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About #losethebooths

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Have a think about this image before thinking about booths or equality in education. The question to answer is not if we need more “love”, it is about how we show what and who we value. How many of our students can see their life choices and real needs reflected in what schools offer? How many of us really make the effort to address our place in systemic injustice and to be reflective in our actions and words? How many of us are prepared to fight for these students rather than fight them as representatives of a system that offers more pathways to prison than pay.

I have over 20 years experience in and around education and I have a few thoughts on the arguments made to “lose the booths’.

If you have not followed, the #losethebooths argument quite rightly raises the issue of how we deal with challenging behaviour in schools. How do we foster positive learning environments and ensure that all students achieve? How do we manage disruptive or aggressive students, how can we reach them? How do we keep students on pathways to success rather than to prison or poverty?

I would like to suggest that we are ignoring the root of the problem: that schools are catalysts for inequality and violence. Unless we address systemic injustices which are built into our systems and beliefs and actions, we will continue to see violence and anger.

No child is born angry or violent or disruptive. We create unjust structures, we ignore harm and we are dishonest about equality and justice and what is fair. We fail to address our own complicity in this and then we wonder why young people are unhappy and find any way they can to fight against injustice. Faced the same issues my students cope with, most adults I know would be angry, kick walls, flip tables and shout. We joke about the “table flip” when we get upset as adults but we refuse to acknowledge that young people are right in what they are expressing.

Children are often born into neglect even if they are very privileged- look no further than the damaged souls in the Royal family or celebrity children. Schools are not just education institutions: they are also social work and counselling centres, often the main source of food and clothing.

Layered on top of this unsteady foundation to learning is the pressure placed upon teachers. If I sold ice cream, I could go to my manager at the end of a bad season and justify my bad sales on the rain or cold. Educators work with young people who are more volatile- and I say this not meaning dangerous but more in need of careful handling- than some chemicals! A student can enter the year with everything in the bag and then have a life event such as injury or bereavement that can ruin that potential. Teachers are constantly observed and required to produce data on their students that ignores this very human side of metrics. I hate metrics!

For teachers and students, targets are set and measures taken that affect pay and future achievement. This is not an environment for “love” or “community”. This is an environment where everyone is running on fumes, the tank is empty and frustrations are building. It is like driving a race in a bad car and knowing you need to stop for fuel or change the car entirely or take a different route, but no one will let you and they keep scoring you as you pass by.

Building schools with care or “love” as I see used a lot now, it means acknowledging that we need to change ourselves AND that we are willing to fight back on behalf of our students. They cannot succeed without us. We also cannot demand respect if we are not acting with self respect or respect for them.

Schools change when we all change and when we stand for something. You are born looking like your parents but you die looking like your choices. What are the choices we are making? What does our curriculum say we stand for? What do our rules, our uniform, our choices on food and environment say about what we value?

For a basic change: most schools are simply not neurodiverse friendly. Lighting is harmful ( those long strip beams are TERRIBLE and induce headaches). Schools are sensory overloads and then we make children go to five or six different lessons a day, often on two week timetables. It is like having to tame a different dragon each hour. I challenge any adult to endure a week of back to back meetings, hour long, no talking, uncomfortable chairs. Most of you would be rioting by ten am on a Tuesday.

Now we have that delicious ingredient mix for success, let us season a little more with the structural discrimination our society reinforces via schools. The excellent Guilaine Kinouani has written eloquently on racial inequality in schools and I advise you strongly to read her work and reflect- better still-pay her to come in and do workshops with you.

Pran Patel has also blogged and spoken about decolonising the curriculum. We need to recognise these as urgent issues. Our education system is not offering students a safe and hopeful place to be. It is demanding they sit in uncomfortable overloading rooms, taught by stressed professionals who can’t see a way forward, who have to exclude and remove because how else do you get 30 students through Macbeth or algebra?

If students can see themselves represented and recognised, they are happy-aren’t we all? We MUST work with them to offer them useful and meaningful opportunities to learn. That means making sure our learning material reflects balanced sources. But also by recognising that classrooms themselves, the very fabric of the buildings- are causing unwanted behaviour. When we ask students to learn subjects via a whitewashed heteronormative and classist lens, in rooms where they are overstimulated and uncomfortable, we have a recipe for disaster.

Teachers are stressed and overloaded. I will say the quiet part out loud here: not every teacher is right for teaching and we need to manage those people out. I have taught in schools where certain teachers would refuse to teach certain students. Where arguments and personality clashes and enforcement of ridiculous, unfair process damaged relationships beyond repair.

