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University choices have been in the news this week: researchers from Which? and the respected Higher Education Policy Institute uncovered a worrying rise in dissatisfaction among first year undergraduates, with 29% saying they think their course is poor value-for-money. To tackle this problem, several schemes have started, often online, to try and match applicants to the ideal course for them. We hear from Alex Kelly, the founder of one of those initiatives, in this guest blog.
Last August I was helping Mustafa make his university applications.
‘Do you know what you want to study?’
‘Do you know which universities you’re going to apply to?’
‘Well… kind of.’
Working in schools since 2005, I’d had this conversation hundreds of times with students struggling to choose the best universities for them.
At the same time, teachers find it difficult to keep track of where their students have got to in making their choices.
It seems that every Year 12 contains about ten students who diligently do their research and come up with a sensible list of five universities to put on their UCAS form. But tens more require relentless haranguing. However much effort you put in, you still end up with the odd application for Medicine on the strength of a set of Ds.
To get to the bottom of this problem, I asked my students if I could watch over their shoulders as they did their research. What I saw was lots of hopeless hopping between the UCAS site, university league tables, and the universities’ own sites. Students only clicked on universities whose names they recognised, and they didn’t uncover any data on specific courses beyond what the entry requirements were.
This is ironic given the wealth of information available. Students could compare courses on factors such as the proportion of coursework versus exams, the ratio of male to female students, and the average starting salary of graduates from each course.
Making sophisticated data comparisons when, for example, buying a mobile phone has become normal, so why does that not happen with university choices? It’s even harder to understand when you consider that a degree will now end up costing some students in the region of £30,000 in fees – so these decisions are worth getting right.
Most frustratingly, the lack of good research tends to be worse for those students who come from a poorer background.
Sadly, students from poorer backgrounds are more prone to making less savvy decisions – for example, they are more likely to apply for highly competitive subjects like medicine and law, while students from affluent families seem to be better at playing the system – they are more likely to apply for less competitive but still prestigious joint-honours degrees.
It’s not uncommon for an average-size independent school to have 3 full-time staff helping students navigate their university applications, whereas the comprehensive where I taught has half a person and far more pupils.
I thought it was worth trying to solve these problems – my small team has devised an online tool called Unifrog. The idea is to help students choose the university and course best suited to them, and to help teachers track students’ progress in making these choices.
When students first log in, they first have to consider a wide range of possible degree subjects (the tool will suggest, for example, ‘Anthropology with a year abroad’ if a student types in ‘History’). Then the tool encourages students to choose courses with a range of entry requirements: we match entry requirements to students’ likely academic performance. Next students can compare every course in the UK on 12 data points – everything from the distance from their home, to the level of tuition fees, to the average student satisfaction rating. Students use this data to whittle down their longlist to just five choices, and then the site makes it easy for students to book open days at the universities on their shortlist.
All well and good, but we know that teachers also need some help. To make it easier for form tutors to keep track of who is choosing what, they are emailed a PDF with details of their students’ shortlist. This means they can quickly spot if a student is in danger of making unwise decisions. And teachers get an at-a-glance view of where each student in a year group has got to in terms of completing the research, so they can focus their efforts on the students who need their help most.
We finished Unifrog in mid-March, and the first person I asked to trial the tool was Mustafa, whose decision-making had been one of the sparks for the project.
He said, ‘The frog should be purple. Why’d you have to make it ugly?’, but also, ‘It’s brilliant. I wish I’d had this.’
Since then we’ve been selling subscriptions to schools (allowing all their students unlimited use of Unifrog) at a rate of about one per day, which is far more than we’d been expecting. Now, in an effort to bring the tool to more students, we are offering The Day schools a 20% discount on subscriptions taken up before the end of the current academic year, so get in touch! Email Alex at
Alex Kelly began on the Teach First scheme in 2005. A top set in Year 8 inspired him to start The Access Project, a social enterprise which organises weekly one-to-one tuition for disadvantaged students to win places at top universities (it now delivers more than 400 hours of tuition every week). This year Alex launched Unifrog.
This is about how, as teachers, we can establish a classroom culture in which students are creative and independent. The focus is on teaching mathematics, but the strategies outlined below are adaptable to any subject.
