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On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…..

Zero Tolerance – the perfect gift for the special teacher in your life….

Since it was published at the end of February this year, my first novel, Zero Tolerance has had some brilliant reviews. At this festive time of giving, what better way is there to celebrate the end of a truly ghastly year, by giving a copy of the book to that special teacher in your life.

You can buy Zero Tolerance using the links below.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=zero+tolerance+a+novel&crid=2YAT8X7XXX3WO&sprefix=zero+tolerance%2Caps%2C658&ref=nb_sb_ss_ts-a-p_5_14

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/zero-tolerance/

Still not convinced? Read some extracts from the reviews below:

Peter Thomas, Chair of NATE

Be warned: this is a very offensive book. It will cause great offence to true believers of some of the current orthodoxies prevailing in UK education.

Sceptics, agnostics and heretics will love the book. It is very funny and it is rooted in a very realistic school setting.

Swift’s Modest Proposal….Pope’s Rape of the Lock…Rushdie’s Satanic Verses…The life of Brian….Charlie Hebdo cartoons…(were all) a cause of offence.

Rattling the bars of an institution can be done from outside or inside, but, either way, rattling them turns the apparatus of repression into an instrument of communication. And this novel rattles quite a few bars, with offence intended.

Debra Kidd – Trainer, writer, founder of National Teacher learning Day, author of “A Curriculum of Hope”

Love, loved, loved this book by The Old Grey Owl. If you’re a fan of silent corridors, zero tolerance etc etc it may not be for you. For the rest of us …..bloody brilliant!

Mark Aston – Schools Week

This is the Edu-Dickens that we have been crying out for since Hard Times. Not since watching A Very Peculiar Practice – an equally caustic satire of encroaching privatisation of the NHS in the late 1980s – have I felt so politically energised by a cultural product. If the malpractices engaged in in this novel are anywhere near truth, then we have streamlined and simplified the English education system into nothing less than a Victorian workhouse, with all its attendant, oft-ignored rules and regulations and lack of meaningful (because often corrupt) oversight.

Those who already experience schools in the way described by the anonymous author will lap up the almost burlesque caricature of the Cruella de Ville that is Everson (she is described as such during a pleasingly terrifying learning walk of the school).

London Headteacher (name changed to protect the innocent)

Loved the book! The plot rang very true for a leader of one of those rare beasts, an LA maintained proper comprehensive school in London. Lots of sadness, but lots of hope too and lovely characters. Highly recommended!

Amazon Reviews

Toxic Policies Poison

Toxic workplace practices have been in place in the private sector for decades, but now they have infiltrated schools. The academisation of Fairfield High has a catastrophic impact on the teachers, pupils and local community. Amid all this turmoil lie two boys, a Syrian refugee and a pending class boy fed a diet of violence and racism. Can anyone survive Zero Tolerance?

A Great read: both enjoyable and disturbing

A great narrative expose of a zero tolerance approach to school management – believable, scathing, with a sensitive human touch and engaging characters. I thoroughly recommend this read, particularly for educators …

A satirical, yet hopeful, look at 21st century schools and the dark forces attempting to transform them.


Warmth, wit and wisdom!


This is a must-read for any teacher that will make you think about what it’s really all for. The novel deftly blends wit and wisdom throughout and The Old Grey Owl writes unsavoury characters so well that you’ll be recoiling at every mention of the pathetic ‘Barry Pugh’!

Brilliant!

I loved this novel, it took me on an emotional roller coaster. The characters with all their own doubts and foibles, are drawn brilliantly, We’ve all met these characters during our own school lives or as teachers and we can all picture a face that fits. Then there’s Karim, we may not have met him, but we all know the terrible plight of the refugee. A wonderfully spun tale, I highly recommend this book.

A great satirical work

The British education system has been slowly languishing for many years, suffering from defunding and having attention grabbing, but ultimately useless ideas forced on it. The cries of experienced educators have been drowned out and it seems empathy is at an all time low… or so I believe from what I’ve read in Zero Tolerance. This was a great, satirical work which weaves in astute thoughts on politics, refugees and the general ridiculousness of 21st century life. The Old Grey Owl really breathes life into teachers, a career which has been disrespected by the government for a while now.

