Writing Samples

This page features extracts from a range of Geoff Barton's articles on various topics, with links to download the full text.


Whoever said that you can't imagine Delia Smith breaking wind in her own kitchen missed the point. You can't imagine her cooking either.

Of course, all the visual evidence works hard to convince us otherwise. We see freckled hands teasing a handful of cranberries into a bowl or chivvying a pan of reluctant butter. But mostly the images of actual cooking have the soft glow focus of Sainsbury's commercials or pornography. Ingredients plummet into glass bowls against a dramatic black backdrop. Deliaís voice describes whatís going on. But surely no one quite believes that she's doing the cooking ...

The Independent on Sunday "New Writers Prize, Critic Category"
St Delia


If there’s one thing we can say about winter weather, it generates plenty of emotional heat.

Tempers are fraying again at the decision of many school leaders – around 9,000 of us across the UK this week – to shut our schools. Yesterday in Suffolk alone more than 230 schools had announced their closure by 9am.

So why do we do it and why, for some people, is it so controversial?

As a parent said on a website yesterday: “We have around 1-2 inches of snow but all the schools are closed. Don't teachers have any pride in getting to work and opening?" ...

East Anglian Daily Times
January 2010


Happy new year. Here, in this shiny just-born world of 2010, it's that word "new" that looks most enticing. Because one way or another a whiff of newness, of change, is in the air - whether of a whole government or a post-election world in which spending cuts will transform the education landscape.

Meanwhile, like an over-tired toddler refusing to accept that the party's over and it's time to go to bed, the current administration feels like it's clinging to the banisters, kicking the stairs in petulant fury.

Thus we get the political equivalents of the childhood tantrum. Ever more desperate announcements are hurled out of Whitehall like toys from a pram. Take the pre-Christmas U-turn on vetting. Suddenly the default position of assuming everyone's a paedophile was deemed crass and counterproductive. The rationale that dangerous people were lurking outside every school gate like Dementors trying to break into Hogwarts was ditched ...

Times Educational Supplement
January 1st 2010


So another new year heaves its bloated self into position.

Farewell to all that Christmas over-indulgence; now it's time to clear our minds and get into reflective shape for a new year that looks as if it's going to contain several rather newer ingredients than most.

Even a few days into 2010 lots of pundits are in Mystic Meg mode, making vexed predictions about when the election might be called and who might get in. Based on these past few newborn days, it's a task, I suspect, we may begin to tire of in just a matter of weeks. Or days. Or minutes. A sixth-month election campaign is suddenly looking a little tiresome.

National Education Trust
January 2010


Politicians are always keen for us to clamber into the sandpit with the big boys of the educational world. "We are still some way off from being world class,” said our Prime Minister-in-waiting last week as he surveyed standards in Mathematics. “It is unacceptable that we still have 150,000 children leaving primary school who aren't numerate.”

Mr Brown’s solution? A rejuvenated Mathematics strategy called – naturally - Every Child Counts. He has promised to find £35 million to ensure that by 2010 more than 300,000 at-risk pupils a year benefit from one-to-one tuition in Maths, with 30 to 40 hours a year for those with greatest need. An army of Maths mentors – some of them university students – will be deployed to raise standards.

Whilst teacher unions have given this a cautious welcome – it’s always hard to argue that giving money to schools is a bad idea – it is also predictable that our first reaction in schools is one of suspicion. We inevitably wonder whether this is money that has already been announced and stashed away in the darker recesses of our existing budgets, or whether it’s genuinely new funding?

Times Educational Supplement, June 2007
Gordon Brown


Unbelievably, people I normally respect and admire admit to watching Big Brother. Through choked-back sniggers, they tell me of the shenanigans in the house. They casually name-drop the house-mates’ nicknames as if talking about old school friends. They analyse the emotional chemistry that apparently crackles through the house. They even like Davina McColl. Have I died and gone to hell? I listen in blank-faced disbelief, reach for another glass of wine, and wonder how friends of mine – friends of mine, dammit – can be so easily duped.

Times Educational Supplement, July 2006
Big Brother


Is it my grumpy post-holiday imagination or do adults seem to dress and behave more like children whilst the children dress and behave more like adults?

The reason I ask is because when term started last week and I listened to a group of pupils talking about BBC1's [i]Little Britain Christmas Special. They had evidently devoured every catchphrase and punchline and were now quacking them word-for-word in a giddy riot of laughter. And suddenly a show which once felt like niche viewing for irony-aware adults feels shabby and sullied, its already precarious stereotypes and taboos too close to unthinking prejudice to leave us feeling comfortable. It's as if, like depleted uranium, the jokes have fallen into the wrong hands ... [/i]

Times Educational Supplement
Last Word


The 7-year old daughter of a colleague of mine recently asked him a difficult question. She had been reading a magazine targeted at her age group ñ the £31 million battleground of publishers and advertisers to win the pocket money of Britain's youngest consumers. At the end of an interview with Britney Spears she turned to her dad and said, "What's a virgin?"