We have devoted, incredible teachers, but we are losing them. If I walk around the school where I work, I hear the most amazing and inspiring lessons going on. I often wish I could stay to hear more. These teachers are giving so much but within a broken system they often feel powerless to change. Every new government changes it all up and makes OFSTED more powerful. Teachers get more targets, more blame and all while working hard, often giving snacks, supplies and emotional support to students.

We have booths and exclusions because young people are fighting a system that does not work for them. As I previously said: there are so many ways that even uniform or the way they pay for food are reinforcing inequality. We need to honestly talk about this and do so with a balanced range of voices heard.

Linkted to this is the the rise of edtech such as biometrics and data given to various platforms. I see facial recognition or even AI used to monitor student engagement. Is this where we are going? Layering on surveillance instead of addressing the baseline issues. Let us also not forget that student data is being GIVEN to outside agencies to profile our learners. What impact this will have on their future is uncertain and chilling. Instead of solving why students might be out of lessons or late or underachieving, we are feeding their data into apps and platforms. None of this will tell us anything we would not know if we listened.

None of this is new, we just need to listen.

As an example of how things are broken: my children want pets.It is almost comical how if I want to purchase fish for my home, I have to wait a week to bring the fish home, once they are happy I have a tank at the right temperature, water all safe. Yet we can have real live tiny humans, take them home, put them into schools and more and people say “oh they will be fine”. We have a royal society to protect animals in England and yet only a national one to protect children. Maybe that says everything about what we value.

Live, laugh, love: it is fine on your wall at home or pinterest board. But we need more than that in schools. We will not improve behaviour if we do not improve schools and ourselves. It all starts with us. It has to. We have the power, we have to fight for these young people. We cannot blame them for challenging failing systems.

Resources for Domestic Abuse Survivors

I get asked so much for this vital information, so here is a basic outline of ways you can help.

Please do encourage them to leave or call law enforcement or a shelter if they feel their life is in danger, or offer them shelter. It is not easy or simple to leave but it helps survivors to know they have options. Often they believe they don’t.

There are fabulous expert organisations such as NNEDEV or Refuge or OSPA . They have pages of resources and helplines. Also look at

It is important to remember that leaving abuse is a three part stage where deciding to leave and leaving are not separate stages from the preparation stage. Survivors can never really relax for the rest of their lives. They will forever have to look back at their previous life and make sure their tracks are covered.

That sounds dramatic but sadly our lives are hyper connected and we are tracked by government and stores and banks more than we realise. Because of this, one of the most important ways you can help someone leave is to assist them in removing their data from data broker sites. This needs to be revisited every 3-6 months. Why? because that market is shady and unethical and because when the USA government had a shut down for example- legal loopholes opened up for data brokers because important legislation was not re signed or updated. Here is a list of sites that you can use to remove your data. It can take 6 weeks or more and is a long and frustrating process, sadly. The world is set up for convenience not safety.

Social media: I advise people to lock accounts and ensure they cannot be tagged in images. Facebook and others can often be a lifeline, so it is hard to tell people to delete accounts. It is worth helping them to set up multi factor authentification with yubikey for example. The use of a password manager is helpful if you forget passwords and also adds an extra layer of security. It has been known for abusers to take over accounts and isolate survivors by posting offensive statements.

I also advise against reward cards or loyalty schemes . The data they collect could be used to track your habits and location.

If they are planning to leave, they should arrange for their mail to be forwarded, if possible, to a safe place. It is well worth contacting customer service and asking for paperless. I say this because I asked for paperless when I set up a bank account, I told customer service that no paper should ever be sent to my address: they agreed, but a compliance issue meant my ex received a detailed bank statement. The account even got transferred to him when I called to report it. So…even the best laid plans can go awry.

My biggest ask right now is that banks and government would offer more financial support to survivors. One of the biggest issues is financial abuse and hardship. Many survivors do not have their own bank accounts or credit history. It can take months to re-build and it affects the ability to rent or to get services like phone or internet provided. I would love for survivors to be offered special credit agreements, help with payment deadlines and solid financial advice. It helps to have a debit and a credit card. Banks like Monzo and Bsocial do offer excellent,secure account options and are easy to set up.

You can lock down your instagram and only use encrypted communications but if you can’t find a safe place to live and work or afford food, heat etc- you are still vulnerable. So we need to look at how we support survivors once they leave and onward. It can be daunting and terrifying to know you will leave abuse but will jump into financial insecurity.