To be successful in maths, students need some awareness of what they are doing, for example: they need to be aware of choices in their approach to a problem or question; they need to be aware of when an approach they are using doesn’t seem to be working; and they need to be aware of when a solution they get is reasonable or not. In the research literature, any awareness about your own thinking is labeled ‘metacognition’ – but for now there is little consensus on how you can get students to think in this way.
To try and get to the bottom of it, I studied an expert secondary school teacher at work in a relatively deprived urban area in the South West of England: I knew that students in her classroom did display this crucial quality of ‘metacognition’ (awareness of their own thought processes).
And they achieved exceptional results: alongside well-above-expected levels of progress, striking numbers of the Year 11 students she taught went on to do Maths and Further Maths A-levels, and as a result, the school was the only one in the area to offer Further Maths at A-level.
I took video recordings in her year 7 classroom to establish, first of all, what she was doing to set up the classroom environment and her students’ expectations.
It was immediately apparent that there was unusual language occurring in her classroom – and from the very beginning. In the students’ second mathematics lesson of the year, the teacher and students were talking about ‘conjectures’, which is a sophisticated word for 11-year-olds to be using! They were tackling a problem called ‘1089’ (here’s a write-up of this activity) and the students were making predictions and talking about ‘Sadie’s conjecture’ or ‘Jake’s conjecture’, by which they meant ideas that students in the class had come up with.
How did this happen, and so soon? When I looked in more detail at what she was doing, it was evident that, in her responses to students, the teacher was never evaluating what they said. Instead, she would respond by commenting about what a ‘mathematician’ would do in this situation, or saying that what a student had done was an example of what mathematicians do.
The teacher used the word ‘conjecture’ a total of 36 times in just one class discussion. The phrase ‘counter-example’ was also used, when a student found something that didn’t fit in, for example, with ‘Sadie’s conjecture’. These words were barely defined; but by being used so frequently, the students picked up on their meaning and began using them confidently as well.
At the end of the year, I interviewed a selection of students. Here’s a brief excerpt from one interview: it was with a pair of students who were at the low-attaining end of the class, but their responses were typical.
Alf: what have you learnt about thinking mathematically or how mathematicians work
Student 1: they always like come up with conjectures
Alf: what’s a conjecture
Student 1: like a theory and then they see if they can prove themselves wrong
Student 2: or try and prove it right
Student 1: and then they find out other people’s conjectures and like test them
Student 2: test ‘em yeah they test ‘em and from other people’s conjectures they also make new ones
So the word 'conjecture' has come to encapsulate, for these students, what they do in their maths lessons and how they think about what they do. In other words this language (of mathematicians, conjectures and counter-examples), by being used over and over again at the start of the year, supported student metacognition (awareness).
Students also spoke about mathematics being a creative subject in which they follow their own ideas as well as learning new skills, and their end-of-year test scores showed excellent progress.
In my video recordings of later classes, the words ‘conjecture’ and ‘counter-example’ were used less often; the classroom culture had successfully been established. Students could be seen making predictions/conjectures and looking for counter-examples whenever the chance arose and there was, perhaps, less need to talk about it.
So, what conclusions can we draw from this? Well, one thing that seemed clear to me studying the videos is that, during the early lessons of the year, the teacher was listening in an unusual way. She seemed to be looking out for aspects of working mathematically, so that she could catch students doing this and point it out to the rest of the class. If someone said something that could be turned into a conjecture, the teacher would stop the class and point this out, relating the making of conjectures to the idea of becoming a mathematician. This focus led to a transformation in the classroom and supported creative and independent work.
This is an outline of just one aspect of how this teacher was operating successfully in the classroom. But the whole study, which was originally my PhD, is now a book - here’s a free preview! In essence, it encapsulates everything I have learnt about teaching and learning over 15 years work in secondary schools. I hope you find it useful - you can contact me on twitter, where I am @AlfColes, with feedback.
Alf Coles studied maths and philosophy at Oxford University then spent 15 years teaching maths in secondary school, including seven years as head of a maths department. He is now a senior lecturer in education at Bristol University and working on a project focused on tackling underachievement in primary school. Here are his Five Books recommendations on teaching maths. And here he is in action!
