Slow Writing eBook – contributions wanted

Hey all!

In a flush of Twitter inspired enthusiasm, @redgirob, @bryngoodman and I have come up with a crazy idea. What if we put together a crowd sourced, not for profit eBook detailing the various uses, applications and examples to which my idea of Slow Writing has been put?

Hang on, I hear you cry, what bleedin’ ‘eck’s Slow Writing?

Where’ve you been? I’ve written several posts on it:

Slow Writing: how slowing down can improve your writing

Black space: improving writing by increasing lexical density

The art of beautifully crafted sentences

A new twist on Slow Writing

Revisiting Slow Writing – how slowing writing might speed up thinking

But if you can’t be bothered to wade through that lot, this sums it up:

I first came up with the idea when teaching an intervention class  of Year 11 C/D borderline boys in about 2008. Broadly speaking they were willing, but no matter what I tried the writing they produced was leaden, plodding stuff. I gave them all kinds of outlandish and creative prompts which they would dead bat and produce yet another dreary yawnfest. Needless to say, we were all getting a bit irritated with each other. Out of sheer frustration I decide to give them explicit instructions on how to write a text sentence by sentence.

Sort of like this:

  • Your first sentence must starting with a present participle (that’s a verb ending in ‘ing’)
  • Your second sentence must contain only three words.
  • Your third sentence must contain a semi-colon
  • Your fourth sentence must be a rhetorical question
  • Your fifth sentence will start with an adverb
  • Your sixth sentence will be 22 words exactly.

And so on. Much to my surprise they loved it. I remember one boy saying, “Bloody hell! This is the first time I’ve written anything that isn’t rubbish!” and asking if he could take it home to show his mum.

Also David Riley produced a web-based Slow Writing app as part of his Triptico suite of teaching tools

Since first writing about it in 2011, many many wonderful teacher have used, adapted and experimented with the idea, and we thought it might be a nice idea to collate it all in one handy guide.

After a very hasty discussion we think the best option is to put ideas from both primary and secondary teachers into one volume, but that may well depend on the interest we get. @redgirob will be collating primary submissions and Chris Curtis (@xris31) will be looking after secondary contributions – if you’d like to get involved, please register your interest here. The plan is to charge a nominal (?) price and give the proceeds to a charity on which we have yet to decide (Feel free to suggest appropriate organisations and good causes.)

This is an exciting opportunity to see your name in print!




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David Didau: The Learning Spy

My life in books Part 1 (0 -18)

This month’s blogsync is a lovely concept: an exploration of the books that shaped a person’s life. There are more entries here, but here’s my effort. Well, part of it.
I love big books and I cannot lie. I love them in every shape, colour and form. I am drawn to Waterstones, Amazon and Oxfam like a magnet. I could, in fact, spend weekends reading and looking for books. The family, and real life, thankfully get in the way of things. If it wasn’t for my family, I would feature in a Channel 5 documentary on someone that hoards books that they can’t wash. My daughters and their exponential need for space means that there is a healthy culling of books every few months. 
But, where did this love of reading come from? Was it borne from a family steeped in books? Was is it borne from an awe-inspiring English teacher? Was it borne from a special book that hooked me for life? Sadly, it was none of these. In truth, I can’t pinpoint what made me love reading – just as much as I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I loved red wine. It just happened. I like to think of the ‘reading bug’ being something that happened gradually over night. You never saw it happen during the day, but it hit you when you were quietly or nosily sleeping. My reading habit can only be described as eclectic.    
Well, at the tender age of seven I was hooked on reading with the book ‘David Copperfield’ by Charles Dickens – I am joking. My childhood memory of reading concentrates on some special books. In a dark dark village and in a dark dark house and in a dark dark room I was read to by my parents books such as ‘Funny Bones’ by Allan Ahlberg and ‘Meg and Mog’ by Helen Nicoll. And, if I am honest, that’s where my odd taste for books that make no narrative sense stems from. Both books defy logic at times, but the beauty of the writing and the simplicity of ideas is that they stay with you to this day. Plus, the drawings are another part of the special magic. It is no surprise that Julia Donaldson is so popular at the moment. She combines all three with aplomb.  Now, all these books are read to my daughters.
Another early memory of reading stems from primary school. Mrs Glasson was my teacher and a regular routine for us was to sit down to read Enid Blyton’s ‘The Enchanted Woods’. I can vividly recall sitting down to read the story as a class. Each time we read a different student sat with Ted – a teddy bear with green dungarees. Nothing says childhood like dungarees. I recall feeding Ted (myself) sweets as I listened enrapt in the story. Often, when I teach a novel I think back to this moment fondly. If only I could recreate it with a group of Year 11s. Come on, Tom, feed Ted as we read ‘Of Mice and Men’.  It was the collective reading and shared experience I loved so much. Even to this day, I often ask people in conversations what they are reading so I can share the reading experience more.
When I was eight, my family moved to Cyprus for two years. It was an idyllic experience with school for a few hours in the morning and the rest of the day spent exploring the beautiful and untouched island. It comes as no surprise that later in life I would come to adore ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ by Louis de Bernieres and Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’. I would often find snakes and strange creatures in the garden and scrub land at the back of our house. Sadly, there was very little to do there when it was cold, so I started reading ‘The Three Investigator’ books by M. V. Carey. They usually amounted to a group of boys investigating rum goings which usually amounted to unmasking some form of smuggling. Smuggling was ‘rife’ in Cyprus in the 1980s, so I could clearly identify with things. It was pure escapism and I swallowed them up. Added to this escapism was my pure joy of Greek myths. Little did I know that this fascination would help my literature degree. I had my own copy of Greek myths and I would read them daily and copy out the stories in my own little books. Things were made real by the constant visits to various places associated with the legends. I swam where Aphrodite was born and visited the numerous temples to the gods on the island. This led to me reading about Egyptology, which then led to a visit to Egypt for a birthday present.
We moved back to Wales for my first year of secondary school and the world changed in many ways. I stopped being the adventurous child and became a sulky teenager overnight. There are very few photographs that show me smiling at this time. If I am honest our move to Wales, was not the best of experiences for me. I moved from a country where you can do anything to a small parochial village in Wales where you couldn’t do anything. The nearest city was an hour away. It felt like a slow death to a teenager. The whole universe was growing up, having fun, and I was left out, in a village of about 200 people. In truth, they were not having fun, but it didn’t help me at the time. It would explain why I enjoyed ‘Hamlet’ and ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ as an A-level student. They taught me how others saw ‘the skull beneath the skin’. I like reality. Real things happening to real people. I didn’t want happy things. I was sad and I wanted to read sad stuff.  
During these depressing times, I retreated into ‘pap’ reading, as I like to call it. I read and read ‘Doctor Who’ novels. I would constantly read the books by Target publishers. They were simple and quick descriptions of the television stories. The prose was sparse, but I lapped them up and read them all, if not most of them over a couple of years.  By the time I was 15, I had amassed a massive collection of books, which I have only recently sold. It was also during this phase that I started reading Doctor Who fanzines and magazines. In fact, I was a regular writer to a fanzine and if I am brave enough one day, I might share them on here.  
The library became my haven. It was a small library and it seemed, at the time, to hold copious amounts of ‘Mills and Boon’ books and large quantities of large print books on cowboys – must be a welsh thing. It would seem that I enjoyed science-fiction books; I didn’t. Even to this day, I don’t. I really struggle with fantasy and science-fiction books. I have tried and the ones I have enjoyed are the classics ‘Day of the Triffids’ and ‘The War of the Worlds’. My mother is an avid reader of fantasy fiction, but I would rather walk on hot-coals than read one of her books. Too many dragons and silly names for my liking. I, in my attempt to be contemporary and of the moment, bought the complete set of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ in the vain attempt to read them. I couldn’t get past the dwarf songs. That was my limit. Oh, and the talking, walking tree people. The endless discussions I have had about how I couldn’t stomach the tree people. Nah, I don’t buy it. Magic rings and small people with hairy feet I can stomach. Talking trees are just too much for me.
Anyway the library was a regular haunt at weekends. I would borrow loads of book, but I’d often be drawn to other sections. For some strange reason, I was drawn to the true story section and especially the haunted / ghost books. The ‘Ghost Sightings of the British Isles’ book and various others on a similar theme became my new addiction. I became hooked and read all the different stories and tales. At that time, my English teacher was reading ‘The Snow Spider’ by Jenny Nimmo, which focused on some of the myths of Wales and some extra magic for good measure. It is sadly the one book I can actually recall from my English lessons, which is sad as I must have read some other books. But, alas all I can remember is this one.  Worse still, I can’t even remember my GCSE texts.
Then, I started my A-levels and enjoyed them. My love of Victorian literature stemmed from this time. In particular, my reading of ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys. Yet, like most students, I didn’t dive into literature at this point; I was on the outskirts. I waited to be told what to read. I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Jane Eyre’ and read and discussed it openly, but I didn’t do anything else. I felt that I had really engaged with a book for the first time. However, like Jane’s journey in the wilderness, I was lost metaphorically with reading. I read Doctor Who books in my free time and nothing else. I was a bit directionless with reading.
It was a bit surprise when I took it on myself to go to university. And that’s where I learnt to read ‘proper’ books with big words and fancy titles. Oh, but that’s another chapter….
Thanks for reading

Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher’s blog

My impatience with some Ofsted inspectors

We hope we are transparent and honest. I am very keen that the people we inspect have confidence in the quality of our inspections and the quality of our inspectors. I believe the quality of inspection and the quality of our inspectors has gone up over the last few years.

Sir Michael Wilshaw

I’m genuinely of the belief that Ofsted as an organisation is trying hard to put right some of the worst excesses it has been responsible for in its 21 year history. But certain attitudes make the task so much harder.

Consider this from the boss:

We have done more to raise standards in 21 years of existence than any other organisation.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, January 2014

Really? Really!?

If you want to examine this ‘extraordinary claim’ in detail, click here.

In my conversations with Mike Cladingbowl and new National Director for Schools, Sean Harford, I’ve found a real willingness to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and provide clarity and guidance to minimise the likelihood of school leaders frantically trying to deliver ‘what Ofsted want’ in the future. Ofsted really is trying to reinvent itself, but it’s an uphill struggle.

Yesterday I reblogged a post from @cazzbooth where she detailed the fall from grace of ‘Mr Howarth’. The post isn’t about Ofsted but very few teachers can have failed to encounter the warping effects of the ‘child-centred inquisition’ since the Christine Gilbert years. We know, whatever our ideological stripe or teaching preference that inspectors explicitly rooted out and condemned teacher talk, ‘passivity’ and teacher-led lessons. We have suffered at the hands of wave upon wave of consultants who have sought to inculcate us in the ‘preferred Ofsted style’ of group work, independent learning and ‘progress in 20 minutes’. This much is not in doubt. The inspectorate has the power to make or break careers and those who’ve ignored its prescriptions have either been astoundingly brave or uncommonly foolish.

Neither is it in doubt that those teachers who have been unable or unwilling to perform the Monkey dance have suffered for it. Fearful school leaders have whole-heartedly embraced the dogma that a 20 minute performance trumps results. In the past I once witnessed a head og geography explaining their poor results by claiming it was because their lessons were so outstanding! Well, quite.

But the tide has turned. Mike Cladingbowl’s subsidiary guidance and the new Inspection Handbook to be published for September have made it clear that this must all change.

So why on earth do we have HMI like David Brown and Additional Inspectors (and consultants) like Paul Garvey making unhelpful claims like these:

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 11.48.15 Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 11.48.39

Now, it’s reasonable to point out that Ofsted are not directly accountable for the decisions of school leaders and David Brown is right to point out that Ofsted are used an excuse when Headteachers need to bulldoze through some cockamamie ‘improvement’. And yes, of course inspectors would never suggest a member of staff be sacked. But fear of running afoul of inspectors’ preferences for child-centred learning is surely behind a great many school policies. I’m not for a moment suggesting this is deliberate, but a sure as night follows day it what happens when an organisation responsible for exposing failure is also given the power to dictate ‘best practice’.

