Articles

History Lessons Regarding Mantleoftheexpert.com

Luke Abbott

President of NATD

A little background may help people comprehend the unique opportunity I grasped to raise the profile of what I and many others believe to be one of the most significant educational inventions of all time, that of Mantle of the Expert©. This opportunity was also at a significant time in the history of education in the UK. I did this in spite of deliberate and obstructive opposition from a number of quarters, in the firm belief that MoE needed to be disseminated beyond the few and to happen urgently. For me, the time was right in 2005.

Our actions are never without motivation, investment, models and stand points so I am no different from any one else in that respect. However, perhaps I have some experiences that might be relevant. My father was a Greek Cypriot émigré escaping the terrible life he had as a peasant on the fields of the Kiko Monastery for his first 18 years. In Palestine to this day peasant people can be seen doing the same work and, unfortunately, in the same conditions. Such conditions often result in the abuse of people both physical and mental and my father’s life was no exception to this fact. He faced physical beatings from the monks as well as his parents who staunchly believed that we ‘suffer the little children’. What a terrible curse on the world of children that little phrase caused and probably still causes. In Islam physical punishment is prohibited in the Qur’an.

It is the way of the Orthodox Middle East. He was a deeply committed Greek Orthodox believer.

My mother came about from the union of the son of an Irish Gypsy Traveller family from around Dublin and a farm workers daughter from the Giant’s Causeway both deeply Catholic. The spiritual and intellectual poverty experienced by both of my parents was not passed onto me directly as they strove to give me a schooling and a way of life away from such strife. They left the poverty and fled to England. My father joined the British Air Force and saw action in the 2nd World War my mother working in the war factories as a young woman. But the indelible images brought to me by stories and memories of the past from both of them caused such a rage on this form of poverty in me, that my life has been coloured in all my being to strive to bring it to an end somehow as best I could.

We are all the results of so many experiences so perhaps the history of MoE was started then so long ago when I was born, in 1950.

It was with great attention to detail that we set up the website and the infrastructure to teach the particular method called Mantle o the Expert. Having contacted Dorothy Heathcote herself on the matter in 2005, she talked me through the best solutions I had in mind. She further agreed to be the guiding attendant at all stages of the development. I remember her saying ‘You will have to face a lot of people who will not like what you’re trying!’ I laughed at the time.

Having Dorothy as willing partner was essential. Later on in 2006, I was beginning to loosen myself from the chains of Advisory and Inspection work, and in the Blair administration under the guidance of David Hopkins (Education Policy Group) the Primary Strategy was initiated. Research grants were available for schools facilitated by the local education authorities. It was here that the idea struck. What if we could set up a small local network of 12 schools in Essex to research MoE by applying it as a mode of learning across the curriculum? We were bound by protocol to concentrate on boy’s achievement, which was woeful in Essex at the time, especially boys from white working class backgrounds.

So I had the idea.

One that for me was the seed of what later became Mantle of the Expert.com. The idea was to link the schools as a network and talk to each other via the then new technology of interschool communication. Our impacts were staggering across the network. Teachers reported a huge upsurge of written outcomes for boys as they tackled the problems of snakes in the Everglades, landing on the moon to trial new ways to live and finding unearthed tombs at the times of the Pharos. We had to publish our results so we sheepishly did so on obscure data reporting places through e mails to Essex Statistics Offices who then collated them to publish to the then DfEE. We were a little embarrassed at the successes so played them down in case people thought we were exaggerating!

We have come a vast distance since then in that field of data collection. Because of the National Networking Strategy (such a fantastic vision of David Hopkins and later developed into a School Improvement tool by NCSL) we were contacted out of the blue by a school in Newcastle, of all places, which had heard of our attempts to reach out into this new thing called the ‘Creative Curriculum’. We later discovered our network had been classified under this heading in the government red tape. They were very keen to hear of any ideas and asked to be kept in touch. This we did and it resulted in a great deal of talking about learning through the imagination. I also went up to run various conferences and teachings in schools. One of these was a disaster and unfortunately witnessed by Eileen Pennington one of Dorothy’s closest friends and fellow practitioners. We all knew that we were learning so the event soon passed! Eileen also ran many workshops at our National conferences.

