Sunday, 15 March 2020

School Leadership: Hard or Complex?

‘The work that school leaders do is complex.’ – Tom Rees/Ambition Institute

You can say that again!

I’ve been moving up through the hallowed ‘ranks’ of school leadership, for the past 5 or so years and my one word summary of it is that it is hard. Hard and getting harder – the increase being due to increase in responsibility that the move to a more senior position brings.

But Tom Rees’ article for Ambition Institute has made me re-evaluate my one word summary.

Perhaps it’s not so much that it’s hard, more that it is complex. Do I work hard? Yes, I’d like to think so. Do I work hard for excessive amounts of time? No, I’m quite good at managing my workload and know that downtime is essential. But is the work complex? Yes, definitely.

Checking a dictionary definition of the word ‘complex’ confirms the difference between the two words: ‘complex’ means consisting of many different and connected parts, whereas the most fitting suggestions for the word ‘hard’ are difficult to bear; causing suffering and requiring a great deal of endurance or effort.

My timetable belies the complexity: one minute coaching a middle leader, the next co-teaching with another teacher. Half a morning planning with one year group, the rest of the time spent teaching children working at greater depth in maths. A meeting with the science coordinator, an NQT meeting, lesson drop ins, overseeing proceedings in the canteen, gate duty, SLT briefing, reading with year 6 children, catching up with the lunchtime supervisors. And that’s just the regular stuff.

On top of that are the myriad other things that it is my responsibility to be involved in, most of which come with no notice: the oh-I-was-hoping-to-catch-you-about- type conversation on the stairs that turns into a half an hour conversation; the behaviour report that comes through the online system that you have to deal with; the safeguarding issues that arise; the million things you see during a school day that set the mind racing as to potential solutions – the list really could go on and on.

And there are the irregular things too. This week: taking part in business continuity planning in case of school closure.


When you put it like that – the job certainly is hard because it is complex. 


It may well be the case that no one single issue is that difficult to handle – it’s just the old thing of keeping all the plates spinning at once. With all those things spinning around in a brain-bound tornado it is difficult to deal with: the hardness comes as a result of the complexity.


At this juncture, I can offer no solutions to the problem of how hard the job can be as a result of its complexity. But I think there is some comfort to be found in the acceptance of the fact that being a school leader is complex and therefore is difficult (or hard) to do. In fact, it also points to certain logical solutions: when the job is becoming too hard, the complexity might need to be reduced. This reduction might only be temporary and probably driven by prioritisation, but it could be exactly what is needed to make the job, at least for a short time, a little less hard.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Getting Ready For The 2020 KS2 Reading Test

If you're just here for the free resources, then here are the links:

Booklet 1: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/booklet-1-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12250306

Mark Scheme for Booklet 1: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/mark-scheme-for-booklet-1-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12260913

Booklet 2: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/booklet-2-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12257463

However, if you have a little more time, have a read about the thought process that has gone into the resource creation.

But, before you start reading my bit, I can't stress how important it is that you read Penny Slater's blog series of reflections on analysis of the 2019 reading test. It is in 4 parts and it has been the reading of these that has brought me to write this blog post about how I am hoping to prepare for the 2020 test:

https://www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/blog/reflections-analysis-2019-ks2-reading-sats-part-1

https://www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/blog/reflections-analysis-2019-ks2-reading-sats-part-2

https://www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/blog/reflections-analysis-2019-ks2-reading-sats-part-3

https://www.hertsforlearning.co.uk/blog/reflections-analysis-2019-ks2-reading-sats-part-4

One of our main reflections on having given our year 6 children a go at some of the past papers is that stamina is a key skill which needs to be developed.

With this in mind, I looked at the wordage breakdowns that Tim Roach and Penny Slater provided:

Given that 2019's test had the longest reading extracts ever I decided to use its word count as a benchmark for developing some reading comprehension activities that we could use with the children to develop their stamina.

It wasn't just the word count that was the issue. Previously, we had no way of checking whether or not the reading materials we were using in reading lessons were of a comparable difficulty to the texts used in the tests.

I used a simple online analysis tool to get some more information: https://datayze.com/readability-analyzer.php

I ran each of the three 2019 reading texts through the tool and got the following information:

The Park:


Fact Sheet: About Bumblebees:


Music Box:


Using this data I set about finding similar suitable texts (in both length and readability) to use for a series of test-like comprehension activities. The aim of these activities is to replicate the length and readability of the second and third texts in the 2019 paper so as to provide around 40-45 minutes' worth of reading and answering questions. So far, at my current school, reading lessons have not provided such practice at such length so in the run up to Easter we have adapted our timetable to allow for longer reading lessons.

