Mental Health Awareness

So, my lovely mum was sectioned last week. This is a blog about her and me. It is written for catharsis and comradeship.

Mum has suffered periods of intense anxiety and depression for her whole life. The first time I can remember going through it with her was when I was 12. As an adult, we have been through it together around five times, including this time – so it’s not often. Her slide usually begins with sleeping problems caused by anxiety and progresses to a refusal to eat, drink, take any medication or answer the door/phone, due to the potential for any of these things to cause a problem (‘I can’t have milk in my tea because those baby cows don’t get properly weaned’). Thanks to medication or, sometimes, seemingly just the sheer strength of her will, she has managed to come out of it each time, after a period of weeks or months, whereupon we don’t discuss it, because she always wants to think of that as the last time it will happen.

I live in hope but prepare for the worst. This time she started to show signs in the middle of March. I raised my concerns and was rebuffed – she doesn’t want to admit she is ill. I live nearly 3 hours’ drive away, which makes it hard to be insistent. I tried again two weeks later and she eventually agreed to make a doctor’s appointment, in two weeks’ time. Her friends rallied round. Unfortunately, by that point she wasn’t really sleeping or eating, so it was already too late. The doctor prescribed her something she refused to take and gave her a follow up appointment three weeks later. By the time I was able to visit her to make sure she went to that appointment, she was about 15lbs down and away with the fairies. We went to the doctor, who prescribed low-dose anti-depressants to help with the sleeping, and I brought her back to stay.

I hoped that food, company, exercise, rest and meds would help her to return to an even keel, but it just didn’t happen that way this time. We had a couple of good days but that was followed by a complete crash. She refused food and medication unless we resorted to extreme cajoling. We couldn’t have the TV on or talk on our phones while she was in earshot. I had to sneak away to do work or she would become anxious about my workload and the burden she imagined she was being (being banned from TV and phone is actually quite a good way to get me to do work, so her presence was paradoxically helpful). When my husband and I had to physically restrain her to stop her from running out of the house, we involved the professionals. And after a few visits from the community mental health team, they called for an Assessment under the Mental Health Act.

This is not the first time I have been through this, but it is the first time it has resulted in a section. In my view, she was no worse this time than the time I requested hospitalisation: what has changed is the attitude of the services. I am heartened by how seriously they took my concerns and how carefully they listened, and then by how hard they worked to make it happen. Assessment under the Mental Health Act is difficult to arrange. The person being assessed must have a bed waiting for them to go to if needed – my county only has 13 mental health beds. Two doctors must attend with a social worker. But the team managed to find her a bed in her hometown and they found the doctors and they arranged a transport for the same day. So, away she went. We visited this past weekend and I am feeling cautiously positive, though it is early days. The hospital is lovely. She’s responding the texts and phone calls.

I feel like I should say that I have been ripped open with this, because it’s the reaction people seem to be expecting, but all I can feel at the moment is relief that her problems are finally being taken seriously. I also feel vindicated. When the community mental health team told me they thought she needed an Assessment and asked me how I felt about it, I said that my frame of reference for ‘normal’ had clearly become very skewed, because I didn’t think it was any worse than when she was refused hospitalisation in 2005. So I’m getting on with things, focusing hard on the mantra that I did everything I could, though it wasn’t enough. Did I do everything I could? I think so.

I wanted to share my experience in a way that might be helpful to others going through similar issues. There’s a rumble that people only share their perfect lives online: to some extent that’s true. I don’t share this stuff online because I don’t really want to talk about it with people I don’t know – it’s partly about protecting my own mental health. However, in the interest of mental health awareness, I thought I should highlight that ‘this stuff’ is happening all over the place and you don’t have to manage it alone.

I also wanted to say to people who are worried they might be starting to slide: go to the doctor. Talk to your family. You’re not being a burden. They want to hear from you. Do it now. They can help. We live in a world with an improving understanding of how to deal with mental health problems: take advantage of it.

Finally, a note here to school leaders: sometimes we need time off. I’m Mum’s only relative resident in the UK, so it has to be me. My school has been so understanding and supportive through this time.  At my last school, the absence policy would not have allowed for me to have any time for this – ‘attending medical appointments with a relative’ was specifically named as not-a-good-reason-for-time-off. That type of policy seems to be more and more common in schools as people attempt to run them like businesses, ignoring the fact that they are services, which partly operate on the goodwill of teachers, who give thousands of extra hours. I can never book a day off to be with Mum for her birthday and I’ve missed at least seven Mothers Days staffing student residential weekends: that’s fine. But there has to be some quid pro quo. You have the ability to make it easier for teachers to ask for time off in exceptional circumstances.

