A guide to this blog


I’ve worked in education since 2010, as an English teacher, Head of Department, Assistant Head, Deputy Head and Principal. I’m currently a programme consultant for the National Institute of Teaching. I write about curriculum, pedagogy, theory, English and books. You can read about what education means to me and why I do what I do here.



System and Theory


Reading Lists for Adults

Reading Lists for Kids


A history and philosophy of education

Inspired by this tweet from Richard Tutt, I added Daniel Buck’s What is wrong with our schools? to my “to be read” list – and it did not disappoint. For good measure, I gave one of my absolute favourite books, Rob Peal’s Progressively Worse a re-read.

These books are a wonderful hand-in-hand read. Buck’s focus is on the philosophical background to education: why do we believe children should learn in one way or another? What are our underlying assumptions behind childhood? What do we think education is for? Peal’s is more historical: what has happened in the sixty years to have brought education where it is now? What were the key historic milestones which had an impact on our classrooms? What were the policies which created the classrooms we had in recent years, and those we have now?

One of my favourite things about Buck’s book is the way he makes reference to his own classroom throughout. Firstly, there is nothing quite like an education book written by someone who is practising what they preach. All the theory in the world won’t convince teachers in the way an actual classroom teacher will convince teachers. Secondly, education is all about the children, and that’s wildly easy to forget when we want to argue about ideas, so Buck keeps reminding us of the people of most importance.

Because the ideas Buck outlines, the history of neo-traditionalism, as the philosophy is increasingly called, have resulted in undeniable changes in the attitudes and learning of his charges. I remember vividly in my early days in the classroom, a fully paid up member of the progressive movement, a lovely kind well-behaved child sitting with me at parents evening and managing to say, in the politest way possible, “I don’t feel like I’m… Learning anything in your class.” It was a blow I brushed off with the help of a little underlying philosophical bias: “oh but that’s not the point of English! It’s about discovering what you think about these books.”

In contrast, I recall a lesson observation as part of an interview process where I gave the children some challenging text to read, led them through it, and got them to do some writing. These wonderful fourteen-year-olds did everything I asked and engaged beautifully, and when I thanked them for their attention at the end they clapped. Truly, the proudest moment of any interview I have ever done. Being led down the corridor by one of them with a school governor to the holding pen, the young man said: “we’ve never had a lesson like that before.”

I did not get the job.

Philosophy is a hard master. It blinds us to our realities. As Buck puts it: “the problem with our schools is ideological, not systemic.”

So what is this neo-traditionalist ideology? I suspect it’s not quite defined yet, but I adored Buck’s definition: “If traditionalism teaches content and progressive education teaches students, then neo-traditionalism teaches content to the student.” Neo-traditionalist teaching, the kind I love to see and do, is highly engaging and focused on moving children forward. Assessment for learning is key: do they understand what I just taught them? How about now? What about this? Ok – we need to go back and try that again. It builds children’s memories this way too: do you remember what we did last lesson? How about last term? Let’s not forget last year!

Buck ranges not only through teaching practice but also curriculum theory. He articulates brilliantly the neo-traditionalist approach: venerate the greats, teach them because they build cultural capital; but also look at the full canon, the canon which includes different, diverse voices, because great literature is defined by time, and there were voices some time ago just as brilliant as their white, male counterparts, who we must celebrate and teach today:

Perhaps it’s time we let go of our unquestioned allegiance to Shakespeare’s excellence but at least replace him with something of equal quality. Similarly, we should disavow vague goals like “using race to interrogate society”—which suffers the same flaws as “critical thinking”—and instead center robust elements of America’s history of race relations.

If we want to improve our schools’ discussions of race and racism in the US then we should define specific things worth knowing, like the Tulsa race massacre, the life of Malcolm X, or Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk.

… Though, as a British English teacher, my biases are not quite ready to admit there is any writer more excellent than Shakespeare.

On habits, Buck helps us to see why structure liberates:

Mere freedom from is not empowering. Consider freedom as it relates to music. A teacher could have a child sit at their piano and provide no directives or constraints, asking the child to play whatever comes to mind. The student may plunk away at a few notes but little would come of it. Conversely, with a schedule and exercises to practice scales, that student will eventually be able to play whatever their heart desires, be it Chopin’s nocturnes, Beethoven’s concertos, improvisation over bebop chord changes, or the melodies in their own mind. Rousseau would see the child ‘free from prejudices and free from habits.’ In reality, habits and constraints facilitate more robust freedom.