It is a reminder of the way the language and images of adult life now seep remorselessly into the consciousness of society's youngest members, and the way the traditional boundaries of childhood are withering away. Once there were children. Now, in the eyes of many advertisers, there are simply tweenagers ...

Times Educational Supplement
Pornification of Britain


Official figures on literacy are never designed to make us feel good. On a single day last week you could hear the Chief Inspector of Schools, Mike Tomlinson, express concerns about the declining progress in English primary schools. Then, slightly less prominent, there was the announcement from the OECD that pupils in the United Kingdom are performing better than most of their counterparts in developed countries.

The Ofsted report said that the increases in national curriculum test scores for 11 year olds have levelled off, and are running five points behind the Governmentís 80% target for pupils aged 11. It said that literacy hour has had a major impact on the teaching of reading but that writing standards remain "a significant national issue" ...

The Guardian


Every profession has its specialist vocabulary. A hospital drama, for example, wouldn't feel authentic if a boyish doctor didn't suddenly yell, "For God's sake, get me the ECG. And why isn't this anaesthetic kicking in?" Teaching is the same, full of technical terms, cliches, and linguistic conventions. Many of us enter the profession determined that we will not slump into the verbal habits of our own teachers, eager to hold out against the grip of teacherspeak. Few of us achieve such an apparently straightforward ambition because our best intentions are overcome by forces from our past.

For example, many of us learnt the subterfuge of names early in childhood. Parents and teachers seemed happy to call us by our first name and to reinforce our successes with personalised praise. "Well done, Susan" or "Peter, that's good". Then we did something to offend and the dark weight of the surname was invoked: "Susan Blake, stop that at once". It was a brisk subconscious lesson in the link between language and power, the surname added to ensure we understand who wields authority ...

Times Educational Supplement
The Language of Teachers


I'm no academic. I'm not hot on action research. So you must take what follows as purely personal. But based on watching lots of teachers teaching English, here's my instinctive list of twelve randomly-listed ingredients which make good English teachers into great English teachers. 1: Great English teachers are passionate. They're passionate about many things - books, literature, theatre, their classes, film, wine. They're people to be reckoned with, people with opinions, people you can't ignore. They're people who students want to listen to and ask questions of. Whatever their age, these teachers are still relevant to their students' lives. ...

The English Magazine
12 Things That Great English Teachers Do


If you've just taken up a new headship, one thing you wonít lack is advice. Whether it's the garish green research pieces from the National College for School Leadership, the hefty resource packs from NPQH or New Visions, or just the comments of people around you, everyone will be happy to play the role of expert.

Whilst this might, occasionally, be flattering, it's also a reminder of how - as headteacher - all eyes are upon you. Every time you speak in a staff meeting or assembly or parents' meeting; every time you set foot in the staffroom; each recce around the school site - all the time, someone somewhere is making judgements about you ...

Managing Schools Today


Minster FM ("Much more music from the 60s, 70s, 80s and today") is looking for a new DJ. It is not one of the plum jobs in radio. The stationís home is an anonymous building on a business park near York, from where it broadcasts to an audience of about 94,000 listeners.

Now looking for a new daytime DJ, the head of music and presentation Dave Lee (radio hero: Bruno Brooks), advertises for someone with "the necessary style, flair and ability to compete in a competitive market". What is he looking for?

"A good voice, personality, someone who knows the music and doesn't think he's bigger than the station," says Lee. A normal week brings him tapes from around 10 DJ hopefuls. In response to the advertisement, he has received around 200 audition cassettes ...

The Independent


“I had a terrible education,” Woody Allen once proclaimed: “I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers.”

It’s hard to know quite how to explain the findings of the recent TES poll of teachers about behaviour. Were they having a bad day, telling it as it was, or proving themselves as dysfunctional as the teachers in Woody Allen’s one-liner?

A sample of 5472 teachers responded to a simple email question: “Do you think teachers should be given the right to use corporal punishment in extreme cases?”

The results will come as a shock to those who swallow the stereotype that most teachers wouldn’t swat a fly with their Guardian: Strongly support: 7.3%; Support 13.0%; No opinion 7.2%; Oppose 28.7%; Strongly oppose 43.8%

That's a whacking great 20% of teachers who apparently support the reintroduction of caning. Is behaviour in our schools really so grim that a fifth of us would speak softly but reach for a big stick?

Times Educational Supplement, 3/9/8