10 Stunning books for Year 5…Picked because they’re great

So here is my second list of 10 books, chosen because I think they’re great and that they would be brilliant to use in Year 5. If I was Year 5 this September I’d be looking to use some of these.

I believe we should Read to children everyday. (Its great, you don’t really have to plan it, pick something that challenges)

All these books would also give you great opportunities to…

  • Talk with children about books. (we need to be careful that we don’t see reading as comprehension tests… its way more than that)
  • Use a variety of strategies to explore texts including drama. (Make room to dig in and explore a book)
  • Explicitly teach vocabulary in the context of great books (If we want children to understand words then the context is king)

Hope the list is useful.



ross 2

1) Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie

When the mysterious Nowhere Emporium arrives in Glasgow, orphan Daniel Holmes stumbles upon it quite by accident. Before long, the ‘shop from nowhere’ — and its owner, Mr Silver — draw Daniel into a breathtaking world of magic and enchantment. Recruited as Mr Silver’s apprentice, Daniel learns the secrets of the Emporium’s vast labyrinth of passageways and rooms — rooms that contain wonders beyond anything Daniel has ever imagined. But when Mr Silver disappears, and a shadow from the past threatens everything, the Emporium and all its wonders begin to crumble. Can Daniel save his home, and his new friends, before the Nowhere Emporium is destroyed forever?

Ross Mackenzie creates a wild fantasy world that can only be contained by the limits of your imagination. Wonderful rich language rolls itself around a rip-roaring adventure story that celebrates the power of the written word. A perfect read aloud for year 5.

Ross 3

BONUS… Equally I would share Shadowsmith with year 5 it is both deliciously scary with possibly my favourite book character ever in the wonderful Amelia Pigeon




2) Pax by Sara PennyPacker illustrated by Jon Klassen

Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax.

Pax is an emotional, heartbreakiing tale that doesn’t shy awaay from the horrors of war, but does it with a pure emotional heart. The language is rich  and complex but the key to the story is the range of relationships. A beautifully told tale that is ultimately about  hope and love.

Book blog No2 Pax by Sarah Pennypacker




3) Running on Empty by SE Durrant

AJ’s grandfather has always been the one to keep his unusual family together, so when he dies things start to unravel at the edges.

AJ is worried about his parents but they don’t really seem to notice. In order to deal with his grief and to keep his anxiety at bay, AJ does what he and his grandfather did best: running. Round and round the Olympic Park, aiming for the nationals, running to escape, AJ only seems to be heading ever closer to disaster. Running On Empty is a beautiful book about false starts and emotional journeys, with hope as the ultimate finishing line.

A bit of a missed book I think. It’s gentle narrrative is not heartstopping but it is very real. S E Durrant writes convincingly and movingly about ordinary young people in extraordinary situations. It’s abook about love,  loss and coping with the challenges lifes throws us. Without a trace of sentimentality, the book ends on a note of hope and happiness that is both believable and uplifting. A wonderful emotional read.



4) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster illustration by Jules Fieffer

Hailed as “a classic. . . . humorous, full of warmth and real invention” (The New Yorker), this beloved story -first published more than fifty years ago- introduces readers to Milo and his adventures in the Lands Beyond.

For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams. . . .

The Phantom Tollbooth is a great book that I could happily read all over again! It starts with a boy called Milo that is bored stiff about everything in life, but one day an exciting package arrives at his door step containing a life-sized toy car and an also life-sized tollbooth. Milo, having nothing better to do gets in the toy car and drives up to the empty tollbooth. After that moment disaster strikes as he travels into a mysterious world.

The thing that the book left me with is that the best adventures happen when we least expect them to.


5) The Longest Night of Charlie Noon by Christopher Edge

“If you go into the woods, Old Crony will get you.”

Secrets, spies or maybe even a monster… What lies in the heart of the wood? Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny are determined to discover the truth, but when night falls without warning they find themselves trapped in a nightmare. Lost in the woods, strange dangers and impossible puzzles lurk in the shadows. As time plays tricks, can Charlie solve this mystery and find a way out of the woods? But what if this night never ends…?

A timeless novel for anyone who’s ever felt lost. From the award-winning author of The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day.

I could have picked any of these four Christopher Edge books.  They are all fantastic…smart narratives, fantastic twists, sciency stuff and at the core great characters.  Edge truly is a writer of extraordinary inventiveness (a rare quality)

Charlie Noon does that rare thing, it takes you on a cracking adventure with surprising twists and turns but it also leaves you pondering and thinking. Now that is good writing



6) Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner

If Mrs Tischbein had known the amazing adventures her son Emil would have in Berlin, she’d never have let him go.

Unfortunately, when his seven pounds goes missing on the train, Emil is determined to get it back – and when he teams up with the detectives he meets in Berlin, it’s just the start of a marvellous money-retrieving adventure . . .

A classic and influential story

Just a classic, a detective story told at a cracking pace, this features one of the first fictional child detectives. . Emil is charming and clever, the ideal hero of this terrific adventure. It plays to every child fantasy of being the hero and is just as delightful now as when it was first written.


7) Malamander by Thomas Taylor

Malamander is told from the perspective of Herbert Lemon, the Lost-and-Founder of the Grand Nautilus Hotel, who tries to unite objects that have been left at the hotel with their owners. Other characters in the story include Violet Palma, who is lost and needs to be found, and the eponymous Malamander, who controls people’s dreams.

Just a perfect children’s book, quirky, funny, and scary in equal measure. It’s an utterly breathless adventure, with moments of high peril and a dash of derrin-do. the          book is populated by amazing characters including it’s brilliant setting ‘Eerie-by-the-Sea’ (If you live in a seaside town, they completely are all those things).

This book is just unadulterated fun and all the better for it. A Joy!


7) The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall

With Nazi planes raining bombs on England night after night, every boy in Garmouth has a collection of shrapnel and other war souvenirs. But nothing comes close to the working machine gun Chas McGill pulls out of a downed bomber. While the police search frantically for the missing gun, Chas and his friends build a secret fortress to fight the Germans themselves

I think being in the North-East may have something to do with this choice. Westall’s writing is superb throughout. It is my absolute favourite book set in World war 2. It captures the fear, single-mindedness and hope that only children have. The children are brilliantly funny and real. Westall masterfully ratchets up the tension in this tale of children that just want to make the world around them OK. What a book!


Bonus… Blitzcat by Robert Westall


8) Beetle Boy by MG Leonard

The glorious start to a middle-grade trilogy about a brilliant boy, his loyal friends, and some amazingly intelligent beetles that brings together adventure, humor, and real science!

Darkus Cuttle’s dad mysteriously goes missing from his job as Director of Science at the Natural History Museum. Vanished without a trace! From a locked room! So Darkus moves in with his eccentric Uncle Max and next door to Humphrey and Pickering, two lunatic cousins with an enormous beetle infestation. Darkus soon discovers that the beetles are anything but ordinary. They’re an amazing, intelligent super species and they’re in danger of being exterminated. It’s up to Darkus and his friends to save the beetles. But they’re up against an even more terrifying villain–the mad scientist of fashion, haute couture villainess Lucretia Cutter. Lucretia has an alarming interest in insects and dastardly plans for the bugs. She won’t let anyone or anything stop her, including Darkus’s dad, who she has locked up in her dungeons! The beetles and kids join forces to rescue Mr. Cuttle and thwart Lucretia.

Does all those things that great children’s books,  without ever playing to lowest common denominators or patronising. A cracking central core of characters, a truly villianous villian and the an ability to make beetles completely lovable make this a top drawer read aloud.


9) Clockwork by Philip Pullman

Fritz, the writer, spins a spine-tingling tale to cheer up Karl, the apprentice clockmaker. But rather than helping matters, the story begins to come true….

The stories of Karl, the apprentice; Dr. Kalmenius, his nefarious “savior”; Gretl, the brave daughter of the town innkeeper; and a young prince whose clockwork heart is in danger of winding down come together in surprising and magical ways in a story that has the relentless urgency of a ticking clock.

Not a wasted word. Just about perfect in my opinion. I have never known a book hold a group of of children in its thrall like Clockwork. This book is magical and slightly shocking. Like a good old-fashioned fairy tale it doesn’t pull its punches. Characters who act selfishly or who are lazy are punished. Lessons come across on the merits of having a kind heart and being hard-working.


10) The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

Part picture-book/graphic novel, part mystery, part love story to early cinema. Hugo is cinematic in it’s scale and story telling. Beautifully concieved its an absolute treasure of a book.


Bonus…Roller Girl

A heartwarming graphic novel about friendship and surviving junior high through the power of roller derby.

Twelve-year-old Astrid has always done everything with her best friend Nicole. So when Astrid signs up for roller derby camp, she assumes Nicole will too. But Nicole signs up for dance camp with a new friend instead, and so begins the toughest summer of Astrid’s life. There are bumps and bruises as Astrid learns who she is without Nicole…and what it takes to be a strong, tough roller girl.

Just wanted to add this because it’s great.

Here is my list of 10 picturebooks for Year 5

Find the space to talk… 10 picturebooks for Year 5 #picturebookpage

Here is my Year 6 booklist

10 brilliant books for Year 6…picked because they’re great!

Year 4 coming soon.


10 brilliant books for Year 6…picked because they’re great!

This post is essentially just a list of books I would use in Year 6 if I were teaching in that year group. It is completely about personal choice, these are books I love (I think teacher passion for a book makes a difference). They do not follow the whims of the new and the current (though there are some newish books in the list). They are not chosen to fit a topic or part of the curriculum. I’ve picked them because I think they are brilliant books that are perfect for year 6.

1) The Graveyard book by Neil Gaiman (Brilliantly illustrated by Chris Riddell and Dave McKean)

“After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family…”

In my opinion this is Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece. After a breathless start with possibly the best opening line of any book, the book becomes a tale of growing up and understanding what it means to be human. (It’s deeply inspired by the Jungle book and that sings through) Wonderful characters, rich language, moments of true beauty and real fear coupled with a rich vein of compassion and love. It would be the first book on my pile if I were teaching in year 6.

2) The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (Illutration by Gelrev Ongbico)

Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora’s mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves. (Goodreads description)

An astounding book. Wonderful langauge, brilliant characters and a tale that weaves a fine line between fairy-tale and the hardships of pre-revolution Russia.  I blogged about it here.

Book blog No1 The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Katherine Rundell Book bonus


Having just read Katherine’s brilliant new  1920’s New York prohibition heist novel I’d definitely be considering reading it to my Year 6’s. Tense atmospheric and just wonderful.

3) Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

“It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”

The great traction city London has been skulking in the hills to avoid the bigger, faster, hungrier cities loose in the Great Hunting Ground. But now, the sinister plans of Lord Mayor Mangus Crome can finally unfold.

Thaddeus Valentine, London’s Head Historian and adored famous archaeologist, and his lovely daughter, Katherine, are down in The Gut when the young assassin with the black scarf strikes toward his heart, saved by the quick intervention of Tom, a lowly third-class apprentice. Racing after the fleeing girl, Tom suddenly glimpses her hideous face: scarred from forehead to jaw, nose a smashed stump, a single eye glaring back at him. “Look at what your Valentine did to me!” she screams. “Ask him! Ask him what he did to Hester Shaw!” And with that she jumps down the waste chute to her death. Minutes later Tom finds himself tumbling down the same chute and stranded in the Out-Country, a sea of mud scored by the huge caterpillar tracks of cities like the one now steaming off over the horizon.”

If you have to read one post-apocalyptic adventure novel then make it this one. Breathless adventure, burgeoning romance, a relentless chase,  treachery, betrayal and a beautifully realised world full of Great British quirk. Mortal Engines is a joyous read aloud that leaves you with pefect cliff-hanger moments that will leave your class desperate for more. At it’s core however are two wonderful characters in Tom and Hester that you will love and hate in equal measure. I love it.

4) Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones

Murder mystery meets carnival flair in a rollicking Victorian adventure centered on a boy with a unique appearance — and unique gifts.

In the seedy underworld of Victorian London, a boy is born and abandoned. Snatched up by an unscrupulous and abusive showman, Wild Boy, covered in hair from head to toe, becomes a sideshow freak. Isolated from other children and wickedly abused by the cruel master who bought him, Wild Boy becomes an avid observer, developing Sherlock Holmes–like deductive skills. Although he is tormented and insulted, kicked and spat at, his quick mind takes in everything he sees. When a murder occurs at the fair, Wild Boy is hastily accused. Can he use his powers of deduction to save himself? And will the talented and spunky young acrobat Clarissa be with him — or against him? Readers will be swept along by the cinematic pace, immersed in the vivid historical setting, and gripped by suspense as they wait to find out if a better fate could possibly await someone so very different.

Just a rip-roaring, rollicking adventure. A superhero book without superhero’s. A brilliant buddy team. Fantastic evocative language and setting. Great core characters and sublime plotting make this an absolute joy. A perfect read aloud, with lots of depth for digging deeper. (It’d fit your Victorian topic too :-))


5) Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

A powerful tale that tackles injustices, racism and bullying.  The story is centered around Mia, a young girl working with her parents’ at a motel near Disneyland who discovers that her writing has the power to fight injustice for herself and those around her that she cares about. It is perfect in generating those powerful discussions and opening children’s eyes to the experiences of other. Powerful stuff.  Just a great and sadly much ignored book. I hope its paperback release will bring it to a wider audience.

6 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens illustrated by P.J. Lynch

The celebrated P.J. Lynch captures the spirit of Dickens’s beloved tale in a richly illustrated unabridged edition.

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge opens on a Christmas Eve as cold as Scrooge’s own heart. That night, he receives three ghostly visitors: the terrifying spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. Each takes him on a heart-stopping journey, yielding glimpses of Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit, the horrifying spectres of Want and Ignorance, even Scrooge’s painfully hopeful younger self. Will Scrooge’s heart be opened? Can he reverse the miserable future he is forced to see?

Now in an unabridged edition gloriously illustrated by the award-winning P.J. Lynch, this story’s message of love and goodwill, mercy and self-redemption resonates as keenly as ever.

If there is a better Christmas story to read with your class I’ve yet to find it. A story full of redemption and hope. The P J Lynch illustrations in this version bring the story vividly to life and support really digging into the story and the language.

Bonus Christmas Story...

christmas 3

The Last of Spirits by Chris Priestly

Another  story of redemption  that runs alongside A Christmas Carol and gives an even bleaker vision of Victorian Britian. Great stuff.

7) Tales of Terror by Chris Priestly illustrated by David Roberts

Uncle Montague lives alone in a big house and his regular visits from his nephew give him the opportunity to retell some of the most frightening stories he knows.