Lifting the lid on educational chicanery

This novel is both an engaging page-turner and an important indictment of the direction being taken in state education at the moment. The characters are expertly drawn and the narrative takes you through the travails of teachers trying to do a good job against a back drop of crazy initiatives and unscrupulous school leaders. Added to this is the poignant story of a Syrian refugee who has escaped from one sort of nightmare only to be engulfed by another. Ultimately it has a redemptive finale. We can but hope that, like Rick and his fellow travellers at Fairfield school, this country finally sees the light and we move forward to an education system which aspires to give young people a fully rounded education rather than one narrowly focused on league table supremacy.

First of all this book is a great read. The characters, while they clearly represent a type, are drawn in depth and detail. The plot is wonderfully controlled to keep the reader engrossed and although the story is serious and often tragic, it is fundamentally kind-hearted. This is plainly a book on a mission which may be too apparent, but anyone with experience of children, teaching or teachers can fill in the shades of grey between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. I mustn’t give a way the ending, this book must be read.

 A well-paced, intelligent and humorous expose of life in a newly acadamised London school. The anonymous author has written an excoriating account of school life under the awful ‘Superhead’ Camilla, a Gradgrind of the C21st.
The novel is an engaging story, full of interesting, empathetic characters and despicably horrible villains. There is genuine emotional engagement with the wellbeing of the oppressed teachers in the book and delightful vignettes of their home lives. The quality of the writing improves throughout the book and there is delightful language and metaphor mixed with political astuteness.
Interwoven with the school story of the bastardisation of education, is the story of Syrian refugee Karim, a modern day Oliver Twist who overcomes every adversity to find a new life in England. The denouement is full of dramatic tension.
All teachers should read this book and all fans of Dickens, Morpurgo, Pullman, Tressell and Rowling will not be disappointed.
Ten out of ten and a gold star.

If you’ve been convinced by those fab reviews, or you’re either curious or desperate, why not see for yourself? Click one of the links below to find the book

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/zero-tolerance/

Ho!Ho!Ho! That’s Christmas sorted….

School Leadership: Mourinho versus Solskjaer

Sulky Jose…?

This was, originally,  going to start with the question, “Do you want to be led in your school by Jose Mourinho or Ole Gunar Solskjaer?” Imagine a situation where the interview process for the new Headship at your school has got through to the last stage and there are only two candidates chosen for final interview. The two surprise candidates, disillusioned with the world of top flight football management, have decided it’s time to “give something back” and devote themselves to State school leadership. Mourinho and Solskjaer have polished their Powerpoints, rehearsed their assembly and have mugged up on everything there is to know about Knowledge-Rich curricula, Zero Tolerance behaviour approaches and direct instruction. The staff room waits with bated breath. Which one would you rather have as your leader?

Or, smiley softie Ole?

Bloody Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Everything was going so well after he took over the reins at Manchester United from Jose Mourinho in December last year. The scowling, miserable, sour faced bad loser Mourinho was finally despatched, though not, disappointingly, on Christmas Eve. It would have been fitting to have seen him trudge homeward through the snowy streets of Manchester, in time to spend a grudging Christmas with his nearest and dearest, complaining about the inadequate presents he had been bought. (“What? A pair of socks? Don’t you know my record? Three Premier League titles. Three. Respect. Respect.”)

Mourinho had turned Manchester United into the Theresa May of English football: cautious, wooden, frightened, ineffective. For May, that was no great tragedy. There was no fall from a great height, no previous evidence of charisma or invention or audacity. She had always been distinguished by her mediocrity. But United had flair and panache in their DNA. The team of Edwards, Charlton, Best, Law, Giggs and Cantona had been reduced to shuffling, shabby incompetence. It was embarrassing.

And then the Roundhead was replaced by the Cavalier. Mercifully released from Mourinho’s stifling safety first approach, where players operated under a culture of fear, they responded to Solskjaer’s reign like cattle let out of the winter sheds into Spring pasture. They gambolled. They leaped. They  ran friskily. They played games with a sense of joy rediscovered. Pogba once again was the midfield colossus from the French World Cup winning side. Lukaku looked like a forward who knew how to terrorise defences and score goals. Rashford tore into teams  with direct running and close control. And they won.