Here’s what I think it would be helpful for any inspector who was employed before Wilshaw’s tenure to say:

1. I’m sorry – I was following what I believed to be best practice and I was wrong.

2. Here is what I am doing to try to improve matters…

Any attempt to defend, excuse or explain away the excess of the past merely serve to tarnish and diminish attempts to improve the system for the future. If you’re not actively part of the solution I’m afraid you’re very much part of the problem.

Oh, and arguments to authority and invoking confirmation bias don’t really help matters either:

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 12.21.34


Related posts

This post by Old Andrew covers similar ground: An Example of OFSTED’s Inconsistency
Teacher Talk: the missing link
The shocking mediation of Ofsted criteria by ‘rogue’ inspectors
Still grading lessons? The triumph of experience over hope


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David Didau: The Learning Spy

This much I know about…where my poetry comes from

I have been a teacher for 25 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about where my poetry comes from.

If you listen carefully, people’s stories can be the raw material of poetry. This sonnet I wrote twenty-five years ago derived from my friend Kate’s recollection of her father and his ink pen, told to me as we drove to work together.


for Kate


His choice of pen remained the same

From undergraduate Cambridge days

To signing his headmaster’s name -

A Waterman in mottled beige.

The cursive blacksmith’s art had honed

The ink-filled gold into a tool

For use by him and him alone -

His hand made them inseparable.


Gold outlasts all.  The pen was left

A legacy, bequeathed to her

Whose writing pleased the family most:

But straining through the unknown curves

It snapped, to leave the nib’s new host

Mourning afresh, doubly bereft.


Sometimes my poetry radar is activated without any warning whatsoever. Last week, just as I was leaving work, I got chatting to John, one of our Site Supervisors. Fishing is our common bond: he told me about how, when he had crossed the mist-shrouded River Ouse early that morning, he was reminded of his dawn-start fishing trips with his dad fifty years ago. His reminiscences were a sonnet waiting to be written.



for John


His old man crossed the landing to his room

And, careful not to wake the eldest son,

He whispered to the youngest through the gloom

The needless exhortation, “John, come on.

The weather’s good.” And like two guilty thieves

They rode unnoticed through the early dawn;

A getaway on bikes along York’s streets

To Puncture Bridge. The morning mist adorned

The slow, resplendent Ouse – just like this June,

Fifty years on. Those stolen early starts,

Sat with his dad beneath the fading moon,

Were when he learnt the expert angler’s art:

When to strike, how to read the river’s flow –

Such things that only fishermen can know.


I toyed with Lineage as the title, but I think Fishing Lines is subtler. I worked really hard on making the octave and the sestet merge into each other, mirroring the relationship between his memories of the past and the present. Originally the first three lines of the sestet saw June rhyme with summer’s bloom, but that didn’t quite work and clashed with the room/gloom rhyme of the octave. When I worked on the June/moon rhyme suddenly it all came clear; a great example of form establishing meaning. I was reminded of Billy Bragg’s line in Tank Park Salute, his song to his father:

Some photographs of a summer’s day

A little boy’s lifetime away

Is all I’ve left of everything we’ve done

Like a pale moon in a sunny sky

Death gazes down as I pass by

To remind me that I’m but my father’s son


John and I also agreed that the poem reminded us of the Mr Crabtree cartoon strip from 1949. A couple of the images from the strip on Google are remarkably apposite!





This much I know about…Michael Gove’s departure

I have been a teacher for 25 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about Michael Gove’s departure.

Michael Gove could have won me over. Back in early 2013 he was asked at a National College event whether he had won over the hearts and minds of Headteachers and he replied something like, Well, I’ve made some progress, but I don’t think I’ve won over Heads like John Tomsett… He was only partially right.

For all his renowned intellect, Michael Gove didn’t seem to have the nouse to understand that people can hold contradictory views simultaneously: I am co-leading an EEF Randomised Controlled Trial into the efficacy of research in schools, but I have also authorised the teaching of a new Happiness course to Year 10 from this September which has no evidence base supporting it whatsoever. The thing is, there are a number of key educational issues upon which Michael Gove and I agree. His problem was that I didn’t agree with him upon every educational issue. And as I wasn’t entirely with him, I must have been, in his eyes, against him. I was an Enemy of Promise. I was a paid up member of The Blob. I was a bad Headteacher, as he implied in an interview with Allegra Stratton recently…

I have quietly bemoaned the decline in academic rigour of the English Literature A level examination over the last thirty years. In 1982 I studied, amongst others, these challenging texts from the English literary canon: Eliot’s Mill on the Floss, Hardy’s Return of the Native, Chaucer’s The General Prologue and The Wife of Bath’s Tale, Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and Love’s Labour’s Lost, Seamus Heaney’s Selected Poems 1965-1975, all examined in closed book, three hour, terminal examinations, sans coursework. I still recite the opening scene of Antony and Cleopatra to anyone who will listen. Heaney himself loved my annotations when he signed my A level copy of his poems last year.


When I began teaching A level literature my aim was to teach my students to be active readers of literary texts and to understand the delicate but essential relationship between form and content. Somehow, the study of literature at A level has morphed into a formulaic exercise best exemplified by the quite appalling  Aspects of Narrative unit of the current AQA course. It’s not our current students’ fault; they can only study what they are presented with. No, the decline in rigour is down to a whole range of factors, including the dire consequences for all of us should our students fail. You see? Michael Gove and I both know things aren’t like they used to be!

Michael Gove and I love international education systems. For the past four years we have offered the International Baccalaureate Diploma whose English syllabus is as close as you’ll find to my A level of three decades ago. Trouble is, as post 16 funding cuts have begun to hurt school sixth forms, we have just seen our last, very successful, cohort of IBD students finish the course; from September, for purely financial reasons, we’re back to A levels only. (Since I published this post ten minutes ago, it has been announced by the DfE that funding for the IBD will be enhanced by £800 per student…too late for the state school students in the north east corner of York. A cynical move with electoral motivations? I could weep.)