(In any case the head teacher still invited me back…)

As the technology improved it became possible for other schools in the Creative Curriculum network across the UK to have access to others and their experiments. We were inundated with ‘hits’, a new term I had no idea about at the time. So many, that we had to separate ourselves from the main activity. It was then that I had the fortunate luck to employ Tim Taylor to Essex advisory unit. He had the supreme skills and knowledge of MoE and communications technology as Sue Eagle, his head teacher at Tuckswood First School, deeply troubled by poverty traps, had been busy promoting the work in her school under Tim’s AST leadership. Sue was a supreme creator of networks allowing Tim to extend the work throughout Norfolk schools. During an inspection by HMI of the school it became clear that Tim’s work was doing exceptionally well. The inspection reported that the use of the ‘class based enterprises’ had been seen to have amazing impacts on ‘hard to reach’ children. Rapid progress could be seen and there was the first of the ‘assessment informing practice’ comments now so common. At the same time Bealings Primary School received the first HMI designated Outstanding and Unique school judgment. No school had been awarded the ‘unique’ status, ever. Duncan Bathgate the Head Teacher had laid out his plan to use the MoE planning throughout the school. He even had a visit from Dorothy who stayed a day and ran workshops with children and teachers alike.

The first nationally recognized impacts due directly from the MoE community, though of course Dorothy had also the results of her work with a TIE team in Spondon who had gained similar results.

Clearly, something important was happening in primary schools that were using MoE.

Ofsted at the time were able under the direction of HMCI to issue special recommendations for research projects to schools gaining outstanding for curriculum practices during inspections. Therefore, because of the quality of the report, Tuckswood was awarded a Post Inspection Research Grant to take the creative curriculum work further in the school, but more importantly, in the locality. Bealings Primary was already recognized as a Training School by NCSL and was busy working with local schools to promote the system in any case.

We must remember that this was all new. The school-led activity was designed so that new skills of networking and researching could be attempted outside the auspices of the local authority. Norfolk however was extremely interested in the work under the then Assistant Director Fred Corbett who supported MoE in as many ways as he could. Tim Taylor led the research activity and together we set up a small MoE community of practice across Essex and Norfolk. It would be fare to say that these pioneers lead the way to a much bigger community later on. The research group needed a place to develop their skills and Tim found Ringsfield Hall. We then ran weekend MoE immersion experiences with me as tutor. What a coup this was. Tim had begun his apprenticeship with me some years before and this was the next natural step for us to develop the work into the main stream beyond Essex and Norfolk. We would be able to advertise the weekends to others to come along and learn the basics of the system and keep everyone involved by the ongoing development of the MoE website. By coincidence we have kept Ringsfield Hall as a viable unique residence that follows similar attitudes and beliefs to us.

Around this time, I asked colleagues in ND if they would be interested in developing MoE as a possible addition to their electronic collections. Although they declined, we have to understand the position at the time. Websites were new and hardly understood. They tended to have a batch of articles or materials that were unattractive to people in general, as they were just ‘repositories’ for texts that were of little use to any one except researchers and student teachers perhaps. All this was of course was about to change forever.

The world of Apple Macs and self-constructed websites was years away and in any case, so few people had grasped the possibilities for the future use of such sites, the technology however was emerging faster than lightning. For most of us, it was such a job to keep up with it all. Many of us lacked the e vision. The websites were also meager as the expense of hiring programmers and other professionals was just too much to keep them going.

ND kindly said that since, in their understanding, MoE was a convention of drama, they declined to put any resources into any specialist development under MoE. This was absolutely understandable at the time. We were unfortunately, too early in the website game even though the MoE community had begun to amass a growing set of plans and structures as well as the famous Heathcote Toolkits and Constructs. It is hardly surprising that a huge international organization such as ND would not take this up at that time.

Question: What to do?

Answer: We would have to take the plunge and invent our own website.

The work involved would be massive and in those days, expensive. We needed friends and pioneers in the fields of web construction as well as new ways to attract people to browse through the contents especially planning examples for teachers.

I took the step of asking Tim to construct a website with web designer, Richard Heyward funded by the Primary Strategy in Essex, who gave us permissions to use the county logo in the first ever electronic website for teachers to share practices in MoE.

Having set up the technical possibilities, I then approached Dr. Heathcote with much trepidation at a tutorial in 2006 to go over the whole infrastructure and strategy to promote and teach people how to use her brilliant invention. By then I had learnt through teaching with children all over the UK and abroad how it worked in classrooms. In fact I left Newcastle in 1982 and returned to drama teaching at Stantonbury Campus Milton Keynes. For nearly 10 years I did my teaching apprenticeship in learning how MoE worked in a secondary school with 2000 students and could work across the curriculum with some successes (and disasters of course) along the way. The results of the following years drama GCSE’s speak for themselves as over the 1982-1991 Drama GCSE all cohorts of all 300 year 11 students per year managed to average 85% A-C. This was possible as I was franchised by Mike Davies the Head Teacher, to teach all staff interested in the teaching of drama and later, MoE.

I am sure with Mr. Gove’s 2013 eyes, these would not bear scrutiny, but I was extremely proud at the time. The success I believe was due to the new ideas I had commandeered from my work with Dorothy, except I was doing no more than any other of her former students. What were we supposed to do anyway-forget all we learnt with the misguided perception that Newcastle was some sort of nirvana never to be taken away to the provinces? I had invested a vast amount of energy commitment and financial hardship to learn from Dorothy and I have a rather hard-bitten view that if you know something, use it especially if was hard fought for.

