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No Outsiders

‘There are no outsiders in our school.’

Back in the days of yore, when whiteboards were black and operated by a hand-held device called chalk, I was a teacher.

I taught in primary schools, middle schools and secondary schools. I left after twenty years (seven full-time, the rest part-time or supply) when my writing career began to take off. I don’t miss the National Curriculum but I do miss the classroom. I miss the sheer joy of working with children. I miss their energy and enthusiasm and quirky way of looking at things. I miss their honesty and sharp minds and the way they absorb information. Most of all, I miss their rapt attention when they are cocooned in the magic of a story being read to them.

I also, believe it or not, miss planning lessons. I miss how my imagination would fire in all directions as I planned a new project, thinking of the most interesting ways to deliver the subject. What props can I take in? Do I know a great speaker who is an expert on the topic? A parent, maybe? Can we go on a visit? Perform a play? Create a mind-blowing display? Which books will fit in with the topic?

That same part of my brain was ignited when I read ‘No Outsiders In Our School – Teaching the Equality Act in Primary Schools’ published by Routledge and written by assistant head teacher Andrew Moffat.

Cover

The handbook is designed for teachers interested in delivering the tenets of the 2010 Equality Act. It could also be a useful tool when the government’s Relationships, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (RSE) statutory requirements come into force in UK schools next year.

The Equality Act (EA) is used in all workplaces (schools count as workplaces) and states that it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of:

age

disability

gender reassignment

marriage and civil partnership

pregnancy or maternity

race

religion or belief

sex

sexual orientation

‘No Outsiders In Our School – Teaching the Equality Act in Primary Schools’ is a primer for schools interested in delivering the EA objects listed above using the No Outsiders teaching pack. The blurb describes it as a resource rather than a textbook. The slim volume (85 pages) is divided into two sections – the first section explains the background to No Outsiders and provides examples on how it’s worked so far in three pioneering schools in Birmingham; the second part contains lesson plans based around a wide range of picture books.

Picture books are the cornerstone of the project. It is the books that provide teachers with the springboard that lead to exploring, discussing and ultimately celebrating the rich diversity of their school community. It was this section that had my brain pinging with ideas. With 35 lesson outlines (5 for each year group from EYFS to Y6) with headings such as ‘To learn from our past’ (Table 7.27: Year 5 p. 72) using Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey’s Where the Poppies Now Grow’ and ‘To understand how we share the world’ (Table 7.13 Year 2 p 58) using The First Slodge by Jeanne Willis & Jenni Desmond, I was transported back to my desk with my A3 sheet of paper and favourite calligraphy pen, jotting down ideas. I’d do this and I’d do that and I’ll use Elmer in this lesson and King and King in that lesson. I was buzzing, I tell you. Buzzing! I was also about £40 worse off as I kept listing book titles I intend to buy. Books such as Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly by Nick Sharratt & Sue Heap, Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp and Ten Little Pirates by Brownlow and Rickerty, to name but a few. There’s a short clip from the Letterbox Library Equalities Primary section here showing how successful the venture has been among pupils, parents and teachers in one school.

‘Where the Poppies Now Grow’ is one of the recommended picture books

The emphasis on the lessons being ‘age-appropriate’ is key. No one expects a KS1 teacher to base an assembly on Maternity Rights on the Shop Floor. What they might do, is talk about how the children can make someone new to the school feel welcome, regardless of whether that new pupil is white, black, Jewish or Sikh; a boy with a hearing aid or a girl with two dads.

In using children’s books to deliver its message, the No Outsiders programme is similar to the Empathy Lab movement that I’ve been involved in. However, No Outsiders has proved to be more contentious and this was one of the reasons I bought the guidebook. I wanted to see for myself what the furore was all about. Specifically, why its lessons on ‘sexual orientation’ – in other words the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) strand of its programme – has caused such problems that parents have staged protests outside some schools using the programme.

