My moral compass

Recently (and rightly) there has been a lot of discussion, especially on social media, about the lack of enough female leaders and about lack of enough BAME leaders. Numbers are quoted but I’m never sure if the numbers tell the whole story or if they actually do tell a story. If X% of classroom teachers are female does it necessarily follow that X% of head should be female? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying there isn’t a problem. What I am saying is that looking and comparing these two figures may not tell us if there is a problem. What if there are Y% of heads who are female and X-Y are the number of female teachers who do not want to proceed up the leadership pole? I am not saying that’s the case because I have no way of knowing and that’s the problem! We need robust research into this (and not anecdotes) then maybe we’ll come to some conclusions and then we can find solutions if the research shows there’s a problem.

The other thing which gets a lot of reaction on social media is “appointing the best person for the job”. Sometimes the reaction I see is one along the lines of

  • You mean you couldn’t find a X (insert a characteristic) person to appoint?
  • Are you saying no X person was better?
  • You SAY you’re colour blind but…

I’m speaking for myself as I write this. I have had all of the above said to me at some point or the other. The fact is that

  • I can only look at the applications which come in
  • I do judge them on merit
  • I can’t say if a person better than the one appointed isn’t out there but I can only appoint if they apply
  • Yes, the information which goes out will show that being inclusive is important to me

And why can I say the above? Because I can look myself in the mirror, I can sleep at night knowing I’ve done the best for the children and because I have a strong moral purpose which tells me that I need to do the best I can for the children. I will not appoint someone less able than the other candidate in order to tick a box. My moral compass is always pointing towards my moral purpose and that’s the direction I travel towards when making these decisions. Again, to reiterate, I am talking about myself. I don’t doubt that there are others who are also driven by strong morals. I’m also not making a judgement on your moral purpose if you don’t think the way I do. All I’m saying is if you see/read someone saying they appoint the best candidate/ask the best available person to sit on a panel/are colour blind then just do them the honour of believing them and don’t pass judgement on them or put them down by making a patronising remark.

People talk a lot about needing to give children role models. Well, it’s time we put our money where our mouth is and become a role model on how to react when we hear any of the above.

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My grandfathers, my father; my heroes

My father and I

The other day I read a wonderful blog by the wonderful Jill Berry. This was one of a series of Shero blogs and Jill talked about how her mum was her shero. Jill encouraged me to write one too and I wrote about two women who are a huge influence in my life, my grandmother and my mother. Today I want to talk about three other people who shaped me and helped me become the independent, articulate, assertive woman that I am; my grandfathers and my father.

My maternal grandfather (Abbajee to us all) was a lawyer by training. He gave up practicing law when he realised that sometimes he had to, if not lie then at least not tell the whole truth, if he wanted to get his client acquitted. He bought some agricultural land and became very successful. He belonged to the generation which did not give daughters a share in inheritance, certainly people who were as successful as he was didn’t. They did not want to dilute the family’s wealth and reduce the landholding. Abbajee was different. He said he would not deprive his daughters and would give them their rightful share and he did. He practiced what Islam preaches and taught me that sons and daughters, men and women, have rights and obligations. He was as loving and affectionate towards his daughters as he was towards his sons. How wonderful for me to have such a grandfather!

I was two when I went to Pakistan and first met my paternal grandfather. He was introduced to me as my daddy’s daddy so that’s what I called him, DaddyDaddy, and the name stuck. DaddyDaddy was an eminent agricultural scientist. His contribution to Pakistan’s cotton industry is huge. He authored over 140 research papers and published books and received numerous national and international prizes and honours. My sister and I feel hugely honoured that he dedicated one of his books to us. From him I learnt the importance of hard work and of good education. As a child I used to enjoy listening to him and my father talk about agriculture, especially cotton, politics, religion, etc. At the request of my father he wrote about the history of our family which is a treasure trove of information for us and for which we are all ever so grateful. He used to write to me frequently when I was away at university and those letters were a welcome reminder of how much he loved me and was proud of me.

And then my father. Whatever I say about him can never do him justice. The bond between a daughter and her father is said to be a special one. The bond I have with my father is especially strong and special. He is handsome of face, mind and soul. He has always been there for me; rejoicing when I succeed and encouraging me when I need it. I can’t remember a day of my school life when he didn’t drop or pick me up from school. A few years ago when I went back to Karachi and met some of my old school friends, they all asked how he was. They told me they remember him as the one dad who was always at the school gate.

My father is a man of principles. When he started working for UNESCO in Sri Lanka he was told by a few people that he would have to serve alcohol if he wanted to network. Being a Muslim, buying, storing and serving alcohol is against his principles. He did not compromise and invited people for gatherings at our house and never served alcohol. The fact that he was not willing to compromise was appreciated by his friends and no one ever refused his invitation. This goes to show that if you explain why you do or don’t do something people will understand, but it needs courage to stick to your principles. I have followed his example in my social dealings with people. I have a very large circle of friends and they know I don’t drink or serve alcohol. Seeing my father stick to his principles has made it easy for me to stick to mine.

