British Secondary Vocational Settings, in Pictures (mostly)

I’ve been organizing the photos I took of school settings for 16 – 18 year-olds across England last year. I thought they might be interesting for some who have recently asked me about the differences in vocational education here in the U.S. when compared to England.

Students in most European and Asian countries have a choice to leave the academic high school setting at around the age of 16 and attend vocational or technical schools full-time, or take on paid apprenticeships or other work-based training.

The college pictured below had a huge Art, Fashion, & Design program with large workrooms for learning textile design, costume design, garment construction, and fashion.

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Hair and Beauty schools were popular, and well-equipped, throughout many colleges I visited, although many young people chose an apprenticeship route to gain their qualifications in Hair and Beauty as well.

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The setting shown below had an equine studies program:


The large, rural campus also offered training in Animal Care, that could prepare a student for the field of Veterinary Medicine, among other qualifications. It also offered qualifications in Horticulture and Countryside Management. I could imagine many of the students I serve choosing this type of program.


Below, I visited a much smaller vocational setting, but its Automotive program was sponsored by Snap-On Tools, so that students could work toward passing tests to become certified to use specific Snap-On equipment.


The garage was a working business as well, and was offering a special on winterizing vehicles on the day I visited.


Students were required to keep detailed records of vehicle service.IMG_0415

Snap-On provided an array of high-tech diagnostic and repair equipment to the college.


Instructors were industry-certified, with experience in the field.IMG_0423

The college below offered a Building Trades program, with a large workshop for learning plumbing and electrical skills.

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What Does a Vocational High School Pathway Look Like?

magazine article

My first published article, entitled “Rethinking High School Pathways.” just came out in Educational Leadership magazine this week. There is a digital edition, but only the first two paragraphs are available without a subscription. I’ve signed a copyright agreement, so can’t reproduce the article here, but have some concerns that the first two paragraphs, which you can read here, might be misleading to those who know me and my students.

mag cover

I think it’s important to note that in the third paragraph, which you can’t read, I write that I’ve never met a student without aspirations. My students are motivated – just not necessarily motivated to achieve the goals we set for them in school.  I also write about the vocational pathways I saw in England last year, as well as those I briefly visited in Finland and Germany, and the ones I learned about from my fellow Fulbright teachers around the world. In many of those countries, young people pursue technical and vocational pathways in school-based and work-based programs that center around the students’ career interests.  My overall point in the article is that the pathways we offer in US public schools are too limited, and that many of my students would be motivated to excel in school if they were offered clear pathways and guidance into careers they are interested in pursuing. I’ve written my thoughts on this issue here before.

Many educators in the US  believe that we already provide technical and vocational pathways in our high schools, and point to Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs where students take coursework and may even earn limited vocational certifications while still in high school. I think these programs are a great start, but fall far short of the definition of a pathway that students are able to follow to a future career. So how can you tell the difference between a program that offers vocational electives for career exploration vs. a true vocational or technical pathway? Most importantly, how do you identify one that leads to post-secondary training that earns qualifications and offers a chance at an upward trajectory within a career?

We can begin by asking whether the program…

  • provides prerequisite coursework, required or accepted by post-secondary training programs, for entry into degree-earning or certification training programs.
  • allows students to earn industry recognized certifications or qualifications while still in high school.
  • provides opportunities for, or leads toward, dual credits in both high school and technical/vocational school.
  • offers work-based learning leading directly to a Registered Apprenticeship training route.
  • provides comprehensive information about, and a direct, guided route into future, post-secondary coursework that continues from the high school level into career certifications or degrees.

If the course cannot offer at least one of these opportunities at a meaningful level, it represents a simple elective high school credit, and is an example of the typical US vocational education, which the OECD, in the report “Learning for Jobs”, characterizes, in contrast with international vocational education, as career exploration. From the OECD report, for example:

“At the opposite extreme to Austria, in the United States, although many high school students pursue some vocational programmes, they are very often modest programmes designed to explore career options, and occupational specialisation tends only to take place in postsecondary programmes (if then).”

