Mary Myatt's Blog

things I notice in schools

John Tomsett: a deeper way of considering school improvement

June 20, 2015

You know the sort of book that, as you read it, it meets you half way. You recognize many of your own ideas, values, hopes and mistakes. Well 'Love over Fear'  was it, for me. John Tomsett nails it. Everything he writes is focused on the core business: great teaching, great provision for every student. ‘Make sure your school leadership team is focused upon the core business of school, improving teaching and learning.’

I’m a skimmer. I get through a lot of text. Fast. I can’t remember the last professional book I read where I didn’t skip or skim a page. I didn’t skip a sentence of ‘Love over Fear’. It’s a compelling read and beautifully written. It embraces John’s philosophy of education, autobiography, wider management theories and a sensible commentary on what it looks like in his school. Absolutely tremendous.

It’s a tough call to include significant moments of personal history. But John does this from a deep well and respect for his parents and the community where he grew up. Without ever becoming sentimental he describes the influence of both parents: his mother’s stoicism and his father’s love of the natural world and his incredible work ethic. He weaves aspects of his own story into each chapter. And some of it is hilarious. The firework fiasco. You will have to buy the book to find out what happened. 

Some gems:

The way he talks about students:

‘Fundamentally students need to feel loved and I really don’t care what anyone might think of that, to be honest, because if I know anything about teaching, I know that is true.’

On trust:

‘Trust them. Choose your moment and use the phrase, I’m going to trust you to do this, looking directly into their eyes. It works.’

On Early Years:

‘The motivations behind why I teach have changed over the years; I used to want to teach only sixth formers – now I think early years is probably the most important age group.’

On being a headteacher:

‘As a Headteacher, I have always taught. I cannot imagine a life without teaching. Teaching is still the best part of my day, bar none. My strongly held belief is that if the Headteacher is not teaching, or engaged in helping others improve their teaching, in his school, then he is missing the point. The only thing Headteachers need obsess themselves with is improving the quality of teaching, both their colleagues’ and their own.’

John’s thoughts on the primacy of the quality of relationships with students apply equally to his colleagues. And he draws on ancient wisdom and recent research to back this up – Fullan, Elder, EEF, Nuttall, Seneca and Virgil. Of course he knows this already, but very good to have his observations grounded in a wider pool of research.

It’s a big ask: to write a serious book about the principles and practicalities of leadership. John’s book is accessible, thoughtful, moving and funny in equal measure.  I predict ‘Love over Fear’ will be essential reading for every leader of learning, from headteacher to NQT, in every school.