I admired Michael Gove’s courage to oversee the first fall in GCSE and A level pass rates for two generations. I remember being in a Local Authority Headteachers’ meeting in 2009, when Ed Balls, then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, had declared that on the twenty-odd KPIs he had defined for schools to measure our performance, we were not allowed to set targets for next year which were lower than the previous year’s targets. I exploded, to the discomfort of all present, exclaiming, We don’t work with wood and steel, we work with human beings! When did we start living in a Stalinist state?!

Whenever I have met Michael Gove, he has been politeness itself. The thing is, I’ve never been convinced of his sincerity or that he ever really listened to anything I, or my colleagues, have said. And I’m probably in the minority when I say I have never been entirely convinced that his championing of the deprived children of this land is wholly authentic. Remember, for the last four years he has been an influential minister in a government which was criticised recently by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission in a report which concluded that, The statutory goal of ending child poverty by 2020 will in all likelihood be missed by a considerable margin, perhaps by as many as 2 million children. Furthermore, as Vic Goddard wrote, His dismissal of vocational qualifications was also extremely damaging to young people: I absolutely deplore his message that it’s better to be a doctor than a plumber and that you’re only valuable if you go to university. Sometimes he speaks as though he has no real sense of what faces the poorest families in our country today.

Michael Gove is a Shakespearean tragic hero in that his greatest strength was his undoing. His passion for education sometimes manifested itself as ideological arrogance. This one-time B-movie actor, comedian and journalist thought he knew better than thousands of experienced practitioners. In the end it was the ideologue, rather than the committed educationalist, who seems to have got him the sack.

Teaching is a mass employment profession. This is something Michael Gove forgot. There are 451,000 FTE teachers in the UK. You can only improve an education system by improving the quality of teaching, something difficult to do if, as the ultimate leader of those 451,000 teachers, you lose their trust.

If you want to achieve something significant, on a large scale, you have to take people with you, something Michael Gove just did not understand. In one of my earlier posts about preparing for an OFSTED inspection, I make this point about trusting my teacher colleagues: Headteachers need to trust their colleagues more than ever. At our school we deliver over 2,000 lessons each week; I cannot teach them all, so what I have to do is develop my colleagues in a safe school environment which allows them to thrive professionally and personally. It’s the only way to a decent OFSTED inspection. It’s the only way I will keep my job. If he’d followed my advice, Michael Gove might have kept his job too.


Lessons from KEGS: Ideas I’m taking with me.

New surroundings await me....

New surroundings await ….but I”m bringing some ideas with me.


As I gear up to leaving KEGS at the end of term, I’ve been thinking about ideas I’ll be taking with me when I move to Highbury Grove. Many of these things are aspects of the school that struck me when I arrived; it was during that time that I developed the ‘plantation to rainforest‘ analogy. That’s how it felt. Several other ideas have developed since – aspects of school life that I’d like to see in any school. Clearly, many of these things will be in place already; in fact I know that they are. I’m also under no illusions that any of these ideas will transfer easily where the context is so different.  However,  this post is an attempt to capture the essence of the aspects of life at KEGS that I think are important and are also potentially transferable to other non-selective contexts over time.

The virtuous circle of High Expectations.

KEGS is highly selective and the outcomes are extremely high – as you’d hope and expect. But the link from inputs to outputs isn’t an inevitable path we cruise along. From day one, expectations all round are fiercely high. Teachers  have high expectations of the students; the students have high expectations of the teachers; parents have high expectations of teachers and their own children. There is a virtuous circle that is continually reinforced, deliberately and consistently. New teachers arriving into the school buy into the culture: they set high volumes of homework; they pitch their lessons very high; they expect students to meet high standards and insist that they do. Similarly, the students work incredibly hard; it’s part of the culture. I’d say that of all that follows below, the mindset around high expectations is the most important aspect of KEGS I want to export. It applies to student work, to the curriculum, uniform, behaviour, attitudes to learning and relationships.

SLT Practices

As I’ve described in various posts, I like the way we do business at KEGS, from the way we conduct our meetings to the way we quality assure what goes on in classrooms:

  • Rotating the chair at SLT meetings; a rotating Associate SLT member: See Leadership Lessons from Geese
  • The Departmental Review system: a longitudinal view of teaching, learning and CPD including not grading lessons
  • An intelligent pay and performance policy where there are safeguards and clear markers if significant concerns arise.
  • A rigorous examination review focusing on specific curriculum factors. Our review isn’t build around outcome targets – it’s built on identifying specific actions in curriculum planning and pedagogy that will lead to improved outcomes; it’s that way around.

The CPD culture

The research-engaged culture at KEGS isn’t perfect by any means, but it permeates the school in lots of ways providing a strong vehicle for moving the school forward and motivating staff. There are lots of features to it I’d like to take with me:

  • A shared teaching and learning statement – the KEGS Jigsaw, regenerated from scratch
  • Every teacher involved in a research project of some form with allocated time to explore and share
  • Some more in-depth studies as with the CamSTAR projects.
  • A journal in paper or blog form. The KEGS Learning Lessons publication creates a superb focus of sharing our ideas about teaching.
  • Involvement with the National Teacher Enquiry Network and development of Lesson Study
  • An annual showcase of the enquiries teachers have been involved with.
  • A CPD library and culture of sharing ideas from blogs, books and twitter.
  • The general approach of tailored CPD, a culture of enquiry and systems to support it.

Student leadership

This is a defining feature of life at KEGS. We take it seriously and it helps to fuel the general culture of high expectations and aspirations.

