Teacher Training at USW: This cannot be the end.

I first heard the news via a BBC News article. I was shocked, in a state of disbelief. I had been so certain of the outcome that I hadn’t even properly considered the impact this news would have.

“Changes to where student teachers will be able to train in future have been announced” the article began, “bids from Swansea University and the USW, which currently offers teacher training at its Newport campus, were unsuccessful.”

The EWC, Education Workforce Council, were responsible for considering the proposals and deciding on which institutions to accredit. They announced their decision in a press release on 29th June.

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I was a small part of the process at University of South Wales (USW). Acting on behalf of the students currently undertaking the BA Primary Studies course, I was invited to join two of the discussions in order to offer a student’s perspective and opinion on the proposal being submitted by the University.

I sat around the table with academics, headteachers, former students and fellow-current students, and I have to say in all honesty I came away somewhat confused. Disenchanted, even. There appeared to be a real lack of understanding of the innovation and vision from the Accreditation Board when considering the University’s proposal.

As an example, during my time as a student, and no doubt for countless cohorts of the past, we have been crying out for shorter, more frequent stints in the classroom. The course currently offers ‘block placements’ of 6 weeks in years one and two, and 8 weeks in year three. This creates a huge amount of pressure, as it requires students to assemble a toolkit of behaviour management strategies, lesson ideas, an understanding of the curriculum, knowledge of current research and a bank of assessment for learning techniques through a series of lectures across the year. As well as this, students must ensure their own literacy, numeracy and digital competence skills are up to scratch ahead of placement. Then they have just 5 teaching weeks (less one observation week to begin) to put all of this knowledge into practice.

This is too much pressure for many students to really learn and perfect each strategy and technique.

The proposal was to have shorter stints in the classroom following each series of lectures, so that they can put their new knowledge to the test while it’s still fresh in their minds. The panel did not appear to appreciate the many benefits of this, which is very disappointing in my view.

Also, the University have long developed action enquirers who now actually get their work published and shared across the globe. How many Universities will publish students’ research as eBooks? According to the BBC, “the new criteria has asked for a greater emphasis on research and more collaboration with schools”. USW are already doing it. Search ‘University of South Wales’ on iBooks and you’ll find a wealth of material.

One such book is entitled ‘Bringing Digital Competence to Life‘. This is a case study conducted in the Summer of 2017 by myself and others on the BA Primary course. Over a four week period we planned and delivered a sequence of lessons that aimed to develop digital skills in a cross curricular way. I thoroughly recommend you take a look. A similar case study is currently being completed as I write this, and the eBook will be available shortly.

Is this not the sort of research and collaboration with schools so desired by the Accreditation Board?

One of the more troubling issues I have with the process is with regards to their understanding of what teachers of the future look like. Digital Competence in Wales sits with equal importance alongside Literacy and Numeracy. However, the Board showed a worrying lack of knowledge of even very basic technology currently being used in schools. For example, during a discussion around how the University encourages students to develop their confidence in using technology, a green screen was shown as an example. Students can use such facilities to enhance presentations, create ‘hook’ videos and many more strategies that enhance learning in the classroom. Yet, only one member of the Board really appeared to understand this. Granted, not understanding technology yourself is perfectly understandable. But not valuing the importance of how technology can enhance learning, that is inadmissible.

How can one make a decision about the future of teacher training with so little understanding of what modern teaching is?

The press release included a quote from Professor John Furlong, Chair of the ITE Accreditation Board. He claims the process of awarding accreditation “has been
conducted in an open, fair and rigorous way”.

I question the fairness of this process. My overriding feeling is the institutions receiving accreditation have won this right based on promises made, not results proven. USW prove that they have done, and can continue to do the fantastic work they are known for every single day.

The loss of this provision will be of huge detriment to the teaching profession in Wales, particularly in the South East of the country.  I have so much praise for everybody in the Primary Studies team at USW, but as it currently stands others won’t get the chance to benefit from the expertise, experience, facilities and relationships USW have built with schools over so many years.

It is a huge loss, and one which many feel passionately about. A petition is currently active at change.org which urges the EWC and Welsh Government to reconsider this decision. If you feel the same, I urge you to please sign the petition too.


To grade, or not to grade

Prior to teaching, I spent over a decade as a manager in retail, in various different roles including as a Store Manager and a HR Manager. This gives me an insight into this ‘big, wide world’ that we try to best prepare our children for.