It is all too easy to dismiss structure and habit forming from our ivory towers of fully formed and educated adults, many of whom have been blessed with the privilege of an upbringing that instilled and taught self-discipline and how to create structure around us. Children absolutely deserve to develop these habits, which will lead to greater freedom and choice.

On behaviour management in schools, Buck ranges over the different philosophical approaches, but again grounds his theory in reality. He draws on the greatest practices of American Charter schools, such as Success Academies, to show that “when we remove adult authority as expressed through consequences, we leave a vacuum behind. Nature hates a vacuum… the strongest students fill the vacuum. This is the result: chaos, anarchy, the strong overpowering the weak.”

Whatever your stance, whatever your educational philosophy, this intelligent book gives the theory behind the instinct, and, crucially, grounds it in the children we serve and the classrooms we work in.

Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave and other Affirmations

Throughout time, catchphrases have dominated the spaces children inhabit, seeping into their subconscious – we hope – for the better: honesty is the best policy! The early bird catches the worm! More haste, less speed!

In the best schools I’ve visited and worked in, leaders have thought carefully about the messages we want children to internalise: “work hard, be nice;” “team beats individual;” “climbing the mountain to college.” One of my favourite primary schools sets a Christopher Logue poem to music and has the children sing this at every assembly:

Come to the edge

We might fall

Come to the edge

It’s too high!


And they came

And we pushed,

And they flew.

Short, snappy slogans or songs are memorable and seep into the subconscious; it is no wonder so many schools think carefully about their messaging.

I used to refer to this practice, with love, as “positive brainwashing.” As schools and societies, we have a duty to think through the messages we want our children to leave us believing.

I’ve written before about the omnipresence of the enchantingly bizarre Goodnight Moon. Well, a book has come in which has exploded bedtime. By which I mean, has superseded this absolute classic to be the book our son hears last thing every night before heading to sleep. That book is Jessica Hische’s Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave.

The entire work is a masterpiece, but more than that, it’s a parent’s entire compendium of the positive brainwashing you want to enact on your child. Did I say brainwashing? I meant affirmations.

Affirmations, apparently a child of ancient Eastern philosophy, are phrases that provoke a positive state of mind. Every night before he sleeps, my son now hears affirmations like: “it doesn’t matter if I win as long as I have fun”; “tomorrow I’ll be curious; please teach me something new”; “there’s nothing I can’t do” – among others. Who knows whether these affirmations will have an impact on his sense of self-worth for the long-term, but it definitely makes me mindful of the messages he is receiving every day from his family.

Schools which create a great culture for their young people have thought carefully about the messages children hear every day. We only have a few years with our young people, and there is so much to do and learn in those years. But a few well-chosen affirmations can both guide young people to be their best selves and push them to make their positive mark on the world. What are the affirmations we want to send children out into the world believing?

Outsmart your Brain

Like any fan of cognitive science in the classroom, Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? is one of the “must reads” I recommend to anyone interested in how children learn. These days, I come across fewer and fewer people who have not read it. Willingham’s latest offering, Outsmart your Brain, covers many of the same principles, but this time these are addressed directly to the learner.

Although this book is aimed at university students there is a lot that educators can take from it for the secondary classroom. I’ve also found parts highly applicable when thinking, as I currently am, a lot about adult education – how we train teachers, and support them to develop through their teaching career.

While parts of the book will feel familiar to fans of cognitive science everywhere, there are so many gems here. The entire section on how to take notes, for example, should be excerpted and taught to every sixth former in the land. Core aspects of learning like retrieval practice and the difference between performance and learning are explored in ways secondary students will really understand, and so could provide a useful prompt for educators seeking to help their charges understand how learning works. I’ve read about overlearning elsewhere, but Willingham’s explanation is typically no-nonsense and succinct:

First, overlearning works, just as you would expect it to. It protects against forgetting. Second, while you’re doing it, it feels as though it’s not working. It feels pointless, even foolish, to keep studying after you know something. You’re going through your flash card deck and getting every answer right, so you can’t help but wonder, “What good is this doing?” What it’s doing is strengthening the memories to shield them from forgetting.” Again, more gold dust to use when pupils claim to “already know this.

