The Great Maths Con!

To coincide with the publication of the revised and updated edition of the bestselling maths book, THE ELEPHANT IN THE CLASSROOM, Professor Jo Boaler visited the UK last week to speak at two conferences on maths education.

The first, ‘Maths, Mindset and Mastery’ took place on Thursday 17th September in Cheltenham, organised by GLOW Maths Hub, which is part of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics new Maths Hubs initiative. The idea is to bring together all mathematics education professionals in a national network of hubs, each locally led by an outstanding school or college, working in partnership with neighbouring schools, colleges, universities, CPD providers, maths experts and employers.

At the conference, Jo spoke about the importance of a Growth Mindset classroom to inspire all maths learners, and how, by making a Growth Mindset classroom the norm in all schools, we can eradicate the fear and lack of understanding of maths, held by a huge number of school children.

GLOW Maths Con ImageGlOW Maths Con Image 2

Photos: Jo Boaler speaking at ‘Maths, Mindset and Mastery’

Then, on Friday 18th September, Jo delivered the keynote speech at The Great Maths Con! A one day national primary mathematics conference, in London. After a quick photo with Johnny Ball

Johnny Ball

Photo: Johnny Ball and Jo Boaler

… Jo discussed ways to bust the myth of the ‘maths brain‘ idea – how some children believe that they simply ‘can’t do maths’ – and set tasks for attendees to show them how they can help all pupils engage confidently in mathematics .

maths con

Photo: Attendees solving maths tasks set by Jo

According to the National Numeracy charity, around 17 million adults in England are at roughly the same level as that expected of children in primary school.

It is precisely problems like this that Jo Boaler attempts to solve in the new edition of THE ELEPHANT IN THE CLASSROOM. Drawing on new scientific research, developed in conjunction with Carol Dweck, it shows how maths mindsets can unleash a pupil’s potential through creative and innovative teaching.

“We need to bring real maths into maths classrooms and children’s lives, instead of the fake version that goes on in many maths classrooms, and we must treat this as a matter of urgency.” – Jo Boaler

Elephant in the Classroom 2015 cover

THE ELEPHANT IN THE CLASSROOM by Jo Boaler is now available to buy in paperback (ISBN: 978-0285643185) and eBook (ISBN: 9780285643192), £12.99.

All photos taken from Twitter, @joboaler, @AbacusandHelix and @GLOWMaths


‘The Monocled Mutineer’ – Getting The Story

Was Percy Toplis WW1’s most guarded secret, the ringleader of the Étaples Mutiny?

The Monocled Mutineer, by John Fairley and William Allison, unveils the events of the Étaples Mutiny and asks a host of unanswered questions about Toplis and his role, if any, in it.

Was Percy Toplis an anti-establishment hero? What made the monocled mutineer the most wanted man in Britain?

Monocled Mutineer cover

To celebrate its publication today, we’re posting John Fairley’s brand new introduction, ‘Getting the Story’, here on the blog.

Getting the Story’ by John Fairley

“The book and the subsequent television series The Monocled Mutineer caused so much controversy – the idea that British troops had mutinied in the First World War was anathema to the military establishment – that new readers are perhaps entitled to an account of how the book, and the story in it, came about.

History, the jibe runs, is something that did not happen, described by people who weren’t there.

When Bill Allison and I were researching The Monocled Mutineer we found a then untrodden path to uncovering the events at Étaples in 1917. We actually talked and corresponded with the participants. In 1976 these men were mainly in their seventies, their memories of desperate times consigned to irrelevancy by the intervention of a second war and relayed only to old comrades and the sporadic interest of grandchildren.

The principal official record of the Étaples mutiny which survives is the war diary of its most exalted victim, the Commandant, Brigadier-General Andrew Graham Thomson, Royal Engineers. Subjective as it is, it makes alarming enough reading: ‘Disturbance in Reinforcement Camp between military police and troops, Corporal Wood, 4th Gordons being accidentally shot …. a crowd of about 1000 gathered in Étaples town, and about 7.30 pm tried to break into the Sevigne cafe where two policemen were hiding.’

