Mental Wealth: Children’s Mental Health Week

Last month we were awarded the accolade of the Gold Mental Health in Schools Award. Only 6 secondaries in the country have received it, and we are the first school in Oxfordshire.

For Children’s Mental Health Week we opened our doors today too share our vision and our provision with others. At Aureus we don’t talk about mental health, we talk about ‘mental wealth’. 20 visitors came to Aureus to experience our culture and ethos, and our partners came to share their collaborations with us.

We were delighted that Lucy Butler, Director of Children Services for Oxford County Council and Richard Venables the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire joined us to celebrate our award.


Our DHT for Culture and Wellbeing, Julie Hunter, who is dot B trained, was due to share our mindful start to the day to ensure that all learners are ready for learning but, unfortunately, got stuck on a motorway so had to narrate it instead. Our Student Council explained how Mindfulness prepares them for learning and helps them be emotionally resilient.

Culture for Wellbeing:

Julie presented our ‘mental wealth’ programme, our universal entitlement to all of our students. We pride ourselves on being preemptive, proactive and preventative, not reactive and responsive. Julie spoke at length about our commitment to staff wellbeing so that we put well staff in front of our students.  She was joined by Bogusia our Chair of Governors and Holly and Patrick, two of our Student Council who all passionately shared their experiences of our values-based school.


We took our guests for a walk around our school site to share how we have created ‘safe spaces’ and invested in a staffing model to ‘nurture hearts and minds’ to ensure that all can ‘grow, learn and flourish’. Our safe spaces include:

We call our holistic education our ‘Inner Curriculum’, a phrase coined by Dr Neil Hawkes, the founder of VBE. We also shared our VBE artefacts such as our values chandelier and our values totem poles.


Being outward-facing and collaborating brings value to our community.    Our best practice session enabled us to share who we are working with and why. Micro presentations were shared by:

Each contribution demonstrated that we believe we are ‘stronger together’. Lisa summed it up as our “pluralist approach” to collaboration. A phrase I will be magpie-ing!

I also gave shout outs to Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, Dr Pooky Knightsmith, Edukit , Clare ErasmusMike Armiger and Paul Dix and the Pivotal Approach – partners we work closely with but who were  not present on the day.

Family Dining Experience:

Our visitors also experienced our community time and saw first hand how we invest in our relationships. We believe that we are what we eat, a focus on healthy eating underpins our values-based culture. We use our lunch times as an opportunity to connect and build our relationships with students.

Vision to Provision:

We are 4 nearly 5 terms old and are still a work in progress, but we are proud of what we have achieved to date.  Our consideration of why we do things and the choices we have made of how we do things have led to what our school looks and feels like. Subtle choices about the structure of the day and what we call things are nuances of our values based culture.

Our Choices and Intentions that have become our DNA and our USP at Aureus:

  1. We do not need bells, we line up for lesson start.
  2. We start every day with mindfulness.
  3. We do not set, we believe in mixed ability.
  4. We have coaching groups, curriculum groups and global citizenship groups.
  5. We do not allow mobile phones on site, we do not have white noise from radios.
  6. We do not allow packed lunches on site, we have a family dining experience.
  7. We have mixed year group coaching groups and all belong to a faculty.
  8. We have coaching  time not tutor time.
  9. We do not set homework, we have optional extended learning.
  10. We have personal development time, not enrichment time.
  11. We do not do detentions, we use restorative practice.
  12. We have created safe spaces for students and for staff.
  13. We have invested in the staffing and infrastructure of our Nurture, Thrive and Student Welfare Team.
  14. We have all had training from CAMHS and we have staff becoming experts in Thrive, mindfulness, MHFA and counselling.
  15. We underpin our schools’ culture and ethos with our values.
  16. We are a STEAM school and we celebrate the Arts.

Each choice comes together to develop our approach in creating a happy, healthy school where we ‘nurture hearts and minds’ that our community may ‘grow, learn and flourish’.

Check us out on BBC Oxford Radio from 7am on 5/2/19 and BBC South News from 6.25pm/ 10.30pm news!


Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • Here are some quick links to articles I have read this week:

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Julie for her vision and tenacity in making it come to reality
  • Liz for her coaching and support for achieving Gold
  • Bogusia  for being  a chair of governors who has invested a lot of time in investing in additional reading
  • Lucinda for leading the Oxfordshire MH & WB Network
  • Our Aureus team who are passionate about mental health and wellbeing

Saying Goodbye: Bereavement Support

Before I start, we are not mourning at either of our schools. No-one from our school community has died before people I know start reading this.

An old friend who teaches in Portugal, got in touch out of the blue this weekend to ask for support as a colleague has tragically and unexpectedly passed away over the Christmas break.

I turned to the hive mind that is Twitter and my PLN to ask them for support and advice to share with her as I have not been in this position as a Headteacher, as yet. In my 15 years of teaching we have lost 3 students, but the DHTs/ Heads of Faculty and Heads of Year always dealt with it.

Personally I have never been to a funeral, bizarre as I turn 40 this year I know. I have just been to one memorial, so I am not sharing experience nor expertise, just crowd sourced advice, support and guidance.

My tweet clearly hit a chord  as it received 58 replies offerings condolences but also practical, experience based advice:

“An old friend who teaches abroad needs my/ our help. A teacher at her school has died over the holidays. Any recommendations for bereavement support, advice, resources for the school community? It is the moment I dread as a Headteacher”.

I also had a flurry of DMs from people who led school communities through a loss and who shared their contact details for my friend to contact them for a chat. Moments like this are when Twitter is a source of positive support, is why I tweet! Thank you everyone who shared.

