22DDDE6D-F22F-4195-A1A6-3733985AC05DSpotted a brilliant sentence? Let me know and I’ll pop it up here. Maybe we’ll collect enough to provide a source of great exemplar sentences that we can use as models for our pupils. To get your sentences up here just tweet them with the hashtag #GoldenSentences and tag in me, @MrEFinch, and @_MissieBee please. Xox

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

(F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

(George Orwell, Animal Farm)

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.

(George Orwell, Animal Farm)

With a sniff of my armpits and a wink in the mirror, I was good to go.

(Pupil in @RosemaryCalm’s class)

Whenever she smiled at me Heaven blew in.

(Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch)

The thought of her flooded every corner of my mind with light and poured brightness.

(Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch)

So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

(Jack Kerouac, On The Road)

He made all his feelings go inside the suitcase; he stuffed then in tight and then sat on the suitcase and locked it shut.

(Kate DiCamillo – The Tiger Rising)

Time snored like old Uncle Goodman after dinner.

(Leon Garfield, The Wedding Ghost)

The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth all the effort.

(Terry Pratchett)

It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.

(Charles Dickens, Hard Times)

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

(Iain Banks, The Crow Road)

Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.

(Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.)

Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl.

(Katherine Rundell, Wolf Wilder)

Lloyd runs like a spider on its back legs, arms waving free.

(Chloe Daykin, The Boy Who Hit Play)

It was at that moment…that his tame patience with the grey of his life had smashed and spilled him tumbling towards his future.

(Laini Taylor, Muse of Nightmares)

My grandmother made dying her life’s work.

(Hugh Leonard – Home Before Night)

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. (Christopher Isherwood – Goodbye To Berlin)

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

(Antoine St Expury, The Little Prince)

“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite”

(Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

“Not all those who wander are lost”

(J R R Tolkien, Lord of the Rings)

His eyes got bigger as he looked at her, almost like he wanted to see as much of her as he could.

(Sinead O’Hart, Eye of the North)

One grim winter evening, when it had a kind of unrealness about London, with a fog sleeping restlessly over the city and the lights showing in the blur as if not London at all but some strange place on another planet, Moses Aleptta hop on a number 46 bus at the corner of Chepstow Road and Westbourne Grove to go to Waterloo to meet a fellar who was coming from Trinidad on the boat-train.

(Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners)

Conjured balls of starlings rolled out and up, shoaling from their descending lines, thickening and pulling in on themselves – a black bloom burst from the seedbed of birds.

(Tim Dee, The Running Sky)

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

(Phillip Pullman, His Dark Materials)

His life had not been the shortest distance between two points.

(James Joyce – Dubliners)

Call me Mr Flintstone, I can make your bed rock.

(Rachel Rossiter, from Twitter)

Illuminated soldiers guard the streets.

(Robert Barnes, school essay)

‘Nights beyond darkness and the days more gray than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world’

(Cormac McCarthy, The Road)

They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. Not any more though.

(Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel)

A report on the incident was entered in the records, and because no-one knew the strangers name, a cheap wooden cross was placed on his grave, one of those little crosses marking a nameless soul which now cover our continent of Europe right from one end to the other.

(Stefan Zweig, Incident on Lake Geneva)

But he did not die.

(David Gemmel, The Last Guardian)

There are no endings. If you think so you are deceived as to their nature. They are all beginnings. Here is one.

(Hilary Mantel, Bring Up The Bodies)

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

(First line of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Facts are friends, not enemies of the truth.

[Sutton, M. (2014) ‘Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s greatest secret’ , p. 1. Vae Victus. ]

I realised that in a few minutes I might see the fire. I imagined it like a tongue, licking at the inside of the building.

(Robin Stevens, The Guggenheim Mystery)

Aunt Gloria opened her mouth then closed it again, and expresssions chased themselves across her face like clouds in a localised gale.

(Robin Stevens, The Guggenheim Mystery)

I’m not Bernard I’m a monster , said the monster .

(David McKee, Not Now Bernard)

Frodo was alive, but taken by the enemy.

(JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings)

I know what you look like, for God’s sake I know what your soul looks like so half way there….

(John Byrne while drawing Billy Connolly)

Happiness rushed in like a gust of wind blowing a door wide open.

(Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns)

The season comes to the mannequins first.

(Alice Spawls, writing in the London Review of Books)

The fingers loosened, and the book they had held moved slowly and then swiftly across the still body and fell into the silence of the room.

(John Edward Williams, Stoner)

I guess I always knew, in some subterranean way, Diane and I would end up back together.

(Megan Abbot, Give Me Your Hand)

Let the sunshine be every corner of the toilet.

(unknown copy writer, amazon listing for a toilet bowl night light)

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.

(Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar)

People who didn’t need people needed people around to know that they were the kind of people who didn’t need people.

(Terry Pratchett,  Maskerade)

Stories, like people and butterflies and songbirds’ eggs and human hearts and dreams, are also fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks.

(Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things)

The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history.

(Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey)

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

(Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey)

And all these things sing constant, the machines and the sirens, the cars blurting hey and rumbling all headlong the boots and the shouts and the hums and the crackles all come together and rouse like a choir, sinking and rising with the turn of the wind, the counter and the solo, the harmony humming expecting more voices.

(Jon McGregor, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things)

I think gentleness is a mighty word because you have to be strong of heart to be kind.

(Abi Elphinstone, Sky Song)

And with that comforting idea, sleep rolled over him, stifling all further thought.

(JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

Long before midnight, Fionn sank into a dream where the sea climbed up the cliffs and spat it’s guts onto the land. Marrows with bloody tails and black teeth clawed at his ankles, crooning as they peeled their scales off and stuck them to his skin.

(Catherine Doyle, Tuhe Storm Keeper’s Island)

He was the answer to something but he didn’t know what.

(Tom Hopgood, Little Answer)

The cat watched the dog like a hawk.

(Written in a child’s literacy book)

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.

(Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar)

Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.

(Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility)

A tornado of questions swirled in her head, and all she could do was try to grab at them as the flew by.

(Jessica Townsend, Nevermoor)

My trial starts the way my life did: a squall of elbows, shoving and spit.

(Sara Collins, TheConfessionsOfFrannieLangton)

He was, and is yet most likely, the W earisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours.

(Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights)

(Lord give me grace and dancingfeet and the power to impress.

(Bloc Party, The Prayer)

We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.

(Ernest Hemmingway, A Movable Feast)

Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you. Because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.

(Roald Dahl, The Minpins)

Her face was all geometry; sharp chin, sharp cheekbones, sharp eyes.

(Katherine Rundell, The Explorer)









I think we did a post like this before but I can’t find it so here’s the quickest guide to setting up and running a #BrewEd…

1) Are your values in line?

#BrewEd is about debate and about breaking down silos. It’s about listening to people you wouldn’t usually hear from, whether that’s because they’re from a different sector of education or maybe because they have a different political or pedagogical philosophy. We look to be challenged. We don’t do sponsorship and we don’t do product placement. No one makes a profit. Rule of thumb: if there’s a goody bag on the seat it’s not in the spirit of #BrewEd as Ed and Daryn set it up all those years ago.

2) Find a decent place that will have you.

You’re probably looking for a back room or a function room, maybe with its own bar. You might prefer to run your event in a cafe instead – while the conviviality of the pub is part of the DNA of #BrewEd we do acknowledge that not everyone feels confident in a pub. There has been at least one alcohol free #BrewEd and it was very successful indeed. You don’t want to pay too much for your venue as that’ll bump your ticket sales way up. Will they do a deal so you can offer a drink on arrival? Make sure they can cater for your group – maybe people will order food on arrival if you ask, that makes things easier for a pub with a small kitchen.


Up to you. So far they’ve been on a Saturday from about 10:30 to about 4:30. You can check if there’s already a #BrewEd running that day but, honestly, if you’re more than an hour’s travel from the next nearest event it won’t make much difference unless there’s someone very particular you hope will agree to speak. If you want to do one after work on a Wednesday go ahead – we’ll be interested to hear how it goes as a whole day on a weekend is genuinely a very big ask for a lot of people.

