This much I know about…a teacher’s most valuable legacy

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about a teacher’s most valuable legacy.

What does it matter if you leave a legacy? Recently, one of my favourite leadership gurus, Tim Brighouse, warned all school leaders seeking a legacy to beware. Such an endeavour, ‘so easily leads to hubris; that kind of narcissistic confidence in your own almost supernatural powers which tempts some leaders to think they can do almost anything’.[1] As Brighouse points out, ‘some heads are prone to hubristic tendencies, and heads of chains of schools – even CEOs of teaching alliances – are certainly at risk’.[2] Any school leader would do well to heed Brighouse’s warning.

We deal in flesh and blood, not wood and steel. If we leave a legacy, it is surely within the children we teach, not some shiny building or a sprawling multi-academy trust. This week three past students’ accomplishments reminded me of the only legacy that matters…

The new Oxo mum is one Morag Whyman. She was before my time, but a Huntington alumnus nonetheless and one fondly remembered by many of my current colleagues:

A starter for 10! I taught Chris Ducklin in a resit English GCSE class back in 1989. He was determination personified as a youth and last Monday he was a member of the winning (and possibly oldest ever) team on University Challenge:


BTW, there is a new Twitter account entitled @Duckers_shirt.

The new Francis Ford Coppola? Lastly, there’s Matt O’Brien, a lad to whom I taught the Gangster movie genre back in 1999. He is now a film maker and his first advert for Teach First was released last week:

Although the Apprentice parody is at the heart of the advert’s success, perhaps, just maybe, the lesson where I deconstructed the restaurant assassination scene in The Godfather is embedded, somewhere, deep within Matt’s 50 seconds of genius?

We lost one of our own recently. Ann McKeown, head teacher of Huntington Primary Academy, died suddenly back in July, just before term ended. This Sunday afternoon we will be celebrating her life in a memorial service. My eulogy to her tireless work for her pupils ends thus:

In the end, the most valued testimonial for any head teacher is the children she sets off into the world, and year after year for a decade Ann has passed on to our school a precious cargo. Children who are confident, independent-minded, passionate about learning and intellectually challenging, for whom nothing but the best is good enough. Indeed, when you consider those epithets – confident, independent-minded, passionate about learning, intellectually challenging – they can only be Ann’s children.

Ann lives on in the hearts and minds of those she taught. I see them every day on the corridors of our school, Ann’s very own family of Mini-Me McKeowns!

[1] Tim Brighouse, “Ministers should recall: pride comes before a fall” in The Times Educational Supplement (TES, 18/25 December 2015, no. 5177), p. 17

[2] Ibid.

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This much I know about…a brilliant, evidence-informed note-taking technique (and our new Research School…)!!

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about a brilliant, evidence-informed note-taking technique (and our new Research School…)!


The greatest test of a school is what’s going on when non-one’s looking. Yesterday, during last lesson, I took the new Head of Manor Academy, Simon Barber, on a tour of Huntington. We chanced upon Penny Holland, our Subject Leader for Science & Associate member of SLT, teaching Year 11. Whilst the students continued with their work, she explained how she had developed a note-taking technique which embedded the learning in students’ memories efficiently and effectively in a short space of time:

  1. Begin with teacher explanation. Students have pens down and have 100% attention on Penny’s explanation. Eyes looking at Penny and the board, with Penny’s radar on detecting anyone whose focus is less than total.
  2. In this lesson there was a precise explanation of metallic bonding, tied directly into the GCSE specification. The BIG IDEA for this group at the moment is bonding and each lesson deals with a specific aspect of bonding.
  3. On the board Penny had written a labelled diagram, key terminology and brief theory and then made a direct link between the content and the common questions from past exam papers. She had instructed the students, using the If…then… model: “If you see these key words in the question, then this is the knowledge you need to answer correctly”.
  4. She had then modelled the answer to one of the examination questions. The students were still utterly focused. And importantly, they had taken no notes at all.
  5. Penny then rubbed off key parts of her boardwork and tasked the students with making their own notes based on the bare bones of Penny’s notes left on the board.
  6. The first individuals to finish their notes can go up to the board and fill in the blanks on the board which Penny has rubbed off. The competition to finish first and earn the right to complete the gaps on the board keeps the students focused and provides help for the others who haven’t been as quick.
  7. The lesson concluded with their books closed and a white board assessment, checking their learning and embedding in their memory what they had taken notes on. Extended learning last night was to revise what they had learnt about metallic bonding in the lesson yesterday, ready to be retested at the beginning of today’s lesson.

