A guide to this blog

I’m Deputy Headteacher at Michaela, a school in London. I write about teaching, research, curriculum and assessment, teacher training, leadership and the education system. puzzle MICHAELA:

Here’s what I think would improve teaching:










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We have a tough intake. There are some very bad habits that many of our pupils have been in, some for seven years or more, some for an entire lifetime. When I ask in one of the first assemblies how many have short tempers, 80% of the year of 120 put their hands up. When told on arrival at secondary school to interact more politely, many of them snarl, smirk or sneer, perhaps having ignored adults for years. When reprimanded, blame and excuses are default reactions: ‘it’s not my fault!’ ‘He made me do it!’

In all of the many schools we have taught in as a team of teachers, induction for new Year 7 pupils lasted one day at most, and was rushed, stressful and scary for the youngest year group. They were often jostled, harried, hustled, bullied and intimidated by those pupils much older than them. Teachers were so busy firefighting on all fronts with all year groups that they had the least time to nurture and protect the youngest cohort. As a result, many Year 7 pupils start school terrified and terrorised, and in future years go on to inflict this intimidation on new pupils, stealing or hiding their bags, blazers or kit.

At Michaela, we take the most time for our youngest pupils, with 7 days to set them up to succeed in their first steps on the start of their seven-year journey at secondary school – without any older pupils there at all. We recognise that they have to navigate the new demands of some 10 different teachers, and 120 pupils in their year group, very different to their primary schools, where they tend to have one form teacher all year and sometimes only 50 children in their year group. Bootcamp gives the new kids seven days to adjust these new challenges and rise to our high standards.


Bootcamp at Michaela teaches our pupils the mindset and habits to succeed at school.

We teach them our routines meticulously. We teach them how to enter a classroom and time them in competitions so that they can do so in under 30 seconds. ‘Every second counts!’ we tell them. We teach them how to hand out their books: each row works as a team to hand out books and sheets and booklets in 5 seconds. We tell them that in other secondary schools, it takes longer than 5 minutes to hand out books. We tell them that we save hundreds of hours of learning before their GCSEs with such careful attention to detail.

We teach them all our school rules, the consequences that follow from making wise choices, and the consequences that follow from making unwise choices. We explain in minute detail what we give demerits for and what we give detentions for. We clarify precisely how to avoid detentions. We tell them how to behave in a detention so there is no ambiguity, confusion or lack of clarity. We teach pupils how best to respond to a demerit: not by arguing, sulking, protesting, complaining or grumbling in the moment, but by staying calm, practising patience, keeping their self-control. We teach them exactly what to do if they feel that a demerit or a detention is unfair: to find the teacher later and explain. We also tell them that teacher’s word is final, and will not always be perfect: for learning to work for everyone, sometimes imperfect decisions must be taken swiftly. We give them lots of scenarios, and together as a class we discuss how best to react. We share stories about self-control and teach them why it is so useful and so important for learning and in life.

We tell our pupils that the reason their teachers at Michaela are so strict and so tough on them is because they care about them so much, because they believe in them so much, and because they love seeing them succeed and improve and achieve. It is our intention that this positivity, warmth, care and tough love pervades every interaction we have with pupils in school, even when we are disciplining them. One of my favourite lessons in bootcamp is teaching them our philosophy of stoicism. We explore the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus: ‘it’s not events, but our judgments that disturb us’; ‘anger is weakness; self-control is strength’; ‘do not complain: think your way through difficulties’. It is a breathtakingly empowering philosophy for kids who often have been surrounded by a paradigm of blame and excuses their entire lives. It gives them control of their choices, reactions, responses, habits and ultimately, their destiny.

In my chapter in the Michaela ‘Battle Hymn’ book, I explore how we teach our pupils about habits, responsibility, equipment and attendance; about intelligence, knowledge, learning and their unique self-quizzing homework; about kindness, integrity, trust, reputation and preventing bullying; about perseverance and gratitude. We tell them the stories of Malala Yusufzai, Victor Frankl and Nelson Mandela, and how to apply the life lessons to their own lives: to overcome their own difficulties, setbacks and frustrations with courage and persistence. Bootcamp gives all teachers and pupils a shared repository of enduring wisdom, virtues, values, guidance, stories, paragons, parables, lessons, poems, quotations and mantras, such as: ‘success is never final; failure is never fatal; it’s the courage that counts.’

In bootcamp, we frontload many of the life lessons that pupils will experience their tutors and teachers teaching them over the coming months and years ahead. It sets our pupils up for success at school and in life, changing the bad habits of a lifetime for good. I’ll be talking about and taking questions (and challenges!) on how bootcamp works at our event on 26th November.


Bootcamp teaches pupils to understand exactly why we do everything we do

How do pupils respond to such startlingly high standards, such strict reprimands, such intense drills for handing out books and entering lessons, and such fearsome intolerance of excuses and irresponsibility?

They raise their standards; they start believing they are capable of more than they thought possible before; they shed their bad habits of complaining, arguing and making excuses; they feel empowered. They actually start to enjoy themselves. They enjoy trying to beat their 30-second record time for entering their classroom as a form. They enjoy knowing that they have reduced the time taken to hand out their books from 5 minutes in primary school, to 30 seconds on day 1 in rows, to an astounding 5 seconds by day 7. Everyone enjoys succeeding.

We want all pupils to understand exactly why we do what we do. Once pupils know the logic behind our expectations – that they are purposeful, designed to give them advantages over their competitors and to boost their long-term success and lifelong happiness – they are happy to accept them and willingly strive to meet the sky-high standards. Soon, pupils begin to understand that the rules are not arbitrary and hateful, imposed because teachers want power over them or because we dislike them. Almost all pupils grasp that it is precisely the opposite: we are tough on them because we care about them, because we love seeing them succeed, because we want them to achieve, because we believe in them, and because we are prepared to take the tough choice to hold them to the highest standards that we would want for our own children.


Bootcamp is highly effective for new teacher induction

When we started in 2014 with our first bootcamp, I thought its major advantage was that it changed pupils’ habits. By 2016, now that we have run bootcamp three times, I’ve seen that there is another, equally important advantage: not only is it life-changing for new pupils, it is a game-changer for new teachers, too. Reading the blogposts of our new teachers Mike Taylor and Hin Tai Ting, demonstrate that new teachers are able to start with maximum authority, certainty and confidence so that they swiftly earn the respect of the older pupils they teach. In the bootcamp chapter in the Battle Hymn book, I explore how powerful bootcamp is for inducting not just new pupils, but also new teachers, into the school.