4) Contributors

Ideally we’d like people to be excited to come to a #BrewEd because they know it’ll be a fun and provoking day – not for the supposed twitter celebrity status of one or other of the contributors. We certainly want to ensure that every #BrewEd has voices from a range of sectors. If you’ve already secured two speakers from mainstream schooling why not approach someone who works in a PRU, or a special school. If you’ve got someone who teaches in an initial teacher training institution why not get an NQT to speak too. Remember it’s about breaking down silos and you’ll be ok.

It’s not always easy to figure out how to get a diverse range of voices. As teachers we tend to mostly have people from our own sectors in our networks – Primary people know primary people – researchers know researchers and so on. One interesting way to challenge this is to look at the list of speakers at https://www.bameednetwork.com/speakers/   and see if any are based near you or might like to come along. Searching the hashtags #WomenEd, #LGBTedUK and @DisabilityEdUk will throw up lots of names of people who might be able to come and speak. Don’t be afraid to ask around – in our experience people are generally pleased to be asked and if they can’t help out they’ll usually put you in touch with someone who can.

5) What should they speak on?

Something they’re passionate about. Something that maybe isn’t clear cut. Something that will have a good chance of sparking a debate. Because we are hoping to attract a cross sector crowd, we are not looking for tips and tricks. Attendees aren’t looking to go home with a new teaching strategy they can try out in the classroom on Monday morning, much more they are looking for an idea which might challenge or change their professionalism long term.

6) How do you build in discussion?

A rough rule of thumb is that you want to leave as much time for debate as for presentation. So for each ‘slot’ I suggest half the time is presentation and half is discussion. This can work a few ways. If you give someone a half hour slot they could run that whole slot in a workshop style for half an hour – Jean-Louis Dutaut of Flip The System does this really well – another presenter might give a tight fifteen minute presentation then field comments and questions for the remainder of the slot. Often whoever is MCing the day can do a great job by running the discussion after a speaker has given their presentation. So long as you agree what model is going to work with each presenter before they speak any of these can work well. Other ways might work too – so if you’re organising with a team you could divvy up the discussion facilitation.

7) What does a typical programme look like?

There has been a range of programme models but one that has worked for me a few times now looks like this.

10:30 venue open to participants, welcome drinks available.

11:25 Brief welcome from organiser/organising team

11:30 to 1:00 Three half hour presentation/discussion slots

1:00 to 1:45 Lunch

1:45 to 2:30 Longer slot

2:30 to 3:15 Pub Quiz

3:15 to 4:00 Panel (usually everyone who has presented and is still there plus a couple of interesting people from the audience.

4:00 Rounding off, Thankyous, prizes if you’re into that sort of thing, the rucksack of shite.

8) Pub Quiz?

yes, pub quiz. It’s fun, it breaks down barriers, people bond over pursuit of a shared goal, people have to get together to make a team so they talk to people they might not have talked to, it makes it feel less like work…. all sorts of reasons. Don’t make it too hard, you want most teams to get most questions right.

You could have:

a picture round, a music round, a sequences round, a movie round, subject knowledge for the national curriculum, questions about your town or city, a fun physical challenge, crisp tasting… whatever you like.

9) What’s the rucksack of shite?

I’m afraid that @HYWEL_ROBERTS has that copyrighted. If you haven’t seen it you’ll never know.

10) Who do I need to tell?

Let Daryn know you’re running a #BrewEd so he can add your event to the master list. He might be able to help you out with a nice graphic for your event courtesy of our pal Stan Dupp but we can’t guarantee that.

11) How do I sell tickets?

We’ve used eventbrite in the past and it’s never been to much of a problem. Other ticket selling sites exist and may well be better. Charge enough to cover your costs which shouldn’t be much more than the venue hire plus the ‘free drink on entry’ usually this ends up being about a fiver a head. When  your tickets all ready to go tell Daryn and Ed and we’ll help tweet it out there. When there’s a bit of hype ahead of the launch tickets can sell out in minutes which is gratifying.

12) Any other questions just ask @MrEFinch or @darynSimon and we’ll do our best to help.



It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.

It’s hard to believe that it’s seventeen years since ‘Mortal Engines’, Philip Reeve’s epic, steampunk flavoured adventure first met its public. The book was a success straight away winning the Smarties Book Award and being nominated for the 2002 Whitbread award. For many of us the book has become a real ‘touchstone text’. Some of us remember eagerly lapping up each instalment of the quartet – and then the three prequels – as they came out, others treasure memories of reading the stories to our children at bedtime.

