identity and voice

I had a lovely conversation with two girls at Our Lady of Victories Primary schools today. The girls where visiting from the nearby Holy Family secondary school. They asked me where I came from because they said I didn’t have an accent. I said I was born in Bradford but have spent a long time in London. One of the girls had an Irish background and the other a Welsh family, both of them regretted now having Keighley accents.

“How do you get an accent” one of them wondered and we discussed that it was about your immediate family, the people you spent time with and the community you belonged to. Accents change as people move from place to place and for many children their voice is a blend of Pakistani and Bradfordian.

I found myself explaining that when I was at school a northern accent was considered a disability and was something to be corrected. I had corrective elocution lessons. When I joined the BBC presentation team a northern accent was even then treated as an undesirable trait. The fact that I had a bit of a ‘twang’ was considered a brave departure at the time – even the fact that I came from the north at all was unsettling.

Our identity is expressed in many ways and the way we speak tells a story about who we are. I had the enormous pleasure of attending a poetry writing workshop with Simon Armitage last weekend and his northern voice is superb, infusing the way he speaks and writes.

I think we have to really celebrate and hold on to the things that make us distinctive and are expressions of who we are and where we have come from.

Thanks to the two girls.


Can we help others to become better than they think they can be?

I had a small operation on my back yesterday which has taken me out of circulation for three days. It’s not really a problem for me though I suspect it may be inconvenient for some of the people I work with, sorry about that.

Anyway, the upshot is that I’ve had the opportunity to read and reflect which is great and rare.  I’ve been reading a publication called ‘Taking Forward the Primary Curriculum’ which I’m surprised to say is an inspirational read.  I may blog more fully once I’ve digested it but I’m finding ready connections with my film-making projects in schools and the work with volunteers at Oblong.

I’m interested in the critical look at technology in schools and the way expectations have been inflated possibly for commercial gain.  The point the guide is making is that technology won’t deliver outcomes unless it is linked to organisational design, organisational processes, people and roles.

“The more technology there is in the environment, the greater the need for the human touch” Futurist John Naisbitt

There is a need for practitioners on the ground to participate in shaping the culture and design of our organisations. To do this they need to have the time for reflection together with the tools for gathering and processing evidence of success (or failure), a connection with other practitioners to discuss ideas, a place capture those ideas and a ready pathway for practical action. So, technology needs a place to reside and that is primarily a human landscape.

Can we help others to become better than they think they can be?

  • Care more than others think wise
  • Risk more than others think safe
  • Dream more than others think practical
  • Expect more that others think possible




Schools: Exciting film commission opportunity from Film Nation UK

Below is some information sent to me from CAPE UK (creative practitioners in schools).  The use of tablets in schools is gathering pace and this looks like a very interesting opportunity.


Shoot Smart: The Tablet Filmmaking Programme

Film Nation UK is launching Shoot Smart, a new commissioning programme that will explore and test effective tools and practices for tablet-based filmmaking through participatory workshops with young people aged 5 to 19 years.

Applicants can apply for a commission between £15,000 and £29,950 to support two groups of 20 young people to make their own short films.

Film Nation UK will award between three and five projects led by professional filmmakers to help young people create their own short films using tablet devices, covering the different filmmaking stages, from storyboarding and scripting to capturing and editing footage.

In partnership with a digital agency or an organisation experienced in research and app development, the filmmaking organisation will also undertake action research during the delivery of filmmaking workshops to test the opportunities and limitations of tablet-based filmmaking. The successful applicants will then be expected to deliver a robust evaluation of findings that will help Film Nation UK to identify and develop workable models that can be scaled up and rolled out to schools and youth groups across the UK.

The deadline for applications is 2pm on Monday 17 February 2014.

The brief for applicants and FAQs can be viewed on the right side of this page.

If you have any questions or queries regarding Shoot Smart, please contact Daniel Smith on 0121 224 7511 or at



The spoken word. Audio Boo for education

I’ve always had an interest in the spoken word and have been enchanted by the power of great voices. Audio Boo is one of those social media networks which I think is hugely overlooked by many and has great potential. I’ll talk about Audio Boo in a moment.