So if you are looking to help, I hope that gives you some basic ideas of how to do so. Thank you, it will mean a huge amount to a survivor to know that you are there for them. And do reach out to the expert organisations- they have trained volunteers and know where local shelters and help will be available. But thank you, it matters and you are helping.

Reflective Practice

I have noticed that in Infosec there is a very unreflective, inaccessible culture around learning. We have adopted a “try harder” or “DFIU” attitude to people who are attempting new or challenging things. As an educator coming from a high school background, where encouragement and incentive are key, this concerns me. We know that the only way to learn is to ask questions. Yet the sector seems to mock those who do.

It is not a huge leap to extrapolate that the pipeline issue is borne out of these attitudes. People are pretending to know things. They are scared to admit gaps in knowledge. This leads to mistakes. But it also leads to gatekeeping: where mediocre people block those they fear might replace them. Or it means that only those within a closed support network will rise. Safe and protected by friends who advise or cover their errors or enable them to move roles after disasters.

This is counter to everything I do as a teacher. I am expected to encourage my students to overcome challenges. My lessons must be accessible to the needs of over 20 students. I look at the bulky printed material that I see provided at many security trainings and I wonder how much if any of it is differentiated? How much time is given to accessibility for dyslexic or ADHD learners? Can students use sketchnotes? Is the material fun and easy to read? Is it necessary to give students half their adult height in printed material for one five day course?

Even more striking to me is how my pay is performance related not only to their success, but also to my professional development. I am EXPECTED to be reflective in my practice. I do not see much evidence of this in infosec training. There is excellent practice out there, but are people respecting education as a profession? Are they seeking to improve and learn from each other? Are they even required to have qualifications in education or training? How do we ensure that our learning environment conditions students to have positive attitudes?

Above all: what are learners able to demand? Where are the guarantees of quality and excellence that they deserve? Are we valuing education and training and asking questions? Or are courses more use as magic tickets upwards than proof of deeper understanding?

What is reflective practice? Larrivee, 2000, (p.293) defines it as such:

“Unless teachers develop the practice of critical reflection, they stay trapped in unexamined judgments, interpretations, assumptions, and expectations. Approaching teaching as a reflective practitioner involves fusing personal beliefs and values into a professional identity”

I am writing this to emphasize the importance of reflective practice and how we need more of it in infosec training and education. We have two necessary actions: the first is to foster a better culture of learning and questioning. The second is to encourage reflection in those who train and create learning materials.

Finlay (2008) states that reflective practice is

“the bedrock of professional identity”

I believe that this is true. As trainers/ educators, we have a responsibility to teach, measure, evaluate and reshape what we do with our students. We cannot simply create a course and then never refine it. We also have to constantly be evaluating our own methods and performance. Atkins and Murphy (1993) broke this into a 3 stage process of discomfort-critical analysis – new perspective. In brief: to become aware of areas that could be improved, to evaluate and research and then to progress with new insight.

One of the easiest ways to do this via “reflection on action” (Schon 1983) is to observe other practitioners at work. It is also useful to invite observation of one’s own teaching. We can become stuck in our ways, uninspired or believing our way is the only way. My PGCE tutor told me that to be a guest in a classroom was a privilege and to use that time respectfully. I have always learned a great deal from observing fellow teachers, I go into their rooms with an open mind and respectful attitude: I am there not to gloat or criticise but to learn. Any feedback we offer each other must be constructive.

The best way to check if you have learned something is to try to explain it to someone else. I do not believe that this means we should assume we are all capable and suited to educating others. You can be an expert in your field but a terrible communicator. Managing a cohort of students of any age is half content, half social work: it is a deeply human role. If you are taught by someone who is unapproachable and cruel, you are likely to repeat that model with anyone you have to later educate.

In brief: there is a reason that teachers study and pass rigorous exams and courses. What I see in infosec is a sector that desperately needs a culture of learning and openness, but can’t get there and it is a time bomb.

If your trainers are not adequately qualified and reflective in their practice, despite any expertise, they will pass on bad culture. There is a huge gap between the necessary secrecy around the ways to “hack a box” on a platform and keeping questions and uncertainties quiet.

Challenge is one thing, it is how we learn and it is necessary.

Shame and fear is another.

You don’t need cheat codes for a box, you can work for that and learn the skills.

You absolutely do need to be able to ask questions during a course and at work.

So I am suggesting that we demand more from our training and workspaces. That we create environments that value neurodiversity. That we value questions and we make people valued for asking them. That we value educators for the skills they bring and we demand those skills- not just accept well paid experts who give lectures. If all our training was effective, we would not have super qualified people making mistakes today.