As well as the science of learning, Outsmart your Brain shades into aspects of how we work with young people, and it is in these sections we get a glimpse of Willingham the educator (can you imagine being a university student learning from him?): “If your students consistently do not ask questions, you should wonder about your relationship with them. They are not quiet because your explanations are so brilliant and clear. They’re quiet because they see asking a question as taking a risk. Ask yourself why that is.”

The final aspect of this book that I loved was Willingham’s exploration of what I’d term the problem of being human. How we learn is not quite the same as how to learn, and his understanding of the vagaries of human disposition comes into sharp focus here. Straplines such as “do not rely on willpower if you can change the environment instead” will be valuable to teachers everywhere. His explanation of the motivation to learn is clearly drawn, including here:

We are more likely to procrastinate if we think we can’t succeed at the task we ought to do. If your instructor assigns Bleak House, you not only have all of the usual reasons to procrastinate; you also notice that the book is more than nine hundred pages long. Feeling as though you can never finish such a long book makes starting it feel like buying a lottery ticket. ‘The prize—finishing the book—sounds appealing, but I don’t think I’ll get the prize. So why start the book?’… Ambitious goals are so intimidating that we won’t attempt them. The trick is to set a much smaller goal.

Finally, one for the edu-tweeters out there whose time is drained by social media, Willingham provides advice about procrastinating in this way that is aimed at students but really meant for all of us: “For one work session, give yourself permission to check your phone as often as you want, but commit to recording three things. When you pick up your phone, rate from 1 to 7 how much you want to check it. When you’re ready to return to work, record how long you were on your phone, and rate from 1 to 7 how much you enjoyed.” There are two further steps to this, but actually this was plenty for me.

Lastly, I’d advise UK readers to go ahead and buy the Kindle version. I spent a tense week patiently awaiting my paperback arrival, before realising the estimated dispatch date was in February 2024. It will of course be well worth the wait, but I wouldn’t if you can read it now.

Reasons to love Engelmann

Superb headteacher and sensible Tweeter Nat Nabarro tweeted this over the Christmas holidays:

So, obviously, I went and bought my own copy.

Clear Teaching is great. It’s a pithy synopsis of Direct Instruction: the main ideas, the controversies, and why Engelmann himself is a master teacher. Reading it made me want to revisit the ideas in more depth, so I went back to my copy of Engelmann’s Teaching Needy Kids in our Backward System and found myself all fired up again. There are so many reasons to love the late Engelmann; here are mine.

1. He believes every child can learn

For Engelmann, there is no such thing as a child who cannot be taught. This sounds obvious, but how many times are children written off or excluded from the system? I remember being told when given a bottom set exam class in my early years of teaching: “just make sure they behave – they’re not expected to get a C.” I’ve had teachers and sometimes SENCOs tell me of certain children that “they need to be in a special school.” It is wonderfully refreshing to hear someone who affirms the belief that all children can learn, and it is awe-inspiring to hear this from someone who actually wrote the programmes which proved in study after study that all those supposedly “needy” children could learn and catch up with their peers. Engelmann himself wrote in Theory of Instruction: “We begin with the obvious fact that the children we work with are perfectly capable of learning anything that we have to teach… We know that the intellectual crippling of children is caused overwhelmingly by faulty instruction—not by faulty children.” In Clear Teaching Engelmann is quoted as saying: “the problem was not that the children had dyslexia, but that the teacher had some form of dysteachia. Most of the schools we worked in were concerned with the children’s ‘readiness’ but not with providing instruction that would make them ready.”

2. He believes that the children furthest behind can learn the same curriculum

…They just need to go faster. This is refreshing, as even in the very best schools I’ve worked in which did great things for children despite low starting points, there was an acceptance that those children needed to only study part of the curriculum to be able to succeed, be that narrowing their subject options or reducing the content of the curriculum studied. The Engelmann way is to intensively use his programmes early on to ensure those children catch up, and again he put his money where his mouth was and created and tested these programmes to show what was possible for those furthest behind. Clear Teaching tells the story of one preschool he ran: “The Bereiter-Engelmann preschool, as it came to be called, was the first to show that the academic achievement gap between rich and poor could be closed, and that early intervention with an hour or two of well-designed instruction per day was the key to closing it… Open half-days and serving poor families, the preschool resembled others in that children were encouraged to play, sing songs, listen to stories and get along with each other. What made it unique was that for twenty to thirty minutes two or three times a day, they were taught skills in language, reading and math whose mastery Engelmann understood to be critical to their future academic success.”