To aid me in the creation of these questions I re-made the questions from texts 2 and 3 of the 2019 paper and used these as a template (click the link to download these from TES). I also did a quick analysis of both question types (e.g. short written answer, complete the table, multiple choice tick box etc) and an analysis of the content domain coverage (using the information in the mark scheme):

Fact Sheet: All About Bumblebees:

Content Domains:

2a = 2/19 marks = 11%
2b = 9/19 marks = 47% (2 mark questions)
2c = 6/19 marks = 32%
2d = 3/19 marks = 16% (inferences in NF)
2g = 1/19 marks = 5%

Question types:

Short answer (one line): 14, 17, 18, 21, 26 = 5/15 = 33%
Medium answer (two lines): 19, 22b, 27 = 3/15 = 20%
Complete table: 15, 25 = 2/15 = 13%
Multiple choice tick box: 16, 20, 23 = 3/15 = 20%
Tick table: 22a, 24 = 2/15 = 13%

Music Box:

Content Domains:

2a = 1/17 marks = 6%
2b = 5/17 marks = 29%
2d = 9/17 marks = 53% (3 mark inference questions)
2g = 2/17 marks = 12%

Question types:

Short answer (one line): 31, 34, 35, 36, 38 = 5/12 = 42%
Medium answer (two lines): 28, 30 = 2/12 = 17%
Long answer (3 marks): 39 (32 is also 3 marks) = 1/12 = 8%
Complete table: 32, 33 = 2/12 = 17%
Multiple choice tick box: 29, 37 = 2/12 = 17%

So far I have identified several texts which I have begun to create reading comprehension questions for. With the ones I have created so far I have stuck quite closely to the questions from the 2019 test, however will probably deviate more to bring in more variety as I create more resources.

Here are the texts I have found so far (texts in bold are texts from 2019 test):

Fiction:

Title
Wordage
Ave. Score
Flesch Reading Ease
Jane Eyre
807
3.242
98.05
The Wrong Train
800
3.54
97.29
Armistice Runner
774
3.634
92.19
Music Box
908
4.414
90.64
Louisiana’s Way Home
803
4.436
89.78
The City of Secret Rivers
789
4.53
90.56
Floodworld
896
4.646
90.54
The Park
636
5.342
88.51

Narrative Non-Fiction:
Title
Wordage
Ave. Score
Flesch Reading Ease
Lightning Mary
495
3.52
94.32
The Girl Who Fell From The Sky
908
6.066
79.15


Non-Fiction:
Title
Wordage
Ave. Score
Flesch Reading Ease
Human Digestive System
870
5.574
79.7                              
Pets in Cold Weather
650
5.932
83.59
When You Grow Up
700
6.55
84.75
All About Bumblebees
632
6.87
68.48
Henry 8th Wives
748
8.594
70.77
All About The Circular Economy
814 (+diagrams)
8.754
66.51
Dr Jane Goodall Interview
789
8.784
67.47
What is a Bushfire?
657
9.218
64.46
Tutankhamun
649
9.408
61.42


Most texts have been sourced from Nat Geo Kids and LoveReading4Kids.

A note on the Flesch score: The Flesch score uses the number of syllables and sentence lengths to determine the reading ease of the sample. A Flesch score of 60 is taken to be plain English. A score in the range of 60-70 corresponds to 8th/9th grade English level. A score between 50 and 60 corresponds to a 10th/12th grade level. Below 30 is college graduate level. To give you a feel for what the different levels are like, most states require scores from 40 to 50 for insurance documents.

So, looking at the above non-fiction texts, and converting the US grade system to the UK year group system we find that, according to this simple analysis, All About Bumblebees could potentially be a year 9/10 level text, better suited to 13-15 year-olds. However, the Flesch Reading Ease scores are calculated using only number of words, number of sentences and number of syllables in words.

In order to get another idea of readability I also averaged out the scores from the 5 other readability scores that the analyser provides (Gunning Fog Scale Level, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, SMOG Grade, Dale-Chall Score, Fry Readability Grade Level). None of this is an exact science but I hope it gives a ballpark idea of how difficult the texts should be in order to match the texts in the test.

