What I learnt from picturebooks…My Top 10 tips for leading a school.

When Gaz Needle asked me if I’d like to present at #PrimaryRocksLive I jumped at the chance. Having attended the year before I knew it was an education event not to be missed full of fun an energy and most importantly an evident love for primary teaching. I randomly threw out a jokey title and then thought no more about it really… well that was until I saw it on the program. Then I was stuck and had no choice but to see it through. I have to say I think I managed to get away with it.


1.Build a culture of trust. Let them feel safe in taking a risk (Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak)

Sendak is the godfather of picturebooks and Where the Wild Things are is undoubtedly his Masterpiece. For me its a book about unconditional love and care and more importantly Trust. When Max sails away ultimately he knows and believes that his mum will be waiting. In Leadership terms it has a simple message about creating trust and belief. I know my school has been a better place for the development of trust both in adults and children. Staff free to take risks. Systems built around trust and belief change the dynamic of your work. So many systems in school have been set based on not trusting the staff. Performance management, data drop, excessive marking policies, lesson observations and much more based on the belief that staff aren’t doing a good job. I genuinely believe staff come to school to do the best job they can. They almost always live up to that trust. Trust is equally a two-way street, staff believing in you is equally important and that takes time to get people to authentically believe in you. Running alongside that is honesty. Creating a climate where honest discussions about children inform the work should surely be the goal of every school. I’ve sadly seen to often spurious data used as a stick to beat up staff and  the data increasingly become a nonsense. Trust and honesty solves that.

TRUST ME… You gotta believe.


2.Grow the seeds, even if others come and pick the flowers (The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin)

The Promise is a stunning book about changing our world, growing and nurturing things and the impact the can have on our spaces and our lives. As a Leader in a school this is one of the most important things we do. Growing our staff to be the best they can be. That doesn’t necessarily mean Leadership. Helping your staff take the career paths that are right for them is and supporting them to do that is a key part of what school leaders should do. Sadly this means that sometimes those carefully nurtured plants are picked for other gardens. That ‘s OK though you get to plant the next seed and do it all again. Having just appointed two new staff for September I am really excited to start that process all over again.

Chelsea Flower Show is not the only place where blooms need to be nurtured.


3.Make the space to think about and reflect on your actions (The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo)

Sound of Silence is a quiet and contemplative text about the hunt for that moment of true silence. It’s thoughtfulness and calm completely hits its target. As a bit of advice for Leadership it’s simple really, find your space and time to think about your work, both to reflect and plan. Stepping back. sometimes is vital. If you don’t your leadership can become reactive rather than pro-active. So whether its bobbing on a surf-board in the North sea of sitting on a hill. Find the place to step away and think.


4.Listen and pay attention. Don’t ignore the signals (Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems)

Knuffle Bunny is just one of the most wonderfully funny books ever. A simple tale told well. The frustration of the child as her Father both doesn’t listen or understand what she is saying is fantastic. The facial expressions are just magnificent. For a Leader again the message is simple. Just look, listen and read the signals.  Ask questions, pay attention and be sure to read between the lines. Almost anything can be solved with clear open communication and honesty.


5.Pay attention to the detail but keep an eye on how it fits in the bigger picture (Zoom by Istvan Banyai)

Zoom is on of those books that completely blows your mind when you first see it. It completely pans out and out and out, going from micro to macro. As a leader it’s vital you have an eye on both. The clarity of the big picture and what you are trying to achieve has to be supplemented by an eye on the detail. Precision actions and getting the detail right will make it stick.


6.Understand that sometimes the apparent rules are there to be broken  and we need to be brave (Don’t Cross the Line by Isabel Minhos Martins and Bernardo Carvello)

The book ‘Cross the Line’ is just the most brilliant book about breaking the rules and standing up for something The fantastic use of the gutter to create a barrier sets up the story perfectly an creates a moment when the pressure becomes too much and you have the character have to stand-up and break the rules.