And for the blogger always on the lookout for the easy metaphor, it was a gift from heaven. The parallel with the current two tribes approach to School Leadership was uncanny. You could either have the New Brutalism, in the form of Mourinho, or the person-centered, relationship-nurturer of Solskjaer. And with Mourinho, and the Zero Tolerance advocates, you got systems, functionalism, fear and compliance. But no love. No passion. No commitment. And, as a direct result of that, no long term performance. No personal growth. No sustainability. The Roundhead Mourinho was yesterday’s man, old fashioned virtues repackaged for the modern age. You blame everyone else when things go wrong. Demonise the previous regime for sloppy, muddle headed progressivism. Blame the players, or the kids. Or the teachers. How wonderful when it didn’t work and it seemed that Mourinho had been comprehensively found out.

And at first, the human face that was Solskjaer worked brilliantly. They began to win again. Words of confidence worked their magic and players began to express themselves and their innate talent blossomed again. Trust the players, treat them like adults, listen to them and all will be well. Just like in schools. Fear will never produce anything more than compliance. Love and loyalty, on the other hand, move mountains.

And then they gave him a full time contract and the wheels fell off again.

Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn. My beautiful school leadership metaphor shrivelling up on the vine with every passing game. The players, like the naughty kids, started taking the piss again, presumably because they knew that nice Ole wouldn’t do anything about it. Not even give them a bollocking. There seemed to be no consequence for their actions, so why not mess around until the end of the season, picking up a huge pay check and knowing that you’d be off to better club in the summer. So what if Alan Shearer calls you out on Match of the Day on Saturday night for not working hard enough? Big deal. You could buy Alan Shearer ten times over.

And I recalled an incident from my time as a Deputy Head, watching a crowd of naughty Year 10 kids summoned to the head’s office, exclusions pending. With my adjacent office door ajar, I listened, fascinated, to their conversation. It was like the scene from “Kes” with the smokers outside the head’s door, except this time without the sweet, innocent lad who gets the cane for nothing and without the swivel eyed psychopathic headteacher wielding his cane like a light sabre.

As the Head breezed into his office past them, inviting them in as he passed, one lad turned to his mates and said, sotto voce, “Watch me get out of this.” And he did. Ten minutes later he walked out, having given an Oscar winning performance as the contrite sinner who had seen the error of his ways, the head’s chummy words of encouragement ringing in his ears. As he turned to go down the corridor, I caught, through the crack in my office door, the smirk the lad gave his fellow ne’er-do-wells. It was chilling.

The Head went home that day feeling good about himself. He’d shown his human side. He’d connected with a difficult child in difficult circumstances. He’d established a relationship and saved the child from another exclusion. But actually, he’d let the child and the family down and the rest of the school who had to field the consequences of his maximum tolerance everyday in the corridors and the classrooms.

Most of the time the guy was a great head. He did a very good job at a difficult school. He emphasised relationships at the same time as cracking down on behaviour issues and he definitely improved the school. If you had to categorise him according to the metaphor, he would definitely be a Solskjaer rather than a Mourinho.

You remember that wonderful piece of research about school leaders from a couple of years ago that categorised Heads as Architects, Surgeons, Philosophers, Soldiers and Accountants? The one that disappeared without trace because the coming wave of movers and shakers didn’t like the conclusions? All classroom teachers would have been able to recognise the categories. Many headteachers would have raised a sceptical eyebrow because they like to think of themselves as visionaries or missionaries or messiahs. Sorry Heads – gross and cheap stereotyping there. I know many of you are fabulous human beings, particularly those of you who are reading this blog. Follow the link below. It deserves to be resurrected and followed up because it’s never been more important than now, when Surgeons bestride the Education Stage, lionised, rewarded. Mourinhos all of them, at the height of his powers, before he got found out.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-37717211

There is another way to do it. Not Mourinho or Solskjaer. Not iron discipline or trendy, progressive  chaos. There is no need to polarise in this way. Let’s have ethical leadership that consults, engages, trusts staff, listens to students. That establishes and maintains good behaviour without treating children like convicts. That takes learning seriously without being enslaved by examination outcomes. That has a curriculum that serves the children, not the floor targets.

