Michael Gove’s Favourite Teachers: Where are they now?

Those of you with long memories will remember the touching speeches of Michael Gove when he was education secretary, where he used his position to advance the work of teachers in the classroom. Well, those who agreed with him anyway. Speeches like this and this struck many at the time for being unusual in their direct naming of teachers and others as being endorsed by the Secretary of State. Many were young bloggers, barely out of training, and it wasn’t just Michael Gove who spotted them. His deputy Nick Gibb used the same names in his speeches too. But what happened to them? Where are they now? Is there any advantage to having caught the eye of a politician? And how many are still in teaching? Well…in alphabetical order, here are a few:

Tom Bennett

Tom didn’t really need to be name checked by Michael Gove. A teacher with a column in the TES and books to his name, he already had a large following on twitter. But with the encouragement of Sam Freedman (Executive Director at Teach First, former adviser to Michael Gove, former Policy Exchange and now a Director at ResearchEd), he set up ResearchEd and was appointed by Nick Gibb, as the official Government Behaviour Tzar in 2015. He was recently awarded an innovation grant worth £4 million from the DfE. He is a board member of Parents and Teachers for Excellence – the lobby group set up by Tory donor and leave campaigner Jon Moynihan and CEO of the Inspiration Trust, Dame Rachel de Souza. Led by Mark Lehain (see below), the group aims to promote the work of academies and free schools on promoting knowledge rich learning.

John Blake

Way back in 2013, John Blake was a History teacher in London, railing against low expectations, championing the value of academic education and co-editing Labour Teachers. A strong supporter of Michael Gove’s education policy, he is no longer teaching, but in post as Head of Education at the Policy Exchange – the right wing think tank set up by…Michael Gove. Previous incumbents at Policy Exchange include Sam Freedman and Jonathan Simons. Policy Exchange is now partnering with the new, private teacher training provider the National Institute for Education and Oceanova, another private company, to deliver teaching apprenticeships.

Kris Boulton

Kris was a Teach First maths teacher when first name checked who went on to work at the highly successful King Solomon Academy in London. A vocal advocate of Direct Instruction, Kris has now left teaching to work for a private online tuition company Up Learn, which claims to guarantee pupils who pay £200, an A or A* in their exams (providing they score 90% or above on their Up Intelligence Score). Kris is a regular speaker at ResearchEd and other educational events.

Daisy Christodoulou

Daisy, having qualified through Teach First, had already left teaching when Michael Gove started name checking her as a teacher. She was working with the Core Knowledge Foundation, set up by the right wing think tank Civitas to promote the work of E.D Hirsch. She also worked with Lord Nash (Minister in charge of Academies) at Pimlico Academy, developing curriculum. She went on to be Head of Assessment at Ark Academies (where Amanda Spielman, now Head of Ofsted was a founding member), where she earned a reputation for her work on assessment, winning the respect of many experts such as Dylan Wiliam (also a Director of ResearchEd). She was also a founding governor of Michaela School. Daisy has recently taken up a post with a private company selling Comparative Judgements assessments to schools under the name of No More Marking. She is the author of two books and a director of ResearchEd.

Joe Kirby

Joe was a young Teach First Ambassador, teaching English in London when he was name checked by Michael Gove. His blog was widely read and he was becoming interested in the knowledge rich core curriculum that his Teach First network advocated. Joe still teaches. He is Deputy Head at Michaela Free School, set up by Katharine Birbalsingh (invited by Michael Gove in 2010 to address the Conservative conference on ‘shocking’ standards of behaviour in British schools and subsequently awarded the contract to set up Michaela Free School).

Mark Lehain

Former maths teacher Mark Lehain caught Michael Gove’s eye when he set up one of the first Free Schools, Bedford Free School in 2013. He was on the advisory council of the New Schools Network (director is Toby Young). He recently moved on to become Director at Parents and Teachers for Excellence (see Tom Bennett above – set up by Tory donor Jon Moynihan and Dame Rachel de Souza).