  • Multiple leadership opportunities. Leadership takes many forms: House officials, prefects, student council, subject mentors, leadership of clubs and societies, sports captains, orchestra leaders – and so on. There are lots of opportunities so that leadership is not confined to an elite.
  • Vertical Modelling of aspirations standards: Through whole-school assemblies, as described in this post, House activities and mentoring, younger students learn from older students about values and standards. We make sure we model diversity and excellence for younger students to aspire to.
  • Independent student newspaper: the KEGS Ambassador is totally student run, without censorship. This requires a strong trust culture but it gives a powerful message; the outcomes are great too.
  • Culture of student run clubs and societies: KEGS students are continually setting up their own activities – they know that this is something they can do. This has included debating, philosophy, multi-gym, student-run choirs, chess, boxercise – all kinds of things. And, of course, KEGS Eggs – although I’m not suggesting that specific thing would translate!
  • House Music and House Drama are two of the best school events I’ve ever seen – all student run. House Music involves each house putting on a programme of five acts including choirs, bands and ensembles – it’s a wonderful event as I describe in this post.
  • Project 9 is one of my favourite KEGS initiatives. Students in Year 9 are taught modules in IT by students in Years 10-13. The spirit of this is fantastic- a small part of the curriculum entirely devised and delivered by students in an area of genuine expertise. Can we export this? I’d like to try.

Pedagogy and Curriculum

At KEGS, teaching and learning is characterised by a healthy blend of traditional knowledge-led rigour and scholarship with a range of student-led inputs, group tasks and creative activities. I’ve tried to capture this in my pedagogy tree analogy. We also try to view the curriculum in broad terms, with a high value placed on trips and visits. In terms of exporting ideas, here are some things I’d like to take with me:

  • A Teach to the Top philosophy – as in the ‘total philosophy of G&T’ post.
  • Emphasis on subject knowledge and teacher expertise; acceleration through depth, not speed.
  • Emphasis on securing basic skills to support further development. In History, Art, Geography, English, DT, there is a strong trajectory leading from a focus on learning prescribed key skills in a rigorous manner early on, moving towards more open, synoptic or creative approaches branching out as students progress.
  • We value students’ input into the process. If you have high expectations and allow the possibility, students from Y7 onwards can bring amazing insights into lessons. Even at KEGS co-construction is a niche activity but the spirit of it is powerful and aspects of this are used across the curriculum.
  • A celebration of reading aloud and learning by heart in different curriculum areas.
  • The idea of dialogic teaching
  • A celebration of exceptional work through various means. The G&T Exhibition is one and the Foundation Prize is another. Students are given opportunities to engage in extended learning projects from the very start as in the British Museum transition project. The Foundation Prize winners last year were breath-taking – from poetry anthologies to musical compositions. They had the talent but needed an opportunity to express it.
  • The languages curriculum at KEGS has several exciting features that I’d like to export. It is based on immersion and intensity through a focus on one language, generous curriculum time and very strong target language use. There is also the use of literature with Y7 units based on Candide and Faust and a superb ‘grammar detectives’ concept.
  • I like the KEGS Sixth Form offer with EPQ and Pre-U Global Perspectives alongside a standard four A Level. It’s a match for the IB. We use a ’3+1′ model to promote choices. 3 to fit typical combinations linked to UCAS offers and careers and 1 to give breadth and diversity. It’s a good model for the top end, if we can afford to sustain it.
  • I like the fact that languages and history are prominent at KEGS. Cultural transmission is given plenty of room. EBacc for all? It’s a given at KEGS- I wonder if that can or should be exported and imposed? It’s a question at this stage.
  • Trips and visits and residential experiences are integral to the curriculum. DofE, World challenge, overseas tours, field work and day trips are highly valued; every subject area supports this and we accept the trade-off with the impact on regular lessons.


I’m a firm believer that ethos is a key factor in school success and, therefore, needs to be nurtured explicitly and deliberately. At KEGS this takes many forms.

  • Strong traditions are reinforced and celebrated. The routines and special moments that make up our traditions are held in high regard. Singing Jerusalem at the end of term and the School Captain’s speeches; gowns in assembly and ‘banging the book’ have meaning to the school community, building loyalty and fuelling the sense of belonging. Referencing history and tradition in the rituals also helps; it’s powerful to create a sense that the school is bigger than all of us – we are just the custodians with the privilege of being there.
  • Developing “Principled global citizens” is my favourite element of the KEGS mission statement. We give prominence to MUN events in Y8, Y10 and Y12. We also seek out strong international partnerships. These things have significant symbolic value.
  • We celebrate a wide range of achievements publicly and vertically in assemblies so that younger students witness successes being valued from the start: in academic achievement and progress, sport, music exams, Olympiads and competitions of various kinds.. The aspiration reinforcement is strong. Vertical assemblies also help to share what is going on and what is possible. When Y7s hear Sixth Form notices about the MedSoc meeting or the Philosophy Society debate, seeds are sown.
  • Independent learning and personal responsibility are given high value. The volume of homework is high and we talk about not spoon-feeding. This has pitfalls but our most able students are expected to be highly self-managing. It sets them up really well for university life.
  • We’ve recently set up an Equalities Group and have started to tackle homophobia head-on using excellent Stonewall resources.
  • There is a lovely warm spirit of humour and camaraderie at KEGS. This is communicated through things like the witty match reports in assemblies, the annual charity Rag Week magazine (eg the hilarious assembly bingo), numerous assembly presentations, the student newspaper and their gentle mocking of school policy as well as many teacher-student interactions. Of course the boundaries need to be managed but I’d like to export the culture where students feel confident in expressing themselves in this way.

I’m very excited about the move to Highbury Grove but KEGS will always have a place in my heart; it’s a truly remarkable state school that I hope continues to thrive for centuries to come.  It’s a genuine beacon and I’m happy to have played a part in its history.



Unleashing Greatness? Education Reform in Action

” You can mandate adequacy … greatness has to be unleashed”  Joel Klein - via Sir Michael Barber

Ever since I attended the London Festival of Education at the IoE in November 2012, I’ve had a sense that education reform was there for the taking – it’s just a case of people getting organised and learning to express ideas coherently.  Although it is possible to feel powerless in the system – especially one in which the Secretary of State and OfSTED have so much individual and institutional power respectively – there are lots of channels for making direct contact with policy makers.   Through all the conferences and festivals and the connecting power of social media and blogs, the path towards a profession-led system is getting clearer; the policy makers are less remote and it is possible to make them listen – even if they don’t often do what you want them to.