Silhouette of an anonymous man sitting on a bench alone

Below I have attempted to compile the suggestions:

Internal Considerations:

  • Tell the staff in an appropriately timed briefing – give them time to process
  • Tell the students in pastoral time/ tutor groups
  • Identify key members of staff for people to talk to
  • Write a letter home
  • PSHE/ Safeguarding lead to deliver an assembly – share input from different staff on how they cope with grief as we all grieve differently
  • Allow the students to arrange a memorial/ tribute/ceremony
  • Keep in contact with the family but streamline communications
  • Self-care for the staff managing the emotions of the community
  • Daily plans for adjustments to the routines
  • Daily debriefs for staff
  • Reflection time/ space – somewhere quiet for people to go and talk
  • Review cover and see how you can release/ cover those who want to attend the funeral/ memorial
  • Shut the school for the day – this one is to be carefully considered

External Support:

  • Bring in the school nurse for drop in sessions
  • Bring in a school counsellor
  • Bring in an Ed Psych to work with staff and students
  • Find your LA’s guidance on critical incidents and trauma
  • Draw on your LA’s funding from ‘critical incident’  funding pot
  • Supervision for the DSL/ Headteacher/ lead teacher

Memorial Ideas:

  • Plant a tree
  • Plant bulbs
  • Create a memory book/ condolence book
  • Create a memorial garden
  • Display a picture/ portrait
  • Install a climbing frame/ bench with a plaque
  • Sculpture/ art piece
  • Balloon release

“We had a memory tree where the girls wrote their memories on ballet shoes- one was our dance teacher, they were sent to her family. We had a remembrance event where family members were invited. Rose tree planted, rooms named. Counselling offered.”

“We created a reflection room where school comm can visit and pay respects – leaving a note, photos, tributes. They will be gathered for the family in a memory book. We are also planning a celebration gathering with a tree planting and some poems/songs from students and staff, and a tribute from a friend. Family, students, staff and parents will all be invited”.

“We bought bulbs, students planted one with a message on a lolly stick. When they flowered it was beautiful. Sts need to be shown how to grieve, I think it’s a hugely important life lesson so we felt quite a lot of pressure to do it right, so your friend will need support too”.

“Staff, parents & children had different needs, but all benefited from openness & honesty, led by family, with a small memorial garden planned/planted by the class”.

“Find a wall in a corridor that is blank. Put up fun pictures of staff member with students on school trips/activities. Then leave out sticky notes for kids/teachers/parents to write a note. These two things we have done at our school when a students or staff member passed”.

“Set up a table at school with origami paper and instructions for cranes. Have various teachers man the table during break times. Kids will silently remember, or need to talk, in the end many cranes can be made into cool hanging decoration on campus that sparks remembrance”.

Recommended Organisations:

Recommended Books/ Reading:

Recommended Resources:

Thank you to everyone who contributed and shared, my friend is very grateful. I think these two tweets of advice are what really stay with me about being mindful of the person’s family and ensuring that their wishes are respected.

“Keep in mind what the teacher’s family would want shared regarding information or memorials etc”.

“Please listen to the person’s family about what they want”.

bereavement 3

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Supporting my friend through this loss

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • As and when I need to lead our school through a tragedy I am a bit more informed, not that you can ever really be prepared

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • The generosity of my PLN on Twitter

#Oneword2019: Joy

My #OneWord2019 is Joy. Shortlisted were also Wonder & Awe.

I chose Joy because I want more Wow moments this year. More moments when my heart pounds, my skin tingles & my eyes fill.

I want 2019 to be  a year full of joyful memories.

I want more memories that are Joyful & Joyous, fewer moments that are Joyless.

Joie De Vivre is my commitment to 2019:

  • Joy of Teaching.
  • Joy of Learning.
  • Joy of Leading.
  • Joy of Living.


So I saw the New Year in feeling the Joy of being on the beach in a beautiful part of the country.

I breathed in the fresh air and space of 2019, I exhaled all of my stresses and pains from 2018.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Celebrating a positive start to the year.
  • Ensuring that my glass remains half full.
  • Finding problems to solutions as they arise.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I am still on ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama.
  • Becoming… lighter… becoming…joyful.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • My friends and family  who I have caught up with over the break.
  • My acupuncturist who releases any tensions I have in my body.




Seat Belts On: Strapping in for the Ride

I might be an adrenaline junk and thrive under pressure, but I don’t like roller coasters. I don’t mind speed nor heights, but think it is the lack of control that freaks me out. I like speed when I am in control or I know and trust who is in control. I don’t like danger and don’t put myself in dangerous situations. I also don’t like fair rides, I had a bad experience as a teen where I hurt my neck as it was unsupported as I am so tall, which put me off going on rides.

The last week has felt like I am on a roller coaster, one that is being driven by someone else, one that could become out of control if I don’t get in the driving seat, one that has made me look for my seat belt. I have ended the week in one piece, but the warning lights have made me stop, look, listen and think.

seat belt

I have pinged from one meeting to the next, I have bounced from supporting one issue or solving one problem to the next, I have rushed from one school to the other and back again. I have apologised a lot to everyone  as I have felt like I have not done anything 100% and I have not given anyone 100%. My brain hurts from all of the thinking and problem solving.

On reflection, Week 1 of being an Executive Headteacher across two sites was calm, positive and although it was hard work and I juggled lots, the week ended well and I felt like we had achieved a lot.