Career exploration is necessary, and fine for middle school and early high school students, but upper secondary students who are not interested in pursuing a 4 year university pathway need real and viable vocational pathways. We have many international models to follow – from England to Singapore to Germany, and more. “College and Career Readiness” that offers only a generic diploma is no longer enough to meet the needs of today’s graduates.


Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2010). Learning for jobs: Synthesis report of the OECD reviews of vocational education and training. Paris: OECD.

The Human Library: Lessons in Compassion

This is a fascinating post from a fellow Fulbright teacher’s blog. I am intrigued by the “Human Library” concept – how would that go over in the US? I am also reflecting on the ex-prisoner’s experiences in relation to the recent thoughts I have been having about my students involved in the juvenile justice system here at home.

mikä estää?

When I imagined my time in Finland, I could have never guessed that one of the most memorable and thought provoking conversations that I would have would be with a former convict during lunch at Myllypuron middle school just outside of Helsinki in Vantaa.

I was invited by a fellow Fulbright teacher from Finland to observe the school’s “Human Library” day for 9th grade students. The concept of the Human Library originated in Denmark in 2000 at the annual Roskilde music festival. Young people had been active in a group called “Stop the Violence” and expanded the theme at the festival. Rock festivals are microcosms of society in many ways. There are people coming together from a variety of backgrounds that may not normally interact in other parts of society. At the festival they had 75 “human books” available, each book representing that individual’s experiences. It is reported that…

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The End, or a New Beginning?

The notebooks
Whether I blog or not, the notebooks continue to fill…

I started this blog about ten months ago to document my thoughts and discoveries along my Fulbright journey. Now that the journey is over, I’m reflecting on what I’ve gained from the blogging experience, and wondering if it is worth continuing now that I have gone back to my busy life of teaching and farming and homeschooling (though that last journey may be almost over, too.)

I’m sure I will continue to read blogs, because I’ve found so many book recommendations, resources, and links to new research findings through the ones I’ve been reading this year. I’m also sure I’ll read fewer British education blogs, though, because I now feel that I could happily live the rest of my life without ever again reading the word ‘Ofsted’- the name of the dreaded English government agency that inspects schools and grades teacher lessons and, apparently, simply cannot blogged about enough. I recognize that the pugnaciousness of bloggers led to to changes in the way Ofsted grades teacher lessons, and have a made a mental note of their strategies to affect change, but my world is too removed from theirs to muster up much enthusiasm for the fight.

I will keep following some British blogs, like Diary of a Not So Ordinary Boy and Milk with Two because they offer perspectives about teaching and learning that transcend the ever-shifting political world of education in England. I’m excited to keep following the blogs of fellow Fulbright Distinguished Award teachers as they journey to other countries, like Mikä Estää in Finland and iSPED 2 Singapore.  I also like blogs that help me keep up-to-date on educational research findings, like Larry Cuban in School Reform and Practice and From Experience to Meaning. I would like to follow more international education blogs, especially those addressing secondary special education, if anyone has suggestions.

I spent several hours over the weekend picking through blogs to see which still apply to my interests, and will help me in my ongoing journey to improve both my personal teaching and my advocacy for quality education in my community. I’m not finding as many as I had hoped, so I’m asking for suggestions, and maybe some of the answers will be helpful to others out there, too.

I’m on the lookout for American teacher blogs that will:

  • connect with my interests in special education, rural education, and lifelong learning
  • connect with American and Tennessee teachers to discuss ways to take charge of our educational reform from a grassroots level
  • empower and promote teachers as agents-of-change within our systems
  • inspire and support each other through sharing resources, books, and research findings

Whether I blog or not, I continue to write. I have several pieces about inclusive education, blended learning, and teachers-as-reformers, in addition to more observations of the schools I visited in England, Finland and Germany rolling around in my head and in my crazy notebooks of ideas. Writing is something of a compulsion for me – it helps me process my thoughts.

