Notes From The Front Line by @DebraKidd

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Notes On The Front Line


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This blog is a thorough review of @DebraKidd‘s first book, Notes From The Front Line.

I first held Debra Kidd’s book several months ago and have only just found the time to blog about it. I’ve written my highlights based on the chapters in this book and you can my thoughts below, chapter by chapter. Kids book has inspired me. It is one of the most thoughtful books on education that I have read over the past 20 years, and it should be on all teacher-training reading lists for those entering the profession; particularly BEd undergraduates who study more than just ‘how to teach.’

I am going to start my review with one of Kidd’s final thoughts in her book;

“Our revolution as teachers requires that we start our journey towards a new education by changing ourselves first … We can reject market forces – we don’t have to buy their stuff … We can reject failure narratives … We are Kings of our own classrooms and, most of the time, no one else is looking. Be yourself and do what you know is right … free from fear.”


The introduction in Kidd’s book strikes various chords with me. I too agree, that my own education was far removed from what state school students receive today. I left school with just 3 GCSE pass grades (C plus) the year after O Levels ceased to exist. And as with many teachers who become teachers, once upon a time, there was a teacher who inspired us too to become a teacher. Kidd goes on to first introduce politics in her book – a re-occurring theme throughout – and how the rise of political interference in education in order to win votes steadily rises throughout the late 80s and 90s.

“We have been told so many times that we are not worthy of trust that we have begun to turn on each other … As teachers, we take this relentless, critical interference from people who really understand the complexities of classroom interactions … We have begun to believe that we are not good enough, when, in fact, even OfSTED concedes that the teaching profession is the best it has ever been.

 We are, at the time I write this, in need of a revolution in education.”

However, although I agree that teaching practice may have had a haphazard approach in the 1980s. in the early 1990s, my own teaching practice was far from patchy. It was carefully considered, strategic aligned to our own CPD needs. After all, a 4-year bachelor of education degree prepares trainee teachers with subject knowledge, pedagogy, psychology, child development (from chapter 5) for the real world of teaching.

Our current education system is;

“presented to us as a battle between traditional and progressive methods when, in fact, the vast majority of teachers – including myself – steer a pathway through the middle.”

Any sensible and well-rounded teacher will know this is the most common approach in their own classroom and that both – despite maybe having a particular teaching style and preference – cannot exist without the other. Kidd says (and I support); “this is a moral no-man’s-land were immediate changes to education are announced on television and in newspapers rather than through examination regulators and boards.”

“How many of us have change our teaching to see what we imagine and expect was looking for … narratives of failure are damaging children in order to protect the interests of a few individuals.”

Scribbled in my own copy of the book, on page 7 I have left the following note; “this book resonates with me, because it is written by hard-nosed, front-line practitioner, a teacher who has seen more changes in education than any politician.” In many chapters throughout, Kidd has inspired me to write my own education manifesto in time for the general election of 2015.

Chapter 1 – Dead Man’s Clothing.

The first chapter in this book discussed what education appears to have become. Data and progress. Kidd writes; “this is most obviously evident in the assumption that children perform in meat, straight lines of progress, roughly in-line with their chronological age … It [exam system] has always been a blunt and unforgiving tool.” There are a mixture of questions for the reader to consider but one that is pertinent and sticks out for me; “have you ever said to an enthusiastic child, ‘You don’t need that for the exam?'”

Kidd goes on to share views on Ofsted, educational research and views from Pasi Sahlberg and Daniel Willingham. This is a well-researched and referenced book that challenged the notion that “the reliability of exams, suggest that essay-based examinations are more at risk of unreliable marking short responses or multiple choice, the latter are seen as soft options.”

“Until assessment is uncoupled from accountability, and the grades of a child are disconnected from the pay and conditions of their teachers, such trust will be undermined by what some have termed as ‘game play.'”

Notes On The Front Line

Notes From the Front Line – Page 15

“Already in the UK, the coalition government’s decision to take only the first grade as the one that counts for school league tables is leading to some highly unethical practices in schools.”

Why do we do it? As Kidd says, ‘because that is how we used to do it!’ Sadly, this is all that most of us are used to; yet Kidd states that she is not saying that all tests are bad, instead, she asks that “if we on children to leave school with information that stays with them for life, we should be scrutinising this more carefully.”

A fitting quote to end this chapter on accountability, Ofsted, political interference, assessment and a damming review of Pearsons Education Group is this; “people tend to choose the research that best fits their world view.”

Chapter 2 – The Future: Run or Ride?

Any teacher will know, that you cannot predict student outcomes; “as any teacher who has ever had a wasp enter the classroom can tell you!” In this chapter, Kidd makes references to cognitive scientist, George Lakoff, Al Gore and many other sources. The future of education appears to ‘offer a more egalitarian promise of hard work = good job. We dangle this carrot in front of children’s noses, and for those who are raised in areas where employment is a given it may work.’

In Kidd’s ever-hard-hitting style, she writes with truth that no politician could speak. This is a book on teaching and education, that truly is Notes From the Front Line. She poses a philosophical question for us all;

“How may education be received by children if the long-term promise was not employment but a fulfilling life”

What might education look like then? Currently, children see celebrity culture and quick wins as net worth more than saving a life. Children see politicians entitled to pay rises of 11%, compared to public services less than inflation (circa. 2015), while their own parents are laid off. No wonder our kids retreat to television, computer games and quick gratification on the internet!

“We can combine the needs of the future and present by very simply giving children an education that they love now, in which they thrive now, in which they learn to love knowledge and learning because it’s just really interesting and in which they become happy, articulate, resilient, agentive people with the capacity to embrace whatever future they eventually inhabit … Deleuze called this ‘nomadic teaching.'”