By contrast, Week 2 was busy, really busy, it was exhausting as I worked silly hours, I juggled lots but dropped lots, thankfully our DHTs and my PA caught them mid-air. The number of meeting requests nearly pushed me over the edge – there is simply not enough time in my diary! The week ended messily, compounded by me leaving my keys at work and being locked out first thing when I had gone in to attack the to do list. I left on Friday feeling like I had not scratched the surface of my workload, I felt physically and emotionally zapped.

I know this is exasperated by the need to get myself and others back into a new routine and that things will settle as we move into the new term, and the new year, as the team settles and routines are embedded.

I shared the change curve with my team at the start of term. Change is tiring and we have been through a lot of it in the  last year, and moving in to our next chapter we are going through as much again. We also talked through the imminent changes at the end of last year with our students and then again at the start of term to guide and support them through the changes affecting them. Their little bubble from year 1 has well and truly been popped with the arrival of lots more staff and students.

change curve

I have seen the emotional responses to the changes reflected on the faces of staff and students all week. The braver ones have voiced it to me as the week has progressed:

“We thought year 2 would be easier…”

“You told us working in a start up school was hard and we would need to be resilient but this is really intense…” 

“We need to clone you…”

“You must be spinning…”

Teaching is hard. Leadership is full on. Start up schools are intense. Headship is extreme. Executive Headship is highly-demanding.

pulled in different directions

Friday was dinner with a friend who is a fellow Headteacher, so she gets it, we had a good catch up, dinner and wine, lots of laughter but she understood when I exited at 10pm. Saturday was lunch with the #WomenEd team to plan our calendar for 2018-19. Both topped me up and made me smile.

On reflection do I (and other teachers) socialise with my friends in education during term time because they get my lifestyle and there is empathy and no guilt, nor judgement?  Similarly, do I (we) socialise with non-teachers during holidays because I am on better form and don’t want to talk about school?

I came home on Saturday after a lovely lunch and thought a quick power nap at 3.30pm would be a good idea.  I woke up confused and dazed at 1.30am. A quick nap was not going to fix my fatigue.  A deep sleep would catch me up on myself.

Why am I sharing this? Well mid-week I reached out on twitter to see if there are other Executive Headteachers who work cross-phase who can share workload and wellbeing tips with me. Following 3 days of working 6am-9pm and having dinner from the M&S garage in the car on the way home each time,  I was looking for some advice from those who had broken the back of it.  Part of the #WomenEd philosophy is to share ‘warts and all’ to not paint a rose tinted image of our profession. I am pragmatic and know things will settle and calm but think  it is important to share each bend and dip on our journeys as leaders.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Establishing a daily and weekly routine.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • Talking to the other cross-phase EHTs via a DM group on Twitter to learn from their experience.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Our team who rock.


Pressing Pause: Reflections & Recalibrations

We broke up ten days ago for the summer and I pressed pause. I needed to breathe.

It has been a really full on founding year as a new Headteacher of a new school and I was feeling physically, mentally and emotionally zapped. More so than I have ever been before. The fatigue was compounded by the early termination of my May half-term and the stressful start to our final Summer 2 half-term due to the Daily Mail!

pause 3

When I say that our last 7 weeks were full on, it is probably an under statement! I felt like I pinged from one big school event to another across our two school sites and was on an assembly writing and delivering conveyor belt!

At Aureus School – our Year 6/7 transition days (in Didcot they do 2) had to be split as we could not accommodate all 240 for 2 days with the size of our current team; we held a successful Year 6/7 parents’ welcome; we continued to hold open events for prospective parents and carers. At each I ‘shot the elephant in the room’ and spoke directly to the headlines. We held our final Governors’ meeting of the year, we held our end of term/ end of year celebration assembly and we hosted our inaugural Sports Day. None of these events are different to other schools, but each was our first, each was planned and delivered by our small team in our huge site!

At Aureus Primary School – we had the site final completion and it was signed over to us; we continued to log our ever growing snagging list; we prepared for and passed our Ofsted pre-opening inspection; we did multiple site tours for our new parents, carers and pupils; we hosted our welcome evening.

Interviews for our operations team, which is tripling in size next year, took up a lot of our time in the summer term but we have made some brilliant appointments for roles at each school and hybrid roles across the two.

Our new staff induction day was epic – there was a moment of dawning as we welcomed 45 new staff members for the day. 45 new members of staff, for which we have not paid for a single advert! Moreover for which we have interviewed in excess of 250 candidates! I love recruitment but it does feel like a full time role some weeks!

In sharing our vision and values, in reflecting on our culture and ethos, in detailing how we would scale up, I had a moment.  I realised how far we have come as a team, and I realised how much we have achieved in Year 1. As I played Emilie Sande’s ‘Wonder’ I was taken back to our induction day last September. It honestly seems like a life time ago! Time passes so quickly in schools, I remember someone saying to me in my NQT year not to wish away each half-term to a holiday, but we all know we do this. The momentum this year has meant we have needed seat belts and crash helmets at times!!

All of these whole school events were done around the normal exam marking, data entry, report writing and Parents’ Evening cycles but for us we only have 11 teachers, including me, who all teach all 120 students, so this was also intense! No wonder we were on our knees.

So week 1 of our official summer holidays I was still spinning, my head was still busy, my To Do List for school and home was still epic. As for the state of my house, my washing/ ironing pile and my fridge, well, they were feeling neglected to say the least!

pause 5

So how did I start to recalibrate?