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Discipline is life-changing

Discipline is vital in schools. I have seen it change the life chances of children denied it for years before they arrive at our school. Talk to those who joined the army, and they will also tell you that military discipline changes lives. Ask J.D. Vance, for instance. Vance grew up in a part of America rife with poverty, unpredictability, divorce, violence, abuse, drug addiction and obesity, surrounded by a blame and excuses culture. From 9 months old he was given Pepsi to drink. Aged a (self-described) ‘pudgy’ 18 he joined the US marines. ‘They’ll teach you discipline,’ he was told. It was ‘a life-defining challenge’: ‘Life had taught me I had no control: psychologists call it learned helplessness,’ he writes. ‘Every time I learned to do something I thought impossible, I came a little closer to believing in myself. Every interaction was a revelation. I had never felt empowered with such responsibility. I had underestimated myself. I’d never see things the same way again; I’d changed my whole perspective. If I had learned helplessness at home, the Marines were teaching learned willpower.’ Vance, the first in his family to go to University, graduated from Yale Law School and is now happily married with a fulfilling career.

There are three main reasons why discipline is so important in schools. It prevents bullying; it improves learning; and it empowers children.


Discipline prevents bullying

Bullying is a huge problem in English schools. The Annual Bullying Survey has the following statistics from 2015:

  • 43% of young people see bullying at least once a week.
  • 43% of young people have been bullied.
  • 50% of young people have bullied another person.

The National Centre for Social Research estimated in 2010 that around 77,000 young people aged 11-15 are absent from state school, where bullying is a reason given for absence. There are thousands of young people who are frightened to attend school every day because of bullying. Bullying damages children’s lives, and the damage often lasts.

In schools where teachers lack authority around school or control in the classroom, bullying metastasises. The statistics on bullying are shocking, but this first-hand account of a school visit reminds us of the emotional impact bullying has:

‘Noise in the classroom escalates, and fights break out. Martin, a chubby boy, is often bullied: he is teased for being fat. Aggressive onslaught is continuously waged against him. Martin constantly attempts to defend himself against the humiliation as others taunt him. He begins to cry. The sight of Martin’s tears sends the boys into a frenzied, victorious uproar. The classroom meanwhile is descending into full-scale chaos, punctuated by vain attempts at behaviour management. Ade, feeding on the heightened tension, rants: ‘Martin’s a f***ing b**ch, man. Martin’s a f***ing b**ch, man.’ On and on he repeats his chant. All is chaos and the lesson ends. Outside in break, the disruption spills into playtime in an escalating cycle. Next lesson, there is groupwork. The children talk about who their worst enemy is and they all agree it is Martin. One says, ‘Martin needs to get beat up today.’ They talk about how Martin ought to be stabbed. One shouts across to him, ‘Watch out! After school I’m going to break your nose,’ then tells the others: ‘I’m gonna beat him, bash him after school.’ Others reply enthusiastically, ‘no, no, do it in PE.’ Another shouts, ‘Martin, you got no friends at school.’ Another shouts, ‘what are you looking at you little fat pig, you look like your mum!’ ‘He’s probably so fat he can’t get in the car!’ Oi! Fatboy slim!‘ Later that day, Martin is crying out of sight in the sheds. ‘I am sick of these boys picking on me and they keep picking on me and I don’t know why.’ He says he just wants to go home. It is rarely a safe place for him to be.

Discipline in schools can help prevent bullying from ruining lives. In schools where classrooms are orderly, where breaks and corridors are calm, where teachers are firmly in control, and where there is a culture of discipline rather than disruption, staff can be much more effective in preventing, responding to and reducing bullying. When we ask Michaela pupils whether they see any bullying (we ask this all the time), they all say no. I press them: ‘what, none?’ ‘None.’ ‘What about unkindness?’ ‘If there is any, we tell a teacher, and that stops it straight away.’ We keep asking this, and keep teaching pupils to let us know as soon as they see any unkindness whatsoever. We deal with it swiftly to prevent it escalating. All Michaela teachers continually remind pupils that it’s everyone’s responsibility to prevent bullying. Ask them when you visit, and our pupils will tell you they feel very safe and very happy. There’s no complacency though – social media and outside influences mean that all schools have an uphill struggle on tackling bullying. Discipline can contribute to minimising bullying, which all schools want to achieve.


Discipline improves learning

Discipline eliminates disruption from the classroom. In schools that some fifty of my colleagues and friends across England have taught in, low-level disruption is prevalent, damaging pupils’ learning and teachers’ instruction. Read Frank Chalk’s book on the chaos, disorder and abuse resulting from an absence of discipline. Read this NQT’s account of how draining it is to deal with unrelenting low-level disruption in lessons. Read Francis Gilbert’s account of being jeered at, abused and humiliated as an NQT. Read Charlie Caroll’s account of life as a supply teacher across England, with fights, bullying and threats. Read Katharine Birbalsingh’s account of teaching in a school rated good by OFSTED, where bullying and fights were prevalent, and where pupils tell her: ‘the others are so loud and create so much havoc that I can’t learn’; they plead: ‘make them stop talking, Miss, stop them interrupting, make them listen to the teacher.’ OFSTED estimates that on average in England, 38 days of learning every year are lost to low-level disruption. In just one year, over 8,000 children were temporarily excluded for assaulting teachers in England. Would we be happy for our own children to learn in such disruption?


What if, instead, every lesson was calm and focused? At Michaela, as every visitor testifies, every minute is maximally focused on subject learning. There is no low-level disruption in lessons. Pupils can concentrate, listen and learn. There are no distractions of chat, gossip, crisps, sweets, drinks, notes, phones, insults, surreptitious bullying or fights in lessons. All pupils have the chance to learn in peace, quiet, order and tranquility. As a result, all pupils feel safer and happier, especially quieter pupils who were bullied at primary school, but even those pupils who bullied others before: they feel better about themselves because they shed selfishness and learn the habit and discipline of empathy. Every pupil can learn, because every teacher can teach. Even brand new and unqualified teachers who have never taught before are able to teach without being overcome by disruption, disrespect or defiance. When deference is the norm, even aggressively overconfident students who arrive boasting they “ruled their last school” learn to respect adults and defer to their professional judgement and decisions, first time, every time. The first-rate education that can take place in such a calm atmosphere is exciting, both for teachers and pupils.