A lot of piffle is published about how to write journalism. Blame Cicero who seems to be responsible for Kipling’s famous rule:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
With a few years of experience most good journalists manage to shake it off and develop their own way of doing things. Tom Wolfe certainly did: "There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmm)…"
Still, one can’t help worrying: what should one say to the young journalists of the future? I’ve just been helping to judge the brilliant Amnesty International Young Human Rights Reporter of the Year competition (2,500 entries) and reflecting on the experience. Here are the five main things I’d advise:
In the written (as opposed to photographic) categories of the Amnesty awards this year, there were some great examples of these rules.
Liliana Newsam-Smith of Rhodes Avenue Primary School started her article about girls’ education with vivid detail: ‘I work in the field collecting the crop. It’s early afternoon and the blazing sun is high in the sky. I should be at school right now.’ For Zaahid Rahman of Cranbrook School the details were chilling: the razor blades, fingernails, cut glass and scissors frequently used in female genital mutilation. And for Holly Gomez of Woodfarm High School writing about North Korean concentration camps the details were almost too much: ‘Witnessing a six year old beaten to death for eating corn, being hung upside down on a coal fire and having a knuckle chopped off for dropping a sewing machine.’
Victoria Coleman of Mayfield Grammar School was as clear as a bell about the injustice of women’s education in many parts of the world: ‘Even though women do two-thirds of the world’s work, they receive merely 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of the means of production.’
Congratulations to them all: worthy winners. Girls all, you will have noticed. Come on the boys!
Form Time is the most undervalued and under-resourced part of school life. And it’s an enormous missed opportunity.
But my conviction is that Form Time is actually the single most important part of the school day. It should set the agenda and embed the ethos of the school in terms of what is expected not only from students, but also teaching staff.
Even where schools take Form Time seriously, it is extremely difficult to get close to any level of consistency – the good tutors do their stuff while others see it as a convenient slot for administrative duties (vitally important though these are!). And most students do not always regard Form Time as valuable.
With The Week’s Agenda the team at The Day has now developed a practical and meaningful solution to many of the challenges of Form Time - and one that can also contribute to whole school strategies such as SMSC (Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural education), and Literacy.The Week’s Agenda will save form tutors and school leaders time, but it should also help them with the most important challenge – making a difference to their students.
The items and features in The Week’s Agenda are designed to be used in two or 30 minutes – whatever time the form tutor has to make an impact on their students. Because I believe that every single Form Time, no matter how short, should aim to provide students with at least one moment of quality learning and/or reflection that will have an impact for the individual as well as the group collectively. Ideally, it should help students to learn something about the world around them, guiding them along on the journey of developing the self. If that can be properly achieved even half of the time the impact could be huge.
So, as part of our new package, the new Form Time Planner helps the Form Tutor (and the school leader responsible for Form Time) to quickly plan out short but powerful activities which are stimulating and interactive and can be used in even the shortest amount of time available. Links to The Day’s articles from all the features and activities then provide the perfect opportunity for students to continue looking at an issue after it features in The Week’s Agenda. I hope it will prove to be a good springboard to looking at an in-depth article and will help to develop a curiosity and impetus to further research or engagement.
The key features in The Week’s Agenda are:
The Theme — working alongside the very best organisations and charities we will be setting a weekly theme which relates to national and international events, special days and weeks. This will be an ideal focus for Form Time, assemblies and whole school activities. Encouraging more of a connection between Form Time and Assemblies means they can both have more of an impact.
The Calendar — weekly themes are planned in advance so that schools can map out the relevant whole school events, assemblies and, of course, what you might do with your form group throughout the academic year.
You Decide — The chance for you and your students to have a say on a burning question in the news. A link to one of our recent articles will provide the background and explain the topic.
Video of the Week — A specially selected video for your students to watch, with related activities and a link to one of our recent stories.
Alongside these, The Week’s Agenda will introduce opportunities to make use of successful current features that we offer, and which will be familiar to schools using The Day: these include Choose The News, Photo of the Week, the Weekly Quiz and the ever popular Caption Competition. The Day’s editors will also be selecting a weekly ‘Top Story’: the one you and your students should read and discuss if you have limited time to look at any of the other news stories we are analysing and explaining for readers.