The same is true of leadership. Sometime you just have to cross the line and break the rules. Sometimes things are thrown at you and you have to know when to say NO. Pointless data is one such line, lots of people ask you for pointless stuff, being brave enough to not do it for the right reasons is vital and scary in equal measure. I have often said NO. Sometimes it is blummin’ scary to do so. In the blog below I became an accidental hero, often by being brave you find you’re not the only one.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE … In your office no one can hear you scream!


7.Remember one Yes is stronger than countless Nos. Don’t let detractors stop you doing the things that are needed (The Yes by Sarah Bee and Satoshi Kitamura)

The Yes is a cheerful orange creature who sets off to explore the big wide Where. But the Where is home to the Nos, who travel in packs and discourage the Yes at every turn. The book has a great message about overcoming obstacles and not being put off.

Do I really need to explain this one? Essentially just keep focused on where your going and the reasons why and you will get there. Equally stick to the things that are important to you and you won’t go far wrong. Finding the important things is the challenge.

Those three words… a lens on your work.


8.Understand and know your community both its strengths and its challenges. Schools are not islands (Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith)

Town is by the Sea is a melancholy, wistful delight. It talks about lack of choice and how destiny and future is set. Most importantly it evokes its community. I was struck on reading it to the parallels to the community my school is in. The rhythms and the potentially limited futures. Knowing and understanding your community is key to truly making an impact. Getting your community to support and believe in the work you are doing can significantly change the work you do.


9.Be honest when you get things wrong, take the knocks then get up and try again (After the Fall by Dan Santat)

A brilliantly clever picturebook that uses all the tricks to get the reader to truly understand the dilemmas faced by Humpty Dumpty following the ‘fall.’ Colour and perspective are masterfully used to draw us in.


The message is simple. Get up and go again. If the mistake is yours, then own it. Be honest! Equally make sure the successes are shared. The true job of a leader is to create the space for your teachers to do the best job they can.

Be More Alfred! (Let Batman be Batman)


10.Don’t forget what the job is really about… Children. Put them at the centre of every decision (Love by Matt De La Pena and Loren Long)

“In the beginning there is light/ and two wide-eyed figures standing/ near the foot of your bed,/ and the sound of their voices is love,”

A beautiful book about the true meaning of Love with children at its heart. For me as a Leader it’s that signal to look at the choices we make and to make sure that the children in our school are at the center of those actions and decisions . This doesn’t mean increasing workload in fact it means the opposite. It’s about doing the things that work and getting rid of the rest. Equally the best deal for our children is teachers who aren’t worn-out and exhausted. Children should always be the lens you use to look at your work. Sadly they can sometimes get forgotten.

TOP 10 TIPS FOR LEADING A SCHOOL (Picturebook Edition)

  • 1.Build a culture of trust. Let them feel safe in taking a risk
  • 2.Grow the seeds, even if others come and pick the flowers
  • 3.Make the space to think about and reflect on your actions
  • 4.Listen and pay attention. Don’t ignore the signals
  • 5.Pay attention to the detail but keep an eye on how it fits in the bigger picture
  • 6.Understand that sometimes the apparent rules are there to be broken  and we need to be brave
  • 7.Remember one Yes is stronger than countless Nos. Don’t let detractors stop you doing the things that are needed
  • 8.Understand and know your community both its strengths and its challenges. Schools are more than an island
  • 9.Be honest when you get things wrong, take the knocks then get up and try again
  • 10.Don’t forget what the job is really about… Children. Put them at the centre of every decision

Thanks to the @PrimaryRocks team for inviting me and  letting me waffle. It was a brill day with lots of amazing primary practitioners.

We all need days like #PrimaryRocksLive to remind us about the brilliance of our job.


Can you recommend a book?…Maybe, or maybe not?


I recommend a lot of books, I am however becoming increasingly worried about suggesting books to people. I worry that people spend their precious school budget on things I have recommended, a recommendation at the end of the day is just me saying I liked something.