Evidence-informed teaching is becoming embedded in our classrooms like the words in a stick of rock. Penny has invented that note-taking process as a result of her department’s work on Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. She is also keen on developing metacognitive strategies, prompted by the Education Endowment Foundation/Sutton Trust’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit. And  she has read Nuthall’s The Hidden Lives of Learners – if you notice, the students experienced the metallic bonding content three times in one lesson à la Nuthall (Penny’s explanation; their note taking; the whiteboard testing…and with the review in today’s lesson it will be four times).


Necessity (and a highly sophisticated, evidence-informed knowledge of the learning process) is the mother of invention. Penny realised last year that she had to be laying down new learning in students’ neural pathways as soon as possible. There is no time for passive note-taking. She had learnt from Rosenshine that even when she was pushed for time she had to…Review, Review, Review!

A Network of Research Schools…Huntington School has been designated as one of five schools in the new Education Endowment Foundation and Institute for Effective Education joint project to establish a national network of Research Schools. The other Research Schools are:

Join in the evidence-informed revolution! If you want to wander your school when no-one’s looking and find your teachers teaching deliberately, using evidence-informed techniques which have the best chance of improving students’ academic progress, get in touch; you can email us at and find us on the embryonic Research School website. A newsletter and further information about training and support are imminent. And do follow our Twitter feed at @HuntResearchSchool.


Alex Quigley, Director, and Jane Elsworth, Assistant Director, of Huntington Research School


Posted in General educational issues, Research, Teaching and Learning | Leave a comment

This much I know about…an eloquent, authentic argument against the reintroduction of Grammar Schools

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about an eloquent, authentic argument against the reintroduction of Grammar Schools.

Wisdom is priceless. The author of this letter is a retired judge and a retired governor of Huntington School. I am hugely grateful to him for allowing me to publish his email.

Hello John,

I read of your reaction to the proposed new policies on education and wonder if my experiences might help.

I went to my Grammar School from 1948 to 1955 and was fortunate to do so. The teaching was generally to a good standard (sometimes outstanding) with the result the School was high achieving.  It took me and many of my friends to University and into the professions and on this basis I ought to be a supporter of the eleven plus selection. However, as the years have gone by I have realised none of this happened without enormous cost to the community.

From the outset there was an unbridgeable gap between us and the majority who had not passed the exam. Those of us who passed were immediately regarded (and self-regarded) as superior to those who failed and there was a corresponding dejection and feeling of inferiority in those who had not made it. In later life I have spoken to some who failed and they tell me these scars lasted well into adulthood. As our schooling progressed this division between those who passed and those who did not increased. Those superior/inferior feelings were always there and at every level the Grammar Schools ignored the Secondary Schools and accentuated the division. We played sport against other Grammars in (e.g.) Manchester, Bolton and Bradford, but there was never any contact with another school in the City. As individuals socially we stayed with our school friends and our paths never crossed those of the other schools.

Inevitably those in the Secondary Moderns never had the benefit of the stimulus the more able pupils might have provided. But equally the Grammar School boys were deprived of any meaningful insight into the social and developmental problems of the less fortunate, so reducing the maturity and devaluing the intellectual benefits the Grammar School education had brought to those who enjoyed it.

Any comparison with fee-paying schools is not really appropriate: we live in a free society and we all use our means to finance the lifestyle we choose. If some choose to bear the cost and spare the community the expense of educating their children that is a matter for them. But grammars and comprehensives are each financed from the public purse and it does seem basically wrong that that purse should be used to establish the huge inequalities and unfairness selection at so early an age brings.

I am sure you will receive a mountain of comment from others in the City. My view is you know about these things better than most!

My kindest wishes to you and to everyone at Huntington…

Posted in General educational issues, School Leadership | 2 Comments

This much I know about…whether stopping extra revision sessions after school works (and why we don’t need Grammar Schools)

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about whether stopping extra revision sessions after school works (and why we don’t need Grammar Schools).

