Teaching: Leading Learning at #TLT16

I have always been interested in leadership, probably even before I started teaching. I’ve always been an organiser, and I’ve enjoyed getting people involved in a project and seeing it through to realisation. As a teacher, I was quick to take on extra: I took on my first responsibility after two years; I was second in English after three; I was Head of English after five. I truth, that last jump was probably two years too soon, but I learned an awful lot from my mistakes in those two years!

I started this blog in December 2012 to share my experiences of senior leadership as a Deputy Head. I called it Teaching: Leading Learning without hesitation. The name of the blog stems from the long held belief that teaching is itself a leadership role, and that if you teach well you already have the skillset of an effective leader. In my session at #TLT16 I set out to explore how my experience as a teacher has prepared me for Headship, and the lessons my experience as a new Headteacher has for teachers.

Leadership behaviours in teaching


Going through the now defunct Leading From the Middle, several home-grown leadership development courses and, more recently, NPQH, I’ve read a lot about different leadership styles and behaviours. It’s interesting to look beyond education and think about business models of leadership, and whether they have relevance to us in the public sector. Hence my plundering of Zenger Folkman’s generous free-to-access resource library, where I found the “Top 9 Leadership Behaviours That Drive Employee Commitment.” They are:

  1. Inspire and motivate others
  2. Drive for results
  3. Strategic perspective
  4. Collaboration
  5. Walk the talk
  6. Trust
  7. Develops and supports others
  8. Building relationships
  9. Courage

These are qualities that have relevance to educational leadership but also, clearly, to classroom teaching.

Inspire and motivate others

This is clearly the role of the leader: to bring people with you on the journey. And it is the role of the classroom teacher too. To spark the interest of your learners, to get the best out of them, and to do your best to make sure that they want to do their best too.

Drive for results

We’re in an outcomes business, and there’s no point pretending otherwise. Results bring choice, raise aspiration and open doors. It’s the role of the school leader to evaluate every initiative, intervention and idea in terms of its impact on results, stopping the things that don’t help and doing the things that do. It’s the same for the classroom teacher. We must ask ourselves: what can I do that will make the biggest difference to the students’ outcomes?

Strategic perspective


Why do you do what you do? (source)

The leader’s role is to hold and share the vision, based on core values, and align everything in the organisation towards achieving that vision. The teacher’s role is the same: to know how this activity fits into this lesson, which fits into this week, which fits into this scheme of learning, which fits into the long term plan, which contributes to this young person’s experience of this subject across their schooling, which shapes the adult they will become. Where does what you are doing today fit into the bigger picture? Think about how this ten-minute activity contributes to the cathedral that you are building.



Leadership lessons from geese (source)

A leader doesn’t fly solo. The leader is part of a team. We achieve what we achieve together. And we recognise that we can’t know and do it all, so we call in help, advice and support when we need it. The teacher is no different. The class must work together – the culture must be right. And, when it’s needed, it is a sign of strength in the teacher to seek help, advice and support.

Walk the talk

We all know of inauthentic leaders who don’t walk the talk. Words are hollow and empty when leaders are dishonest or do not act with integrity. Classrooms work the same way. When you say you’ll read their work, you have to read it. The students’ faith in you comes from you modelling the behaviours that you expect.


This comes from walking the talk. Trust is built over time by leaders who look, listen and learn, leading to an understanding of the issues facing those you lead. Then, it comes from actions rooted in integrity, with a clear and transparent rationale consistent with the vision and values you espouse. The same with the classroom teacher. If you say something is going to happen, it happens. You don’t let your students down. You are consistent, constant, reliable. You win their trust.

Develop and support others


The National standards of excellence for headteachers, Domain Two, standard 5, says that excellent headteachers will:

Identify emerging talents, coaching current and aspiring leaders in a climate where excellence is the standard, leading to clear succession planning.

This is a vital part of any leader’s role, but the process of developing and supporting others is what a teacher does. It is the job.

Building relationships

Relationships lead to trust. This is how things get done – not by ordering people around, but by building relationships with colleagues which bring about commitment to the shared enterprise. Am I talking about leadership? Or teaching? Or both?