A really good example of this is the area I work on: consumer advice. There is a dearth of solid advice and for many issues there is simply nothing for non tech sector people to find. The average consumer has NO REAL SOURCE OF EDUCATION. It is noticeable that every time we have a privacy concern with an app or service, or security issue, huge swathes of infosec people make meme and jokes about it. They mock people worrying about simple things, whilst forgetting that is is very challenging to find the information.

I think this is the crux of the issue: people truly fear saying ” I don’t know”. My students know that they are fine to say, I am not sure but.. or I don’t know. My students in Japan would never answer unless they had the correct answer. Even if they did, often they did not want to “show off”. There are so many things that influence how we see learning and what is acceptable.

We do all need to try harder to ensure we are creating safe and welcoming spaces where people can learn and ask questions “noob” is an insult my son yells at his friends while gaming. Why are we hazing people? Learning is a lifelong thing. My performance reviews, to take me to the lofty heights of a 50k salary ( which is the price some trainers in infosec get for one week or one talk fyi) – those reviews are there to remind me I will always have room to improve and things to learn. Because of this self reflection and the collaboration with colleagues, my classrooms are spaces for questions and challenges. No one gets called stupid or told to try harder. Work hard, yes, but hey, use this tool, think of how you solved this… that is how you help people. Not try harder, but have you tried this..?  If no one is asking questions, that generally does not mean they all grasped the concept. It probably means that they don’t feel able to ask.  Remember that.


Back to school: resources for parents for the 2019-20 school year

It is never too early to plan for the new academic term! As well as getting pens and paper, we need to equip ourselves and our children with the framework and knowledge to be safe online.

Here we have put some links to education providers, safeguarding advice and sources of sound advice.

We counsel against the use of tracking apps such as ourpact. These are essentially stalkerware. We need to create trust and good habits with young people: communication and safe practice is as important with health for example, as it is with privacy.

Nothing beats communication. Discuss risks with your children as well as appropriate behaviour online.

Microsoft and Google as well as Apple have Family Account options. From here you can set up child accounts. These accounts allow you to control what apps are downloaded, or to manage content preferences. Apple offers the share my location option.

Our basic rule is that when setting up any new account, do not agree to all permissions . The main problematic ones are : location, photos and camera.

These are also easy to check on your device and disable individually, as is shown below. Simply go to Settings and then check what permissions you have given each app.

Communicate with your children about safety. Remind them that what is posted online is there forever. Tell them never to accept invitations to chats or meet from strangers. Ensure that they do not use real names or photos online and never divulge address or personal information. It is worth speaking repeatedly to all adults in their circle about good practice too: I have had my eldest child ask me who a “stranger ” was online. It was in fact a family member who messaged them with “now I have your number I can message you always”. We must set an example.

It is entirely possible that if you set screen time blocks, the child may re set the time zone for the device to evade this control. Google docs offer live collaboration and so on. You can only do so much as they grow and gain independence. Just like health and politeness- online safety is something we have to discuss and set examples for.

I have an internet router from Amplify which allows me to pause internet or set time limits for internet access according to family member. I can also pause the internet on every device on my network if I need to! It is worth considering such options. They are a good way of boosting the parental controls that you have with your family accounts.


The golden rule is to check settings and to update apps regularly. Updates are like vaccines for your devices- they keep things secure.  Settings and permissions sometimes change despite what you initially consented to. So make it a habit to check what each app is able to access. And put tape or a web cam cover over your device cameras. This stops anyone being able to access your camera or view you without your consent.  I love my webcam cover because when I have conference calls, I don’t risk a video call starting before I have finished my coffee. But especially for young people, it is good practice to do this.

We also suggest you follow this link to check what information the government is storing on your child/ren

This information is regularly distributed to media or corporate entities and it is worth requesting your data be deleted.

In addition, if you are interested in reading further about the security of popular classroom apps, follow this link  

It is always worthwhile to consider how much data you allow an app to have and how secure that data is kept, who it may be given to. 

Here are some links to useful consumer privacy sources:

Privacy Resources: Here is a list we will regularly update- of useful consumer privacy resources

Privacy Advice #1

I recently wrote some privacy advice for @girlonthenet

It is part of a consumer advice series that we are producing

Hope that some of you may find it useful!

Security Awareness For Customer Service Teams

I have created a series of basic level “introduction to security” units. I find that security awareness really lacks the drive for autonomy that we have in other areas. Health education is one. We often have to fight to get appropriate care and be heard by medical practitioners. This is the same in information security where it can be hard to change process or convince managers that change is needed. However, we have a huge focus on health education, autonomy and food is even labelled accordingly.