Discipline empowers children

 At Michaela, every day, we see no-excuses discipline empower pupils with responsibility in their lives. When a child makes an excuse or blames someone else as the reason why they were distracted, they disempower themselves. They make themselves helpless and put improvement out of their control. We tell them – to acknowledge a mistake, to be tough on yourself, to learn the right lesson is not easy – but it is the most empowering choice for the future. To ask the simple question: ‘what could you do differently next time?’ is much more likely to improve a child’s life and future prospects than to indulge excuses, blame or irresponsibility. How is it kind or caring to deny a child in school the high standards and candid feedback that I would want for my own child? In the short-term, it may feel harsh to hold our pupils to the highest standards, but it demonstrates real belief in them. At Michaela, we are clear, direct and tough with them: ‘You can do better. You can hold yourself to higher standards. I have faith in you. I want you to achieve and succeed. I want everyone to trust you, everyone to respect, everyone to admire you in your life. You can make better choices.’ No excuses discipline can be deeply affirming. Pupils respond to it. They raise their game. They improve fast. They grow in self-belief. Instead of asking, “why me? how is that fair?” they internalise the question: ‘What can I do differently next time?’ All teachers reinforce this question all the time, whenever any pupil makes an unwise choice. Pupils become more and more responsible, happy and proud.

As a result of our culture of no excuses discipline and responsibility, pupils have changed their life trajectories. We have pupils who arrived from PRUs, who have been permanently excluded from several schools, who brought in weapons to previous schools, who ‘ruled the last school’ through aggressive intimidation. They are now thriving. They are focused in lessons, learning loads, feeling successful, and being kinder at home to their siblings and families. They are no longer aggressive, angry, disrespectful, fragile or egotistical. They are happy. They are on the path to success. No excuses discipline has propelled them to change scowling, sneering or snarling body language into polite, respectful and considerate interactions. No excuses discipline is, in our experience at Michaela, nothing short of life-changing.

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Drill and Thrill

Is drill demotivating and demoralising, killing motivation and pupils’ ability to think for themselves?

We use drills a lot at Michaela. Every lesson, six lessons a day, multiple times per lesson, learning at Michaela is an unrelenting regime of deliberately designed, subject-specific practice drills.

Far from demotivating, we’ve found carefully designed drills to be highly motivating for the pupils in our school, as self-reinforcing cycles of drill and success, drill and success create upward spirals of positive momentum and motivation. Drill does not kill motivation; instead, it can thrill kids with their own unprecedented achievement, if we get it right. We are not talking about drilling to an exam specification, nor drilling to the test or exam, nor drilling number of marks per question – not at all. We are instead talking about drilling useful subject facts and knowledge that will stand the test of time for years to come, far beyond exams. Drill does not have to be mindless; indeed, it must not be if it is to succeed.


Why drill?

In practice, what you do matters as much or more than how long you do it for. We have learned insights from Daniel Willingham, Doug Lemov and Anders Ericsson to apply to our curriculum and instruction on practice. There is astounding, independent convergence from several fields of research: from cognitive psychology; from the science of expertise and deliberate practice; and from the empirical, data-driven research into improving teacher practice.

Drill prevents forgetting, boosts automaticity, improves transfer, according to Daniel Willingham in his chapter ‘is drill worth it?’ He collates decades of research in psychology and concludes that drill is ‘one of the most effective ways to overcome the bottleneck of working memory’ and ‘it is virtually impossible to become proficient at any mental task without extended practice.’ Put like this, it is key to learning, and foolhardy to dismiss drill as killing motivation. Drill isn’t dispensable; it is indispensable for learning. The question Willingham asks of us is, ‘what needs to become automatic?’ That is a question for teachers to answer for each subject.

There is a recipe for maximum improvement from practice’, says Anders Ericsson, the world-leading expert on deliberate practice: first, he says, ‘a good teacher’: someone who knows the best order in which to learn things, who understands and can demonstrate [them] … who can provide useful feedback, and who can design practice exercises to overcome particular weaknesses.’ Eriksson’s recipe is focus, feedback, fixes and habits. Close attention to every detail of performance, ‘each one done correctly, time and again, until excellence in detail becomes a firmly ingrained habit.’


One of the books I’ve most often returned to in the last few years in teaching is Doug Lemov’s book, Practice Perfect. “Many educators perceive drilling as pejorative ‘drill and kill’, the enemy of higher order thinking.” Doug argues that we have put the cart before the horse: it is not that drill detracts from higher-order thinking; it is that higher-order thinking depends on drill.


In sport, as Doug points out, drill distinguishes the best from the rest. Doug spoke to a basketball coach with an 81% win rate, the highest rate in history of the sport, winning 10 championships in 12 years. His secret was his drills. “He repeated drills until his players achieved mastery and then automaticity. He designed his drills to intentionally distort the game to emphasise and isolate specific concepts and skills. The culture in which those drills took place was humble, selfless, relentless.”

I also love the story of Barcelona football club, one of the most successful football clubs in Europe over the last decade, winning the Spanish League 8 times in 12 seasons and the Champions League in Europe 4 times in 12, an astounding record. Their secret? Part of their success comes down to drill. As one player puts it: ‘It’s all about rondos. Rondo, rondo, rondo, rondo. Every. Single. Day. It’s the best exercise there is. You learn responsibility. Pum-pum-pum-pum, always one touch.’ What are the lessons we can learn for teaching, from drills driving improvement in sport? Doug draws out several lessons for how best to improve practice in his book. Here are six of his rules:


  1. Encode success

Practice makes permanent, not perfect. If pupils are practising but failing, they encode that failure; if they practise succeeding, they encode that success. The success rate of practice should be reliably high.

  1. Practise the 20%

The law of the vital few is a pattern cited by economists that suggests 80% of the results comes from 20% of the most vital few inputs. Which procedural knowledge and habits do pupils most need to automate in your subject? Identify the 20% of things you could practise that have 80% of the impact. Practise them with obsessive attention to detail.

  1. Achieve autopilot: fundamentals are freeing

Stress learning all the way to automaticity so that pupils have processes on autopilot. Automating fundamentals frees the mind for more complex decision-making, problem-solving and critical thinking. Drill the fundamentals to free the mind to be creative when it matters most.

  1. Craft precise drills

Drills strive to maximise the amount of mental energy focused intensively on a discrete concept or process. Challenge yourself to define small, specific processes. Break down complex skills into narrow steps. Craft precise drills for each of them in isolation.

  1. Build everyday routines

Make drills the norm and turn them into routines.

