Digging Deeper… Reading with Picturebooks



I firmly believe that he better we know the  books we are using. The more effectively we will be able to help children explore them.  I recently did a workshop at Reading Rocks. In the session I used the fantastic Arthur and the Golden Rope by Joe Todd Stanton published by the rather wonderful Flying Eye Books.

I’ll admit the session was planned partly as a way of keeping my hand in.

The aims of the session were as follows.

  • To look and explore a picturebook
  • To understand how knowing a book well allows us to dig deeper
  • Look at how talk/drama techniques can help us dig deeper
  • To look at some ways to dig into a text with children.

To be able to do that we need to give our teachers time to explore as well. Knowledgeable teachers knowing about books will make a big difference to how they use them with their class. It will step beyond the surface into allowing them to dig deeper.

KEY QUESTION 1 What knowledge would help the children explore the book better?

This is always an important question to ask. Are there key bits of knowledge or context that would support the children’s understanding of the text. If there is then teach it. In this case knowing about a little about Norse Mythology and the Vikings would be useful.


This grid is always great for starting point for discussion. it provides a secure framework for children to look and talk. So give it a go look at the front cover and talk about what you like? What you dislike? What puzzles you? What links and connections you might make.


What is always surprising about using the grid is that different people will all see and think different things. Creating time to talk about books is vital in developing deeper understanding, listening to others points helps drive our thinking. Thing is there often isn’t a right and wrong answer. (regardless of whether a comprehension suggests there is only one answer)


Now look the end-papers. (Joe Todd Stanton does just the best end-papers) and ask yourself the same questions. I guarantee some of your children will bring some links and connections here. (Most of them admittedly will be Marvel related…I did love Thor Ragnarok)

Arthur 11.png

The next picture we get is this one. It’s really important to see the illustrator as an author and therefore to think why they may have placed an image or a clue. At this point we may not have an answer, but we may have lots of questions, when we read any good books they often ask us more questions than give us answers. Giving children the opportunity to explore the questions is vital.

KEY QUESTION 2 Do you give children room to ask questions about what they are reading?


In the book we then discover that the Brownstone’s are family who over centuries have collected lots of weird and wonderful artifacts. This page is fantastic both for exploring and making links and connections.


We did this as a game and a race to find ten objects and explain what they were or what they did. It would also be great to come back after exploring the book to use the page as a launch pad for the children writing their own narrative using one of the objects on the page.



We then get this piece of text. Discuss with children what a ‘Hero’ is. What they look like? How they behave? Then ask the children to based on that text to describe Arthur our ‘unlikeliest’ of heroes. Then show the children the first picture of Arthur that we get in the book.


Ask children to think about what the learn about Arthur from the picture. Using a body outline ask children describe around the outline the external features and inside what we learn about his personality, or the internal Arthur. This could equally be done as a Role on the wall or if your brave enough a Hot seat discussion.

Then in the book it all goes wrong for Arthur. The text alongside the images is  great. This next bit I shamelessly stole from the CLPE as I saw Farrah do this brilliantly with ‘The Island’ by Armin Greder. It is now a favourite technique of mine for getting children to look really closely at the text. It is also fantastic for getting children to understand sentence structures, punctuation and grammar in a real context. Really discussing why an author has structured a text a certain way is hugely powerful both when children write for themselves but also understanding the impact SPAG.  I picked this text extract because it allowed so much drama and variety. When I saw the CLPE unit for the book they had done the same thing with the same bit of text. (I just think it’s great minds or their really good teaching)


Arthur 15

Give children an extract of text. Discuss with them what is happening in the extract. Think about the pace, structure and tone of the extract. Discuss the effect the use of punctuation makes. Children then create a performance of the text extract. emphasising keywords and drawing out the authors intent.


Here’s one I did earlier.

Reading aloud with fluency and emphasis is a vital skill. It is important that we regularly model this by reading to our class everyday.

KEY QUESTION 3 Do you read to your class everyday?

If you don’t you’re missing a trick. Plus NO PLANNING.

If you hadn’t guessed it all goes wrong for Arthur at this point. Arthur is blamed for the destruction of the village. The story provides us with a perfect moment to use THOUGHT-TRACKING to explore a little deeper with Arthur


Exploring  what Arthur might say and equally what he is thinking is hugely powerful. This picture when we compare it to the first time we meet Arthur also gives us an interesting opportunity to use a SHOW, NOT TELL technique and use this to write about Arthur and by describing him show the reader how he is feeling.

