Flora Barton on the purpose of education

Flora Barton, headteacher at Cromarsh Gifford Primary school joined one of our previous Smiley Talks event – The Big Education Action Plan

Beforehand, she caught up with us to share her insight on the importance of happiness within schools and how we can build movements which foster this. 

When we think of innovation, it is often thought of as something happen in larger organisations. How do you innovate in a small village school like your own?

I think it’s very much involving everybody. It’s about making sure everyone is involved in the process. We ask questions of everything we do and I think that’s why we are innovative, and why we come up with new ways of teaching our children. It’s about putting the kids at the heart of everything we do.

We have three questions that base every action on. The first is thinking about the purposes of everything that we do. The second is, what impact is it going to have on our children? If it’s not positive, we usually don’t do it. And then what impact is it going to have on the wellbeing of staff? And again, if it’s not positive, we don’t do it. 

Do you feel there is conflict between your decision to prioritise teacher wellbeing and the direction education policy has gone in in recent years?   

Absolutely. I think we always say put the children at the heart of everything we do. I think every school everywhere would say that, but it is also about making sure that your staff are at the centre of everything.

It has to start with your teachers and has to start with the people who are actually making the magic happen, so to speak. And so it’s making sure that your staff are happy first, so that they can then in turn, make sure that the children are happy, because until their well being is at the centre, the children’s well being won’t be.

My first inset that I did, eight years ago, my very first meeting with all the teachers I said to them, that I would we would work together to make sure that they could all leave by 4.15pm twice a week with nothing in their hands.

At the time,  they were teachers who were basically sitting there, exhausted, some were staying till ridiculous hours of the night, working all of the time. So that is what we started from, just implementing that and taking it from there. 

Whatever we do, it’s going to be about reducing everything we do work smarter, not harder. And that’s kind of just where we started and where we continue to work from really.

Tell me a little bit about your Burn Brighter conference.

During the lockdown, I was very much of the opinion that we’ve been given time and time is a gift. And during that time, I had done a lot of thinking – even though I was working flat out the entire time – I was just thinking about all the time that children were then having at home and the time they were having with their families, and just the opportunity to slow down and to think about things and reflect.

I feel as though we’ve been given the opportunity to really make a difference and to make a change in education. I feel as though if we don’t do it, now, we are going to miss our opportunity, we are going to become complacent again, because we know what the job entails. And we know how tired we get. So Burn Brighter was really a conference I’ve put together. We have another conference planned for December and I want it to become a movement.

It is about getting people together, who are passionate about changing education, and finding out what we want education to look like and how we get there. 

Has there been anything in particular that you have learned from another educator and adopted into your own school? 

Yes, absolutely. That’s that’s what education is about – it’s about everybody sharing best practice. I can’t say anything that we do in our school is any different to schools all over England, it’s just that we question everything we do. And so through the questioning, we then start researching the best ways to do things for the children.

I think the biggest thing that we need to take from from the coronavirus crisis is that the competition between schools needs to be broken down. So we are sharing best practice because we’re in this for every child everywhere, not just for the children in our school. That’s why we’re in education.

What do you think the purpose of education is? 

I think the purpose of education, for me is about helping children develop the skills and the behaviours to be the most effective. Learners I can be, so that they can go on to be lifelong learners. It’s about engaging children and getting children to question the world around them. Because for me, school should be about helping children find their purpose in life. They won’t find their purpose in life in primary school, but it’s about helping them understand that they do have a purpose. Yeah. And I think for me, you know, success is about waking up in the morning and doing whatever it is that you love to do every single day. And that’s what I want to help develop in our children is find what they’re passionate about.

You mentioned having an opportunity brought about by the pandemic – where do you think we should go from here? 

I think, I think we all need to really take stock of where we are,and realise that we have been given an opportunity. Everyone needs to come together, put their heads together and think about what we really want the purpose of education to be. It’s a chance to actually redefine everything, to truly consider what it is that we want education to look like in our schools. I think it’s a chance to flip everything back up on its head and and, you know, start fresh from a brand new perspective.