In favor of blogging, I think that I do my research and consider my opinions more thoroughly when I know that I’m going to publish. In that way, it helps me become more confident that I am working toward efforts that I truly believe in. But there are drawbacks as well.  Obviously, it consumes my time. but more than that, it exposes my self-doubts. Both teaching and writing are part of an ongoing journey of learning and self-improvement for me. When I read other teacher blogs, I enjoy those that are using the medium to flesh out ideas and improve their thought processes. But I have seen how they open themselves to the meanness that is rampant on the internet. That fear looms over me when I think of posting, and I censor my thoughts too closely. So, if I continue blogging, it will only be that I have decided to let go of my fear of other’s judgments and experiment more on the edges of new ideas or tentatively held opinions, with the objective of getting more feedback from my readers.

And I would definitely continue blogging if some of my fellow teachers and parents in Tennessee would join me in a mutual blogging community where we could share ideas and take the lead on education reform in our schools. We don’t have to agree. In fact, I like to debate ideas and listen to people who think differently from me. I do want to share with people who have some manners, though, so we ought to agree to show respect in our comments and conversations. I encourage disagreement and questioning in my comments section, but ask that you use the same rules of civilized conversation you would use in face-to-face debate. I also ask that you include your criticisms either in my comments or on your blog with a link to me, so that I can respond. I promise to follow the same guidelines with you. Anybody in?

3 Things I’ve Learned from British Secondary Education

I’ve just realized it is almost February, my last month of school visits and interviews in secondary schools here in England, so it’s time for me to reflect on the big lessons I have learned. I’ve seen plenty of trends in British education that I hope the US never tries to follow – and I may write about some of those soon – but there are at least a few ideas that I hope I can take back with me to my classroom in Tennessee and share with others in the US to make a difference in the way we serve our older high school students.

1. Teenagers are young people – not kids: No matter who I am listening to here in England, be it a Member of Parliament in a speech, a professor in a lecture, a teacher in one of my interviews, or a stranger I talk with casually on the bus, I never hear the word “child” or “kid” used to refer to someone over the age of sixteen. This is more than the difference between calling the snack in my bag “crisps” instead of “chips”. It’s an indicator of a different attitude toward teens. The British recognize the very obvious change in development that occurs after puberty, marking a person’s transition from child to young adult. How have we missed this at home?

It’s not just that we call our high school students “kids.” It’s that schools in the US are expected to know where every student is at every moment, and are charged with babysitting as seriously as teaching. Students are watched over so closely they are never able to make mistakes. They are told where to be and what to do for every minute of the school day, and beyond. Even the best behaved and hardest working students approach each school day with anxiety that they will make some inadvertent gaff that will lead to rebuke or punishment. This establishes a climate of fear and mistrust that interferes with learning.

My sixteen year-old daughter marvelled at the difference when we arrived. Her schedule includes free periods where she can go to the “common room”, a place where 16 – 19 year olds can relax and call their own. She can sign out when she has a free period and go into town for lunch, or go home if she is finished for the day. If a teacher is out of school due to illness or a meeting, no substitute teacher is brought in to babysit the young adults unless the absence will be an extended one. Instead, class is cancelled and assignments are posted on the website or left with another teacher for students to pick up.

This is as true in my daughter’s sixth form science specialist school as it is in vocational education schools and in special programs for high-need students. Sure, teachers and administrators complain that students don’t always do the work that is left and don’t use their free time wisely, but students are given the opportunity to fail, so that they can learn the consequences at an early age, when there are still teachers and parents to guide them to learn from those mistakes.

The flip side of the opportunity to fail is the opportunity to flourish. I am thrilled to see how often my daughter uses her free periods to study with friends in the library or meet to work on projects, and despite general public opinion that vocational students are aimless slackers, I see lots of students in vocational settings working independently on projects every time I visit.

2. The classroom isn’t the best learning setting for every young person: This is another of those statements that I have heard and read over and over here in England, but rarely remember hearing in the US, especially from policy makers.