Mark Twain: always good for a quote

Joanna Postlethwaite put me on to this quotation in her “Head in Heels” session at #WomenEd. It’s a different take on the “do the hard things first” I’ve used before, and it’s about not shying away from the most difficult tasks. If challenging situations aren’t grasped and resolved, they will fester. If you don’t eat that frog now, it’ll grow – and then you’ll never be able to stomach it. The same in your classroom – whatever you tolerate, that’s where your expectations sit. If there’s a problem, tackle it. Don’t let things go, or you’ll struggle to get them back.

Spheres of influence


In leadership, and in teaching, it pays to focus your attention where you will have the most influence. In both cases, this is the inner two circles in the diagram above: the areas where you have complete control, and the area where you have direct influence. You can’t control everything. But what you will find is that, if you are outward facing and focused on outcomes, the energy you are expending on the inner two circles will have an influence on the third. And the third, on the fourth. What you’re doing with your students in your classroom matters. What you’re doing with your team in your department matters. What I’m doing with my school matters. We all influence one another. We all matter.

 Download the slides from my #TLT16 session here (Dropbox link)


Women into Leadership at #WomenEd

On Saturday 8th October my colleagues Jo Gill (@JoanneSGill, Assistant Headteacher Teaching & Learning) and Sue Strachan (@SusanSEnglish, Head of KS4 English) headed for Microsoft’s HQ in Reading for #WomenEd’s Second Unconference. We were co-presenting the approach we’ve taken at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form to promoting gender equality, with a particular emphasis on women into leadership. Here are my remarks. You can see the Prezi, along with the sections presented by Jo and Sue, here.

#HeForShe Headteacher



The field when I interviewed for the Headship at Churchill was 50/50 male/female. I got the job. I feel therefore that I am already on the back foot when discussing the issue of promoting women into leadership roles. The numbers are clear:

  • 63% of secondary school teachers are female
  • 50% of secondary school senior leaders are female
  • 37% of secondary school headteachers are female


There are, however, signs that things might be improving. When Kate Chhatwal was writing in the New Statesman in 2014 about The Invisible Prejudice Holding Women Teachers Back,  she was faced with a choice to take her proposals forward:

Now, which of our great education or political leaders should I pitch the idea to? The man at No 10 or the man in charge of education?

There have been significant steps forward in gender representation at the top of education, although opinion is currently quite mixed on whether this represents progress for education generally.

What to do?

As a HeForShe advocate, I am committed to improving gender equality wherever I can exert any influence at all. In doing so, I need to avoid stereotyping, patronising or “mansplaining”.


I find explanations which focus on the generic qualities of “women leaders” as though that is a homogenous group unhelpful. However, Lean In provides I think useful advice in tips for managers and how to be a workplace ally. As a Head I try to ensure that I:


1. Make sure women’s ideas are heard

The chair of SLT rotates. We haven’t ever used the Are Men Talking Too Much? counter but perhaps it’s not a bad idea…

2. Challenge the likeability penalty

This is about challenging perceptions of male and female success. Lean In asks:

When a man is successful, his peers often like him more; when a woman is successful, both men and women often like her less. Who are you more likely to support and promote, the man with high marks across the board or the woman who has equally high marks but is just not as well liked?

At every point, it’s important to challenge the likeability penalty, asking colleagues (and myself) “Would you have the same reaction if a man did the same thing?”

3. Support mentorship and coaching

We are strategic partners in the North Somerset Teaching Alliance which runs a Women into Leadership programme. Both Jo and Sue have undertaken this course and continue to promote it to other women. I have encouraged female SLT to sign up to the National College’s Women Leading in Education coaching programme, as coaches and as coachees.

4. Celebrate women’s accomplishments


It should go without saying that it’s the role of the Headteacher to celebrate accomplishments and positively reinforce success. However, as a strategy to encourage women into leadership, it’s vital. As Michelle Obama’s visits to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School show, highlighting high-profile successful women’s accomplishments can have a transformative impact: the “I did this; you could too” effect.