Beat charity discusses government measures

Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, has criticised the measures set out by the government to address obesity. The charity recently published a report on the risks to people with eating disorders caused by government anti-obesity strategies, and asked Number 10 and Public Health England to take its recommendations into account when planning the current campaign.

Drawing on the harms and distress caused by previous anti-obesity campaigns, Beat asked the Prime Minister and Public Health England to avoid a repeat by only using evidence-based tactics, avoiding the promotion of crash dieting, and ensuring that eating disorder experts were consulted. This has been ignored on all three counts.

Beat’s Chief Executive, Andrew Radford, says: “In particular, we are concerned that the campaign will encourage people with eating disorders to use the promoted weight loss app, which fails to prevent under 18s or people with low-weight from using it, despite it not being suitable for them. Without suitable safeguards, what could be useful in helping people with obesity risks harming people with eating disorders.

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“It is also worrying to see a renewed emphasis on measures such as calorie labelling, as evidence clearly shows that these risk exacerbating eating disorders of all kinds. Furthermore, we are disappointed that the government has chosen to use language that blames people living with obesity. Instead we would like more attention to the complex causes of obesity, which for some people can include eating disorders.’

Beat welcomes the government’s intention to increase resources for NHS weight management services. Noting that up to 30% of people using these services are affected by binge eating disorder, we call for a nuanced approach to ensure that people with BED are properly supported.

Eating disorders are devastating mental illnesses, affecting over 1.25 million people in the UK, with anorexia nervosa having the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition. Beat urges the government to carry out an immediate review of these dangerous proposals to ensure that people with experience of eating disorders are not further put at risk.


Menspeak provides a safe space for men to support each other

The social enterprise MenSpeak, brainchild of Kenny Mammarella-D’Cruz who was called ‘The Man Whisperer’ by Newsweek, is calling for online men’s groups to be highlighted as a key way to keep men happy and well during  times of social isolation.


Kenny Mammarella-D’Cruz considers mental health to be a highly gendered issue. “In general, men prefer side-by-side communication, and tend to avoid clinical language and settings,” he says. Just over three out of four suicides (76%) are by men and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35. 


Mammarella-D’Cruz also acknowledges that for many men, seeing a therapist is too hierarchical, or they may feel their issues aren’t ‘severe’ enough. “Some men see these types of support as something needed by severely mentally ill people – not for people with everyday issues and challenges.”


This is where men’s groups come in. In a community of like-minded people, they’re able to talk ‘man-to-man’ and at their own pace. At these groups men are empowered by listening to others who’ve been through similar situations. The power is shared, rather than held by one qualified expert, who is habitually deferred to.


It’s not all about support though. MenSpeak is simply a men’s group, not a mental health support group, which allows for other needs to be met, like needs for connection, community and having a good laugh. “We aim at early prevention of mental health issues. If a man has nowhere to share the small stuff or ‘just hang out’, before he knows it he could be facing bigger problems down the line.” Mammarella-D’Cruz says.


“The reason we’re holding daily men’s groups is to keep men calm, connected, safe and sane in times when they might feel like caged animals. And as quarantine continues, the groups have never been more important,” says Mammarella-D’Cruz. 


MenSpeak has been hosting weekday lunchtime online mini-men’s groups – or ‘check-ins’ – with steadily growing numbers. Many men are new to such forums and find it easy to connect with others on a regular basis and share their feelings in total confidentiality. The benefit of this is that there are no judgements or pre-conceptions, like those that may come when sharing personal issues with existing friends and family.


One of the members, Bertie, 27, says: “I’ve been recovering from the flu – very likely to be Covid-19 – and I felt anxious and spaced out before the online group, but almost immediately after the check-in round I felt much calmer and more stable. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed real sharing with good men. It felt like a luxury to be able to chat, hang out, laugh, talk about real issues and feel connected in such a disconnected and chaotic time. The groups are essential for me for maintaining my sanity and remembering what life is really about – friendship through thick and thin, and finding the humour in every situation.”


MenSpeak also offer a free ‘Men’s Group Quick Start Guide’ for those who want to start their own group a one day training for those wish to take things further; and both open and closed groups for men who need more time and space to listen and share or who wish to commit to the same group of men over a period.


Interested men can join for free on


By Ellen Jones