Books that make bricks talk

Talking squirrels or lions or butterflies dart out of children’s books regularly, so you would barely be stirred by them while studying near the teachers’ collection at the Newsam Library.

QUOTE "THERE IS NO POINT IN BEING A SOCK ON YOUR OWN."On cataloguing some piles of picture books, however, I was startled by quite a few objects speaking to me out of the pages, amongst them a pair of socks, a sausage, and a brick.

Book cover looking like a wall of bright red bricks.I have already reported on The table that ran away and sought refuge in the forest and the tiny book looking like a brick wall, Mr Rouse builds a house, both by Stefan and Franciszka Themerson. Already in 1938, the authors envisaged screaming flats, growling buses, and sniggering chimneys.


COVER Brick by SteinNow I can recommend the story of just one Brick, who undertakes a journey to many distant castles and temples, cottages and housing estates, until she decides to form part of… a garden path, lying down with a big smile! The real monuments, all of brick, in London and New York, Uzbekistan and India are shown in an appendix.

PAGES Brick by Stein‘Brick who found herself in architecture’ by Joshua David Stein. Images: Phaidon Press.


You have naturally met caterpillars before in libraries, at least The very hungry caterpillar, which crawls around our shelves in many incarnations. Or perhaps you felt uneasy at the remark: “Oh look, there are lots of caterpillars walking on top of your green head!” when Mr Rouse’s balcony flowers were laughing at a tree…

COVER Caterpillar by Graham

Richard Graham’s Cranky caterpillar is special. It lives in a piano and cannot get out – it is stuck in the dark wooden box and must play the same sad tune over and over again… A little girl tries to cheer it up with the assistance of some goggle-eyed, bouncing, laughing, talking musical instruments, until clouds of colourful shapes rise and the piano keys literally dissolve into a meandering jubilant tune.

PAGES Caterpillar by Graham

‘The cranky caterpillar’ by Richard Graham.
Images used with kind permission of Thames & Hudson.


Only those of us from those three generations who, as young children, memorised Pluto as the ninth planet orbiting the sun, can empathise with the little planet who is cast out of the fold in A place for Pluto. In Stef Wade’s imagination, the cute wide-eyed creature argues (“But I am in all the schoolbooks!”), demonstrates (“#PlutoBelongs”), and travels through space with his little suitcase until he finds his new mates, the dwarf planets.

COVER Point line by Kandinsky at Dover

An emotional and sociable planet would have given mirth to Aristophanes, whose frogs and bees swarm into our playhouses to this day, and who would have been acquainted with personified celestial bodies. Yet talking triangles and dancing rectangles, I believe, would have left Pythagoras nonplussed.

A talking house seems quite probable to an imaginative mind; a talking brick is still a tangible thing; but a rectangle is just a concept. Abstract art like Kandinsky’s which inspired Richard Graham, with line and colour as protagonists, as it were, emerged only in the early 20th century.

COVER Pluto by WadeCover of square book showing a black square with big eyes.

Cover of square book showing a black triangle with big eyes.

COVER Circle by Barnett and Klassen

There are plenty of animated shapes popping out of many new children’s books. Some circles and squares passed through my previous article, together with wonky blobs and wiggly lines. With Circle rolls, a new squad has joined them, frolicking around to verse: “Whirl, twirl! Flip, flop!”… “Shapes glide… and collide!”

I wonder what the teachers amongst you will do with these books… and if you can have as much fun in other academic libraries!


COVER Circle by Kanninen and Bloch

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A New Home for the “Education in Literature Collection”

Until recently, the Education in Literature Collection was shelved at one end of the Library Teaching Room on Level 4. However, whilst it is still on the same level, the books and DVDs that comprise the collection have found a new home on the white metal shelves in the Social Area next to the stairwell.The collection’s more prominent position makes it much easier to locate a specific item or to browse the shelves for inspiration.20190719_112126

The Education in Literature contains novels which span a wide selection of genres from Classics (The Professor by Charlotte Bronte), Crime (Cat among the pigeons by Agatha Christie),  Humour (Teacher, Teacher by Jack Sheffield) to Science Fiction ( Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes).20190729_144732

There is also a selection of plays (including The History Boys by Alan Bennett), autobiographies  (including Educated by Tara Westover) and foreign novels in translation ( including  Such Fine Boys by Patrick Modiano). The items in the collection explore the educational experience at all levels and from the perspectives of both pupils and teachers in many countries.


Films or TV series with an educational setting, be it a school or university, give us an insight into the way education and educators are regarded in different places. As well as DVDs from the United Kingdom and the United States, there are films from France, Spain, Germany, India, China, Australia, and Canada. All foreign language films have English subtitles.


All books may be borrowed for 8 weeks and DVDs for 7 days .If an item is featured on a specific reading list, the loan period is 7 days in the case of a book and 1 day for a DVD.


The relocation of the Education Collection means it is now part of the Library’s Social Area and there are plenty of comfortable seats to make browsing and reading easy. Come and have a look for yourselves.