5. Encourage women to go for it


I don’t know whether the statistic quoted on Lean In, that men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the criteria while women wait for 100%, is accurate – or even if such a generalisation is helpful. I do know that, if we are to improve gender equality, it’s my role as Headteacher to spot potential, develop it, and maximise it. My school will benefit from it and, if and when those leaders eventually leave, the wider system will benefit too.

As the Assistant Headteacher at Churchill, Jo Gill, said: 

 In order to move on in your career it is all about taking opportunities when they present themselves to you, but also to seek out those opportunities that you are looking for to enhance your career prospects. Ensuring that you have a mentor – or mentors – that you can trust and that you value their opinion and their advice. Having confidence in yourself about the experiences that you have gained along the way that shape the kind of leader that you want to be and demonstrate these skills and experience in job applications and when you achieve that promotion.


Want to become a growth mindset school?

We are hosting our first Teaching: Leading Learning day at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form on Friday 14th October 2016.

This is a chance to see Churchill Academy & Sixth Form in action, meet key staff, and learn about our outstanding approaches to:

  1. Creating a learning culture and becoming a growth mindset school
  2. Developing and empowering middle leaders
  3. Effective Senior Leadership
  4. Pastoral care, including vertical tutoring
  5. Pupil premium
  6. Professional development
  7. Behaviour and inclusion
  8. Sixth Form provision

The programme for the day is flexible, so if there is anything specific in our work you are particularly interested in finding out about, please let us know.

14th October now fully booked

Our session on 14th October 2016 is now full, but we are planning to run further events later in the year. If you would like to express an interest in a future Leading Learning Day at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, please complete the form below to add your name to the waiting list.

What Ofsted said about Churchill Academy & Sixth Form:

A learning culture

Students settle quickly to learning and are keen to engage in the activities teachers plan for them. They have a thirst for knowledge and routinely question their teachers and classmates to enrich their understanding. These qualities exemplify students’ highly positive attitudes towards learning.

Middle Leadership

‘Middle leaders [are] a force for change within the academy’. Middle leaders work together as a team exceptionally well. They anticipate where further improvements are necessary; they develop and consistently carry out policies which ensure that the academy sustains outstanding outcomes for students.

Senior Leadership

Senior leaders are highly effective. They undertake thorough and accurate checks on the work of the academy, together with the Headteacher and governors. These ensure that they carry out measures to tackle the identified areas for development quickly and meticulously. Teaching and educational opportunities for students are, therefore, of the highest quality and students’ behaviour is outstanding.

Pastoral Care

The house system is valued by students. They appreciate the impact of mixed-aged tutor groups on providing opportunities for older students to help, support and act as positive role models for younger students. The house system also helps to promote highly positive relationships, based on mutual respect, between all members of the academy community.

Pupil Premium

The access coordinator provides outstanding leadership of the academy’s use of the pupil premium to ensure that all disadvantaged and vulnerable students receive the care, support and guidance they need to be successful learners. This is just part of the academy’s work to ensure equality of opportunity for all students.

Professional Development

The leadership of teaching is outstanding. Senior leaders, middle leaders and governors regularly check the quality of teaching; training is expertly matched to both the academy’s identified areas for improvement and teachers’ individual development needs.

Behaviour and inclusion

The behaviour of students is outstanding. The highly inclusive culture of the academy is characterised by the exceptionally strong support and guidance offered to all students. Students know that staff care about them and want them to achieve their best.

Sixth form provision

The leadership of the sixth form is outstanding…Teaching in the sixth form is outstanding. Teachers have expert subject knowledge, which they use to challenge students and to support them to reach the very high targets set for their academic achievement…The information, guidance and careers advice provided for students are exceptional…Sixth form students enjoy being members of the academy. Their attendance is very high and all feel exceptionally safe and well cared for. Sixth form students are excellent role models for younger students because of their exemplary behaviour and the way in which they are integrated into academy events


My thoughts on the grammar schools policy

Many people have written about this much more eloquently and persuasively than I can – such as Sam Freedman, Greg Ashman, Rebecca Allen, Chris Cook to name but a few – and Laura McInerney has just overtaken Matthew Tate as my educational hero of the week for her patient, persistent use of evidence in a post-facts policy-making pandemonium.