Interestingly, although the text The Park is shorter, and is in the number one position in the 2019 test, it comes out as being a slightly more difficult text than Music Box. In this instance, we must assume the shortness of the text, combined with simpler questions (a heavier focus on retrieval than inference, for example), makes this an easier part of the test. I think it also shows us that the difficulty of the text based on these scores can vary, therefore the questions we ask must be complex enough (if we are wanting to replicate the difficulty of the test for practice purposes).

When choosing the non-fiction texts I tried to find things that of a similar interest level to the SATS texts - I also wanted to make sure that there was a variety of subject matter and text type. When choosing the fiction texts I tried to find extracts in which something happens - it wasn't just a case of finding a chunk with the right wordage.

With all this in mind, with the texts I currently have, I suggest the following order of use for the resources I intend to create:

Lightning Mary + Human Digestive System = 495 + 870 = 1365 words
Pets in Cold Weather + Jane Eyre = 650 + 807 = 1457 words
When You Grow Up + The Wrong Train = 700 + 800 = 1500 words
Henry 8th Wives + Armistice Runner = 748 + 774 = 1522 words
All About The Circular Economy + Louisiana’s Way Home = 814 + 803 = 1617 words
Dr Jane Goodall Interview + The City of Secret Rivers = 789 + 789 = 1578 words
What is a Bushfire? + Floodworld = 657 + 896 = 1553 words
Tutankhamun + The Girl Who Fell From The Sky = 649 + 908 = 1557 words

A few examples of the texts and questions that can be downloaded on the TES website:

Booklet 1: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/booklet-1-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12250306

Mark Scheme for Booklet 1: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/mark-scheme-for-booklet-1-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12260913

Booklet 2: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/booklet-2-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12257463



Once again, here's the link to download the reading comprehension resources:

Booklet 1: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/booklet-1-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12250306

Mark Scheme for Booklet 1: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/mark-scheme-for-booklet-1-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12260913

Booklet 2: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/booklet-2-year-6-sats-prep-reading-comprehension-based-on-analysis-of-2019-test-12257463

Please do keep checking back on that link as I will keep adding resources as I create them. Even if you don't need to use them as I intend to, hopefully they can be useful beyond my own setting.

Postscript:

I'd just like to make it clear that this isn't the only thing we will be doing in the run-up to SATS - we will still be reading a class novel, doing Reciprocal Reading, Fluency Reads and so on. We will also be soldiering on with teaching the wider curriculum!

Monday, 10 February 2020

Losing The Teaching Flab (And Becoming An Expert Teacher)

Hands up who has ever tried to lose weight? And hands up if you've ever tried putting on weight? I'm very sure that if you asked a room full of people in the UK those two questions (I mean, why would you, and are they even questions?) then there would be significantly more people with their hands up in reply to the first one. In another place, or at another time, it absolutely wouldn't be the case, but for the purposes of the blog post we'll go with the original scenario.

You see, I want to propose that learning to be an expert teacher is like losing weight. And conversely, that learning to be an expert teacher is not at all like trying to put on weight.

Let me explain myself:

I suspect that we start teaching with a lot of excess weight - expectations, misconceptions and hang-ups - that actually we need to lose before we begin to be effective.

Almost everyone has a preconcieved idea about what a teacher should be, what they should do and how they should behave. After all, the majority of us in the UK have spent our childhoods interacting with teachers, observing their behaviours and imbibing a certain set of characteristics which we think a teacher should have. We'll most likely have come across multiple depictions of teachers in TV, film and books which add to our ideas about what a teacher should be. Some of us even spent time as children playing at teachers, either bossing around siblings, friends or cuddly toys. All of this shapes our view of what it is to be a teacher before we ever step foot in a training college or in a school.

It's all this excess flab that we'll need to lose before we come an excellent teacher. And although some of the experiences mentioned above may have influenced us in a positive way, what we remember are only outer manifestations of what made those teachers good. By aping their actions, we might not always end up aping what actually made them effective. It's very easy to watch a teacher do their thing and think that you can put your finger on exactly what it is that makes them successful. In reality, it is not that easy to tell which actions are the ones that make a teacher good at what they do.

And, if you're an early-career teacher, it is even more difficult to discern what makes a teacher great when you watch them work. Often, a more inexperienced teacher can walk out of a more experienced teacher's classroom with a bag of tricks to try, none of which are the things that actually made the lesson they just watched great.