Thomson goes on to describe further riots and breakouts for four days, accompanied by increasingly desperate attempts to have troops sent back from the front to restore order. As an official document of an event which was effectively to end Thomson’s career, the diary is astonishingly frank. It could hardly, however, be expected to paint a full picture. We determined therefore to seek direct evidence. We suspected that many veterans would still be chary of speaking about what they regarded as an ignoble episode. Our letter to local newspapers was thus carefully worded:  Do any veterans of the First World War have recollections of the events at Étaples in September 1917?

This letter was published in newspapers in the areas where we knew that regiments which were involved were recruited – Dundee, Manchester, Glasgow, Yorkshire, the East Midlands – and in several newspapers and journals in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Nearly 60 years had elapsed. We had no notion of what to expect. But then, day after day, for three months or more, there arrived through my letter box from all over the world, sharp, bitter accounts of events long ago, but far from forgotten. Inevitably they were careful, handwritten stories in old men’s script, teased out without any other prompting than the brief query in their local paper.

Some were brief and to the point. M. Cordy wrote from Chaucer Gardens, Sutton, Surrey: ‘I was at the camp in 1917. It was like prison and the Red Caps were worse than bastards. Even the officers were scared of them. There was a provo sergeant. We called him Black Jack. The Aussies swore they would get him. They did. He was tied to the railway lines and that was his lot. When the trouble was over we were sent into the firing line at Passchendaele Ridge. It was hell let loose and half of us never came back.’ Cordy had been 15 when he joined up and was at Étaples on his way back from England, having ben gassed at Ypres.

Scores of letters described the dreadful conditions at Étaples which fuelled the mutiny. A. J. Notley wrote from New Costessey in Norwich: ‘My memories of the Étaples base are chiefly of the abuse which was heaped on the rank and file and even now, in my 80th year, I wonder at times what comradeship means.’

George Horn, a Highlander then living in Prescott on Merseyside wrote: ‘What I remember of “Etaps” was harshness, bullying, poor rations and intolerance, an unnecessary breaking in process to the pitch of human endurance.’

In the Imperial War Museum, the large-scale maps of the Étaples camp and the Bull Ring still survive. It is possible to trace the purgatorial obstacle course which our correspondents remembered, the trial gas chambers, the assault course, the bayonetting, and always and repeatedly, the sand. A Seaforth Highlander wrote from Bacup in Lancashire recalled seeing men wounded and killed on the assault course. Sergeant C.J. Jellie wrote from Takapuna, near Auckland in New Zealand, recalling seeing the Aussies cut down a Tommie who was bound to a wagon wheel doing field punishment.

But it was the detailed accounts of events during the mutiny, unprompted except by our newspaper letter, which fascinated most in that early correspondence. W. Breffit wrote from Cadboro Bay, British Columbia, that after the mutiny started ‘we all started to walk into town. The MP tried to stop us. He was rushed and thrown over the bridge.’

Several men recalled the shooting of Corporal Wood. Private A. Lumley, Royal Scots, wrote from Bramcote, Nottingham:  ‘I think I am the only living person who saw the start of the mutiny at Étaples in 1917. It started with the firing of the pistol of the Red Cap on the bridge. I stood near the bridge with Private Cairns of the Scottish Rifles when we noticed a Scottish soldier and an Anzac talking to a WAAC girl. We saw the Red Cap say something to them, and then he shot the Scot dead. My companion had no love for the English, and he simply went mad and raced through the Scots camp shouting “An English bastard has shot a Jock.”’ Several writers identified the Red Cap as Danny Reeve, a well-known ex-welterweight boxer.

Aubrey Aaronson, from Prestwich, Manchester, of the Border Regiment, said: ‘The troops ran into the Étaples village, chasing the WAACs out of their billets. Six military policemen were shot and buried outside Étaples with comical songs for their funeral. The troops in the Bull Ring downed their arms and went crazy and put sleepers on the railway track to stop them going up the line.’ The release of prisoners was described by Weber Todman from Wanganui, New Zealand; ‘We marched to the clink, which was half of the MP’s quarters, let the prisoners out, doused the place with kerosene, and set it on fire. This created a very dangerous situation as it was very near the ammunition dump.’