Just for my own peace of mind, however, here are my thoughts on the grammar schools policy. 

It’s not about parental choice

On the Today programme on Radio 4, Education Secretary Justine Greening kept returning to the argument that expanding existing grammar schools and allowing the creation of new ones improved parental choice. This is incorrect. In a selective education system, parents don’t choose the best school for their children; schools choose the “best” children for themselves. And children have no choice whatsoever. 

The evidence is against it

Performance of pupils in selective vs non-selective counties by deprivation index (click for source)

This seems a pointless argument. Policy makers aren’t interested in evidence or facts or experts any more. But selective education disadvantages the disadvantaged, whilst giving advantages or making little-to-no difference to those who already have a head start. It doesn’t improve social mobility. The best comprehensives are doing better for all pupils – improving standards in comprehensives would make more difference. Teach First’s statement on this sums it up best: 

It has an impact on every school

I wish I could believe that all Headteachers would take a principled stance and remain firmly comprehensive, but since we know that Progress 8 (and definitely the Basics, EBacc and Attainment 8 measures) favour schools with higher prior attainment on intake, I very much doubt that this will be the case. And once one school in an area decides to change its comprehensive intake to a selective one, it affects every single school in that area. Every school will have to review its admissions stance. If we remain comprehensive, will we lose the high achievers from our intake to the selective school down the road and become a secondary modern by default? 

It allows gaming the accountability measures on a systemic level

Theresa May’s proposals included encouragement for grammars to move students between schools at 14 and 16 (note that schools would do this: where’s the parental choice?). So, if your grammar-controlled secondary modern has done really well for you and you’re flourishing academically, you get hived off into the grammar parent school at 14. And if you managed to pass at 11 but you don’t make the grade at 14, you’re unceremoniously kicked out. And then, hey presto, the accountability measures at 16 for the grammar school look incredible, whilst the secondary modern flounders despite its best efforts, and the DfE presents its evidence that their policy has been a rip-roaring success in raising standards. 

The Key Stage 2 tests suddenly look even more sinister

I was amongst many who flung up my hands in dismay at the notion that students at the end of Year 6 would be labelled as having met, or not met, the expected standard, then sent up into Year 7 with the whiff of “success” or “failure” already hanging over them. I’m still awaiting the horror-show of making those Year 7s who have not made the expected standard re-sit the tests after a few months of secondary. But now, is it just me who thinks that the Year 6 tests look a little bit like an 11+? 

There’s money to put behind grammar expansion, but not for comprehensives with a track record of success

Theresa May also announced £50m to support the expansion of existing grammars. I know that, in the scheme of things, this isn’t a massive sum nationally. But honestly every school leader or business manager I know who would bite your hand off for an additional £500 in the budget right now. It is galling to see this money flung at selective schools to expand whilst outstanding comprehensives, doing great work for all children, struggle. 

It’s a sleight-of-hand policy which distracts from everything else

Watch your card, just your card…

Also this week we learned that teacher training courses are half empty with the profession facing a recruitment crisis. Schools budgets are in meltdown. New accountability measures are due to be published this month as schools continue to implement a new curriculum and testing regime in Early Years, Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4 and Post-16 at the same time. Academies that are part of MATs haven’t been audited due to loopholes. There are concerns that people are siphoning public money out of the system into their own bank accounts through academy freedoms. Rooves are leaking. SEND reforms are almost unworkable. But look: a return to selection! Over here! Look! Watch this! 

We can’t possibly fight on all fronts. But a return to selection? We must. 

The first staff briefing of the new school year

We had two Inset days on Thursday and Friday, then the weekend before the children started today. I’m a big fan of two-day-weeks anyway, and my Head of Music requested that I consider ensuring we have two days off after every two days of work in future. I’m looking into it.