In the introductory chapter ‘Engaging parents – lessons learned from three schools’, Moffat acknowledges that: ‘For some schools, for a variety of reasons, teaching children that it’s OK to be gay may present challenges.’ This is despite laying the recommended foundations beforehand with governors, staff and parents to allay concerns. ‘Some parents tell us at the meetings that they are very concerned that, by reading the books, we are going to make their children gay. We tell them a child cannot be turned gay…’ (p31) Further on: ‘At a meeting there are parents telling us they are unhappy with our teaching that homosexuality is acceptable.’ Moffat addresses this by pointing out that ‘… we are simply preparing the children for life in Britain so that they grow up to have a rounded view of society and understand there are different people and communities where they live.’

Hear! Hear!

Gay families exist. That’s it. Why should they hide away as if they are doing something shameful or secret? Why should children with two mummies or two daddies feel ashamed? Why shouldn’t age-appropriate books featuring gay characters (including penguins – see the delightful And Tango Makes Three) sit alongside other books in a school library? The sooner we stop ‘othering’ the LGBT community, the sooner we’ll have a more healthy and kind society. Programmes like No Outsiders can help change mindsets and challenge prejudices.

A loving family. Manchester United WFC manager Casey Stoney (left) with her partner ex- Lincoln Ladies Megan Harris and their twins, Teddy and Tilly, in 2015. Photo via Twitter Interview about their relationship here.

No Outsiders In Our Schools‘ (the handbook) does have its flaws. It’s expensive for a start – £27 – and my copy already has pages coming unglued from its spine. There’s also a lack of statistics, references to other academic studies and resources or quotes about the impact of the scheme from Ofsted (for example). Evidence of the course’s effectiveness is anecdotal and this can lead to criticism. There are also some puzzling leaps on occasion. For example on p 44 Moffat recounts the time a Y6 boy in assembly gasped when it was revealed their visitor (the rugby player Gareth Thomas) was gay. ‘… otherwise there was no reaction at all, which was quite nice because it demonstrated to the shocked child that he was alone in his reaction; his homophobia made him an outsider.’ I’ve learned from my school visits over the years that kids gasp for all kinds of reasons. Concluding the boy was homophobic seems a bit of a stretch! It’s a shame, as such value judgements undermine this otherwise worthwhile resource.

At a time when attacks on the LGBT community are on the rise, and ”You’re/that’s so gay’ is used as a slur in the playground, projects like No Outsiders are more vital than ever. I sincerely hope Moffat’s book is used in schools. I think many teachers would find the sections on how to address parents’ concerns about LGBT issues invaluable. It would give them more confidence and skills in supporting LGBT parents and staff, not to mention emotional support for any pupils who might be the target of homophobic bullying.

That said, No Outsiders is about more than one issue. It’s about creating a school environment where every aspect of living in a community is explored in an appropriate manner. One lesson plan (Table 7.9 Y1: to recognise people are different ages) using ‘My Grandpa is Amazing’ by Nick Butterworth. As a grandma myself, I’m all for kids seeing how awesome older people are! I’d add Matt de la Pena’s excellent Last Stop on Market Street about a boy and his grandma taking a deceptively ordinary bus ride across town, for ballast.

In the end, all No Outsiders is trying to do is to provide ideas for teachers on how they can help the citizens of the future live together in our splendid, diverse and interesting world. That’s not such a bad aim, is it?

I’d add that since the No Outsiders handbook was published (2016) there are even more picture books featuring disability, BAME and LGBT characters. Check out the fabulous The Girls by Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie, (friendship theme) and The New Neighbours by Sarah McIntyre (not being fearful about the new folks on the block who are ‘different’). I also adored ‘Look Up’ by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola.

‘When you dream big, anything can happen…’ Meet Rocket, who wants everyone to be a stargazer like her. Age 4+

Picture books will save the world – trust me on this.