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Praising the IOE Library

After twenty years working at the IOE Library, I’d like to sing the praises of an extraordinary institution: the UCL Institute of Education Library.  Bear with me on this religious imagery as I’ve always seen libraries as ‘temples of learning’ (spires  in a 2012 blog). For many years in the library, I’ve watched users searching for truth, reverently studying, and sometimes, praying for deliverance.

5th floor

During these past two decades, I’ve also seen a myriad of changes in library leadership, infrastructure, technology, buildings, staff and students. But what has remained the same is the devotion to learning and the support of learning. In fact, although I was a teacher before coming to the IOE, I’ve always considered myself more of a preacher here. My sermons over the years have included miracles (IOE LibGuides), sacred resources (databases) and commandments for searching.

I confess that I can be evangelical about the rich and varied resources we have at the IOE because I have always been able to depend on the most valuable, often hidden resource here: IOE library staff. These library staff catalogue, order, digitise and provide reference, membership, collection development and information literacy services steadfastly, reliably and professionally. The work they do is not always visible, but it is vital.

Christina Egan

Without these diligent staff, I would not have been able to do what I’ve done for the  past twenty years — preach about the library in inductions, workshops and specialised sessions. Because library staff have been devoted to their jobs, I’ve been able to do mine. They’re always ready to do that little extra to support students and staff and we’ve even created our own little ‘Garden of Eden’ in the library.

IOE garden

As I leave the IOE Library, I would like to shout ‘Hallelujah for IOE Library staff!’.  It’s been a joy working with you all.  Amen.

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Spotlight on the NUT donation: “Homework. A Memorandum issued by the National Union of Teachers on Educational Pamphlet No. 110 of the Board of Education”

As you may already be aware, in late 2016 we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) which included 380 pamphlet boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

We have checked and sorted these publications, discovering many interesting items during the process. In February 2018 we created a LibGuide and also published a series of blog posts looking in more detail at a selection of these NUT resources.  The focus of this blog is several documents from the collection concerned with the perennially thorny subject of ‘Homework’.

A Memorandum issued by The National Union of Teachers on Educational Pamphlet No. 110 of the Board of Education was issued in October 1937. The aforementioned pamphlet was a Report published in May 1937 after three years of investigation into the subject of ‘Homework’. The job of gathering evidence was given to inspectors in England and Wales as an adjunct to their usual regular visits to schools. The report covered elementary, secondary and vocational schools.

Of particular interest to the modern reader is perhaps the foremost point made in relation to elementary or junior schools that

“The setting of lessons to be done at home has at no time been regarded as part of compulsory education”

The hours of schooling had been set to take into consideration the claims of children’s home lives. Also the curriculum did not make homework necessary. Why then was homework, at the instigation of staff or in answer to demands by parents, being set at all? As stated in the Memorandum the answer most commonly given was “a desire to assist the pupil to pass the Entrance Examination to the Secondary School at the age of 11+.    

Why this examination has assumed such importance can be partly understood by the fact that “the standing and reputation of a school is, in some areas, dependent upon the success of its pupils in the Secondary Schools’ Entrance Examination”. A school’s successes and failures are often all too apparent because the local press still publish the examination results giving the names of schools and pupils. The general public and even Local Education Authorities can use these results to judge the merits of the education offered by different schools. It is the opinion of the NUT that in reality there may be many factors, including differences in the ability and intelligence of pupils in different schools, which influence the success or failure of candidates. Teachers can therefore feel under pressure to take action, including setting homework, to ensure that their pupils pass the examination. It is also understandable that parents are eager for their children to have access to University and many of the professions which require a good secondary education. Homework can then come to be seen as a way of preparing for the important 11+ exam.

The NUT agreed with the recommendation given in the Report that “no homework should be set in children under twelve”. Furthermore, the Union wanted an alternative to the 11+ exam to be found. It also felt that lists of successful candidates should not be published as they could lead to schools working only towards success in the exam.

A second document from the NUT in 1955, Statement by the Executive of the Union on Homework in the Primary School, makes it clear that despite the passing of the Education Act of 1944 there continued to be demands made on primary school age children to undertake homework. Although the number of grammar school places had increased it was not at a uniform rate throughout the country. Parents were therefore still demanding that schools set homework in the belief that it would increase their children’s chances of success.20190712_094625

Once again the Union made it clear that they still did not regard “the setting of lessons to be done at home” as part of the education of junior school pupils. However the Union also thought that teachers should encourage those pupils who wanted to follow up a school project or lesson at home. It was acknowledged that children might not have access to suitable reading material at home. It was therefore important for primary schools to have well stocked libraries and to encourage children to use their local public library.

Members of other education unions have also been interested in the Homework debate as evidenced by the Association of Assistant Mistresses’ (AAM) 1974 discussion document. AAM made the point that traditionally compulsory homework had been associated with grammar schools rather than secondary modern schools.

“There has therefore grown up in the mind of the public a false correlation between homework and intelligence, and even between homework and social status”. 