By now it was clear to Allison and myself that we were dealing with a much more dramatic array of events than Thomson’s war diary suggested. We wrote back to our correspondents, visited them, and solicited further letters from around the world.

We also paid a number of visits to Étaples itself. The square was unchanged, though the Hôtel des Voyageurs had seen better days. There is no sign of the great camp. But the war cemetery is reminder enough. Étaples seems the cruellest of cemeteries. There are more than 10,000 graves, the pitiful roll-call of those who lived long enough to endure the journey back from the front, but who could not hold on to life long enough to see England again. We found the grave of Corporal Wood.

Still in Étaples, too, were a number of people who recalled the violent events in Étaples town in September 1917. The town doctor, Pierre Durignieux, by then well into his eighties, told us: ‘I have seen myself the episode of that important English officer standing on his horse in front of the town hall and trying to compose with the screaming of hundreds of soldiers and who had the cheeks and mouth opened by the big knife of a soldier and of the consecutive fight of the soldiers with the military police.’

Monsieur F. Houigue, secretary of the Academic Society of Le Touquet drew our attention to accounts of the troops running amok. ‘Myself, I was 13 at the time, and I remember very well the troops (cortege bruyants is his phrase) in the streets of Le Touquet. I particularly remember a soldier at the head of one of the groups carrying a lance on which a cat was impaled.’

How many of the mutineers were executed? Aubrey Aaronson told us there were orderly-room notices recording that a number of executions had been carried out. Certainly troops had to be brought back from the line to restore order. Sergeant W. Harrop was with the 22nd Manchesters at Bullicourt in the Hindenburg Line: ‘We were suddenly moved to the nearest railhead in secret and entrained for Étaples. None of us knew where we were going. Only when we arrived were we told why we were there. By then all was quiet, but it must have created a great impression to see a full battalion arriving direct from the front.’ All this while the attack on Passchendaele was being prepared.

In these letters and conversations with veterans, the name of Percy Toplis was occasionally mentioned. Few thought of him as the main ringleader. Indeed few thought there was one ringleader. Rather there were a number of hardened soldiers who took advantage of the confused and riotous situation which was developing throughout the camp. But they remembered the name principally, 60 years on, because of the spectacular splash in the press which Percy Toplis enjoyed so soon after the end of the war. Ex-Gunner L. G. Charles from Weston-super-Mare wrote that the leaders were Percy and Black Jack, a six-foot black-bearded Australian from the bush. Private Musgrove, from Wallsend on Tyne, also thought Percy played a principal role, particularly during an incident when Thomson was confronted in his car. The General was surrounded by yelling troops. ‘Toplis demanded the Red Caps should be sent away from the IBD, which was granted.’

We knew something of Toplis from the memoirs of Edwin Woodhall, a noted Metropolitan policeman, seconded to the Secret Service, who described his capture of Toplis near Étaples in the aftermath of the mutiny, and then Toplis’s dramatic escape from the prisoners’ compound. Woodhall’s widow confirmed to me that he regarded Toplis as a key figure in the mutiny and that was why he had pursued him with such vigour. From further conversations with our correspondents emerged the characterful picture of his role in the mutiny which is detailed in the book.

We do know what sort of a fellow he was. There were, in 1975, a lot of people living around Blackwell and Mansfield in Nottinghamshire who remembered him well. The effrontery of Toplis, in officer’s uniform, drilling the local volunteers is exact. The story of his girl Dorothy and the baby is traceable through the records of Somerset House.

The mutiny at Étaples does not fit into the standard picture of the First World War. It is the story of common soldiers who rebelled against protracted insult and brutality, recorded in dozens of letters and personal memories.

Captain Jim Davis, the officer who had to abandon the Étaples bridge to the mutineers, appeared on a BBC television discussion in 1986 and confirmed that the picture of those events was accurate. ‘But,’ he said, ‘I would have paid more attention if I’d known that that they were going to make it into a TV series.’

With Toplis’s story once again making headlines, and the files on Toplis due to be released in 2017, perhaps it’s time for the BBC to air The Monocled Mutineer once again?

The Monocled Mutineer by John Fairley and William Allison is available now in paperback (ISBN: 9780285643109) and eBook (ISBN: 9780285643116), £10.