A staff night out with cocktails and dancing set the tone for my first weekend off. Nights out have been few and far between this year. Weekends have been about sleep and recuperation. The weather was still beautiful so I then hung out with friends who had come to visit and we chilled out on the river. The real treat came on Monday when the alarm did not go off, I still woke up like a robot at my standard 5.30am, but I rolled over and stayed in bed. This felt like the biggest treat as I  normally bounce up and out.

I have learnt over the last 15 years that for me going away on holiday straight away does not work. I need to tie up loose ends and get my environment tidied, resources organised and admin completed to go away guilt free and truly rest. So I went in to school for 3 days – I spent a day with my School Business Leader to sort our finances, a day with our Primary Deputy Headteachers to get things ready for our opening and a day with my PA to get our start of year organised.

Around our office and admin sorting our fabulous site team sorted a very long list of jobs for me so that the site will look spic and span to welcome our new staff and students in September. My Site Manager, my School Business Leader and I reminisced on a year ago when it was just the 3 of us rattling around in the massive school all by ourselves, before the staff and students started. It felt like a full cycle had been completed.

Each night I slept a bit earlier and a bit deeper, each morning I woke a little later and felt a bit more chilled. My osteopath tells me my body is like a tightly coiled spring and I felt the coil slowly begin to uncoil.

My first proper day off, not in school, was spent in London, ironically. I had a lunch date with Shirley Drummond and Jill Berry to catch up on our last 12 months, preceded by my emergency jabs and visa appointment for Mozambique as my personal ‘life-min’ was somewhat in disarray. Over a long leisurely lunch there was much laughter, lots of story telling and quite a few cocktails. A tradition we started last year when Shirley had just completed her first year and I was in my designate role. Jill and her book ‘Making the Leap’ have been a source of advice and inspiration for both of us on our journeys to headship.  #WomenEd friends and support network are invaluable in having those professional conversations that your non-teaching friends and family do not really get nor need to get. I did then go home to Devon for a long weekend and was less tired and work focused than I normally am as I had already decompressed!

As my mind began to settle I began to reflect more deeply on Year 1. A quote I keep going back to is one of my favourite by Maya Angelou about surviving v thriving. We have most definitely been in survival mode this year. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated how difficult it was going to be at times, how demanding and draining it would be. It is a cliche but it has been an emotional rollercoaster. The highs and lows have been quite extreme at times. I have felt the need to be both a rock for everyone on my team but also an emotional sponge for them. The role of emotional supporter also extends to our vulnerable students and their families  – some of who I have spent a considerable amount of time with this year too.

angelou thrive survive

As a DHT this was also my role but it has intensified as the buck now truly stops with me. I feel very responsible for our team who have made career and life choices to join us on our journey. I feel very protective of our students who topped us back up again with their lovely values thank you cards to show gratitude to all staff members on the last day. I feel the pressure from our parents/ carers who took a leap of faith on us, on me last year.

I think that is the major difference of becoming a Headteacher, I have always been heavily emotionally invested in the school and community I serve, but I feel the level of accountability more keenly. Not in a results, inspection pressure but in a people and relationships pressure. I just don’t want to let anyone down!

This year group, our founding students, are also always going to hold a special place in our hearts. The Thank You cards, messages and presents we received from students and parents/ carers were indicative of our successful year.

Taking on my first headship, changing trusts, relocating, agreeing to being Executive Headteacher in Year 2 before Year 1 was even finished, project managing two builds and founding two new schools could not have pushed me further from the minimal comfort zone I have. Not much phases me, but this change leadership is different to the turn around school improvement I am used to leading.

The magic for us has happened in our conviction in doing things a little bit differently, in our boldness in challenging the traditions of our system.

comfort zone

So I am off to Mozambique for 2 weeks with the Action Aid and Women Leading in Education team. A brilliant opportunity to totally detach from reality, to dislocate ourselves from our emails, from twitter and from thinking about work. Some time out to consider how I will move from surviving to thriving in our 2nd year.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Our trip to Mozambique with Action Aid.
  • Our opening of Aureus Primary School in September.
  • Our second year for Aureus School.
  • Our brilliant new team and the energy, ideas and expertise they will bring with them.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I read a brilliant piece yesterday about creating a good school culture which I will share with the staff in September.
  • I really enjoyed Jill Berry’s blog on do less and achieve more – encouraging us to subtract rather than add.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Surviving Year 1, relatively unscathed!
  • The resilience my parents have instilled in me as it got me through this year.


Busyness: Time v To Do List

I have not blogged for a month. That just says it all.

Life is busy. But in reality work is busy, life is quite quiet as I carve out space to look after me.  I cannot be busy all day, all night and all weekend.

My sanctuary is getting home and being still, silent. Pressing pause is a luxury.

Time is a precious thing in schools. But there never seems to be enough of it these days? It seems to evaporate between your fingers.


to do list 2

I read some interesting articles a while back about the British obsession with Time Management where as the Americans focus more on Energy Management. Energy v Time increases productivity and performance. It streamlines quality v quantity. It makes sense so why does it feel like I am getting it so wrong?

I have always prided myself on being a super-organised, super-efficient individual, but these days I do not feel very organised nor very efficient.  My PA strives to keep on track, I keep 8/10 balls in the air, but she always catches the 2 I drop.


