That’s What She Read 2016


Last year I did an end of year review of everything I’d read in 2015. I read one book a month in 2015 and set myself the challenge of two a month for 2016. Now it’s worth remembering that I spent three months of this year travelling around the world on trains with ample time to read which certainly made it easier but this year I’ve read 30 books. Well 30 and a half as I’m only half way through Eowyn Ivey’s “The Snow Child” which is a beautifully written novel based in Alaska in the 1920s.

The total might have only been 29 and a half had I not accidentally read, “Girl on a Train” thinking it was “The Girl on the Train” which I read once I realised my mistake. I haven’t done a review of each book like last year because there are too many of them so instead I’ve taken a leaf out of the Chief Whip’s book and underlined the ones I highly recommend. For 2017 I will be taking on the “50 Book Challenge” – you can get involved on Twitter by following the hashtag #50BookChallenge.

Oryx & Crake – Margaret Atwood

The Circle – Dave Eggers

The End of the World Running Club – Adrian J. Walker

Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve

The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo – Amy Schumer

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Room – Emma Donoghue

Not That Kind Of Girl – Amy Poehler

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse – David Mitchell

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

The Art of Travel – Alain De Botton

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling

The Lady In The Van – Alan Bennett

Committed – Elizabeth Gilbert

Sweet Bitter – Stephanie Danler

How To Build A Girl – Caitlin Moran

Girl On A Train – AJ Waines

The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins

Nod – Adrian Barnes

High Challenge Low Threat: How the best leaders find the balance – Mary Myatt

A Perfectly Good Family – Lionel Shriver

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

I Love Dick – Chris Kraus

The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert

High Rise – JG Ballard

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

A Boy Called Christmas – Matt Haig

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

The Post of Christmas Past

Having launched the #ChristmasCarolChallenge a couple of weeks ago a rather exciting project appeared out of the blue which didn’t leave me with a lot of free time to actually write my own post. However I am now back at my Mum’s sat by the Christmas tree waiting for my nephews’ presents to be delivered so there’s no better time to reminisce about the Christmases of my past.


From the age of four my Christmases alternated between my Mum’s in Sevenoaks and my Dad’s place in Tonbridge and then, later on, in his cottage in East-Sussex. Both Christmases were similar having been based on the traditions my parents had once shared however each had its own distinct features. A bit like driving a courtesy car that’s the same model as your own: same, same but different. Carols at Kings made an appearance at both and the Queen’s Speech at neither and the routine of the day almost identical at both.

I owe my affection of the Christmas season to my parents and the time, love and effort they put in to making it so special: from standing outside the house ringing bells so I would go to bed and wait for Father Christmas to sooty footprints that appeared on the carpet on Christmas morning. Neither of parents had a lot money when we were growing up so  there were presents but being together and sharing good food was the priority and that’s still true today. The Christmases they created were full of love and I am eternally grateful to both of them for that.

Let’s start with Christmas at Dad’s.


My Dad’s taste in decor has always been quite minimalist.White walls, wooden floors, clean, light and clutter free. The same was true at Christmas – there’d be a tree of course (with coloured lights) and the traditional light up Father Christmas riding the moon which I assume everybody has. Some years there were stickdad-christmass decorated with white lights.) In his cottage in Sussex there was an huge open fire that we’d keep going from the minute we got up until we all passed out in a food coma at the end of the day.

I’m fortunate that both of my parents are excellent cooks. There were no overcooked vegetables, no lump gravy and Aunt Bessies’s and Bisto were basically blasphemy. Our Christmas food wouldn’t look out of place in a George R.R. Martin novel.

The cooking at Dad’s would begin on Christmas Eve with the first “trial” batch of chestnut stuffing balls which we’d wolf down before they’d even cooled all the name of “testing.” It’s worth explaining at this point that my Dad lay down the gauntlet in our family with his stuffing  balls. I’m one of five siblings and over the years our Mums, partners and even we ourselves have tried to recreate the Paul Brown stuffing ball. Few have succeeded.

On Christmas morning, after stockings (which were actual tights so “you can see the outline of the presents!”), we’d have bucks fizz and crackers with “pink dip”  – another Paul Brown original that is only ever eaten on Christmas Day. Then Dad would announce the time dinner would be served. Except this time was only really because he liked to set himself the challenge of having a deadline .It made the whole thing a bit more Master Chef. He’d spend most of the day in an out of the kitchen listening to the radio or watching the black and white TV.  At some point he’d break from cooking and we’d give out the presents under the tree – the last one would always be a Cadbury’s Selection box which would prove handy if the deadline for lunch was ever “extended.”

sproutsDinner itself was always a fairly traditional affair: My Dad is the King of sides and sundries: sliced sprouts fried with pancetta, honey roast parsnips, cider gravy, cauliflower cheese, pigs in blankets and two types of stuffing ball (chestnut and sage and onion.)  The leftovers would be served with dauphinoise potatoes on Boxing Day. We don’t really do pudding at Dad’s we’re bigger on the savories: cheese, crackers and cool original doritos. However there’s always a box of Maltesers in the cupboard which were useful for pelting your siblings with during particularly frustrating games of Monopoly.