  1. Shorten the feedback loop

Make feedback focused, specific, actionable and acted on instantly.


How we use drill at Michaela

We apply Doug’s six rules in every subject, every day: every Department Head is tasked with deciding the 20% most vital habits for pupils to achieve automaticity on, then to craft precise drills as everyday routines with instant, actionable, acted-on feedback. Specifically, here are just some of ways we use drill in lessons:

  1. Written recaps

At the start of every lesson in every subject, we begin with recap questions that all pupils write the answers to. We then give instant feedback on the answers (and spellings) that pupils self-correct and self-improve.

  1. Oral questions

At the end of every lesson in every subject, we finish with oral drill questions that pupils answer individually, often being ‘cold-called’ by name to answer, sometimes with hands up for a visual glance at how many think they know the answer. The energy and excitement that these drills have created in lesson at Michaela is palpable.

  1. Choral response

Throughout lessons, we use lots of questions with one-or-two-word answers that all pupils reply to in choral unison: What is the process that plants use to convert sunlight into glucose? “PHOTOSYNTHESIS!” The volume gives an indicator of how well or weakly the class knows the answer!

  1. Quotation drill, annotation extensions

For learning poems, Shakespeare speeches and quotations from novels or plays, we use incremental gap-fill exercises that remove more and more words until pupils can write the entire quotation, poem or speech from memory. Watching 100% of pupils scribbling furiously to get on to the annotation extension is a joy to behold.

  1. Poem chorus

We also recite poems and speeches several times a day before school, in assembly, before lunch and to end lunchbreak. Their smiles are beaming as they recite some of the greatest words ever written!

  1. Times Table Rock Stars

Bruno Reddy’s website makes drilling multiplication motivating. Our Year 7 pupils use it every evening. Many love it, especially excited by the chance to compete against other schools online.

  1. Reading, Reading, Reading.

Every single lesson. Every single day. It’s one of the 20% tasks with 80% of the impact.

  1. Writing, Writing, Writing.

Every single lesson. Every single day. It’s one of the 20% tasks with 80% of the impact.


Drill can thrill. It is up to departments to decide and design the most motivating sequence to pupil mastery, fluency, automaticity and ultimately, subject expertise.






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Knowledge transmission improves teaching

For us at Michaela, knowledge is powerful: it empowers our pupils to achieve in their academic subjects, to understand the world and to live fulfilling lives. It is one of our highest priorities in our teaching at Michaela.

There are some who take umbrage with the implication that they don’t teach knowledge. ‘We already do all that,’ is the response I’ve heard from many teachers. Equally, some are under the impression that teaching knowledge is equivalent to exam drilling. This is a complete misconception. Teaching knowledge is absolutely not narrow teaching to an exam specification at all, but instead, teaching broad, deep subject expertise. Even so, there are many who think that knowledge is already taught extensively. It is not – at least, not the way I see it.

To those teachers, I’d ask the following questions [by you, I mean your school, in all departments]:

  • Do you meticulously specify every concept that pupils will master in each year, along with precise definitions?
  • Do you decide and organise every piece of knowledge in advance of every unit you teach?
  • Do you sequence and revisit knowledge from previous units explicitly and systematically?
  • Do you test pupils’ knowledge of all of these facts multiple times, even after a unit has ended?
  • Do you assess whether pupils have remembered those facts even a year later?
  • Do you know to what extent pupils have remembered or forgotten the precise definitions of those concepts?
  • Do you revisit every fact you’ve taught with pupils several times over the following years?
  • Do you use CPD and department meeting time to improve the teaching of facts?*
  • Do you focus pupils on the facts and concepts that are vital to mastering the subject discipline?*
  • Do you think you’ve identified the volume of knowledge required for the development of expertise?*
  • Does your department collectively and continuously interrogate your sequence of knowledge, in order to improve it?
  • Do you have feedback and critique from the wider community of subject experts on the knowledge in your curricula?*

*Thanks to Stuart Lock and Andy Tharby, who suggested these starred questions.


None of the schools that I’ve worked in and visited that have a curriculum and assessment model has coherently achieved all of these, let alone across all departments. A systematic approach to selecting, specifying, sequencing, testing and revisiting or remembering facts in schools in England is extremely rare. Few have systematic knowledge organisers for every unit, regular fact tests, or knowledge-only exams every year, across all departments (even art and music!).

There is an exciting opportunity here: designing subject curricula with foundational facts and concepts for long-term memory and expertise can bring revolutionary gains for teaching and academic achievement.

Once you have subject-specificity in mind, the opportunities for improvement become even more exciting. In English, for instance, these questions bring a new lens to the challenge of curriculum development:

  • Which concepts should we select, sequence, test and revisit across year groups that all pupils will be required to memorise, know by heart and remember for years to come?
  • Which literary, poetic, rhetorical and dramatic devices should we select, sequence, test and revisit across year groups that all pupils will be required to memorise, know by heart and remember for years to come?
  • Which poems will we select, sequence, test and revisit across year groups that all pupils will be required to memorise, know by heart and remember for years to come?
  • Which (Shakespeare) speeches should we select, sequence, test and revisit across year groups that all pupils will be required to memorise, know by heart and remember for years to come?
  • Which contextual dates and events, characters, plot events and quotations should we select, sequence, test and revisit across year groups that all pupils will be required to memorise, know by heart and remember for years to come?

These are powerful questions for evaluating and improving what your pupils study in the subject. This knowledge lens is a dramatic paradigm shift from the knowledge-light status quo.

A meticulous focus on facts with audacious ambition for what pupils study is a powerful combination. For instance, by Year 9, our pupils have studied ten plays in three years in English: Sophocles’ Antigone, Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Euripides’ Medea, Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice and Othello, and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. That’s just in theatre, without mentioning poems, speeches, autobiographies and novels. By contrast, in my last school, rated ‘outstanding’, they studied just three plays in three years, often only in extracts rather than the whole text. Knowledge does not narrow, it broadens. Here, for instance, is the depth and breadth of knowledge that we teach, test and revisit from just one of those ten plays. Imagine this multiplied by six or so units over three years and seven subjects. Far from narrow, the breadth is extensive; the rigour is high.


At Michaela, I interrogate our subject leaders continuously on their selection, sequencing, testing and revisiting of facts and concepts. I challenge their overview sequences, their text choices, their recap drills, their questions and extensions, their knowledge organisers, their knowledge exams – everything. It must feel relentless! But those candid, combative conversations are partly how we drive up the quality of instruction from teachers and the quality of memory retention from pupils.