3. He believes in teachers

But says they need a curriculum – you wouldn’t expect a pilot to construct the engine of his plane. Unlike many of his critics who allege he thinks teachers are too stupid to be trusted to work out how to teach, Engelmann repeatedly speaks warmly of all the teachers he trains in his methods, praises the gains their classes make, and asserts that absolutely anyone – with the right materials and the right training – can make all children learn. In Clear Teaching Barbash writes: “He found that, contrary to popular belief, kids enjoyed learning hard things from adults, and gained confidence as they gained skills. Most important, he found that the results did not depend on him or a few gifted colleagues: he could write programs that allowed most people to use his methods after some training.” This is important: particularly in a time of challenge in teacher recruitment, we certainly cannot rely on a magic pipeline of genius teachers to change the futures of all the children in this country. We need something at scale which works to support all teachers to have impact – Engelmann believes all teachers can do it, with the right programme.

4. He gets kids

It is rare to find an academic who so understands the human and emotional side of the classroom, but books on and by Engelmann clearly demonstrate his skills with children. One tried and tested adage is that we must catch children being good – easier said than done for the new teacher – and Engelmann provides a solid way to do this: “DI programs make it easier because they generate such high rates of correct responses. Off-task behaviour diminishes because children are kept busy with tasks they can succeed at, and because in the end, what kids really cling to is not the behaviour itself—good or bad—but the teacher’s attention and affection.” In Teaching Needy Kids Engelmann writes: “When we trained new teachers, we stressed the importance of their responses. If they treat something as if it’s very important, that’s the way children will respond to it.” Finally, his emphasis on the choral response reveals both his understanding of how young people learn and the way to a controlled but joyful classroom: Barbash writes: “The most visible efficiency features of DI programs are concise teacher scripts and choral student responses. The scripts eliminate extraneous teacher talk, which often unintentionally confuses students. The choral response maximizes the number of times individual children respond, per minute, per period.”

5. He made programmes which work, and which have been measured a thousand times and proved to work

Not only do children taught by Direct Instruction do well, they enjoy learning. Why? Because success motivates. Direct Instruction programmes are meticulously designed to “identify key skills and teach them first… [They] build mastery through practice and intervene early to prevent bad habits.” The longest chapter in Clear Teaching consists of the references to all the multiplicity of studies which show just how effective Direct Instruction is. The challenge remains for UK curriculum makers to adopt the lessons learned in all these many trials and meta-analyses and forge curriculums which have the same impact for the children who need them most.

Clear Teaching sums up the Engelmann legacy: “He showed that poor and disabled children can learn at reasonable rates using standard levels of funding, and that it is therefore fair that we hold ourselves accountable for their learning. He showed that student behaviour is inseparable from instruction: the better the instruction, the better students behave. He showed that teacher quality is inseparable from curriculum: the better the program, the better teachers teach.”

Goodnight Moon

To my husband’s great consternation, I have purchased, perhaps predictably, a mini library for our ten month old baby. Of all these books (which he confidently numbers in the “hundreds”, but which I’d pitch at probably half that), there are a great many wonderful ones; books which educate, enlighten, and are entertaining.

So I’m not altogether sure why I chose Goodnight Moon to be the book I read at bedtime each evening. It’s certainly not my favourite. It’s also, if we’re honest, quite strange.

If you haven’t had the delight of reading it, Goodnight Moon is perhaps the creepiest children’s book you will ever encounter. It is ostensibly the simple tale of a baby rabbit going to bed and saying goodnight to all the things in his room.

Things like “a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush.” Because who doesn’t keep mush on their nightstand overnight? Perhaps most terrifying of all is the “quiet old lady whispering hush” inexplicably in the corner, with her angry eyebrows.

The pictures are like a fever dream mixed with Bojack Horseman. There isn’t a narrative. The baby bunny seems to live in some kind of enormous mansion, deserted of family, where kittens and mice play near a desolate dolls’ house. One of the framed pictures on the wall is of three depressed bears sitting in some kind of therapy circle.