Of course, there are many challenges to making Form Time really count: Lack of interest among some teachers (I was once told by a former colleague: ‘I am here to teach Physics – not to be a Social Worker’); lack of time; the need to pack in general administrative duties such as the register and endless notices. Form Time can be something of a dumping ground because of its constant presence in the school timetable. For example, one-to-one mentoring of students is absolutely crucial, but when it happens in Form Time it does both the mentoring and the start of the school day an injustice.
But The Week’s Agenda is flexible enough to fit around the differing amounts of time available as well as the pressures placed upon Form Time while maintaining integrity and depth.
Students (and teachers!) need the start of the day to provide a bit of downtime from what often is a hectic and pressured school day: I certainly found this to be true in one of my previous schools: no breaks! And students should be actively encouraged to talk naturally with their peers and form tutor in ways that cannot usually happen within an academic lesson. Nothing should get in the way of the relationships between the members of the form group and their tutor. However I think using The Week’s Agenda and all The Day’s features in Form Time can effectively help develop and nurture those vital relationships – learning about each other as you find out more about what is happening in our world. What could be better or more important than that?
We are very happy to announce the winners of our first ever World Book Day Competition, which we ran throughout March. A big thank you to everyone that took part – we really enjoyed reading through all of the entries. We asked students to pick a favourite book with a theme that relates to current affairs, to select one of our own stories from The Day and to explain the link between the two. Some great books were chosen and very thoughtful connections made with some of our articles.
A huge congratulations to all of the eleven successful entrants, who have won the 18 Connell Guides to great literary works - one set for themselves and one for their school. Take a look at the winning choices below: we think you will agree the topics that resonate with our readers are fascinating.
‘The greatest playwright in the world’
Zombie romcom puts Shakespeare on screen
‘The fear of violence within those dark years still resonates today in South Africa’
Pistorius killing sparks debate over gun culture
‘We live in an age of Women's liberation, yet there is still so much oppression...’
Thousands join Valentine’s Day anti-abuse protest
‘We love this book because we have learned so much about words and numbers, synonyms and idioms.’
Journalist learns African Language in 22 hours
‘We learn much about human behaviour and social hierarchy...’
Life of Pi brings ‘unfilmable’ novel to the screen
‘The story draws you in completely and it is impossible to put the book down...’
Birthday of ‘the world’s greatest love story’
‘Essential reading...the issues discussed within the novel are so relevant to today's society...’
Deadly attack opens Taliban ‘spring offensive’
‘This is relevant today and will continue to be so while humans experiment with nature, use science to defy the laws of evolution or fail to consider the full consequences of such actions.’
Scientists on brink of reviving extinct animals
‘a companion and guide through the experience that is jumping off the cliff towards adulthood.’
Reality show tracks tangled lives of Sixties children
‘...even though it has been 50 years since the book was published and 80 years since the novel was set, racism is still very much in abundance...’
Serbia risk football ban after racism sparks brawl
‘...this book shows readers how far women’s rights have come and how much further they can go...’
Women still blocked from corridors of power
It is the middle of the night when we pull into the campsite, deep in Chimanimani National Park, Mozambique,
and the headlights of our jeep shine brightly on to a collection of blue tents emblazoned ‘World Challenge’.
Early the following morning I meet the students from Monks' Dyke Tennyson College as they emerge from their
tents: some tired, some hungry and all a long way from home. I was here to join them on their challenge, and to
learn more about what this month-long expedition in Africa means to them.
Our basecamp in the Chimanimani National Park
For the 14 students (aged 16-18) and two brave teachers, the expedition was the culmination of two years
preparation: fundraising, meticulous planning, nervous soul-searching. There have been sponsored skydives and
enterprising chocolate sales as the students raise the money to pay for their travel, support, spending money
and a charitable donation to their in-country project.
To doubters this may seem a task beyond your average teenager, but World Challenge would beg to differ. Since
1987, the school expeditions’ company has organised thousands of trips for schools, and today offers a choice of
65 destinations. Their motto is ‘education through exploration’, and they aim to genuinely stretch comfort zones
and expand minds by sending students to all corners of the world to face challenging adventures.