Eventually the government stepped in and in 1998 Labour’s guidelines recommended an hour a week for five to seven-year-olds, gradually rising to 2.5 hours per night for pupils aged between 14 and 16. But then in 2012 the Conservatives decided that whilst homework was part of a good education, it should be up to head teachers to set their own homework policy because they knew what would be most suitable for their own pupils. In 2018 Damian Hinds (Secretary of State for Education) stated that

Just to be clear: schools are not obliged to set homework, and some don’t. But when schools do set homework, children do need to do it. We trust individual school head teachers to decide what their policy on homework will be, and what happens if pupils don’t do what’s set.

Books available in the library including Homework: the evidence by Susan Hallam (2004) and Homework for learning: 300 practical strategies by Gerry Czerniawski and Warren Kidd (2013), along with the 2019 journal article by Jane Medwell and David Wray and newspaper articles are all evidence that homework is still a much debated topic by teachers and parents alike.

With regards to the NUT donated items, the scale of the donation means that these have not yet been catalogued and that is the next stage in this exciting project. In the meantime, please visit our LibGuide, which includes information on the access arrangements that we have in place for these fascinating items.

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Superheroes and real-life heroes haunt the library

Book cover - Graphic novel - Page by Paige - by Gulledge.Over the summer, many bright and shiny books will be smuggled onto the shelves by busy librarians and also flash the message from the catalogue: ‘Graphic novel’.  There will be far more than the Newsam Library ever held in its ‘Curriculum Resources Collection’, which in fact includes all kinds of children’s and young people’s books.

‘Which corner?’ you may ask – I can see some of you already on their way here while they are reading this on their smartphones!

Well, some of them stand in a rack at the far end of the library, but generally, we put the graphic novels in different corners because they are of varying nature: a visual re-imagination of a novel or tale; a presentation on the borderline of historical research and fiction; a brand-new story based on a recent event…

Do not be surprised at the categories ‘graphic novels’, ‘comic books’ or even ‘comic strips’ – in fact, look out for all these: partly, these terms are due to international conventions, partly, it is sometimes difficult to put these works of art and learning into categories.

Screenshot - Catalogue search - Graphic novels.

An illustrated version of a literary work will be right next to it. L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of the Green Gables awaits you at MON (for the author’s name) in the ‘Fiction’ department as the original text of 1908, as an abridged audio-book on CD’s, and in a ‘comic book’ adaptation of our days with very little text indeed. Philip Pullman’s Northern lights lives at PUL as the novel of 400 pages (1995) and as a slim (but at least as scary) graphic novel of 77 pages, and at ATW, Margaret Atwood’s The handmaid’s tale (1985) unsettles you more than ever.

Book cover - Graphic novel - Northern lights - by Melchior and Oubrerie.We also offer yoBook cover - Graphic novel - Anne of Green Gables - by Marsden.u plenty of new titles, from volumes of over 500 pages to slender comic books with no words at all. In Mera tidebreaker, a princess finds her superpowers in a realm beneath the sea. She wants to be ‘more than a dress’; indeed, if she wants to free her country from the oppressors in Atlantis, she must fight and kill…

In Page by Paige, another teenage girl develops her artistic powers – those of the drawing pencil, which we can watch under our noses, when situations and emotions are visualised in the strangest manner. In this preview, you can watch the protagonist wringing her own neck and hair till ink pours out as if she were a quill. Just look at the cover above, where the long red hair — which so many literary heroines share — weaves itself into a script…

Book cover - Graphic novel - Northern lights - by Durr and Horneman.In a previous blogpost, I drew your attention to literature about contemporary refugees, including graphic novels; we have just added a new one in Zenobia, but be warned: it is bleak. There is a historical reference in the warrior queen of antiquity, whose memory gives a girl courage for the journey into an uncertain future.

The Iliad and the Odysee, in their various incarnations, even for young children, live in the ‘Folktales’ at 398.238, surrounded by superheroes Hercules and Theseus, mighty monsters Hydra and Minotaur, heroines Persephone and Antigone, and a flock of animals conjured up by Aesop.

Book cover - Graphic novels - Iliad by Hinds.For our new editions, bring extra bags (since they are as heavy as weighty) or extra time: the words may be abridged from Homer’s epic but are not always simplified, and the actions and details in the pictures demand your attention just as a verse or prose translation might. While Gareth Hinds presents elegant poetic speech in his Iliad (“They prayed to the gray-eyed goddess, but their efforts were in vain, for Athena’s heart was set on the destruction of Troy”), Russell Punter opts for comic-style brief words and phrases in his Odyssey (“I pray to Athena that the people here welcome me”).

Shakespeare’s immortal cast dwells at 822.33 in the ‘Non Fiction’ section, where works about literature support the works of literature next to them. Various annotated versions of a play and relevant teaching materials sit side by side, and if we have retellings or illustrated stories, that is where we put them also for you.