It is high time we teachers cast off the tired old misconceptions that teaching knowledge is ‘spoonfeeding’, that memorising is ‘regurgitating.’ It is time to ditch these debilitating metaphors. They are nothing but a hindrance.

Teaching knowledge isn’t limiting; it is liberating. It liberates teachers to share their subject passion in its full breadth and depth; it liberates pupils to explore new worlds, from 16th century England and Venice, 14th century Verona, 11th century Scotland and 1st century BC Rome with Shakespeare, back to the ancient world of tragedy in Athens with Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, and much, much else besides – plays are just one part of one subject in ten or so! Telling pupils facts is a great way to teach; memorising facts is a great way to learn. Broad, deep knowledge is the best path to subject expertise for pupils.


Knowledge transmission should cause teachers great excitement, for it offers us the chance to improve the academic achievement and lifelong fulfillment of all our children, whilst reconnecting with the subjects we love – perhaps even inspiring our pupils to love our subjects, and for the rest of their lives.

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Battle Hymn

All teachers want to inspire their pupils. Every teacher I have ever met has come into the profession because they love children and want to improve their lives.

In England, however, poorer pupils’ life chances have long been blighted by educational underachievement. Over the last sixty years, and still to this day, 22% of school leavers in England leave school functionally innumerate. Just 16% of our poorest children achieve access to University. In many schools in disadvantaged areas, fights happen every day, in and out of lessons, and bullying is widespread. Where behaviour is disruptive, teachers can’t teach, and children can’t learn.

We believe schools can change pupils’ lives. Michaela, our secondary school in a deprived area of London, exists to inspire our pupils to love learning our subjects for the rest of their lives. Michaela is named after an inspirational teacher from St Lucia who taught in inner-city London. Michaela, the teacher, believed in tough love: combining strict discipline with loving care. She taught complex subject content directly, with lots of practice for her children. Katharine Birbalsingh named the school after Michaela, driven by the belief that teachers can help children can overcome huge disadvantages.


On arriving at secondary school aged 11, many of our pupils are very far behind. Their numeracy is very weak: many cannot add up, subtract or multiply, let alone divide. Many of our 11-year olds have a reading age of 8 years old, having fallen three or more years behind. Many find reading and writing a struggle: they cannot read a book for a long period of time; they cannot write a sentence accurately. Many say they could not control their tempers, and that they were rude and angry on arriving at secondary school.

At Michaela, pupils learn fast. In their first year, our weakest pupils make two years of reading progress. Within two years, all our pupils attain excellent academic achievement across subjects, in Maths, English, Science, History and French. Their parents say they have become much more polite, much more kind, much more responsible and much more motivated. Their primary school teachers cannot believe how much they have changed in so short a time. Guests visit regularly. When leaving, they are often puzzled: ‘Why are the students so focused in lessons?’ they ask: ‘How come the children are so polite around school?’ Visit Michaela, as we warmly encourage all parents and any teacher to do any time, and you will see friendly, happy children learning loads and loving life.


“Sir, where are you from?” “Nigeria”. “Madam, where are you from?” “Pakistan.” “Sir, where are you from?” “Nepal.” ‘Sir?’ “The Caribbean.” Our Headmistress Katharine Birbalsingh asked this question to four of the parents in the front row, who had come to a packed Year 6 open evening at Michaela. “Well,” said Katharine, “as a school, Michaela is more like a school in Nigeria, or Pakistan, or Nepal, than other schools in England. We believe in discipline. We believe in obedience. We believe in tradition. We believe in hierarchy. We believe that if pupils improve their habits and their self-discipline, they will have more fulfilling lives.” The parents in Brent, mainly coming from families from Africa, Asia or the Caribbean, plenty second- and third-generation, nod firmly in agreement.

Fundamentally, Michaela’s values are more Asian, African or non-Western than Western. Asian cultures are less obsessed with individualistic rights and more focused on community responsibility. Chinese parents like Amy Chua believe in ‘a totally different idea of how to do what’s best for their children’: discipline, diligence, drill, dedication and determination. In her book, ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’, she has great dreams for and great belief in her children. Asian parents do not see their children as fragile, but as strong. At Michaela, so do we. Chinese philosophy explores the power of ritual, the power of patterned habits in everyday interactions. In his book, The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life, Harvard professor Michael Putt challenges western assumptions about what it takes to live fulfilling lives. He writes:

‘One narrative has taken over all others: that we have “broken from the repressive past of a traditional world”. This narrative has been so pervasive that, over time, we have come to accept it as utterly true and natural. Chinese philosophy can break us from the confines of our narrative.’

Unlike for some the West, tradition isn’t seen as repression by many in Asia. Neither is it at Michaela. Even the poorest Chinese pupils in England outperform everyone else, even the richest of every other group, at Maths. We think there is great wisdom to be learned from Chinese, Asian and African thinking for schools. The values of responsibility and self-discipline run through our family community in everything we do at Michaela, in every interaction.

Our book is about how our teachers help our pupils succeed. The title, ‘Battle Hymn of The Tiger Teachers’, is combative. Michaela is contentious. We overturn English schools’ often-entrenched preconceptions against discipline, authority, obedience, didactic teaching, drills, memorisation and more. We use the military metaphor of ‘bootcamp’ for our new Year 7 pupils’ induction, and we see discipline and drill as life-changing. Our book aims to share ideas that improve disadvantaged pupils’ lives. There are chapters on no marking, no labels, no nonsense and no burnout. At Michaela, there are no graded observations, no performance-related pay bonuses, no appraisal targets, no bureaucratic paperwork, no lesson plans, no flashy starters, no jazzy plenaries, no learning objectives, no futile data entry, no groupwork in lessons. As Steve Jobs said, innovation is saying no to a thousand things.

We have been called zealots (and worse!). So were Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and William Wilberforce. On being called a fanatic, Wilberforce replied: ‘If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.’ If to be determined to teach poor children to achieve great academic results, develop strong lifelong habits and live fulfilling lives means we are zealots, then we, too, are some of the most incurable zealots ever permitted to be at large.

Our book raises challenging questions for teachers and school leaders about how they see education.

How do we help pupils remember rather than forget what they’ve learned?

How can relentless testing be more of a friend than a foe for learning?

How can memorisation go beyond regurgitation to form a firm foundation for learning?

When do drills thrill children, rather than kill their motivation?

When are discipline and authority liberating rather than repressive?

How can we eliminate bullying in our schools?