Some students learn better in a practical work setting, like an apprenticeship or a job. The UK government is raising the age of compulsory education to 18, but students can meet this requirement through a job with training, an apprenticeship, or vocational training with an emphasis on work-based learning. And learning in practical settings doesn’t just apply to students with lower-level abilities or those pursuing semi-skilled work. Many educators and policy makers argue that practical vocations like engineering, healthcare, and business can be taught more effectively in applied settings.

The US one-size-fits-all education isn’t working for many students. In a nation of people who value individualism the way that we do, we should be able to see the benefits of diverse pathways of learning. We have no idea what the world will be like for the next generation, so we need people who can think and work in many different ways.  If we all have a common education, where will we find innovation?

3.  Career guidance matters: I think most English educators would be shocked to hear that their career guidance is an inspiration to me. There is a general uproar about the sorry state of career guidance here in the UK. Funding for guidance agencies has been cut in recent years and it is now the schools’ job to provide impartial career advice, which many feel unprepared and underfunded to do. But all the settings I’ve visited take this issue very seriously and either contract services to a Information and Guidance (IAG) Agency or hire their own specialist in the area.

School administrators readily talk about their responsibility to guide students into meaningful careers, and many are knowledgeable about students’ potential career pathways at a level educators don’t touch in the US. One school that I visit has three full career days a year, with career guidance activities tailored for each year group.  On top of that, students in the critical decision-making years attend community career fairs and have one-to-one career guidance meetings with IAG specialists. The staff of this same school spent part of a recent professional development day brainstorming all their personal friends and relatives in different local jobs, so that they could compile a list of potential community mentors to connect with students who have expressed interest in a one of those vocational areas.

In my UK interviews, students are able to talk about career paths and options far beyond the level of any of the students I have ever taught in the US. When I first arrived, I had so much trouble getting a basic handle on the complicated and ever-changing array of services and qualifications here in the UK that I thought the first few students who explained the system to me must be some kind of education policy savants. Try asking an American senior why they are enrolled in the courses on their schedule and into what types of jobs these courses will lead.

But after all, they are just kids – so who can blame them if they don’t know where they are headed.

You Chose to Be Here

School choice is a politically charged idea in America because it has been promoted by right-wing groups with an agenda to maintain, or even increase, the already disturbing disparity in education quality between the rich and the poor in our country. But as I have travelled around England, cataloging the array of options available to students 16 and older, I am realizing that there is more to this issue. I feel like it’s time for those of us who really care about providing a great future for all students to reframe the idea of school choice, especially for high school students.

British students choose their path at about age 16, whether it is toward a traditional academic setting, a vocational college, or a job-based placement. And this concept of choice, especially in relation to student behavior in school, keeps working its way into the conversations I have been having with British school administrators. Some have been casual conversations, like the one I had on a recent train ride to London with a high school head teacher (American translation: principal) who just happened to sit across the table from me and strike up a conversation. Others have been during my more official interviews through my Fulbright project. Without my ever asking about it, most conversations eventually work their way into a discussion of student behavior. I suppose it would be the same if I were to talk with American educators. And I suspect the conversation would have been the same if I had been traveling 50, or even 100, years ago. Young people just don’t always act the way we want them to. Go figure.

During my train conversation, one of the head teacher’s first questions when he found out I taught in an American high school was whether we had a police officer stationed in the school where I teach. I told him that we have at least two full time, every day, and there are some days when we have up to four. And that is in a close-knit, rural community with a high school of about 1800 kids. He shook his head in disbelief, and wanted to know what the police do.  I told him that they sometimes educate students about complying with laws and try to establish relationships with students, but mainly they do what police do – they enforce the law when it is broken on school grounds. He said that he thought he would have a hard time retaining students in that kind of climate. They would choose a different setting or just leave school as soon as they could. I had to explain that, in our rural school, there are no other settings to choose from, and students are required to stay there until the age of 18. After some thought, he agreed that maybe police officers would be needed in my situation.

