Can we joke about cancer?

Zsofia Demjen.

For some, joking about cancer is completely out of bounds. Cancer, after all, is no laughing matter. The problem is that, sometimes, it has to be. Now, during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, is a good time to talk about why.

At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (both in 2015 and 2016) comedians like Beth Vyse and Alastair Barrie were among those who based their comedy routines on their own or their partner’s cancer experiences. ‘It is a way of coping’, they said. ‘You can’t not laugh’. And it is a way of coping for the lay comedians among us too.

Our analysis of half a million words on one particular thread of an online forum dedicated to cancer[1] revealed that humour helps – at least for those who want to engage in it. It helps people talk more easily about potentially embarrassing side-effects and helps to reassert autonomy and reduce anxiety by reframing experiences. The particular style of Read more ›

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Posted in Language and literacy

The assessment system is unsustainable: how can we make it better?

Gemma Moss

The Government’s new consultation on primary assessment in England is to be welcomed. The key question is: will it go far enough? The answer to that in large part depends upon how parents, teachers and academics react.

What’s driving the consultation?

The terms of the consultation are worth quoting from the Department for Education (DfE) Website:

Recognising the scale of the changes that we have asked primary schools to deal with, this consultation represents a significant step towards establishing a settled, stable primary assessment system that is trusted by teachers and parents.

The phrase “a settled, stable primary assessment system that is trusted by teachers and parents” is well chosen, for at the moment we do not have that. Full credit to the Read more ›

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Posted in Childhood & early education, Education policy, Evidence-based policy, Teaching, learning, curriculum & assessment

Disadvantage and worklessness: a longitudinal perspective

Rob Davies is Public Affairs Manager for CLOSER, the UK longitudinal studies consortium funded by the ESRC and the Medical Research Council. CLOSER brings together eight biomedical and social longitudinal studies, with participants born as early as the 1930s to the present day.

Before I worked for CLOSER I helped run a charity supporting vulnerable people with different needs, including addictions, mental health problems, debt or homelessness. I saw first-hand the damaging effects of these complex issues and the barriers people face in their attempts to get back to work and take advantage of opportunities many of us take for granted.

Read more on ESRC Blog: Disadvantage and worklessness: a longitudinal perspective

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Posted in Evidence-based policy, Social sciences and social policy

Here is what makes some writing ‘world leading’


Dominic Wyse.

There is a wonderful scene in the film Amadeus that depicts Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart dictating, from his death bed, the words and music of his Requiem mass – a piece thought of as a requiem for the composer’s death which is now regarded as one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. Mozart dictates to the rival composer Salieri, who in equal measure admires and hates Mozart. A central theme of Peter Schaffer’s original play, which the film is based on, is the originality of genius versus “mediocrities everywhere”.

Building on my recent work on the philosophy and history of writing, I’ve been trying to work out what constitutes “world-leading” writing, and effective writing more generally. Over the past three years I’ve analysed interviews with the world’s greatest writers as well as examined renowned guides to writing styles and standards of language. I’ve also been studying young people’s creativity and writing. And, throughout my work, the composition of music has been compared with the composition of written text.

World leading is a big claim. Perhaps we would agree, just as the Nobel Prize committee Read more ›

Posted in Uncategorized

How risky is it to be a child?


Sandra Leaton Gray

Look at the website of any contemporary newspaper, and you would be forgiven for thinking that childhood was a very dangerous time of life. On rolling news services we see stories about things like toddlers being shot by stray bullets in Brazil, small children covered in haemorrhagic rashes, and paedophile rings operating in plain sight.

If nothing spectacularly awful has happened in the last 24 hours, news organisations tend to fall back on their tried and tested reserve topics, for example teenage suicide trends, sexting, adolescent computer hacking and school bullying. Readers are enticed to click through to full stories, much to the delight of advertisers. As a species, we are hard-wired to protect children, and in the modern age, this manifests itself through the desire to learn more about potential risks so we can potentially head them off. In the world of 24/7 news, mass media organisations are well-placed to take advantage of this instinct, and marketise it to their advantage.

What makes this more surprising is that, statistically speaking, it has never been a better Read more ›

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Posted in Childhood & early education, Parents
This blog is written by academics at the UCL Institute of Education.

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