Don't leave the vehicle: On safari in Gorongosa
From day one, any thought that my Africa trip would be an easy organised holiday was erased from my mind. We
camped every night, completed long, difficult treks, and cooked over a fire each evening. The logistics of moving
20 people around an undeveloped country with bumpy roads and unreliable cars had to be negotiated, and both the
problem-solving and patience required on such a trip were soon learnt by all.
The students’ teamwork was incredible – meals planned, budgeted, bought, prepared, cooked and cleaned without
fault or complaint; tents erected in minutes; a source of suitable drinking water located immediately. No one
underestimated the scale of their challenge – some had never before been away from their families – but each
obstacle was treated with respect, be it sleeping in a tent or summiting a mountain. Elated, and occasionally
tearful, moments of reflection sitting around a campfire, under the stars, will live long in the memory.
Accompanied by Mary, an inspirational World Challenge guide, the students’ trip was divided into four parts
– acclimatisation, the challenge, the project, and a week’s R&R at the end. Our challenge was to climb Mount
Binga, the country’s tallest mountain set above stunning green plateaus and baboon-patrolled forest. With every
member of the group reaching the summit successfully, we moved onto Gorongosa National Park for a safari (much
improved by excitable elephants) and then I was able to spend an afternoon at the project site which was to be
the home of the students for the next week.
The project involved working with a tiny village community to finish building a school for vulnerable
children. Now the real work was starting, it was my cue to leave – but I was informed that the group worked
tirelessly to finish the school building, also digging trenches and building toilet facilities. After the hard
work, a week’s relaxing on white sands and diving in clear seas at the coastal resort of Tofo was in order. A
team that had barely known each other previously had become a tightly-knit group, bonded by experiences shared
and challenges overcome.
The project phase: hard at work building the local school
I will leave it for the students to tell you what they took from their World Challenge experience; I recorded
some thoughts from each of them in the video below. With them for only 10 days, I felt touched by the kindness
of the group and the local people, overawed by the scenery and wildlife, excited and scared by situations (and
creatures!) beyond my comfort zone. I returned to London with a renewed appreciation for home and the
opportunities on offer, and I can only imagine the strength of this feeling in the returning students at the end
of their adventure. After a month in Africa, plus many weeks of saving, planning and training, they can look ahead
to their own challenges of exams, jobs, universities and leaving home, safe in the knowledge that there’s a whole
world out there, and it’s nothing to be afraid of.
Tom Rendell, Commercial Director of The Day, travelled with World Challenge – the original
school expedition company. For more information about what World Challenge offers please visit their
website. Tom would like to thank the students – Holly, Calum, Katie, Abby,
Elly, Kara, Kayleigh, Ashleigh, Lily, Jack, Alex P, Alex K, Max and Alex O – and teachers – Nick and Sarah – for being such
great travelling companions.
A well-earned break at Turtle Cove, Tofo
A very friendly welcome at a local village
Our guide Zeddy, overlooking the plains of Chimanimani
In London it was a chilly March day: about two degrees. In the Antarctic it was minus 51. At this temperature a cup of boiling water thrown into the air hits the ground as ice.
The year six pupils at Kew College, Richmond, were toasty warm in shirtsleeves. The explorers at the other end of the phone were each wearing thick gloves and mittens, thermal underwear, thick socks, turtle neck sweaters, wool sweaters, scarves, a balaclava, goggles, a special, long, down jacket with a fur-ruffed hood, special boots and more.
They were at the start of a project that many regard as mad: a winter crossing of the Antarctic. This is widely regarded as the last true remaining polar challenge and the expedition aims to 'reassert Britain’s status as the world’s greatest nation of explorers'. No less.
A parent at Kew College, Paul McCarter, happened to be the communications adviser for the project and had managed to set up a telephone link from the classroom to the Antarctic wastes. The story was much in the news since Britain's greatest living explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, had just been forced to leave his team mates on the ice and fly home with severe frostbite.
Wide-eyed at their desks the chldren were able to ask how the explorers felt about spending six months in total darkness and trying to avoid the painful fate of their friend 'Sir Ran'.
A thrilling class. The school reports a huge continuing interest in 'The Coldest Journey' as the expedition is known. Much cross curricular work is under way on the study of the polar regions and their importance to planet earth.