Making sound decisions about security and privacy is very different. There is little outreach or education. Valid questions, even when they show significant technical awareness, are often mocked. We have adopted a “try harder” ethic that came from a marketing campaign for a challenging exam. This should not be a general ethos of how we try to educate ourselves or each other. It is incredibly hard and often expensive to find information and product labeling is only just being rolled out.

So I am creating a series of resources, some in collaboration with others who do outreach in this sector. I hope it will be useful and constructive. I have sat with customer facing or call centre teams and observed how they have scripts and time limits to respond. This simply does not work for security. I have also seen how using terms without explaining them is extremely damaging. People switch off or misinterpret things. If we educate people and involve them, we gain engagement. We need to stop mocking people and speaking of technical or non tech. All we need is to inspire interest and understanding. I do not care about cars but I understand the basics of car care. The basics only. I drink too much coffee and eat candy but I know to brush my teeth and exercise. No doctor or mechanic expects expertise from me.

So I hope we can create a new paradigm where we educate and inform. I am creating a bronze level security course perhaps, an intro that may spark interest but it should definitely inform people.

Dual Coding

Most of us have probably encountered some form of learning style quiz.  Even very recent education theory favoured identifying if a learner preferred one of four main learning styles or VARK ( Visual, Auditory, Reading and Kinesthetic).  I have used this myself with younger learners. Recent research like the link above, moves us away from a reliance on categorizing learners.  While it is useful to understand that learners need different styles of teaching and environments to learn, we must also be clear that learners can have a range of preferences and reactions.

Much of the attention has been on kinesthetic learning. In my experience this is because traditional learning environments are not conducive to learning! Most learners need to move, to change position in the room or at the desk, to touch or to interact with materials.  Sitting at a desk, rote learning, for hours at a time, leaves learners bored and causes classroom behaviour issues. We see this even at adult level with people struggling to sit still or remain quiet in conferences, seminars or meetings that are unengaging or which run over time.

Dual coding is essentially mixing images, symbols, colour and text in order to map, record and retain information. It builds an easy to remember reference that people can then revise or work from. Many people automatically default to this style of recording notes or thoughts. It permits a visual and informative record of key information. So people who doodle or who note take with diagrams and text are to be encouraged. It is often a more reliable means of retaining information long term.

We do not need to forget VARK. What we can do is turn it around and make it more about teaching style. Are we varying our materials and classroom set up? Are we allowing students to move, to interact, to have time reading as well as time creating? This is a process called differentiation. Differentiated materials offer accessible learning or are tailored to different student levels. Preparing such learning support for large classes can be a challenge.  Recently, I have seen this replaced by Mastery learning theory: this states that students are all equally expected to rise to a challenge. Mastery asks learners to keep challenging themselves and to find where they failed.

My teaching experience would suggest that a balance of the two is necessary. Teaching is a human experience: it requires nuance and careful management of a room where needs can change in a second. Not all learners will respond to the unforgiving Mastery method, which is similar to the Try Harder culture in Information Security. Balance. Just balance is needed. A teacher’s one job is to ensure that everyone understands and meets the lesson outcomes. It is a demanding job that is part performance, part social worker, part psychologist. A good teacher understands that not everyone in the room will be able to access material at the same level. That even the learner who grasped it all yesterday, might be having a bad day today.

To teach is to aim to inspire a love for a subject and a desire to know more. It is about showing students that they are capable of more than they imagined.

That means that before we say try harder and dismiss a question. Before we slam down ten booklets of course content or begin a long lecture, that we should pause and remember the humans in front of us. Learning new things as adults especially, is an incredibly vulnerable moment.  For all learners, a classroom exposes them to risk of failure and ridicule.

If you run a classroom, you are responsible for encouraging and supporting people through what is often a challenging experience. How you react to their questions is critical to how they will respond to others’ who ask questions in the future. Taking a course isn’t a rite of passage or the Hunger Games. It isn’t trauma that we seek to pass on to others.

Learning happens when teachers take the lid off the pot of knowledge and reveal the secret ingredients in the recipe. It happens when people understand things they never expected to, discover new things and develop a desire to use and communicate this new knowledge.

So I like dual coding: it reminds us that there are two sides in a classroom- teacher and learner. I also think it is a pleasing way of making notes. Most of all because it reminds us that there are many ways to learn.

Photo credit: #UKBlackTech

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