I consider myself very lucky that I have had good mental health for my life, to date, but I don’t take it for granted. I prioritise self-care. I talk. I blog. I holiday, a lot. I read. I exercise. I maintain my relationships. I don’t work on Saturdays, as far as possible. I create places of safety where I always, no matter how I am feeling, play the confident character. I try to lend credence to how others see me, rather than relying solely on my view of myself. I seek situations where I can be successful, and I celebrate that success and store it up for future moments of impostor syndrome. I actively avoid dwelling on negatives – which is why you will rarely, if ever, find me talking about bad times on Twitter.

What do you do to safeguard your mental health?

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Supporting students with revision

Thinking about when I have needed to revise for exams in the past, I am aware of various behaviours I exhibit that get in the way of any actual revision. I agonise over which parts I should be revising first. I take time to get everything in the right order, even if that means spending 10 minutes looking for my favourite pencil. If there are gaps I swoop off to fill them, then get distracted reading about something new and probably unconnected. I spend too long reading and not enough time testing.  I waste time deciding the best method to distill my notes: flashcards or mind maps?

In an attempt to help my students overcome these and other potential tools of procrastination, I’ve started to provide them with revision planners. Year 11 had one in September that broke their year 10 content down into weekly chunks, each with an accompanying task. We backed this up with a weekly quiz on the content students should have revised in the previous week, keeping scores and providing a leaderboard. If followed, this enabled them to revise all the content before the mocks and then a second time by February half term. I then provided a fresh planner to structure their revision of the year 11 content, which was helpful when we set a paper 2 mock the week before Easter.


In large part, the point of these planners is to help students get out of their own way, but they have the added benefit of showing that revision needs to be an ongoing process, no matter how far off the exams seem to be. With that in mind, I have now written one for year 10 to help them recap their unit 1 knowledge before the end of the school year. This is less detailed than my year 11 version, with just one task suggested for all the content, to encourage a methodical, consistent approach. I have included it for download at the end of this post.


The planners are given to students in hard copy, placed on their Google Classrooms for download and sent home to parents. They sit alongside any homework we set. We refer to them regularly in class but don’t check up: the burden of revision needs to be on the student, not the teacher. They take a little time to write but, as with so many things like this, once made, they’re reusable.

In case anybody hasn’t realised, nobody has sat the new GCSE yet so I can’t speak about impact. However, these are modelled on a planner I made for year 12 some years ago: that was the first year students performed better on my unit than they did on my HoD’s, so I am feeling quite positive about their efficacy.

Other things I am doing for year 11:

I’ve been meeting with underachieving students on a one-to-one basis in the intervention slot each week. We work through the PLCs, talk about where they’re feeling confident and where they need to do some more work, discuss how, when and where they will revise etc. I read some research about tackling the disadvantage gap that said these conversations can have an impact, so I’ve been trying to have them with all my students this year.

I’m offering a 25 minute revision slot before school, once a week. All our students, Y7-13, stay at school for an extra 30 minutes Mon-Thurs (hence our earlier finish for the summer) so they will willingly come at the end of the day but that doesn’t mean they will willingly work. Putting revision on during a time when their attendance isn’t compulsory ensures I get only those who are really motivated and want the extra help.

I’ll offer a 30 minute grade 8-9 revision slot in our assigned after-school intervention session in the coming term. We never have to barter with other subjects for these students.

We’ve created a question-a-day calendar for year 11 to cover the next 8 weeks. It covers all the question types from all three papers, multiple times. Again, these will go home and be shared online. I might assign them on the Google Classroom so they can be submitted online for easy marking and feedback.

Y10 Revision planner

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#youreallyshouldteach…Interpretations of Abolition

With the new A-level came a new coursework topic. I now offer my year 12s the option of writing their essay about the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which is particularly pertinent to the school’s context. Much reading ensued. Most of the students are writing about the reasons for abolition, so we have researched interpretations together.

I’ve been teaching a short sequence of lessons on abolition to year 8 for several years now, as part of their study of changes in Britain 1750-1900. It allows for a recap on the Transatlantic Slave Trade unit that I teach in year 7. We use my old favourite Peace and War textbook, which has an excellent four page sequence on different reasons for abolition. The extra reading for the A-level put this into context and I have now started teaching my students about the history of the history, as well as the history. I find it to be a very accessible way of introducing the idea that history changes over time.