To my mind this is one good example of a practice that could be happening far more often in schools. I know of so many explorers, scientists, foreign correspondents, surgeons, astronomers, writers, artists, musicians and politicians that would happily devote half an hour to talking to a class of pupils. Removing the hassle of travel and the disproportionate time commitment that it involves, is a huge attraction.
Why would these busy people agree to spend even half an hour doing something like this? Because everyone has been a child once. Because it is flattering to have the interest of the young and hear excitement in their voices. Because your life's work is usually something you'd like to explain to others.
So what is stopping it happening?
First: technology. Any teacher knows the horrors of firing up Skype and a promising start to a conversation going dead for five minutes while you try to get another connection. It simply isn't a good enough service yet and in my experience the Skype people are not very helpful and have near zero customer service. If anyone knows a solution to this do let me know.
Second: contacts. Teachers and schools simply aren't in the business of having bulging address books. Journalists and editors are. This is where we at The Day can help and would like to help: by putting schools in touch with interesting, dynamic and succesful people who are willing to do this.
Assuming we could find a good way around the first obstacle, we'd love to help make this happen. Would anyone be interested? Do write to me at
Today is World Down Syndrome Day and it coincides with the national Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week. On this day, people with Down’s Syndrome, and those who live and work with them throughout the world, organise and participate in activities and events to raise public awareness and create a single global voice for advocating for the rights, inclusion and wellbeing of people with the condition. The date for World Down Syndrome Day, the 21st day of the 3rd month, was selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which is the cause of the condition.
I'm the Education Director of The Day, and my eldest son has Down’s Syndrome. I'd like to outline ten things you may not know about the condition:
1. What is it? Down’s syndrome is a (naturally occurring) chromosomal arrangement that has always been a part of the human condition. It usually causes varying degrees of intellectual and physical disability, as well as associated medical issues.
2. What is it not? Down's syndrome is a condition and not a disease or illness. People with Down's syndrome are not ill and do not 'suffer' from the condition itself.
3. Just one extra. Down’s syndrome is essentially caused by having an extra chromosome. Chromosomes are tiny particles which are present in every cell in every tissue of our bodies. Most people have two copies of all chromosomes, but people with Down’s syndrome have three copies of chromosome 21, hence the medical term 'trisomy 21'. Nobody knows why this happens but it occurs at the moment of conception.
4. One in every 1,000 babies born in the UK will have Down's syndrome. There are currently around 60,000 people in the UK with the condition. It occurs irrespective of racial, gender or socioeconomic backgrounds.
5. Seeing the world differently. Visual acuity is poorer in all people with Down’s syndrome. Up to 50% of people with Down’s syndrome need to wear glasses but a 100% of the population of people with Down’s syndrome have poor visual acuity. Visual acuity is still poor even when a person with Down’s Syndrome is wearing correctly fitted glasses for either long or short sight.
How people with Down’s syndrome see the world:
Clear visual acuity
Visual acuity in a person with Down’s Syndrome
My Perspectives 2012 winner – Brighton Beach Huts by Victoria Campos Davis
Awareness is the key here. People with Down’s Syndrome see the world differently and we must start to see people with Down’s Syndrome in a different way. To do this, people need to understand the condition and adapt accordingly. The implications of poorer visual acuity for people with Down’s Syndrome in terms of education as well as general life are huge. As part of Down’s Syndrome Awareness week the DSA (The Down Syndrome’s Association) is raising awareness amongst the nation’s opticians and is using Maggie Woodhouse’s excellent new research.
6. Younger women. It is well known that the chance of a baby having Down's syndrome is higher for older mothers, but it’s important to note that more babies with Down's syndrome are born to younger women. 80% of babies with Down’s Syndrome are born to women under the age of 35. My wife was 29 years old when our oldest son Louis was born.
7. Not the same. Each individual with Down’s Syndrome has their own unique personality, talents, interests and capabilities. Therefore – just like every member of the human population – people with Down’s Syndrome are not the same. The dangers of labelling people are always present when talking about specific groups, and as for all groups we must remind ourselves that people with Down’s Syndrome should not be defined solely by their condition, but by their personality and attributes.