This month sees publication of ‘Night Flights’ a set of stories that flesh out the back story of Anna Fang – a key character in the series. Later this year we will finally get to see the film adaptation that Peter Jackson and his Lord of the Rings team have been working on – the footage released so far makes it look absolutely epic. I for one just cannot wait to see Reeve’s world brought to life on screen.

All of this makes the summer of 2018 a brilliant time to be reading ‘Mortal Engines’ together as a twitter reading group. Whether you have read the entire series over and over, or have resisted the temptation to get sucked into the world of Municipal Darwinism, you are welcome to join us through a month of chat, laughs, sketching, modelling and celebration as we travel with Tom and Hester on their journeys through London and beyond.

When is #SummerEngines happening?

Formally we’ll be convening from Saturday 28th July to Saturday 25th August, there’s nothing wrong with joining in and using the hashtag in the build up however and I wouldn’t be surprised if the conversation rumbles on for a while afterwards too.

Do I have to have read the books already?

No. We’ll assume that you haven’t read it yet and we’ll try not to spoiler the plot or characters for you. The book has roughly 300 pages so for the first week we’ll chat quite generally, in the second week we’ll assume you’ve read at least the first 100 pages or so (up to the end of Chapter 12), in the third week we’ll assume you’ve read about the first 200 pages (to the end of Chapter 22) and after that we’ll assume you’ve read to the end of the book. We won’t set a daily reading challenge, experience tells me most people don’t read that way. If you’re at all like me you’ll probably find that once you start the book you won’t want to put it down till it’s done.

Am I supposed to be involved every day?

Of course not, quite apart from anything I expect lots of people will be having holidays over the time #SummerEngines is running and it would be fairly tragic if you spent the whole time tapping at your phone chatting to strangers about a children’s book. Unless you really want to. Most people will drop in and drop out as the month goes on. That’s fine. Just don’t leave me all by myself ok?

What sorts of things will we do?

Every day I will tweet a thought, question, challenge, provocation or non sequitur. What you do with these is entirely up to you. I hope to have threads of discussion, threads of memories, threads that ramble way off the subject, sketches, Lego models, songs – whatever you can bring to the party is ok with me.

Does Philip Reeve know about this.

He does indeed and he seems maybe flattered and possibly a bit nonplussed by the whole thing. We won’t ‘@ him in’ as he’s got rather a lot on and we will maybe be a bit puppyish and tedious but I suspect he might drop in from time to time. Philip has offered to partipate in a twitter chat late in August. Presuming we find a time that suits to make this happen we’ll focus the chat on the character of Anna Fang as she’s been in Philip’s head recently due to the publication of ‘Flight Nights’ which explores her back story. If you enjoy Mortal Engines you might enjoy reading ‘Night Flights’ ahead of the chat. We’ll confirm a date and time for that a little closer to the time.

How do I get involved? 

If you’ve read this far you’re already involved! To stay involved follow @MrEFinch on twitter, check out the #SummerEngines and #MortalReaders hashtags to see who else is getting involved (why not give them a follow too?) and maybe get hold of the book if you don’t have it already. No one will judge if you start reading before the starting gun fires!


#BrewEdFlip Oxford, April 28th

April 28th is going to be a humdinger of a day in Oxford. We have the first #BrewEd in the south of the country, we have a great venue and a brilliant brilliant line up. We hope to have a room full of provocative conversations, new friends, old friends, debate and laughter.

#BrewEd is never about big names, it’s about ideas and conversations, but the names down to speak at #BrewEdFlip are certainly amongst the most interesting voices in UK Education.

Our venue is the iconic ‘Jericho Tavern’, a cracking pub which played host to early gigs by just about every band who ever came out of Oxford. The room we’ll be meeting in has seen performances from Ride, Radiohead, supergrass, Stornaway and many more. The pub serves good pub food so lunch won’t be a problem. We’ll have some snacks on the tables to keep you going between times.

If you have never been to a #BrewEd event you might be unsure what to expect. Speakers will give us a short talk after each of which we will have a chance to question and debate – speakers come ready to be stretched and challenged. We will have a great pub quiz – don’t worry if you’re coming by yourself, we’ll help you find a team – and we’ll finish with a panel made up of some of our speakers helping to put any themes that have emerged through the day through the wringer. You’ll go home with new ideas, new perspectives and new friends.