No Outsiders in our Schools – teaching the Equality Act in Primary Schools by Andrew Moffat (Speechmark Books pub Routledge 2016) ISBN: 978190930 172-6

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Yay! Lionesses through to the semi-finals

I hope you were all watching the Big Match on TV last night. You know, the one where England beat Norway 3-0 in the France 2019 Women’s World Cup. Wasn’t it fantastic? Did you see Ellen White’s first goal? And the way the captain, Steph Haughton, covered in goal to prevent Norway scoring after Karen Bardsley was committed too far from the net? Magic. Next the Lionesses meet either France or USA – what a match that will be. My Parrs U11s team (Girls FC books) will be on the edge of their seats.

The Parrs U11s Illustrated by Sonia Leong

Guess what else? I have been featured in Tom Palmer’s World Cup story on the Literacy Trust website. You can catch up with all the installments here. Apparently, I am Rocky Race’s (sister of the famous Roy of the Rovers) favourite author. How cool is that?

Image copyright National Literacy Trust. Illustration by Ben Willsher

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Girls FC gift set

Wahoo! Walker Books have printed a special edition set of the first six Girls FC books for traders such as the Book People. The RRP (recommended retail price) is £36 but the designated outlets are charging only £6.99. That’s right – £6.99 – only £1 more than an individual title! That’s a mighty discount. The covers and blurb are slightly different in the package than the better-quality individual ones but the real bonus is that book 5 and 6 are included in the set. Book 5 (Who Ate All the Pies?) and book 6 (What’s Ukrainian for Football?) aren’t available elsewhere. 

‘Who Ate All the Pies’ is Holly’s story.  It is set at the end of season one when everyone is getting ready for the awards night. Who will win Parrs Player of the Year?  Holly reckons she doesn’t stand a chance. The able- defender is self-conscious about her weight and thinks this will count against her in the voting. ‘Who Ate All the Pies?’ deals with the sensitive issue of body image and looks at how all sports people are different shapes and sizes. It’s a book I enjoyed writing very much and I know many readers have it as their favourite in the series. Cover by Eglantine Ceulemans

What’s Ukrainian for Football? is Nika’s story. I enjoyed writing this, too. I know I’m supposed to enjoy writing all my books, and I do, obviously, but some ‘stay’ with you long after you’ve finished writing them and this is one of them. What’s Ukrainian for Football? was the first fiction book I’d written that’s based on true events.

Nika’s family have come from Ukraine to look after their elderly relative, Uncle Stanislav. Uncle Stan moved to England after World War Two (1939-1945). When Nika attends the summer tournament with the Parrs U11s, one of the girls, Jenny-Jane, is belligerent towards her. ‘My dad says your sort are taking all the best jobs…’ Jenny-Jane also mocks the Ukraine as a nation that has never won anything in football. On hearing what Jenny-Jane has said, Uncle Stan is furious. ‘Tell her about the match I saw when I was a boy,’ he instructs Nika. ‘Tell her about FC Start...’ 

In the end, Jenny-Jane is apologetic and even gives Nika her new boots, which are too big for her but that fit Nika perfectly. The fact that the boots are stolen leads to the next story (So What if I Hog the Ball?)

Cover design Eglantine Ceulemans

So, there’s a bargain to be had! The set is a cheap way of stocking a school library as well as a great gift (even if I do say so myself) for any footy-loving 7-11 year old girl or boy. Link to Book People page here.

ISBN 978 1 4063 88138 

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January Kickaround


I’m stoked that ‘Do Goalkeepers Wear Tiaras?’ is featured in the January (issue 7) edition of Kickaround magazine, an offshoot of When Saturday Comes. Thank you to Walker Books for getting the book included and good luck to the team at Kickaround – I hope the magazine is a huge success.

Check out the other books on there, including the ‘Football Heroes’ series and Tom Palmer’s new ‘Roy of the Rovers’.

Buy all four ‘Girls FC’ titles at Waterstones online. Perfect stocking fillers!