I personally think we are in a bit of a golden age for children’s literature with some truly fantastic books being written. Twitter is awash with recommendations of new children’s books. I worry about our quality control however. I wonder about how some of these books will stand up to the great books already out there. Sadly I see a lot of older books disappearing, not because they are not good but because they are not new or shiny. I still firmly believe that Tom’s Midnight Garden is one of the finest children’s books ever written alongside Charlotte’s Web and don’t even start me on the merits of why The Graveyard Book should be read to every Year 6 class. Unfortunately  it is increasingly rare to see these books in our classrooms.

Last week somebody requested some recommendations for KS2 and I was struck by the fact that  they were presented with a list of the newest and the shiniest, often these books haven’t even hit the shops yet. Recommendations are often really unbalanced towards the new and the sparkly. I fear that some truly great books are getting lost in the melee. Pax is a book in question that sadly is criminally ignored in my opinion. Complex, dense , rich language, challenging themes, wonderful story telling.  (Book blog No2 Pax by Sarah Pennypacker) I see some books being written off as old hat. I see schools purchasing class sets of a book they’ve been told is good, I personally think there is something to be said for the test of time. What I’m saying is we need a balance. As a recommend-er of books I need to be cautious

The problem ultimately comes down to teacher knowledge. Many teachers don’t have time to sit and read a book or find one that works for them. This leads to two things

1) They become dependent on the books they knew in childhood.


2) They take a shortcut and get others to recommend books for them.

There is sadly no substitute for reading the book yourself. I’ve read books that I’ve really not got on with. I don’t say that because I know that it is possibly/probably more about me than the book itself. Using a book with a class is a big risk. It relies on many factors to make it work.

  1. Do you like the book? Do you find the book interesting? Does it rock your world? (There is nothing worse than wading through a book that you can’t stand because it’s on your curriculum plan or it’s the book your school has spent its money on.)
  2. The make up of the class. (knowing your class well is a big factor in picking the right book. That’s not saying don’t use something challenging, but about how incrementally you move that challenge on.)
  3. How you’re planning to use the book? What is the purpose for using the book? (a brilliant book for sharing as a class reader may not hold up to intense scrutiny of being picked apart as a model for writing)
  4. Do you understand the themes of the book? (matching the book to your class is tricky, sometimes it can feel like an arms race. Is it appropriate for the children. This is not about us it’s about them. Raising the challenge is not about using books with more mature themes. I always think would I want my child to be read that…I am a massive prude when it comes to this)
  5. Do YOU like the book? Do YOU find the book interesting? Does it rock YOUR world?

So if this sounds a bit grumpy I don’t mean it too. It really is about me.

I will recommend with caution and with an eye on the past as well as the present because it’s our duty to make sure children enjoy the joys of brilliant children’s books both past, present and future.

Now go out there and find the books that make your heart sing.

It’s SNOW joke! (Sorry for the pun)


This week I have had to make the hardest decision I have had to make since becoming a headteacher.

Whether I open or close the school due to the weather.

There are so many things to take into consideration when you make the decision.

We are in a rather fortunate position in Whitby that most of the time we are not hit by snow. In the four years I’ve been here this is the first time we’ve been really struck by it. My instinct is always to try to make sure school is open.

Unfortunately a significant amount of my teaching staff don’t live in Whitby. If you know Whitby at all you’ll know it is surrounded by the North York Moors. Whilst in Whitby there maybe no snow the moors can be quite treacherous.

I have a brilliant staff who I know if I said we were opening the school would endeavour to get to there. My job is to make sure those people are safe.

Thing is it’s not easy! Some schools have to shut while others do not, some are able to open while others cannot. It doesn’t make any school better than another. It’s all about each schools context.

This week however we received quite a bit of abuse on social media from a tiny minority of parents some of it pretty foul.