Anyway, I began the first Inset day with a reminder of why we do our job in the first place: a photo slideshow of lovely moments from the previous year. Photos of our kids learning, enjoying, competing, trying, caring, succeeding, laughing, inspiring, travelling, performing, smiling, embracing, celebrating, achieving. It was such a pleasure to put together, going back through the photo archive and seeing all the wonderful opportunities that our school provides for young people, and the way in which they seize those opportunities with both hands. I soundtracked the slideshow with two tracks from our gospel choir’s new CD: “September” (topical) and “True Colours” (emotional). I wanted to begin the year with a celebration of the children – because that’s why we do it.

The first inset day was focused on performance development, our replacement for “appraisal” or “performance management” inspired (as usual) by John Tomsett’s work. It’s our first run through this year – I’ll blog about it when we’ve got it properly up and running and let you know how it’s gone!

The second day began with a focus on teaching and learning. We are launching teacher-led research and development groups working alongside a leadership strand in scheduled meeting time over the course of the year. My colleagues and I will be presenting about this at #WomenEd’s Unconference later in the year – again, blog to follow!

The point of all this preamble is that I’d already had two opportunities to speak to the whole staff. Briefing on Monday was going to be factual – key information about the new Year 7 to be checked, arrangements for lunch and catching the buses etc. But I wanted to set the tone for the year and make sure that I gave out key messages about our approach and direction. So here’s what I went for.

  1. Love the kids.
  2. Pace yourself.
  3. Start the learning straight away.
  4. Enjoy it.

Have a great year everyone!

The benefit of experience

This week I’ve been reading through my List in Pocket (the single most useful app I have installed) of all the blogs, articles, links and clips I’d seen during the last term but not had the time to consume and digest. In my trawl through I found this excellent paper from the states: 

In a nutshell, the answer is “yes.” Or, as Mark McCourt (the wonderful @EMathsUK on Twitter) put it: 

Yes, in the summary of the research Kini and Podolsky clarify the following: 

  • Teaching experience is positively associated with student achievement gains throughout a teacher’s career.
  • Teachers’ effectiveness increases at a greater rate when they teach in a supportive and collegial working environment.
  • More experienced teachers support greater student learning for their colleagues and the school as a whole, as well as for their own students.
  • On average, the most effective 20-year teachers are significantly more effective than the most effective first-year teachers 

Or, in summary: 

Our research does not indicate that the passage of time will make all teachers better or incompetent teachers effective. However, it does indicate that, for most teachers, experience increases effectiveness. (Kini and Podolsky, 2016)

This isn’t news, surely? Yet my tweet about this study attracted a number of replies discussing examples of schools undervaluing experienced staff and the “cult of youth” which sees some schools placing too much emphasis on new career entrants with “fresh ideas” and “energy.” I know that schools benefit massively from trainees, NQTs and RQTs, with all those fresh ideas and energy – that isn’t what this blog is about. What it’s about instead is the value that experienced staff bring to a school and why we should value them, listen to them, and above all retain them in the profession. 

I can remember being an NQT and looking in awe at those with ten, fifteen or twenty years experience. Their command of the room, their command of their material, and their command of their craft was inspiring. I’m no fool: I watched and learned, hungry for the secrets of success that, in my first faltering forays into the classroom, I sadly lacked. And, although I am now entering the 20th year of my teaching career myself, I’ve never stopped. 

I was only in my sixth year of teaching when I became a Head of Department. It was too soon. In time, I got better, but I can remember some cringeworthy naïve mistakes that I made in my first year or so. In particular, challenging an experienced member of staff about underperformance. I was well-supported by the Headteacher, carefully briefed, and it needed to be done, but I know I made an unremitting hash of that conversation. I simply didn’t have the experience to carry it off properly, to do it justice, to be fair to that colleague. It was embarrassing. Those conversations are never easy, but with a few more years under my belt I know I would have handled it better. I made a conscious decision to wait for my next promotion until I was experienced enough to be ready – I did eight years as Head of Faculty before applying for SLT positions. 

Throughout that time, I’ve been watching and learning from colleagues more experienced than me. I’ve watched them teach, and picked up as many of the tips and tricks that they’ve learned as I can. As an aspiring Headteacher, I visited and spoke to as many experienced Heads as I could to learn from them. I’ve read everything Tom Sherrington and John Tomsett have ever posted, and read books by John, Vic Goddard and others, for the same reason. But the fact is, you only really get better at doing this job – teaching, or Headteaching – by actually doing it. 