The two historians we look at are Reginald Coupland and Eric Williams. Coupland was a professor of Empire history, born in 1884, who promoted the moral and religious motivations of the abolitionists as the main reason for the success of their movement. A biographer of William Wilberforce, Coupland held up the abolitionist movement as an example of Britain leading the world in a moral crusade. He seems to have been nostalgic for the Empire, sitting in an office funded by Cecil Rhodes’s money and buying up abolitionist literature. In my fertile imagination, he finds himself disappointed that something considered so glorious when he was a child has become so rapidly discredited and is looking for silver linings (I’m really projecting here: I haven’t done enough reading to be able to say that, really). Coupland represents the whiggish interpretation of history, that humankind is on a journey to being more civilised.

On the other side, Williams was born in Trinidad in 1911. He studied history at Oxford, where he experienced quite a lot of prejudice. He went on the become the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, overseeing its transition from colony to independence. In 1944, he published his work Capitalism and Slavery, in which he claimed that the moral crusade was incidental to the real reason for abolition, which was that the monopoly held by the Caribbean plantations was no longer in the best interests of the British public. Cheaper sugar was available from other (slave-worked) colonies, such as Cuba; abolishing the slave trade and, eventually, slavery was a way of breaking the monopoly held by a bunch of rich men with strong political representation. Williams doesn’t entirely discount the impact of the anti-slavery campaigns, but he places them among other factors, including slave rebellions, that are lesser to the idea that slavery was abolished because it was holding capitalism back.

There are plenty of other points of view, of course. In Hull they’ll tell you it was all down to Wilberforce. Hochschild makes a good case for the tireless campaigning by the Quakers and individuals such as Clarkson in Bury the Chains. I’ve got Fryer’s Staying Power for a Marxist take on it and Olusoga’s Black and British, but I need to wrestle those back off my year 13s before I can summarise what they think.

For year 8, however, these two provide the perfect start. Not too much and not too complicated. Once the background to each interpretation has been explained, students find it quite straightforward to match the historian to his tale. Just two pictures of the historians on the board elicited the first inference: “He’s white, so he wants his people to look good. He’s black, and he doesn’t care about making them look good.” You mean, their backgrounds have something to do with the story they’re telling? Quite. So, let’s go from there.

Some further reading:

1900-2007: The Legacies of Slavery and Anti-Slavery, Richard Huzzey

British historians and Capitalism and Slavery, O.H.Folarin – on JSTOR – you have to register but it’s free to read. It’s a 1970s review of the topic so it provides a nice interpretation in itself as well as outlining the main arguments.

Update: here’s a simple worksheet that I used to help my students select evidence to support each point of view. Students had previously completed a large information-gathering chart looking at reasons for abolition, using the Hodder Peace and War textbook.

Abolitionist historians

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WLFS takeaways

As usual, I have spent some time today reflecting on what I can change about my practice following the WLFS conference.

I can plan some short thematics for KS3

Elizabeth Carr’s reminder of Michael Riley’s development study, Toilets through Time, had made me think about where I can put shorter development studies into my KS3 programme of study, potentially replacing some of the chunkier ones. I love development studies at KS3 (that’s my workshop for SHP this summer) but they take a long time and it is easy to lose the thread on one hour of lessons a week. A shorter, snappier version would achieve the same chronology recap and focus on change and continuity and, cleverly considered, could underpin our study of Medicine at GCSE.

I can do multiple choice quizzing to help build student confidence at A-level

Paula Lobo shared how she provides four statements analysing a source, from which the students have to pick the correct one. At the end, she works the correct statements into model answers. This modelling has helped her students to do what comes naturally to those of us who have been doing it for years. I’ve been puzzling over how to better help my students summarise the message of an interpretation for their A-level paper, and I think this will work really well.

I can pair knowledge quizzes with source analyses

Also from Paula – providing a knowledge quiz first forces students to see the link between contextual knowledge and unpicking historical sources. My colleague has been focusing on student skills in this area lately so I am going to pass this on to him to look at. What I really liked about Paula’s quizzes is that the questions were so massively long: they gave an enormous information to go along with the answer students gave. Sneaky, like extra veggies in a bolognese.