The heroes of biographies in ‘comic book’ form also find their home on the Non Fiction shelves within their field of achievement. The faithful spy about Dietrich Bonhoeffer lurks at 943.086 with the other supporters and adversaries of Hitler. This true story of a pastor who wrestles with himself to turn into an assassin has whole pages of text and straddles the border of fiction and non-fiction.

Book cover - Graphic novels - Bonhoeffer by Hendrix.

The time traveller, a similarly conceived but briefer biography of Robert Paul, the London pioneer of cinema, haunts 791.43. Thereabouts, you can also find our new Illustrated history of filmmaking, covering the technology as well as the art of cinema from its ‘Prehistory’ to ‘The Future’. Adam Allsuch Boardman has put up some pages of his work, which itself borrows the style of graphic novels, on his website.

Book cover - Filmmaking - by Boardman.


You have not heard of Robert W. Paul? I had not either until the fabulous local museum at Bruce Castle put up yet another free exhibition on London history. This instrument maker morphed into a major inventor and director for a while, then abandoning cinema for new exploits. In order to realise his visions, he built a film studio at the back of the Muswell Hill, then still countryside above London.


Book cover - Graphic novel - Robert Paul - by Christie and Ilya.Robert Paul propelled the emerging medium of film forward with an incredible number of technical inventions and artistic innovations. First drama scene; first news report; first hand-coloured film; first subtitle in the scene… I think you could call some of his ideas the first special effects!

In the lovely show at Bruce Castle Museum, you can watch many of Robert Paul’s miniature films and extracts from longer ones, from slapstick to adaptations of literature, from newsreels to historical re-enactions. I hope whenever I look up the graphic novel by Ian Christie and Ilya on our catalogue, I shall find it borrowed by an avid reader. The Newsam Library seems to be the first one in the country to have this gem of graphic art.

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Secret societies, suffragettes and saplings- some recent additions to the Literature Collection

Real life experiences of American teachers at home and abroad, a romantic triangle, a Cambridge University secret society, educational experiences in post- colonial 1960s Rhodesia and post-Spanish Civil War Barcelona and several ‘grey’ books which are anything but, are all among the books recently added to the Library’s Education in Literature Collection.

In Touching lives: a teacher’s memoir Shirley A. Kitner-Mainello describes her 40 year career as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, private tutor and school administrator, offering an insight into the many changes in American education since the 1960s.

The author of The Kurdish bike: a novel Alesa Lightbourne, uses her own experiences as inspiration for her story about Teresa Turner. In 2010 the young American is dissatisfied with her teaching job in a school in northern Iraq, so she decides to buy a bicycle and explore the surrounding villages and countryside. Her friendship with a local widow helps her to find out about the lives of Kurdish women under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The surprisingly complicated lives of university students are featured in two novels. In the first Lauren, Paul and Sean are affluent students at a small, liberal-arts college on America’s East Coast. Their curious love triangle is at the heart of The rules of attraction by Bret Easton Ellis.20190606_150425 In the second Hans Stichler’s aunt will ensure that his application to Cambridge University, where she teachers, will be successful. In return Hans must help her to infiltrate the elite university secret society, the Pitt Club. His investigations become increasingly dangerous. The Club by Takis Wurger was translated from the German by Charlotte Collins.

Although Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangaremba is a new edition of an old favourite it is worth remembering the importance of this novel. When it was published in 1988 it was the first book published in English by a black woman from Zimbabwe. In this semi-autobiographical novel, set in 1960s Rhodesia, Tambu is from a poor, rural, Shona family who eagerly replaces her brother at a missionary school after his death. 20190606_154625Gender and colonialism are major themes of the novel. How the hope and potential of a young girl and a fledgling nation can, over time, become a bitter struggle for survival is the theme of This mournable body which portrays Tambu’s later life.

Nada is the first novel, published in 1945, by Carmen Laforet. It is set in post- Spanish Civil War Barcelona. Andrea is an orphan raised in a convent in provincial Spain who is awarded a Government scholarship to attend university in Barcelona. At first she lives with her extended family in a decaying apartment but their increasingly violent behaviour forces her to move to Madrid to live with her friend Ena. Although the novel won the inaugural Premio Nadal Literary Prize in Spain it was controversial because in order to be published it had to pass the censorship of the Francoist State. At the time there was harsh state suppression of the Catalan language and culture in Barcelona. In 2007 Nada was translated into English.

There are now several books in the Literature Collection sporting grey covers which are all published by Persephone Press. Twenty years ago the founder, Nicola Beauman, set out to publish forgotten books by women writers from the early 20th century. All the books have to be a well written, ‘good reads’. Nicola Beauman has also stated that, because she is’ very, very interested in the novel as social history’, she likes books which tell how we lived.

The Persephone Press books include The Call by Edith Ayton Zangwill which is about Ursula who resists her mother’s attempts to involve her in Edwardian society. Her chemistry experiments are much more important to her until she becomes involved with the suffragettes.20190606_155613 The author based the details of Ursula’s working life on that of her stepmother Hertha Ayton (1854- -1923) a physicist who became an expert on the electric arc. The book gives an insight into a woman’s domestic life in the first two decades of the 20th Century.