I had another conversation about behavior with the high school leader of an academy (American translation: vice-principal – in a type of school that is often described to me as being like an American charter school) after I had been observing classrooms in his school all day. Whenever I am observing schools for my Fulbright project, I ask to see classrooms that serve students who struggle with academics, have special education needs, or are at-risk for not completing school with the qualifications they need, because this group of students is the focus of my project. When I finished observing, the high school leader asked me right off what I thought of the students’ behavior. I answered that the they had been, for the most part, engaged in the classroom tasks and attentive to the teacher. He then directly asked me whether I thought the students in his school behaved better than students in the US school where I teach. I responded that there is a lot variability in any school from day to day and class to class but that yes, his students were generally better behaved than in most classrooms of their type in my school. He said he thought his teachers would be surprised to hear that.

I asked him how many fights he usually had to break up in a year, and how often they caught students selling drugs at school. He replied that the kids who might do that kind of thing don’t usually go to his school. I asked what he would do if he had a student who persistently refused to participate and caused disruptions. He said that he can usually talk to a student and remind them, “You chose to be here.” Hmmm, that’s just it, isn’t it?

And then yesterday, I heard almost those same words from the director of a program within a further education college designed for students who are exactly the kind of kids who don’t go to the academy described in the paragraph above. The students in this program are recruited back into education after dropping out, are given the option to transfer in when they are at high risk for dropping out, or come from Pupil Referral Units when they have been excluded from a previous school because of persistent behavioral problems.  The director said most of the students who come to her program learn to treat the staff and fellow students, as well as the building, with respect. She said that she often has to be strict with them, and if they act out, she will tell them. “You don’t have to be here. You came here because you have chosen to be here.”

So even in a setting that most of us would see as a last resort for students who haven’t been successful anywhere else in the educational system, the issue of choosing one’s own path is seen by those working directly in schools every day as critical to maintaining order, and to motivating students to “buy-in” to the program goals.

I am going to explore the effects of school choice, both good and bad, in future blogs. There is research evidence, like this, for example, that shows that giving students more choice can improve behavior. Beyond the research, though, two ideas I am finding interesting are: first, the primacy of the issue of student behavior to the people working directly in schools, and second, how integrally connected the ideas of school choice and student behavior are in the talks I am having with British school administrators.

Thinking Like a NUT

My friend Casey Daugherty took this picture at a rally in Sheffield. Read her experience at “Casey’s Journey2Learn”

The National Union for Teachers (yes, the NUT) and the National Association of Schoolteachers/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) held a one day strike in Leeds and many other areas of the UK on Tuesday of this week. They were protesting new changes in work requirements, pay scales, and pensions. My daughter’s school and my main Fulbright project partner school were among the many schools that shut down because most of the teaching staff honored the strike.

The strike got me thinking. Teachers in my state of Tennessee have  never, to my knowledge, had the legal right to strike and have even recently lost the right to collective bargaining. Instead of a union, we have the Tennessee Education Association, a professional organization that advocates for our needs. I remember one of my university professors explaining to me that unions are more appropriate for skilled workers while professional organizations promote respect for teaching as a profession. The problem with this rationale is that most other professionals can either individually bargain for pay raises and benefits or are able to set their own rates of pay directly with their clients. My pay is determined by a set schedule that I have no power to change.

And it feels to me that the level of respect for teaching in Tennessee and across the US has declined in the 20 or so years that I have been teaching. The UK may have its Education Secretary Michael Gove, but we have Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman. Huffman has scrapped teacher pay scales that give incentives for experience and additional education based on studies that have shown that teachers do not improve after five years of experience. He refers to studies that show limited value-added results on the very standardized tests that he has dropped because the standards are both ridiculously low and include irrelevant content. Never mind that only 35% of Tennessee teachers teach in an area even measured by these tests. Has he ever thought that while, yes, anyone can learn to teach to the test in five years, it takes about that long to gain the courage to realize the standards you are teaching are garbage and that you should teach real, meaningful content instead? That sort of teaching is much harder to measure.