Tickets for the day cost less than £6, they’re available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/brewedflip-tickets-42331814597


JL Dutaut (@dutaut) and Lucy Rycroft-Smith (@honeypisquared) are the joint editors of ‘Flip The System’ a book that sets out a manifesto to turn our education system on its head giving the power back to the people who deliver education on the frontline. They ask us to imagine a system where the Secretary of State for Education wakes up each morning to ask ‘what can I do today to help teachers do the best possible job?’

Simon Knight (@SimonKnight100) is an all round SEN expert, TES contributor and headteacher designate of an Oxfordshire special school. Simon contributed a chapter to ‘Flip The System’ and will be speaking on ‘The Progressive Traditionalism of Special Education’.

Jarlath O’Brien (@JarlathOBrien) writes on behaviour for the TES, he is a head teacher and is the author of ‘Don’t Send Him In Tomorrow’ a passionate and angry book examining exclusion and off rolling with specific reference to children and young people with special needs. He’ll be talking on values and exclusion.

Jackie Ward (@jordiejax) has worked as deputy head in a primary PRU and now works nationally as a consultant specialising in exclusion and SEND. Jackie contributed the chapter ‘Making A Difference – the view from a primary PRU’ to Flip The System and will be speaking on exclusion and SEND.

Phil Wood contributed a chapter on Lesson Study to Flip The System. He argues that teaching’s intellectual nature has been replaced by a simplistic, technical one – to deliver predetermined and packaged materials created by others and argues for a slow time approach increasing teacher agency.

Gawain Little (@GawainLittle) is a local teacher as well as being an executive member for the NEU. He will be talking about individualised approaches to teaching maths through journaling and reflection.

The day will be hosted by Ed Finch (@MrEFinch), co-founder of #BrewEd and a teacher at a local Oxford primary school, and Gareth Alcott (@GAlcottGareth) head of CPD of the Oxfordshire Teaching Schools Alliance, Assistant Head and chapter contributor to Flip The System.

#BrewEd Norfolk


Daryn Simon and Ed Finch (@darynsimon and @MrEFinch would like a moment of your time:

We were saddened today to hear that the organiser of #BrewEdNorfolk had refunded the ticket of a participant who had booked to take part in the day. To us this went against the spirit of the day and against the aspirations we have for #BrewEd as an opportunity to bring people together.  After consideration and discussion we have asked that the organiser cancel the event or change its name in order to indicate the event is not affiliated to BrewEd.

We do not have any specific rights over the #BrewEd hashtag and do not have control over #BrewEd events – indeed it is expressly our hope that the ‘brand’ will outgrow us entirely – however we do hope that the organiser will agree to cancel or rebrand in respect of our wishes. Please understand that we cannot demand that she do this, but that we respectfully request she do so.

Daryn and Ed set #BrewEd up as a way to bring together diverse perspectives in education; whether those are different sectors, different systems or different pedagogical persuasions. We believe that face to face dialogue will help us to focus on what we have in common and to learn better how to resolve those matters where we differ.

So far there has been only one #BrewEd event, Ed Finch took the lead on programming and running that day. Our next event is in Wakefield in the new year, that event is being led by Daryn Simon. Beyond that, the many BrewEd events planned for next year are in the hands of other people most of whom we do not know and have not met. We are not programming those events, we are not choosing speakers or setting the subjects they speak on, we are not setting ticket prices or dictating the form the day should take. We do, however hope that those events will be run in the inclusive and diverse spirit of the day we ran in Sheffield.

We do not believe it is productive to bar individuals from events. We think this is more likely to sow discord than promote harmony. We think that the events that have played out today have shown that to be true. Despite this we would like to express our thanks to the organiser for setting up #BrewEdNorfolk and our deep regret that we have had to ask her to cancel it. We believe she acted in good faith and that the event was intended to be a force for good in the teaching community of Norfolk and beyond. We think that the decision to bar entry to the specific participant was mis-judged but we do not believe it was intended to be spiteful or discriminatory. We do not intend to discuss it further and would ask that readers have respect for the well-being of the individuals involved.