One of the main downfalls is that a less experienced teacher can believe that a teacher's style (their personality, quirks and originalities) are what makes them good. In fact, those things are more likely just to be the way they go about doing the things that actually make them good. If an NQT then goes back to their classroom and tries to act like them, it can be quite confusing as to why they don't see the same results - I should know, that NQT (/RQT/RQT+1/+2/+3...) was me.

"'Tain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)"

Sorry Ella/Banarama/Fun Boy Three/whoever else recorded a version, when it comes to teaching, that does not apply. In fact, as you might have guessed, the opposite is true:

It's What You Do ('Tain't the Way That You Do It)

An introverted teacher can do the same as an extroverted teacher - both can be experts. A funny teacher can do the same as a serious teacher - both can be experts. Someone in a three-piece suit can do the same as someone in a cardigan - both can be experts. What I didn't get for so long was that I had to do certain basic things but in my own way.

And it's these more visually impressive aspects of teaching that can be the flab we carry around with us: the things that distract us from doing the things that really matter; the things that detract from the actual learning that could be going on: the comedy, the drama, the laminated things, the lavish displays, the volume - the things which all can lend a certain je ne sais quoi to lesson, but which certainly do not the lesson maketh.

To cut through the flab in order to discern what is really having an impact in our own practice and that of others, we can ask some simple questions by way of reflection:

Why did they do that?
What impact did it have?
If they hadn't done that what would have happened?
Which aspects of the lesson actually made the difference?

You see, an expert teacher might be doing lots of things that are only really the sprinkles on the icing on the cake. You might see them teach an all singing, all dancing lesson, but it's probably not the singing and dancing that does the trick (unless it is a singing or dancing lesson, that is). It's probably the really basic, dull, staid stuff that really makes the impact. Things that they do day-in-day-out: routine stuff.

What are these simple things? What do we need to strip it back to? It's things like clearly explaining concepts in small steps, giving children time to just practice a concept without distracting contexts, ensuring that equipment and resources are ready and available, revisiting past material as a matter of course, drawing links between concepts, allowing children who understand something to get on with it whilst providing more instruction to those who don't, guiding children through work they can't yet do independently, responding quickly, providing scaffolds, modelling, questioning, discussing...

OK, so often it will be a lot of simple things all at once, which can seem complex at first. But in reality, it all comes down to a few key ideas - a few more questions you can ask yourself whilst in the planning stage:

What do the children need to learn?
How can I break it down and teach it in the simplest way possible?
How can they practice it in the simplest way possible?
Is this aspect of the lesson really necessary to children achieving the indended outcome?

Hardly any of us walk into teaching skinny, eager and ready to put on the muscle necessary to become a  heavyweight teacher. No, most of us probably walk in to teaching needing to shed a few pounds. What aspects of your practice might you be able to lose in order to focus on the simpler things? Which of the things you do in your classroom really have an impact, and which are just things that take up a lot of time with very little impact? It might even be something you hold really dear, but if it isn't making a difference, is it really worth doing?

Friday, 17 January 2020

Guest Blog Post: The World of Masks by Anna Hoghton

Click here to read my review of The Mask of Aribella by Anna Hoghton.

In this guest blog post, author Anna Hoghton explains how she researched a key motif in her debut novel for children and shares some of her findings. A great read for anyone who has read the book, or wants to, and for teachers who want to encourage children to research information for their own stories:

Masks are clearly important in the world of my book – I mean, they’re in the title and on the front cover. Given that I was writing about Venice, I always knew I would use masks, it was just a question of how. What did I want masks to mean for my characters?

For inspiration, I investigated into how masks have been used throughout history. Masks have been used for centuries and the oldest mask ever found is from 7000 BC, though the art of mask making is likely to be even older than this. There are as many different styles of masks as there are different cultures and they’ve been used for everything: rituals, ceremonies, hunting, feasts, wars, in performances, theatres, fashion, art, sports, films, as well as for medical or protective reasons. Here are a few examples of how masks have been used by everyone from the ancient Greeks to Spiderman.

Ancient Greece

The iconic smiling comedy and frowning tragedy masks were used in ancient Greek theatre. Paired together, they showed the two extremes of the human psyche. Before this, Greeks also used masks in ceremonial rites and celebrations during the worship of Dionysus at Athens.

West Africa

In West Africa, masks are still used by some tribes (such as the Edo, Yoruba and Igbo cultures) as a way of communicating with ancestral spirits. These masks are skilfully made out of wood and often have human faces, though they are sometimes in the shapes of the animals. Some tribes believe that these animal masks allow them to communicate with the animal spirits of savannas and forests. Some tribes also use war masks with big eyes, angry expressions and bright colours to scare their enemies.

