improve your student’s vocabulary in a timely way:

1. Reading for meaning

It is undeniable that reading is the most effective way to learn new vocabulary. When students read, they see words being used in context, which is a lot more effective than simply memorizing word lists. Within a sentence, there is a good chance that the student can guess the meaning of a word in its context.

Finding the meaning in this way is the most natural way of learning new vocabulary. Start your pupils off with simpler texts that occasionally use unknown words, so that they can begin to infer their meanings a few words at a time.

2. Word of the day

If you introduce a new word a day, they begin to add up! In the same way, tutors tend to share a quote of the day, commit your pupils to learn at least one new word and store them in a word bank in the back of their books.

Try Dictionary Word of the Day because it provides pronunciation, definition and word history. At the end of the week, give pupils a short spelling and definition test based on the words of the week, to affirm and solidify the words they have learnt.

3. Befriend the dictionary

A dictionary is the first indispensable resource to improve your student’s vocabulary so always keep them in the classroom. When pupils are unaware of the meaning of a word, rather than telling them yourself, challenge them to find the precise meaning in the dictionary.

If your students enjoy competing, time their searches and create a dictionary leaderboard! Similarly, a thesaurus is a fantastic resource for learning synonyms and finding connections between words. Ban words like ‘nice,’ ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the classroom!


4. Introduce new words

After students have learnt a new word through reading or the dictionary, they need to use the word to truly commit it to long-term memory. In fact, research suggests that students need to use a new word 10 – 16 times before it sinks in.

Encourage them to first write the word down; say it aloud; create a sentence with it (mentally or in writing); use it in a conversation; and finally, teach it to a friend. The more they say it, the more likely they are to use this vocabulary in their writing and conversation.

5. Have fun!

Games and group activities are useful for all kinds of learning, but they are particularly effective for language learning. Try to organise some time to play word bingo, scrabble, boggle, taboo and quiddler with your students at the end of the week. You’ll be surprised by how much they enjoy them! A spelling bee is another fantastic way to create some competition and buzz around the school.

Give all students a set word list and the opportunity to participate, and then organise knock out stages and create a live final during an assembly. If you prefer your students to work independently, try online word games such as countdown or Merriam – Webster’s word games and quizzes.

Most importantly, take a systematic approach to vocabulary practice. Try not to overwhelm your students with too much at one time. Try short spurts and incorporate these words in their spelling tests and homework activities.

Spending hours a day learning vocabulary will mean most be lost in the long term. If students commit to 15 minutes a day of focused practice they’ll have a bank of new words and definitions to refer back to each lesson. Use it or lose it!



About our Community Expert


Simi Rai
Community Expert

Over 5 years of experience in educational settings throughout London, Madrid and Barcelona. Whilst studying English Literature and Language at King’s College London and the University of North Carolina, she fell in love with her subject – both the study of literature and craft of writing.

After graduating, she completed the Leadership Development Programme with Teach First, whose mission is to provide equality through education, and attained her PGCE in Secondary English at Canterbury Christ Church University. She was then appointed as Deputy Head of English at one of the highest performing schools in England in a London inner-city academy.

Following this, she completed her Leadership and Management MA at University College London (Institute of Education) and became the director of an English Language company based in Barcelona.

Can we make the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy a reality?

News earlier this year that teachers’ pay has fallen by more than £4,000 a year since 2010 in real terms helps explain why schools regularly miss their recruitment targets.

While a submission from the Department of Education to the School Teachers’ Review Body states that: “From 2002-03 to 2017-18, classroom teacher median salaries have seen a drop of 10% and overall teacher median salaries of 11% in real terms.”

With education secretary, Damian Hinds signalling that only a 2% increase can be expected for the next academic year, what action can head teachers take not just to find the staff that they need, but also to retain them?

Part of the answer lies in the new Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, developed by the Department of Education in collaboration with teachers and head teachers. The four key recommendations of the report are to:

  • Create more supportive school cultures and reduce workloads
  • Transform support for early career teachers
  • Make sure teaching remains an attractive career as lifestyles and aspirations change
  • Make it easier for great people to become teachers

Taken together, these four steps will help to address concerns from educators that teaching is too difficult to enter as a profession, that it is too stressful and bureaucratic, that too much is expected of newly qualified teachers and that working hours and contracts are more inflexible than they are for other professions.

Supporting the strategy

The question that remains is how the strategy will be enacted in practice. Looking at the new early years’ framework, most areas that are highlighted are already covered by the teacher training curriculum, but are hampered by a lack of support, mentoring and an inclusive community.

While frameworks proposed within the strategy do come with support and budget, the danger is that – like many initiatives before them -they will not have the infrastructure to make them successful.

As an EdTech company focused on recruitment and retention, Opogo has worked behind the scenes for several years to address these same issues – and we could not be more delighted that our platform is now in a great position to help support the delivery of the DoE’s strategy.