What upset the most is that these people questioned the commitment of our staff to the job. We have a brilliant staff who I know go above and beyond for the children of our school every single day. I know they would have tried to get in if I’d asked. My job is to make sure that they don’t take those risks. If the Met Office is declaring an Amber warning then I have to listen. I have to weigh up the all the information I have and make a decision. Sometimes I will get it wrong, but the heart of the decision should always be safety for all involved.  (Pupil/Parents/Staff)

DXCM5lMW0AEXZ8Z.jpg large

The decision to close wasn’t lightly taken and it wasn’t done in isolation, the local heads all discussed the situation, our Chair of Governors was outstanding in helping me make the decision, most importantly our caretaker was a font of knowledge about the town. (I don’t live in Whitby and couldn’t actually get to school myself)

Today  we opened (after three days shut), I arrived at school at 6:45 after an hour drive across the moors. Then proceeded to help my caretaker (He’d already made a cracking start) shovel the paths to school (I even brought my own shovel)


After after being criticised for closing we were then criticised for opening.

I learnt that I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t…so on balance I’d rather be damned for knowing everybody is safe.

Hey Ho! You can’t win… except I know everybody is safe and that for me is the biggest win.


Hyperbole-What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!


‘I look around and I see big mouthed rock stars with opinions on everything and answers to nothing.

Burnt out old men with money to burn.

Bandwagons full of bands with sycophantic fans with no lives of their own.

A place where image is king and music is a poorer relation that I can relate to.

I am the greatest

I am the greatest’

I Am The Greatest by A House.

Edutwitter loves a spat.

The government’s announcement of Times Tables Checks… was a perfect opportunity for a spat.

What is sad is that apparently grown up, intelligent people used it as an opportunity to promote their personal agenda and spout globules of hyperbole at their perceived opposition. Generations were failed, wanting tests was akin to child abuse, not wanting tests makes you an enemy of promise. There were apparently swarms of people who didn’t think children should be taught times-tables. (I have to say I still can’t find them)

It was all a bit childish and pathetic really and the only thing it did was stop people having an actual discussion about the Times Table Check. The Hyperbole prevented nuance and reasoned argument about the real issues regarding the introduction of the XTC or TTC or MTC (pick whichever one you like.) The actual issue around the government introducing another test and form of accountability was lost in a sea of hyperbole.


You have to question why this happens. There is significant grandstanding going on. There is much raising of standards, planting the flag in the ground and rallying the troops to the cause.

Next up seems to be  exclusions and behaviour. Where if you don’t exclude you preside over chaos, or if you do you destroy pupils futures. Where if you don’t exclude you’re allowing people to be hurt or worse, and if you do you are destroying society.

Again it’s not an either/or issue which seems to be how some people want to paint the argument.

Nobody is saying you shouldn’t exclude however a nuanced discussion around exclusion and the potential crisis that is happening seems actually an important thing to have, with voices from all-sides looking at the challenges. Sadly again that discussion won’t happen because it’s drowned out by a wave of hyperbole and grandstanding where the extremes at either end of the debate dominate the discussion and the reasonable are shouted down, lambasted and vilified.

Arguments are treated as a thing to be won rather than an issue to be solved.

The way some people act and speak to other teachers is frankly appalling. I’m pretty sure none of them would do it in real life.

As a person who often finds myself somewhere in the middle of these discussions, I’ve increasingly found myself not engaging and not wishing to get involved with it and I’m sure there are plenty of others who feel the same way. That in itself is sad as I’m sure many valuable voices just stop being involved  and walk away. Instead it becomes the same voices spouting viewpoint rather than a real conversation.

Personally I’ve got better things to do.





Good Teaching…what is it in your school?


As a school we’ve been really digging in to what  we’re about this year both in terms of ethos and culture but also in terms of teaching.

I as a head am not overly prescriptive about how people teach but on our last dig in I was struck by what was really working in our classrooms.  To varying degrees there were three key elements to the teaching these three things were the  bits that were making a real difference. Sir David Carter refers to them as ‘signature pedagogies,’ I define them as those things that are special about the teaching in your school. None of them are ‘rocket science’ but it’s amazing how often they get missed. The other thing I noticed is that we don’t really do gimmicks. I have had three moments in the past week where I have been struck by the relentless brilliance of the teachers in my school. They were those moments when they were so good that you just marvel at the skill of the person teaching the class. None of it was showy, some may call it’ bread and butter’ stuff but it was still amazing to watch.