Surprisingly, another Persephone Press book, Saplings, is written by Noel Steatfeild, better known as the author of the children’s classics ‘Ballet Shoes’ and ‘White Boots’. Published in 1945, the book is about the four Wiltshire children and the effect the Second World War has on their lives. Noel Streatfeild really understands children and the distress caused to them by the loss of an understanding grown-up.

Despite not having a grey cover Mariana by Monica Dickens, the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens, is also a Persephone Press imprint originally published in 1940. It is a funny, readable and perceptive story of the growth to maturity of Mary Shannon in the 1930s with superb contemporary detail.

Do not despair if none of these new books attracts your attention because they are plenty of other novels and autobiographies to choose from in the Education in Literature Collection which is shelved on level 4 in the Library. Books may be borrowed for eight weeks. If you would prefer to watch a film there is also a selection of DVDs which include foreign language films. DVDs may be borrowed for 7 days.

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Focus on DERA (Digital Education Research Archive):Modern Foreign Languages (MFL)

The IOE Library has always collected documents published by government and other relevant bodies in the areas of education, training, children, and families. Today, the Official Publications Collection here at the Library is the largest of our special collections and is highly valued by our users.

In some ways, official publications are no different to other areas of publishing and we have witnessed a rapid transition towards a “digital by default” approach. You may already have read our recent blog post about DERA – our online repository founded on the traditions of our printed Official Publications Collection, dedicated to preserving the digital output of government in relation to education – where we highlighted content on the subject of school meals. This month, we are highlighting DERA resources focused on the teaching of languages in schools.

A recent online news headline Language learning: German and French drop in half in UK schools caught my attention. The article analysed information from secondary schools in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland about the number of pupils taking GCSE language courses. The decline in uptake of these courses appears to be alarmingly rapid, with drops of between 30% and 50% since 2013 being reported in England.

DERA holds a great deal of information related to languages in schools. A House of Commons Library Briefing Paper from December 2018 (Language teaching in schools (England) and a House Of Lords Library Briefing from November 2018 (Foreign Language Skills: Trends and Developments) outline the landscape for language teaching in classrooms. They describe what should be taught, expectations on the quality of teaching, levels of achievement and, interestingly the potential impact of UK leaving the European Union. This last point has received considerable coverage in the wider media, as demonstrated in the Guardian article, Brexit Britain cannot afford to be laissez-faire about its language crisis. The author David Cannadine says that Britons need to forget the idea that most other people speak English and so we do not need to make an effort to improve our linguistic skills. Additionally the UK’s linguistic under performance has economic repercussions in terms of lost trade and investment.

Languages are also vital to national security, diplomacy and “soft power”. Indeed at the reopening of the Foreign Office’s language centre in 2013, the then foreign secretary, William Hague, said:

Diplomacy is the art of understanding different cultures, and using this understanding to predict and influence behaviour. Speaking the local language is the essential first step in this process. It is an important sign of our respect for other societies, and it increases their respect for us in return.

One factor that is said to have had an influence upon the number of language teachers, especially in England, is the introduction of The English Baccalaureate (EBacc). The EBacc measures the achievements of pupils who have gained Key Stage 4 (GCSE level) qualifications in the following subjects: English; Mathematics; History or Geography; the Sciences and a Language. A House of Commons Briefing Paper 2017 gives a good overview of the motivations behind the EBacc, including the increase in the take-up of ‘core’ subjects which would best equip pupils for further study and work. Fears were expressed about the fact that extra attention paid to the core subjects might have an impact on subjects such as art, music and drama which were not included. The decision to not include religious education, although it would remain compulsory to teach it, was particularly controversial. It was also argued that the Ebacc would not necessarily be suited to a number of pupils.

The National Curriculum in England: languages programmes of study: key stage 2/ key stage 3 (2013) states that teaching “may be of any modern or ancient foreign language” and in 2016 the Government announced that a range of community languages would continue to be provided at GCSE and A level. These included Arabic, Modern Greek, Polish, Bengali, Urdu and Japanese as languages that can be studied alongside German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Mandarin and Welsh.

The influence of Brexit on the learning and learning to teach MFL is already being felt, as discussed in The British Council Language Trends 2018 Report (p.7) with parents discouraging their children from learning languages once again because of the erroneous belief that everyone speaks English. In reality once the UK leaves the European Union the number of native English speakers will be greatly reduced and English may not retain its place as one of the “official” languages of the EU.

James A. Coleman’s article “Why the British do not learn languages: myths and motivation in the United Kingdom” discusses some of the reasons why pupils may not be motivated to study languages beyond GCSE Level. Amongst other factors, it is argued that the xenophobic attitude of some politicians and certain newspapers undermines the value that we place on learning an additional language. In addition, languages are sometimes portrayed as a ‘hard’ option that involves more effort to gain a good grade.