We will do this by providing a rich, supportive talent management solution for school leaders to tap into, one that can also be used by schools to create their own internal staff platform should they wish. Our online tools and resources help improve the value proposition of education by constantly investing back into our users, assisting our schools when they don’t have the budget to do so.

This extends into support for early career teachers who often feel isolated and thrown in at the deep end for the first few years in the classroom. Through our pioneering new programme TeachGrowth, our goal is to prevent new teachers from falling out of love with teaching – and help schools retain and nurture them along the way.

Our recruitment platform enables schools to tap into the professional education gig economy and find exactly the skills that they need when they need them. Equally, educators seeking a particular work pattern or more flexible working options can search for and secure their ideal opportunities.

We want to celebrate and re-energise the teaching profession, recognising its value to our society and to our economy. We are engaging with international education experts to provide insights and support to our community.

We are committed to the ongoing development of our platform and fully support the DofE’s strategic goals. Together with our community, we can transform the experience of education for everyone, for the better.

Getting the most from a job interview

So how can we frame this process into a positive and valuable experience?

A meeting of equals – how you perceive your status in an interview will affect your performance. If you think that the people you are interviewing for are ‘better’ than you or that you are not yet capable of working at their level, you could undermine yourself.

interview panel

Consider what skills and talents you have and how they set you apart from the other candidates. Remember; if they’re interviewing for a position, they’re looking for the right person. You are helping in the search and if you’re called to meet with them, you’re already ahead of the majority of applicants!

Treat it as an opportunity

Wherever you are in your career, you can see an interview as an opportunity to practice and demonstrate the profession you love. Rather than seeing it as a test, it’s another platform for you to express your skills with a new group of people, even if you don’t get offered the job.

Especially if you are someone who hasn’t yet secured your first full-time post – what a great chance to do the very thing you’ve trained for?

Ask questions – show you’re interested – No two schools are alike

In the Q&A part of the interview, it shouldn’t be a case of you only answering questions. It could be a dialogue – come prepared with specific questions about that particular school. It might be the place where you spend the next chapter of your life, so you want to know it’s the right place for you.

Think about your ‘must haves’ or ‘would likes’ and have two or three clear questions ready. It could be relating to your work schedule, the school’s development planning over the next few years or which particular challenges that school faces. You must be able to show you have thought about the day to day demands of that school.

hand pick

Welcome feedback

Acknowledge that you’re growing – We are always encouraging a growth mindset in our students, but do you treat yourself the same way? No matter how an interview goes, have the courage to ask for feedback – either right there and then or in the days following the result of the interview.

Even if they offer you a job, you can still ask about what strengths or weaknesses they saw; these could become useful talking points at your first performance review. If you are unsuccessful, the feedback can be carried into your next interview as a possible to-do list of improvements so that the next time, you get the job!


About our Community Expert


Paul B

Paul Boyd
Community Expert

Paul is an actor and English teacher from Northern Ireland. Alongside his acting career working in theatre, film and television across the UK, he also teaches in primary and secondary schools throughout London.

Paul provides performance coaching to both individual clients and businesses.

What is a teaching assistant and how do I do it?

A teaching assistant is just that, an assistant to the teacher; and as such being skilled, experienced and qualified to fulfil this role is becoming increasingly necessary.

Whether you are working alongside a teacher in a mainstream school, providing essential 1:1 support for a pupil with special educational needs or a disability, or delivering a specific area of the curriculum or leading and managing an area of the school, it is essential that you know the expectations of the role and the opportunity you have to bring your own skills.

TA words

What then is the role of a teaching assistant and how can you ensure that you are well prepared for being one in today’s schools and educational settings?

  • Working alongside the class teacher in a mainstream school

The staffing structure of most schools allows for there to be an additional, non-pupil assigned teaching assistant in the classroom at least for part of the day if not all. This role requires a range of very specific skills, the main one being the ability to be flexible and to have fantastic interpersonal skills as you are not only working with up to 30 pupils but also of having a fairly intense working relationship with another adult, the class teacher.

This type of teaching assistant needs to be able to second guess situations, adapt and be responsive to the daily life within the classroom. You will be asked to support with planning, deliver an introduction and explain again the concepts to your group and mark, assess and outline next steps for the pupils you are in charge of.

  • Providing essential 1:1 support for a pupil with special educational needs or a disability

This can be an incredibly rewarding position and one that can enable the pupil to truly achieve all they are capable of and to reach their targets. Working directly with a pupil often means that you are involved not only in the planning of the curriculum for them but also your input is needed at the planning and review meetings with the SENCO and often outside agencies and parents that support and now the child.

Patience, skills to negotiate and engage and a knowledge and understanding of the specific need or disability are all required for this role.

teaching board

  • Delivering a specific area of the curriculum and leading and managing an area of the school

Schools have many different facets and the development of how pupils research, record and present their work has meant that increasingly staff with technical skills are needed to support the leaners. More and more we are seeing schools with their own librarians, technicians for the computer suite, coaches skilled at refereeing and art specialists.