We at this point are left with a character sunk in a dilemma. Unable to sleep Arthur has to make a choice. Using CONSCIENCE ALLEY to explore the dilemma would work well here but I prefer an ANGELS and DEMONS approach. In groups of three, where one child is Arthur and the other two are advising him the children must explore the dilemma and ultimately Arthur must decide what he is going to do next.

Arthur, being the hero, decides to try to save the day and he sets off on an epic heroic quest. The next page is probably my favourite in the whole book as I’m a sucker for a map.


This page as well providing us with an idea of the scale and epicness of the adventure is also a perfect oppotunity for a mini write. Limiting the words and getting children to be really precise is a great way of getting them to think about language choice and sentence structures. MINI-SAGAS are perfect for this (I think along time ago I may have stolen this off Pie Corbett) Write an adventure in fifty words then perform them as a Norse fireside epic. Easy as that.


That about sums up my presentation but leaves you on tenterhooks as to where the story is going. Needless to say it is epic with one of the best suspense page flips ever.

I would say it’s a perfect book for Year 3 and 4. @toddstanton1 is a fantastic picturebook author/illustrator. I would thoroughly recommend all his books.

Thanks Flying Eye books for giving me permission to use the images from Arthur and the Golden rope

The CLPE have produced an excellent unit to accompany this book.


Link to book on the Flying-Eye website.




Shouting in the Wind


Fiddes, Christopher John Ellis, b.1934; Shouting in the Wind

“This coat my royal gown
A stolen hand-me-down
No need to scrape and bow
We can be heroes now
For more than just one day
Heres how
Look both ways when crossing roads
Dont wear slippers till youre old
Never do what you are told”

Chumbawamba “Never do what you are told”

I’ve been asking myself recently…Why I blog?…Why I tweet? I Think that is an important question to ask ourselves.

I started just over a year and a half ago 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 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.


“Anything worth shouting about is worth shouting into the wind.

Because if enough people care, often enough, the word spreads, the standards change, the wind dies down. If enough people care, the culture changes.

It’s easy to persuade ourselves that the right time to make change happen is when it’s time. But that’s never true. The right time to make it happen is before it’s time. Because this is what ‘making’ means.

The most devastating thing we can learn about our power is how much of it we have. How much change we could make if we would only speak up first, not last. How much influence we can have if we’re willing to look someone in the eye and say, “yes.” Or, “this is our problem, too.” Or, “this must stop.”

Yes, there’s wind, there’s always been wind. But that doesn’t mean we should stop shouting.”

Seth Godin


I’ve been lucky enough to get pieces in the TES to share my voice.

Why Picturebooks are Important…TES article archive #1

The Fight to be an Inclusive School… TES article archive #2

Getting rid of staff isn’t the answer…TES article archive #3

Evidence is important but great teaching is still art…TES article arhive #4


So what I’m really saying is don’t be afraid to shout out and keep shouting even if it feels no one is listening. Whether you have 1 follower or 500000 your voice is equally as important.

The thing about books…Let’s TALK about books.




“I will say a prayer, just while you are sitting there
I will wrap my hands around you
I know it will be fine
We’ve got a fantasy affair
We didn’t get wet, we didn’t dare
Our aspirations, are wrapped up in books
Our inclinations are hidden in looks”

Wrapped up in books Belle and Sebastian

In primary school books are the most important tools we have at our disposal . What worries me is we seem to have lost the time to explore them…The time to talk about them…the time to make links and connections to our knowledge…the time to draw in the pieces and make our own sense of them.

Question… How much time do you give to children talking about books?

Sadly I see loads of comprehension activities online. Lots of comprehension questions that create one answer. What I rarely see however is people talking  about children talking about books in their classroom.

There is currently an ongoing debate about whole class reading and guided reading…not even going there as actually they do different things and great guided reading is still probably the most powerful tool we have at moving children’s reading forward (please don’t confuse the flippin’ carousel with guided reading)

What I think is being lost however are the  climates in our classroom’s where we can talk about books. The Reading for Pleasure agenda seems to have been sidelined in the need to improve test scores. Reading in our classrooms seems to be driven more by how children answer a question rather than whether they enjoy reading.