My outlook diary is a beautiful work of art, a rainbow of commitments and priorities. Some days I look at it and take a deep breath to garner the energy and stamina to work through it all.

to do list 4

I got to the point last half-term where I had To Do Lists for my To Do Lists! My Mum brought us up with The Pad being the 5th member of our family. The Pad was the family Bible. If it wasn’t on The Pad, it wasn’t worth knowing/ doing/thinking about! My sister and I often reflect on and laugh about the work ethic, the capacity for hard work, the resilience and the level of productivity that was instilled in us as children which frames our lives as adults.

to do list 1

I  use post its – in hard format on my desk and in electronic format on my phone. I like the colour, the scribbling but also that you can bin them as you go. Instant gratification for tasks complete.

to do list 3

But recently I have given up trying to track everything I needed to do. My Dad has always said that if you cannot remember you need to do it, then it cannot be that important. I have a good memory, I do what I can, when I can. I am pragmatic about not being a super human and prioritising what is important.

Apologies to those who keep  dropping down or off of my mental to do list.   There is only so much time in the day. There is only so much energy in the reserve!

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Our brilliant new team – great to see some of our teaching team at the #charactertoolkit book launch and we have made some fab appointments this week!

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • No time to blog nor read this month – have Character Toolkit by Liz Wright and Frederika Roberts plus Compassion by Sue Webb to read next.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • My Leadership team and PA who have kept me sane the last few weeks.


Supporting Twice Exceptional Students: Closing the Gaps in Our Own Learning

Dual Exceptionality or Twice Exceptional  (2e for short) students was a learning difference, a learner’s identity, a learning label I became aware of, and interested in, when I was the G&T Lead for our school and then our MAT nearly a decade ago.

“Twice exceptional or 2e is a term used to describe students who are both intellectually gifted (as determined by an accepted standardized assessment) and learning disabled, which includes students with dyslexia”.

“Twice exceptional (or 2E students) are sometimes also referred to as double labelled, or having dual exceptionality. These are gifted students whose performance is impaired, or high potential is masked, by a specific learning disability, physical impairment, disorder, or condition. They may experience extreme difficulty in developing their giftedness into talent”.

I cannot remember receiving much training on SEND in my PGCE. My understanding of inclusion has evolved through self-directed learning and reading over the years. When I did a key note for Driver Youth Trust last year I reflected on the fact that as an English teacher: why I have never received any training on phonics?

Moreover, at the inaugural Chartered College of Teaching event last year, Professor Tanya Byron gave us a whistle stop session on Clinical Psychology – neuro development is another gap in my training as an educator and a school leader.

So this is a disclaimer  – this blog is my musings, my reflections, my processing of information to make sense of my school leadership. I am “a Jill of all trades and a mistress of none!”


My ‘Why’ for finding out more and for understanding 2e?

When I was a Middle Leader, many years ago, we had a student, Student X, who was extremely bright. He aced every subject in Key Stage 3, and was listed as Gifted across the board. Student X was a model student, if a little aloof as he found it hard to socially connect with his peers. At the end of Year 9 Student X was withdrawn by his parents to attend a private school on a scholarship.  We were meeting his needs, he was making excellent progress, but he was an aspiring musician and the school had an enrichment offer we could not compete with.  Student X achieved well at GCSE and A Level, he went on to start at Cambridge. However, the academic and social pressures became too much. I am sad to say that Student X’s mental health deteriorated and  he became a victim of male suicide. Our school community were understandably shocked when we found out the news, 5 years after he had left us at the end of KS3.


8 years later I find myself supporting a student with similar characteristics. Student Y is a highly articulate young man who is bright, but unlike Student X, behaviour of Student Y is not always of the model student.  Student Y has the capacity to be the role model we know he has the potential to be. Student Y  is a brilliant leader, when he chooses to be, but he finds that he compromises himself a lot as he has an impulsive side to his personality. Student Y was  not diagnosed by his primary school as having SEND. Student Y has had mental ill health concerns at primary and was supported by P-CAMHs. Student Y is a Shepherd, and we have discussed the responsibility he has as a natural leader, to guide his flock of followers to safety, not to danger.  I am concerned about Student Y, I am working closely with him, his Mum and his Dad. I see the confusion on his face, the stress in his hands as he tries to make sense of who he is, as he tries to process his neuro divergent thoughts. At the same time, I have Student X sat on my shoulder, reminding me what happens when the system fails you as a bright young man with complex learning needs.


I am not saying that all twice exceptional students have mental health issues, but I am making connections between the handful of students I have taught who are sat at the middle of the Venn Diagram intersections within the Reuleaux triangle, who have a complex overlap of different labels to navigate. I want to add a 3rd circle to this diagram for mental (ill) health and learn more about the intersections of each.

2e 4


So ‘What’ are the characteristics of 2e students?

  • Superior oral vocabulary
  • Advanced ideas and opinions
  • High levels of creativity and problem-solving ability
  • Extremely curious, imaginative, and questioning
  • Discrepant verbal and performance skills
  • Clear peaks and valleys in cognitive test profile
  • Wide range of interests not related to school
  • Specific talent or consuming interest area
  • Sophisticated sense of humor



And ‘how’ do we identify, instruct, differentiate for and nurture 2e students? 

Below I have shared 4 articles that Vargini shared with me from the Imperial College 2e in STEM research project. I have lifted the key message that resonated with me from each:

Identifying 2e Students

  1. Students first identified as gifted who later show indicators of a specific disability area.
  2. Students identified as having a specific learning disability and who also show  outstanding talent in one or more areas.
  3. Students who may appear average or underachieving because the disability area masks any manifestation of giftedness.

Instructing 2e students

“Students who have both gifts and learning disabilities require a “dually differentiated program”: one that nurtures gifts and talents while providing appropriate instruction, accommodations, and other services for treating learning weaknesses. Unfortunately, research- based, well-defined, and prescribed practices for the 2e student with dyslexia are hard to find, and current practices vary widely.