These roles are not always filled by teachers, more often than not it is a TA with the skills and experience to support in that area and the ability to equally relate to and understand how best children learn.

1. What are the expectations of the role?

The role is a key one in the school and there is an expectation that you work to support the children and colleagues and be an active part of the school community.

2. What skills do I need?

Just ensure that you are able to work collaboratively, sensitively and with a flexible approach.

3. How will I further develop?

There is usually the opportunity for specific professional development for all staff and TA’s are no exception. The school will have a development programme and all staff members will be set targets, be given the opportunity to attend training and courses and to be received on their progress.

For a lot of people being a TA is rewarding and enjoyable. It can provide the balance so often required for adults who would like to work in schools, but not as the teacher. This is definitely a role well worth looking into!


About our Community Expert


Jane Wood-Chambers
Editorial Advisory Board Lead

Over 27 years of educational experiences in a number of settings. Developed a clear vision and ethos for inclusion which puts the child at the centre and a clear understanding of how to support, engage and nurture the individual.

Ability to train all staff through effective and reflective continual professional development in behavioural management techniques that begin, establish and maintain change in all.

The science behind the health benefits of meditation

One of the main findings that I became fascinated with was neuroplasticity: the ability of the brain to change and create new neural connections throughout your life, and the most powerful way to do this, you guessed it: meditation. I appreciate that as a yoga and meditation teacher it is so easy for me to say this, but even if this resonates with one person, it would make me so happy.

It is incredibly easy for me to talk about the benefits from my subjective point of view yet when there is scientific proof about the effects that it has on us, people start to listen. I’m not saying that it’s like proving gravity or that the earth is round (how is this still in dispute) but in proving that meditation can change the way your brain functions daily is something not to be taken lightly.

mindful brain

A study that grabbed my attention the most was by Harvard neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar. Her 2005 findings were groundbreaking and showed a brain similarity with someone who I think you might know. Dr. Lazar discovered that experienced meditators had much more neural density, folds, electrical activity and thickness in their prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for cognitive behaviour and essentially our personality).

Fear, anxiety, and stress are often a catalyst for so many people to start meditating. For me, my own experiences with anxiety are what led me to yoga in the first place.

In addition to this study, there are numerous findings that show that meditation “thickens” and grows the prefrontal cortex. This type of brain function is what made Albert Einstein’s brain so unique: needless to say the ability to create this through neuroplasticity and meditation is phenomenal.

When I read about this brain functioning, I went on to search for the part of the brain that is responsible for our emotions, survival instinct and memory: the amygdala. The simplest way to understand this is the fight or flight process with fear and how we both perceive and deal with any situation controlled by the amygdala.

mindful table

In 2016, a team of Spanish and German (Yang et. al) fMRI imaged the brains of meditation beginners before and after 40 days of mindfulness training to see the differences. Naturally, after the six weeks, their anxiety and depression scores had decreased. The part of the study that is truly phenomenal is that the participants had dramatically decreased their amygdala in size and volume- in only six weeks!

The implications of this study show that we can learn to control our primitive brain and teach ourselves to build up a protective layer against the negative effects of stress and anxiety before they take control of us. Interestingly, this study also found out that we can strengthen the Temporoparietal Junction (TPJ) associated with our emotional intelligence (EQ) through meditation.

Our intelligence is not set the day we are born, we have the power to take control.

We know ourselves that meditation gives you the tools you need to deal with your emotions but this finding proves that no matter how deep you may be suffering from depression, we can use tools to begin feeling better.

When delving further into neuroplasticity there is one more part of the brain that I wanted to mention and that is the Hippocampi. This part of the brain is responsible for learning and memory and again I wanted to see if, through neuroplasticity, the way we meditate would physically effect this. In another study by Dr. Lazar her research shows that meditation dramatically increased Hippocampal cortical thickness, with a magnitude determined by experience.

downard dog

In essence, this means that meditation has the power to shape the learning and memory centre of the brain into something phenomenal. If you want to create a strong memory capability and become a super learner… start with meditation.

I believe that meditation is the greatest gift that we can give to ourselves that can be done anywhere, anytime and it costs us nothing but time.

If you are tempted to give meditation a go, begin by trying out the box breath method:

  • Inhale for 4, pause for 4, exhale for 4, pause for 4.
  • Imagine the breath moving across the body in this way and visualise it creating a box shape reaching the four corners.

When you use your mind to visualize these techniques it becomes even more powerful.


About our Community Expert


Kirsty Raynor

#TeachFit programme lead

Kirsty is a yoga teacher on a journey of empowerment, building confidence and pushing the boundaries of what traditional yoga is and can be.

She leads the TeachFit Yoga workshops in our partner schools.