I began my teaching career in De La Salle Secondary school, Downpatrick, in March 1974 spending the next forty years there until retirement in 2014. I trained as a history teacher but at a very early stage found that the biggest problem many students faced was their inability to access the texts because of weak literacy skills.
I completed an Open University Degree in Psychology. In 1991 I completed a post graduate degree (MSc) in Developmental and Educational Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast and, in the same year, was involved in setting up a Special Education Unit for children with Mild or Moderate Learning Difficulties.
In 1998 I was so influenced by a book by American Cognitive psychologist, Professor Diane McGuinness ‘Why Children Can’t Read and What we Can do About It’ that I contacted Professor McGuinness and trained to use her reading programme. I adapted the programme for an older student group.Over the next three years this reading programme was introduced to all year 8 pupils. Along with other measures and reforms to the curriculum, GCSE results increased from 28% (5 or more A* – C) to over 60%.
In 2000 I was invited to join the Committee of the UK Reading Reform Foundation (RRF: https://rrf.org.uk), a voluntary organisation dedicated to campaigning for research-informed teaching of reading in primary schools in England. Partly as a result of the RRF campaign the UK government endorsed systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) for the initial teaching of reading in primary schools in England. I had the privilege of speaking at the RRF conference at University College London in 2009 and in 2011 I chaired the conference.
I am in the Advisory Group of the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction.
In 2016 I was invited by the National Education Union to deliver the Eleventh Annual Lecture ‘Targeting Social Need – can high-poverty schools help disadvantaged pupils?’
I have campaigned for the abolition of academic selection for many years and I write regularly on this topic, publishing articles in the Irish News and the Belfast Telegraph.
I have corresponded with Richard D. Kalenberg, a Senior Fellow with the Century Foundation. Professor Kalenberg is the author of ‘All Together Now’ and is an acknowledged expert on socioeconomic integration in American schools.
I’ve had over a hundred letters published in the last twenty years all on education. Here are some accessible examples: