Reading…(The importance of knowing books)



Reading is and should be a joy. It is one of the greatest pleasures.

I was a little dismayed on reading this from Jonny Walker  Dahl Dependency

Part of our responsibility as primary teachers surely has to be to  open the door to children to the amazing worlds that are available in books. Equally books should be the greatest tools in our classrooms.

That we become stuck in the books we read or that were read to us when we were children is sad. That we become stuck in a limited pool of authors is equally disheartening. I have nothing against Dahl (I adore Matilda) or Morpurgo (well actually I’m not a big fan but I do think The Giant’s Necklace is a fantastic Ghost Story) or even C.S.Lewis.  I do feel though we are missing out and even worse that our  potentially limited knowledge means that children are missing out.

We are in my opinion in an incredibly  rich time for children’s books. I was blown away last year by the brilliance of some of the children’s literature that came out.

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My Favourite Books from 2016

All the above books are phenomenal. All would be fantastic as drivers for curriculum, or at the very least would make great reads with children.


My fave picture books from 2016


The true joy isn’t hard to define either. The best books make us ask questions, expect us to draw links. The great thing about books is that they are often open to interpretation. I will read and understand a book differently because I bring a different set of stuff to my interpretation. I draw links I spot influences.

I have written previously on this but focussed towards picture books Picture book blogpost for TES

Margaret Meek, Jane Doonan, Aidan Chambers, Nikki Gamble and Mary Roche all discuss brilliantly the need to explore and discuss. I would recommend everyone of their books.

The first challenge surely has to be how do support colleagues in building up that knowledge. Having a Librarian in school would be great but in the current climate sadly feels like a luxury. Having obsessively bookish headteachers or staff can work, staff having somewhere to go to find out what’s out there and to help them draw links is fab  (Book pushers if you will). Twitter is also a great source (Get them on twitter) There are lots of brilliant bookish people sharing fantastic stuff, Ashley Booth’s 100 books to read before you leave Year 6  Matt Tobin Picture book Padlet  are just two examples of many. Twitter is also fab for linking to authors, most are happy to engage. My school now has a Patron of Reading due to twitter.

The real challenge beyond this  is developing teacher expertise. If we don’t know books we can’t use them effectively. We can’t help students dig deeper into the books and help develop their understanding if we don’t know the books.

There are a couple of large pachyderms in the room. The first is the time required to do this, with the workload issues it is understandable that many don’t have the time to develop that knowledge. The second is that the current assessment regime is increasingly suggesting that there is only one answer to many questions rather than it being open to interpretation.

Earlier this week I was in a school in Stockton where reading sang out. Staff knowledge and pupils exploration could be seen everywhere using a wide range of books and texts. I saw some wonderful drama to explore text more deeply and talked to children who were articulate in talking about books and text. (I was supposed to be looking at maths sorry Vicky) CLPE’s Power of Reading had really impacted in their classrooms. It was great a real privilege.

The best lesson I’ve ever watched was where a class were exploring “Snow” by Ted Hughes. The understanding and expertise of the teacher, led to astounding progress in understanding for the pupils in that class. The skill of the questioning and development of understanding could only be done due to the in-depth knowledge and understanding of the text that was held by the teacher. That is not to say that interpretation was imposed,  the pupils very much explored the meaning and the questioning challenged the understanding. It was phenomenal teaching. I have equally seen poor reading sessions mainly due to lack of teacher text knowledge has led surface questioning and skimming.
Talk about books is equally key. We have to talk about them, challenge thinking, explore themes and ideas, see the bigger picture. This is key for higher level reading, for learners to develop critical thinking around texts. We have to discuss, passive reading will not develop  readers abilities to comprehend a text, neither will throwing down some comprehension questions. We have to teach children to be readers.  Silent reading while nice, in my experience in school, is often a chance for pupils to switch off, especially if they have not got that love of reading. Every second truly does count.

Talk and discussion are vital. Room to explore and think critically around text is important. If we want children to read for pleasure thenwe have to let them experience the joy of exploring a book.


This means a number of things for schools. We need teachers to teach understanding. To do that they have to know the text expertly. To truly dig deep with learners, teachers have to truly understand the text they are using.  This takes time, something which for all  teachers is a rarity.  Developing that broader knowledge of children’s literature is also key, as only by knowing an increasing range can we help children unlock the door to reading.

To develop higher level reading schools must make it a priority, give staff the time and abilities to be experts and the children the time to explore. #becomereadingjedis


PS if you’ve not read ‘Raymie Nightingale’  then blummin’ well read it.



Anyone for Take-away? I’ve taken a few from Primary Rocks live 17.


This is how we ROCK in these parts!


If Carlsberg made a teaching event this is the one it would make.

Last week wasn’t the best for me for a host of reasons. I contemplated not going. Turns out #primaryrocks live 17 was just the medicine I needed. It  was a day full of energy, verve and spirit. This was not downbeat…this was not defeatest…This was a celebration of both how wonderful primary teaching is but also very clear on the challenges it currently faces. The mantra “be excellent every day” or for my school #everydayexcellence (which is something I bang on about all the time) was very much in evidence. This was very much people going ‘Over and Above’

This isn’t going to be a review however instead it’s just going to be my takeaways. The key things that will go back in to my school.

  1. From the inspirational @pivotalpaul to go back and review how and what we reward. To make explicit the behaviour we want. To NOTICE it and reward it. Flip it and phone because that child has done something great not something bad.  (Think we do this to a degree but we need to be more explicit)
  2. From the ever reliable and honest and genuinely funny @MichaelT1979 to double-check feedback does what we want it too and that it tells both children and teachers what we need to know. Responsive Teaching is the aim.
  3. From @MrTRoach who channelled writing through a lens of American horror writer Stephen King. Make sure that children write everyday. I firmly believe this, to get good at something you’ve got to do it…a lot.
  4. From @Shinpad1 the importance of people, of staff having the “knowledge.” Also the importance of expertise in effectively tieing together the pieces in Reading and Writing. Joining it up.
  5. Finally from @imaginitiveenquiry to exploit the tensions and give children room to think but also how vital knowledge is to do that effectively.

A brill day. An empowering day. I also got the opportunity to talk to other heads going through the same things, facing the same challenges. Great to know that “I am not alone”

So thanks to @Gazneedle and his crew for a day that reaffirmed the love I have for this amazing job and I’m gonna say it. “Thanks for the passion!”

Maybe he should think about the shirt next time though 😉


GAZ Needle 2018 (This is what I expect)

You Rock!

So Key Question – What were your take-aways. Was it more than a kebab?



#whatawritemess – Independence and honesty.



This is a very short blog as when everyone else gets up I am forgetting about work for the weekend. I have already blogged on this issue and I continue to have  huge concerns around the honesty of teacher writing assessment in a high stakes testing regime.

See link writing-honestly-we-need-honesty

I have just however watched the joys of the STA video on KS2 writing 2017 see below. I have added a link not because  I would wish to make anybody sit through what I felt was a rather patronising, condescending video but because sadly I think it’s important that people do. I would hope people see it mainly to ensure that we have an even playing field. It does need to be shared as widely as possible so that all schools are aware of the…ahem…guidance.


I have a couple of concerns after watching this video but my main concern is honesty.

This guidance will not lead to honest pictures of what children can and can’t do. The guidance on spelling marking and success criteria will just lead to schools finding other ways to pass on  that information. Rather than it being in a book and real clarity and honesty being provided regarding support and scaffolding a pupil has received.  This will now be removed. Books will show how wonderfully our children write ‘first time’ just don’t ask for the draft book, planning sheets, post-its etc.  (I’m already ordering extra photo-copying paper and a job lot of post-it notes before they run out of stock.) Working walls will also receive a new lease of life.


Year 6 writing working wall 2017


I can’t even be bothered to discuss ellipsis,  post bullet point consistency and the other stuff.

If I sound cynical and snarky, it’s because I am. This is again not about writing and definitely not about children. Let’s be honest this  equally further erode trust between primary and secondary colleagues regarding what we say about pupils in transition when all those amazing writers we send up suddenly can’t spell or use a whole range of features of their own accord.

So I’ll leave you with this…



Workload Reform…Working on a chain Gang


“All day long they work so hard
Till the sun is goin’ down
Working on the Markin’ and Plannin’
And wearing, wearing a frown
You hear them moanin’ their lives away
Then you hear somebody sa-ay

That’s the sound of them working on the chain ga-a-ang
That’s the sound of the them working on the chain gang”

Sam Cooke (with a bit of adjustment by me)

The Workload reform advice from the DfE is really important. I would recommend that every school puts it in the middle of the table at their next staff meeting and reviews and reflects on what happens in their school in light of the advice given.

If you haven’t seen it yet. I suggest going to the DfE site, downloading it, printing it out and reading it as you sit doing your Sunday afternoon marking and planning. I would hope all Headteachers and SLT’s have a copy and they use it as a challenge and a mirror to reflect on their work.

If your SLT has not seen it, get a copy.  Here is the link  Workload poster  and present it to them. We have put it up in our PPA room and in the staffroom.

"The Scots Holding their Young King's Nose to the Grindstone"

We took many of the actions re planning/marking/data over a year and a half ago, even though we were due an Ofsted inspection. We took the Ofsted reforms at face  value and allowed our proverbial myths to be busted. We got on with doing the things that had an impact on the young people in our school. We came out as a good in Ofsted which after being twice RI was a huge endorsement of what we were doing. We have continually tried to keep the focus on what works. This document is another opportunity for us to review, reflect and if necessary change what we do.