I’ve learned an awful lot in the first seven months of Headship, and had many of my ideas confirmed. One of the latter is the value of experienced staff to the school as a whole. Those teachers who have been at the school for years and seen Heads and Secretaries of State come and go (ideally fewer of the former than the latter), who are teaching the children of the children they taught earlier in their career, who have seen trends and fads rise and fall and carried on regardless. These are the ones you need – who make the school what it is. John Tomsett wrote about this in his interview with his longest serving teacher back in 2013. It is these staff who provide the skeleton of the school: the backbone, rib cage and skull that hold it all together and keep it safe. And I had this personally confirmed to me at the end of term when Chris George retired. 

Chris has taught at Churchill for 22 years, the majority of those as Head of Sixth Form. When I first started, I spent a fascinating hour with him getting under the skin of the school over that time. Before he retired, we spent another hour where he generously told me exactly what he thought I needed to hear after my first seven months. Both conversations were invaluable. And his leaving speech, delivered in the sunshine on the last day of term after the staff barbecue, was one for the ages. He talked about what experience had taught him over his career, and passed it on to all of us. Most importantly, his speech was based around the advice he was given as an NQT himself, by his experienced mentor. Advice that had stayed with him throughout his career. “Treat people like people” was one of those nuggets – and I’ve made that a motto for my own Headship. “Chris Hildrew, coming in here with his new-fangled ideas!” said Chris – a dig I definitely enjoyed! He also advised us to look after our mental health, to seek help if we needed it, and not to try and pretend that everything was okay if it isn’t. This is advice that needs to be heard in staff rooms up and down the country. He also advised teachers to always carry a piece of paper with them when walking around the site, because it made it look like you were doing something important and stopped people bothering you. 

He finished with the words of Norman Stanley Fletcher

 It is vital to our profession that we create those supportive and collegial environments, cherish the teachers who have the experience, and listen – really listen – to them. We have much to learn. Because we’ve recruited fantastic teachers to replace our leavers this year. But it’ll take 22 years before they’re as good as Chris George. And there are no short cuts.

The Future

What will our school room philosophy be?

Last night I had the pleasure of addressing our Year 13 leavers at our annual Sixth Form Ball.I’ve only been their Headteacher for six months, so it was an honour to be asked to speak to them. Here is what I said.

It’s a pleasure to see you all tonight at the end of your time as students of Churchill Academy. My biggest regret is that I don’t know you all better but you’ve been busy, I’ve been busy, and now here we are and it’s all too late…

I had a lovely light-hearted speech planned, but then things happened in the world and suddenly it feels like we’re living through a real life Game of Thrones episode. David Cameron is off the Iron Throne, Boris Johnson Targaryen was riding in on a dragon before being stabbed in the back by Tyrion Lannister Gove and the Labour party is doing a decent impression of the Red Wedding. Nobody seems to have a plan. The white ravens have flown, and winter has come. Perhaps if you’re a Harry Potter fan, Dumbledore’s words sum up where we are: “Dark and difficult times lie ahead.”

Think about how we are currently perceived around the world. Football hooliganism. Xenophobia. Intolerance. Racist abuse in supermarkets and on the street. A collapsing currency. Extremism on the rise. The constant threat of terror. Losing to Iceland. “Dark and difficult times” indeed; looking ahead, the future feels like a pretty scary prospect. 

Right now, I’m ashamed and embarrassed by the way people of my generation and, if I can be so generous, those of the generation older than me, are conducting themselves and their affairs on the global stage. They appear to have forgotten that, if we are to succeed, we all have to work together, and that the human race is not one that can be won by just one group. This isn’t about leave or remain, it’s about decency. Liberty. Mutual respect for, and tolerance of, those with different faiths and beliefs, and for those without faith. It’s about honesty, fairness, and justice – and it’s easy to be disheartened when those who are supposed to lead us aren’t modelling the kind of behaviour we want, expect and need. 