Robert Peal (Matthew Hunter)

Robert Peal was first named under his pseudonym of Matthew Hunter by Michael Gove. In fact, Teach First graduate Mr. Hunter/Peal was no longer teaching as Gove heaped lavish praise on his blog. He was already at the right wing think tank, Civitas, where he moved straight to on completion of his Teach First training. His book, Progressively Worse – an attack on progressive state education – was name checked by Nick Gibb alongside Daisy Christodoulou’s, Tom Bennett’s and David Didau’s in this speech. It was published by his former employer, Civitas. Peal returned to teaching to work for Toby Young at the West London Free School for a year before taking up a secondment to the DfE with Nick Gibb as a ‘teacher in residence.’ He has now returned to the West London Free School part time and also works with BPP University, a private university and “the only University dedicated to business and professionals.”

Andrew Old (Smith)

Andrew Smith, blogging and tweeting under the name of Andrew Old was a maths teacher in an Academy in the Midlands, when his blog came to the attention of Michael Gove. He is now a part time supply teacher, but still regularly blogs. He is a frequent speaker at ResearchEd.

There were many others named by Michael Gove – heads and schools, academics and entrepreneurs. But I focused on those he specifically named as admirable teachers. It would seem, that for the majority that being named turned out to be a very good thing indeed. Even if you weren’t actually a teacher.




On Teaching Apprenticeships

I was raised in Burnley. Apart from my teachers, I didn’t know anyone who had ever been to University. I didn’t even go to Manchester until I was 17 and that was just for a shopping trip. Apart from family holidays and day trips in fact, I’d never stepped outside my small town. Books were my way into another world.

Yet somehow, the idea of University had taken hold in our family. My Dad spoke of it for as long as I could remember. I was going to be the first. His daughter was going to go to University. I remember knowing I was going before I even knew what it was. Without my Dad, I wouldn’t have even heard of it. My Mum, who’d left school at 14 to work in the mill repeatedly said “Get an education. Don’t be like me!”

In my secondary school, only six of us went on to do A Levels. Others took vocational courses at college or went on to YTS (Youth Training Schemes). Many have grown up to have successful jobs in lots of different areas. They’re happy. I’m not writing to diminish their choices. Professions and further study didn’t interest them.

By the time I was 18, I was wavering. Did I want to go? I went through the UCAS process reluctantly. I was scared. Not sure about what it would entail. I’d talk to some of my teachers. They assured me it was great – a chance to grow, mature, see wonderful things. The cities I applied to were largely based on their own experiences of London, Cardiff, Hull, Birmingham… My Dad dutifully drove me around the country and I settled on London. There were squirrels in the garden.

I didn’t study hard at Uni. I was one of those irritating people who could churn out an essay quickly and do well. But I read a lot. And I got involved in politics. I marched and campaigned, attended NUS conferences, learned to speak up and out. I would walk from West Hampstead into town, right down to the river, stopping at Regents Park, The British Museum, passing through the National Gallery. I remember some days, standing, looking at the history of it all and welling up. Debbie, from Burnley – here. The walk would take me all day. I’d sit by the river in one of the greatest capital cities in the world and read my book. On hot, sunny days, after a dip in the Hampstead Ponds, I’d sit under a tree, reading Austen, Hardy, Jackie Collins… whatever. And I’d feel joyful.

I learned to love. I learned to lose. When my boyfriend beat me black and blue, I was able to put 200 miles between him and me. And go home to Lancashire. And I was a different person. I decided I wanted to teach. I wanted others to have what I had.

Over the past 25 or so years, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve talked to pupils about University life or about what London is like. Or other places. Because once you get confidence in one city, you want to visit more. I’ve taken so many trips – kids who’d never stepped out of Oldham – walking them through London from Museum to the Royal Court Theatre with confidence and excitement. But also to Amsterdam, Paris, Prague, Warsaw and to concentration camps, museums, war graves, galleries, planetariums, theatres, forests, castles and gardens. Because I knew. I knew that every experience was growing their minds, stretching their view of what life could be…

I had a wobble when I was 18 about going to University. For a while, I tentatively talked to my Dad about maybe working instead. I was scared. I knew I could maybe train to be an accountant in his firm – perhaps take over from him. But my heart wasn’t in it. I knew he’d worked his way up from nothing – that having a child take over from him would make him (almost) as happy as having one who went to University. But I didn’t want to be an accountant.