In 2007 it was time to move into the National arena as authorities up and down the country were under a new set of financial constraints. We had the Local Government Cabinet Structure to deal with. Suddenly, the Cabinet in Essex directed that Education, Libraries and Schools Services had to find ways to fund activity beyond statutory requirements. Thus began the MoE National Conferencing programme under a new and visionary Traded Services manager Christian Van Neuberger. Under his guidance we set up nationally structured conference programmes, which were hugely successful. These were all planned in significant detail and collaboration with Dorothy who was truly delighted at the idea of teachers teaching teachers, as I insisted that teachers in the field supported by advanced practitioners conducted the workshops. In Dr. Heathcote’s view expressed at all the conferences in her keynotes, this was the best form of learning for CPD.

Dorothy also agreed to lead each conference with a keynote address and run a workshop to ensure cohesion and the message that as the work needed deep attention to detail, this would be adhered to. All materials we used at each conference were scrutinized by Dorothy to keep the quality assurance crystal clear. We selected practitioners of national quality to run workshops as well as teachers who were in trial process. We linked a national figure with each teacher as joint presenters. Expensive but very powerful.

The conferences honored Dorothy’s work and in a conversation I had with her when taking her back home to Spondon, she admitted that the conferences had triggered a new renaissance of her work and she was very grateful, though of course this was yet another of her gifts, deep humility. I also remember that Gavin Bolton came to the Newcastle conference in 2007. His amazement that so many people were flocking to hear Dorothy again and so many using MoE in the workshops had made him realise that the deeply complex and controversial system MoE had, in fact, got many advocates, users and admirers. He also applauded the attempts we were making in establishing a place where teachers could investigate the system to learn more. In this way he asserted, the complexity of MoE as a system would not be lost, as he had pre-asserted in his book on the history of drama just published at the same time.

For me it is interesting to note that Gavin was my assessor in 1974 back in the days of the RSA Diploma for Drama in Education. I had attended every workshop lead by him whenever I could. The first workshop I did with him was in 1971 in Suffolk. He and Hugh Lovegrove (the then Redbridge Drama Adviser) came into a lesson where I was working with a class of 10 year old children addressing a land ownership squabble between a farmer and group of migrant workers who wanted to stay on his land for a few months…I had been on a Heathcote workshop in Barking and seen her work magic with a similar aged class and I wanted to have a go on my assessment day. Chris Havel, my very fine friend and tutor, had supported me in taking the risk as he knew of DH’s work too. His wife was also a former Advanced Diploma student of DH’s. It was Gavin and Dr. John Fines who advised me 7 years later to embark on a long-term course with Dorothy at Newcastle upon Tyne University as one of her early Master in Education students. It was a year like no other. Dr. John later became a great friend and ally and also came into our working party on Learning and Teaching at Stantonbury Campus Milton Keynes from 1982, then onto Essex to the year of his sudden death.

As a past Masters student of hers, (1981-2) and having worked with her in many ways over the years, by 2006 I knew the pitfalls of rushing ahead on an idea to promote the ideas of the greatest teacher of all time. I knew by observation that Dorothy was very capable of cutting people out of her life in the event of any acts of guile or stupidity and I was determined not to be one of those unfortunates. In any case I had, before and after the years of my Masters course, sought her assistance in many matters concerning the teaching of drama and MoE in particular, as it was the focus of the work of the year I studied with her. I had one of the famous tutorials in her rooms just about twice every year from 1981 to 2012. Whilst I do not count myself as one of her inner circle, I do believe that Dorothy allowed me to keep delving into the infrastructure of the system time and time again, even up to her death. Even now I am aware that I only gathered an inkling of what the system was about and could become. One of the gifts she had for me was her generosity. In my attempts at finding the solutions to the matrix of MoE I went through many experiments to find the most directly understandable of the ingredients of making it work. I was determined to share it with others and shout it out loud for the world to hear. There is still so much to find out of course. Maybe, one day, we will gather the Heathcote tribe and find out?

We must remember that back in the 1980’s only a handful of people had been inducted into the working practices of MoE. Many of the Australian, New Zealand and US academics that studied with her at the time had commandeered her work into their teachings obviously using all they could to promote it forever more. Her influence is everywhere in our work and why she had to wait so long for the establishment’s recognition is a mystery to me. She deserved at least a Dame hood.

In 2010 came the matter of Quality Assurance. The fear both Dorothy and I had was that once the secrets were out of the bag, anyone would be able to play MoE, metaphorically speaking of course. We waited to see if anyone other than the trained people would try to set themselves up. We did not have to wait too long as we discovered shockingly superficial courses on offer from people we had never heard of and could not be traced to the conferences, nor any of our training or school based teaching places nor the attendance lists of Ringsfield Hall.