1 ) ‘Fierce Kindness’ not sure where I got this phrase (It may have been @eltronnie) but it completely sums up what happens in our classrooms. I was struck by the fact that praise was sparingly used if at all, that the dialogue between the pupil and the teacher was relentlessly challenging and completely focused on moving the learning forward. I spoke to the children after and they didn’t even notice the lack of praise. This working relationship is based on trust, the children didn’t need praise because it was intrinsic in the rooms. The children knew they had done good work but they were desperate to know how it could be better. It was completely evident that the children were motivated and working hard. That the drive was coming from the children was testament to the great work the teachers had done in creating that working culture in their classrooms. These classrooms summed up our belief in Everyday Excellence.


2) ‘Effective Modelling’ has become a real driver in our classrooms. Explicit modelling the process is immensely powerful and has been something that has over the last three years become a key part of our work. I won’t explain modelling others have talked about it way better than I could, for a good start check out the article below.

(For a summary of modelling this article from the TES by A. Tharby is a good place to get an idea. Using Modelling successfully.)

3) ‘Precision.’ Knowledgeable teachers, knowing their subject and really digging at the detail. Precise, clear teaching leads to clarity of expectation and quality of work. Teachers knowing their stuff is vital. Sounds obvious but the devil really is in the detail.

In every class these three things were apparent to varying degrees. The three elements working together creates some intensely powerful teaching.

There is still some work to do on consistency and I firmly believe we need to start ‘sweating the small stuff’ a little, we need to be a bit more pernickety, but that is polish to the things that really work for our children. That this stuff is done in a vibrant engaging curriculum means we are beginning to hit the best of both worlds.

So ask yourself...
'What are the key elements of Teaching in your classrooms?'

Doing that has helped us hugely in developing our work.

For us it’s no gimmicks, no tricks, just good teaching.

Those three words… a lens on your work.



“Those three words
Are said too much
They’re not enough”

Chasing Cars, Snow Patrol


When I asked people on Saturday to sum up their school in three words  I didnt know what I expected. I was blown away by people’s responses.  I’d like to say a massive thankyou to everybody who tried to sum up their school in just three words. I’ve old-school word-clouded everybody’s words. This would probably make a great starting point for people to start that talk in their schools.


This was something we as a school had done just over a year ago.

As part of our trust we had an enquiry in to the work  our school does and the wonderful @GaltVicky asked my deputy and I to do just that, to define what three words summed up our school.

Fact is we couldn’t do it. We sat there ‘ummming’ and ‘errring’ but what was clear is we didn’t really know what our words were. What that really meant is we weren’t  clear about what we were trying to achieve and if we didn’t know you can bet nobody else did either.

So we set about finding out what we were really about. We talked about it (occasionally it got a bit heated) , we got staff, children and families to share their ideas and the things they felt were important qualities of our school. Then we discussed even more. We filtered, we sieved, we honed. Weirdly finding the right words had become really important. the process had made them valuable. That they belonged to everyone made them precious. Finally we had found them…Our three words…the words that summed up what we wanted school to be about, what we valued.




Here are our words. Handily it also creates an acrostic for CAN.

These three words immediately began to act a lens on the work we were doing in school. They began to guide our choices , frame our actions, focus our discussions. They began to become the key threads in our classrooms. As a surprise to us they stripped the gimmicks out of our classrooms. They focussed our energies and our work. It helped us say no to things. It meant that the work in our classrooms became more authentic and real. We have begun to sweat the small stuff because we have clarity about the big. Most importantly we know what we are trying to achieve.

Everybody owns the words. Children aspire to the words. Our most recent enquiry confirmed they were embedded in our classrooms and in our work not an add on but as a core element of our work.

So a question… Do you know your three words?

If not, why not? You know what you need to do.