I thought about other jobs. Had a teaching apprenticeship been available to me, I may well have taken it. I could have stayed there, with shopping trips to Manchester a regular treat. I’d probably have been happy. I may still have been a ‘good’ teacher – in terms of caring, being good at imparting knowledge, preparing kids for tests. But I’m not sure I’d have been in a position to offer to my students the world view that I now have. I’m not sure I’d have been me.

Teaching in 2030

I knock quietly on the Master teacher’s staffroom door but there’s no answer. They don’t like to be disturbed at lunch time, but my lesson starts in ten minutes and there is a page missing on my script. I don’t know how to fill it.

I was late to work today which is bonkers. All our apprentice staff caravans are less than two minutes’ walk away so we can be on hand to welcome the children at 7.30am and check uniforms, but literally the door to my caravan was stuck and I had to yell for ages until someone came and let me out. At least they give us accommodation I guess. On £3.50 an hour, we can’t afford to live anywhere else.

I look at the script. It’s hard to deviate when you don’t really have the subject knowledge you need and I can’t really fill in the gap. Don’t get me wrong – I did do A level – but they’ve changed the syllabuses so much and I worked for five years before I decided to do the HLA route – how many of us remember what we learned five years ago eh? That’s why they have the masters. They’re graduates, earn more and teach less because they write all the lessons. But schools only employ them as Heads of Department or else they’re too expensive. They come straight from uni many of them. And that blocks our promotion prospects too.

I’m not complaining. The kids are good and compliant. Not like those down the road in the work units. The ones with conditions and stuff. Proper schools don’t take those kids any more. I heard it used to be a nightmare, planning for different needs. Now we just deliver the same to everyone, nice and simple.

There’s been a massive increase in private schools, of course. Not everyone wants this for their kids. But there’s a lot of choice these days. EasySchools that just deliver Maths and English on a budget. Then there’s VirginEd – middle of the road stuff. Bit like the comp I used to go to but it’s £4000 per year. And of course, the old private schools. The ones where there’s still sport and arts and the like.

I’m not sure I’ll stay in this job. There’s something coming up in a cafe down the road soon. Short hours, better pay. But this will do for now.

I wonder if I should knock a little louder.

Shame is not a Weapon.

It’s that time of year. Sad little faces in newspapers holding up flat, back shoes. Angry parents railing against new heads. Edu twitter bursting into cyclone levels of argumentative energy in which sides rail against each other using the spear of shame as a weapon. Stop shaming schools! Cries one side. Stop shaming children! Cries the other.

The thing is, a school is a building. A head is an adult. Children are neither. This is not a battle of equivalence. I’m not getting into why it might be that a newly appointed head decides that uniform is the battleground upon which they’re going to make their mark. Some believe that if you establish authority on small things, it makes the bigger things easier to manage. I don’t buy into it, but I’m not in their flat, black, leather shoes. I’m more concerned about the use of shame as a tool for managing pupil behaviour.

Neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, one of the world’s leading experts on the adolescent brain, shows us that during adolescence, shame has a particularly powerful impact on the brain. Adolescents feel, even anticipate, embarrassment in more profound ways than adults. One sure fire way of making sure that you are neither heard nor respected by a child, is to embarrass them. That’s not a matter of choice. Shame will close down all other options for children other than the quest for survival. It puts them into full on fight or flight meltdown. And in that state of mind, you get nowhere. It may look like a child has complied. They blush beetroot and retreat. They sit quietly and go home. But the shame is sitting so presently in their minds, that they heard nothing, learned nothing and are harbouring now a deep seated sense of shame that may turn outwardly into anger, or inwardly into resentment. Or worse, it may morph into significant self loathing. None of these outcomes are good.