Listening to humans talking is something which is becoming a rare thing these days – at least it seems so when you think about how little opportunity there is for extended one to one conversations or even just listening to someone in a considered way for any length of time.

Teenagers, it seems to me, are even less likely to exercise their vocal chords with meaningful sounds these days. And yet so many have quite beautiful voices.

I’m a strange animal in this respect in that as a teenager I specifically admired some of the great voices of my time – listening to the likes of Richard Burton on the radio. I used to record voices at school in interviews for school projects and the school radio station. It’s why I skipped straight into radio presenting when I left my education.


Audio Boo is a social network which offers the chance to very easily record from your mobile phone (or other device) and post to a website. I plan to use audio boo for our latest School Media Club project in Keighley.

The great thing about using audio with school children is that it encourages conversation, helps children to become more confident at using their voices and it’s much safer than sharing pictures.

Click here to read about Audio Boo for education 


What have the Catholics ever done for Keighley?

Today spent touring around Catholic churches in Keighley. Working with four schools we have funding to tell the story of the Catholics in Keighley which promises to be an excellent project.

We’ll be looking at the extreme poverty and persecution experienced by early mill workers and some of the heroic figures. There’s Fr Russell who championed the cause of the poor and Henry Butterfield who converted to Catholicism and donated land. Then there’s the amazing Pugin chapel of St Anne’s. I’ve yet to visit St Anne’s but below a picture of the wonderful interior St Joseph’s church.

Keighley in spite of its sometimes iffy reputation is a wonderfully beautiful place with some amazing history – certainly never dull.

The plan is to create a collaborative website for the four schools, a series of short films and hopefully an exhibition at Cliffe Castle Museum next year. We hope that the wider communty will be involved too. See all pictures

Photography, Schools

Finding great images to use for free on your website, CC Search

I’m writing these notes because I’ve been having discussions with our media volunteers in Woodhouse about sourcing images on the internet, so I hope this will be helpful.

Finding great images for the website or for other publications is, of course, really important. excellent visual content can engage, inspire and communicate in a very powerful way.

ccMany websites are let down by the choice and presentation of images. If you don’t gave the confidence or opportunity to take great images yourself, then there are free resources you may be able to use.

Downloading image from the internet is easy to do but stealing work and breaking copyright is quite wrong. However there are many high quality images you can download for free under Creative Commons licensing. This means the owner is giving you some rights to use the image – perhaps in a non commercial setting or with a credit. You will need to be aware of what rights the creator is offering. Otherwise other people’s images can only be used with their permission.

For a full explanation of Creative Commons and a search tool for finding images and other media you can use here is a link to –

Creative Commons Search





Celtx. Free software for screenwriting and more

Are you looking for help with screenplay layouts and a way of collaborating in the creative process?  The School Media Club has been trying out Celtx to see how it can be used in the classroom.

In our latest school filmmaking project we prepared a screenplay together using Celtx, an online film production project management tool.   The basic story was dreamt up by the children and then I created a starter screenplay, breaking down the story into scenes.   The children, with the help of the teaching assistants then got to work putting the detail on the characters, actions and shots.

Celtx is a cloud based tool which synchronises with a desktop application.  It meant that I could see what the children had been working on while I was at home, and then add any notes or refinements to the script.

The service is free and here’s a short video I made showing how it works.


St Joseph’s Primary School film

Had a wonderful morning at Keighley Picture House there Nick and Eileen welcomed our cinema project.  The school had 6 weeks to make a film – but not just any old film.  

The project was initiated by the arrival of a strange alien capsule guarded by the D.A.F.T. agency.  The capsule contained this encoded message from another planet with instructions for the mission.

The mission involved making a special effects film.   A green-screen studio was built in the school and a project schedule worked out. There were to be set designers, costume, props, musicians, dancers, actors, writers and more.  The film was made to cinema specifications with full on sound for an immersive experience.