How do we get pupils to be considerate, kind and caring to each other?

How can we make lunchtime a calm, happy time every day?

How can we help new Year 7 pupils get the bearings in secondary school quickly?

How can we ensure the weakest readers do the most reading rather than the least?

How can we get the advantages of competition between pupils, without its drawbacks?

How can we ensure new teachers are just as respected as veteran teachers?

When is meticulous detail more a help than a hindrance for teachers?

How can we prevent teachers from overworking and burning out?

How can we make sure all teachers love teaching in our schools, and want to stay in teaching?

What do we do about parents that push back against the school’s rules?


These questions cut to the core of how we educate, to our deepest paradigms of how we see the world. In this series of blogposts, running up to the publication of our book, I plan to explore:








Family Lunch



Teacher training


Parental Pushback

Teachers who believe, like we do, in long-term outcomes such as overcoming entrenched educational inequality, who care, like we do, about our children’s long-term happiness, who want to liberate poorer children from the shackles of deprivation, as we do, may see new vistas opening up before them. Could the Asian, non-Western values and ideas of Michaela perhaps contribute to bringing about the lifelong achievement and fulfillment of our children? After two years, our starting belief – that schools and teachers can make a tremendous impact – is stronger than ever.


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The red pill of moral psychology

Reading moral psychology, in particular Jonathan Haidt’s works The Righteous Mind, The Happiness Hypothesis and Heterodox Academy, is mind-opening.


In The Matrix, Neo has a choice: take a red pill, disconnect from the Matrix and dissolve the illusion, or take the blue pill, and return to his comforting delusions. Moral psychology is a red pill. It teaches us that many worldviews exist, and helps us see other moral matrices from our own.


The matrix differs in the west and the east

Haidt proposes that all cultures construct their moral matrices on shared cognitive foundations. He suggests that six shared moral ‘receptors’ are care, fairness, liberty, authority, loyalty and sanctity. Haidt suggests that progressives tend to value care, fairness and liberty over authority, loyalty and tradition, and that this is the progressive narrative:

Once, humans suffered from oppression, inequality and exploitation. But people struggled for autonomy, equality and liberty, and created democratic welfare societies. Much remains to be done to dismantle powerful inequality.

Haidt suggests that conservatives tend to value tradition, loyalty and authority as well as care, fairness and liberty, and that this is the conservative narrative:

Once, traditional values of responsibility and respect organised education and society, and our civilisation thrived. Then, progressives came along and damaged discipline and traditional teaching in schools, and entrenched inequality. Now, traditional schooling and values are needed to stop the damage to our civilisation.

The narratives are opposed, and Haidt suggests that it is harder for progressives to understand the conservative worldview: whereas conservatives do value care, fairness and liberty too, progressives do not value authority or loyalty, often seeing them as oppressive.

Haidt proposes that whereas in the west, the moral order is the individualistic autonomy paradigm, in Asia, the moral order is the community responsibility paradigm. In one study, Americans finished the sentence ‘I am…’ with their own characteristics: ‘…outgoing, curious’ etc, and Asians finished it with their roles and relationships ‘…a teacher, a son’ etc. Western and non-Western people think differently, see the world differently, and have different moral concerns. Non-western societies tend to value duty, responsibility, respect, loyalty, authority, hierarchy, humility, obedience, community, family, deference, and self-discipline. The books The Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother and The Path explore these enduring Asian values that Westerners sometimes struggle with.


Our morality binds and blinds

Morality evolved to bind us into tribes and groups, to enable cooperation. It also blinds us to the motives and morals of others. It is human nature to be ‘groupish’, and righteous: once we bind ourselves to a tribe, we tend to be blindly convinced of our own righteousness and our opponents’ nastiness. Here is Haidt on his own mind opening:

‘I grew up liberal in New York. Progressivism seemed so obviously ethical. I could not understand how any thinking person could embrace the evil of conservatism. We supported progressive policies because we cared about people, but they supported conservative policies out of pure self-interest (‘lower my taxes!’). We never considered the possibility that there were alternative moral worlds in which pursuing care, fairness and equality were not the main goals. We could not believe that conservatives were as sincere in their moral beliefs as we were in ours.

‘After studying moral psychology, conservatives so longer seemed so evil. I could see why they wanted to strengthen the moral climate of schools. I had escaped from my prior partisan mindset (reject first, ask rhetorical questions later) and began to think about progressive and conservative policies as deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society. It felt good to be released from partisan anger. And once I was no longer angry, I was no longer committed to reaching the conclusion that righteous anger demands: “we are right, they are wrong”. I was able to explore new moral matrices, each one supported by its own intellectual traditions. It felt like a kind of awakening.’

The more I study moral psychology and the traditions of Chinese, Buddhist or Asian philosophy, the more I see blind spots in the liberal West that have implications for education.

A blind spot in Western education: moral capital

Morality is defined by Haidt as beliefs and practices that suppress selfishness and enable cooperation. If morality evolved over millennia to enable cooperation, then perhaps the shared moral foundations of care, fairness, liberty, authority, loyalty and sanctity (or tradition) all have a part to play in creating great schools for our children. If we in the West neglect the Asian values of duty, responsibility, respect, loyalty, authority, hierarchy, humility, obedience, community, family, deference, and self-discipline, partly because our liberal moral matrix blinds us to seeing these as virtues, and instead we see some of them as cruel, harsh or oppressive vices, then perhaps our schools in the West will not run as well as Asian schools.

Moral capital is the extent to which an organisation (like a school) has shared beliefs and practices that suppress self-interest and improve cooperation. Think about a school that wants to improve behaviour, teaching and achievement. Many schools in England prioritise autonomy over discipline, self-expression over self-control. They’d tend to have low moral capital, says Haidt. Some schools prioritise discipline over autonomy and self-control over self-expression. They’d tend to have high moral capital: stricter, tougher schools would tend to suppress selfishness and be more likely to avoid distrust, disorder, unsustainability or entropy, Haidt suggests.

Moral capital is the blind spot of the progressive worldview. If you don’t value moral capital (tradition, authority, discipline, loyalty, community), but instead value only social capital (autonomy, relationships, trust), then you won’t foster beliefs and practices that increase it. Haidt again:

‘If you are trying to change an organisation or a society and you do not consider the effects of your changes on moral capital, you’re asking for trouble. This is the fundamental blind spot of the left. It explains why progressive reforms so often backfire. They tend to overreach, change too many things too quickly, and reduce the stock of moral capital inadvertently. We humans need healthy hives in order to flourish. You can’t help the bees by harming the hive. In their zeal to help victims, progressives often push for changes that weaken traditions, institutions and moral capital. The urge protect students from oppressive authorities in the 1970s has eroded moral capital in schools, creating disorderly, unsafe environments that harm the poorest above all. Reforms sometimes harm the very victims progressives are trying to help.’