Question…Do you let children explore their understanding about books?


It is however there in black and white as part of the National Curriculum.

“The national curriculum for English aims to ensure that all pupils: read easily, fluently and with good understanding. develop the habit of reading widely and often, for both pleasure and information. … use discussion in order to learn; they should be able to elaborate and explain clearly their understanding and ideas.”

National curriculum 2014

Like many schools, we identified that under achievement in reading impacts on children’s progress across the curriculum. Whether due to reluctance or an inability to read, it remains a barrier to their learning. We had to stop and ask ourselves some key questions and ask ourselves some hard truths.

What is our goal?
Do we care only about reading test scores, or do we want our students to have a positive attitude toward reading and choose to read on their own?

(Tip personally I think if you get the second right then you get the first)

Ask a secondary colleagues about which kind of reader they would want transitioning to them, pretty sure they’ll tell you it’s a child who is curious about books and enjoys reading.


There are some problem inherent in this and the answer isn’t as simple as your heart would suggest. There are some pupils who may never truly be switched on by reading. Teachers need to KNOW about books. If teachers don’t know about books then how can we hope for them to be able to drive those more open conversations about books.

This won’t just happen by chance. If you want teachers to be knowledgeable about books you have to give that the time it needs to happen. Teachers need to talk books and share books as much as the children do. Having an advocate that drives this is key.

Top Tips in creating a Reading for Pleasure and Purpose (thanks Alex) climate

  1. Read to your class everyday (Make it a valuable time not a throwaway time, make it special.)
  2. Make books an integral part of your curriculum. (Encourage exploration)
  3. Guide but don’t limit  (Don’t be snobby, doors can be gateways they often offer way more than we think they do)
  4. Teacher Readers (Knowledgeable staff being a role-model for pupils, make time for this to become a reality)
  5. Escapism (Give children  time to just immerse themselves in a book)
  6. Time for talk (Create opportunities to talk about books, not ask questions but genuinely talk about books)
  7. Books ahoy! (Make your school swim with books)
  8. All aboard (Does your SLT make it important) Primary reading – ten questions (excellent document for SLT from the North Yorkshire Literacy Team)
  9. Involve parents. (Getting parents onboard is ultimately the key)
  10. Think about knowledge that will help children dig into a book more effectively  (knowing stuff around the book their reading helps them explore better)



I’ve also included a link to the CLPE reading scale, it’s a fantastic document for helping you think about the needs of individual readers and well worth a look if you haven’t seen it.


Finally from Michael Rosen courtesy of @jdurran

a) We should make time for asking questions for which we don’t have an answer.
b) If ever asking questions for which we do have an answer, we must ask ourselves why are we asking?!

Now stop reading this and go and read…your choice.


Bonus Post… Parklands Subject Leader Ofsted Prep Questions via @ChrisDysonHT

Prepping your team well is a key ingredient to a successful Ofsted. Here are Chris Dyson’s Subject-Leader questions.  (Download link at the bottom)

Maths and Literacy

Questions all Subject Leaders should be able to answer?

  1. What are the standards of your subject from July 2017?
  2. You will need the key info from Raise and cross reference with H/T and SEF to ensure ‘all singing from the same hymn sheet’. NOVEMBER
  3. Can you make a judgement on these outcomes e.g. ‘attainment’ is RI (below National ) ‘progress’ is Good (Be able to support these 2 answers with evidence)
  4. What are standards (attainment) currently? (if over half way through the year….. ARE % ….GLD estimate…. Y1 Phonics est….. Y6 and Y2 predictions) ALTHOUGH OFSTED DON’T WANT PREDICTIONS – its good to be forearmed
  5. What was the progress judged to be last July/currently? (evidence based)
  6. What is in place to ‘boost’.
  7. What are the main strengths?(all of your responses no matter how dire should be littered with HOWEVERS i.e. strengths/positives/green shoots etc)
  8. What are currently the main areas of concern in your subject? Which YG … may be BvG or PP v Non (Evidence of some triangulation analysis i.e. data/books/planning)
  9. What are you doing about it and have you edited your action plan? (Not War and Peace, simple/manageable/doable)
  10. What impact is your action plan having on provision/standards/progress?

( Are you using the same system as the H/T annotates the SIP?)