During the strike in Leeds, I was impressed by the high level of parent and community support expressed in interviews in the news and through my own personal conversations. I think that may be due, in part,to the general unpopularity of Michael Gove. One outcome I have noticed in the trend toward unqualified politicians taking the lead in forcing educational change is a bonding between teachers, parents, and the community against a common adversary. Take, for example, the Facebook campaign to oust Kevin Huffman.

Here’s some nutty thinking -If we are to attract bright, qualified educators, we have to offer competitive pay, a decent working environment, and some level of respect for the profession of teaching. Money may not be the main reason teachers are attracted to the profession, but we cannot retain teachers who are unable to support their families on a teacher’s salary. And we cannot attract new teachers if our politicians continue to publicly malign our profession. Many of the teachers I know cite distrust and disrespect as the factors that have either caused them to leave teaching or to consider leaving.

So I’m thinking the NUT has it right. Teachers must take action to improve pay and working conditions for our field if we are ever to improve education. We must step up and be the agents of improvement in our systems of education. We must take control of the conversation because if we do not, unqualified politicians will force changes based on faulty data. They will continue to cling to the straw man argument that they must force change because educators want to preserve the status quo. I have never spoken with a teacher, parent or school administrator who did not want to improve the quality of education. So it’s time for us to step up and use our experience to guide education to a better place.

Reflections of a New Mum

A mum and her kids

I’m not new to parenting. In fact, Hank and Anna just celebrated their 18th and 16th birthdays. I’ve been “Mama”, “Mother” and “Mom” for a long time now, but I’m only three weeks into this new adventure as a mum… as in, “Is that your mum, luv? She’ll need to be signing these papers for us.” And I’ve tried to think positively of the project of enrolling Anna into a sixth form college as an immersion-learning experience for my research into post-16 education in the UK.

Now those of you who know me are aware that Anna has been homeschooled for all but her kindergarten year. But this year, she wanted to go to school. If we had stayed in McMinnville, she would have enrolled at Warren County High School (our only public school option.) When we found out we were going to be in England, she was especially eager to see what the schools would be like, and to have a chance to make British friends.

My Fulbright informational packet gave instructions for signing dependents up for education through local city councils. I immediately discovered that those instructions were only meant for parents of students in years 1 – 11 (which correspond to our grades K – 10). At the end of year 11, students take GCSE exams to qualify for different post-16 education options. Students with academic qualifications go on to sixth form and students with vocational qualifications go on to further education (its a little more complicated that that, but I am trying to be brief). Post-16 schools are independently operated, although they are publicly funded. I was given my placement at the University of Leeds in mid-June, so I emailed a representative from the Leeds City Council, who gave me some web links to Ofsted school rankings and standardized test scores that were intended to guide me toward the best schools, and instructed me to choose a sixth form college and apply to the school directly. And that’s when things began to get interesting.

Since it was late June when I began my enquiries, schools were just going on vacation and no one answered my emails or phone calls. So, I had to shelve the process until school officials returned around the end of August. By that time, we had arrived in Leeds to get settled in. The first school I emailed was full. I got a little concerned that all the schools might be full, so I emailed several at a time, but received no replies.  I began making follow-up calls. When I told the first two schools that we would only be in the country until the end of March, both said they would have to check with “admissions” and get back with me.  Now, I thought they meant their own school admissions office, but I later discovered that “Admisssions” is the funding office for the UK Department of Education. I never heard back from one of the schools, but the other called back to tell me that admissions said that their school would not receive funding unless Anna sat for A level exams in June. Later, I received an email from another school with the same answer.

Well, one of my initial research questions had been, “Just how important are standardized test scores in UK schools?”, and I suppose the answer rings loud and clear. Not only are Ofsted school rankings and test results the be-all and end-all criteria for parent selection of schools, but funding itself is contingent on completion of exams. So now I have a host of other questions, such as, “How does the system ensure that students in transitional living situations like those in temporary foster care or homeless have equal access to appropriate educational options?” and “How are schools adequately funded if students move out of the area during the school year due to economic changes (mass lay-offs, etc)?”