My issue with the education system as it currently stands is it doesn’t relate closely enough to the real world. Talking from personal experience, I was never once judged on my ability to do a job purely by the numbers I delivered. Sure, I had KPIs or performance targets to hit, but very often I didn’t hit them. Does that mean I’m a failure as a manager? Should I be sacked because I missed my sales target yesterday? Or replaced because our customer service measure dipped below 90% last week?

Of course not, that sort of world would be chaotic, stressful and downright ludicrous.

Although one only has to look at the average lifespan of a football manager to know that there are industries in which this is the accepted rule. Thankfully, they are the exception, not the norm.

The big wide world, for the most part, will not grade your contribution to society. Yet, we put our children through an education system teaching them that everything comes down to a result, a grade, a mark. We insist on labelling and categorising children according to test results, or marks achieved against a matrix. But do we ever tell them how they could improve? Do they know exactly how to move that 60% score to 70%? Do they even know what they did so well to achieve that A grade?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my rudimentary understanding of the human brain tells me that as humans, we have no inbuilt system that lets us know what we could be doing better or how to do that. Indeed, we rely on feedback from the environment and people around us to become better. I am in no doubt that we need interaction with other humans, preferably face to face, in order to help us improve.

When I think back, I improved as a manager because people who had better knowledge than me were honest in their feedback, gave good advice, suggested ideas to help me move forward and – crucially – told me what I was doing well.

Knowing that I delivered a customer service measure of 88% alone does none of those things. But the feedback I get based on the result? That’s when the real learning happens. What can I do better next week? How can I move that score to 90%? What would I have to do to get to 92%?

The other interesting point that became apparent to me is that children leaving school and going into the workplace were not used to receiving critical feedback based on their performance. In my experience, they wanted a target, for instance a time limit in which to complete a task, but would often take offence if I gave feedback based on the quality of their work. It was quite obvious to me that these young people were not used to being told how to be better, and I have a real problem with that.

I have read widely on this issue, considering the benefits of giving grades versus the strengths of formative feedback. An interesting article popped up on my news feed last week, and both the issue itself and the location in question caught my eye. The BBC reported on a decision by Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, based in my hometown of Cardiff, to not give first year students a grade or mark. You can read the article here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-44179515.

The belief is that this move will reduce stress, and improve well-being. Crucially, the report indicates that students had (and in my experience, do) focus on the mark rather than how to improve by developing their knowledge and skills.

Is this simply because these same students have been brought up in an education system which tells them that the grade is ultimately paramount?

Now, all of my examples here are based on the adult world, either in the world of work or higher education, but remember this is the world we are preparing our children for, and at the end of the day, are children in schools any different? Do they still need to know how to improve? Do they still look at a mark or grade and judge their ability in relation to their friends? Do they label themselves as either ‘smart’ or ‘stupid’ depending on one number or letter received from the teacher?

I would love to be part of a system in which children don’t know their levels, grades or marks. A system in which teachers could focus on giving high quality formative comments to move the learning forward, rather than scoring a paper and reducing a huge amount of work, effort and toil to one letter or number.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that children should go through their whole lives without facing summative assessments. Even in Scandinavia, learners will be summatively assessed at some point in their school lives. But why can’t we teach children that everybody has their strengths, everybody can improve and everybody can become better if they’re open to receiving feedback?

After all, if we don’t teach it in schools, the big, wide world will teach it the hard way.

I’ve made my feelings clear, but what do you think? Contact me @MrHannUSW and tell me your thoughts on the summative assessment versus formative comments debate.

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!


Rwy’n Ddigon Da – I’m Good Enough

Welsh is not one of my strengths. As a teacher in Wales, this is a problem.

Languages always were my kryptonite in school, whether it was French, German or indeed Welsh. Through my adult life this didn’t cause me any problems until, of course, I came into teaching.

The expectation in Welsh education is that I teach Welsh lessons, but also to use Welsh incidentally in the classroom. I have no issue with this, I support a bilingual education system for many reasons. My issue is with myself, and my own ability to competently play my part in the system. Upon beginning the Primary teaching course I knew that Welsh would be an area I would really have to focus on to be able to say I’m at an ‘acceptable’ level.

Not ‘good’, but good enough.

In my first school placement in 2017, I found myself teaching a Reception class, 4-5 yr olds. In terms of Welsh, this was perfect for me since they were only expected to know very simple vocabulary, such as ‘bore da‘ (good morning), ‘prynhawn da‘ (good afternoon) and simple sentence structures such as the weather – ‘mae hi’n bwrw glaw‘ (it is raining, which is often was). I could get away with lots of ‘da iawn‘ (very good) and ‘dim siarad‘ (no talking) peppered throughout my teaching, yet I still came away knowing I would have to up my game for my next placement. I’d managed to tick enough boxes to get through first placement, but I knew there would be many more boxes to tick in the future.