Something had to be done. I had the idea of possibly patenting the term Mantle of the Expert or any of its derivatives allowing only bone fide people to use the term in their work if they were trading. Dorothy agreed, so I went away to find out the costs, which were mountainous. We decided to split the costs and went ahead and patented the term in Europe to protect the name and the quality. We had found information on the internet that firms of educationalists were springing up all over the place and selling their wares to whoever would buy! Such is the state of our education system under the ultra right wing market forces then emerging in education and now so firmly established as fact.

Then the Quality Mark procedures were invented. Dorothy thought this was a splendid idea and worked with me to agree the criteria. She was worried that the educational theories and application standards needed to be built in so we created routes to academic levels under the direction of Professor Harriet Marland at Bishop Grosetteste University Lincoln (once the province of Geoff Redman another of Dorothy’s Diploma Students.) This enables people to work towards M credits through the University systems of awards and the TDA.

In one of the MoE Training Schools – Woodrow First School-we see the results on poverty-ridden children not far from my own parents experiences. The Head teacher, Richard Kieran, has invested much of his own time and that of his staff in developing and training learning as he goes along. It was his team of staff that came to Ramallah Palestine to teach alongside teachers in schools in Jerusalem how MoE can liberate the mind and soul through the use of drama strategies within its system. One of his practitioners has just completed her Masters final dissertation using MoE as the key focus of her work. There are many others in the pipeline.

Some critics may have the view that here we are, a bunch of teachers, ex- teachers, ex-inspectors of schools and ex-students of Dorothy Heathcote benefiting from an invention created by her. However there may also be the view that now more teachers are using a method deeply routed in her practices as her name is always prefaced and honoured in all we do and talk about. Her legacy has also been seen in the recent highly acclaimed Heathcote Reconsidered conference, under the vision of Pam Bowell, another of Dorothy’s ex-students. Workshop presenters it is reported punctuated the conference with many samples of the applications of MoE methods.

Maybe then, it is not so strange to observe the upsurge of MoE coming at a time when the website has been and continues to be so, without any charges. Planning from teachers across the world is placed on it so that anyone can have free access to the experiments of teachers their trials and materials.

The site has been copied by New Zealand colleagues under the direction of Dr. Viv Aitkin at Waikato University and copied directly into Arabic for the Qattan Arts Foundation in Palestine at vast costs in translation and the detail required to scrutinize each concept and word. David Davies and Wasim Kurdi have made this possible. Furthermore, as schools in the UK under the New Curriculum, begin the take the reins of power to establish their own destinies they can use what others in the field have found successful for learning. The highest accolades received from HMI in the present time and in the past in the inspection of primary schools using MoE methods is not by achieved by accident but by design.

Our critics may well berate us for the position we are in but the results speak for themselves given that much was established in a past that is closed. People just do not use materials or procedures when told. If they find it themselves and want to know more we at MoE.com can support them. The planning strategies for MoE have come from within the profession itself and perhaps the position of a community of practice supporting the movement for applied drama practices is the actual manifestation of the visionary educational world David Hopkins NCSL, HMI and the IoE had all those years ago.

With such evidences of impact on the poverty of children’s intellectual and spiritual beings, surely it can be seen that with the overwhelming accolade to the work of Dorothy Heathcote we are doing no more than commandeering all we know that can benefit children throughout the world. Quite a legacy by the founder of a system called Mantle of the Expert?

Her former students in my view have such a duty to perform and I am doing it my way in a technical sense, until I am taken away in a box with or without permissions from anyone.

Our destinies are ours to fashion. I have found mine and am content with it.

Luke Abbott Ramallah Palestine July 14th 2013

Posted in category: Articles | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “History Lessons Regarding Mantleoftheexpert.com”

  1. Luke Abbott Says:
    July 14th, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Thank you Tim for getting this up so quickly. Reading it on the website makes me remember how we first worried that anyone would want to do anything with MoE. Now we know. There is much more to tell in between the margins of history of course as well as the struggle for recognition beyond the orthodox constraints of the drama world. But I am glad we strove out into the blue yonder and did our own thing with it even in the face of derision.

  2. Richard Kieran Says:
    July 15th, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    “A vision without action is just a dream; an action without vision just passes time; a vision with an action changes the world.”

  3. Debra Kidd Says:
    July 15th, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    Luke, this work remains to date the most powerful pedagogical frame I’ve come across for any child of any age and I and many other teachers across the country are deeply indebted to yours and Tim’s efforts to make it accessible. I’m always learning and developing, always realising that there’s another nuance and trick to be mastered, but I know that it works. Thank you for writing this and for sharing the history of the work.

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