I can improve my year 12 mini-NEA project

At the start of the year I wrote that my year 12s would be writing short NEAs on each Henry this year. They have completed their Henry VII essays (more on that at a later date). I was chatting about it with Sally Wilson who said she thought she could do the same, but would ask them to also include sources, to give them even more prep for the NEA. I am going to do the same with the Henry VIII essay.

I can better prepare my students for their NEA by setting clever summer work

After Jim Carroll’s session, I decided that by setting a research task into the context of authors of some key interpretations about their NEA topic over the summer, I can clarify the process they need to go through when they are choosing their own interpretations. We offer two topics to one class at sixth form so this may take some careful planning, but I’ve got time.

I could be reading more

To be fair, this isn’t news, but still.

Christine Counsell’s consideration of our responsibility as a profession chimed true. I spend Sunday mornings reading blogs and catching up; I’m going to make sure I include more history teaching blogs in that, and at least one Teaching History article. I’m going to shame-facedly admit that my last three issues are sitting pristine next to my armchair, having only been subjected to a cursory flick, scan of the Cunning Plans and read of Mummy Mummy. I can do better than this.

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WLFS History conference: workshop 3

Jim Carroll on interpretations at y13. His work is based on the NEA, which requires students to do independent research of at least 5 academic historians’ arguments, explaining why they reached different interps and their relative persuasiveness. Jim’s questions focus on Nazi popularity and Oliver Cromwell; students will choose one, depending on the rest of their A-level.

Guidance from the exam board recommended a 6 hour short course to teach the content required for context (optional). There wasn’t a recommendation to teach the contextual background of the interpretations at this point. There was then a recommendation to follow a skills-based course to support students in their historical research and writing.

Jim doesn’t agree that disciplinary knowledge and skills are the same thing, and language matters here because it shapes how we view certain concepts.

Substantive knowledge covers knowledge of the sub-domain, eg specific dates, along with substantive concepts like state and empire. Meanwhile, disciplinary knowledge includes how info is structured into historical knowledge, along with the method of historical enquiry.

Reducing history to content Vs skills might lead to:

  • A lack of emphasis of the importance of substantive content.
  • Idea that substantive knowledge is free floating, disconnected.
  • Failure to appreciate that substantive knowledge is important for further study.

To exemplify this, we look at a reading from Kershaw. We discuss what knowledge he has drawn on to be able to explain why historians have interpreted the Nazi regime as they have: political context of the post-war era; the process of writing history, eg the opening up of archives/availability of new evidence; the effect of collective memory, which is uniquely pronounced in the study of the Nazis, where there was a kind of collective amnesia. Then what makes the Nazis unique: it is politically charged – there’s intrinsic moral outrage and a tacit idea that writing this history should be part of the way we seek to prevent it from repeating.

Other problems:

  • Historical and generic might become conflated
  • It might help SLT to jettison history, eg “Other subjects do note taking and essay writing so why should we keep History?”

(Reminds me of a sixth former who wanted to start A-level history in February of y12 because he studied other essay based subjects and would therefore not be disadvantaged by missing the first six months of the course. Imagine my face.)

  • Students might think that practising skills will lead to improvement.
  • Students think they can rely on trotting out trite pre-prepared phrases, eg “He is biased”

Two more that I missed.

Rather than stick with the exam board guidance, Jim decided instead to engage with previous history teacher curriculum theorisation, history education researchers and academic scholarship, especially overviews of Nazi historiography.

Once students have spent some time looking at some scholarship on the Nazis,

Interesting point that students struggle to understand the idea that historians set their own questions, which will inevitably shape the direction of their research.

Historians make choices that go on to affect how they interpret a point of history. Once they returned from the summer holidays, they had a good idea of 3 historians to focus on, which was followed up by a series of lessons on the time period in which the interpretations were written.

Students are given some background into the events of 1945-now that provides background to their interpretations, in the form of 5 chunks, and complete a diagram to show how interpretations of the topic might have changed over time.

We look at some examples from prior students, considering how they have looked at both the context of the historian and the methodological choices the historian has made.

Don’t feel like I have blogged this session satisfactorily…too busy thinking about it! Thanks Jim.

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WLFS History conference: workshop 2

Paula Lobo speaking about sources, who have been thinking about the challenge that we have to bring people to life in words. We discuss this briefly.

When students are making inferences from sources, it is really tricky to judge what is a valid inference. We read the literature review of this topic and discuss the problem of language in written sources – does it reflect reality? – and can comprehension and evaluation be divorced?