But as the stories unfold, another even more spine-tingling narrative emerges, one that is perhaps the most frightening of all.

Uncle Montague’s tales of terror, it transpires, are not so much works of imagination as dreadful, lurking memories. Memories of an earlier time in which Uncle Montague lived a very different life to his present solitary existence.

I had to put all three here. These are fantastically written short stories constructed around a wonderful central narrative. Each short story would make a great stand-alone read but the whole books deliver delightful creepy twists. Rich language and delightful plotting make the perfect for year 6. (Black Ship is definitely my favorite but maybe because I live and work near the sea.)


8) Phoenix by S.F.Said illustrated by Dave McKean


Lucky thinks he’s an ordinary Human boy. But one night, he dreams that the stars are singing – and wakes to find an uncontrollable power rising inside him.

Now he’s on the run, racing through space, searching for answers. In a galaxy at war, where Humans and Aliens are deadly enemies, the only people who can help him are an Alien starship crew – and an Alien warrior girl, with neon needles in her hair.

Together, they must find a way to save the galaxy. For Lucky is not the only one in danger. His destiny and the fate of the universe are connected in the most explosive way . . .

Science-Fiction is a massively underrated genre in primary fiction, thats a real shame as for me it’s always been a go-to genre. (I love John Wyndham). Phoenix is full on brilliantly pure sci-fi. Wonderfully told and crafted with unexpected twists that completely change how you view the story and the characters. It also uses that wonderful deveice that the best sci-fi does and acts as a lens on our world and our actions. Great stuff.


9) The Boy In The Tower by Polly Ho-Yen

When they first arrived, they came quietly and stealthily as if they tip-toed into the world when we were all looking the other way.

Ade loves living at the top of a tower block. From his window, he feels like he can see the whole world stretching out beneath him.His mum doesn’t really like looking outside – but it’s going outside that she hates.
She’s happier sleeping all day inside their tower, where it’s safe.
But one day, other tower blocks on the estate start falling down around them and strange, menacing plants begin to appear.

Now their tower isn’t safe anymore. Ade and his mum are trapped and there’s no way out . . .

Carrying on my mild Sci-fi theme. Boy in the tower is a wonderfully real dystopian sci-fi, echoes of John Wyndham abound but it is totally its own story. Ade is a fantastic narrator/protagonist and you completely root for him. The story touches on family and depression. Just a fantastic book @templarwilson has done some fantastic planning for this book.

10) Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (Graphic novel version by Edith recommended as well)

Lying awake at night, Tom hears the old grandfather clock downstairs strike . . . eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . Thirteen! When Tom gets up to investigate, he discovers a magical garden. A garden that everyone told him doesn’t exist. A garden that only he can enter . . .

A Carnegie-Medal-winning modern classic that’s magically timeless.

Possibly one of the finest children’s books ever written in my opinion. Complex and beautiful. What more can I say. Wonderful.It truly is a classic

If you like Tom’s Midnight Garden why not give…

Moondial by Helen Cresswell or Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer a spin.


These are the books I would use in year 6 at the moment but I have no doubt in a years time the list would very different (or maybe not)

Here are the picturebooks I would use in year 6 as well…

Why Picturebooks? -10 picturebooks forYear 6 #picturebookpage

Year 5 list coming soon

The Unintended Consequence…a fairy tale


Once upon a time there was a good Idea, nay a noble Idea. This Idea was full of the best intentions. It dreamed of improving the world, of casting out all the bad things that had gone before and making it all better. The problem was a lot of the bad things that happened before had been the previous Idea’s fault, it hadn’t meant them to happen but nonetheless they happened anyway.


You see the Idea was important, the Idea got to decide who got presents and who got punishments. Everybody wanted to keep the Idea happy so if the Idea said it didn’t like something everybody made sure they weren’t doing that thing, equally if the Idea said it liked something then everybody found the themselves doing that thing. Nobody meant it to happen it just kind of did, they tried to ignore the Idea and do what they thought was right, sometimes this would make the Idea unhappy and those people would be cast into the pit of despair to slave away for two years till the Idea came back. The Idea however blamed everyone but itself. It said it was was all the people’s fault.


When the people got angry the Idea claimed that it didn’t want to see those things and had never wanted to see those things and how could the people be so stupid as to believe it wanted those things and how silly they were to do the things it said it liked. The Idea called the things “fairy-tales” and told people not to believe in fairy-tales. The people tried to believe the idea, they got on with doing the things they thought were right, but all the time they couldn’t quite let go of things that the Idea said it liked so they kept doing them. (you know …just in case)

Which brings us back to the start of our story. The old Idea died and a new Idea was appointed. This Idea looked at the world created by the old Idea and it didn’t like it. This wasn’t the world that the new Idea imagined so with it’s minions it dreamt the world anew. It told the people the things it liked and the things it didn’t like. It even asked the people to help create this new world. The problem was the people were still wary of the Idea so when the idea said something the people went and did it straight away. The Idea said it didn’t mean that but the people didn’t stop to think they just did it. Sometimes the message from the idea and it’s minions wasn’t clear and this made people worried especially those who had been languishing in Pits of Despair who knew they had to make the idea happy. What made it worse was that there were unscrupulous Snake-oil salesmen who were happy to prey on the fearful and unwary and promised to sell the people the  elixer of happiness at a significant amount of gold.