We are looking forward to a number of BrewEd events in the coming months and hope to meet with many of you there. Always in a spirit of inclusivity and always in open debate. We look forward to encountering new ideas and having our own ideas challenged. We hope and expect that organisers of future #BrewEd’s will bear lessons from today in mind and ensure the widest possible participation at their events.


A Happy, and Inclusive, Nativity.

As soon as children are back from half term, classes will start preparing for Christmas performances. Assemblies will turn into singing practices, boxes of robes and head-dresses will be retrieved from whatever cubby hole they’ve been hidden in since last year, CD backing tracks for ‘The Grumpy Snowman’ and ‘The Agnostic Pelican’ will be dusted off and the whole carousel will head round for its umpteenth iteration.

All of which is terrific for those children and teachers who thrive on that sort of thing. And all of which can be hard on the children who had just got into the routine of their new classes and now find it strangely changed, or for those for whom the idea of performance is intimidating.

Let’s face it. There are plenty of adults among our colleagues, friends and families who would do just about anything rather than get up and perform on stage. For every workmate who relishes a spot of drunken karaoke there’s a good few for whom the very idea brings them out in a cold sweat.

At Larkrise, the school I teach at, there’s a long and unbroken tradition of nativity plays going back to the dawn of time. Performance is given high status in the school with time and energy put into giving concerts and shows the best production values our (increasingly) limited resources can stretch to. We believe that regular opportunities to perform in front of each other, and audiences of parents and carers, give our pupils the chance to develop confidence which will stand them in good stead at secondary school and life beyond. The number of our children who choose to carry on with performance at secondary school suggests that, for those children at least, we’re getting it right. Nevertheless, I worry for the children who fear performing on stage, especially those on the autistic spectrum, or with similarly presenting conditions, for whom the focus on a show can be profoundly unsettling.

In the past we have found a few ways of ensuring that these children have the opportunity to be involved in the show on their own terms. It is a measure of the effectiveness of these approaches that they are generally but not always taken up – for, while I consider it a ‘win’ when the reluctant child takes their place in a performance, I do not want to be coercing a reluctant child into participating when they genuinely do not want to do so.

One method which has worked for me is to make participation in a show very fluid and optional for all the children involved.

For two years, in place of the traditional nativity, I worked with the children in Year Two to create a form of physical, interactive theatre which proved to be inclusive to all. I recorded narration for a version of a Christmas story and rehearsed with the children, largely through games, creating tableau and movement which brought the story alive. No child was required to speak, no one had to remember any lines, no one had to remember to stand in a particular place or had responsibility for a particular part. Instead, the children shared a responsibility to each other and to the audience to ensure the story got told.

In each of these two shows there was one character who took us through the story. However, that part was shared by the children so that many children had a go at being the main character and no one became the ‘star’ of the show. In the story of the old woman who believes she has nothing to give the baby Jesus but ends up cradling the infant and singing him to sleep so that Mary can rest we used a head scarf to denote who was playing the lead, in between scenes – or even within them – the head scarf could be passed between children to let them have a go. Once they had the head scarf on they could simply listen to the recorded narration and act out what it said. Being so familiar with the story, and having heard it told so many times through rehearsal, the children would even pre-empt the recorded story telling a little, building a the sense of co-creation and ownership.

In each practice and each performance the children opting to take the role were different, we even had a rule that if you had played a certain role in the last practice or performance you couldn’t play it the next time round. Children who would have been entirely put off by being told to remember to stand in a certain place and having to remember to part certain lines in a certain time were deeply involved and showed real commitment to the storytelling. I specifically remember a child who was an elective mute and socially withdrawn and who, I believe, would have excluded herself from performance if she had felt it to be compulsory.

Towards the end of our show that year a nativity scene was built up bit by bit as the narrator described the stable and the scene within it. The a narrator would say “and there, inside the stable, were two sheep and, high on a rafter an owl watched everything that was going on…” and a little parcel of children would walk onstage to become sheep while another found the cardboard owl and lifted it up in the air on it’s bamboo stick.