It shouldn’t amaze me that children can rise to a challenge and produce something so professional.  Well done Y5 at St Joseph’s Primary School in Keighley.

Looking forward to a another film project in the new year.  Now watch the opening titles with the specially written and performed music.



Schools making films for the cinema

I thought I’d share some exciting progress I’m making with the St Joseph’s project in keighley. Being a bit of a film technology enthusiast, I have been looking at ways of delivering school videos in Digital Cinema format. Normally this process would cost thousands of pounds to format and encode special files.

The film we are making at St Jo’s is being filmed in full HD using a Canon 5D2 camera. The plan is to upgrade the film to an impressive 2K digital cinema format with surround sound. In short, the film will look great on the big screen and give a true cinema experience. Importantly it means that it will be much easier to deliver school films to the local cinema in future thus opening up new opportunities for these showings.

I also think that we may be able to produce commercials made by school classes for the cinema. This will be a great way to learn about advertising, audiences and creative process.

If you’re a school and would like to make a film or advert for the cinema we’d love to work with you on a project. We don’t cost a lot and are very hard working.



Schools are getting into blogging, but what do we mean by a blog and how is one written?

Schools are interested in blogging, but what is a blog and how do you write one? We use the term blog but what does it actually mean? The internet is now full of writing, networking and publishing spaces so what are the unique characteristics of a blog?

I’ve been fascinated to read about Quadblogging, an idea of teacher David Mitchell (see the video below). Quadblogging simply brings together four schools – anywhere in the world – to discuss and write about a topic online and the motivator is having an audience. Of course blogging us one of those terms which can be easily misunderstood. Is Facebook a blog? Is twitter a microblog? What kind of writing can we expect to see on a blog? I want to clear up the question of what a blog is.

From what I can see, the act of blogging is sometimes associated with the technical platform rather than the writing style. If you use Blogspot, Typepad or WordPress then you are a blogger – are you?

Blogs a decade ago were a bit like Facebook pages are today, populated by highly personal accounts of daily life. There was an understanding that blogs could be a little bit sloppy with the odd error here and there which made them more spontaneous and believable; a highly manicured article may look less real somehow. Maybe that is changing? When we talk about children being encouraged to write I guess we expect some quality and not just the casual randomness we sometimes see.

It seems to me that those early bloggers have grown up and are now using blogs in a much more thoughtful and journalistic way. Blogs are, by and large, still personal but they have become significant spaces where individuals can explore their own thinking and invite feedback.

Blogs provide a transparency which helps build relationships – if you know someone you are more likely to trust them. You can establish your own identity and agenda.

Blogs are long term investments where you can trace patterns of thought and look back on your own personal experiences and development.

Blogs have been adopted as a serious news platform for professional and amateurs writers alike. Every news organisation is using them.

An important aspect of the blog is the facility to discuss, and this is probably the most distinctive aspect. A blog that has no facility to discuss would simply be an online newspaper. A blog that contains only likes and comments might only be Twitter. I make a distinction between likes, comments and real discussion.

A blog at its best resonates beyond its immediate space – it gets talked about, makes the news, appears on rss feeds and may causes controversy. They are the public’s own press release.

So when we look at a school blog, exactly what kind of writing do we expect? I’d suggest much more than a patchwork of information culled from the internet. Personally I’d like to see children writing as journalists would write and with their own voice. So here are some bullet points – which may or may not be reasonable:

  • Journalistic in style
  • Rich in facts and well researched
  • Authoritative
  • Uniquely written with no cut and paste
  • Thoughtful and well structured
  • Updated often and a lively progression of content
  • Topical and reflective of the wider world
  • Clear who the author is and the point of view
  • Centred around a specialist topic
  • Responsive and open to discussion
  • Multimedia layouts
  • Legal, decent and honest

This may seem a tall order for primary children but here’s an example from The School Media Club 

So when we talk about a school blog, there’s an opportunity for some real discussion about how it’s written, and not simply which tools are used.
And in the meantime be encouraged by this talk given by David Mitchell