Standing in awe.

What incredible times these are.  Against a backdrop of ignorant media commentary and unwarranted pressure from overly powerful people who don’t teach or run schools,   shouting from the sidelines, teachers and school leaders are doing such a phenomenal job.  It’s an immense task – reframing how schools and colleges operate, wrestling with a new raft of safety and learning challenges, external demands, parental expectations, technological and resource constraints- to provide what their students and their communities need as best they can.   And I’m in awe.  Pure and simple.

I’ve had this feeling many times before that, given what someone has achieved, you just have to stand back in awe; to marvel at what has been done; to express some gratitude and applaud.  This has been magnified since I left the frontline myself.  I know how hard it can be,  how difficult it is to get right; I know the personal and professional risks people take; what the immense pressure can feel like.  So, when people are out there doing it, facing it, dealing with it, acing it –  I’m standing in awe.

  • I felt it about Katharine Birbalsingh and her team after their first GCSEs at Michaela  – a remarkable outcome but, more than that, it was the extraordinary scale of their ambition and sustained commitment to fundamental principles.
  • I felt it about Caroline Derbyshire and her team at Saffron Walden County High School – who have created the most fabulous culture supporting teacher development with wonderful, wonderful teaching everywhere you go.
  • I felt it when I met Sam Strickland at his Duston School in Northampton  – his extraordinary drive and focus and frontline engagement; that no-nonsense blend of principle and pragmatism that make things happen.
  • I felt it hearing Sonia Thompson talk with passion and humour about her very high-PP Birmingham primary school, St Matthew’s, where reading takes centre-stage in a fabulous rich curriculum; where they act as the classics hub and lead on countless other amazing things in the school and wider network.
  • I felt it at the last ResearchEd event in Birmingham organised by Andy Brown from Nishkam High School with Claire Stoneman – the scale of it; the commitment from so many teachers; the thirst for professional learning; the insights of all the speakers I saw. (Naveen Rizvi was just ‘wow’).
  • I feel it every time I go to Turton School in Bolton to meet Sam Gorse and her fabulous team – their deep curriculum thinking and collegiate approach is a joy to witness.  Their ‘Hive Switch’ is genius.

And now, in these difficult days, it’s happening again.  Every day it seems some new voice of doom is kicking off an absurd, outrageous, ignorant attack on teachers, schools and leaders.  A jumped-up Lord Nobody, head-in-sand MP or some screeching “journalist” or other deems themselves to know more about what is right, fair, safe, manageable, appropriate – than all the hundreds and thousands of people in the field who see it differently.   I’d ask them to take a step back.  What do you know really?  Why not take a moment to just appreciate what’s going on here. From what I see, it’s time to stand in awe again. Every day, that’s how I feel.

I feel it hearing about Vic Goddard (Passmores), Gerry Robinson (Woodside, Tottenham), Kirstie Andrew-Power (Brune Park,), Ed Vainker (Reach Feltham) – and more – who just seem to go above and beyond, time and time again to support communities where disadvantage is ever-present; where school is so much more than school, propping up fragile communities in challenging times.

I feel it every time I go into the kitchen which is Zoom Central for my wife, interacting every day with her colleagues.  It’s the range of issues and the attention to detail that blows me away.  Centre-assessed grades – sorted! Remote learning discussions – continual. Pastoral follow-up? Forensic.  How is X doing? How’s her mum? Is she getting  the food, the resources? Can she get online?  Endlessly, day after day.

I feel it about Adam Boxer.  What a guy! His total commitment to the #cogscisci mission, sharing ideas and resources so freely; his enthusiasm for teaching and debate about the ideas and issues; and, of course his epic recent blog and its epic response:

I feel it about the twitter-army of teachers and leaders continuing to support and encourage their teams, sharing ideas and resources and enthusiasm – people like Ruth Walker, Claire Grimes, Caroline Spalding, Jennifer Webb – and more.  I’m in awe of all my teacher friends, keeping it all together, day in day out, unsung.  Just doing it.

I feel it about Jon Hutchinson – such a fabulously enthusiastic, thoughtful teacher as his online materials show, but also such great curriculum thinking and sharing – and, as ever, his generous acknowledgement of the Reach team that he’s part of.

I’m standing in awe looking at The Oak National Academy and all it represents.  To get something this good and this big off the ground in such a short time is just incredible.  That army of teachers making those lessons on top of their other work; the quality of the platform and all the communications; the openness to comments and suggestions.  Immense.

I feel it about ResearchEdHome and Chiltern Learning Trust – and all the other free webinar providers who have pulled together an impressive array of online material to feed teachers’ appetite for professional learning.  On top of delivering their remote learning output, there’s this fabulous CPD-hungry energy coursing through the system.

I feel it hearing from John Tomsett, reflecting on all the conversations and challenges he and his colleagues wrestle with at Huntington; I feel it seeing how Andy Byers has approached something like the centre-assessed grades at Framwellgate. In both cases, it’s the attitude they have towards their staff and students that I find so awe-inspiring; doing a job not many can do as well as they do.

I could go on and on.  All of these people are in the mix, on the frontline, doing the job. Everyone else, me included, is a bystander.  Who are we to do anything but applaud and encourage?  We should listen to what all these people are saying: about remote learning, about the timing for returning to full-school access, about the resources they need to do so.  Listen!

And we should have hope and faith.  With people like this all over the country, doing what they’re doing,  we’re going to do OK.  We will prevail; we will recover.  Not because of anything the DFE or a nobody commentator has to say – but because of the deep commitment, the principles and energy that flood our system against all odds.

I’m standing in awe. We all should be.




  1. Hi Tom,

    Thank you for a brilliant article – I taught for four years under Gerry at Woodside, and she certainly deserves all the recognition that comes her way, the culture of acceptance that she created at Woodside was an extraordinary thing to be a part of.

    I was wondering if there is anywhere that I could read more about the work that Caroline Derbyshire and her team are doing at Saffron Walden? I now help lead a small EdTech platform – MossPAM – and one of our main focus areas is supporting schools to build a positive culture around teacher development. As such I’m always interested in people doing interesting things in the area.

    Many thanks,

    Mark Jones
    Chief Strategy Officer



  2. Thank you for this. Our amazing teachers are unsung hereos and should be recognized as such. One of the teachers you mentioned is my brilliant,dedicated daughter of whom we are so proud. Sadly our government have let them down….yet again.😐


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s