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Red Line Book Festival here I come

I’m looking forward to appearing at the Red Line Book Festival next week. Apart from the fact it is being held in one of the greatest cities in the world – Dublin – and hosted by the greatest people in the world – librarians – I get to meet two authors for the first time. I’m appearing on a panel with Ger Siggins and Alan Nolan. We’ll be talking about our sports-themed books; Alan’s focus on hurling and Ger’s on rugby.  You know what mine are all about, right?

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BAME Characters in Children’s Books

My bestselling title ‘Clubbing Together’ reflects the study’s findings on lack of BAME main characters in books

A recent study called ‘Reflecting Realities’ by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) found that of all the children’s books published last year in the UK (9,115), only 4% featured characters from a BAME (Black or minority ethnic) background.

This is a remarkably low figure, given that the report also states that 32% of children of school age are from  ethnic minority backgrounds.

What’s going on?  And why is this a cause for concern? After all, some might argue that the traditional demographic of the UK is white and so it’s only natural that children’s books have mainly white characters written by mainly white authors. They might also argue that stories are ‘colour blind’ and it doesn’t matter what colour or ethnicity the characters are as long as the story is well-written and kids enjoy reading it.

However, if characters from BAME backgrounds are not featured, what message does this send out?  That only white characters are significant?  Let’s hope not.  No surprise then, that many authors and publishers have voiced their dismay at the findings, such as this blog from Tiny Owl which hits the nail on the head here:‘Children see themselves as the images they see in books and on TV. They will get a wrong image of themselves if they are not represented realistically in the books that they read. In their heads, they will find themselves looking differently, or they see themselves labelled as they are in the books. When you realise as a child that you look different to the main characters, you start to feel that something is wrong with you, or that that must be the ideal type and you aren’t the same as them. It can even make them lose confidence.’ 

Nobody wants children to lose confidence – writers, publishers, teachers, parents, librarians – no-one.

 

Audit

The findings led me to ‘audit’ my own writing to analyse how often I have included BAME characters.

I have been a published author for 20 years and of the 34 books I’ve had published (32 fiction, 2 non-fiction) I can report that:

  • 31 contain at least one BAME character (90%)
  • 7 contain BAME main characters.
  • 6 of the 7 are fiction titles: Accidental Friends (YA), Can’t I just Kick It? (Girls FC) Has Anyone Seen Our Striker? (Girls FC) Stinky Street, Blue Bog Baby, We’re the Dream Team, Right? (Girls FC) and the 7th is my black baby version of Baby Football Fan baby record book.

 

Baby Football Fan – My First Year

How much or little my audit represents other white authors who’ve had a similar number of books out I don’t know.

Characters in my Girls FC series embrace diversity. Illustration by Sonia Leong

I don’t think 90% is bad, although it still means that the majority of my books feature white characters as the main protagonists. It still means most of my BAME characters only play ‘walk on’ parts in the story.

I’m not sure what I can do to change that or, indeed, if I should try. When a character comes to me they come ‘ready-made’ – skin tone and all. Most of my characters are white. Some are from different countries such as Poland or Ukraine but they are still white. Is that because I am white? Probably.  Should I start ensuring I have more BAME character as main characters?  I admit I’m conflicted. I feel it would be wrong to include BAME characters artificially as I think that’s patronising and counter-productive BUT because I mainly write contemporary books in familiar settings, I feel the children in the classroom settings I give them should reflect today’s society. That’s a no-brainer.

There’s a school of thought that says white writers shouldn’t include any BAME characters in their books. That white writers can’t understand or share the black experience. I’m not sure about that. Writing is about using our imagination, isn’t it?  For sure, white writers should avoid stereotyping and tropes,  (eg: the black kid always being good at sport/dancing ) and BAME writers should do the same (eg: white kids as the racist/bullies) but writing is about freedom of expression. Let’s not limit anyone’s creativity.

However, I am aware that it’s harder for BAME authors to get published by mainstream publishers, and that might account for the low % of BAME characters in books so I welcome initiatives such as this from Random House. More BAME authors would lead to truly authentic tales of the BAME experience and that needs encouraging.

Who’s Getting it Right?