My KS2 placement would require a serious raising of the bar.

I wouldn’t say I was  overly confident of my Welsh speaking ability going into my KS2 placement this year, but being placed in a Year 4 class certainly made me believe I had a shot at ticking this hypothetical ‘Incidental Welsh’ box. An upper KS2 class would have made me feel very inadequate, but Year 4 I felt I could manage, just maybe. I revised my Welsh vocabulary as much as I could, and I was certainly better prepared than I had been been for the previous placement. However, I found a little trick along the way which I was to rely on for much of my placement – post it notes.

Every phrase that I planned to use went on a post it note, either in my pocket or strategically placed somewhere around the classroom. For instance, if at the start of the lesson learners would be discussing something in their groups, I’d write ‘traffodwch gyda grwp‘ on a post it and stick that near the register. When their discussion time was over, I would ask them in Welsh to look at the board by saying ‘llygaid ar y bwrdd‘ (eyes on the board). That one would be stuck to the side of the board, where I would be positioned before giving the instruction. Then, I might ask learners to stop and listen for a mid-point plenary using ‘stoppiwch a gwrandewch‘. That would go on a post-it in my pocket, because I don’t necessarily know where I’m going to be in the classroom at that particular moment.

Using this strategy I managed to get through the first few lessons, and over time something amazing happened. I actually started to remember these phrases without having to look at the post-it notes. Then I stopped writing the post-it notes altogether. Then I started accidentally using the phrases outside of the classroom (I coach football on a Saturday morning, and stopped myself at ‘llygaid’ when I wanted my class of 3 yr olds to look at me!).

I even got confident enough to take on the mother of all challenges. Every year to celebrate St David’s Day, schools in Wales hold their own Eisteddfod. This typically consists of a series of competitions and general celebration of Welsh culture. All classes in my school had to prepare a Welsh song to perform at the Eisteddfod, a task which somehow became mine. Now, I’ll let you in to a little secret here – Mr Hann can’t sing.

Not. At. All.

Worse still, our song was Calon Lân. Yes, the traditional sound of every international rugby game, sung with passion and gusto by many a patriotic, devoted supporter. You can hear the song performed the way it is intended by clicking here.

So the problem is this: Mr Hann can’t sing, Mr Hann has not idea how to teach children to sing, but Mr Hann has to prepare prepare a class of 8/9yr olds to perform something to the entire school. The answer? You don’t sing.

You teach them to rap.

And rap we did! In just two 30 minute Welsh lessons we had learned the first two verses (more or less perfectly) and we’d created our own chorus. It’s not the finished product by any means, but on the last day of my placement I recorded my class performing what we’d learned so far.

You can watch it here:

Calon Lan Performance

I am still utterly blown away by how quickly they remembered the words, and how enthusiastic they were about performing it at every opportunity. They even sung me out on my last day with ‘ooooh ahhh Mr Hann’ instead of our chorus. I will never forget that.

So my point is this: I’m not good at Welsh, or so I believed. But with a bit of focus and effort, it turns out I’m ‘digon da‘ – good enough, to achieve these results. I’m proud of that. If I can do it, so can you.

Beth fyddwch chi’n ei wneud yn dda? What will you do well?

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!


Book Creator: bringing cardboard castles to life

In my son’s school their homework policy is that every teacher sets two ‘projects’ per term. One homework is to be completed during each half term and brought into school just before the half term/end of term break. He’s had homework tasks as simple as designing a poster, as fascinating as researching the history of television, or (in the most recent case) as creative as building a castle.

Suddenly cardboard boxes and plastic bottles were being hoarded like they were made of gold.

He made his castle one rainy Sunday afternoon in November, but a little spark of inspiration gave me an idea, and this blog illustrates how this homework took on a life of its own.

From a teacher’s perspective, I had always liked the idea of constructing something and documenting the process through pictures or video, and then creating a book. This book, in my mind, would be something the learners could use to show how they had created this ‘thing’ without having to write at great length about it. Imagine how proud they would be to send this book home and show off what they’d made and how they’d made it? All I was lacking was a topic, but I knew that would come in time.

It has always been my tactic to test ideas out on my own children before taking them into the classroom, so this seemed a perfect opportunity – we were going to document the creation of this castle and make it into a book, and the app of choice had to be Book Creator.

I can’t say enough good things about Book Creator! From my experience of using it so far, it’s so easy to use, offers almost-endless opportunities for creativity and brings down many barriers that learners associate with writing (i.e. “it’s boring”, “I don’t know what to write” or even learners who struggle with physical barriers to writing).