Instruction for 2e students should be designed to develop higher-level cognitive functioning, or for their challenges–to develop basic skills (e.g. handwriting, reading, spelling, written expression, math computation). Otherwise, these students may be labeled average students or underachievers who simply need “to try harder.”

Supporting 2e Students

“Twice exceptional children don’t fully fit into either the traditional special needs or traditional gifted categories, so schools and teachers often do not know what to do with them, even assuming the child has been identified. This puts them at high risk of slipping between the cracks, and, purely due to poor fit, being unintentionally excluded from the school system”.

Nurturing 2e Students

“Even with a strong program which provides for both exceptionalities, these students will still encounter negative emotions and setbacks. They need an active support system to access during these times, to talk openly about their feelings, and to problem solve about getting beyond the emotions in a given situation. This support can take place in informal discussions with teachers, parents, or peers; or it may demand more formal situations such as individual counseling for mild issues and, perhaps, therapy for deeper or high impact issues”.

I am also going to add this article link from Dr Adam Boddison CEO NASEN:

Flashes of Brilliance

“It is not always easy to identify children with DME because their abilities can mask their needs just as their needs mask their abilities, so they can appear to be ‘average with flashes of brilliance’. In many classrooms these children may appear to be an average child, but the reality is that their needs are not being met and their potential is not being realised”.

Plus a Youtube link to Dr Stephen Hawkins talking about DME here.

My reading around neurodiversity is clearly in its infancy. I will be working with our Inclusion Leader Amjad, our More Able lead Bennie, our Mental Health lead Julie and the student/ his parents this term. We will work in partnership to support the learning needs of Student Y to ensure that he gets the assessments and interventions that he needs to support his neurodivergent thinking. Hopefully a coordinated approach by all of us will ensure that both the disability and the ability are addressed, whilst supporting his mental health.


Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Understanding more about how to support our students
  • The research that Imperial College are doing around 2e students in STEM subjects

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Vargini Ledchumykanthan  – thank you so much for your help via twitter and email for the links on the reading and research into 2e students

Global Mindset, Global Community: Global Citizenship

To celebrate #IWD18 and to help our Year 7 students understand why we need to #pressforprogress,  we held a Global Citizenship Day this week to develop awareness and deepen understanding of our values of Diversity and Equality.

Being an outward-facing school we have been overwhelmed by the number of invitations we have received to connect and collaborate with so many brilliant organisations who can bring value to our school community and who can help us give our Year 7 students a global perspective to contrast their life experience in Didcot, Oxfordshire.

The UN Global Goals for sustainable development inform our weekly Global Citizenship programme of activity that Julie Hunter our DHT curates superbly. At Aureus we do not do PSHE days, SMSC audits, Citizenship lessons – we have one integrated programme that integrates all of this key learning into one cohesive and coherent delivery.


why should i care

We used this day as an opportunity to develop some partnerships through a carousel of thought-provoking workshops. It was a fantastic opportunity to expose our students to external voices and experiences whilst exploring the rights of girls. Our values of respect and responsibility  were developed as our students’ understanding grew.


Serdar the founder of LyftaEd flew in from Finland to work with Amjad our AHT on a series of immersive storytelling workshops using the virtual technology platform his team have built. As an English and Media Studies teacher, as someone who travels a lot this resource is brilliant in exploring identity and representation. In the 15 minutes I was in the room we were in a Finnish family’s kitchen meeting a female weight lifter and we met a male ballerina in the Czech Republic in an opera house. The power of technology to transport our young people to places around the globe to create human connections and understanding of ourselves as global citizens is remarkable.

You can find out more about this brilliant platform here.

Oxfordshire Museums

Kelly Smith who works at Pitts Museum, initiate a project with us and a local artist to explore the history of Didcot and how this frames our identity as a school. Her colleague Sue Wright joined us to work with Lorna, a local artist and Laura our Art Lead Practitioner Designate. Using The Didcot Mirror as inspiration, each student has designed a piece to contribute to our art installation for our official opening ceremony in a few weeks’ time. Linking our Roman history with our future as a values-led school through our identity will create a sense of belonging for our students. The art installation entitled ‘Light up our Lives’ will hang above our heads in our weekly assembly.

Pictures to follow when it is installed next week!

Youth For Change 

Shamil and the team from Youth For Change delivered an interactive session on gender equality. The students were very informed about the cultural stereotypes for boys and girls, the social constructs they are defined and confined by. This was a segway to the rights of girls/ women and the challenges they face through the cultural practices of  FGM, ECM and HBV.

You can find out more about their #traintoprotect outreach here.


Amelia is a force to be reckoned with. Delivering brilliant SRE sessions she used play dough as a resource to start a dialogue about sex education. With the prevalence of the #MeToo campaign the dialogue around consent and behaviours/ attitudes to sex and relationships is of vital importance to our students.

Find out more here.

I was really very proud of our students on our inaugural Global Citizenship Day – the feedback we received from our visitors on their sense of self, their understanding  of how they belong, their desire to be changemakers in their community/ our world and their articulation of their values was very touching. Through our VBE frame we focus on the ethical vocabulary that our children have and how they communicate their thoughts and feelings.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The opportunity to shape global citizens who understand their identity, who have a sense of belonging, and who will contribute positively to the world.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I am prepping Aureus for the VBE schools accreditation process whilst Julie Hunter our DHT is prepping us for our Rights Respecting School accreditation process. External validation of the work we are doing through our values-based education will help us to educate our prospective parents and carers about our work.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • The teams at LyftaEd, Oxford Museums, Sexplain and Youth for Change who made this day possible for our staff and our students.