Like moschristmas-dadt families after dinner we’d settle down to watch a film. Except my Dad can’t watch films. He’s constantly getting up, sorting things and pottering before returning to the sofa twenty minutes later to ask, “what have I missed?” For this reason we preferred to stick with television and we’d binge on reruns of The Simpsons, Dad’s Army and, if my Dad won the battle of the remote, Benidorm.

Christmas at Dad’s brought with it the excitement of seeing my older siblings. As a young child there was no one cooler than my older brother and sister. We never lived together but would meet up during the holidays. They’d come bearing card games, DVDs and lots o’ cheese. My younger brother and I would normally arrive at Dad’s first and there was no excitement quite like the excitement of waiting for our older brother and sister to arrive. Now we’re all grown up and married and there are children and in-laws to think about it’s unusual for us to spend Christmas Day together but we have our own sibling Christmas which is pretty special in itself.


Christmas at Mum’s


Christmas at Mum’s would start weeks before the day itself with numerous lists (my Mum and I are big fans of a list.) There’d be long walks to pick the ivy to decorate the house, we’d burn M&S oil throughout the whole of December and the highlighting of the Radio Times, and the negotiations that would follow, took up the best part of the month. My Mum has excellent taste and the house always looks beautiful around Christmas – full of decorations and candles – but no tinsel. Never tinsel. We’d pierce satsumas with cloves and put them around the house (to this day I’m still not sure why but it’a a very fond memory.)

Our street is very small and close knit and around Christmas there was a continuous stream of visitors dropping in for mulled wine, baileys or just to enjoy the fire. Our Christmases were open to all and we often shared the day itself with friends as well as family. Some years there were more friends than we had space for so we’d pack up our Christmas and take it to a holiday home in Wales, Cornwall or Rye. I believe 22 is the record for the most around our table. My family aren’t religious – in fact we’re staunch atheists but we’d often wander down to the church at the end of the road to sing carols on Christmas Eve before heading home for hot chocolate and to make the preparations for Father Christmas. One  year those preparations included building a barricade in front of my bedroom because I didn’t like the sound of a strange man in a red suit coming into my room at night – regardless of the gifts he may bring.

Christmas Day itself would start with stockings which, once emptied christmas-stockingof presents would end on my head. It’s hard to say why. Breakfast was always fizz and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon which in recent years is cooked by my brother as me makes the best scrambled eggs known to man.

Lunch would be the traditional turkey and all the trimmings as well as a ham – which later would be part of a pie (more on that later.) If my Dad is the King of sides and sundries then my Mum is the Queen of desserts. Yes we all love figgy pudding  but why stop there? Christmas cake, vanilla custard, homemade banoffee pie, chocolate yule log, baileys ice cream, freshly baked shortbread and creme brulee. Throw in a pot of coffee and the dessert course could last longer than the main. It was like something out of Enid Blyton.


Boxing Day at my Mum’s is unique for one reason: Boxing Day Pie. This is one of my Mum’s most genius creations. It’s a simple enough concept: all the leftovers from Christmas dinner sandwiched in pastry. I will try and find the recipe because it really needs to be shared.

And that was pretty much been Christmas for the last 30 years. Magical, happy and full of love (and food.) There was that one year where, due to adverse weather conditions, my brother and I spent most of the day in my flat in London feeling a little bit like we were in Home Alone. But that’s another post for another time.


#Teacher5aday Day 2 – Managing Workload & Marking


In 2015 the DfE summoned our brightest and best teachers, consultants and educationalists and commissioned them to carry out a review of teachers’ workload, the findings of which can be found in this report. Having scrutinised marking policies, the Workload Review team concluded that marking should be underpinned by three key principles. It should be: meaningful, manageable and motivating.

Most of us know what meaningful marking looks like. We’ve experienced the satisfaction of a child being able to tackle an area of learning that they had previously struggled with as a result of our feedback. Meaningful marking motivates children to make progress. So that leaves “manageable.”  How can we make marking manageable? Particularly now that so man marking policies seem to require an arsenal of stationery including at least three different coloured pens.


How to make marking manageable may well be the million dollar question but it’s one we need to start addressing. A third of teachers who qualified in 2010 have already left the profession, with 50% of them stating workload as one of the key reasons, schools need to start taking the issue of teacher workload seriously.

I’m interested to see the suggestions that come out of the #teacher5aday slow chat. So to get us started here are my suggestions for making marking manageable.

