Carnegie Mellon University recommends my blog post

Press article
It’s great when your work gets noticed. A while back I wrote a blog post entitled ‘Tips for tutors: 12 teaching strategies for effective learning‘ which has turned out to be quite popular on the internet, and highly ranked on Google.

Tips for tutors

It was with some surprise and delight that I recently found that the article has been added to a list of recommended resources by Carnegie Mellon University – Leonard Gelfrand Centre.

Carnegie Mellon



Good that my blog posts are being read, and even better if they can be of practical help to students.

Tutorhub featured in The Mirror

Ask Dr BlackI was pleased to see that an article in The Mirror entitled ‘Ask Dr Black: How can I make money from home using the internet‘ covered our online tutoring website Tutorhub.

It included seven ideas on how to make cash online, ranging from freelancing to affiliate marketing. In at number 5 came Teaching, via Tutorhub.

TutorhubHave something to teach? Fancy a go at earning cash online then why not give Tutorhub a try?

Educational Reforms and BBC Radio Bristol

Well the new School year has started. Kids the length and breadth of the country take a deep intake of breath, pull on the school uniform and head back to School.

This year is different though. Love him or hate him, Michael Gove’s reforms are making an impact. From free school breakfasts (okay a Clegg initiative) through to tougher marking for GCSE and A levels, he has definitely left his mark.

Last week, I was asked by BBC Radio Bristol to take part in a discussion involving educationalists and head-teachers about whether these reforms were on the whole good or bad, and the growing role of tutoring in education. I was not there to blow the trumpet about Tutorhub, but to provide insight from the perspective of The Tutors Association.

You can listen to the discussion by clicking on the bar below.


Mentioned in the FT

I was excited to be quoted in an article in today’s Financial Times entitled ‘Home school tutoring turns mainstream’.

Tutorhub in the FT

The article focuses on the use of Pupil Premium monies made available by the Government to Schools to improve the performance of children from less privileged backgrounds. Government funding for the Pupil Premium is now £900 per pupil for the year 2013-14, at a cost of £2.5bn. So what are the qualification criteria for the Pupil Premium? It covers those who have benefitted from Free School Meals (a population size of 1.6m) sometime in the last 6 years, those in care for over 6 months and the children of service personnel.

I was asked my opinion by Dorothy Lepkowska for my thoughts on the use of the Pupil Premium and whether we at Tutorhub had been asked by schools to provide online tutoring services direct to schools. It may come as no surprise that children from these backgrounds tend not to do so well at school. Comparing GCSE (A* to C, 2011-12) results of this group to the average, shows 42% passing versus 67%, an ‘attainment gap’ or shortfall of 25%. Lower levels of educational attainment are linked to low aspirations and future prospects.

In my opinion, a clear focus on this group is important, if we are to see higher levels of attainment across the board and in those schools which traditionally struggle to get children through their education with decent grades.

A controversial study by the Sutton Trust reported that most studies have consistently found that Teaching Assistants have a very small or no effects on attainment. Given this finding, it is somewhat surprising that schools continue to use money in this way. The picture for one to one tuition is different. The Sutton Trust also say that “pupils might improve by about 4 or 5 months during the programme”. Why isn’t this money being focused on providing hands on one to one tutoring help for disadvantaged pupils – £900 per pupil will still go along way.

Tutorhub in the FT

I see private tutoring as a way of levelling the playing field between those that have some money and those who have next to none. It seems like a ‘no brainer’ to me that Pupil Premium cash should be focused on where it will achieve the maximum benefit – private tutoring. For more on this see my article in the Tutorhub blog

Best holiday read – Papillon

I tend to read alot on holiday, as I don’t get the chance any other time. I like books with good stories and suspense. This year I downloaded Papillon onto my Kindle and loved it.


For those of you who don’t know it was written by Henri Charrière in 1969, an autobiography that covers the period 1931 – 1945 in his life. It was also dramatised into a Hollywood film in 1973 starring the great Steve McQueen. It the story of a man who was one of the few people to successfully escape from the notorious French penal colony of Devil’s Island.

Charriere becomes incarcerated, for murdering a pimp and becomes known as “Papillon,” or “butterfly,” because of a prominent tattoo. He maintains throughout that he is innocent and plots his way out of Devil’s Island.

The brutality of life at the penal colony is clear, along with the inhuman treatment – including long periods of solitary confinement, that he encounters. But his strength of will sees him through several escape attempts and ultimate freedom. He also finds the best in people, particularly his inmates and people he meets along the way.

Was it all true – maybe not. Some portions the story are disputed and several of Charriere’s fellow inmates have claimed over the years that he incorporated the experiences of other would-be escapees and presented them as his own story. But who cares, a great writer borrows wherever he can.

To me it’s a Boys Own adventure story. It’s gripping and the pace never fades – a real page turner. It’s my (current) favourite and a great book for your next holiday maybe….

Tutorhub Blog

It’s a constant battle – adults v kids. From the moment they are born, we are playing catch-up. The moment we figure out what to do, the little blighters change the rules and we are back to square 1.

Those with long memories will recall ‘Supernanny’ on Channel 4, which shone a torch at the battlefield that was bringing up toddlers and young children. It also gave the childless out there a really good insight into the ‘challenges’ of parenthood. Maybe you like me introduced House Rules along with Reward Charts and the Naughty Step, and maybe it even worked. But not for long!


The onset of the adolescent years brings with it a whole new set of challenges. For me, it’s a couple of spotty grunting teenage boys. Barely an hour goes by without them being generally objectionable or arguing with each other, me or my wife. Even the…

View original post 382 more words

Bristol Rugby – returning to the glory days

Those of you that know me will understand why I follow the fortunes of Bristol Rugby. It’s because I grew up close to the Memorial Stadium (where they play), went to a local school where some of the pupils ended up playing for the team, a general love of sport in general and rugby in particular.