But here is the one that, as a mum rather than a researcher, I have to be most concerned with right now: “How can Anna be required by compulsory attendance laws to attend school, and yet schools can reject her because they are not funded to take her?” Now, this is a funny issue here. First, compulsory education has only been extended to 16-year-olds this year. In fact, many UK citizens, and even those working in the field of education are not aware of the new laws. Anna’s birthdate clearly places her in the compulsory attendance age, but I have had to convince several people of this. One Fulbright colleague suggested I simply turn myself into the police for non-compliance with truancy laws! It might yet come to that, but I am still hopeful. I have been conversing with admissions officials at the Department of Education, but have still not worked my way up the chain of command to anyone who can provide definitive answers. And we are considering letting Anna stay through exams, somehow, or requesting early exams, if that is possible.

For now, we have kept our leave-date open and may have found a school willing to take her. She has an appointment for a math placement exam today and, if we are lucky, she will bring home forms for her mum to sign.

Educating Yorkshire

Last night, I watched the first episode of a new documentary/reality show on UK network TV (telly) called “Educating Yorkshire”, which placed cameras in a secondary school here in Yorkshire for a semester. The similarities between this school, Thornhill Community Academy, and any large US high school like Warren County High School, where I teach, were striking. The students may wear uniforms at Thornhill, but much of teachers’ hall duty was spent correcting and punishing uniform violations. At one point, the principal tells a student that heavy makeup is against the school dress code. When she is pressed to remove her thick base makeup, it is clear that she is covering her serious facial scars. Even something as seemingly clear-cut as a uniform policy is more complex when a school serves teens from all backgrounds.

The administrators appeared to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with behavioral issues. The isolation room where students went for violations like smoking and cursing could have been our school’s “In School Suspension” room. The teachers seemed weary, but involved in the students’  lives and concerned with steering each child toward a good future. Their principal was committed to making positive changes and “turning his low-performing school around.” Sound familiar?

This week’s episode ended with the school’s administrators looking over a newspaper with headlines showing Thornhill ranked as “most improved in league tables.” I keep learning more and more about the “league tables” here in the UK, the all-important school rankings that remind me so much of home.

I will begin my secondary school observations in Yorkshire later this month. I guess then I will be able to judge how much reality there is to this reality show. If there is any truth to this show, I think I will feel right at home.

British Food


I really do plan to lose weight while I’m here. Really.

Given everything I had always heard about British food, I thought that would be easy. And to think that one of my downfalls might be the savory pie, the very food item I always thought would be the worst. When I read the chapter where Harry sits at his first feast at Hogwarts and delights over steak and kidney pie, I couldn’t help but think he was better off under the stairs on Privet Drive.

And then there’s Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop, from Sweeney Todd…

But then I had a Spiced Vegetable Pie at Costello‘s Bakery in Headingly, a suburb of Leeds.

Costellos Spiced Vegetable Pie


And they have cakes and pastries, too.

Costello’s Bakery, Headingly, Leeds

Headingly has other good restaurants, as well. We ate wonderful Thai food at the very elegant Sukhotai. There is even a Mexican restaurant, Caliente Cafe, that can satisfy that craving, even though it is a bit different from our Tex-Mex joints at home (not even free chips and salsa when you sit down) and different from the Mexican food I remember from that other lifetime when I lived in Mexico, briefly.

Of course, we had to eat fish and chips.

Fish and Chips, from Brett’s, Headingly, Leeds

Now that is something I cannot do on a regular basis if an airplane is ever going to get enough lift to take me back home. But look at this charming place.

Brett’s Restaurant, Headingly, Leeds

Note: My last few posts have been basic travel posts as we have been settling into the area, but with my next entries, I am going to switch back to the purpose of this blog – comparing British and American educational systems.