The last element of the scene to come into place was the old woman who was the central character of the show. On one of the performances our elective mute child left herself till last then, realising she was the last available body, calmly came on stage to take the place of the main character. She put on the head scarf, sat in the chair and accepted the baby put into her arms. She showed absolute attention to the child and created a moment of such quiet magic that the entirety of the packed school hall collectively caught its breath. This child would not under usual circumstances even have been considered for the main role, nor would she have considered herself for the role, however, under the very special circumstances created in the hall on that day, she was able to take part and play that role. The difference was that she wasn’t playing the part to make a spectacle of herself but to fulfil a collective responsibility that the story be told.

Elsewhere in these shows I would create opportunities for children to participate which would pass entirely unnoticed if no one took them up but would create a moment of theatrical magic if they were accepted and acted upon. In one show I included a mention of the sun moving slowly across the sky in the recorded narration and casually left a big cut out sun lying at the side of the stage. In one performance a child with profound special needs heard the narration, picked up the sun and moved with it slowly across the stage. He didn’t think anyone was looking at him, he just saw that the sun needed to be moving across the stage and took the little bit of responsibility to ensure it played its part in the show. For that child’s parents that was a moment of huge significance, for other parents who were unaware of the depth of challenge the family were facing it was just another part of the storytelling – no one was being ‘othered’ or made a spectacle of – the children were just ensuring the story got told.

The following year, in order that a specific child could be incorporated into the show, I made a set pretty lanterns lit internally with LED tealights and built into the show moments when these might come on stage. For the child with specific needs I made a slightly different lantern that he would recognise as being specifically his. The children, who were (and are) a beautifully mannered cohort who are able to be kind and inclusive, made space for this child to bring on his lantern when he chose to and didn’t worry in any way when he didn’t. In one of our performances to parents and carers he created a moment of absolute stillness and beauty when he came on to an otherwise empty stage and stood for a while with his lantern – I dimmed the lights a little and for a moment our hall, and his illuminated face, became the centre of the world. In the other performance he chose not to come on at all. Both performances and both his choices were absolutely fine.

Further up the school finding ways to incorporate children into shows without forcing them to do something they are not comfortable with can be even more creative. My own son is not an eager performer – he’ll do it if he has to but doesn’t enjoy it. By allowing him and children like him to operate lights for our shows (simply a matter of sliding six faders up and down) I give them a space to be passionately involved in performance – and to build that confidence – without forcing them onto the stage. It’s no extra work for me and it’s hugely satisfying to those children – it also seems to be hugely impressive to the children’s parents which is another cheap win.

There have been children who have been so averse to the change of routine and to the sensory overload of being in a crowded school hall with lights and music that involvement in the room would simply be either cruel or unfair. On some occasions, after discussion with parents, we have included these children on filmed segments. A child who would not be able to perform on stage but whose parents passionately wanted to see him represented in the show gave me film of their son playing a musical instrument at home. So that he wouldn’t be ‘othered’ or made a special case I shot film of other children playing instruments and quickly cut them together to make a video of ‘The School Band’ which was shown on the screen as part of a performance. The child was very happy with the video – especially as their wall at home was painted green so I was able to shoot the other children in front of a green screen and use Chroma key processing to make it look as if all the players were in the same place – which was an absolute wonder to all concerned.

The parents of the performance averse child were proud and delighted to see their child properly represented in the show and no other parent would have perceived that this particular child was being picked out for special treatment as their were plenty of other pupils in the video with them. Shooting and editing the movie was not a difficult or time consuming job for me and it was one I kind of enjoyed as editing film is always pretty fun.

There have been quite a number of instances where children have been involved in performances through filmed sequences. If you have more than the usual amount of patience you can sit through a few of them on my YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/EdJFinch  .

In closing; my tips for involving reluctant children in performance – whether they have special educational needs or not – would be;

·       Keep it flexible

·       Keep it fun

·       Keep the focus on the story not the performance

·       Find opportunities to make it ok if they join in and equally ok if they don’t

·       Communicate with parents throughout

Let me know if any of that has been interesting or useful to you – I’m on twitter as @MrEFinch. I’d be glad to chat if there’s anything else you’d like to know.

Have a great show and, if I don’t see you before, have a happy, and inclusive, Christmas.