Adolescents are not like us. They will, one day – once all the pruning and shaping and hormonal pummelling is over – become like us. But right now, they are in the eye of a storm and a little empathy goes a very long way. Shaming goes a very long way in the opposite direction. Those of us who have spent many years in classrooms, usually learn that the quiet word, one to one, works way more effectively that shouting at them in public. The eye contact, little raised eyebrow, tap on the shoulder – the techniques that signal you’re watching and aware, but still allow them a route out of public denouncement, are often enough. And sometimes they’re not. Sometimes, the situation gets out of control. That’s when you model what it is to be an adult. Unflappable, firm, fair, kind and consistent. Paul Dix’s book on behaviour “When the Adults Change, Everything Changes” is excellent on this point. We are the adults. We have authority with equal responsibility. Shaming should not be part of a responsible adult’s repertoire. It’s a failure to default to it.

Shaming is sometimes seized upon by adults as an aversion technique – that is a technique designed to inflict a sense of consequence onto another person in response to their negative behaviour. It’s part of the crime and punishment toolkit – trials are usually public and criminals can be named, and shamed. This is considered a legitimate part of our legal process (whether you agree with it or not). But in adolescents, particularly powerful emotions are released linked to shame that can have extremely damaging effects on their mental health, leading in some cases to psychopathy. Part of this is down to the fact that children feel emotions more strongly than adults, largely because they lack the sense of proportion that comes with experience. Remember that first love? But it is also biological. Adolescents use their medial prefrontal cortex even when considering situations that might cause them embarrassment; adults do not do this. So even imagining embarrassment is deeply felt by adolescents which is why they’ll do anything to protect themselves from it – heading it off at the pass. The anticipation of shame is deeply experienced by adolescents in a way that it is not by adults.

Moreover, Dr Brene Brown at the University of Houston places shame on the opposite end of a continuum to empathy. What shame does, she claims, is interrupt our construction of positive relationships to others –  a crucial aspect of which is empathy. That disruption is damaging not only to ourselves but to our relationships with others and our future interactions. Shame, she points out, is not the same as guilt. Guilt happens in response to an action or inaction. It is linked to an event, not a person. It can lead to shame, but handled well, it can be turned to positive, restorative outcomes. Shame is toxic. It is the difference between “sorry I did” and “sorry I am.” Moreover she points to research that shows that shame is directly correlated to depression, self harm, suicide and addictive behaviours. Guilt, on the other hand, is not. Guilt allows us to put our hands up and apologise. I don’t know what came over me, I’m so sorry. Guilt is about restoration, recognition and responsibility. Shame is an albatross around our necks. So hanging a sign around the neck of a child is as concrete an example of intentional shame as you will find. Shame is crippling because it is linked profoundly to our sense of who we are.

When schools decide that they will default to shaming as a strategy for good behaviour, they place themselves onto the most volatile battlefield they can – what Brown calls “The Swampland of the Soul.” They can be seemingly winning that battle – they may force compliance from children. Perhaps even test results (especially if they kick the most resistant out of school altogether).  But as Sarah-Jayne Blakemore points out, adolescence opens up many windows to mental health problems. It is in this period of intense brain activity, where the hippocampus and limbic systems (linked to memory and emotion) are growing and grey matter is being pruned, that seeds are sown for future emotional health. Stings here can settle and grow. So can kindnesses. We need to tread with care and compassion.

It doesn’t take much. When you’re considering an action in your school or classroom, simply think about whether or not it is likely to cause shame. If it is, don’t do it. Rank ordering pupils, hanging signs around their necks, having lists of wrongdoers – these are all acts of shaming. There’s no justification for it. None at all.


