Last week inspired by @mazst who had enthused about The Nowhere Emporium and how great the start was.


I posted my favourite book opening along with the hashtag #bestbookopening.


It was fab that so many shared their favourite opening and really lit up quite a dull Tuesday. (It was raining and cold where I live). There are now a load more books I want to go and explore. Both children’s and adult’s books were shared I have however  focussed on the children’ s books first

So this  isn’t really a blogpost. It is instead just a place to share #bestbookopening pdf I have currently done the first 50 openings. They are A4 pages and look a bit like this…

So here is a PDF version,

bestbookopening pt1 pdf1

and here is a word version if you want to edit or add your own.

bestbookopening pt1 word

I will add more over the next few days…


Here are another 20.



More to follow…


Hope people find them useful…I’m putting a set up around school.



The easy guide to improving schools…Invest in the important stuff.



What is the thing that truly makes a difference in a school? The thing that ultimately impacts on the life chances of all the children that pass through your door. What is the magic ingredient?

The answer is simple…Teachers…good teachers. If the teaching is right then the other stuff follows. Sounds really simple doesn’t it. Well that’s because in theory it is. The reality is slightly more challenging.

Truth is we need to invest in our teachers. Great teachers make the difference.  We need our teachers to be reflective practitioners, we need to create in our schools communities of learners open to exploring and developing their practice.

If we can’t admit when something isn’t working then we can’t possibly get it right. Performance Management has been in my opinion one of the most mis-used devices in schools. It has essentially been used as a stick to beat people with. It should be something that helps, supports, encourages  and rewards staff. It has more often than not been the tool to knock and threaten staff. Creating a climate where staff can develop their practice and sometimes get it wrong is the best way to getting it right.



SLT’s need to create the systems that allow their teachers to be great.   Our most important question in all that we do is “So what?” If it’s not making a difference then why the hell are we doing it. Focusing on the stuff that directly impacts on learning and getting rid of the other stuff is an important first step.

I have written before on the concept of Servant Leadership

The main problem with all this is that to get great teachers costs time and money. Investment is the key word. Valuing the professional development of  staff as an investment both in them but also as an investment in our school made me place a higher priority on it when in came to budget meetings. Regardless of the financial challenges we face we still need to invest.  If we want to look at effective models in other countries one of the big common factors is the time staff are given to develop their practice. If the DfE truly want to make a difference maybe that is something they should look at.

The other thing we need to be aware of is that sometimes life gets in the way. We can’t all be great all the time. Whether we like it or not it is just a job. OK it’s the most important job in the world IMO but it is just a job. There are points and times when you are not “ON IT.” As a head being aware and putting the right support (Support is another dirty word in schools as it has been regularly used as a word in the first step towards a capability) at those times can equally pay dividends.  For that to happen there has to be trust. Blogged about that too.

TRUST ME… You gotta believe.

In my school we’ve made a commitment to strive for #everydayexcellence. We are not bothered by the term Outstanding we just try to be the best we can everyday.  That to me is more than enough.

I will continue to invest in my staff even if that means that if we do it right they go onto be great elsewhere. That is good leadership.


Missing the positives… The need for #optimisticed


We have had what can only be described as…” a bit of a term.”  Mostly it’s been due to things out of our control. It has been a deluge. I have been the umbrella but actually it’s taken its toll this term. I have never needed a pause and a break so much. Easter has arrived just in the nick of time… like a gallant white steed with a giant rabbit on its back…or that bit in Lord of the Rings when all the ghosts arrive but instead of swords they are carrying chocolate eggs.


The Gallant Easter Bunny riding to my rescue

For the last few weeks I have had to steel myself to climb in the car and drive to work. The other stuff has swamped the good stuff. I felt like I was drowning. Sadly the negativity breeds negativity. I have begun to lose sight of the good stuff.

My deputy pulled me to one side at the end of last week. She gave me chocolate and a coffee with too many sugars in. Then she set about realigning my world view. Her main point was actually this is really good. If you go around our school it’s good. The teaching is ‘ON IT!’, the children are ‘ON IT!.’ There is a buzz, an energy, it’s working. I’ve just missed it. The other stuff has blindfolded me. I’ve been walking round with blinkers on. My deputy made me take a deep breath and look at it,  actually really look at it.

Thanks Mrs S.

Twitter has also been a really negative place in the past few weeks with passive-aggressive nonsense, smart-arsery and people posting provocative statements and bashing other professionals. (This is trolling by the way) They say it’s debate…it’s not. Debate holds a possibility of changing a person’s mind. The views of most the people who spark these “debates” are  intransigent. If that’s the case then the argument stands for just letting them get on with it and not giving them the oxygen they seem to require.


