Supporting County Durham TAs

As you may be aware, Teaching Assistants (TAs) in County Durham are on strike over the next couple of days. Although this does not affect teaching and learning in the independent sector (as class ratios are usually much smaller), these individuals are vital to the smooth running of schools at all levels in the state sector – indeed High Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) are actually able – and do – teach parts of the curriculum.
ATL support
Richard is Member of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) who are one of the unions who are holding industrial action today.  PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS DOES NOT AFFECT ANY SERVICES SUPPLIED BY MALLARD DAYS.
On 31st December Durham County Council will sack ATL & Unison Teaching Assistants (TAs) and then re-hire them on significantly less money. Why are they doing that? Because agreement couldn’t be reached so rather than continuing negotiations they are simply imposing these cuts.
The council claims that they are doing this as they are the only local authority who still pays whole time rather than term time only. The fact remains that TAs in Durham are currently some of the lowest paid in the region. TAs agreed to a lower pay grade to compensate for not working school holidays.
Mallard Days supports the work done by TAs in County Durham and across the country, and hopes that this dispute will be resolved soon.  For more information on the strike, please visit the “Durham Teaching Assistants Value Us” campaign page or ATL’s press release.

Website updates

You may have noticed that there have been a few updates to this website lately.
Not only do we have a new black-and-gold theme, but we also are rolling out an online booking facility using the 10to8 booking engine.  This allows clients more flexibility than ever before, with the option to change their own bookings, and also to see in real-time when their tutors are available for consultations.
We will also shortly be activating the Mallard Days Portal for students, enabling them to access personalized past paper collections, along with interactive online quizzes to test and maintain their subject knowledge throughout the year.  Access to this will be rolled out group by group, starting with GCSE Maths students in around 3 weeks time.
We hope that you will enjoy these updates, and that they will enhance your tuition experience.

Equality in science: why we all need to stand together

by Richard Hornby
Today is Ada Lovelace Day – “an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths” (1).  It should be a celebration, where people all across the globe take time to look at the work done by others – and to a certain extent, it achieves that: it stimulates thought and discussion. and enables people to think about the contribution made by a large part of our society, which is extremely underrepresented in their discipline.
Therein lies the problem with Ada Lovelace Day, and other such celebrations.  The fact that we need them at all.  Don’t get me wrong: right now, with society such as it is, “minority” groups (and I will explain my use of quotation marks in a moment) need every single piece of support they can get.
In the last couple of weeks, I have read two stories which highlights the issue of the under-representation of women in science.  The first is a letter by Jared Mauldin (), a Senior in Mechanical Engineering at Eastern Washington University:

To the women in my engineering classes:
While it is my intention in every other interaction I share with you to treat you as my peer, let me deviate from that to say that you and I are in fact unequal.
Sure, we are in the same school program, and you are quite possibly getting the same GPA as I, but does that make us equal?
I did not, for example, grow up in a world that discouraged me from focusing on hard science.  Nor did I live in a society that told me not to get dirty, or said I was bossy for exhibiting leadership skills.  In grade school I never had to fear being rejected by my peers because of my interests.  I was not bombarded by images and slogans telling me that my true worth was in how I look, and that I should abstain from certain activities because I might be thought too masculine.  I was not overlooked by teachers who assumed that the reason I did not understand a tough math or science concept was, after all, because of my gender.  I have had no difficulty whatsoever with a boys club mentality, and I will not face added scrutiny or remarks of my being the “diversity hire.”  When I experience success the assumption of others will be that I earned it.
So, you and I cannot be equal. You have already conquered far more to be in this field than I will ever face.
Mr Mauldin raises a very important issue which society needs to tackle: that of sexism.  Sexism, intertwined with stereotyping, is often seen as a “taboo” subject within public facing fields.  It is all to often the case that famous people and organisations will “keep their head down” when issues regarding inequality come up – lest they be judged by others one way or the other (or probably both), or perhaps because they don’t see it as “within their remit”.  Now, I’m not famous.  Nor am I speaking on behalf of any other organisation. But I am going to stand up and say that we need to take action.  Sexism, alongside all of the other “isms” of modern society is “within our remit” to discuss.  We are very fortunate to live on a planet, and be part of a species with so much character and variety.   We as humans are independent, free thinking, creative, and amazing.  That’s all of us. Not just the fraction of population that we each belong to, nor the fraction of population which dominates our particular society or profession, but each and every one of us.
As it has been pointed out to me many times, my chosen pursuit, science, is very much dominated by the fraction of population of which I am a part: white, relatively middle-class, male.  This means that it’s very difficult for me and others like me to understand what it’s like to be female, because I have never experienced it.  Yes, there was a time in my life where I was bullied for who I was, but fortunately, that has now passed.  I don’t have to live with the “constant sexism, belittling, socially conditioned self doubt and worry about not ‘showing women to be competent’” (3).  It is the same how white people fail sometimes to understand the impact that racism can have on a person: we simply have not lived through it.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we can just carry on as if it doesn’t exist.  We need to take positive action. It is vital that, for a society to be successful, that all its members should be on an equal and equitable footing, and the fact that prominent members of it, whichever field that are involved with, are using their position to affect and intimidate others without consent is wrong, and our society needs to openly have a zero tolerance approach on this matter.  We need to make sure that everyone in society is doing things for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.  Organisations (and society as a whole) need to have solid anti-harassment practices – which don’t just protect the vulnerable, but also enable those who have done wrong in the past to properly acknowledge their mistakes, and improve themselves, so that they learn and become better human beings because of it.  We also need to make sure that people are aware of these issues: not to personally attack people who have done wrong, but so that we all can become more understanding and tolerant of each other: if we can identify potential problems before they occur, it is so much easier to develop a society which is understanding, fair and equal to all.
Finally, you may be wondering why I put minority in quotation marks earlier.  Women make up 50% of the world population, so I’m not sure that it’s fair to call them a minority.  Society and stereotype have made them such in many professions and it’s up to us – the 21st century society – to challenge those previous discriminatory practices and stereotypes – and to stand up and advocate for a world that this free of bias and discrimination, where people are treated on merit alone, and where everyone, no matter what adjectives can be used to describe them can confidently stand up and say “hey, I’m me”, free from risk or fear of oppression of any kind.
I hope that, in whatever way you can, be that advocacy, increasing awareness, or simply listening, you can join me on this journey to a better, fairer humanity.
(3) a female friend

STEMtastic fun at Tyne Metropolitan College

Richard took park in a fun packed day for Primary School pupils at Tyne Metropolitan College on 8 July 2015.
Pupils from a variety of schools in the area attended a STEM event intended to increase participation in the STEM subjects; and excite and enthuse them to pursue further study or a career in STEM. Richard’s presentation concentrated on Astronomy, and featured practical demonstrations including watermelons, tomatoes and toilet roll, which created an almost fully-working model of the solar system.
The pupils attending seemed to enjoy the event, and I hope that this provided them with the encouragement they need to focus on science both at and after school.
If you would like any of the Mallard Days team to give a talk or workshop at your school, club or event, do not hesitate to contact us using the links above.