In defence of ResearchEd

As the weekend approaches and with it, the National ResearchEd conference: as the Summer recedes and with it the holiday controversy surrounding genes/race/IQ/ResearchEd/etc, there is understandably a lot of debate about what the organisation stands for, its standards of selection/quality/representation/bias and so on. For some reason, ResearchEd seems to have been positioned as the ‘trad’ conference just as much as Northern Rocks has been positioned as the ‘prog’ conference. That’s, of course, largely down to the figureheads of both and there’s a danger in this. As the belief takes hold, it becomes harder and harder to counteract it. Speakers who may stand in opposition to your position turn you down. This has happened many times for Northern Rocks and I’m sure the same is true of ResearchEd. Those who identify with your position, beg to speak. So while there’s an inevitability that an event will take on, to some extent the characteristics of its organisers, much of this comes from the self selection of its speakers and delegates. And while it’s the responsibility of those organisers to try to counter balance that in some way, people attending those events, or being invited to speak at them, also bear a responsibility to take part with an open mind. At the end of the day, whichever ‘side’ you perceive yourself to be on, organising a large scale teaching and learning event is no small task. You pour your heart and soul into it. And criticism hurts.

It hurt when Northern Rocks was accused of having more male speakers than women. But it was fair criticism. So we put it right. It hurt when someone pointed out that there was little BAME representation. So we put it right. There’s hardly a year where someone doesn’t point out something we missed/forgot/overlooked. You take note and try to put it right.

I think it’s probably no secret that Tom Bennett and I stand divided on several important issues. We disagree on much. But you can’t deny he’s done a sterling job in promoting the brand of ResearchEd, getting it out there and getting people talking about it. I understand what it’s like when you start something off. You turn to the people you know for help. The people you trust. And that turn can bring with it an appearance of partisan selection; of creating something for your tribe. To an extent this has happened with ResearchEd. But I also know that there have been attempts at balance – I’ve spoken at two of them and although I have to say I didn’t really feel comfortable at either, my presence, token or not, was at least a presence. I look at this year’s programme and I see the names that cause people concern in terms of ideological preference. But I also see James Mannion, David Weston, Becky Allen, Vivienne Porritt, Jude Enright – people whose professional integrity and balance I have always found encouraging. And I expect there are more among the many names I don’t know.

I also see that Dylan Wiliam, Alex Quigley and Becky Allen are on the director’s board and I greatly respect their work in the fields of both educational research and in Alex’s case, in making sense of that as a teacher on the ground. I believe that they will bring a strong and balanced steer to the brand. I’ve openly questioned the right of ResearchEd to claim to be a grassroots movement when the idea came from Sam Freedman, former adviser to Michael Gove at the DfE and Ben Goldacre (who was commissioned by the DfE to look into the role of research in education and who promoted the very medicalised model that ResearchEd has become associated with). That undermines greatly its claim to have started as a grassroots movement, but it might not matter. They needed someone to take it on and Tom took it on. From some points of view, he was the useful idiot used to promote a government idea. For others, he was a clever opportunist, seizing upon what could be a way of making money/gaining influence. For many more, he’s a champion of teachers to take ownership of their own CPD – a hero. There’s a chance he’s all of them at once. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’s here. It’s an opportunity. And it’s there for teachers to make of it what they will. And in that sense, it has the potential to become a grassroots movement. It’s now bigger than one man.

And that’s why the debate is important. Why questions can’t be seen (painful as they may be) to be threats. If this, whatever it started as, becomes a vehicle through which teachers take ownership of their understanding of research; in which they become more critical and literate consumers of research; in which they learn that research encompasses a broad range of beliefs and methods; in which they understand that science and scientism are different…then it can only be a good thing. And it’s why I think the discussion matters, but also so does a little patience. ResearchEd purports to be about ‘what works’. To some extent, it has in its early days, been more about giving people with a cross to bear, somewhere to plant it and bleed. But it can move on from this. It’s not pretending to be BERA – it’s not a forum for academics to present their papers to each other. But it should be a forum for academics and teachers to come together to make sense of each other’s work and experience. There’s no harm in a teacher standing up, sharing some research that has impacted on their practice and discussing this with colleagues. How much better would that be if the writer of the original research were there to discuss that too?

ResearchEd will move beyond ideological ties only if and when it is embraced by the whole teaching community in a way that is both critical and hopeful. Not critical and nihilistic or hopeful and idealistic. It needs to reach out and we need to open up. I can’t go this year – I’m on a girl’s weekend with my Mum and I don’t think it would be her cup of tea. But I’m making a pledge to go again soon. To open my mind as much as my mouth if for no other reason than I know what goes into organising these events. And it’s not easy.