The Idea didn’t like the Salesmen and told the people not to go to them… but as with everything there are always UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES…

Nobody knows the end of this story yet only time will tell.

The Purpose of reading…What is your reading offer part 2.


Adrian Scarborough’s reading rope 2001 (or as someone from Ofsted once said David Didau’s :-))

So I go on a alot about reading. (I did it again at Total Teaching)

The reason for that is that I truly believe that teaching chidren to read is the most important thing we do in school. If we get it right we give children access to a world of learning and a never-ending source of pleasure.

If we want real readers then talking about books has to sit at the core of our reading offer. If we want children to love reading Talk has to sit at the core of what we do.

Doing more comprehensions tests won’t make children better readers. Just telling children what they should think and how they should respond equally won’t make children better readers either. (though they pass some tests)

As Scarborough points out reading is complex. To create skilled readers we need to do it all, just focussing on strands will not make skilled readers. Phonics is essential but it’s not enough.

So here is the Key question  What is your reading Offer?

If we want  to create readers in our schools we need

(I haven’t mentioned phonics in this list because ensuring children have the tools to decode is for me implicit in teaching children to read)

  • Talk with children about books. (we need to be careful that we don’t see reading as comprehension tests… its way more than that)
  • Read to children everyday. (Its great, you don’t really have to plan it, pick something that challenges)
  • Provide a language rich environment and curriculum.
  • Explicitly teach vocabulary in the context of great books (If we want children to understand words then the context is king)
  • Enable children to learn a range of stories, poems and rhymes. (this starts right down in our Early Years, knowledge of language patterns and structures)
  • Use a variety of strategies to explore texts including drama. (Make room to dig in and explore a book)
  • Access to books. (Giving children a voice in the choice is important as well)
  • Teacher Readers/ Teachers who are knowledgeable about book. (If we know books we can perhaps find that gateway book for a child or expand their reading horizons) or in other words
  • Provide a full reading curriculum.

Great but what is a full reading curriculum?

In school we’ve spent a significant amount of time exploring the reading offer. The key for us was stopping and thinking about what we were books we were exposing our children too, what reading experiences we were actually giving our children. When we really looked it was often very limited. Some of that was due to the lack of teacher knowledge about books, some of it was about the books we had in school, some of it was about what people felt comfortable using to drive learning. So we stopped and came up with a list of our purposes for reading and then we explored how we we could fulfil that.

Purposes for reading

1) Read to learn something new

Books are a magical source of learning. Do we provide books for our children that extend their knowledge? Do we give children the time to explore? Do we provide a range of non-fiction texts to read in their own time? Do we celebrate the learning of new stuff? Do we use books to awaken children’s intellectual curiosity?

If a child is fired by finding out things they can be an unstoppable force. How does our reading offer harness that desire to find stuff out? Or do we truly believe that children are only going to learn stuff from us?

2) Read to make us think

Do you read books which challenge pupils thinking? Do you have books that explore complex issues? Do you use them as a catalyst for conversation and discussion?


3) Read to be entertained

Do you use books to do all the great things brilliant books can do? Is pleasure part of the experience? Do you give children a range of reading experiences to understand why reading can be amazing?  (you can’t make children love reading, but it’s really worth trying.)

  • a) Excite
  • b) Escape
  • c) Laugh
  • d) Quiver
  • e) Cry
  • f) Grin
  • g) Get lost in
  • h) Rage
  • i) Dance

…and way too many more ways to count…

4) Read to be inspired

Do you use reading to inspire? Do you light fires or do you rain on parades? How do you inspire the children in your class. How do you encourage the girls to be 10% braver? How does the reading you offer broaden horizons or allow pupils to dream?


5) Read to inform

If the past few years have taught us anything then it has to be that it’s vital that we keep our children informed of the world around them. Being informed allows us to make judgements, challenge things and be able to know how we feel about key issues. Does your reading curriculum make time to do that? Do you provide the materials that start the process that allows children to make critcal choices and decisions about the world around them?

6) Read to help us understand others better

AS a school that is 99% white british it’s important that we use reading as a way to explore other contexts and lives. The work done by the CLPE on reflecting realities explains it way better than I ever could. Exploring the offer and the message your book choices make is vital.