North America

In North America, the skilled woodworkers in coastal Inuit tribes make complex masks from wood, leather, bones and feathers. These masks are cleverly crafted, often with movable parts, and are very beautiful. Used in shamanic rituals, these masks represent the unity between the Inuit people, their ancestors and the animals that they hunt. When people are sick, the masks are also used to exorcize the evil spirits from them.

Oceania

In Oceania, where the culture of ancestral worship is very important, masks are made to represent ancestors. Sometimes these masks are enormous, even six metres high. They are also used to ward off evil spirits.

Latin America

In Latin America, Ancient Aztecs used masks to cover the faces of their deceased. At first these funeral masks were made from leather, but later they were made out of copper and gold.

Venice (of course I had to mention this one)

In the Republic of Venice, the concealment of identity was part of daily activity and used to break down social boundaries. This was useful as it meant state inquisitors could find out truths without citizens knowing who they were. But masks also meant that people could get up to no good... Eventually the wearing of masks in daily life was banned except for during certain months of the year.

However, masks continued to be used in the Commedia dell’Arte - an improvisational theatre that was popular until the 18th century. Their plays were based on established characters with a rough storyline, called Canovaccio. If you’ve read ‘The Mask of Aribella’ that name might sound familiar…

During the Black Death, plague doctor masks were also worn in Venice. These masks had long, white beaks, which were filled with sweet-smelling herbs and used to protect the wearer from breathing in infections, which at the time people believed to be airborne. I’ve used this iconic mask as the Mask Maker’s mask in ‘Aribella’.

Nowadays, masks are the fodder of superheroes such as Spiderman and Zorro who wear masks to protect their identities. Masks were used interestingly in the new ‘Watchmen’ TV series, which imagines a world where police also wear masks to protect their identities. There are several great lines, such as: "You can't heal under a mask [...] Wounds need air." and ‘Masks allow men to be cruel’.


So, in conclusion, masks can, and have, been used for many different purposes, even within a particular culture. I love the empowering, spiritual side of masks and decided to use masks in my story as a tool that could not only hide their wearers (by making them ‘unwatchable’), but also help them become more fully themselves and access the unique strengths inside of them. We all wear masks to greater or lesser extents in our lives. At the start of the novel, Aribella is hiding from the people around her. However, throughout the course of the book, she learns to trust her own power. When she eventually gets a mask of her own, one that is made for her, and puts it on, she knows she will never hide again. I think lots of young people could learn to trust themselves a little more and drop some of the false masks that we all hide behind in order to fit in. Imagine a world where we all fearlessly showed our true selves and unique powers? What a magical place that would be.

THE MASK OF ARIBELLA by Anna Hoghton is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Book Review: Respect: Consent, Boundaries and Being in Charge of YOU by Rachel Brian

When a book is pounced upon and read within moments of it entering the house, it is fairly indicative of a good book. Sure, it means that someone is judging by the cover, but I believe that is why publishers, illustrators, authors and such other folk really spend time on getting the cover right.

When a book is then read by the entire household in quick succession you get another sense of its importance: it wasn't just the cover that worked but the contents too. And given that Rachel Brian (co-creator of the viral Tea Consent video and the follow-up Consent For Kids) is responsible not only for the cover but for the innards of this book, that's two marks for her.

However, there is something even more special about a book entering the house and being read by all members of the family: when you are really hoping that it is read and digested and it is. You see, Rachel Brian's new book is called 'Respect' and it is about 'consent, boundaries and being in charge of you'. When you have three children growing up in a world which has recently shed light on how terribly people can be exploited by others, it's good to know that there are child-friendly resources available to help to protect them.

In no uncertain terms, this book uses language and pictures which appeal directly to children to give a slow walk through exactly what is meant by consent. The thrust of the book is that we can make our own choices about what happens to our bodies. 'Respect' doesn't refer to sex (the closest thing it gets to this is a panel about taking and sharing pictures of people under 18 with no clothes on); instead, the focus is on more every-day scenarios where we have a choice about our own bodies.


The book also contains an all-important chapter about respecting other people's boundaries. It could be argued that this is the most crucial part of the book: it places the responsibility on us to control our own actions rather than expecting others to take preventative measures against our potential non-consensual actions. Another chapter focuses on what the reader can do if they witness abuse of someone else.