My father always makes me feel like a princess. I remember how safe and secure he makes me feel when he holds my hand when crossing the street. The only time he won’t hold my hand is when he has his grandchildren with him and then it is the grandchildren who are safely taken to other side of the road. I used to teach at university in the good old days. One day there was torrential rain and roads were flooded. My father rang me and told me that he would come and pick me up. He brought someone else with him who drove my car and I went with my father in his car. This may not seem a big deal to you but the fact is that the university was at a great distance from home, when Karachi has torrential rains the roads are impossible to drive on and not everyone does what my father did. It’s his nature to be caring.

My father has taught me that family is important. He taught me that my teachers deserve my respect. He taught me the importance of sticking to one’s principles, of doing what’s right. He taught me that education is important. He taught me that what’s worth doing is worth doing well. Most importantly he and my mother have taught me how to be a good parent and for this I can never thank them enough.

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My grandmother, my mother; my sheroes

I recently read Jill Berry’s excellent shero blog. She asked me if I was going to write one so, here is mine.

I have two sheros; my grandmother and my mother. My grandmother was born in colonial India. She was an educated and an enlightened woman. She and I spent a lot of time together and I worshipped the ground she walked on. I used to love listening to her when she talked about her life as a young girl and about the time Pakistan was created. She had lived history and brought the past to life for me. I have studied history of the partition of India but what I gained from listening to her is something no book could have given me.

I saw how she was with her sons and daughters, her grandsons and her granddaughters and can honestly say I saw no difference in the way she treated them. Unlike many of her generation, she would expect the same standard of behaviour from boys and girls. She embodied equality and equity.

My mother, being the daughter of my grandmother, is the same. She went to university and did her Masters. Like her mother, she has always treated us fairly. Hand on heart I can say that my sister and I were bought up and treated just like our brother was. My brother wanted to go to USA to study Engineering and she and my father supported him in doing so. I wanted to go to England for my higher studies and again she and my father supported me. There weren’t many Asian women in the 1990s who would allow their Muslim daughter to go abroad by herself but my mother did. My mother, like her mother before her, values education and did all she could do to encourage us to follow our dreams.

People talk about generation gaps but I have not experienced it. My grandmother and I enjoyed each other’s company. She suffered from arthritis and used to prefer to stay at home. I used to stay with her when the rest of the family went out, not because it was expected of me but because I wanted to and could think of nothing better than to spend time at home with her and have her all to myself! My mother and I too have not experienced the generation gap. She lives in Pakistan but we talk almost every day and talk for hours! She is now a grandmother herself and like my grandmother, she too is loved by all her grandchildren. My daughters love visiting her and spending time with her like I used to with my grandmother. My mother is now a hero for my daughters (they actually said this to me the other day).

If I can be half the woman my grandmother was and my mother is, I’d be the luckiest woman on earth! Thank you Ammijee and Mummy for being the best role models I could have wished for. Thank you, Jill, for encouraging me to write this. You, too, are a shero!

Three generations of strong women; my mother, my daughters and I.

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A letter to Miss Soares

Picture Credit Zarine Mogal

Dear Miss Soares,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this. You are a legend, almost an institution yourself. You gave more than 50 years of your life teaching Maths to girls in a school, St Joseph’s, in Karachi. If one talks about girls’ education or about education in Pakistan and specifically Karachi, one has to mention St Joseph’s. If one talks about St Joseph’s then one has to talk about you. You dedicated your whole life to making maths come alive for us. Is it any wonder that when we heard of your passing away we were shocked and deeply saddened? Tributes are coming in from all over the world. You taught grandmothers, mothers and daughters and left a mark on each and every one of us.

You were petite, bespectacled and usually wore a knee-length skirt and blouse and walked briskly. The only jewellery you wore was a wrist watch. You would enter the classroom and we knew you were not going to let us waste even one second. You didn’t smile but your eyes twinkled and we all loved you. You would start each lesson with a small test covering the topics taught earlier. The marks of these tests counted towards our final mark. As this is what you did during every lesson, we weren’t stressed by these tests. This was low stake testing designed to test our knowledge of what had already been taught. While we would be busy doing the test you would walk up and down the class (we sat in rows, facing the front) looking over our shoulders. This would have given you an indication of who was struggling with what. You were so ahead of your time. Regular, low stakes testing of previously taught material is now known to be the way to go about teaching and learning. We would then open our homework, you would call out the correct answers and we would check our books ourselves. You would go over the difficult problems by solving them on the blackboard. Whole class feedback and again ahead of its time! You would collect the books and look over them later. This would give you an idea of how well we had understood the work you had set us but as we had already checked it ourselves it would reduce your workload, giving you more time to plan any adjustment for the next lesson.