  1. What are you currently monitoring in your subject and what does that entail? (E.g. make sure it’s not scatter gun approach but very focused, and a s a result of book trawl/ triangulation/ ch interview)
  2. What about next steps/long term plans(ensure you know the direction of travel of national picture/school and more importantly pupils’ needs… ie 2 years to be hitting 85% ARE – spelling and HW focus to raise eXceeding)

Try brain storming these answers succinctly on an A3 sheet then check the facts where applicable. Now formalise each one of your punchy short answers on A4, rehearse it, and practice the script with SLT. Update when needed.

Recent OFSTED Q (May 2016) asked to Maths Co ordinator

  1. How long have you been in the post?

    2. What year group do you teach in? (being in Y1 or Y6 isn’t an excuse for not knowing about maths in the rest of the school)

    3. How do you rate maths in school? (Be positive – don’t dither – give a definitive answer – plump for ‘good’)

    3. Where is the weakest maths teaching in school? (Ofsted spent an awful lot of time on this!… how do you know… what support have you given…. What would you do next? HT – capabilities if no change after support)

    – why was it weak?

    – how do you know it was weakest?

    – what have you done to improve teaching? (You may want to use lots of evidence for this – so try have a paper trail ready on monitoring you have done… she didn’t want to look at data or books)

    – how do we know maths had improved in this area? (ARE increasing….. gap BvG closing…)

Questions all Subject Leaders should be able to answer (1)

Stop…Ask yourself a question …Reflect …Act.


This is a micro-blog. Having had an inspiring week thanks to some brilliant challenge from @Enquire1, then finished off by a great day of learning at #LLL17. I thought I’d share a couple of key questions. These are questions for anybody in a school and they are really worth the time to stop and reflect on.


What three words would be written in the middle if  you cut your school in half?

Supplementary question from @GazNeedle

Would everyone agree?

Finding those three words that act as a lens on everything you do is an incredibly powerful way of looking and judging the actions you take.  Thanks @GaltVicky for this.


Question 2 inspired by the Carter Report.

If someone comes round your school what will they take away as the things that your school does well?

What are the things that make your school unique?

What are your signature pedagogies?


The discussion and thought around the questions is more important than the answers. Enjoy.

Have a great Sunday



The problem with knowing stuff. (I know lots of stuff, most of it pointless)




I am just going to put it out there, I know lots of stuff, I am good in a pub quiz (especially if there is a round on music 1970-2000 and Children’s literature.) If you need to know who played the bass on Lovecats by the Cure, or indeed what position it got to in the charts, and in what year… then I’m your man. This can sometimes be entertaining and add to a discussion but sometimes it makes me come across as an annoying, arrogant know-it-all.


There is currently a lot of talk about knowledge, I see knowledge organisers flying around all over the place. The term ‘knowledge-rich curriculum’ is bandied about with a drive for kids to know facts about stuff. My worry is that people aren’t stopping to think about what they are teaching and why. Knowledge is important, but knowing stuff is a start not an end – is there any purpose to the knowing of stuff? Just knowing stuff is not enough.

Lets take vocabulary, we have to teach challenging vocabulary. The reading test in 2015 made it abundantly clear that our assessment system has an expectation that children have an expansive vocabulary. For many schools this means there is a huge catch-up that needs to happen. This is tackled in some schools by the pressence of word lists ahoy, lots of words out of context…”learn these words”. If you want children to learn words they can use, context is everything. Use great books, find the words in context, discuss the meaning, explore for alternate meanings then use them…in other words teach them.


We need to make sure our curriculums don’t just teach knowledge but creates a purpose and a reason for having it. The driver for knowledge should be the design of our curriculum.

As I succinctly summarised  after reading  Ben Newmark’s thought-provoking blog (see below)

“Knowledge is only as good as the curriculum it comes from.”

It’s the first time I’ve ever been succinct.

You’ll note I’ve been really careful not to get into the discussion about what that curriculum should be. That’s a whole other debate that I really haven’t the energy to get into at the moment.

Children are revoltin’ – Good behaviour in school is a team game.



‘Never again will she get the best of me!
Never again will she take away my freedom.
And we won’t forget the day we fought
For the right to be a little bit naughty!’

Revolting Children written by Tim Minchin


“We don’t want children to behave”

said no teacher ever.