“We will splinter and we will divide
We will disappear to two different sides
And I hope that the world in which you find
Yourself is better than the one you leave behind”

Bubblegum, The Mystery jets

The problem is the negative is often the louder voice. The positive disappears to the margins. Sadly most of us remember the one bad thing rather than the ten good. You stew on the bad. One little bit of bad makes the whole thing taste bitter if we let it.

Yet equally there is much to celebrate.

The Oxford Reading Spree was a joyous celebration of the Power of Reading to change young people’s lives. The event was optimistic, empowering and joyful. The drive and passion of @EdFinch to set it up, the generosity of the people who gave their time to present  as well as the people giving their own time on a Saturday to further their knowledge of what books can do in our classrooms was frankly astounding. Without twitter it would never have happened.  In fact that weekend Oxford was awash with teachers giving their time to try to do the best for their children and learn more about their craft either at the Spree or ResearchEdlang which was held on the same day.

So moving forward. I need to compartmentalize. Celebrate the good, put the bad in it’s box. (like Voldemort in the Kings Cross Scene in the Deathly Hallows)

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene
Bing Crosby, Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive
I need to be more than an umbrella, I need to be the sunshine breaking through the grey clouds or at least a mug of hot chocolate, an open fire and a good book after a stormy day.



Reading Can Change Lives. #OxReadingSpree (bit late sorry)

I went to the Oxford Reading Spree. I have to say it was wonderful. It was a completely joyous event. An event built from passion, from a collective passion that reading is the most important thing we do in schools and that Reading can change lives. In the course of the day I heard loud and clear the need for children to read and be exposed to challenging texts (I think I may have said it myself) and the power of Reading to open doors to understanding and knowledge.

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Summary of my presentation from #oxreadingspree

I had never been to Oxford before. Lots of committed professionals gave up their time on a weekend to further their understanding of Reading and to share a common passion for books. Oxford was actually swimming with professionals doing just that both at the Spree and ResearchEDlang. That we have teachers who  have that commitment to their  profession and to developing their knowledge and understanding of the job makes me very proud. The Day was full of brilliance.

@MaryMyatt and her commitment to push all readers with amazing, challenging books.

@Andrew_Moffat was both funny and compassionate on the power of great books to challenge thinking and to explore equality. He cost me a significant amount of money in his brilliant recommendations,

@Mat_at_Brookes. On digging deeper into picturebooks. and in particular IMO one of the best picturebooks that came out last year. Anybody who shared  Sanna’s The Journey with Mat at the Spree will understand what an amazing book it is for developing an understanding of the plight of refugees. It makes its themes instantly accessible to younger readers, yet has a truly powerful emotional core.



The Journey by Francesca Sanna

I then missed lots of other fantastic people doing workshops such as @templarwilson and @rapclassroom. but that was because I got the honour of interviewing @PiersTorday. I did my best Parkinson and let him do the talking. It was fab and insightful into the writing process. I was blown away that his first book went through 14 drafts. Equally important was how life experiences and our reading journey  impact on how we write. This confirmed that unwritten rule for me that to get great writers we need great readers,

I crept in late to Mini Grey’s session with a plateful of the best grub ever. Curled up sandwiches this was not. To see Mini sharing both her passion for creative books and the brilliance of Paper-craft was fantastic. Again to get an authors insight into their process was a fantastic privilege

@nickswarb then shared with us the importance of parents in supporting reading, and the best Kylie joke.

@GalwayMr Opened his heart to us discussing  that “Reading is a many Splendoured thing. He enthused about the importance and power of poetry and made us all cry, well me anyway.

That left @marygtroche to round-up a brilliant day by sharing the importance of making room to explore texts and develop thinking around them. She was also brilliantly funny.

Overall the day was an absolute joy Thanks @EdFinch for a day that reaffirmed my belief in the importance of making children real readers.



As @Alibrarylady tweeted  following the “debate”

“Catching up on reading debate Learning how to read is different to becoming a ‘reader’. I think concentrated on the latter”

I would wholeheartedly agree with this I came away from an amazing day of learning with a fire in my belly to make the children not just able to read but to be readers. That’s what the Spree was about, the importance of reading and power of books to open up a child’s mind and heart.

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

Take another little piece of my heart

Following my blog this week This a more elegant take on the same thing.

the primary head's blog


I love the song ‘Piece of my heart’, first recorded in 1967 by Erma Franklin. In fact, I think this song should be the headteacher’s anthem. It captures perfectly the ebb and flow of the strength that is required in school leadership. It beautifully illustrates the juxtaposition of other people’s expectations versus your own capacity and determination. I can think of no other time, in my professional life, where a feeling of being drained manages to, in of itself, provide me with the fight to carry on.

Didn’t I make you feel like you were the only man,

Didn’t I give you everything that a woman possibly can.

But the more of the love I give you, it’s never enough.

Well I’m gonna show you baby, a woman can be tough.

Don’t we all love our schools? Aren’t we all, every day, turning up because we care? I know I…

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