With many a humourous touch, a whole host of funky cartoons and some exceedingly sensitively-written text, this book is an essential read for... well, pretty much everyone, old and young alike. It's the sort of thing teachers and parents should be jumping at the chance to read with their children - and the children won't be complaining either. Not many books exist like this - many books about such issues can be a bit twee, or don't contain enough to appeal to the intended audience - so I welcome this little book with open arms and hope that there are more where it came from.

WREN & ROOK | £7.99 | HARDBACK | 9TH JANUARY 2020

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Book Review: 'The Mask Of Aribella' by Anna Hoghton

Choosing the islands and lagoon of Venice for the setting of a magial middle grade escapade was a stroke of genius. The surrealness of such a location makes the events of the story seem entirely plausible: very surely an only-just teenager in that strange place could find out they are a member of a magical order and that actually, they are the one to avert the catastrophe that is looming over the people of Venice.

It's on the eve of Aribella's 13th birthday that, in a fit of rage, she discovers she has the power to conjure fire. Very quickly she is whisked away into an ever-present but invisible parallel world where she discovers there is more to her unique city than meets the eye. But it is clear that not all is well, and is the way with such tales, she finds it is up to her and her new-found friends to save the day.

With the odd hint of certain giants of the genre, albeit with an Italian twist, this story is bound to enchant anyone within just a few pages. The story skims along at a cracking pace, yet, just as with the wooden piles on which Venice is built, there are foundations that run deep - the power of friendship and family, trust and responsibility provide a solid base for this dark tale of good versus evil.

Not only is this a fantasy adventure, it will also have its readers guessing whodunnit-style as to who is really responsible for the sinister goings on. As I read, I mentally drew up my own list of suspects and weighed up their motives, questioning their behaviour and coming to my own conclusions about who is behind the appearance of spectres in the lagoon, the disappearance of all the animals and the too-regular appearance of the Blood Moon. I, of course, was wrong, but that made the ending all the more satisfying - and there was more than one goosebump moments as the elements of the plot came together in the final moments.

A strong start for children's publishing in 2020 and a great introduction to Anna Hoghton, a new voice in children's fiction.

Published by Chicken House · 2nd January 2020 · Paperback · £6.99 · 9+ year olds

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Book Review: 'Empire's End - A Roman Story' by Leila Rasheed

There are over 30 other books in Goodreads' Roman Britain in YA & Middle Grade Fiction Listopia list, some by eminent writers such as Rosemary Sutcliff. So why do we need another book which falls into this (very niche) category?

Well, Leila Rasheed has an important story to tell. Scholastic's Voices series focuses specifically on 'the unsung voices of our past' - in this particular book it's the voice of a young Libyan Roman woman who finds herself at the empire's end - in Britain. She has accompanied her father, a doctor, who is an aide to Septimius Severus, a Roman Emperor originally from Libya, and his powerful and influential Syrian wife, Julia Domna.

Not only do we get a much more diverse cast than in other historical novels, and are allowed to hear the stories of those who history doesn't always like to remember, but we also hear it from the pen of an author who herself grew up in Libya and who describes herself (on her Twitter bio at least) as British-Asian European.

CLPE's Reflecting Realities survey of ethnic representation in UK children's books  found that in 2018 only 4% of children's books published featured a Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) main protagonist. The BookTrust Represents research into representation of people of colour among children’s book authors and illustrators found that in 2017 less than 6% of book creators were from a BAME background. That's why we need this book.

But this doesn't just fill a void in the market, this is a seriously good book. The gripping and fast-paced story is all carefully interwoven with historical fact: a Roman emperor from Libya did live and die in York, archaeological research has shown that those with black African heritage did live in Britain during the Roman period and that people from all over the Roman provinces ended up marrying each other and having children.

In 'Empire's End' Rasheed imagines how one such character may have ended up in Britain, despite having been born in North Africa. Although slavery is a key theme in the book, it is important that we follow the story of a high status a BAME character - as we've mentioned before, it is these stories that are seldom told. As Camilla's destiny is linked to that of the struggle for power in the Roman Empire, nothing is very certain for her as she travels the world and settles in a place that seems as far from home as she can imagine. The story twists and turns, painting vivid characters and their realities in a human way against the backdrop of one of the Roman Empire's trickiest times.

Young readers will be thrilled to find this combination of qualities in one fairly short story which is bound to hold the attention of even the most flighty of readers. And with this being the fourth book in the series, there is already plenty for readers to go back and discover. A fantastic first read for 2020.