Independence day…How independent is independent writing?


For the last two years Spring term has become silly season with regards writing in Key Stage 2. The Interim Framework (An oxymoron if ever there were one as it seems as though it’s here to stay) has caused consternation, workload and endless discussions that go round the houses about judgements made with regards to writing.

For me the big issue sits around the idea of independence and what that really means. The guidance from DfE defines it as this

Writing is likely to be independent if it:

• emerges from a text, topic, visit, or curriculum experience in which pupils have had opportunities to discuss and rehearse what is to be written about
• enables pupils to use their own ideas and provides them with an element of choice, for example writing from the perspective of a character they have chosen themselves
• has been edited, if required, by the pupil without the support of the teacher, although this may be in response to self, peer, or group evaluation
• is produced by pupils who have, if required, sought out classroom resources, such as dictionaries or thesauruses, without prompting to do so by the teacher

Writing is not independent if it has been:

• modelled or heavily scaffolded
• copied or paraphrased
• edited as a result of direct intervention by a teacher or other adult, for example when the pupil has been directed to change specific words for greater impact, where incorrect or omitted punctuation has been indicated, or when incorrectly spelt words have been identified by an adult for the pupil to correct
• produced with the support of electronic aids that automatically provide correct spelling, synonyms, punctuation, or predictive text
• supported by detailed success criteria that specifically direct pupils as to what to include, or where to include it, in their writing, such as directing them to include specific vocabulary, grammatical features, or punctuation

To me that’s pretty clear when you look at it. I personally would be happy if that is what we all adhered to.

Planning effective opportunities where children have  can revisit previously taught materials as part of a wider curriculum…eminently sensible.

Providing opportunities for some choice in writing…highly motivating.

Editing and re-drafting through peer discussion and critique…like that.

Effective use of class resources to help them develop writing and spelling…great stuff

I personally am not calling for a writing test, that only created slapdash cover as many bases as we can ‘teaching’ that often stopped children developing the craft and finesse of writing. I see writing mostly being taught really well, increasingly grammar is becoming part of writing rather than a bolt on. (Still think some of the things in the framework are a nonsense though…fronted adverbials anyone)

The real issue is the accountability that sits with it. It  is a sorry state when the idea of no statutory assessment means that something may not be taught (Look at science though and the impact of removal of SATs test).  We genuinely seem to have forgotten our purpose. Assessment should provide the next phase in learning with a real picture of children as writers instead its about the best results. Discussions yesterday on twitter about rewrites and edits had me banging my head on the table. For those that adhere to the description of independence above they will find themselves on a very uneven playing field. Drafts, redrafts, edits , success criteria. We are not all playing the same game.

The guidance on independence around spelling, marking and success criteria will just lead to some 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.


KS2 independent editing 2018

Lets be honest this nonsense will only  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.

If I sound cynical and snarky, it’s because I am. This is again not about writing and definitely not about children.

So the challenge sits with Heads/SLTs/and teachers…How independent will your independence be?

For the second year in a row I’ll leave you with this…


The Reading Offer…What choices are you giving children?

Wild reading

Twitter is great for making you stop and think sometimes. Yesterday Rob Smith (Literacy shed supremo) posted a tweet that really struck a chord with me. Rob tweet

It made me stop and think about reading and what we offer children in our school. Do we offer a gruel or a gourmet reading experience for our pupils. I found myself time-travelling back to my youth and thinking about what made me a reader. A formative part in that for me as a child was non-fiction. Non-fiction was for me where I found my ‘Reading for Pleasure’

I would spend hours poring over the one book that I owned, given to me by my Aunty Pat for Christmas in 1979 or maybe 1980.

mysteries of the unknown.jpg

First question should be “What the hell were you doing Aunty Pat?” It was terrifying. It was also utterly brilliant. I read that book so many times it eventually fell apart. (I did cry)


mysteries squid

It was a brilliant non-fiction book (I appreciate now that there is quite a lot of fiction in this book)…endlessly re-readable, loads and loads to learn about. It was also glorious to look at, sumptuous in the detail and fantastically illustrated. It was the total package. I can’t even begin to count the hours I spent lay on my bed reading it, lost in its pages, savouring its detail.