I think I chose this as the daily read because of these things. Because when a baby is four months old, which is when I started this ritual, they don’t understand the meaning behind words and stories. He wasn’t even looking at the pictures to begin with. I think I chose this book because I find its bizarre words and terrifying pictures endlessly entertaining.

What Goodnight Moon has going for it, though, is length – it’s a six minute read, I would estimate – rhyme, big pictures and very few words, and entertainment for parents everywhere. And now, 6 months on from the first reading, just the sight of the book is the “bedtime soon” signal for the baby, who after each reading – and often after sampling the corner of the book with his discerning palate – falls joyfully and easily to sleep.

Cleopatra and Frankenstein

I am taking a risk, because I’ve only ever written about education. But the other major passion in my life is fiction. This was very nearly killed off during a four year undergraduate degree in English, after which I did not read a novel for nearly two years. Luckily, teaching English in a secondary school reminded me that fiction is truly marvellous. It is through the stories of others that we expand our human knowledge and empathy, that we travel to distant times and places, that we find comfort in not being alone in the world.

Coco Mellors’ debut offering, Cleopatra and Frankenstein, zooms in on the relationship between two individuals – and I mean, it zooms. There is barely any sub-plot. Like any great modern novel, the protagonists are fully formed to the extent that you slightly hate them both at times – though it stops short of making them truly unlikeable. Cleo is young, carefree; a British artist living in New York on borrowed time with an impending visa expiration. Frank, an artist at heart, has founded an advertising company and oversees it, earning money that drips from pages depicting unreasonably sized apartments and last-minute vacations to dream destinations. A chance meeting on New Year’s revolves rapidly into a relationship.

Both central characters make sacrifices which seem reasonable and relatable, but which ultimately undo them. One character cannot quite square his artistic soul with his day to day grind; the other pursues art but with the welcome safety net of someone else’s money. Neither quite knows what they want, until it is thrust in front of them by well-meaning extras.

In the telling, there are some genuinely funny lines and images. My particular favourite was an art installation designed to make very rich people pay a lot of money for something they definitely don’t want, which goes magnificently and catastrophically wrong. My favourite passage is this, between two anonymous characters at the office Christmas party:

“What’s your new year’s resolution?” one intern asks the other.

“Get off my antidepressants for good. I’m tired of feeling numb to life’s joys. Yours?”

The first intern reaches down to pull up the hem of his pants. “Fashion socks,” he says.

Well-written without being hard to read, and interspersed with an alternative voice to provide a pleasing contrast to the central characters, in terms of narrative structure there is closure and redemption for people who like that kind of thing in a novel.


There has been a growing recognition over the past number of years of the critical importance of school culture, and an accompanying wealth of books attempting to tackle this (I use this opportunity to meekly link to my own 2021 attempt, Culture Rules), but no book explores this more pertinently, in my view, than Reconnect.

The book begins with an outline of the problem, and in this section I felt a searing recognition of what schools feel like to me post-pandemic. According to the authors, not only did children fall behind academically and socially, but the pandemic also changed the nature of the relationship between home and school.

But authors also note that pandemic exacerbated an already present epidemic of mental health concerns in young people, chiefly driven by a rise in social media and particularly portable devices which infiltrate the minds of the young. One horrifying statistic cited is that during lockdown daily screen use for 8-12 year olds went from 5.5 hours a day on average to over 8.5 hours a day.

The book situates this within a context of communities losing trust in institutions and how this is played out in schools: “schools can no longer count of receiving the goodwill and trust of the parents they serve.” This resonated for me, and reminded me of this shocking blog post’s words:

“Education feels broken. As though we are cascading towards a watershed moment where school leadership becomes nothing but dark, confusing and unfulfilling. There was a time when being a school leader meant something. It’s harder to feel that right now. Post pandemic, as a school leader I feel more abused, more hated, less appreciated and generally less effective than at any other time during my 20 year tenure as a head teacher… My inbox is full of police notices, alerts for safeguarding concerns or behaviour logs, moans, resignations,  complaints about cost or resources, and general issues not about a good education.”