*Extract taken from the new Introduction to The Monocled Mutineer 2015

The Elephant in the Classroom published TODAY!

THE ELEPHANT IN THE CLASSROOM, the bestselling maths book by Professor Jo Boaler is published today.

Elephant in the Classroom 2015 cover

The brand new revised and updated edition of THE ELEPHANT IN THE CLASSROOM challenges the current damaging stereotypes of the way mathematics is taught and how pupils learn mathematics. Its publication comes at a critical time in maths education, where something needs to be done to address the worrying lack of maths skills in the UK.

It is widely known that scientific and mathematical thinking are essential tools for everyday life, and a recent poll taken by the CfBT Education Trust found that 80% of business leaders questioned said they need employers with practical maths skills (ITV NEWS). However, with most children in Britain dropping the subject at 16, there is a serious shortage of young professionals with basic maths skills.

As reported in The Times only last month, “Britain has been falling behind other nations worldwide, and failed to make the top 20 for maths in the most recent international tests taken by 15-year-old pupils.”

Whether maths is simply not engaging enough, or children are lacking confidence in it, as Mick Baylock, head of The Core Maths Support Programme told ITV NEWS,

“The message is clear. We need more young people to stick with maths and to make that happen we need to make maths more interesting and relevant to them. Employers put a premium on the maths skills of their workforce, whether they are trying to tap the potential of big data, part of the growing digital economy or getting a start-up company off the ground.”

It is precisely these problems that Jo Boaler attempts to solve in this new edition of THE ELEPHANT IN THE CLASSROOM. Drawing on new scientific research, developed in conjunction with Carol Dweck, it shows how maths mindsets can unleash a pupil’s potential through creative and innovative teaching.

“Mathematics, more than any other subject, has the power to crush students’ confidence. The reasons are related both to the teaching methods that prevail in maths classrooms and the fixed ideas about mathematics held by the majority of the UK population and passed onto our children from birth. One of the most damaging mathematics myths propagated in classrooms and homes is that maths is a gift, that some people are naturally good at maths and some are not. This idea is strangely cherished in the Western world but virtually absent in Eastern countries such as China and Japan that top the world in mathematics achievement.”

“We need to bring real maths into maths classrooms and children’s lives, instead of the fake version that goes on in many maths classrooms, and we must treat this as a matter of urgency.” –Jo Boaler*

THE ELEPHANT IN THE CLASSROOM demonstrates how teachers and parents can give children this growth mindset, and shares a host of practical teaching activities, strategies and questions that can transform a child’s mathematical future.

Do you have memories of your maths lessons? Maths skills a little rusty? If you want to test them, try this quick 10-question quiz designed by Carol Vorderman, appropriate for children in Years 1-6. Incredibly, the average score was just 5.1 out of 10 amongst adults in the UK.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE CLASSROOM by Jo Boaler is out today (Thursday 17th September) in paperback (ISBN: 978-0285643185) and eBook (ISBN: 9780285643192), £12.99.

*Extracts taken from the Preface and the Introduction to THE ELEPHANT IN THE CLASSROOM.

‘Snow White…and the Seven Vertically Challenged Men’

So, should it be ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs‘, ‘Snow White and her Seven Friends‘, or perhaps ‘Snow White and the Seven Vertically Challenged Men’?

That’s the question that has been storming across the country this week after Leicester’s De Montfort Hall re-named their Christmas pantomime ‘Snow White and her Seven Friends‘. According to the theatre, the word ‘dwarf’ is “generally not a word that people feel comfortable with”. (The Independent) In another twist, they’re also going to use a child dance troupe to play the dwarfs, instead of short actors.

Of course, James Finn Garner, author of the bestselling POLITICALLY CORRECT BEDTIME STORIES, foresaw this problem in his take of Snow White and her ‘Seven Vertically Challenged Men’.

“Once there was a young princess who was not at all unpleasant to look at and had a temperament that many found to be more pleasant than most other people’s. Her nickname was Snow White, indicative of the discriminatory notions of associating pleasant or attractive qualities with light, and unpleasant or unattractive qualities with darkness. Thus, at an early age, Snow White was an unwitting if fortunate target for this type of colourist thinking.”