One part of the UK where children can be said to start with a positive attitude towards the learning of languages may be Wales, where education is provided through the medium of English and Welsh. In DERA I found the 2009 document from the Welsh Assembly Making Languages Count which makes the point:

Our young people therefore have a head start in the development of the skills, knowledge and understanding that are at the heart of language learning and can be readily applied to wider European and world languages.

The Welsh Government also funds a MFL Mentoring Scheme whereby undergraduates and postgraduates are placed in secondary schools to encourage engagement with MFL via face-to-face and online mentoring with the aim of increasing the number of students studying MFL at GCSE level and beyond. The success achieved in Wales can be replicated elsewhere in the UK as demonstrated by Anna Bawden’s recent article describing the results of a trial in South Yorkshire. Year 8/9 pupils at 10 secondary schools in Sheffield received 5 weeks of mentoring from language undergraduates from Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam Universities.

The success of this scheme may help to mitigate the effect of current financial constraints that have led to UK schools turning to foreign governments to fund languages . It is unlikely that the Italian, Portuguese, French or German governments will want to continue to help once Britain leaves the EU.

Once again an interesting article in the popular press has lead via DERA and Explore to a better understanding of the background to the current situation concerning the teaching and learning of MFL. There are examples of schemes which if implemented on a larger scale could lead to more children enjoying their language lessons and wanting to study MFL to the highest level.

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Books that run away with you

Book cover looking like a wall of bright red bricks.The book is so small that you can cover it with your two hands, and it is so old that most of us were not born when it was first published, but it is still startling: the figures and buildings and machines in it jump out of it and make us laugh, make us think, make us read… or write… or paint.Book cover looking like a wall of bright red bricks. Book cover looking like a wall of bright red bricks.Stefan Themerson wrote Mr Rouse builds his house in Polish in 1938 and recreated it in English in 1950, with the same quirky illustrations by Franciszka Themerson; not a mean feat if you have a text that breaks into free verse, rhymed verse, and concrete poetry over and over again:

“He walked and walked:

On Monday, he walked along the Broadway

On Tuesday, he walked along a high-way (…)

On Friday, he walked along a byway (…)

On Sunday, he walked across some fields.

And in the middle of the field there was a box. It was a telephone box.”

Another surreal story dating back to the same period was developed into a picture book in 1963 and was translated into English only in 2012: The table that ran away to the woods is a real treasure, packing so much imagination and wisdom into fourteen pages of collages and block lettering. The letters are integrated into the pictures, quite literally rushing down the stairs and over the hills, in the same way that the description of the 7 stairs in Mr Rouse’s house forms 7 stairs.

Book cover showing a b&w table and a multi-coloured window.“Once upon a time,

the table where I write

grabbed two pairs of shoes,

ran downstairs, and took flight,

from the fifth floor to the first!”

This queer little book is really a meditation on urban life and nature, reality and poetry, and should be rated, I believe, as a surrealist artwork for children and adults alike. Tate Publishing’s edition is furnished with an afterword with additional images and references to the authors’ exile in Paris and London.

Film still: white tendrils on black ground, looking almost abstract.

Stefan and Franciszka Themerson were at the forefront of visual art, producing films as well as books. In one film, Adventure of a good citizen (1938), a rebellious individual walks all the way from the city to the woods backwards and flies through a wardrobe mirror to attain freedom; in another one, The eye and the ear (1944/45), abstract and vegetal shapes take on a life of their own, just like The table that ran away. Fittingly, Franciszka also illustrated Alice in Wonderland, and Stefan named his publishing house after the Jabberwocky poem… Gaberbocchus!

Tiny book looking like a brick wall, lying in a pair of hands.Another new picture book at the Newsam Library is so big that it could cover your upper body when you unfold it; except that there is a huge hole in the middle. Yes, that’s right, The book with a hole is exactly what it says, and you can peep at the world through it and imagine it is a camera, you can make faces behind it, or throw a little ball through it, and it is the book itself suggesting those activities, a new one on each page. It is really a toy as much as a book, and perhaps Hervé Tullet restricted himself to black and white in order to stimulate our imagination all the more. The fruit in the picture below is not on the book cover… but on on my clothes.

Huge book with hole, showing person behind; fruit on her jumper seems to be in mouth painted around the hole.

In another of his ingenious books, Hervé Tullet manages to lure young children or indeed any readers to follow a little dot round the pages without any holes or other tricks, without much more than abstract lines and patches of colour. Let’s play had me flat on the floor (this is figuratively spoken, though) with a yellow blob which bounced through the pages, vanished from the paper, and claimed to be sitting in my hair now… I don’t have a photo or video to prove it – unlike the author – but I believe it may have happened.

A black square and a black circle with eyes in a landscape of squares with some plants.

Cover of square book showing a black square with big eyes.There are more wonders awaiting you at the Curriculum Resources Collection – which covers far more than teaching resources and also more than books for young children; for instance, novels for teenagers and young adults, illustrated non-fiction for all ages, and language learning resources.