You lived and breathed maths. I have been going through all the messages left on the school Facebook page. One of your students has posted that she visited you last year and you told her you missed teaching. You taught for over 50 years and you loved the vocation so much that when you finally retired you still missed it. That sums up who you were.

So many of your students are saying that they grew to understand and love maths because of you. If a student develops a love for a subject because of how it has been taught, then that is the biggest accolade for a teacher.

You were strict but you were fair. You were a disciplinarian, a no-excuses teacher but you were never harsh. And you had a wonderful sense of humour. Your one-liners are legendary! “They look but they don’t see” being one of them. Your strictness, your fairness and your humour endeared you to us. There was never any low level disruption during your lessons. We worked hard and we worked silently. But it was a happy place and there was laughter too. You taught us maths and you taught us so much more. You taught us the value of hard work and the value of not giving up.

In Pakistan students don’t sit public exams in their own schools. Instead they are assigned another school where they do the exams. You would come to the exam centre on the day of the Maths exam, your presence reassuring to those who may be feeling nervous. You didn’t have to do this but you did and we were all very grateful to you for that. At the end of the exam season you would treat your whole class to a trip to the cinema.

You embodied what St Josephs’ stands for which is that every girl who walks those hallowed corridors has a right to a good education. You played a huge part in making that a reality and for that your students can never thank you enough. Miss Soares, you will continue to live in the hearts of all your students and your memory will be kept alive by us remembering and talking about you and the time spent with you.

Rest in peace.

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@BeyondLevels #LearningFirst Conference in Greenwich. Videos

I tried my hand at live streaming during the #LearningFirst conference on 30th Sept 2017. I missed the earlier sessions as I only thought about live streaming after the conference had already started. I was doing it through the “Live” Twitter function using Periscope. This led to a technical hitch during Sean Harford’s presentation. Someone phoned me which cut off the live streaming (my phone was on silent, thank goodness, or Sean may have rated me as Requiring  Improvement as an audience member!).

Below are links to the live streams

Dame Alison Peacock

Jo Penn

David Weston

Clare Sealy

James Pembroke

Sean Harford

Mary Myatt

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A case for having uniforms

Years ago, when I was young, my father told me about someone who worked in his office. What this gentleman was earning barely made ends meet. He had two daughters and was determined that they went to school. Pakistan, like other countries, has private as well as state schools. The state schools have a nominal/no fee. Many of these state schools operate two shifts, a morning and an afternoon one. This allows them to teach twice the number of children using the same facilities and staff. The gentleman I’m writing about, sent his daughters to one such school. One daughter went to the morning school and the other attended the afternoon shift. When the daughter attending the morning shift came back home she’d give the uniform to her sister who would then go to the afternoon shift. When she came back, the uniform would be washed and dried, ready for the next day. He said the only reason he could afford to send his daughters to school was because, firstly, the school had two shifts, and secondly, because the school had a uniform. If there hadn’t been a uniform then his daughters would’ve needed different sets of clothes each day which was beyond their means. Because of the two shifts his daughters shared the same uniform  and none of their friends were any the wiser.

The other day I saw an advertisement for admission to a Pakistani school. The school provided free uniforms for students meeting certain criteria. I assume they are able to do this as they bulk buy and can offset the cost of supplying free uniforms. This is another example why I think schools having uniforms is a great idea. If you’re thinking to yourself that the cases I’ve quoted are those of schools in Pakistan and don’t apply to U.K. then spare a thought for the families using food banks, think of the girls/women dealing with period poverty and then you may agree with me that uniforms (with the caveat that they should be affordable) are a good idea.

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rED17 Blogs, presentations, video links

Toxic schools and how to avoid running them by David Weston

This is the new m*th by Christian Bokhove

Improving assessment: the key to education reform by Daisy Christodoulou

ResearchED 2017 a brief review by Daisy Christodoulou

ResearchED 17-a few thoughts by Justin Gray

ResearchED2017 Slides: What You Do Not Know About Feedback and Motivation by Sarah Donarski 

Translating Research Into Practical Advice (Reflections On ResearchED) by That Boy Can Teach

The self-improving school system by Karen Wespieser

Presentation: Urban Myths about Learning and Technology (at #rED17) by Pedro De Bruyckere

My Research Ed London 2017 Takeaway by dukkhaboy

Genre overload: rED17 by Tarjinder Gill

ResearchED by Alex Quigley 

Why target grades miss the mark by Ben Newmark

Can we create a clever culture? By Mark Enser 

Leon Cych Live Stream: 

Dr Becky Allen and Sam Sims 

Amanda Spielman 

Alex Quigley

Martin Robinson

Daisy Christodulo 

Nick Rose

Nick Gibb  

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