In my post after the IoE event, ‘Building a Trust Culture; It’s not all hugs‘, I suggested that we already have more freedom than we know what to do with’. I believe that’s true for teachers and Headteachers. The problem is that the accountability regime has held us back. The tension between autonomy and accountability has been the theme of a lot of recent policy talk that I’ve been engaged with; finding the moment when we stop mandating and start unleashing.

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Education Reform Summit launch at Lancaster House.

On July 9th-10th, the Education Foundation, run by co-founders Ty Goddard & Ian Fordham, hosted a fascinating event in partnership with the DFE. Billed as the first Education Reform Summit, the event was an attempt to orchestrate a gathering of significance; some kind of marker signalling that we’re entering a new era, building capacity and consensus as we shift towards a profession-led system. It was quite a coup to secure the support of the DFE and the main parties for an event like this. The line-up included a range of international contributors, school leaders, teachers, union leaders, politicians and the Mayor of London.

Those invited were people the Education Foundation consider to be contributing to the reform process; all of my colleagues in the Headteachers’ Roundtable were asked to attend and we were delighted to be there. I’d like to have seen Chris Husbands, David Weston,  Sue Williamson and Mike Cladingbowl there to complete the line-up but I was impressed by EF’s cross-phase, cross-sector guest list with a healthy presence of bloggers and twitter-folk.

On his @tes blog, Tom Bennett has done a superb job capturing the spirit of both parts of the summit – witty and wise as always.  I’d recommend both parts:   Part 1  and Part 2 

For me, there were a few key highlights:

Sir Michael Barber.

Sir Michael Barber at #EdReform14

Sir Michael Barber at #EdReform14

His presentation was hugely impressive. The slides are here.  I think we miss his intelligent, principled drive in the current policy machinery. Using this slide he talked about the profession and government developing a principled strategic partnership, with the government allowing greater autonomy in return for greater, evidence-driven consistency in outcomes.  He suggested that 2014 should mark a bringing together of provision, accountability, standards  and autonomy that have taken their turn as the focus of different key regimes since 1944.  Essentially he was urging school leaders to seize the opportunity they have to make the system great – and not to wait for someone else to do it.

Dutch Minister: Sander Dekker

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The International Panel. The theme was that autonomy and liberalisation within a clear assessment framework lead to strong performance

Mr Dekker provided an analysis of the Dutch system which continues to underperform in terms of PISA rankings relative to the investment that is made in education in the Netherlands.  He suggested that they had successfully tackled a range of equity issues but that their best fell short of the best elsewhere. He called this ‘tall poppy syndrome’; the system doesn’t allow for variation that exceeds the average – it holds it back.  The challenge for Holland is to allow greater autonomy in the system so that real excellence could emerge – for tall poppies to thrive.  I like the analogy.  Are we comfortable with beacons of excellence – or do we shrink back because of equity concerns?

Dame Sally Coates

Sally spoke at the launch event.  I don’t agree with everything she says – (for example we disagree about PRP and the inherent value of academies over maintained schools) but I admire her drive and the spirit of doing things the way she thinks they should be done.  She’s principled about equality issues and achievement and has delivered the goods in her school(s).  If every Head was as effective as Sally Coates, we’d be in a much better place; sadly that’s not the case.  It was fascinating to hear her set out her view of the system in a serious and robust way  – especially after hearing BoJo do his bluff and bluster act.

Doug Lemov

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Teach Like A Champion. Doug Lemov with Charlie Taylor

Doug Lemov was also hugely impressive. (I’ve used that phrase twice now -  there were some big hitters at this event!) He speaks with conviction about his moral purpose and makes huge sense talking about the way to engage teachers in improving their practice.  In particular I liked his reference to sportspeople and surgeons who practise their skills away from the theatre of performance, before they ‘go out into the game’.  He suggested that this was how teacher CPD should be – not just expecting people to hone their skills as they use them for real, but giving them opportunities to practise in the safety of teacher meetings and workshops beforehand.   I like this idea a lot.  I’m going to re-read Teach Like A Champion now I know what Doug sounds like – very humble, intelligent and grounded in experience.

Contributing to the Workshops

The discussions that move things on.

The discussions that move things on.

As Tom Bennett describes in his post, there’s a lot of time pressure on these sessions but we managed to have our say.  Tom set out the ResearchEd stall and its origins as the educational antidote to the Bad Science of too many initiatives in the past.  He’s a brilliant advocate for this mission and I’m excited to learn that the whole enterprise is set to develop significantly in the next year.

When I got my three minutes, I tried to give a feel for the Heads Roundtable manifesto . There were three things I wanted to stress.  1) The fact that we’d formed a think tank spontaneously and voluntarily and were getting our ideas listened to. 2) That we’re trying to put ideas forward, not just critique the policies we’re presented with  – our Manifesto has 10 proposals and I read them all out; 3) That we’re also trying to put one key idea into action regardless of  policy with our Baccalaureate model.

The Heads Roundtable Education Manifesto Proposals

The Heads Roundtable Education Manifesto Proposals

ResearchEd and Heads’ Roundtable are good examples of system leadership; people proactively seeking to change things rather than sit back waiting for it to happen.  The table discussions gave us time to explore some of these issues.  On our table we found ourselves focused on the microcosm of school level accountability versus the autonomy of teachers.  Grading lessons and the SLT-teacher relationship has parallels with the system level relationship between DFE/OfSTED and schools.  Can we set people free – to unleash greatness? Can we do the same for schools? And if so, how do we manage the problems with underperformance and variation at each level?