Plan Your Marking

One of the greatest challenges I faced as an Assistant Head was juggling my role as a full time class teacher with my leadership responsibilities. In an attempt to maintain some sanity, I created planning rotas for maths and English. No they weren’t always kept to, but more often than not I could get all my marking done between 7am-8:30am and 3:30pm – 6:00pm at school. Other than test papers, I never took marking home at the weekends.

Make planning for marking part of your weekly PPA session. Look at the week ahead and the lessons you have planned. Then look at your diary and look at everything you’re doing next week: clubs, INSET, parent workshops, staff meetings, social events (yes, they count.)

Now back to the lesson plans. If one of the lessons requires you to have marked the first drafts of their stories in detail – don’t pencil that first draft lesson in for Monday when you have both INSET and Dance Club. Schedule “heavy marking” days in and write them in your diary so you know not to take on too many extra-curricular activities on those days.

Obviously your marking plan should not guide the learning and sometimes a particular piece of work will HAVE to be done on a day when it’ll be difficult to get it marked but, for the most part, you can plan your marking so it is manageable.

Verbal Feedback

Marking is just one of a variety of types of feedback and arguably not even the most effective for some pieces of work. Verbal feedback allows for a dialogue. The child can explain to you exactly what they haven’t understood and you can respond immediately. You or the child can make notes in the child’s book as you feedback so they have a few prompts to guide them once they return to work.

Verbal feedback can happen one-to-one during the lesson or, having looked at their books, by taking a small group who made similar mistakes last lesson and going through their work with them.

Live Marking

Live marking is similar to verbal feedback but can be done with the whole class rather than one on one. This works well with grammar exercises, calculations and short answer questions. The questions go up on the board and you go through them one by one – occasionally choosing a pair of children to explain the answer or the method. The children can mark their own work as they go and add in their own corrections.

The advantage of Live Marking is that you can get a whole set of books marked during the lesson and all children having the chance to discuss the answer, ask questions about the things they didn’t understand. Something to bear in mind is that this sort of marking takes time. We’re talking 10/15 minutes of the lesson. If you marked like this every lesson children wouldn’t be producing enough work for marking to be an issue in the first place but used occasionally it can be very effective.

Peer Marking

Peer marking takes a lot of training but, done properly, it can be very valuable. I’ve seen effective peer marking in Year 2 and even peer “critique” in Year 1 where they go around and say what they like and what could be improved about the work on their table. Peer marking can work with the same sort of tasks as Live Marking – short answers that are either right or wrong. When it comes to more complex investigations or extended pieces of writing the quality of peer marking relies too heavily on the pupil’s knowledge.

A little tip: in the first week of a new school year mark a piece of shared writing as class and whilst you’re doing this create a “Class Marking Policy.” This could be an agreed list of symbols that you can all use. Keep those symbols on the wall all year and the children can then use this marking policy during peer marking.

Speak Up

Views about marking are changing. Last month Ofsted released a clarification document challenging the idea that they expect in depth marking@


Similarly, the Workload Review concluded that, “If the hours spent do not have the commensurate impact on student progress, stop [doing] it.” Spread the word: it isn’t about endless, in depth notes on children’s work it’s about effective feedback – the sort that will actually help the children learn.

If the last two comments you’ve left in Amber’s book are all about using captial letters and fulls stops, complete with a next step task for her to practise them, and two pages later she isn’t using capital letters and full stops – change your approach. Stop setting it as a next step and find some time during the lesson to go through sentence punctuation with her.

If your school’s policy is still demanding twelve “next steps” a week, written in nineteen different colours and adorned with post-its, stamps, and stickers then it’s time to start the conversation about marking in your school. You don’t have to have be in a leadership role to evoke change. So whether it’s at the next staff meeting, or just during a casual discussion in the staff room don’t be afraid to ask the question, “Does anyone else think we could be marking differently?”


The #teacher5aday slow chat on workload and marking will be taking place on Tuesday 10th January 2017. The discussions will take place on Twitter both before and after school. Take part by following the #Teacher5aday #SlowChat4 hashtags and share your ideas, thoughts and suggestions. You can find more information on the Slow Chat week here. Here are the questions we’ll be discussing on the day:

1) How much time do you spend marking each week? When and where do you mark?

2) What are the barriers to making marking manageable?

3) How can we overcome these?

4) If you were writing your school’s feedback policy from scratch what would it look like?

5) Is your marking monitored by SLT?

6) What tips/strategies have you got for teachers struggling to keep on top of their marking?

I’m looking forward to chatting with you all.


Should We Correct Our Pupils’ Speech?


We’ve all had it. About twenty minutes into a lesson a small hand is tentatively raised.

“Miss Brown, can I go toilet?”

“No. You can go TO the toilet. You can’t go toilet.”