It was only replaced when my Dad came home with a set of battered Encyclopaedia Britannica, they then became my go to books for exploring and finding stuff out.

This made me stop and think about two things really. The first was our school offer for reading.

What reading experiences/ choices are we offering children?

Do we have the books that children can wallow in like a warm bath?

Do we have the books that let children explore and find out stuff driven by their own interests?

(Or is the reading material particularly non-fiction controlled and merely used as an extended comprehension exercise.)

There are absolutely fantastic non-fiction books out there…

The question is do we let children explore non-fiction in their reading choices in the way we do with fiction? I tried to come up with a list of what our offer beyond fiction looks like in the library. I’m sure people could add other ideas and suggestions.

  • Encyclopaedias
  • Short stories
  • Graphic novels
  • True-life stories
  • Comics
  • Newspapers
  • Diaries
  • Biographies
  • Magazines
  • Leaflets
  • Theatre and football programmes
  • Recipe books / cards
  • Posters
  • Travel brochures
  • Maps
  • Timetables
  • Food packaging
  • Catalogues
  • Letters and postcards
  • Advertisements

It also made me think about how we use non-fiction in school.

Is it controlled? Do we only read non-fiction when we want to find out a key thing?

I’ve seen comments that talked about only accessing non-fiction on the web, where children search for what they need to find out. Sadly this denies children experiencing the beauty and wonder that a crafted non-fiction book provides.

My experience of non-fiction is different I know lots of stuff, not because I had to know it but because I found it in a brilliant non-fiction books. Interests were sparked by stumbling on something as I immersed myself in the pages.

This led me to try to think of the main purposes for reading. So far I have these five. If you have any more please add to my list…

Purposes for Reading

  1. Read to learn something new
  2. Read to make us think
  3. Read to be entertained
  4. Read to be inspired
  5. Read to inform
  6. Reading to help us understand others better (from Anne Thompson @ALibraryLady)
  7. reading is to help us understand ourselves (Courtesy of Teresa Cremin)

So finally the big question?

What is your schools Reading offer?

Give the question ten minutes, it’s worth it.

That way madness lies…(1700 pages of guidance)


I, I can’t get these memories out of my mind
And some kind of madness has started to evolve
I, I tried so hard to let you go
But some kind of madness is swallowing me whole, yeah
Muse, Madness


There are decisions which make you breathe a huge sigh of relief. The decision to deny the freedom of information request regarding the marking guidance is one such decision. (A definite Christmas present in disguise)

One can only imagine the madness that would have occurred in Year 6 classrooms had those 1700 pages of guidance been released. The teaching of finicky detail on where to place a semi-bloody-colon. (This to be fair may already be happening)  Lord knows what other nonsense lies within those 1700 pages, thankfully we’ll never know and I’m glad for that.

That the DfE have 1700 pages of guidance for a test for 11-year-olds is another matter entirely


If it had been released can you just imagine that first day back… That Spring term…The booster class nightmares…




Don’t get me wrong I think that there is 1700 pages of guidance is an absolute nonsense. That there are hidden rules to passing these tests that we don’t know about is frankly ludicrous. The fact that in some cases last year children were marked wrong when they absolutely knew the answer is just beyond belief. I’m just grateful that we don’t know the extent of this ridiculousness. I’m just glad that my teachers will just get on and teach the children. Equally don’t get me wrong either I love a good test. Wouldn’t it be great if those tests actually impacted on pupils learning and helped them with the next steps in their learning.

Wouldn’t it be great if they were about children not just measuring the schools they come from. Wouldn’t it be great if secondary had any faith in them and used the information to create effective transition.

On the flip side does this give me any faith in what I feel is an assessment system already teetering on the edge. Definitely not. The travesty that this nonsense is tied to a high stakes accountability system where in some cases people lose their jobs beggars belief.