I’m really proud of the behaviour in our school. Behaviour in our school is really good. It’s really good because we work really hard to make it so. We have effective systems that are rigourously upheld. As a headteacher, part of my job is to back -up the teachers and follow through when behaviour incidents occur. When I came to our school,  behaviour was a problem… a serious problem. I spent quite a lot of time dealing with behaviour. The previous regime had used detentions and exclusions it hadn’t solved the problem. The first thing we did was streamline our behaviour policy and make it really clear for children to understand. We monitored it  and we followed it to the letter. Improvement was rapid. The key was communicating and working with the parents. We very quickly found we’d actually created a policy for a dozen children and the rest of the children didn’t really need it.

Now call me naive if you want, in fact a deputy at another school did just that, but I believe that children want to behave and want to do the right thing. It may be naive but I can honestly say it makes going to school everyday much easier. An important aspect of our school is teaching children the difference between right and wrong. For me the true test of behaviour is what children do when you’re not watching them not what they do when you are. Trust surely has to be the goal of any behaviour policy.


That’s not to say we don’t have behaviour incidents…sometimes we do. Children sometimes do the wrong thing, children are sometimes naughty. At the age of ten I got the slipper from the headteacher for kissing Helen Massam in the maths storeroom. I can honestly say that the punishment did not stop me kissing girls – although thinking about it I have always held an disproportional hatred of slippers. But when I wasn’t allowed to be Maths monitor now that was the punishment that had an impact. Understanding how to effectively manage behaviour is an ‘all hands on deck’ task and disruptive behaviour needs thinking about from all angles.

I know that  bad behaviour occasionally comes from inconsistent routines and practices.  I’ll be honest as a teacher sometimes I have had lessons that have gone completely Pete Tong, sometimes the children have become over excited or I wasn’t clear enough on expectations, sometimes my lessons were just duff.   If we’re honest about this  however then we can get it right in our classroom. If we portray ourselves as infallible then we give away the power to change it. Being able to reflect on our lessons and think about how it could work differently is important. Tweaking what we do can have a huge impact, we are not excusing bad behaviour (whatever the circumstance children who misbehave should be responsible for their actions) but actively seeking to address it.

A key ingredient of improving behaviour is working with parents and if necessary supporting parents as well. Parents supporting the school’s actions, especially in a primary context, probably makes the most difference in improving behaviour. I remember my son getting into trouble for scratching his name into a desk. When he got home the first thing we did was march him back to school and made him apologise. We then offered to pay for a new desk. I can say categorically he never did it again. Creating relationships and trust with parents so they support the school in it’s work cannot be underestimated. To do that you have to communicate the good as well as the bad. You have to celebrate pupil’s successes. The more we pay attention to the behaviour we want the more likely we are to get it.


Sadly in some schools honesty about behaviour is used as a weapon against a teacher. Teachers need to be able to be open when they are having a problem without fear of it being used against them. We need to create cultures in which we can be honest about problems and issues.  We need SLT’s to listen and act to support teachers. We need effective systems that are  upheld and don’t waver. Being honest about the issues and challenges is actually how you solve them.

…and don’t get me started on “Well they weren’t a problem when I taught them!” probably one of the most damaging phrases ever uttered in a school.


‘Bad behaviour
Was my saviour
Making mischief
Used to make my day’

Bad Behaviour Super Furry Animals





New year…New Hope. Deep breath and a big grin.


This is the start of my fourth year as a headteacher at East Whitby. The hopes and aspirations for the year are vital. The seeds that are planted in September are the ones you nurture through the year. Year on year we have as a school steadily improved, not change, change, change  but building on the strengths we have and most of the time pushing in the same direction. Fact is we can’t control the outside, but we definitely can control the inside. We can’t change  the “weather.” DfE and Ofsted will do what they do but we will be ready to react accordingly to that, we’ve got sun-cream, wooly hats and umbrellas at the ready.

I do however have a few wishes for the upcoming year. Ones that we will hope to fulfil in our school.

Firstly I wish for this upcoming school year that we, as teachers, act on the principle that education is not only about the mind — but that it’s about the person.   I believe a school must function  for the purpose of developing students as whole people, not just merely as empty minds which require regular and constant filling up of knowledge.  My wish is for teachers to remember that there is more to student learning than simply pumping the mind with facts and information.  That is not saying that we don’t have to teach stuff because blatantly we do and obviously that is our core purpose, but there is so much more to what we do and we ignore that at our peril.