The Reconnect authors cite buckets of research data to support their analysis of the issues, and dig into the details and complexities more than a short blog post will do justice to. Typically for a Lemov work, though, he doesn’t spend too long dwelling on the issues. Most of the book is spent on ways we can fix it through building a great school culture.

This begins through exploring examples of the mindset leaders must have – largely, know what you believe about education and know what you think a great education should look like, and from that starting point genuinely listen to young people and the community you serve, open the dialogue, and evolve practices where you need to.

The book’s central thesis is that culture is all about connection, and the need for connection drives us. This is amply evidenced by findings from human psychology, and exemplified with classrooms across the US and UK. In one section, the authors say that we can rebuild faith in schools by being “really good at the core work of schooling” as well as by helping young people “feel a strong sense of purpose.” In the best schools I’ve worked in, this manifests itself in sky high expectations, consistently enforced by all members of staff, coupled with a rigorous academic curriculum which is well taught by teachers who are motivated and equipped (in terms of both time and resources) to do this well, and lessons which create a sense of accomplishment for young people, where they can clearly see they are learning and feel themselves knowing more, being able to do more.

In fact, what is so heartening is that so many of the suggestions to build school culture are really ways to get children to learn lots. Because that, of course, is the ultimate goal. It is rare, though not unheard of, for a child to be extremely successful at learning and to not buy into their school. It is the teacher in the classroom who can create the conditions for success to ensure all children can learn, and that’s the first and most important step in creating a great school culture.

Indeed, the authors write that once we have crystalised our values, we need to make all our classroom decisions in the light of these:

“If my fundamental belief is that each young person in my classroom is capable of excellence; if I believe that caring involves not just pushing each of my students to give their individual best every day but also pushing them to do their part to build a mutual culture where they bring the best out of each other – if I truly believe those things, what should my classroom then look like? How should students sit? How should they talk to each other? What should they do when someone else is talking? What should they do when I ask them a question and they are not sure of the answer?”

What young people need from schools, now more than ever, is to feel like they belong. We need to envision our classrooms and our buildings as places where young people are seen, where they are heard, where they are loved, and where all the interactions reinforce that.

Top reads of 2022


Adam Boxer Teaching Secondary Science: a complete guide: Much like Craig Barton’s How I Wish I’d Taught Maths, Boxer’s book is only ostensibly about teaching Science. What I loved about this was the way Boxer applies research to reality, and the use of science-specific examples enhances the ideas and makes clear their application in any classroom.

Marcus Buckingham Nine Lies About Work: Harry Fletcher-Wood recommended this, so I knew it would be excellent. The “lies” in the book have the joint benefits of feeling logically and experientially true, as well as having ample research evidence and data to support them. This book prompted a great deal of re-thinking for me – in a good way.

Alison Colwell No Excuses: turning around one of Britain’s toughest schools: I had the very great pleasure of working for Alison, and reading this felt like reliving all the best wisdom of our line management meetings. Colwell’s no-nonsense approach, combined with her deep love and respect for the community she serves, made me miss her and the school a great deal. On recruitment, Colwell says: “I look for only three things in my teachers: that you love children; that you are conscientious, committed and with a clear moral purpose; and that you are passionate and highly knowledgeable about your subject.” I couldn’t agree more.

Rachel Cusk A Life’s Work: I have long loved Cusk’s fiction, and this was the first non-fiction work of hers I have read. I loved the loosely chronological narrative from pregnancy to the early, wonderful, painful days of parenting. The entire experience of motherhood is captured best in similes like this: “this morning she won’t feed. Suddenly it is like trying to feed a kitchen appliance, or a shoe, bizarre and apparently inappropriate.”

Amy-May Forrester The Complete Guide to Pastoral Leadership: Normally you would expect adjectives like “complete” to be hyperbole, but with Forrester’s guide it most certainly is not. If you have a pastoral leadership role in a school, it is the only book you need to read. Forrester’s deep moral purpose, commitment to the children, and vast experience on the ground in schools walking the walk makes every page of this a critical “how to” manual for leaders.

Paul A. Kirschner & Carl Hendrick How Learning Happens: This is the most succinct compendium of all the best research squashed into one book. The authors write clearly and relevantly about how we should employ research evidence into our classroom practice, making this a must-read for educators at all levels.