The Stranger on the Bridge: Male Mental Health

On Friday we held our 2nd Mental Health Awareness conference for Vulnerable Learners. We are leading the regional grant from the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust to raise awareness of how schools can support our students through their STELLA Project.

Event 1 was a full day conference for 150 people in November with Dick Moore as our Keynote Speaker sharing his journey as a father of a boy who committed suicide. His story of ‘Dancing or Drowning in the Rain’ is rousing. I blogged about it here.

dick moore

Event 2 was a half-day conference for 75 in March for the teachers, leaders, professionals and organisations to come back together, to connect their ideas and experiences to forge collaborations. Our Keynote Speakers were Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn.


Event 3 is in June and is a #MHWBTeachmeet, we have Natasha Devon as our Keynote Speaker and you can book to join us here.

In between these training days we hold a half-termly MH & WB network meet up to develop working relationships and share resources / best practice across our partnerships. Our next opportunity is on April 23rd and you can book to attend here. To find our more please connect with Lucinda Powell is co-leading the network with me.

We are also using some of the funding to run a Bridging Project pilot supporting Year 6 students through the anxiety of SATs and transitioning to secondary school by training 2 adults in each school to use mindfulness techniques and yoga to help them manage their emotions and reduce stress. More to follow on this one!

For those of you who do not know Jonny’s story, this was the second time I had heard him share it but the first time I had met Neil and heard his story that intertwines.  Jonny shares his journey from despair to hope and recovery. A mental diagnosis at primary when he started hearing voices in his head, a personality disorder diagnosis in his teens, exasperated by  his religion (brought up a Jew) and his sexuality Jonny has struggled with mental ill health for most of his life.

He sets the scenes and takes us to the point when he went to a bridge in London and prepared to commit suicide.

jonny 1

Enter Neil, not Mike. A commuter on his morning route to work. Their story is the power of human connectivity. Two  strangers on a bridge who in a sliding doors moment may not have crossed paths. A commuter who stopped to help a man in distress. Neil reached out to a stranger in an altruistic act of kindness. He saw him. He emotionally reached out to him by starting a conversation. He held the space for him to feel safe. To feel like there was a reason to live.

Jonny didn’t jump. The police arrived (how he was treated by them is another story). Neil went to work and continued on with his life. A parallel life to Jonny who was on a journey of recovery. A random act of kindness that saved a man’s life.


The story could have ended there but it didn’t on this occasion. Jonny’s profile in raising awareness about  mental ill health led to a documentary being made and a hunt to #FindMike (he had forgotten Neil’s name!) A viral campaign started and Neil’s girlfriend saw the media call for the Stranger on the Bridge to come forward.

The really sad and scary part of this story. At least 35 men came forward to say that they had also stopped someone from taking their live on a bridge in London on that same date. 35 strangers intervening to prevent the loss of life. 35 humans in crisis, so desperate that suicide was the only option for them.

JONNY 4 Jonny and Neil were reunited and a bromance began. The two of them have a fantastic friendship and have travelled the world sharing their story to help others. The story filled us all with hope. Hope in the human spirit.

It left me reflecting on so many aspects of my life, my family and our school community.  A local secondary school has lost 4 students to suicide in the last few years. I interviewed for a headship where 3 young people had taken their lives in a short period of time. One of the most gifted students I taught in South London, took his life in his undergraduate year. My aunt has tried to overdose on a few occasions.

Human beings are in crisis everywhere around us – relationships and communication are at the forefront of the solution to the problem we see ourselves faced with.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Random Acts of Kindness.
  • The power of human connectivity.

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for: 

  • Charlie Waller Memorial Trust for funding the MH conference and MHWB network via the STELLA project.
  • Jonny and Neil for joining us to share their journey.
  • Lucinda for volunteering so much of her time to help the regional MH & WB network grow.
  • All of the contributors, the speakers/ exhibitors who all shared their time, experience and expertise for free.
  • My brilliant PA Zoe who helps me keep lots of balls in the air, each and every day!


Values-led Leadership: Moving from Surviving to Thriving

It has been a busy week! I have been to 4 edu-events this week: Ambition School Leadership graduation/ celebration for Teaching Leaders; DFE Diversity and Equalities Roundtable; Diverse Leaders ‘Seizing Opportunities’ day and #SRock18. Each event has connected me with fabulous new educators, made me think and deepened my vision and values for education. I am knackered from the travelling but it has been a great week so I am still buzzing!

On Tuesday night I keynoted for a cohort of Middle Leaders on my values-led leadership journey. On Saturday I ran a workshop at #SRocks18 for a group of educators on the same theme and expanded the experiences I shared by building in reflection and discussion points on how to be a values-led educator.

These are the tips I shared at the end of the session – the things I wish I had known earlier in my career, the insights I have gained through my tumultuous leadership journey over the last few years:Slide29

I opened my session by asking the room of educators who were voluntarily at a grassroots event on a Saturday, to consider where on the continuum of surviving to thriving they currently were.

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I shared my experience of hitting the wall a few years ago. Having a panic attack in my office at work one day. Realising that something needed to change. I felt a shift in the room, the relief at acknowledging we all go through this at some point in our career, we all feel overwhelmed, we question whether we have the resilience and the tenacity to continue. I gave them some hope, that you do come through it, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You just need to find the strength to make the change, and to weather the storm.

