I’m rubbish at English – another ‘single story’.

I had a small epiphany yesterday during the Year 10 Parents’ evening. No one saw and I kept it under wraps….

My Year 10s have been reading Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story in the Edexcel IGCSE anthology. In the article, derived from a TED talk, Adichie explores the barriers we erect by over-reliance on a ‘single story’, especially around race.
I have been talking to my boys about not believing their single story – the one which says – I am rubbish at English. To me this attitude simply creates an expectation of failure and denies the chance of improvement, yet we hear it a lot in schools. This year I have managed to remove the numbers from my sets in Year 10 but a “low” set will always be identified by the members of the set and especially by their peers, in search of a quick bout of one-upmanship.

So here’s the epiphany which emerged as I talked…

Picture a teenage boy who is a good cricketer. He always gets out playing a certain shot – say a late cut to an off-spinner. All else works well and some of his stroke play is magnificent…

Does he say “I’m rubbish at cricket”? Does he stop trying because he sees no hope? Obviously not. He goes into the nets and works to improve that strand of his game.

So my boys, who are finding analysis of Macbeth and the concept of Equivocation hard, what do they say?
“I’m rubbish at English”

Time to change: Maybe “I need to work on finding really useful quotations to use as evidence” or “I need to work on structuring an essay because I am finding too much material and am not sure how to organise the ideas”… anything but “I’m rubbish at English”… They talk English, they write English, they think English, they use it in a wide range of subjects and situations all day every day – they re not rubbish.

Time to throw the ‘single story’ out of the window. They are good at English – they have not yet mastered certain elements of the subject techniques – yet!

Let’s not reinforce this negative stereotyping. Let’s challenge this negativity when we find it in students, colleagues and parents.

We can all improve in a range of areas – let’s admit this to our students and help them to move on with their heads held high.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


This blog has been recommended for the UK Blog Awards 2017.  If you find my work useful, please spare my blushes by voting for me: BLOG AWARDS

Click Here to Vote for Me

I write for the benefit of my students but the significant number of users – in advance of 550,000 – suggest a wider audience.  This is humbling.

I want to thank the readers who put me forward for the awards – I really appreciate your generosity.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Jerusalem (Butterworth): Term Paper collection

I thought I would collect a few essays written this term about Jerusalem by my Lower 6th Boys.  I believe these to contain some excellent material, perhaps not in the form of model essays for examination, but in the form of written work to promote discussion and to provide material for discussion.

Please use them and share them to a wider audience.  I have not edited them and have not included the “marked” versions quite deliberately. This is the work of 16 and 17 Year olds and I believe it stands on its own regard without excuses.



Please enjoy.

Leave a comment

Filed under jerusalem, OCR A level, OCR NEW English Literature, Uncategorized

The Knife of Never Letting Go: Guide and activities

A repeat post for my guide and activities for this wonderful text.  I am so looking forward to engaging with this again, and bothering @Patrick_Ness on Twitter when my students have questions or present something great.





The screencast is here: KONLG intro

Leave a comment

Filed under KS4, prose

Hide and Seek: Scannell

My favourite poem in the Edexcel IGCSE anthology…

This is for Year 10 who spent a grand 50 minutes exploring the SCA of SCASI.

One or two didn’t copy it and one was absent.


I can’t summarise a poor photo, but the gist is that the poem is a poem of development from innocence to experience – the childish excitement of the opening becoming more of  a sense of “excited and scared” (Sondheim) as the child gains experience. We looked closely at Character to chart this development in the language used around the child and repressive nature of the imperatives which come from his internal voice (?) which add more and more inhibitions to his behaviour.

The overt sensory setting was a rich area of discussion as was the passage of time and the awareness of moving from one state to another after a cocoon-like wrapping in the sacks…  The boy emerges with heightened self-awareness as his innocent state is left behind him.

The Action divided between inside the shed and external action – the scuffling laughter suggesting his “friends” conscious rejection of him and the cold “biting at the same time suggesting the emergence of his recognition of his new state.

My boys may not have gone for the Sondheim allusion – this is Red Riding Hood ion Into The Woods – excited and scared as her “experiences” in the woods are considered – the new-found awareness s of sexuality is not really a feature here, but the personified garden of threat at the end seems clearly to signify a frightening new world which awaits our young adolescent.



Leave a comment

Filed under EDEXCEL CERTIFICATE, IGCSE support, poetry, Uncategorized

“The vision of England depicted by Butterworth is a bleak one. Society is in crisis.”.

A lower 6th discussion seminar base don an essay by one of the class. Please feel free to listen and to add comments as you will.

I find the use of MP3 recording in these sessions is having a real impact on the quality of the written expression – vindication in its own right.

Leave a comment

Filed under jerusalem, OCR A level, OCR NEW English Literature

A link to the OCR A level resources

For my students…

OCR delivery guides


Please browse and familiarize.

Leave a comment

Filed under ks5, OCR NEW English Literature

Yr 12 conversations after OCR AS texts

Two members of my Lower 6th class surprised me last week by announcing that they had been recording conversations about our set texts as a revision model. I am so pleased.

I hope they are useful. I would be happy to post responses if anyone has them…

I will share them below as they appear:

Tom and Karan on Jerusalem and Hypocrisy (among other things)


Leave a comment

Filed under jerusalem, ks5, OCR A level, OCR NEW English Literature

Upper 6th: Dolls House/Merchants Tale discussions

There seems to be a terrible outbreak of the lurgy at school (or it might be Friday period 6).  Here is the discussion from today’s lesson about linking Ibsen and Chaucer, based on the June 2016 AS exam passage for analysis from Merchant’s tale (starting L.525).

In another reduced class, we discussed Feminist readings and the conversation took a turn into the discussion of critical theories. I am keen to remind students that all critical theories are applied after the event – Feminism, Marxism, Freudian et al…

My favourite moment here is when one student asks: “bit isn’t that unfair…”

Once again, a reminder that we are linking Chaucer and Ibsen for the OCR A level.


Leave a comment

Filed under OCR NEW English Literature, podcast for english revision

Debate: THB believes Johnny Byron to be a victim of an immoral and unjust society

A class debate.  The boys worked well to display an understanding of the text and a willingness to explore all sides.

I am not convinced by the Opposition line here – surely there must be more responsibility on society than they wish to concede, but I really enjoyed this. Dig in.

Leave a comment

Filed under OCR A level, OCR NEW English Literature, Paedagogy, podcast for english revision