Doug Lemov et al Reconnect: The only book you need to read about school culture. The authors write with their usual lens: how can we make schools work best for the pupils who most need the benefits of an excellent education? Honest and relatable about the challenges brought into schools by the pandemic and modern life, the book sets out clear guidance for how to reconnect our pupils with schooling, and how schools can reconnect with their communities.

Mary Myatt & John Tomsett Primary Huh 2: I loved Primary Huh as well, but if only one can make the list it is the follow up. The first is a great guide for Primary teachers; I found this to focus more on whole-school matters like assessment, curriculum and pastoral in the round. My favourite chapter was Jon Hutchinson’s, who made me dramatically rethink the best way to capitalise on an all-through model in terms of its curriculum, as well as the level of challenge we can expect in our primary classrooms.

Christopher Such The Art and Science of Teaching Primary Reading: Definitely not just for primary teachers. Such’s astute interpretation of the science of reading is well-applied to the actual classroom, and he brilliantly balances decoding with knowledge acquisition and getting children to genuinely engage with what they are reading.


Annie Ernaux The Years: incredible series of poetic vignettes, ranging from the personal to the national and international, capturing the march of the years through a lifetime. 

Susannah Dickey Tennis Lessons: I’m a sucker for a second person narrative. Almost painful to read the deeply awkward teenage years, partly due to this.

Daphne du Maurier Rebecca: my favourite re-read of the year. You lose the reveal on re-reading, but Maxim de Winter’s creepiness seems even more impressively drawn when you know the ending.

Joanna Glen All My Mothers: almost every book I love tells the story from early years through a lifetime and this is no exception. I also found the chapters portraying the impact of early teachers deeply moving.

Ashley Hickson-Lovence Your Show: I know nothing – nothing – about football, but you don’t need to to adore this. A fictionalized account of the life of Uriah Rennie, I found myself moved to tears by the final chapter. A real tour de force.

Caleb Azumah Nelson Open Water: a short and poignant love story, with powerfully poetic prose.

Curtis Sittenfeld Sisterland: I’ve loved all of Sittenfeld’s novels, but this one really stayed with me a very long time after finishing it. Fascinating portrayal of family and the things which tie us together.

Top Reads of 2021

2021, like the year preceding it, was very much a year of reading and doing very little else. Shamefully for me, it was not a year of writing blog posts – this is my first post since last year’s round up of top reads. I did, however, edit my book, Culture Rules, during those several locked down holidays and weekends. Have a read!


Doug Lemov Teach Like a Champion 3.0

A new edition of Teach Like a Champion is always an excellent excuse to revisit what I have come to feel are the markers of truly great classroom practice. I read this just as I reentered the classroom, having not taught for two full years – first when setting up a start-up school with no children, and then taking on a school through the second pandemic year (I was advised to not teach, and with good reason as almost every planned day last year was torpedoed by Covid in one way or another). Reading this, I found myself reflecting on how hard it is to automate the strategies that make a wonderful classroom, and how useful it is to revisit them time and time again. Lemov has provided such useful reflections and clarifications here, I challenge anyone to not find worth and expertise in this glorious tome.

Doug Lemov Teaching in the Online Classroom

I was so in denial of what was likely to happen at the start of the last academic year it took me far too long to read this. By the time I did, the incredible teaching and learning team at Ark John Keats were well into the swing of delivering CPD on remote teaching. My ardent hope for the new year is that there only needs to be one book on remote learning, and this is surely it.

Mike Schmoker Leading with Focus

This was recommended to me by not one but two of the Vice Principals at Ark John Keats. I found it particularly useful to read last year, when the sheer struggle to remain open as a school threatened to dominate. This book contains incredible clarity on curriculum and instruction, and if nothing else is a call to arms to stop focusing on anything else.

Musa Okwonga One of them: an Eton college memoir

I was fascinated by this account of attending the most prestigious school in the country – both the reality experienced on the ground, and the weight of expectation Okwonga details feeling throughout the rest of his adult life.

Lucy Kellaway Re-educated

Having followed Kellaway’s column detailing her move from successful Financial Times journalist to the classroom, I bought this for the writing style alone. The fuller picture – that of setting up a teaching charity from scratch, changing home and ending a marriage – was equally extraordinary. A compelling and inspiring account.