Does it make me fear for the direction of travel that education is heading in…Yes it completely does.

It’s time to stop and assess what it is we’re doing with assessment. I think its time to hit the reset button and start again.

Be grateful I’ve not even mentioned the nonsense that will be writing assessment this year (or the last two years) and the reintroduction of best fit (in principle I agree but know this will increase the variability of judgement even more)

Writing…Honestly, we need honesty.

So small mercies that we will never know the contents of those 1700 pages but if this does not ring alarm bells about what we’re doing with regards to education then nothing will.



Listen and Learn. (Leading in stormy weather)

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“You gotta learn to listen, listen to learn
You gotta learn to listen, before you get burned
Learn to listen, listen to learn
You gotta learn to listen, before you get burned”
 The Ramones “Learn to Listen”


So 2017 draws to a weary conclusion. I haven’t blogged for a while not because there isn’t anything I want to say but just because I havent had the time or the energy to say it. There are points where real life catches up with you and you’ve just got to focus on the important stuff. There are points where you just have to balance it out. This last half-term has definitely been one of those.

I have watched a number of people who work at my school going through some really difficult stuff and still coming into work even though life is beating them with a pretty big stick. Those are the moments when your mettle as a head or a leader is really tested. How you support those people, how you ride the storm is the true test. (Whatever that storm is)

When the going is easy and the weather is good it’s easy to be complacent about what you do. It’s easy to miss the bits that just make it tick along. When the storm blows it can become blatantly obvious that you’ve not got as firm a hand on the rudder as you’d like.  Those are the times you need to put your hands up, say sorry and listen. It is equally as important that you continue to make the right choices for the right reasons even if sometimes that does not make everyone happy.


Truth is as a head or a leader you can’t make everybody happy however much you would want to. There are inevitably compromises you have to make, sometimes they frustrate people. They get frustrated for a range of reasons almost all of them are down to communication. They want to know why you’ve made the choices you have.

Why leadership is so tough

What makes this so difficult is that, in every capacity, youre asked , as a leader,  to put yourself last.

It’s a removal of the ego. You can’t just rage out of impatience, or get upset because other people aren’t working the way you want them to work. You can’t show your frustration–even if everyone else is. You can’t sit back and complain when times get tough. You have to be the positive force that changes the tide.

You, as a leader, have to take a step back from your impulsive, emotional reactions, and instead operate from a place of calm understanding. And that’s a skill that isn’t taught in school or afterschool clubs, or on a leadership course.


It’s learned through watching others closely who embody that trait. Having other leaders to talk with and to challenge your the thinking and sometimes your prejudice is vital. I’m very lucky on that count, working as part a trust has really helped us explore our leadership and challenged us in a positive way.

And it’s learned through diligent self-inquiry, and constantly practicing the art of being flexible in the way you communicate and lead others.

So here are my 7 tips to being a good leader

  1. Be flexible. (adapting the route while keeping an eye on the goal is key)
  2. When everyone else is stressed, you’re calm. (listen and solve)
  3. Be clear. (Communication is key. Most frustrations are due to poor communication)
  4. When everyone else is running on fumes, you inject more fuel. (What have you done to minimise workload? If all else fails…CAKE!)
  5. Lead by example. (Take stock and move forward clearly)
  6. When someone has an issue, you work with and listen to the person on a personal level. Be human!(Listening is the most important aspect of the job)
  7. Celebrate (make sure hard work isn’t rewarded by making more hard work)

This is where most leaders get it wrong, and I’ve seen it happen all the time (I’ve made these mistakes all the time) . The moment someone moves into a position of leadership, the person believes that everyone else should accommodate his or her needs–when actually it’s the opposite. As I’ve said before ‘I know I’m doing my job well when others are able to do theirs well.’


That people at the end of the term went out of their way to find me  say “thankyou for the support” tells me I’m getting something right.

‘Just a listening man
Try to understand
Just a listening man
Do the best I can…’
‘Listening Man’ The Bees