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I shared my experience of losing myself in my role. Of losing sight of Hannah the person, who had become soley Hannah the educator. I reflected on how I had become a chess piece on someone else’s chess set and how much this frustrated me. I shared how I had recalibrated, realigned, reframed through coaching and encouraged everyone to go and find a  coach and to share the free DFE coaching pledge for women leading in education with their colleagues.

The coaching model I have personally got the most from is the Graydin approach of coaching the person, not the problem, and starting with the heart not the head. The Heart, Head, Step model is a 3-part strategy to finding solutions.

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We moved on to reflecting on our Why for being an educator and used the Simon Sinek ‘Golden Circle’ model to consider our core values. I challenged them to consider if their core values were present in their current schools. I saw shoulders slump and heard a ripple of sighs around the room. I encouraged them to drill down to their non-negotiables as a frame for the culture and ethos they need to be able to thrive.  I saw a penny drop. For those seeking new roles and new contexts I suggested that this should be fundamental to how candidates select whether a school is the right ethos for them or not. I challenged them to prioritise that over the status and salary to find the right fit.

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I looped back to my journey and how my values had not been my beacon to guide me through a storm a few years ago because I had never really considered them before. Coaching has subsequently helped me to make sense of my why, to be able to articulate my values and to reflect on why I was frustrated. This epiphany helped me to get myself back on course and heading in the right direction. I paid homage to the strength I had drawn from the #womened community. With so many educators feeling disempowered, disenfranchised, it is the sense of community that our network has created that truly nourishes the soul.

I reminded them that our values are our moral compass, our vision is our beacon steering us through a storm. Our mission as educators is to survive the storm and make the journey. As Dr Jill Berry has spoken about on several occasions at our #womened events: “Rough seas make the best sailors…. Ships were not built to stay in the harbour”. As an English teacher I love this extended metaphor.

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Having survived the rough seas and refined my craft as  a sailor / as an educational leader, I moved on to discuss how I had researched and selected the culture and ethos I needed for my next move to move from surviving to thriving. I encouraged everyone to remember that in a profession that is under-recruiting and under-retaining, that there are more jobs than educators, so therefore the power is with those applying and being interviewed. We need to hold on to this power and get what we need from a new role.

I recruited my whole team through sharing my vision and values. I have blogged previously about how I designed a values-led application process. Skills and experience are important, but I wanted to get the right people on the bus. I needed to recruit a team of Ambassadors for the values we wanted to embody in our new school.

Moreover, in a time when everyone is talking about values and plastering them on their marketing/ painting them on their walls, we need to be careful interrogate how the values are being lived. Mary Myatt (in Hopeful Schools) talks about “values lived not laminated” and James Kerr (in Legacy) talks about “living your values out loud”. These 2 phrases resonate with me.

The values in our school are palpable. You can cut through the stick of Aureus rock anywhere in our community and you will experience a consistency in our shared vision and values.

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We have  invested a lot of time, energy and focus in scoping and embedding our values. Our values have been co-created, we all own them and drive them. Our children have an ethical vocabulary, our staff have a shared language.  Sue Webb, from VBE, led our values scoping day, I had to reconcile that not all of my values would resonate with my whole team, but my 3 non-negotiables: Diversity, Equality and Wellbeing would be integral to our vision and culture. Pen Mendonca captured our values scoping today and created the metaphor of our values being our DNA at our STEAM school.

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In the final few minutes of our 45 minute session (I could have spent a whole day on this topic!) I shared what we had agreed to do and more importantly not to do at Aureus. We made some bold decisions early on about some fundamentals that underpin our culture and ethos. We have a very strong sense of who we are as a school and what we will and won’t do. With a shared vision, shared values and shared language, it makes strategic decision making easier.

Our school is wholeheartedly child-centred, we are committed to nurturing hearts and minds. We educate the whole child, holistically. We do not shy away from the Fierce Conversations. Our homily embodies everything that we are and I am excited to see my Drama Club deliver it in my ‘Love Without Labels’ assembly this week to introduce our new value of Love for February, and frame the LGBT+ month of activities.  They have learnt it off my heart and have created an action for each of our 12 values so that all of our students can visually see  what each value means to them.

So that was my whistle stop distillation of my learning from 2 years, captured in a 15 min keynote and a 45 min workshop. I hope that what I shared resonated with those who attended both events. Keeps those flames burning and remember, if you have hit the wall and find yourself barely surviving, change your school not your profession. Too many educators are leaving the system rather than trying a different context. Just be careful to select the culture and ethos that you need to ensure the conditions for your own personal and professional growth are present.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The pilot cohort of the Ambition School Leadership women-only NPQH in collaboration with Leading Women’s Alliance and #WomenEd has just been confirmed. 30 delegates have been offered a place on this bespoke pathway. We are excited to be supporting their progression.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I have a stack of books by my bed to take away with me over half-term to read on the beach.
  • I am currently thinking about the LP accreditation that launched this week – I will be focusing on oracy and developing public speaking skills in our students  – any linked to reading or research in this area would be gratefully received.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Kristian Still, David Rogers and the team at One School, Hindhead, for organising #SROCKS18 and being brilliant hosts.
  • Ambition School Leadership for inviting me to speak to their Teaching Leaders cohort end of programme celebration.
  • Anna Cole for initiating the Diversity and Equalities roundtable at the DFE this week.
  • The Diverse Leaders Programme, co-led by my former colleagues Amy Anderson and Natasha Evans, 2nd cohort of #womened and #bameed participants who I met on Friday.