‘You’re Safe With Me’ picture book

In my opinion? Writers like Malorie Blackman and Catherine Johnson and Narinder Dharmi who feature POC (people of colour) characters in a natural way. In Blackman’s Pig Heart Boy, Cameron needs a heart operation. Should he accept a pig’s heart? That’s the focus. That’s the issue. Cameron is black. That’s not the focus. That’s not the  issue. Tom Palmer’s Football Academy series gets it right, too. The boys in the team all come from different backgrounds. James is black. His story ‘Free Kick’ is about football, not his colour. These writers illustrate that diversity does not come at the expense of good story telling (why would it?). It enhances it.

Many picture books are on the case, too. Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart’s ‘You Choose’ series reflects all children. Read Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pëna. Laugh with 15 things Not to do with a Granny by Margaret McAllister & Holly Sterling and buy the absolutely astoundingly illustrated ‘You’re Safe With Me’ by Chitra Soundar & Poonam Mistry (Lantana Publications). These are just a few examples of books by BAME writers/illustrators or that feature BAME characters as a ‘given’ (as opposed to a racial issues-based story).  For more go to the trailblazing Letterbox Library.

 

 

 

 

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Great School Libraries Campaign

We didn’t have a school library at my junior school. We had teachers who read to us (Stig of the Dump, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe being two books I vividly remember) but  actual books that I could take home to read came from across the road at Garforth Library. We’re not talking about anything grand here – Garforth Library was a long rectangular room within the drab and functional Council Offices; Carnegie- inspired it was not, yet its small children’s section in the corner was enough to keep me going and turn me into a reader for the rest of my life. Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome, Frances Hodgson Burnett (we’re talking the early 1960s here) kept me riveted throughout my junior school years. When I was 11, we moved away and I lost that special connection with that particular library but I never lost the memory of visiting it, of choosing books by myself and for myself, of discovering new authors and of the sheer joy of handing over my little beige library tickets to the librarian so that she could stamp out my books.

Garforth c 1960

But what if my school hadn’t had a public library across the road? What then? Where would I have found my books ? There was no bookshop in Garforth and even if there had been my parents couldn’t have bought me one a week, let alone the six I was allowed to borrow from the library  – they simply didn’t have the income.  There were no charity shops back then full of second hand books either, and jumble sales were full of real jumble – mainly old bobbly cardigans and bric-a-brac. So I don’t know what I would have done to feed my reading habit. True, there were comics. Comics were cheap and cheerful and we used to have bundles of Victors, Beanos and Dandys passed down to us from our cousins in Leeds. But comics could only take my imagination so far. I preferred the printed page full of text so that I could insert my own images of what the characters looked like and conjure up my own pictures of the landscapes in which the heroes fought dragons and thwarted witches. So, while I’m eternally grateful to my teachers for reading stories to me, and to comics for entertaining me, it was a public library that led me to becoming an independent reader.

Forward fifty years. What’s different now?  Although there’s still no bookshop (it had one for about 20 years until recently but it’s now closed) there’s a new ‘library’ at the bottom of Lidgett Lane not far from the original. Sadly, it’s not called a library but a ‘One Stop Centre’ (Link: Garforth One Stop Centre) which makes it sound more like a bus station than a library but I have been inside and it does still have the look and feel of a library and is still run by the council. I hope it is staffed by librarians rather than being purely volunteer-run but I’d need to check that.

What I presume is that, unlike my junior school,  each of the 5 primary schools in Garforth today has a school library.  I don’t know if they have, though. You’d think I’d be able to put ‘and each school has its own library’ automatically but I can’t.  School libraries are not mandatory in the UK’s state schools. I find that odd.  How can a library not be part of an educational establishment? It’s like having a restaurant without a kitchen or a car without an engine or a football match without a football. Every primary and secondary school should have a proper library, right?  Especially when public libraries are closing on an unprecedented scale.

That’s why I’m totally behind the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign being promoted by library campaigners such as Dawn Finch . Not only do we need school libraries we need GREAT school libraries. Anyone asking why can download this pdf from the Literacy Trust on how important they are.