Reflecting Realities – Ethnic Diversity in UK Children’s Books

Summary of Findings

  • There were 9115 childrens bookspublished in the UK in 2017. Of these only 391featured BAME characters
  • Only4% of the childrens books published in 2017 featured BAME characters
  • Only 1% of the childrens books published in the UK in 2017 had a BAME main character
  • Over half the fiction books with BAME characters were defined as ‘contemporary realism’(books set in modern day landscapes/contexts)
  • 10%of books with BAME characters contained ‘social justice’ issues
  • Only onebook featuring a BAME character was defined as ‘comedy’
  • 26%of the non-fiction submissions were aimed at an ‘Early Years’ audience

Refecting Realities report CLPE


Equally the work on ‘no outsiders’ allows us to explore and understand others and show acceptance and understanding of difference.

7) Read to help us understand ourselves

In my experience every book does this. However choosing books to help us explore emotions and feelings is massively important. How do books allow us to understand our feeling and emotions? How does your reading offer teach children to understand themselves?

Finally I will say sorry. I don’t have a definitive list. The reading offer in our school is not static, we don’t have recommended book lists and a canon. Instead we have conversations about books and classes. We constantly ask ourselves the questions and use our purposes as a lens. A key bit is teacher knowledge an passion for a book I really dont want to strip that away as there is nothing more likely to get a child wanting to read a book than a passionate teacher.

The key to it all however is the opportunities we give children to talk about books without that,  reading will only something that children do rather than something that children want to do.

Perception…Maybe I am not what you think I am.


Perception…the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.

Often it’s really weird to consider how others potentially think of you. Personally I don’t really give that much of a stuff. I try to be true to me but there are moments which bring it into clarity. I caused surprise yesterday by standing up against something I thought was profoundly wrong, probably because the action defended a school I probably disagree with in some ways (Who knows… I’ve not visited or spoken to the head or the staff or the children.)

Let’s be clear disagreeing with something a school does is OK. I’m sure lots would disagree with the things we do in our school. How we disagree is the issue. The real problem is that twitter “discussions” often polarize and people stop actually listening to what’s being said, then it very quickly stops being a discussion. We don’t get a reasoned conversation that you might get face to face; instead we build our forts retreat inside and hurl bricks at our perceived enemies.



minecraft fort

Stopping to think about how others perceive us is interesting. As with everything there are elements of truth and fantasy to how people see you. Having had a few visitors this week including Ofsted. I have to wonder if the reality matches the perception. (It is a scary thought).
I’ve equally visited ‘amazing’ schools but wouldn’t want to be like them even though they’re doing great things. They will and should make choices which are right for them I just don’t want to be like them. I feel very lucky that our MAT gives us autonomy to get it right for our school community. (I had less autonomy when we were an LA school though being RI may have had something to do with that.)
Personally I worry every time someone visits our school. I think the worst thing you can do is attempt to make mini-replicas and pastiches of a place you visit. I use others work as a lens to reflect on our work, what we don’t do is try to copy it…invariably that fails in my experience.

sliding scale

Edutwitter is all for polar opposites, it makes a better argument. Fact is we’re all somewhere on a sliding scale. Having met quite a few ‘edutwittery’ types from across the spectrum it’s often surprising that we have more in common than we may initially think we will have. Often in reality there is little more than fag-paper between us and almost everyone I’ve met is doing what they do for the right reasons even if I don’t necessarily agree with how they’re doing it.

Ultimately I think we all want children to achieve the best that they can, it’s just we don’t always agree about what is the best way to do that and that is actually OK.


Testing really isn’t the problem.


I’m going to say it I don’t agree with the idea of getting rid of SATs. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a huge fan and I really don’t think they accurately test the things they purport to test (seems there are quite a few out-there who agree with me on that.) The thing that SATs definitely show is that we get better each year at teaching children to pass them. Does this mean that the children are better readers or mathematicians? On that I really wouldn’t be so sure.

Now hear me out…I’m aware some will have switched off already. The thing is that I don’t think testing is the real issue. It’s not testing that drives a narrowing of  the curriculum, it’s not testing that makes booster classes and holiday SATs sessions happen, It’s not testing that gets children stressed or anxious.  (I know some of you are disagreeing now.), It’s not testing that drove some teachers and heads to cheat, It’s not testing that made a list of the worst schools in England appear.  (If you’re a school that was listed in the 100 worst primary schools in England there will have been a lot of judgement and a lot of ridicule and upset, school shaming at its worst)

Let me state straight away  that I’m not going to blame the schools/ teachers for this stuff either, whilst this is something that I’ve seen quite a few high-profile edu-twitter types queueing up to do the past few days since Jeremy Corbyn suggested scraping SATs I think they’re look at a symptom not a cause. The first response is often to blame teachers/schools for making children stressed about tests. Thing is they’re not wrong but it’s a very simplistic bit of mud-throwing that fails to look at the real issue.

That real issue is the  accountability inherent in current set-up. Let’s not forget it was never meant to be like this. There were never supposed to be league tables and school comparisons. These are the things that create the crazy culture. Our current accountability system is fundamentally damaging to schools, staff and ultimately pupils.

