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IOE Blog


Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


School belonging: the conviction of hope

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 1 November 2022

The School Belonging Colloquium Team: Julia Dobson, Professor Kathryn Riley (back row, left to right) Kristy Campbell, Dr Rahil Alipour ( front row, left to right)

The School Belonging Colloquium Team: Julia Dobson, Professor Kathryn Riley (back row, left to right); Kristy Campbell, Dr Rahil Alipour (front row, left to right)

Kathryn Riley.

It’s time to hone our skills. As educators in a chaotic national climate, we need to bear witness to what is happening today and its impact on our young people. We also need to walk the path of hope and possibilities. This is not easy.

Disconnection, disengagement and disillusionment are in the air. Poverty and insecurity are growing, with significant consequences for the very fabric of society. Yet how we talk and act as educators, will influence how young people see themselves today and view their future place in the world.

At a recent UCL School Belonging Colloquium, Dame Mary Marsh, one-time CEO of the NSPCC saw the contemporary challenge in these terms: the biggest poverty of all is that of hope’. In today’s strange, dark and difficult times schools, wherever they are in the world, need to be places of belonging and hope. (more…)

Belonging, part 5: Young people are put in our path to teach us new lessons

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 27 July 2022

Jubilee performance by children at Cremer Randall Primary, Hackney

Jubilee performance by children at Cremer Randall Primary, Hackney

Kathryn Riley.

The guests at the best bug hotels – I learn from my five-year-old granddaughter – can be ladybirds, beetles, even butterflies. While this is not my vision of luxury hotel living, her tutorial reminds me that young people are put in our path to teach us new lessons, and to remind us of what we may have long forgotten.

This blog – the last in a series of five about Belonging – was inspired by a recent visit to a school in Hackney – Cremer Randall Primary. My aim in visiting the school was to gather material for the final instalment of the podcast series, Let’s hear it for School Belonging. This is a story of possibilities told by young people, school leaders and experts from around the world, with insights from Rapper Jamie Pyke.

I have known the headteacher of Cremer, Jo Riley (no relation), for some time. She is one of the 16 headteachers I worked with during the Covid-19 Pandemic. I learned much from her and her peers about the importance of  ‘compassion’ which contributed to my thinking in Compassionate Leadership for School Belonging. You can download this book for free ­– a (more…)

Belonging part 4: Zero tolerance or compassion – which way is school leadership heading?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 20 July 2022

Kathryn Riley.                                    

If you want a few moments of unbridled joy, watch Flakefleet Primary School, Fleetwood perform their 2019 audition for ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. Next, dip into Michele Obama’s autobiography Becoming and find out about one of her favourite schools, Elizabeth Garret Anderson (EGA), and why it ‘touched her heart’ (p.320).  This exploration will give you some insights into the leadership of Flakefleet and EGA.

Pupils from Flakefleet Primary audition for Britain’s Got Talent, with headteacher Dave McPartlin in the background (screenshot)

Scanning the leadership terrain of late, I have been trying to make sense of what is going on. Two widely different models of school leadership seem to be emerging at opposite ends of the spectrum. One is relational and compassionate and focused on belonging; the other is about command and control, with ‘zero tolerance’ of misdemeanours. Each approach reflects a different view about what motivates people in an organisation. Broadly speaking these are that people want to contribute and be part of an enterprise versus that they are unwilling to deliver and need to be closely supervised.

In the Podcast Zero tolerance or a sense of us we brought together the headteachers of Flakefleet Primary and EGA (Dave McPartlin and Jo Dibb) to talk about their leadership. The conversation is electric. (more…)

Belonging part 3: ‘This is how we look, this is how we talk…’

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 13 July 2022

 Illustration by Kristy Campbell

Kathryn Riley.

There is a curiously British aversion to talking about matters that might upset the neighbours. This feeling lurks at the back of many a staffroom, like some unwelcome spectre at the feast, or an aged parrot on the shoulder, grown weary by the passing of the years. Yet, disturb things we must. If schools are to become places of belonging, then some difficult conversations need to take place. This blog – the third in the ‘Belonging’ Series – is about how.

In 1981, I was teaching in a South London secondary school when the Brixton Riots erupted. In their wake, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher brought in senior judge Lord Scarman to examine the causes. His excoriating report pointed to (more…)

Belonging part 2: from alienation to connection and calm

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 1 July 2022

Kathryn Riley.

‘I belong when I drift through the wind, peaceful and calm when I belong’ is the opening chorus of a ‘belonging’ song, written and performed by children from an International School. Their belonging experiences include ‘acts of kindness in the playground… friends who keep you above the water… pride in my work … people who are willing to find out something new… being included in things everyday… a sprinkle of joy and acts of trust…’

This blog is the second in a five-part series which tracks the impact of exclusion and the power of belonging. It’s linked to the podcast series, Let’s hear it for school belonging and the UCL Press book, Compassionate Leadership for School Belonging.

In these difficult times, we all need to have a place where we feel we belong. Whether young people experience a sense of school belonging and agency will not only influence (more…)

Belonging part 1:  the ‘red card’ of exclusion

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 22 June 2022

Kathryn Riley.

‘You must shun (this girl) .. avoid her company, exclude her from your sports, shut her out of your converse… (she) is a liar’.  So pronounced Mr Brocklehurst, proprietor of Lowood School. His venom was directed against Jane Eyre, the eponymous heroine of Charlotte Bronte’s novel.

Some time ago, I interviewed young people who had been excluded from school. They drew pictures of how they felt. One image has long haunted me. At the center is a small child looking distraught. The caption around the drawing reads:

      You’re thick..  You’re stupid..  You don’t belong here..  Get out of my school… (more…)