Less is more. Back in February I wrote a post about how I had told colleagues that I did not expect them to offer extra revision sessions after school in the run up to the summer examinations. I just wanted every single teacher to teach the best lessons they possibly could during the normal contact time they had with students. Truly great classroom teaching is the only thing which secures genuinely great students outcomes. The post went viral and made headlines nationally. We are now analysing our students’ 2016 GCSE results which will, to some extent, reflect the success, or otherwise, of resisting the urge to offer extra revision sessions. Overall, our students’ results are very good. At GCSE the attainment levels are the highest we have known and we wait optimistically for our Progress 8 score from the DfE. At A level our ALPs score is yet again in the red, suggesting our students’ progress between GCSE and A level is excellent. Subject Leaders have each written a report on their students’ results and I am in the process of meeting with them to chat about how we might tweak things to improve, at the margins, teaching and learning in each one’s subject.

History is a complex subject at GCSE. Success in History depends upon students knowing a huge amount of historical content and those students’ literacy skills. It is an Ebacc subject, to boot. It is, perhaps, a good barometer of a school’s performance overall. The History GCSE and A level results at Huntington this summer were pretty damned good and owed much to the out-going Subject Leader, John Titmas, who, over eight years, had stuck resolutely to improving the quality of teaching in his department above all else. His GCSE cohort this summer was truly mixed ability. Unlike the previous few years, where there were two History GCSE cohorts with one taking the History GCSE and the other taking the Applied History GCSE, this was a single cohort taking the History GCSE. Here is the analysis of the KS4 outcomes for History:

Year No. of cands %A*-C target grades Mock exam A*-C % Actual A*-C %
2011 129 97% 62% 60%
2012 113 88% 50% 67%
2013 79 96% 59% 77%
2014 78 98% 79% 86%
2015 81 100% 83% 91.4%
2016 82 98% 73% 83%


Year No. of cands %A*-A   target grades Mock exam A*-A % Actual A*-A %
2011 129 47% 19% 18%
2012 113 37% 19% 32%
2013 79 39% 32% 32%
2014 78 53% 46% 45%
2015 81 66% 26% 51%
2016 82 56% 46% 46%
  • A strong set of results in 2016, and although we were 6% down on 2015 figures for both A*-C and A*-A, we largely matched the strong performance of 2014, despite the lack of Applied History groups in 2016.
  • 83% A*-C compares well to the 69% national average. Previous high A*-C from a whole cohort (i.e. without an Applied History course running) in the last 10 years was 68%.
  • 0.2 residual against FFTD. 0.14 residual in comparison to other subjects at Huntington.
  • Significant increase in A* conversions, however A*-A total 5% down to 45% from 50% last year. It does compare favourably to the national average of 29%.
  • It was our best A* numbers in recent years – 28% compared to 17% last year. Two students achieved 200 UMS and three others were above 195.
  • Paper 2 performance (historically the weakest element of the assessment) was strong, particularly at the top end with 44% of students achieving an A* in this paper. Our modal grade in every unit was A*.
  • Increased ‘tail’ of 10% E-U may have its cause in having no Applied History course this year. This is something to look at carefully in 2016-7, given our tracking data for our Year 11 2017 cohort shows a similar pattern.
  • As with the two previous years, the significant increase in attainment from mock to actual grades achieved is encouraging, suggesting that the identification and implementation of minimal, targeted interventions was effective. We followed school guidance and did not provide pre-exam intervention outside of the timetable; we found focussing on teaching in lessons and a measured, planned revision process within those lessons successful.

GCSE Attainment against Huntington targets 2016

Student Target Number of students Above On Below Avg target residual
A* 22 N/A 16 6 -0.4
A 24 7 7 10 -0.3
B 19 5 8 6 -0.36
C 15 3 5 7 -1.1
D 2 2 -3
Total 82 15 35 32  
  • Targets met or surpassed with 61% of the cohort in 2016, an increase on the 56% rate achieved in 2015, and considerably above the 51% figure in 2014.
  • We remain strong at converting A/A* targets in particular. Improving the percentage of C-target students meeting their targets remains a crucial focus.