Northern Rocks 2017

The fourth Northern Rocks marked the end of an era. From the first, when Emma Hardy and I, from a single tweet, gathered a group of 500 in a room and pinched ourselves, to this, our last done together, it’s been a blast. Emma’s election to Parliament means she’ll no longer have the time to do Northern Rocks and I’ll miss her like I miss my flat stomach and straight jawline. But I’m so proud that this wonderful woman, who only four years ago, stood in front of the inaugural Northern Rockers and said “I’m just a primary school teacher” is now in a position to champion primary and secondary school teachers across the country. She’ll always be my Northern Rocks partner in heart and we look forward to welcoming her next year as a guest.

We started with a proper Northern welcome from the Wardle Academy brass band. They are completely brilliant. Put all images of school bands out of your mind and think Brassed Off. They literally blew us away.


They were followed by a damp eyed (nothing gets to you more than kids performing well does it?) Wonder Woman panel and what a panel it was. I’ll never quite get the image of the hanging dwarf toy out of my mind. Tears of awe were replaced by tears of laughter very quickly. But there were serious messages too – about bravery and integrity. About doing the right thing. It was a great start to the day.


We ended with the student panel – three courageous young women talking with the audience about their hunger for politics, for equality, for an education system that teaches them about life. They fully deserved their standing ovation. They did themselves and their schools and the Reclaim charity proud.


And in-between we had workshops of every shade – pedagogical, political, workshops on representation and equality, workshops on classroom practice, workshops on making classrooms magical and engaging places for children to be, and workshops on teacher well being. The place was “buzzing” in the words of NR mascot – the most northern man in the universe – Hywel Roberts.

David Cameron’s decision to speak openly and honestly about Amanda Spielman’s decision to pull out of Northern Rocks was timely and important. We have seen in recent months, a trend towards introversion from government. A silencing of quangos. An unwillingness to engage with the media. Amanda’s absence was part of a bigger pull away from engaging with those most affected by the decisions of government. His measured but powerful response in which he made clear that those who hold us accountable should also be accountable to us, resonated with all of the delegates there and I am grateful to him for his wisdom and articulacy in putting that across.

And as always, we ended on a light hearted note, with Mick Waters and Hywel Roberts taking on the Morecambe and Wise northerness of laughter. With an alarming cameo from David Cameron.

With Emma on the election trail, Amanda Spielman pulling out, losing our set designer and various other glitches, it felt like a miracle when it all went well. But it did go well. A newbie rocker came up to me in the middle of the day to say “I’m having such a great time – it feels like a music festival. Everyone is so friendly and happy!” It was exactly what I needed to hear. Northern Rocks has great speakers. We work hard to create a stimulating and interesting programme. But on the day, what makes the atmosphere what it is are the people who come. Many are not on twitter – they come through word of mouth. Many are not even remotely aware that there’s such a thing as a prog/trad debate. They come for ideas to take back to their classrooms. One thing unites them all – it’s a spirit of kindness, a willingness to learn and a capacity for joy. And that spreads.

I feel blessed to be taking it forward into the future. We’re going for an earlier date next year – the 19th May. No World Cup clashes! We’re thrilled that in spite of facing budget difficulties, Leeds Beckett and the Carnegie School of Education remain committed to hosting. We? Well yes. Standing behind me this year and every year, are a team of committed helpers. Some of them just rock up on the day and say “what can I do?” In addition to the bend-over-backwards awesomeness of Rachel Bostwick of Leeds Beckett, there are those like Dan and Kirsty who have been there every year, running the registration desk and Eventbrite site, helping me with the large crinkle-cut bag of chips on my shoulder about technology. There’s Ken, who runs around with his bag of leads making sure all the tech works, and only accepting a bottle of wine and couple of books in return. Jane Hewitt, our “granny with a camera” who takes the brilliant photos I now share. Our champions Roberts, Waters and Cameron who are always on the end of the phone for this phone phobic – and then send emails instead. All of them and you too – our delegates – are what makes it what it is. And of course, Mr Kidd. Mr Kidd with his sore back and bruised ankles, who fits all my needs in around his full time teaching job, carrying heavy stuff, sweating and not complaining. Thanks to him. And to you. All of you are Northern Rocks. Thank you.