When you hear of schools where heads have been dismissed and results annulled  my response is to think ‘Why they felt the pressure to do that?’. This is where our system is wrong. There is a deep-rooted lack of trust in schools  and this is what is ultimately driving  the system. This data from SATs has driven judgements about school, for some schools this means they are always sat on a knife-edge when results day rolls in. (we know these schools they are often the ones sat in our most disadvantaged areas.) Some schools literally have to move mountains to get children across the line.  There are other schools where regardless of the teaching the children will still achieve (that’s not decrying the teaching in those schools, I’ve worked in both).

Lets be honest SATs results are a pretty poor proxy for the quality of a school yet for years its been the defining factor in a vast number of Ofsted judgements. Regardless of framework changes I feel it would be very naive to believe that SATs results won’t form a key part of the judgement (especially if they’re bad) As a school whose phonics data was so important to a minister that he personally rang our MAT to demand to know what we were doing about it, don’t tell there are no systemic pressures. If you’re sat in RI or Inadequate or even good on wobbly data that pressure is constantly bearing down on you.

Accountability sits at the core of issue with SATs. The problem is regardless of this we are all expected to be above average (Don’t even start me discussing the bell-shaped distribution curve).


Schools have been a microcosm for this accountability culture, when performance management systems introduced points progress, reliable assessment went out of the window. How many primary teachers  have moaned about the data they’ve received from the previous teacher. When in our school we stopped using data as a stick to beat someone with and began to have honest discussions we started to get the things we needed to do right.

TRUST…(You gotta have it!)

Carrot vs Stick…Fight!!! (Steps to better Performance Management)

Related image

We need to move to an honest picture of where we are and as long as the SATs are used in the way they currently are then that is never really going to happen.

As a head of a relatively small  primary school I’ll be honest the SATs data from one cohort to the next tells me very little. There may be strands to explore but often the issues are dependent on the cohort. Have SATs driven up standards as Damian Hinds suggested…I’d be dubious of that one to be honest it depends how much you trust the data. Speak to secondary colleagues and I’d suggest that most have very little faith in the information they get from SATs.

So my key question is how do we switch our accountability system from one where data/testing is used as a big stick to beat schools with to one where it’s used to help us explore our work honestly and develop what we do?


*nb… I’m not talking writing assessment here,  which really is a big pile of horse poo and has in my opinion really damaged children as writers.




Ranty McRantface…GRRRR!!!


Today I spoke to another headteacher who has been sacrificed to the Ofsted gods, cast adrift, thrown off the boat as the pressure beats down. She was finished, tired, fed-up, just plain disillusioned and even worse sad.

The ongoing pressure of constantly balancing the impossible year on year, being asked to do more with less and less finally took its toll. This was not the job she signed up to.

I know many primary headteachers who are teaching almost full-time and then doing the day job. (They are not heads in small schools either). Headteachers facing the prospect of or in the middle of a staff restructure because there is no money. Headteachers cleaning schools at the end of the day. Headteachers increasingly filling the gaps where Children’s Services have disappeared. . Headteachers where inclusion is the core of their beliefs  finding it becoming an impossibility due to the inadequate funding. Vision and personal morals increasingly compromised by the reality of the job.

This is not why they signed up to the job.

So this is a blog partly driven by frustration. As a head of a small coastal primary school, the challenges you face are huge yet your voice feels practically non-existent. Finance, budget, recruitment, SEND all massive issues but ones which you feel you have no power.  So that was the motivation to provide a voice for the average school. The school doing their best in challenging circumstances. (I should write that as the first sentence in my SEF). I have at times been outspoken.(I’m OK with that). I’ve more often been ignored (often when you post something that doesn’t agree with someone elses narrative). That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shout out. Sometimes people are afraid to shout out. The thing we must realise is that every person’s voice needs to be listened to. Some people seem to wield blocks and mutes on twitter as a way of shutting down debate, clearing their timeline of dissenting voices. Thing is if we only listen to the voices that agree with us we don’t actually get a real picture.

Some will tell you these things aren’t happening. If anyone that says funding isn’t an issue then I cordially invite them to visit and come and look at the challenges first hand. To come and have a real discussion. (pretty sure they won’t though)

We can welcome Ofsteds change in focus (I actually agree with big chunks of it) but we equally need to be honest about the potential this framework has in creating massive workload while it talks about reducing it. The proof as always will be in the pudding.


I will for the present keep being a ‘Crap Umbrella’ (as in bouncing away crap rather than a rubbish umbrella) and creating a climate and environment where our teachers can teach because I still love the job and our school. I am fortunate to have good people who help me see the wood for the trees (So grateful to our trust, they know who they are).


My expecto-patronum is currently working well and chocolate definitely helps.

We do however need some honesty and some solutions from the top.



World Book Day…don’t get in a stew.


Firstly let me get it out there that personally I think everyday should be World Book Day. Books are central to our curriculum so in some ways World Book Day is just another day. Creating a culture where reading is seen as important and dare I say it pleasurable is key to creating readers.

If you look over social media yet  again we are in the season of negativity that happens every year around the first Thursday in March.