As an aside, it’s worth reflecting on just how difficult people can find it to turn ideas into policies.  Working with the Labour Skills Task Force and Heads’ Roundtable, I’ve had the experience of trying to think of solutions to problems and then trying to articulate them in policy terms. You can’t simply wish schools to behave in certain ways – you have to force them or incentivise them. You can’t wish for a policy that takes decisions in a certain area away from government and simultaneously expect the government to sort out the problems in that area for you.  It’s also important to consider costs and the likelihood of ideas gaining support – otherwise, you’re wasting your time.  Often people have a sense of the change they’d like to see but can’t work through the policy steps needed.  If you don’t like how things are, you need better ideas – but it’s harder than people think.  There are no easy answers.

The Networking

Of course,  a key aspect to an event like this is the networking.  It’s a horrible word and often people characterise this as some kind of dark art – insider palm-greasing for mutual gain.  But actually, it is the conversations and relationships formed in between all the formal speech making that allow people to shape their ideas and to influence others.  I’ve often felt that events are over-full with input; you always wish you had more of the in-between time.  Personally I found the networking at the summit very useful.  Amongst many quick chats, I grabbed two minutes with Tristram Hunt for a conversation about the National Bacc and Labour’s policy timeline;  I met Vicky Beer, Chair of the Teaching Schools Council and I had the briefest of exchanges with Russell Hobby from the NAHT – a chance to commit to working together in the future.  These things are very informal but better than an email exchange by miles.

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AQA Policy  Workshop

Assessment and Accountability. An AQA Gathering

Assessment and Accountability. An AQA Gathering

The day before the Reform Summit, I had a chance to attend a policy-forming event organised by AQA’s Dale Bassett. It was another evening of talking that, for me, blended with the Reform Summit completely.  We are discussing how public exams could serve as meaningful assessments of students’ learning as well as contributing to the accountability framework for schools.  It’s a tough nut to crack.  We explored issues around different modes of assessment for different subjects, the new Scottish system and the potential benefits of a Bacc model ( hence the reason I was invited).    There were no firm conclusions but the discussions were all part of the dialogue that we are now having across the system.  I was glad to see Brian Lightman from ASCL at both of these events.  We’re all trying to move the agenda forward.


Taking Education Reform Forward

Events like these are excellent opportunities for bringing the profession together with policy makers. I’m grateful to the Education Foundation and AQA for inviting me.   It’s exciting to be able to contribute and everyone involved seemed to feel the same.  However, the key to making these things significant is for them to gain traction beyond the events themselves.  However wide the net is cast, the participants are a tiny sample of people who are active in the system.  For too long schools have looked to OfSTED and the DFE as the sources of authority to guide how they function;  if we’re going to guide ourselves and aspire to unleash greatness as Michael Barber was suggesting, we need to engage a lot more people in this dialogue.  It’s a real challenge.  Any gathering is self-selecting or selective and there are lots of school leaders who are disengaged from the discourse of system-leadership; they’re too busy keeping their school going day-to-day and are often content to reside within local networks that provide them with the support they need.

However, those networks are unlikely to influence National policy in the way that we need.  No doubt ASCL,  NAHT , SSAT and other national organisations  have a significant role to play  in reaching out beyond the social media bubble but even with their help, there’s massive system inertia to overcome.  The Stockholm Syndrome that keeps leaders and teachers from expressing themselves fully is strong and it will take a while to dissipate. If the next Government is serious about unleashing greatness, they’d do well to spread the message that it’s OK to come out of the cage!  (As an example, it‘s ironic that some schools will continue grading lessons with ‘OfSTED criteria’ long after this practice has been totally debunked, perhaps until OfSTED itself makes the practice of grading a trigger for failing an inspection on the basis of weak leadership! ).  

Despite the challenges, I think things are moving forward.  Hopefully the Education Reform Summit and other events like it will be catalysts for a genuine profession-led Reform Movement that governments and government agencies follow rather than lead; that’s the greatness we could unleash in time if we stick at it and join in wherever we can.





This much I know about…finding out what really works when it comes to educational research in schools

I have been a teacher for 25 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about finding out what really works when it comes to educational research in schools.

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Do you want to find out what really works?

At a time of shifting tectonic plates in the educational landscape, the evidence provided by high quality research could prove to be a defining factor for school improvement and student success. Our research focus is to train outstanding internally-appointed Research-leads in schools to support the improvement of students’ attainment in English and mathematics GCSE.

Can research provide us with the crucial golden thread that connects school leadership decisions through to successful student outcomes? We think it can and this trial can help prove it.

Do you want to be part of a hugely exciting, and nationally prestigious Randomised Controlled Trial that could shift the landscape of school improvement and benefit the life-chances of students in our schools?

A detailed FAQs document for our project can be found below; further details can be found on the Education Endowment Foundation website:

Expressions of interest should be sent to:

View this document on Scribd



100% Concentration

Planning lessons is great. It was one of my favourite tasks of teaching. It usually follows the pattern of me going: oh, I could do this; oh, I could read this with the class; oh, I could get them to; and, oh, wouldn’t it be great if…? I become engrossed in the exploration of thoughts and ideas. Time speeds up as I waste hours making a booklet, a resource or a ‘whizzy’ PowerPoint. Then, the opposite occurs when marking. Time slows down. I am interrupted by everything in the world: my stomach; my interest to learn the current market value of bananas; my desire to see a cute kitten; and a speck of dust that has landed on the desk. In fact, I put everything I can in the way of preventing the job.

My level of concentration varies depending on the task. I am much better with my marking than I once was. In my NQT year, I’d spend days marking one set of book. Now, I plough through and mark them in half that time, but it is all down to concentration. I have trained myself to concentrate better on the things I don’t enjoy. But, that is sadly what we haven’t done in teaching? We haven’t always taught students to concentrate better. In fact, if I am honest, we have only supported our students’ inability to focus on one thing for any long time.

We live in a busy world – bear with… just checking my phone. We live in a busy world and there are constant drains on our attention. You are probably nodding off now as you read this, because I haven’t included a picture of something relevant. My lessons, of old, used to feature tonnes of things designed to entertain students. I was made to feel, as a younger teacher, your lessons needed to take the shape and look of a Blue Peter lesson. Here’s a sonnet I made earlier! My only real concern was making sure students were entertained, I mean engaged. Lessons used to be filled to the brim with activities to entertain students. A card sort. A quick quiz. A video. But, this was how I was led to believe that lessons should be. I should be doing ‘fun stuff’ and the students should be entertained.