The world is for the discontented. The results aren’t perfection, but…what I like best about this analysis is the sense of wanting to do better next year, especially for the C/D grade target students. And of course the line, We followed school guidance and did not provide pre-exam intervention outside of the timetable; we found focussing on teaching in lessons and a measured, planned revision process within those lessons successful.

York has no grammar schools and no selection by ability. Huntington School has a truly comprehensive in-take. Houses around Huntington are relatively cheap. If you live near our school you can get a tremendous education irrespective of your academic starting point or socio-economic background: that is the case for all the secondary schools in our City. We all have genuinely high expectations of our students. Why replicate Kent’s school system? Why not try to replicate what is going on in York or London, rather than re-introduce Grammar Schools and selection by ability? In York we have a city that works for everyone…

Posted in General educational issues, School Leadership, Teaching and Learning | 7 Comments

This much I know about…my researchED 2016 presentation (with video!)

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about my researchED 2016 presentation (with video!).

Slides: john-tomsett-red-10-09-16



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This much I know about…the Grammar School debate

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about the Grammar School debate.

Even Toby Young admits that Grammar Schools do nothing to help social mobility. The Government’s Social Mobility Tsar Alan Milburn says that more Grammar Schools would accentuate class divisions. Michael Gove’s Special Advisor, Sam Freedman, is set against introducing greater selection of students by ability, as is the editor of Schoolsweek, Laura McInerney. The erstwhile Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, voiced her disagreement with her own Prime Minister’s proposed new policy only hours after it announced. In his researchED 2016 speech today, entitled – according to the programme – “Upcoming Education Policy”, the Minister for School Standards, Nick Gibb,  failed to mention selection of Grammar Schools once; the subsequent Q&A session was dominated by the Grammar School issue and all his usual assuredness seeped from his face. As Sam Freedman tweeted, it’s unlikely Nick Gibb agrees with the introduction of more Grammar Schools. With Young, Milburn, Freedman, Morgan and, probably, Gibb (as well as, allegedly, 100 Conservative MPs) arguing against May’s new Grammar School/Selection policy, there’s no need for me to repeat their arguments.



Dr Becky Allen is worth reading on the Grammar School policy too, because, back in June, she wrote a blog post which gets to the heart of a key issue in this debate which has had little consideration thus far: teacher recruitment. One of her many illuminating, but, I suppose, obvious, findings is that students in Grammar Schools, “seem much more likely to be taught by someone who has an academic degree in the subject”, especially in mathematics and science. I know of a school whose Science department comprises 17 teachers, but only two have science degrees. The school is in one of the most deprived wards in the country. More than most, its students need the very best teachers. New Grammar Schools would compound the teacher recruitment challenge for schools whose students need the most effective teachers we can possibly find. I wrote in July that, “If May really does care about the ordinary working class family then sorting out the teacher recruitment crisis should be a priority”. Grammar Schools may well rob the vast majority of secondary schools of the top end of the ability range of students, but, as Becky Allen’s post suggests, they would surely do the very same to the top end of the ability range of teachers.

What now for the EEE White Paper? A question I wanted to ask Nick Gibb, but failed to before he was whisked away. The brilliant Robert Hill has answered my question, however, in his blog on the ensuing education policy carnage, in which he says that “it feels like Theresa May’s chief of staff, Nick Timothy, is the de facto Secretary of State for Education”.

Ah, yes, Nick Timothy… When I was preparing the slides for my researchED talk today I came across an old slide I had used last year. It was a quotation from Nick Timothy, taken from a New Schools Network blog post when he was the organisation’s director. He was arguing for a “parental trigger” which could lead to a head teacher’s dismissal; seems like the perfect way to entice would-be head teachers to apply for the top job. As we face not only a teacher recruitment problem, but a head teacher recruitment crisis, it’s good to know who’s driving education policy in this country.


Probably wise, now, to wait and read the Green Paper; it will be one of the most important education policy publications for a generation.

Posted in General educational issues, School Leadership | 1 Comment

This much I know about…my favourite Growth Mindset moment of the Rio Olympics!

I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about…my favourite Growth Mindset moment of the Rio Olympics!

Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis won Bronze in the Men’s Badminton Doubles in Rio…


…and here is what Langridge said when they won through to the semi-finals…

Posted in General educational issues | 4 Comments