‘You don’t help the bees by harming the hive’, as Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius recognised some 1,800 years before Haidt. Just as you most help bees by keeping healthy hives, you most help pupils by keeping healthy classrooms free from disruption, rudeness, selfishness, indulgence and entitlement. Healthy ‘hives’ – the institutions of orderly classroom discipline and traditional, academic subject knowledge – are vital for happy children. If well-intentioned progressive schools neglect strict discipline and knowledge transmission because they see them as oppressive, they harm the children they intend to help, hurting the poorest children most.

Once we join a team, we get ensnared in its moral matrix. We see confirmation of its narrative everywhere. Progressives often have difficulty seeing moral capital: beliefs and practices that sustain communities like schools, such as authority and deference. Morality binds and blinds – and it blinds many of us from seeing that you don’t help bees by harming the hive.

The red pill of moral psychology can open up new vistas so that we can learn from others’ moral matrices. For those of us who have grown up liberal and progressive, those from China, from Asia, even from conservatives – and from Michaela – may have much to offer.

This is the start of a series of blogposts on what we are learning at Michaela, based around our upcoming book: ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers’.

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It’s your time you’re wasting

This book, by Frank Chalk, is about his experiences of teaching in a difficult school in England, and the consequences of low standards for some of our worst-off children in the country.


“All these stories are true. Writing them was born out of my frustration, even despair, at seeing the majority of those who’ve passed through my classroom let down, day in, day out. A major cause of our problems is that so much bad behaviour is simply swept under the carpet and ignored. It lets down kids who start life with little chance in the first place.

“The litter left lying inside and outside the school has to be seen to be believed. Crisp packets, sweet wrappers, empty fizzy drink cans, bits of food from the canteen and empty plastic bottles are everywhere. Many teachers are afraid to ask a pupil to pick rubbish up. To do so is to invite indignation, even anger. ‘F* ck off!’ is a typical response.



“I put up daily with the chaos, disorder and ear-splitting racket that is lunch time at St Jude’s. The canteen is a complete mess; the floor is a mushy carpet of bits of food and drink and the odd recognisable item like a squashed sausage roll. Every table is covered in mess and piles of unreturned trays. The noise is deafening, as crockery and cutlery spills hither and thither. It really is complete and utter anarchy. There’s a heaving, pushing, jostling semi-queue. Pupils swig brightly-coloured drinks, making them completely hyper in the afternoon. I am doing nothing more than crowd control. ‘F* ck off, Chalk, yer w* nker!’ someone shouts.


The Head can walk straight past groups of fighting pupils and carry on a conversation whilst torrents of foul abuse are being shouted from all directions. The school always reminds me a bit of the Titanic, with the SMT sipping champagne in their room, assuring each other that all is going splendidly, whilst we sail straight towards an enormous iceberg. Far too many incidents are simply brushed under the carpet, as it is much easier to hold meetings and presentations rather than support those teachers below them who are trying to improve discipline. The phrase ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ was used of mulish generals in charge of British troops during World War I, but it applies equally to modern teaching. The lack of ability of those in charge to get a grip is one of the major problems in the state education system.



After lunch, Year 9 have dosed themselves up with sugary snacks and fizzy drinks at lunchtime. They ignore my seating plan and sit together at the back. They are used to getting their own way, fighting over seats and enjoying the mayhem caused by not being made to sit in a fixed place each lesson. Five of them eventually do as they’re told. Unfortunately, I can’t shift Darren, the sixth reprobate. I’ve tried telling him quietly and I’ve tried telling him firmly. Both attempts have failed. He is now holding on to his desk, theatrically, and hysterically shouting, ‘Help! Rape!’ at the top of his voice. It is immensely frustrating, all of this. Actually, it’s more than frustrating: it’s heartbreaking. About a dozen of this class are behaving now; they have got their worksheets from the front and started them, following the instructions I’ve written on the board. I keep my voice calm, even though inside I am seething. I have seen this situation many times before and it annoys me greatly.

I quietly tell him that I will be making a phone call home.

‘Do you think I care?’ he screams back. ‘Phone me mother! I couldn’t give a f* ck.’

That last bit is said with a mocking smirk.

Dishing out the pens has taken another ten minutes, so 20 minutes gone.

Then, all of a sudden, the atmosphere is shattered by a screech. It’s Cherelle, and she’s furious with Spencer; she’s attempting to pull his hair out and cursing him in industrial terms. Now, Cherelle storms out, a handful of Spencer’s hair in her fist.

‘Come on, Darren, we’re going to sit at the front,’ I announce, removing his coat from the back of his chair. He grabs for it and furiously attempts to wrench it free, but there is a loud tearing sound. I am left holding one arm while Ashley tumbles back and falls to the ground holding the rest of it. Darren is now absolutely livid.

‘You f* cking tosser!’ he yells with rage. ‘I’m gonna get me Dad and he’ll batter you!’ He storms out of the room. ‘My dad’s gonna batter you!’ This is a phrase I must have heard a hundred times during my career.

Wayne, walks in (ridiculously late) with dog mess on his shoe. Because he is such a fool, he proceeds to wipe the shoe on another boy’s trousers. It’s a revolting thing to do, but the reaction is bizarre: the other boy immediately starts screaming (he is, after all, only 15) and running around like the proverbial headless chicken. Now the offending material is on his bag, on the stool he was sitting on, on his neighbour’s bag, on her chair, the work bench and so on. Half the class are join in with the screaming. It is utter chaos.

When the clock on the wall indicates that there are only ten minutes of the lesson left, everyone starts putting coats on and closing books. ‘Oi! Get back to work. We will pack up two minutes before the end of the lesson.’ There is uproar. They always pack up ten minutes before. Bearing in mind each lesson is 50 minutes long, and that the first and the final 10 minutes are wasted, this is depressing in the extreme. ‘The clock is slow.’ It isn’t. ‘We need at least ten minutes!’ At least half of them have already started to put their arms through their coat sleeves surreptitiously. I go round and take their books (asking them to pass them to the front is like asking for book-throwing mayhem). Every exercise book is covered with graffiti. Then the bell goes. I reckon we did fifteen minutes useful work out of a one-hour lesson. Five or six kids destroyed the lesson for all the others.