8. What’s in a name? The condition is named after Dr. John Langdon Down. It is slightly unfortunate that he was called Down – difficult to put a positive spin on that name really. I like to think of it as an ironic name. While Dr. John Langdon Down first described the common characteristics of people with Down’s syndrome, it was actually Dr Jerome Lejeune who first identified it as a chromosome 21 trisomy in 1959.
9. Expectations. Incredibly the life expectancy for a person with Down’s Syndrome has doubled since the early 1980s. Today the average life expectancy for a person with Down's syndrome is between 50 and 60. A considerable number of people with the condition now live into their 60's. This increase is down to great advancements in medical care and provision but also, I think, because people with Down’s syndrome are now generally involved in society in a way that they were not in the past.
10. Greater Expectations. The life expectation has increased alongside the greater expectations that have been placed on people with Down’s Syndrome from parents, families, teachers and society in general. Quality educational programs and support, a stimulating home environment, good healthcare and positive support from family, friends, teachers and the community enable people with Down’s Syndrome to develop their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.
Of course, people with Down’s Syndrome and their families and friends face many great challenges from a number of different directions. However, the contribution that people with Down’s Syndrome make to our society far outweighs their small number, and the steps that have been made in terms of awareness, health provision and general attitudes provide us with an arc of progress that I think we should be pleased with. It certainly is something on which we can build, and fantastic organisations like the DSA and campaigns like World Down Syndrome Day are doing a great job in championing the cause of both people with Down’s Syndrome and our society at large.
It's a three line whip. You absolutely must go (and please take your students) to the fantastic political drama currently on stage at the National Theatre. This House is a new play by James Graham, set in the government and opposition whips' offices during the period starting in 1974, when Labour was governing without a majority, and sometimes with only the paper thin advantage in numbers achieved by cobbling together agreements with minority parties (the 'odds and sods').
A hung parliament. Economic crisis. A period of instability. A pact with the Liberal party. Familiar themes to us today, as we live through another such unusual chapter in the history of British democracy. And it's true that Graham started writing his play because of the contemporary political scene.
The parallels are there - some of them providing the best, knowing laughs from the audience. But don't let that put you off, because this is very far from being a dramatised treatise on coalition politics.
It's the best stage version I've ever seen of why the political world is so addictive - and so costly- for the individuals involved. It's also extremely funny, with fantastic staging: some lucky ticketholders get to sit on the imitation green benches of the House of Commons alongside actors playing MPs; when various elderly and sick members collapse during punishing all night sittings and endless filibusters, they ascend heavenwards guided by white light away from Parliament; and memorable live performances of David Bowie tracks locate this turbulent five years of drama firmly in its period.
You could call it a busman's holiday: political journalist escapes for an evening to watch, with great pleasure, a bunch of actors masquerading as MPs.
And it's true that that audience was full of other pundits, with a few peers and honourable members dotted around.
But this play does something unusual and surprisingly accessible - it demonstrates, in the best Shakespearean tradition, why human drama and the interplay of personalities, ambitions, passions and flaws is so intense when people get close to the source of politicial power.
I loved seeing the onstage portrayal of the moment when Helene Hayman, then a young Labour MP, made history by breastfeeding during a hard-fought vote (it reminded me how much I enjoyed interviewing her a while ago when she was speaker of the Lords). And the cameo of Michael Heseltine after he has been chucking the mace around is hilarious. But most of all, the dedicated battles between the individuals in 'the engine room' of the whips offices, which descend into parliamentary trench warfare for much of the play, are wonderfully constructed.
James Graham, the playright, rather charmingly told an interviewer that he had deliberately located the action in the parts of the Commons 'where policies and the boring side of politics doesn't matter.' Ahem - I'm not sure I can totally agree, being a dyed-in-the-wool political anorak, that policy and substance cannot also be gripping. And all you politics and citizenship teachers may also disagree.
It's an interesting thought, however...We are, many of us, used to chewing over why there is so much disconnection between the world of politics and the voters, and usually we decide there is too much drama and not enough substance. I've done it myself. Maybe there's another side to this: is there mileage in opening the doors to the corridors of power and showing, as this play does so brilliantly, why the intense, sometimes febrile atmosphere at Westminster is so compelling?
Might this be a different way to bring politics alive?
(Warning: there is an awful lot of swearing. Almost no utterance is free of the F word. But it's worth it, if you can convince your charges not to be shocked.)