Cover of square book showing a black triangle with big eyes.Square by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen explores the questions “What is art? Can everyone be an artist?” with simple and accomplished paintings, mainly variations of basic shapes. Naturally, the book is square, although the corresponding Triangle contents itself with being square, too.

All these titles could be a great inspiration for art teachers and any early-years teachers, and of course parents.

Board-book unfolded to make a very bright crocodile-like monster.Book cover: Bright dots in a loop.

Lastly, the strangely shaped board-book This clumsy monster by Claudio Ripol and Yeonju Yang reveals itself only when you unfold it: into the crocodile-like and neon-coloured creature itself, strong enough to stand on its six pairs of feet. Mr & Mrs Themerson were there long before, with their tiny book forming a bright-red brick wall.

Crocodile-shaped board-book going through monster jaws of The book with a hole. Huge book with hole, looking as if swallowing tiny book.

Please note our other blogposts on pop-up books, for example Books that make your eyes pop out.

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A question that has no easy answers – or perhaps it does?

gradudation 3

Congratulations! You have completed your thesis, gone through the viva and have passed with flying colours (with or without corrections).

At this stage, you are expected to upload the digital copy of the thesis into UCL’s Research Publications System (RPS) together with the ‘Thesis Deposit Agreement Form’. And it is also at this stage when you have to decide on whether the thesis will be open access, which of the open access licenses is appropriate for you, and whether you want to impose an embargo on the thesis for 6-12 months. Your supervisor(s) may advise but many will leave the decision to you.

It is reasonable to put an embargo on your thesis if you are if planning on converting the thesis into a book. Some publishers will ask you to take down your thesis before they will publish your work. You may consider an embargo if your thesis contains material that will be patented or is confidential in nature.

Before you put an embargo on your work, check your funder’s terms and conditions  if your doctorate was funded. Most funders want the research they have paid for to be openly available.

If I am asked for my advice on whether to put an embargo or not, I usually list the advantages of making the thesis open access as they outweigh the disadvantages. Perhaps I am biased but when you think back to your own research process, you may want to remember how you benefitted from open access content. You may even want to think about the benefits of open access content for independent scholars and policy makers as not everyone has access to a large digial library of subscribed resources. Quite apart from the ethical issue of making information freely and openly available, there are advantages to society on making research freely available. The tax payer will have access – and, consequenty, you will have more readers. The thesis will not gather dust on your shelves or languish in a vault in the Library.

Making your thesis openly available has the following advantages:

  • Your work will have greater visibility with the UCL brand as the URL will be
  • The UCL brand offers credibility to your work as a researcher.
  • Your thesis will be discoverable via Google Scholar, eThOS and on DART (European theses portal).
  • You will be providing scholars in your area with a service by promoting and flagging your research so that they are aware of it but also do not waste time duplicating the research.
  • This means you will get cited quicker.
  • A publisher may find your thesis and offer to publish it as a book – saving you the time to look for one.
  • It is not likely that all the content in your thesis will be published in book or article format. For instance, your methodology chapter will be read more widely and this is the chapter that is not likely to be published fully in a book unless the basis for the thesis is a new methodology.
  • Future employers, co-authors and your network can have evidence of the quality of your research.
  • The law will protect against misuse of your intellectual property and the University will ensure that any misappropriate is actioned.
  • You will be adhering to the UCL Publications Policy which favours open access. See:

The disadvantages are as follows:

  • You work gets plagiarised – but this is risk for all online content.
  • Your work is sold on Amazon or eBay without you knowing – but this is a risk with all online content.
  • You will get harassed by predatory publishers to publish with them
  • You are approached by a predatory publisher who convinces you to publish with them and your intellectual property right is assigned to this publisher – but then your information literacy skills will kick in and you will investigate before using this publisher
  • You won’t get known for the great researcher you are if you work stays hidden!

As you can see from the list there are more advantages to making your thesis open acces than disadvantages. Given the rate at which scholarship is produced and available on the internet, you may want to re-consider an embargo  – at least a lengthy embargo.  Fundamentally, UCL is committed to open access and we have the first open access university press here in the UK – see UCL Press

Once your thesis and the form are uploaded and available on UCL’s research repository, UCL Discovery, it is considered to be published. Double the congratulations, for you have now contributed new knowledge and it is available for the rest of the world to read for free!

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Two Years in the Infant School—a review by Paul May

I was surprised when the children’s author, Paul May, contacted me about a post I had written on Enid Blyton as an educationalist, for once written and published, these posts are often forgotten!  I was also curious about what he thought of the pedagogy that was being promoted during the 1930s especially as he had been a primary school teacher.  This was of particular interest to me as during the time Blyton was editing teachers’ handbooks, schools were being encouraged to embrace ‘modern methods’ of teaching Paul has kindly given us some of his time to write about his views on one of the handbooks Blyton edited.