My belief is simple: not everything has to be written on paper.

My son, Ben, had played with Book Creator before, but hadn’t properly explored its features. I didn’t feel I needed to show him either, I simply gave him my iPad and left him to be creative. He decided he wanted to include a time-lapse video of his castle being built, he wanted to show some photos of our recent trip to Chepstow Castle and he wanted to make a movie (of something?) with Coldplay as the background music.

They were his three objectives, he had decided these without any input from me, and crucially he knew exactly how he was going to do it. He was fully engaged, couldn’t wait to get started and was producing new ideas at an alarming rate!

Remember, from my perspective the point of this exercise was to test out this method before taking it to the classroom. So will I be doing this with my own learners?


Just think for a second: if I’d told him to write about how he made his castle, do you think for one second he’d have been the least bit interested? Yet here he was, taking an entire day to film the process of building his castle and edit the video clips. Then the following Sunday he couldn’t wait to get his hands on my iPad again to add pictures, voice overs and text, decide on his colour scheme and produce his finished book. He’s shown everybody how he built his cardboard castle, but his level of engagement was incomparable to writing his method on paper.

Last Page

Once the book was made, he wanted to share it with his friends, his teacher and everybody else in the family. Now, it is possible to publish a book to iBooks Store from Book Creator, but to do that you need a Mac and I only have my iPad. So we came up with a solution – I’ll host the file from my Google Drive account and we made a QR code for him to take into school.

Front Cover

I am so proud of the work he’s done to produce this castle and of course the book that goes with it, and I know he was too. But the icing on the cake was when he got called to the Headteacher’s office to receive a special award for his castle, QR code and book.

And guess what?

Now he wants to make another one. And another one. And another one.

It’s going to be a busy couple of months at Hann Publishing!

Feel free to follow this link and download Ben’s book. If you have an Apple device, it should offer you the option to open it in iBooks.

If you haven’t used Book Creator yet, you and your learners are seriously missing out!

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!


An Apple a day….

I can add the last seven days to the list of ‘good things that happened in 2017’, for this was a week in which I achieved two proud moments in my University life.

Firstly, I became an Apple Teacher.

What is an Apple Teacher? Well, to become a recognised Apple Teacher you must read through guides and complete a quiz to earn eight different badges. Each badge relates to a different app or skill, and you can complete the badges for Mac, iPad or both.

Once you’ve earned all eight badges you’ll become an Apple Teacher, and receive an email with your official Apple Teacher logo, which looks a bit like this:


I found working through the materials to be a great CPD tool, and I would encourage educators of all knowledge and experience to consider doing as I did.

If you’re still not sure, here are a few of my thoughts about the whole process:

The guides are written with a consistent structure flowing through each one, meaning you can pick up a guide on any subject, from Guitar Band to Numbers, and easily find the section you need. Finding information within each guide is not difficult, as each has a contents page with hyperlinks to take you directly to the section you need. This could be a fantastic tool for more-able learners in KS2 to use and teach themselves new skills.

The problem I often have with guides is that reading the theory alone can can make it difficult to picture how you would apply it to a real life scenario. The Apple Teacher guides address this by actually taking you through the process of creating something. For example, the Numbers Guide talks through the creation of the ‘Butterfly Investigation Lab Report’, including a simple table, checklist and pie chart. Seeing this come together makes it much easier for me to understand how I could use this in other projects in future.

The addition of interactive functions within the guides adds real value to what you are reading. For example, within the Garage Band Guide you can listen to sound clips of what you’re supposed to be creating, to check that you’re on the right lines. Many of the pages have windows you can swipe through to see the progression of the stages you are following. All of these functions add a great deal of support on just one single page.

The process of taking the test online is also very simple and easy to access, with a smooth transition between the different sections.


Having completed the Apple Teacher badges, I then looked in to further learning available on the Apple Teacher site.

Which brings me to my second achievement. I sat down yesterday determined to complete the Apple Teacher Playground Swift badges too. The Swift badges are all related to coding, a subject that is surely daunting to many teachers who have never taught this before.

However, after reading through the guides and drawing on some hazy memories of previously-forgotten A-Level Computing knowledge, I successfully completed the Apply Teacher Playground Swift badges.


Yes, it’s true I had a previous understanding of coding, and a good familiarity of Apple systems. But consider this – I last studied coding 11 years ago, and I’ve never used apps like Garage Band in my life. I was basically a beginner again. If I can do it, why can’t you?

Interested in becoming an Apple Teacher yourself? What are you waiting for? Follow this link, read the resources, take the tests and get qualified!


Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!