I wish that we can get children to that spot where learning is a motivator in and of itself and that we embrace the joy that brings. Sometimes we have to engage and excite to get the children there. School should be a joy. Children should rush out to tell parents what they’ve learnt. Smiles and happiness should be synonomous with school, so I also wish that  we make time to have fun! Is it too much to ask that we find time to laugh? Time to breathe, and wonder, and imagine, and daydream? Time to draw and sculpt and create. Time to rest  as well as time to work.


Which brings me to my final wish I also wish that as teachers is that we remember that each person we see sitting in front of us each day is a human being, a person with feelings, thoughts, emotions, complicated baggage, issues, story, problems, joys, sorrows, hurts and pains and  that we never lose sight of the humanity of the people in our schools and we never lose sight of our own humanity when we work others.

Now is equally the perfect time to revisit what you are about and to look at those values. Here are ours as a school. I think they stand us in good stead.

East Whitby Vision and Values

At East Whitby we take pride in developing outstanding teaching and learning by holding the highest expectations of all our pupils and knowing the children well. We challenge all children to strive for academic, creative, sporting and personal accomplishment within a broad, vibrant and enriched curriculum. Our students are given time to explore subjects and develop deep understanding.  We celebrate perseverance, resilience and risk taking, ensuring children welcome challenge and are not frightened to make mistakes.

We encourage children to take ownership of and responsibility for their learning, so they have the confidence and curiosity to ask questions, solve problems and respond to quality feedback. Children are praised for hard work, determination and having a positive attitude. In order to create an inclusive school where everyone can flourish, whatever their background, we promote an ethos of respect and empathy, where diversity is valued and celebrated – both within school and the wider world.

Pupils are taught the virtues of kindness, appreciation and what it means to be courageous. Special care is taken to educate everyone in the East Whitby community about the needs of others and how best to meet them.

We foster open and honest communication with parents, carers and specialists and actively seek to engage with all members of the East Whitby community in a positive supportive manner. High quality teaching is a key priority at East Whitby and the relationship between staff and children underpins inspirational, supportive and effective teaching and learning.

Staff are actively involved in identifying their support and training needs and this leads to careers with clear progression. We ensure that there is a wide range of quality training available and that staff are able to learn from each other and share good practice.

It is our aim for all children to leave East Whitby as confident learners with self-belief and an abiding respect for others. We aim to instil a lifelong love for learning and a strong grounding for future success.

We promote achievement by:

  • Holding the highest expectations for all
  • Striving for every child to make the very best possible progress
  • Being restless in our pursuit of excellence

We develop as confident and independent learners by:

  • Providing learning which excites passion and curiosity.
  • Embracing challenge and not giving up
  • Trying our best without fear of failure
  • Speaking knowledgeably about our strengths and areas of improvement

We value supportive and positive relationships by:

  • Bringing out the best in each other
  • Showing pride in one another’s achievements
  • Creating strong partnerships between home, school and the wider community

We appreciate others by:

  • Valuing and respecting the rights of others
  • Making sure everybody feels listened to
  • Promoting good manners and caring attitude

So take that energy and passion that we all start this new year with and make it a good one, whatever the “weather” throws at us.

Not the Messiah! There are no magic wands.


Felt I needed to clarify my headteacher tweet. Now going on a internet break

The new academic year is always a fascinating thing. Dreams, hopes, ambitions often fill the air with their heady perfume. However the dreams and ambitions of the last few years seem to be more akin to survival than forging new paths. It is hard. It’s hard for Teachers, SLT’s and heads. I genuinely don’t have all the answers, as a team we have a lot more.  For us this year it’s about doing what we do but better. Honing /polishing/ tweaking.

This however is the point when the “Experts” swoop, praying on the stragglers from the flock.
Never thought I’d agree with Michael Gove but I have to say I’m sick of “Experts”


There are a lot of people who essentially promote themselves as the new messiah…The man with all the answers (They are invariably men)…They are infallible, armed with their sword of research, their shield of “I think you’ll find…”, the sacred armour of “I know best!”and the helmet of mansplaining. They will without any knowledge of you and your school proceed to tell you how you are wrong and they are right. They will tell some anecdote about some school somewhere that did this thing and it was all amazing.