But I work in schools for a reason, and that reason is that every day I am surrounded by possibility. By what you could become. By hope. And when I look out at you, the Year 13 leavers of 2016, embarrassment and shame are far from my mind. I feel proud of the young adults you have become, and hopeful for the room full of yet-to-be-realised possibilities that you embody. 

Dumbledore’s quotation ends: “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” Looking at you now, I am filled with the hope that you will choose what is right over what is easy. It is those choices which will define your generation. I know you can do better than your predecessors. And you have to – it’s never mattered more.

So with that, Year 13, I hope you will raise your glasses to the future. Because you understand, I hope, that leadership is not about the next election – it’s about the next generation. Your generation. To the class of 2016: to the future! 


Strategic Priorities for Churchill

Lots of time, care and effort gone into this: the strategic plan for Churchill Academy & Sixth Form.

The Headteacher's Blog

When I was took up post as Headteacher, the Governors gave me 100 days to look, listen and learn about the Academy in order to plan the next steps. As part of that process I met students, staff, Governors, families, and representatives from the local community. I summarised all this in my post What Have I Learned? at the end of March.

Since then I have been working hard with my colleagues to plan for the future of the Academy. We already have an outstanding Ofsted report, a track record of success, skilful and dedicated staff, and hardworking and motivated students. What next?

The answer was to get down to the basics of what we need to do to ensure that the Churchill formula is sustainable, and that being a truly great school runs deep into every aspect of our practice. So, first of all, what…

View original post 1,160 more words

Having a laugh: the Lollies


I like a laugh, so when I was asked by Scholastic if I would review the shortlist for the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards I jumped at the chance! I’ve also enlisted the help of some young readers I happened to find at a loose end…

The picture book category


These were great fun, mixing the unexpected with the ridiculous in equal measure. However, my standout favourite was Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise. In this book, the first person narrator adopts a super-villain tone littered with fantastic mock-cliche similes: “the terrible silence of the night spreads everywhere. But I cut through it like a knife” and my personal favourite: “my eyes glitter like sardines.” Brilliant!

The 6-8 category


I found these harder work with a tendency to litter each page with a bewildering array of font and graphic changes mixing cartoon, handwriting, and zany whackiness. It felt a bit like reading late-1990s MTV rendered on the page and some of them gave me a headache! There was an element of style-over-content here too, with shallow laughs aplenty but nothing like the deep enjoyment of the picture books. The exception was The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom which presented an entertaining mash-up of modern stereotypes and pirate-genre narrative hooks.

The 9-13 category


This was much more up my street as a secondary teacher! There was still a tendency to throw a few zany font changes into the pages of these books, but these stories were genuine narratives and there were laughs aplenty. However, David Baddiel’s The Parent Agency stood out head-and-shoulders from the field, using humour to pose some genuine questions about the nature of family and the relationship of children to their parents. It’s the same essential idea that was Hollywood-ised in Freaky Friday but here presented without so much of the saccharine sentimentality. Baddiel’s dry tone and willingness to actually provoke thought made his novel a cut above the rest, and my favourite from the whole competition.

The Laugh Out Loud Awards

There are a whole load of free resources and you have until 10th June to vote for your favourites at the Lollies site. Thanks to Scholastic for sharing the shortlisted books with me!

The next steps: 2016 leavers

My end of term post on The Headteacher’s Blog – saying farewell to leavers

The Headteacher's Blog

The last day of Term 5 is always an emotional one. It’s a day of goodbyes as leavers take their next steps. Year 11 step out of main school, and Year 13 step beyond school for good. Of course, it’s au revoir not goodbye, because students will be back in after the half term break for revision and exams, and most of Year 11 will be rejoining us in the Sixth Form anyway, but it still feels like an ending. This blog is for you: the leavers of 2016.

As a new Headteacher joining the Academy in January, I’ve only had a few months to get to know you. Oddly, it’s those in the “leavers'” years that I feel I know the best! I’ve been made to feel very welcome by you at the top of the school, and you’ve been happy to share your experiences with me. You have…

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