Bristol have been under performing for decades now, lingering in the second tier of rugby for too many seasons. The news that Steve Lansdown (of Hargreaves Lansdown fame) is investing in the club is great news. His business rationale seems to be to get back to the Premiership, get crowds of 10k+ per game in the new Ashton Gate, so that the team becomes self-supporting. When you consider the numbers of people playing rugby in and around Bristol, this has to be achievable surely.

I must admit to being worried. Firstly, the last time we had a big backer – Malcolm Pearce, his patience with funding the club waned over time, as he was left to single handedly fund the club. Bristol crowds proved to be fickle, if we were performing well, then they came. The moment our form dipped, they stopped coming. You can’t blame them of course, but getting to the magic 10k must mean a large number of season ticket holders – the committed ones, not the fickle ones. The question I am left asking myself is why supporters are so fickle, and whether a long term commitment to top flight rugby will mean that things change.

I am also concerned by the move to Ashton Gate (south Bristol) from the Memorial Stadium (north Bristol). I think the vast majority of Bristol supporters will make the move of course, and the move from our traditional home is one we must bear as we have to move with the times. Ever since we lost the ground to Bristol Rovers, this day was coming. I would have preferred a move to the UWE stadium, but understand the business rationale for the move.

On the positive side. A new Director of Rugby in the experienced form of Andy Robinson is great news, along with five new signings from Premiership teams. This will generate a much more positive attitude at the club, and will no doubt lead to the promotion the club desires.

I can’t wait for the playoffs and hope that somehow we manage to fight our way through the laughable playoffs and get back into the Premiership next season. If not there is always next season.

C’mon Bris!

Tutorhub Blog

Having already looked at some of the top educational tools for students on the market, I’ve flipped the classroom and had a gander from the other side of the desk.

Expected to turn up to every lesson and lecture with a firm plan of action, we sometimes forget the amount of behind-the-scenes slog that goes into the working day of our esteemed educators.

I’ve been snooping around for the best tools currently on offer to teachers – if you think I’ve missed any out please don’t hesitate to throw your suggestions my way using the comment box below.

1) Teachers Pay Teachers: Vast marketplace where lesson plans, tests, quizzes, worksheets, white board activities, powerpoints and more are available either for free or for sale. Ok, it’s an American centric tool but there are plenty of great resources right across the curriculum that transcend borders. Got any lesson plans you’re particularly proud of? Upload them to…

View original post 416 more words

Remembering my dad, 26 years on

Edward Ellis (also known as Ted) born 11th January 1928 in Dunmanway, Ireland. Died 17th November 1986 aged 58 at home, Bristol.

My Dad

26 years have passed since my fathers death I still miss him. The pain of loss has largely subsided and good memories remain, here are a few of them.

Christmas was always a special time for us kids. My fathers brothers Jim and Charlie would come to stay with us for a few days arriving Christmas Eve and leaving anytime between Boxing and New Years Day. We lived in a small house in Horfield, Bristol and the moment they arrived my father was so happy – talking about family and the old days, chain smoking and quaffing Paddy’s whiskey. My dad wasn’t a big drinker, it was just Christmas but there was room for a little potcheen. We loved having them around, I remember these times every Christmas.

Dad worked alot, and by that I mean an awful lot. Money was tight, so he dug deep and worked as much overtime as he possibly could at ‘BAC’ (British Aeroplane Company) where he was a timekeeper – one of those jobs that completely disappeared with the onset of the computer. This meant that he was not home that much, and when he was he was tired and napping.

His father died when he was a young child, when times were really tough in rural Ireland, especially for a young family with six children. He was the youngest, the baby, his older brothers looked out for him. For dad, the priority was paying the mortgage and putting food on the table – that’s was a good dad did.

He passed away when I was only 25 years old, too soon by any measure. There are a few moments from my early life where I remember him clearly.

  • Scooting around in my pedal car in the back garden, and helping him gardening
  • Death of his older brother Jim, who died with us over the Christmas period. It was the fist time that I saw him visibly sad and upset, I didn’t know what to say or do.
  • Going to see the Tutankhamun Exhibition in London, when I was eleven. Staying overnight in a B&B, getting lost at the British Museum and visiting his brother Tom.
  • Demolishing our garage, involving smashing a wooden construction to bits, fascinating for a young boy.
  • Mending our car. It was years before we had a car, but when we did – our first was a Zephyr 6, it was always breaking down. His colourful language was not to be repeated inside the house.
  • First day of work. I got a summer job at BAC, and I went to see him in his office, it was strange to see him out of the home environment
  • My graduation. He and Mum were as proud as punch. It was his approval that meant that I got to stay on at Sixth Form and got to go to Bristol Polytechnic.

He regarded himself as English rather than Irish, which surprised me. But this attitude was borne, I think, of his upbringing in Church of Ireland (Protestant) Southern Ireland after Irish Free State was set up. He and most of his brothers fought for the British Army. By the time he joined the Royal Marines, World War II was over. After meeting my mother, he ended up in Portsmouth and after leaving the Marines back to her home town of Bristol. He never yearned to be back in Ireland, he liked visiting family there of course, but his life was in Bristol.

My regrets include the things that he missed. Me settling down, getting married and having sons of my own. Having a career and ‘putting food on the table’ myself. There are many times I have thought about him and played out conversations in my head. I happen to believe in an afterlife, which helps – as one day I am sure we’ll be able to catch up properly.

What final memories do I have? Well, his smell – cigarettes (he was a Players Navy Cut man), Brylcream and sweat. His voice – a strong West Cork accent – sometimes hard to interpret for those outside the family, and his laugh. Oh, and a strong sense of being loved.

Miss you dad.