Reused with permission from The Enid Blyton Society

Reused with permission from The Enid Blyton Society

‘Two Years in the Infant School, prepared under the supervision of Enid Blyton, N.F.U.’ was published in 1938. Its preface states that by means of its eighty-four weekly topics, ‘the whole curriculum of the Infant School is covered.’ The preface also tells us that the suggestions of the Board of Education have been ‘closely followed’.  Is this true?  The suggestions (1937) say: ‘The curriculum is a matter not of subjects but of experiences and activities . . . This is particularly true of the first year in the Infant School, where so much of the time is spent in joyous activities, which, though largely instinctive in origin and apparently without ulterior purpose, provide the best preparation for the more serious occupations of a later day.’

In fact, most of the activities in Two Years in the Infant School are teacher-directed and there is little sense that children might be engaged independently in ‘joyous’, ‘instinctive’ pursuits. But while the publication may not entirely have lived up to its claims, it is user-friendly, and most modern-day Early Years teachers would find the contents and their organisation familiar. The topics mostly had a rural or natural theme, but many, like ‘People Who Work for Us’ or ‘Crossing the Road’ might still be seen in today’s classrooms. So, how useful were these plans? I’ll take Topic No 1, ‘The Home’, as an example.

The topic starts with a ‘Talk’ that is too long for most four- and five-year-olds I know. The first paragraph—‘Who has brothers and sisters? Who has a baby at home?’—contains more than enough to prompt lengthy discussions.

Section II covers ‘Oral Composition and Language Training’. ‘Let the children chatter freely about Mother,’ it begins. There are plenty of ideas for getting the children talking, singing, and learning and acting out rhymes.  

Section III concerns ‘Reading Preparation’—‘phonics’, ‘word recognition’ and ‘the sentence method’. The phonics section begins charmingly: ‘These exercises should be preceded by the use of the handkerchief.’  The teaching is thorough, ensuring that the children can both say and hear the sounds, and recognise the letters that represent them. The look-and-say section uses flash cards, pictures, signs and labels around the classroom. For the sentence method, ‘Every week a special sentence or phrase can be written on the board for the children to learn and draw.’ To conclude, the author says that ‘In educated homes children approach reading by all three methods; indeed, an intelligent child cannot be confined to one.’

‘Writing’ was Section IV. This, in the first year at least, was practice in developing fine motor control, tracing, filling in Montessori insets, drawing in sand, on blackboards and on coarse paper, writing their own names and (presumably when they were ready) copying sentences. This is much the way writing was taught in many schools through into the 1990s, and elements are still there today.

In Section V the plans for ‘Number’ are far less detailed than the reading and writing.  In Week 1 we find, among other things, the wildly ambitious ‘teach the values of figures 1-5.’

There is a range of activities in Drawing and Handwork.  In ‘Drawing to help Writing and Number’ we have ‘Drawing lines of different lengths’, ‘Drawing a pin family,’ ‘Drawing a house’.  (What Early Years teacher, planning the week’s work late on Sunday night, hasn’t scribbled down something like this?) There are also ideas for modelling, building, and paper folding or tearing.  

The final section is Dramatisation, Musical Activities, Games etc. The children will act out episodes of home life. They will march, walk and skip to appropriate music.  In the playground they will play ‘Catching the Duster’. ‘The teacher holds a duster by one corner and runs away. The children run after her and try to get the duster.’

To be fair, the musical games, activities and songs in Two Years in the Infant School are generally good, the drawing, modelling and handwork activities would provide useful starting points for imaginative teachers, and the nature-study topics are also detailed and interesting. But the plans are uneven in quality. There is much whole-class teaching and little differentiation. There is some recognition that some children are ‘quicker’ than others and children are allowed to work at different paces when it comes to ‘individual work’, but this is not individual work in the sense of ‘self-chosen activity’.

And it does all look SO familiar. This is exactly how things were in many infant classrooms when I started teaching in the mid-1970s, and a lot of what’s here can still be seen in classrooms today. Can it really be true that the Hadow report on Infant Schools (1933) made the following statements more than 85 years ago, among many others just as radical?

‘It is on the open-air activities and interests of the children that we would base the training and teaching of the infant school.’ (p 124)  ‘During the infant stage the play-way is the best way.’ (p 125) ‘There is little doubt that manual and aesthetic development are better secured when the child is left to make what he likes, how he likes and, within reason, when he likes than by any set lessons.’ (p 130)  ‘The child should begin to learn the 3 Rs when he wants to do so, whether he be three or six years of age.’ (p 133)

The recommendations of the 1933 Hadow report look as much like a distant Utopia today as they did then—and I can’t help thinking that the modern equivalent of the infant classroom has as much in common with the classroom of Enid Blyton’s ‘Two Years in the Infant School’ as it does with that of the Hadow Report.

Paul May                                                                                                                                                  Children’s Author &                                                                                                                                former Primary School Teacher                                                                                                        Website:


Blyton ed. (1938) Two Years in the Infant School, George Newnes: London

Hadow (1933) Infant and Nursery Schools, Report of the Consultative Committee, London: HMSO

Board of Education (1937) Handbook of Suggestions for Teachers, London: HMSO

See also Nazlin Bhiman’s 2012 post: Enid Blyton, educationist.


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