He’s behind you! The real enemy of promise…

Nothing lets the government off the hook for social disadvantage and poverty quite like the teaching profession blaming each other for the academic underachievement of disadvantaged pupils. While people stand on either side of the prog/trad debate shouting at each other for the perceived failure or torture of the innocents, the government can relax, knowing that everyone is too distracted to turn the fire on them for the fact that there are now 4 million children living in poverty.

Poverty, we know, creates stress. In the UK, the 6th richest nation on earth, 400,000 children don’t have a bed of their own. At least 120,000 of them are homeless and living in temporary accommodation. Even those with beds and homes live with uncertainty. A cross party group of MPs in April, led by Frank Field, found that as many as 3,000,000 children were going hungry in the school holidays and that for many, school lunches were their only meal of the day. These children are not just poor, they are being damaged.

We know that chronic stress damages the hippocampus, central to learning and memory. In particular, high levels of cortisol impact on verbal declarative memory – memory for words and facts – the very kind of memory that tests rely on. Since Newcomer’s study in 1999, these findings have been replicated several times and although the effects are reversible, the conditions for the reversal to take place demand that the child is in a safe and nurturing environment, both at home and at school. In short, the real enemy of promise for young disadvantaged people is the insecurity and deprivation caused by poverty, not progressive education.

Despite the beliefs of some that the education system is blighted by discovery learning (isn’t all learning a form of discovery?), in fact, most teachers, teach. When I was in class, you were as likely to find me at the front, talking about language and theory, as you were in full collaborative, group mode. I, like many teachers, switched modes to suit purpose. I don’t think that me dressing up as a tiger and coming back for a more healthy tea did Year 1 much harm. In fact, the quality of their instructional writing in the form of recipes and their informative writing in the form of invitations was much improved. Of course, the direct instruction I gave them helped. But the motivation of creating a tea party for a tiger was what they talked about excitedly when they went home. It’s what motivated them to utilise their phonics knowledge, explicitly taught but creatively interpreted:- “Good Mood Food for Tigers!”

Year 9, in role as detectives, investigating the possible triple murder of three teenagers in Verona, poured over the diaries of Juliet with a fervour to figure out how she had ended up here – in a crypt, dead. Her speeches were clues and they needed decoding. And once they had the hang of that, the rest of the play was open to them. It’s easy to get Yr 9 interested in the language of Romeo and Juliet – to stand at the front and tell them what they need to know – when they’ve already decided it’s a bloody (literally) good read.

Being a good teacher is about being able to look this way AND that. To use this technique AND that. It’s about understanding and being able to rationalise why you chose to do that in this way on this day. To have a focus on why you’re doing what you’re doing, using a combination of evidence and experience to make informed decisions. This focus has to be about what the children are getting out of the experience. What they are learning to know, what they are learning to do, what they are learning to process, what they are learning to understand, and yes, what they are thinking and feeling? Depending on what those ‘whats’ are, your tasks will shift.

Telling people that there is one way to teach does no-one any favours. Spending our time writing blogs and tweets about why one half of the profession is wrong, does no-one any favours. It distracts us; removes our focus from the cause of the problem to the symptom. It makes us turn on each other and not on the fact that we’re being held accountable for one of the most shameful failures of our society that there is – our failure to provide the most basic of human needs for our most vulnerable.

Frankly I couldn’t care less if you teach from the front or from the ceiling as long as you know what you’re doing and why. We have to stop sniping at each other, and instead unite in a demand for a more socially just society in which children are fed, have a chance of a good night’s sleep and  aren’t worried about whether they will have a home from one day to the next. That way they can be in school ready to learn. We have a duty to aim our ire at those who ensure that families who work still can’t afford to pay rents, have to use food banks and choose between food and fuel. If we don’t, then more and more children will fall into that most difficult of traps to get out of – poverty – and not a single knowledge organiser or child initiated role play will ever get them out.