I am fully aware however that this is not the case everywhere for  a variety of reasons. We have had hiccoughs along the way. The changes to DfE assessments at primary had a huge impact on workload especially for Year 6 and Year 2 teachers. It is still impacting now, not because I ask for stuff but because of the amazing professionalism of the staff that just want to get it right.

I know schools who have recieved RSC visits or LA visits ( not Ofsted) and have desperately tried to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. This has led to them getting staff to write in books when they have given verbal feedback or ask for planning on a weekly basis.

Now we can blame the SLT or the Head if we want, but actually we need to look wider than that. Dfe, Ofsted, RSC’s, LA’s,  MAT directors all have to support this. If workload reform is truly going to work there has to be a consensus from top to bottom that this is what we are trying to achieve. The document is a good start, but it’s only that. It will only work if we all commit to it and challenge on it so that our teachers can get on with the job of teaching.

Now that would be a result!


The Ministry of Fun



‘I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be’

Whitney Houston

Learning is hard, learning should be hard.

Nothing controversial there. I don’t anybody who wouldn’t fundamentally agree with that statement.

Learning is fun, learning should be fun.

Pretty sure there are a few heckles raised with that statement. ‘Fun’ seems to be  a dirty word in education. It gets associated with slacking off, wasted time and teachers spending hours prepping a lesson to make it ‘fun!’

We don’t plan lessons because they are fun. We plan the learning.

I am reclaiming the word. Learning in our school is ‘fun’. I see children bounce into  school in the morning and bounce out again at the end of the day. They have ‘fun’, they also work blummin’ hard. Key to that fun is relationships. Teachers who know their children well. Learning being hard and fun are not mutually exclusive, with the right teacher it can be both. Learning new stuff is fun. We work hard to give ‘purpose’ to learning so that children to see value in the learning. The challenge is how do we create a sense that learning, that acquiring knowledge is of itself something to aspire to.  It comes ultimately down to a question of carrot or stick. How do you get children to want to learn?  (This is a caveat I don’t have any answers)

I was struck by this as I showed a prospective parent around our school yesterday,  it was one of those moments that makes you take stock. There is no other way to describe it, other than school was ‘ON IT!’ Every class was driven and focused. Great teachers getting it right. There was a buzz.! A crackle in the air, there was also laughter and smiles. It’s one of those things that you miss if you don’t look for it…one of those things that you take for granted.


It also however made me think as a parent. I want my children to bounce. I want them to get that kick from learning. I want them to be the drivers. My wife used to teach A’ level and has seen way to many children pushed by parents, go off the rails. Mostly because of parents ‘helicoptering.’ checking on everything. Motivation by stick whether from school or parent will only ever go so far. Motivating children to be the drivers has to be the aim, doing it because they want to do it not because they’re made to.

I have two boys, my youngest is thirteen for him, currently school has lost its’ sparkle. He has always been a hard-working conscientious learner. He loves learning. He has always soaked stuff up like a sponge. He was the child who walked back in the house and would share his everything he had learnt. He has had his struggles, reading is and it will continue to be hard work but its a barrier he constantly strives to overcome. However for the first time in his school career is just going through the motions. ‘How was school?’ ‘Fine’ ‘What did you learn?’ ‘Stuff’. He is doing enough, but the sparkle is gone. Now I know some will say that’s teenagers and to some degree they’re right. The looming shadow of ‘options’ has not helped. He has got to lose the many of the things that motivate and fire him. Making choices for him feels huge and important. (He’s only year 8)

My eldest is seventeen and is now the polar opposite, he also did enough, got a reasonable set of GCSE’s, but secondary school for him was a trial, that he got through. To see your son trudge through five joyless years is really hard. There were no big issues he negotiated its challenges well, but there no love of learning either. He’s lucky, he’s quite able. He was however never really challenged to push on and achieve either. He was the kid the teachers didn’t worry about, ‘He’ll get his grades,’ sadly there was no ambition for him to drive beyond expectations.  Worst of all they didn’t know him. They never knew his dreams, his passion. They didn’t see him. They saw a target and a grade, no one talked to him about his ambitions. He was constantly being pushed towards engineering, (It’s a Teesside thing) career talk after career talk about ‘joining the Army’ or ‘working on the Rigs.’ At no point did they stop and ask him what he wanted.  Suddenly however we have a young man who has come alive. Following his GCSE’s in Maths and triple Science, he is now doing a BTeC in Musical Theatre. He is a boy that bounces out the house, bounces back in, goes in to college for extra sessions and is working his proverbial socks off. The change is remarkable but is partly about him finding him. We ask now and he tells, enthusing about the learning. This is ultimately about him motivating him.

The key question isn’t really about fun it’s about agency, how can we create that drive so that learning hard stuff is ‘fun.’ How do we create cultures that celebrate Learning? I feel we have that in my school, I’m not entirely sure how we created it though.

Creating a purpose for learning was a vital part of it as is hearing a child’s voice.

‘I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me’

Whitney Houston