“When she awoke several hours later, she saw the faces of seven bearded, vertically challenged men surrounding the bed. She sat up with a start and gasped. One of the men said, ‘You see that? Just like a flighty wommon: resting peacefully one minute, up and screaming the next.’”

“’We are known as the Seven Towering Giants’, said the leader. Snow White’s suppression of a giggle did not go unnoticed. The leader continued. ‘We are towering in spirit and so are giants among the men of the forest. We used to earn our living by digging in our mines, but we decided that such a rape of the planet was immoral and short-sighted (besides, the bottom fell out of the metals market). So now we are dedicated stewards of the earth and live here in harmony with nature. To make ends meet, we also conduct retreats for men who need to get in touch with their primitive masculine identities.’”

Now, how about Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandma, the cross-dressing wolf?

In POLITICALLY CORRECT BEDTIME STORIES, James Finn Garner has taken the opportunity to rewrite classic stories for more enlightened times.

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At last, here is bedtime reading free from prejudice and discrimination to witches, giants, dwarves, goblins and fairies everywhere.

“Extremely funny… After one finishes this collection, ‘happily ever after’ will never seem quite the same.” – Publisher’s Weekly

All extracts taken from ‘Snow White’ in POLITICALLY CORRECT BEDTIME STORIES by James Finn Garner (ISBN: 9780285640412) eBook (ISBN: 9780285640627) £7.99.

Brian Aldiss Turns 90

He might be known as one of the most famous living science-fiction writers, but Brian Aldiss, who turned 90 last month, has written or edited over 100 books in his lifetime.

One of them is THE HAND-REARED BOY, the first British novel to explore, frankly and with gleeful honesty, the sexual awakening of a teenage boy.

Hand-Reared Boy cover

In fact, it was regarded so outrageous that thirteen publishers initially refused to publish it.

“I was introduced to the delights of masturbation early, and had never looked back since then. You might say I was a hand-reared boy. Perhaps I should have been ashamed of all that; I was not.”

No longer shocking, instead, it stands as the classic novel of teenage self-discovery and the realisation of a young boy of love, and the fact that other people are more than sexual objects. It’s the first British novel to unashamedly explore the subject of sexual awakening of a teenage boy, predating even Philip Roth in its study of teen masturbation. Shortlisted for the Lost Booker Prize in 2010, THE HAND REARED BOY is as witty and forthright about sexuality today as it was when it was published forty years ago.

Brian Aldiss has been a bestselling writer since the 1950’s, and is best known for his science fiction. He has won every major science fiction award (as well as influencing the work of Stanley Kubrick), including three Hugo Awards (1962, 1973, 1987) and two British Science Fiction Association Awards (1972 and 1982).


“A tender love story. In the amorous mishaps of Horatio Stubbs, the inability of teenagers to distinguish between love and sex with painful fidelity.”
‘Daily Telegraph’

“Its honesty strikes one as refreshing. Its story of an adolescent suburban lad, his brother and school friends, horny and sex crazy, is a graphic portrait of the sexual trials of teenagers in the 30s.
‘Gay Times’

“A heart-wrenching love story… The first British novel to explore sexuality in such a frank and honest way.”

“So filthy, I read it with the door of my office closed, as if afraid of being caught.”
Rachel Cooke, ‘Observer’

“Forty years before The Inbetweeners gave teenage boys a mirror in which to watch themselves on television, Brian Aldiss wrote this novel about childhood and adolescent sexuality… A sustained paean to male masturbation. It would be easy to express some sort of outrage at the relentless tugging, the lines crossed, the taboos broken, but the book is characterised above all by a welcome honesty… A touching tale.”

“Brian W. Aldiss is best known for his science fiction novels but this work… (is) wall to wall masturbation. It concerns Horatio Stubbs, a boy just reaching puberty, and his sexual awakenings. It was the first English novel to explore such a scenario in such frank detail.”
‘The Crack’

“One of the first literary novels to explore the realities of teenage sexuality. It is explicit, still quite shocking but also very funny.
‘Me and My Big Mouth blog’

THE HAND-REARED BOY by Brian Aldiss (ISBN: 9780285635166, £9.99)