To be fair,  most schools do have school libraries but a lot don’t meet my definition of a library. A bookcase in a corner full of dictionaries with one row of tatty paperbacks is not a library. A library area kids can’t access because it’s used for teachers’ meetings/ counselling/ drama rehearsals etc is not a library. A ‘library’ left to its own devices because it doesn’t have a librarian or even a parent volunteer in charge of it, is not a library, it’s a room full of messy books or, as I like to call it, a crime scene. 

 

 

And don’t even get me started on schools that have opted out of their local Schools Library Service because ‘it’s too expensive.’ Is it? Is it really? Aren’t these schools concerned about raising attainment levels at all?  Money is tight, I know, but the main job of a school is to educate. How can you educate without up-to-date books? How can you foster reading for pleasure if the books are so old they’ve got ‘Long Live Queen Victoria’ bookplates inside?  And don’t say ‘Google’ because, for a start, pupils need to search for information without the distraction of 500 pop-ups per page.

The trouble is, once too many schools opt out, the schools library service becomes underused and then dismantled. The newest region to lose this vital resource is Derbyshire. That means goodbye age appropriate topic books for your next project, Derbyshire pupils and students, goodbye experienced librarians helping schools set up an effective lending system with a wide variety of stock, Derbyshire teachers. It also means no more free school events such as visits from amazing authors. Nooooooooooooooooo!

What’s ridiculous is that if this trend continues, children, especially those from low income families like mine, will have less opportunity to read real books than I did half a century ago. That’s plainly wrong.  How can we stop the rot? By getting behind the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign. By shouting about the good service that still exists up and down the country. By convincing schools that they need a librarian, not a leaflet from companies selling pile-’em-high books at a quid each, to help choose new stock. Let’s make sure this generation – and the next – are given chance to meet books face-to-face and make friends for life.

 

 

 

 

 

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News just in: Top Retailer Stocks Book by Top Author

So there I was looking for a new kettle in Sainsbury’s when guess what? I only spotted ‘Do Goalkeepers Wear Tiaras? on a World Cup book display (I think such displays are called ‘dump bins’ – I don’t know why – it’s not like the books are just dumped there, right?). Anyway, I’m over the moon* Sainsbury’s  included one of my Girls FC titles, thank you, you super little supermarket you. The book’s almost half price, too – £3.49 instead of £5.99. Plus Nectar Points. Bargain. I bought a kettle for half price, too – win-win.

  • Over the moon is football speak for delighted, thrilled, made up, chuffed and cheered.

 

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World Cup 2018

It’s here! The 2018 World Cup! Did you see the Portugal v Spain match? Wasn’t it amazing – a ‘classic clash’ as the Guardian called it.

Tonight England play their first qualifying match against Tunisia. There’s lots of talk about how sad it is there won’t be many England fans in the stadium to cheer the team on. Well, I guess if supporters are repeatedly told to stay away in case they’re targeted by Russian thugs, that’s the result.  It’s much safer (& cheaper) watching at home, although nothing like the experience of being at the real event.  I’m preparing for the match by visiting Y5 Hightown Junior, Infant & Nursery School today to kick off their Sports Week.  Hello Y5!  I trust you’ve got the red carpet Hoovered for me?

Apart from watching the matches on TV there are so many World Cup activities for everyone to participate in. For example, Tom Palmer is doing his World Cup day-by-day story in association with the Literacy Trust called ‘Defenders’. Get downloading – it’s free and a creative way to follow the footy.  Check out your local library or bookshop to see if they’ve got anything lined up, too.

I keep seeing reading lists about football various  publishers and websites have compiled. It’s great many lists, such as this one by TeachWire, include my Girls FC series, too. Thank you!

So, enjoy the football. Enjoy reading about football. And if you don’t like football, there’s so much else out there, such as this Tolkien exhibition in Oxford or the Mischief Makers Summer Reading Challenge.  Now, where’s my rattle…

 

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