Now let’s get it straight teachers…this is not about us. World Book Day should be about getting children excited about books and reading. (Again this should be part of what we do everyday.)

World book day is about hopefully getting children to engage and enjoy books. If that is not what happens in your school then refocus it. Put books at the centre of what you do. Share some brilliant books, give children the chance to talk and dig deeper into a book. We take the chance as a whole school to dig into the same book in every class. This allows us to have a school wide conversation where all members of our community can have the same conversation about a book.

Lostwor.pngLast year it was ‘The Lost Words’ by Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris. It was more than a day (actually it was mor like three weeks).

Every year we have people moaning about costumes and the supermarkets selling stuff. I have to admit the commercialisation  of the day frustrates, I personally don’t want our parents to waste money on costumes. We’ve in the last few years dressed up as characters from books we’ve been using in class. Mainly that’s sorted the issue. We’ve sent out cheap instructions to help parents make the costumes together. Making it a thing parents and children could do together for the most part was great. (we had spares in school just in case).

If you don’t want to dress up then don’t.

5 Tips for getting World Book Day right…

  1. Make it about fantastic books
  2. Share some amazing books
  3. Talk about wonderful books
  4. Enjoy using some brilliant books
  5. Oooh did I mention Books

Enjoy it…a day where you can explore brilliant books what’s not to love?


I have to say the £1 books are really good this year as well.

Also don’t miss the BBC Teach Live Lesson on Thursday with the brilliant Cressida Cowell, Malorie Blackman and Rob Biddulph. All looking to help you dig into their brilliant books.





Just write!


Not written anything for ages and found myself in a class in Parklands Primary in Leeds. They were having 15 minutes free writing so I  picked up a pen and just wrote.

Forgot how much joy, just writing can be…

The Magic Library

If you don’t look carefully you would never know. It was, from the outside at least, just another boring old library full of dusty books and crusty old people looking for company on their long lonely days. Even if you went in you still might miss it, as the silence stifle your voice and you feel squashed.The slightest sound is met by a glare from the ancient librarian , she will pierce you with her steely blue eyes as she stares over the top of her half-moon spectacles. However if you dare to venture in, if you dare to wander off the beaten track to the corners long forgotten. You may if you’re lucky find the magic.

It won’t jump out at you, it takes a bit of work. If you pick up the right book, open it and carefully read the words hidden within the magic will surround you. It will sweep you up like a wave and send you careering into world unknown and adventures yet to be had. Monsters and magic will swirl around you. You will run, you may hide but you will not escape. You will lose days and explore mountainous peaks and delve into long forgotten dungeons. Until finally it will let you go and you will close the book with a deep sigh.

Then you will hunt for that next portal, hidden in the dusty quiet.

It’s not great but it was great fun to write, just write, without the spectres of success criteria or writing frameworks looming over like a cloud. I’ve not edited it. It is what is 10 minutes just splurging.  I read it to the class it worked pretty well as aread aloud.  (wish I has the skills to illustrate it.)

Made me reflect on writing in our classrooms. Do we create time and space to write? Do we let children sometimes write what they want? Do we let children really be writers.?




Deep breath and ready for another week.

Sometimes you don’t notice it
Sometimes it just sits there quietly…but its never not there
The start to this term has been a tough one, I’m not going to talk details but lets just say it’s been up there.
Anxiety just sits, it’s not one thing it’s lots of things and sometimes it just overwhelms. It’s layers and layers and layers. It sits and nags. It’s that slight sick feeling I have every morning at the moment.  It’s those moments when you can’t see the wood for the trees. Normally I’m a problem-solver, I find solutions. At the moment I’m finding that tricky.
It’s not the big things, it’s the tiny things that threaten to capsize your boat.
Systemically there is a constant pressure feeding down all the time starting at the top and cascading down bit by bit. (When there is a ministerial phone call to your trust about your data you really feel actually how close it is.)
 There is that nagging gnawing feeling that whatever job you’re doing it’s not good enough. At every level this can take a different form.
1 JSG_85s1320E8Z4WFzyvRw
The lack of trust and a toxic system of accountability spirals to every level and feeds down and down.
Anxiety is a hungry beast and it wants to be fed it wants you to satiate its hunger. Have you ever stopped to think why some schools create ridiculous demands of their teachers, set up systems that show no trust or faith in their staff and then why this cascades down onto pupils.
With all the talk about  recruitment and retention it’s vital to think why increasing numbers of  people don’t see this job as a long-term thing. If you’re looking for a reason why people leave the profession I suggest that’s part of your answer. For lots of people feeling that what you are doing is not good enough is a massive part of it. In schools we sometimes create systems that do just that maybe it’s time we stepped back and really looked at the impact of our actions. I guarantee for most it’s not about money, it’s a lot about pressure. Workload is something that is created to make people feel better about the job they are doing whilst it might ease one person’s anxiety it inevitably impacts on the people below them.
Leaders of schools can stop it impacting down into their schools and staff. The pressures however are still there and they build and build and when that’s the case sometimes it’s the tiniest things….