Frankly, all this way of teaching only supported the fact that students didn’t have to do much in the learning. They just had to respond. Not be engaged. They just had to wave a card at me and I was convinced they had learnt something. They just had to not be doodling an obscene image of a book for me to be proud that they were engaged in the learning. As long as their response was positive, I was happy.

There’s been a lot of talk about resilience and grit – and other things that resemble the names of aftershaves. Grit for Men – You’re Tough Enough!   There have been comments like ‘we must make them more resilient’ and similar things that wouldn’t sound out of place in line from the Borg in ‘Star Trek’. For me, I think concentration is the key thing that underwrites all of this malarkey. In fact, do we consider, plan or factor concentration levels in lessons? I used to have the inbuilt timer of: 5 minutes – Year 7; 10 minutes –Year 8; 15 minutes – Year 9; 20 minutes – Year 10; and 25 minutes Year 11.    

The change of the curriculum suggests that there is a shift in expectation from students. Things are getting tougher and harder. Yet, I think amongst all the talk of change, we might be missing one thing: developing the concentration levels of students. The main difference between a modern novel and a classic text is the amount of concentration needed. The thought and effort needed to follow things in ‘Jane Eyre’ is twice the amount of ‘Of Mice and Men’ (based on a ‘real’ fact).  ‘Of Mice and Men’ is instantly engaging and enjoyable, yet ‘Jane Eyre’ is a grower, as they say. It takes time to enjoy.

Do we need to work harder on developing the concentration levels of the students? Do we need to factor that in our planning? Or, have we manufactured the bitesize generation? They can only read small texts. They can only really write effect short paragraphs. They can only deal with things for 10 or less minutes.

Look at proofreading. Effective proofreading is a product of concentration. You concentrate hard to spot errors. (I apologise if there are any on this blog.) Watching students proofread is hilarious. It suddenly becomes an Olympic sport. A three paged essay is checked within 2 minutes. Amazing.

This week I worked on proofreading with a group of students. To be honest, I made them spend a whole hour proofreading one piece of their work. They did it well, and, I managed to make it engaging.

I told them that they were going to make money. The more mistakes they found, the more money they would make. I told them afterwards how much each mistake cost so that they wouldn’t be tactical. Then, they read the text several times, but each time they focused on a different aspect.

Reading one: The Basics – full stops and capital letters

Reading two: Spellings – homophones and regular words

Reading three: Commas

Reading four: Grammar – missing words or incorrect phrases

Reading five: Apostrophes

In pairs, the scoured the text for mistakes. At this stage they didn’t correct them, simply highlighted the mistake. When they had completed the different readings they had a table to fill out, highlighting all the different mistakes.
Finally, I told them how much each mistake cost.

Reading one: The Basics – full stops and capital letters 2p

Reading two: Spellings – homophones and regular words 2p

Reading three: Commas 5p

Reading four: Grammar – missing words or incorrect phrases 10p  

Reading five: Apostrophes 5p

It worked well for the class and it saved me a lot of effort circling their work for obvious mistakes, but it proved a point: they could do proofreading well if they concentrated on it. Proofreading is all about concentration. To be experts, students need to realise the slow pace that is necessary to build to expertise.  Our students want to be experts without the necessary work. Let’s teach them to concentrate first and then things will follow.

The A grade students in the class are the ones that can concentrate.  The rest want to be like the As secretly, but they can’t yet because they can’t concentrate enough.
Thanks for reading,

Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher’s blog

Employment figures for 2014 in the UK

Employment is the most basic requirement for the development and growth of an economy and United Kingdom is not an exception in this regard. From the past few decades, the world economy is in the grip of unemployment and even the economically developed country like UK had to face the brunt of this situation. However with the arrival of the year 2014, there seems to be a lot of improvement in the employment situation of UK. In the recent report drawn by the Statistical Authority, it was found that the unemployment rate in UK has reached its all time low of 7.1%. It is pertinent to know that this rate was 7.4% in the last three months of 2013 and economists around the world had anticipated for a decline of merely 0.1% which is very low as compared to the current reports.

According to office of National Statistics(ONS), there is a fall of 167000 people who’ve been affected by unemployment in the current year. Now there are just 2.32 million people in UK that are devoid of employment. The decrease in unemployment rates in the present year even indicate that now maximum number of people in the UK are having work and are capable of supporting their families. This value even indicates the biggest ever quarterly increase in the employment levels of UK. Despite of all the predications made by labor markets around the world, today Britain is experiencing an economic revolution that certainly needs more fuelling from the government.

This rate of unemployment at 7.1% is the best so far, ever since the economy of UK has started recovering from economic depression. According to ONS, following statistics relating to employment in UK in the year 2014 have been generated so far:

  • The rate of unemployment among the active population in UK is around 7.1% in January, 2014.
  • The total number of people that have a job and are actually working comprise of the 30.15 million of the total population.
  • UK government grants certain allowances to the unemployed population and it is astonishing to know that the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s allowance in January 2014 fell by 27600 people. So now the total number of people claiming such allowance is just 1.22 million.
  • The ONS conducts employment and unemployment survey every month but compares between data of three months i.e. quarterly comparisons are made.
  • In 2014, the economy of UK experienced a major change because the employment rate jumped by 280000 points to reach the biggest quarterly high of all times to record a number of 30.15 million. An important thing to note down is that such an increase in employment was last seen in Britain in the year 1971. The employment though increased well, it was the wage growth of people that drew attention of various governmental agencies. The wage growth in UK is going flat at 0.9% from the past 5-6 months which is not even at par with the current inflation rate of 2% here. Thus much of work is required to be done in this regard and a lot of major policy changes could improve the same numbers.

    There are many learning based employment apprenticeships schemes in Birmingham available for young people (aged 16 - 19 etc) - one provider of apprenticeships (Gordon Franks)