They will offer you a vision after your 40 days wandering in the desert. A picture of a perfect world, a luscious place where the sun always shines and the lemonade river flows past the lollipop trees. They will tempt you. They will dazzle you with sparkly figures often written on the side of a big red bus. They will present this years thing. (5 years ago they would have flogged Learning Styles or Brain Gym)


They will then present their Holy Grail.


“Do it like I did once…it worked for me” They will say accompanied by choirs of angels exalting their panacea to the heavens.

What frustrates most is the seeds of discord that these “experts” will sow amongst teachers. They will blame SLT’s or heads.

Except they often haven’t done it really. They haven’t led a school and faced the myriad of challenges that fly at you like stalker birds. They haven’t actually put themselves out there and put their career on the line by taking on the challenge.

Those that have invariably won’t tell you what to do, they’ll coach, question and help you find your solution.

Having worked in 7 schools in 23 years the one thing I know is that there is no one answer. What works in one place often won’t work elsewhere. The one common factor in school success is hard work, commitment to the vision and the whole school pushing together.

Now let me show you one I prepared earlier…

*Not all experts do this by the way, some genuinely bring expertise in their area, they are passionate about what they do. They don’t make wild promises. 



Bookblog No4 The Journey by Francesca Sanna


Firstly I just want to say that this book,  in my opinion, was the best picturebook released last year. It is an absolutely stunning book. However it is not an easy read, elements and themes in the book are both challenging and provide a window about something we hopefully will never experience ourselves.

We hear the words “refugee” and “migrant” thrown around so much these days that we run the risk of being desensitized to these stories or worse that these words become scape-goats for our woes. Currently in this country they are almost dirty words. When I posted a tweet a while ago recommending a few books that deal with the issue of migration I received some pretty foul abuse.  I was accused of indoctrinating children. The words and the stories behind the words seem to have been lost.

This book thankfully gives some of that story back to the people who are beginning and enduring  this kind of journey every day. I have to say I was in tears the first time I read it. 

The story begins with a normal family doing those normal  things that we all do by the seaside. It looks lovely and idyllic, but the water feels incredibly dark and foreboding. And indeed, a wave of war comes and washes away everything that the child narrator knows, destroying their family in the process.


In the aftermath of this the narrator’s mother is forced to make the heartbreaking decision to leave all they have known. Many other people are leaving and dreaming of a country far away with mountains, cities, forests, and animals – all different from what they know.


This sets up and creates “The Journey” of the title – the family packs up and decides to follow. The trip is long, dark, and dangerous. The farther they go, the more of their precious  belongings they leave behind. (I only spotted  this after Matt Tobin pointed it out to me) When they finally arrive at the border, they are turned away.

Sanna plays pictures against words wonderfully. The use of the child as the narrator creates a naivety and innocence to the written narrative that she exploits brilliantly. As a reader we always know more. She uses a wealth of artistic devices to do this. It’s a book that repays time spent exploring it in spades. Having used it with a number of classes they completely get it too and instinctively interpret the amazing images.

The pictures are all so strong, it’s hard to choose which to highlight, but for emotional power the twin images of the mother encircling her children for protection in the darkness of the forest will linger long in the mind. (see below)

On the left hand page they are all awake and gazing at each other with a warm hue of colours creating an image of protection and love. On the right hand  page (It’s colours notably muted and darker), the child’s words ‘But mother is with us and she is never scared’ counterpoint the image of the mother’s tears cascading down as her children sleep. The subtle change in tone between the images conveys the mother’s fear, the constant threat and the relentless despair that the mother feels. That the children are oblivious to these things makes the page doubly powerful.



Sanna however decides to leave us on a picture on hope, linking it to the cyclical nature of bird migration, where movement and migration follows the seasons so that life is more bearable and dare I say safe but also that there is still a wish to ultimately return “home.”


 A beautiful heartbreaking picturebook with real heart that deals with real world issues in a deeply compassionate way. Moments of threat and fear.  (9+) (A great class explore for Year 4 and up. With care could be used with younger children )

Themes :- Forced migration, immigration,  family, loss, hope, travel, voices and viewpoints

I’ve added Amnesty’s fantastic question resource that really help you dig into the text.

Amnesty International Exploring The Journey Together

Matt Tobin blog on The Journey


Also these books would also work brilliantly alongside it giving different perspectives.