Any of my ex. pupils will recognise that as my standard response. It didn’t matter if the child was in Year 1 or Year 6 – they were expected to use standard English in my classroom. It’s worth mentioning at this point the exception to that rule (because there is always at least one exception.) When children arrived in my class with no English, as they very often did, then I would, to begin with, accept “toilet” as a request to be excused but would model standard English in my response, “Yes, you can go to the toilet.” Other than that, all children were expected to use standard English. We spent one registration saying the word, “ask” over and over again because of the number of children who had started saying, “arks.” Actually, we spent most that registration saying the word “mask” and working up to dropping the “m.” To some it sounds pedantic and Dickensian but I know of one head teacher who didn’t give a job to a candidate because in her lesson she’d said to the children, “I want to arks you something.” Right or wrong, that is how plenty of employers think.

I raised the issue in a staff meeting following a series of observations that had left me with concerns about the standard of some teachers’ English. I argued that, given the number of children in the school who were learning English as a second language, and given the fact our children would be assessed on their ability to write in standard English it was our duty to model it in the classroom. This meant no more “ain’t,”, “pass me them scissors” or “yous lot.” At the time I didn’t consider this a particularly controversial request. After all, demonstrating the correct use of standard English is one of the Teachers’ Standards. However, this announcement was not well-received. It started with a few questions about why staff couldn’t “be themselves” with their class and then escalated into me being told I was “having a go” at working class staff and, in one case, that I was being racist.

It isn’t racist and it’s not “having a go at working class staff.” I don’t care how teachers speak at home, or pupils for the matter, but in school we set high expectations and that includes the use standard English.  If we truly believe that education is the great equaliser then we have to ensure that a pupil’s background in no way limits their life chances. I presented this case in the staff meeting, arguing that it would only be a matter of years before the children in our school would be competing for jobs and university places with children from far more privileged backgrounds. If a child from Edmonton is going to have the same chances as a child from Sevenoaks, then they need to know how to use standard English. There is an assumption that standard English means speaking with an RP accent – it doesn’t. It is a shared grammar, spelling and punctuation. When you hear Sean Bean or Ray Winstone interviewed, they use standard English. This isn’t about changing people’s accents or discriminating against particular backgrounds.

But am I fighting the wrong battle? Only 15% of the UK population, the wealthiest 15% I might add, use standard English in its entirety (Trudgill 1999). Should I not be fighting for children to have the same opportunities no matter what form of English they use? After all, language is fluid and constantly evolving and many would argue that it’s more important that children feel able to communicate confidently than worry about verb tenses. Would the worry of being corrected have put some children off speaking up in my class?

I put it out to Twitter. The poll is running for another 4 hours so feel free to get involved. With only 47 votes, this is not exactly the most scientific study but, out of those who responded, 74% believe that we should insist on standard English. One teacher got in touch and raised the issue that, like all policies, this would only work if the school insisted on it from Reception. Enforcing standard English in upper KS2 becomes an almost impossible task if it hasn’t been taught previously.


I will leave you in the hands of the expert, David Crystal. This man taught me how to write. Most of my time studying English was spent reading through his vast body of work and it is my firm belief that “Rediscover Grammar” should be on every teacher’s bookshelf. It is only right he has the final word.

Introducing: #ChristmasCarolChallenge


I’ve been doing my annual read of, “A Christmas Carol” one of my favourite Christmas stories and it gave me an idea. I’m not taking part in “Blogmas” (for those who aren’t familiar with the term, “Blogmas” is a blogger challenge that involves writing every day from December 1st – 25th on the theme of Christmas.) I always felt it would seem at odds with the education/politics posts I write most of the year.

The idea is really simple:



No prizes for guessing what the 3 posts are about:

1. Christmas/Christmases past

This could be the recent past or a Christmas from your childhood. What was Christmas like for you as a child? Whether it was making gingerbread or roasting chestnuts on an open fire (does anyone actually do that?) to pelting your siblings with chocolates after a particularly stressful game of Monopoly – we want to hear about it.

You could write about one specific Christmas or the Christmas traditions you’ve kept throughout the years. It could even be about the first Christmas you can remember.

2. Christmas Present

This one is fairly straightforward. How are you celebrating Christmas this year?

3. Christmas future

Be as creative as you like about this one. This could be a Christmas you hope to have in the future or even a bleaker vision if you really want to get in touch with your inner Dickens

How To Get Involved


Write your posts and share it on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag: #ChristmasCarolChallenge.

If you don’t have a blog and would like to get involved you could write your piece as Facebook status or in a Word Document and screenshot it for Twitter. You can even write your piece and share it as a comment under any of the #ChristmasCarolChallenge posts. If we are inundated with pieces from non-bloggers then I’ll compile them as a post.

The challenge will be running until December 31st. Your posts don’t have to be written on consecutive days – you can write them as and when you want. This is meant to be an enjoyable experience and a chance to be creative. I can’t wait to read what you come up with.

Happy writing!