We look at a range of sources on Churchill, that Paula used with y9 and now at A-level. Students pull out some of the words and discuss whether they are positive or negative, by placing it on a continuum and discussing whether the meaning of the word might have changed over time (eg the word dictator might not have been such a negative one at the start of the 20th century).

Once students have played around with the words on a continuum, they can start thinking about who might use those words to describe Churchill and why. Using Wiltshire’s language of uncertainty, students can use the sources to write about what people thought of Churchill at the time.

Tudors. We look at Paula’s inspiring work on using multiple choice questions to help students assess sources which you can read here: – this would be an excellent way of helping students to summarise the message of an interpretation, I think, which my lost struggle with for far longer than they should.

Paula has applied this to visual sources in year 9. She gives students statements that forces them to look back at the caption, consider the purpose etc – things they will need to do automatically as they move through their history education.

She also uses knowledge testing alongside source evaluation: in this test demo, the knowledge they need to answer the questions on the first page is required to help them analyse the source on the second page.

This very clearly spells out the importance of contextual knowledge when analysing historical sources.

Lots of really helpful things to think about here!

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WLFS History conference: workshop 1

Elizabeth Carr talking on planting perennials in the history garden: extending KS3 into GCSE.

A year 7 starter activity to start! And one on toilets…

Concerns about the new GCSE have encouraged Presdales history department to think about their KS3 and rethink what their students needed to know to provide the context for GCSE. Should they start teaching GCSE question types? Should they move to a three year KS4? Will students retain it? Will there be transferability in terms of ‘question skills’?

Firstly, they made careful choices about what content to include: putting it all into GCSE would lead to repetition and potential boredom. Better to plant ideas at KS3 that are revisited across the three years to interleave topics and reinforce memory and understanding of them.

The department decided on these for their focus:
Sense of time, place and period.
Big ideas – substantive concepts. Disciplinary knowledge.

A sense of time

Timeline tests, especially at enquiry transitions. Helps students to recall relevant key features for context. Timeline test at start of post is intended as a diagnostic to work out what students know when they arrive in year 7: students match the pictures to a list of time periods on the board and then organise chronologically. This comes up as a starter activity for recap, regularly.

Development study: when did toilets really change? This adds another layer to their understanding of sense of time. Elizabeth also talks about protest/rebellion over time.

Overviews. Offered at key transition points to help students.

Comparative timelines. Spain as compared to Britain: gives students the opportunity to highlight similarity/difference, eg did England have a dark age while Spain had a golden age?

Zoom out and see the bigger picture: compare knowledge of British Empire to knowledge of Britain. We have a go at this and discuss the idea of asking students to predict. Obviously this can go really badly, but seems to be a good diagnostic tool to be able to see what background knowledge students have retained.

A sense of place

I strongly agree with Elizabeth when she says that it is much easier to teach students when they know where places are. The location of Britain in relation to the rest of Europe is useful for the Norman conquest, but also for many other topics. Elizabeth shows a core knowledge sheet for her Cordoba unit that includes a small map to indicate Byzantium in relation to the rest of Europe.

Another example: the geography of the Reformation.

Nice bit of geography here: colouring the map to show points of conflict (wouldn’t this count as 50% of a geography GCSE?)

Similarly: mapping the locations of the major battles of the First World War.

Sense of period

Dual coding: using images that resonate is important because students need to remember the image in order to be prompted by it. Build knowledge at KS3 that will resonate visually at KS4: what a monastery looks like, Henry VIII’s face etc. If they see the same image that they have looked at lower down the school, perhaps they will remember more at GCSE.

Big ideas – substantive concepts

Mapping KS3 concepts that will be needed at KS4 prepares students better for their GCSE studies. This is a bit more than straightforward knowledge.

This helps with that perennial history teacher whinge: ‘I love teaching this but the kids find it really difficult’ – eg Cold War. Laying the foundation concepts in year 9 has helped students to grasp the GCSE content more quickly.

Disciplinary knowledge

Elizabeth talks through some ways that students ‘bump into’ some of the things they will be expected to do at GCSE throughout KS3, eg summarising interpretations and using knowledge to contextualise and critique, working with source material – ‘sources sitting inside their context’ (what a lovely turn of phrase). Elizabeth references her Cunning Plan, recently published in Teaching History, about teaching the Industrial Revolution.

Sorry this last picture is not the right way up!

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