Those kids will destroy every lesson this week, this term and this school year, for the simple reason that they enjoy doing so and there is nothing to stop them. It’s no exaggeration to say that we are allowing them to destroy the lives of their fellow pupils. I end another school day bubbling with frustration and impotent rage. It’s been a day, once again, marked by a total absence of discipline and, as a result, effective teaching. If you work in one of these schools, you will know that such scenes are a daily occurrence.



In Maths, many of our pupils cannot do even the simplest sum. Some cannot do the simplest sum even with the aid of a calculator: for example, you will ask the question ‘What is 9 x 7?’ They will type it in wrongly as ‘9 x 77’ and claim that the answer is 693. They have no idea of the relative size of numbers and do not sense instinctively that this cannot be right. Instead, they accept whatever the display says.



Pupils’ writing is often absolute gibberish. Half are unable to read, write or spell properly when they leave. They cannot punctuate or structure a sentence. The country’s biggest exam board has reported that pupils use ‘text-speak’ like ‘m8’ [for ‘mate’], ‘u’ [for ‘you’] and ‘2’ [for ‘too’ or ‘to’] in GCSE papers which are also littered with swearing and slang contractions such as ‘gonna’, ‘wanna’ and ‘shoulda’. Apart from all the spelling mistakes and lack of punctuation – many a story is one, long two-page sentence – it simply doesn’t mean anything. The story jumps around from one thought to another without any continuity. This boy is 15 but his effort is worse than that which a decent nine-year-old could produce. It contains many of the usual horrors. ‘Dose’ instead of ’does’. ‘Is’nt’ instead of ‘isn’t’. ‘Their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’ all hopelessly intermingled. 12,000 hours of full-time education and we have not even managed to teach him to write. There’s something very sad about the waste of so many years of potential learning.



Our main problem is the behaviour of our children. When our pupils arrive at the age of eleven, their attention span is often very short. Many, perhaps most, are unable to sit still and keep quiet for more than a few seconds at a time when these are the basic prerequisites, surely, of successful learning. When we try to introduce them to the concept of listening, it is a whole new skill to learn. This may sound unbelievable but it is absolutely true. Many straightforward tasks become impossible. They cannot listen to a set of instructions or tackle a problem that has more than one stage. Instead of persevering with a question, if the answer is not obvious, they will immediately shout out ‘I don’t geddit!’ or ‘Can’t do it!’ Many of the children swear loudly throughout a lesson, partly to shock, partly because they hear these words so often that they have no idea that there is anything wrong with them and partly because they have never been taught any self-control. They react instinctively, by shouting or striking out at the source of an irritation.


Truancy is rife. In 2005, figures from Truancy Watch showed that 50,000 children skip school each day. We have a school uniform which the pupils are supposed to wear, but a visitor would be hard-pressed to say what it is. The Deputy Head in Charge of Discipline is reluctant to enforce it as he thinks it’s a good idea to allow the pupils to ‘express themselves in a way that reflects their different outlooks and cultures.’ Vandalism and graffiti have become commonplace. Simple things such as arriving for lessons on time, bringing a pen with you and doing your homework have become unimportant. Our pupils are late for school, time and time again, without any real punishment. As we so often do, we are taking the easy option but selling them short: punctuality is so important in the workplace and our touchy-feely slackness will count against them in a few short years.

Kids misbehave simply because it is more fun than behaving and, in many cases, there is nothing stopping them. After 12 years of full-time education, costing £72,000, we are not turning out youngsters who understand how to behave, who can listen to and follow instructions, who are basically literate and numerate and who are punctual, the entry-level requirements for 80% of the jobs on offer in this country.

Lewis is in Year 9. He has set off the fire alarm at least twice and openly boasts of the windows he has broken in the school. His vandalism runs into thousands of pounds. The behavioural problems take up so much time that there isn’t much left for actual teaching. Lessons are constantly disrupted by groups of kids arriving late for no real reason, not to mention the hordes of ne’er-do-wells who skip lessons and roam the school in packs, looking for trouble. For well-behaved pupils, who actually want to learn but who sit there quietly being ignored, with their hands up, their life-chances ebb away.


To bribe or to discipline?

In the staffroom, Miss Wade is giving the new student teacher some pearls of advice. She is telling her how to get a pupil to move if they do not want to. This is a fairly classic problem in the classroom. ‘You should always try to avoid a confrontation,’ she babbles. ‘So what I do is I move someone else at the same time so they don’t think that you are just picking on them, or I say something like ‘if you move, I’ll let you use the coloured pens.’ The business of negotiating with the kids, or bribing them. We’re told to change our ways of teaching to suit the kids. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?


Mr Blunt is a brilliant teacher. Mr Blunt is tall, strongly-built and exudes an air of authority like few others can. A no-nonsense disciplinarian, he has taught here for the last twelve years. He has a vast knowledge and interest in his subject, which is history. He is aware of everything that is going on in the classroom and exerts control constantly but effortlessly. He has zero tolerance for every form of poor behaviour and relentlessly pursues miscreants. He tries constantly to open the kids’ minds to how much better they can become.



Every day, around the UK, teachers are getting assaulted; I’ve been threatened myself and plenty of my colleagues have been attacked. Miss Keebles’ tyres were slashed while her car was left in the school car park overnight. Several teachers have been assaulted at St Jude’s, as they have at many schools.. Often these cases go unreported. In 2006, one pupil slapped a teacher and carried out the attack while another filmed it on his mobile phone. Last year, there were twelve assaults on teachers in four months. One boy, who injured a woman by barging her into a door and then threatened to kill her, was suspended for 15 days and then let back in. The level of violence in our schools is frightening, both in its frequency and its severity, and is getting worse on both counts. Jade, a 12-year-old; was attacked by another girl with a cigarette lighter. Her face was badly burned. Shanni was slashed across the face by another 12-year-old girl, who used the blade from a pencil sharpener in the attack. Shanni will probably be scarred for life. Natasha, aged 15, was attacked with a pair of scissors.


As I walk across the playground to the main doors, a small boy – I think it is Kyle from Year 9, but I can’t be sure, shouts ‘Chalk, you f* cking w* nker!’ before dodging round a corner, cackling.


I have left the world of education, and I’m not going back. The constant, low-level lapping of the waves, the rising tide of disillusionment, finally brought me to the realisation that I was wasting my time.”









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