And, to finally flog my football metaphor to death, the beautiful game has, as it always does, the answers. Or some of them at least. There are four English teams in the two major European finals this year. And guess what? Three of them are managed by outstanding leaders: Guardiola, Klopp, and Pochettino. (Sorry Sarri – that chainsmoking hiding your tab from the cameras is just too Andy Capp and 1970s for you to be a serious candidate).

All lead by example, know their players, treat them like adults, give them responsibility, insist on the highest standards, allow people the space to make a mistake, turn them into better players. So no, my original question was wrong. Do you want to be led in your school by Mourinho or Solskjaer? Neither. Give us a version of Guardiola, Klopp or Pochettino instead. And watch everybody fly.

The Demon Headmaster- Satire or Instruction Manual?

Back in the 1980’s grateful English teachers seized upon “The Demon Headmaster” as an engaging playscript for Key Stage 3 classes. It started life as novel by Gillian Cross, but it was the script that was most in demand. We taught it as a satire, a bit of light relief. Its shelf life was extended by the TV version in the nineties, and its dystopian vision of the school of the future, run by crazed, sinister and nameless aliens retained its appeal. It was a clever, far-fetched, mad idea that teachers and school leaders might have strange ideas of power and control over unsuspecting humans. It allowed for the perennially attractive idea of a resistance movement, secretly fighting against the monolithic powers of darkness and oppression. And just like “The Handmaid’s Tale”, it’s back, with added relevance for the strange times we are living through. Strangely, it’s set in an Academy, with a robotic Head teacher who has weird ideas of how to treat children and staff. Where do they get these crazy ideas from?

How we laughed at the idea of silent corridors, kids chanting oppressive mantras in the playground, a Headteacher whose big idea was the importance of order above all other things! Little did we know that it was destined to be a set text on NPQH programmes, a sort of “Headteachering for Dummies” guide. Senior leaders everywhere, who are trying to hold the line of ethical leadership against the rising tide of the New Authoritarianism, stand firm! You may get your feet wet, but the tide will turn.

https://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2019-02-11/the-demon-headmaster-bbc-reboot

Gove’s Greatest Gaffes

Number 3. The Free School Programme

Another great example of ideological correctness trumping effectiveness. At a time of unprecedented austerity, His Goviness decreed that Free Schools were The Answer, and hang the expense. If they were the answer, it must have been a very silly question. On the back of zero credible evidence (I’m discounting the report in Which magazine comparing the best school systems in the world that came between the list of best small family saloons and the best bagless cylinder vacuum cleaners) Gove pumped billions of pounds of tax payer dosh into this madcap scheme to let anybody set up a school. You could use any derelict building in the High Street (and, let’s face it, the supply of derelict buildings rocketed round about this time) to put the students in and you could get any Tom, Dick or Harry to teach them. If you remember, this was also the time of Gove’s other stroke of genius, getting ex-service veterans fast tracked through teacher training, to sort out local-authority -sponsored feral student behaviour.

There didn’t even seem to be a fit and proper person test, similar to the one that so effectively inoculates Premier League football clubs from being taken over by dodgy Russian oligarchs, drugs barons and people with pending court cases regarding human rights abuses. ( Oh. Hang on a minute…) There quite clearly couldn’t have been such a test, because the poster boy for this libertarian movement was Toby Young, a man whose brain could not cope with the onerous task of  tweeting messages while considering , at the same time, all social norms of acceptable behaviour with regard to women and minorities.

In a report published in Schools Week in January this year, ( https://schoolsweek.co.uk/revealed-the-hidden-cost-of-free-schools )

 it was revealed that between 2010 and 2017, the DFE spent £3.6 billion on setting up Free School. A quarter of it was spent on Lawyers’ fees. £3.6bn! That’s nearly four bungs to the DUP. At a time when class sizes are rising, teacher pay has been frozen for years and class teachers are resourcing teaching materials out of their own pockets. Value for Money, as Conservative spokespeople are wont to say. Value for Money my arse, as Jim Royle was wont to say. You can’t put a price on ideological purity.