Joanna Rakoff My Salinger Year

A wonderful memoir of Rakoff’s work in the 1990s with a literary agency which happened to represent J.D. Salinger.


Amor Towles Rules of Civility

This was my top fiction read of 2021, with characters I genuinely missed when I finished reading. Towles evokes an atmospheric 1930s New York as well as making the central relationship of the book – a female friendship – feel real and relevant.

Gemma Reeves Victoria Park

I spent many lockdown days in Victoria Park, Hackney, and bought this book because there is always something wonderful in reading about a familiar place. Though this book is made up of short narratives, the characters are loosely connected in what feels like a very current, almost anonymous London way; not through startling revelations but instead through minor coincidences.

Mateo Askaripour Black Buck

This satire made me laugh and cringe in equal measure. Despite its clear fable-like unreality, you really root for the main character throughout. Race is central to the book, and it also felt like a sharp critique of the empty hollow at the heart of modern start-ups.

Emily St John Mandel The Glass Hotel

This book swirls around a key line which echoes through its pages, its meaning becoming clearer and clearer as the story goes on. The parallel stories, which at first seem utterly disconnected, collide in a fascinating conclusion.

Lorrie Moore Self-Help

I cannot believe these short stories were published in 1985 – they felt utterly modern. Mainly around relationships and their messiness, the stark poetry of some phrases made stayed with me for days after reading them.

Esi Edugyan Washington Black

Though set in a time of slavery, this book resists being solely a slave narrative. A rich and complex novel, especially around the uneasy exploration of race relations at an individual level.

Top reads of 2020

2020: the year of reading. Was there anything else to do? As such, it has taken an extraordinarily long time for me to whittle my long-list of 34 favourites down to this select few. I’ll start with the education favourites, and move on to fiction (my true love).

Education favourites

E.D. Hirsch: How to Educate a Citizen

I have long loved Hirsch, but find his earlier works a challenge to read. With each new work, I find his writing more and more lucid. This short work excoriates progressivism and provides a clear path to a coherent, enlightened curriculum that works for all children – but especially those for whom education to often does not work.

Eva Moskowitz: The education of Eva Moskowitz: a memoir

I am a big fan, and still keep Pondiscio’s account of Moscowitz’ school chain the Success Academies on my desk in work, filled to bursting with post-it notes. I was surprised at how much of an insight this gave me into Moscowitz’s schools, and how often I have quoted this to colleagues after reading it. It’s much more than a memoir – it’s a love letter to transformative education.

Tom Bennett: Running the Room

The other book I cannot stop quoting is Tom Bennett’s latest offering. I bought this because everyone said it was incredible, and everyone was absolutely correct. I’m not sure how he manages it, but Bennett makes this a relevant read for both practitioners at the very start of their career and those leading the behavior and culture of schools.


Bernadine Evaristo: Girl, Woman, Other

This is genuinely one of the most moving books I have ever read. Having a cast of so very many characters shouldn’t work – I’ve got lost in simpler stories with fewer characters – but in Evaristo’s hands it all weaves together in a tapestry of life and all its hurts and joys.

Tessa Hadley: Late in the day

This story of close friendships and their response to a shared grief felt so tangible I miss the characters even now, seven months after reading it.

Claudia Rankine: Citizen

A searing but beautiful prose poem exploring black experience. Both horrifying and edifying. A masterpiece.

Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation

A wonderful novel of marriage, motherhood, art disintegration and coming together. Manages to be brilliantly artful and sincere simultaneously.

Ann Patchett: The Dutch House

It took me about 75 pages to fully enter the world of this book, but once I did I fully appreciated why some critics reckon this to be Patchett’s master work. Again, I miss these characters desperately.

Curtis Sittenfeld: You think it, I’ll say it

I read American Wife last year and adored it. I’ve not loved everything by Sittenfeld, but these short stories are brilliant – in only a few pages, you become completely invested.

Rupi Kaur: Milk and Honey

I cannot believe it has taken me so long to read Rupi Kaur. I read these poems in one sitting, and then again the next evening. And again. There is so much life in so few words.

Anna Wiener: Uncanny Valley

Ok, I know this isn’t fiction, but it’s not education either so it can go here. A rare non-fiction read that has stayed with me, providing an insight into Silicon Valley and its working practices. It made me laugh a lot.