Measuring What Matters: 5C Dashboard

This is a twin-post. @Jack_m_brown and I have chosen to write on the same topic. We’re interested to see if our differing perspectives – he as classroom teacher, me as a senior leader – will be apparent in the blogs, will conceptual or philosophical chasms open between us, will one of us have to apply for a new job? Check out Jack’s post at http://musingsmanuscriptsandmaths.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/measuring-what-we-value.html

Here’s a graph to have a look at. This graph is the product of months of work. To me it’s endlessly fascinating and a thing of rather odd beauty. Shall we explore it together?


Child 1, as he’s been so imaginatively renamed, is a pupil at Larkrise Primary School where our stated values are Caring, Confidence, Curiosity, Creativity and Celebrating. The graph shows Child 1 rated against these five values from three different viewpoints – the child themself, the child’s parents and the child’s teacher. Three different viewpoints all looking at one life – focussing in that child. How confident are they? How caring?

And just asking those questions opens up more, what do you mean ‘confident’? Confident at maths? At sport? Confident because of true ability or confident because they haven’t a clue what they cannot yet do? Caring? How would we know?

The graph draws me in. Look at the strange disparity and yet confluence of opinion. For each of the five points two viewpoints agree and one demurs. Caring: the child and parent agree that Child 1 is five out of five on the caring scale – as caring as a child can be, but the teacher puts them at just one – hardly caring at all. Perhaps the teacher has never seen the child with their pet dog or younger sibling? When does a school give a child an opportunity to demonstrate caring? Curious: the parent says child 1 is four out of five on the curiosity scale while the teacher and the child themselves agree on a blunt zero – just not curious at all. Is the parent fooling themselves or have they spotted something we haven’t?Celebrating: The child indicates five out of five while parent and teacher and in agreement on one. If the child says they are good at celebrating who they are, valuing themself, how odd that we should say otherwise.

And look at each of those shapes. The teacher, the shape in grey, seems to see a child who is low in all qualities other than confidence. The child has as high or higher opinion of themselves than anyone else than in the conversation – I say conversation because that is what this becomes – except in the curiosity sector where he has a very low opinion of himself. Well – maybe that’s wrong. He certainly scores himself low in curiosity but then maybe he doesn’t rate curiosity very highly – perhaps he has a high opinion of himself as someone who just isn’t curious. Do you want to find out more? I do.

I have barely scratched the surface of the graph. I hope I have started to draw you in and I can assure you that, if you know the child in question, the information only becomes more and more fascinating.

Now, here’s some more information. Same child;

Reading: Expected

Writing: Expected

Maths: Expected

Do I need to explore the gulf between the richness of the information in the radar graph and the attainment data? One inducts me into the child’s understanding of themselves, and the complex web of perceptions and relationships around that. The other tells me… Well, I’ll be a little controversial and say it tells me close to nothing.

Now. Imagine you had one of these radar graphs for every child in your class? That you could make them the focus of conversations with parents at parent teacher consultations; that you could use them to inform your teaching, that you could puzzle over them when trying to put a finger on just what makes that child tick or what is holding them back? Excited? I am.

The project which produced the radar graph shared at the top of this piece, and twenty nine more like it, is new this year at Larkrise. We’re calling it the Larkrise 5C’s dashboard. So far we have run it in one Year Five classroom chosen carefully for three reasons:

  1. Year Fives, being older than lower years, should have greater sophistication and understanding of themselves than younger pupils.
  2. Class teacher, Mr Brown, is open to new ideas and highly adept at manipulating data.
  3. Mr Brown is an NQT and therefore has to do as he’s told.

Now that we have seen the results of Mr Brown’s labour, mostly achieved with paper and pencil and, in the case of myself and governor Eylan Ezekiel who were tasked with getting the data off parents at picking up time, umbrellas and damp clip boards, we are moving towards a more technical version – collecting the data through a tablet based app and swooshing it straight into excel.

When we started this project, in a conversation between Eylan and myself, we said that we really had no interest in the numbers the children, parents or teachers produced. That we were ‘kinda’ interested in the shapes that came out and that we were passionately interested in the resulting conversations.

We are hoping to win the confidence of our staff, parents and governing body to take these conversations right across the school and into the community. Keep in touch if you’d like to hear how that goes and to join in the fun.

@MrEFinch  @Jack_m_brown  @eylanezekiel