Notes On The Front LineNotes From the Front Line – Page 41

Chapter 3 – Neo-Narcissism: The Problem with Comparisons.

In this chapter, Kidd refers to OECD statistics and founded, one-sided bias, as well as the Education Select Committee in Gove is exposed for his lack of understanding whilst being interviewed by the committee in January 2012. The reader is reminded that teachers are often told, that standards of literacy and numerical understanding in this country are too low by people who themselves don’t understand the information they are using to make their claims. I recall the words of Liz Truss when I heard her speak at EdReform14, regarding the latest fash-on; text books and Shanghai Maths!

“… a justification for a type of education system that focuses relentlessly on the acquisition of knowledge alone.”

… with references to ‘skills’ largely removed from the Department for Education reforms. Thankfully, most of us within the profession are savvy enough to see through the rhetoric; only to become frustrated with the headlines and the damming messages parents and the public read and hear.  Kidd is correct. There is a ‘bad smell’ and we must challenge the status quo.

  • We vilify unions so that even teachers don’t trust them!
  • We fight parents into believing that there’s no hope for children unless they support the measures the government is taking to ‘save’ the system.
  • We use international data to convince parents and business leaders that the education system is in crisis.
  • We use ‘astro-turfing’ – the manipulation of social media through the use of multiple accounts – to create the impression of a dominant viewpoint.
  • Finnish teachers are all educated to masters level but also drawn from the top 10% of educational achievement across the country.
  • Finnish teachers teach on average 15.2 hours per week leaving them on for support, intervention, effective marking and CPD.

Kidd says it and I will repeat and echo her words; “if we want to improve education, we need to eradicate poverty. It is that simple.” We need to build more positive narratives for children and this kind of writing is a call to arms for all of us. It’s blinding!

Chapter 4 – The Game of Clones: Oftsed and Accountability.

I will open this chapter was probably the most re-tweeted message from my Twitter account. Here is the photograph;

What is the Point of Copying Lesson Objectives?

Notes On The Front LineNotes On The Front Line – Page 60

This is an excellent chapter and challenges many myths that we sadly, have all been susceptible in the classroom. This is the chapter where Kidd really challenges the notion of OfSTED.

“Too few people understand the cost is not coherent organisation or that it is largely run by private operators is key priority is to maintain contracts and market presence.”

This reminds me of a photograph that I have tweeted several times; and reminds me that I have yet to blog another OfSTED news update to my readers.

Ofsted Book Quote by @TeacherToolkit“One day, Ofsted will cease to exist.” @TeacherToolkit

Kidd does not argue for the demise of Ofsted. Neither did I until our recent school inspection, Observing the Observers. I only have myself to blame for using The 5 Minute Lesson Plan to promote one-off outstanding lessons. “As teachers, we have exacerbated Ofsted, every single time we have tweeted or Facebooked a gleeful, ‘I got an outstanding!’ message.” The social epoch is among us and we have already seen that bloggers and tweeters can move ivory towers.

“Before we celebrate the potential demise of the classroom observation, or of OfSTED, we should consider the implications of the alternative. Data …”

Freedom solves the problem; and we can ask, as well as Kidd in her book, what a good Inspectorate might look at in Outstanding schools. Kidd offers a very sensible checklist. Here are the highlights:

  1. Outstanding schools are committed to offering teaching placements to students.
  2. Wide reaching commitment to extracurricular activity.
  3. A thriving culture of cultural/educational trips for students.
  4. That progress over time, takes into account the child development in confidence, speech and managing their physical and emotional needs, as well as the academic performance.
  5. Every child has full access to a broad imbalance curriculum.

Kidd then quotes E.D. Hirsch and Sir Tim Brighouse and the vital importance of cultural literacy to develop the learner, as well as non-negotiable entitlements for all children. Workload also features as well as our new bandwagon, progress over time. In my opinion, it’s Kidd’s best chapter …

She finishes the chapter with a (r)evolutionary practice proposal.

Chapter 5 – Teaching: Not for Lily Pad Hoppers.

This chapter is all about initial teacher training. One of Kidd’s specialisms, where she shares her own experiences of her PGCE at a Russell Group university. In this chapter she argues that the PGCE is inadequate preparation for teaching and many of the alternatives, but I am pleased to see that she recognises that the comprehensive four-year-long BEd degree programme is the best preparation for teaching! One that I wholeheartedly agree with. (No bias there.) And Kidd is right, this course covers all aspects of subject knowledge and prepared me as a teacher, in child psychology, child development, research and pedagogy of education. As well as teacher placements in a variety of schools each academic year, we had degree shows to exhibit our work, as well as lectures in education acts of a bygone era, studying the history of education dating back over a century.

Notes On The Front LineNotes On The Front Line – Page 80

I have watched the coalition government destroy this pathway and have seen the number of undergraduates slowly ebb away. My position at school no longer allows me to support BAEd undergraduates directly in my departments, but over the past 15 years, I have happily supported over 100 student teachers. I would do so all over again … and I ensure that in my leadership position, we secure as many student placements as possibly when line-managing initial teacher training. These trainee teachers are put through their paces, long before being left alone in the classroom.

Fraction by fear features some controversy. Kidd references the Marxist blob and says ‘the problem with education is, well … the educated.’ Civitas, Gove, Hirsch, upcoming Robert Peal (aka blogger Matthew Hunter) and Daisy Chirstodoulou all feature. This is an enlightening chapter and is probably the most essential reading of the entire book.

Kidd expresses her feelings about ITT provision, phonics and APP. Teach First also features, and Kidd asks, ‘how effective is their strategy for the profession in the long term?’ This is an extremely valid question. But Kidd’s argument is not without balance.

“Even the most hard-pressed cynic would find it difficult to argue, that Teach First has not brought some significant and positive change to some of our most challenging schools.”

The chapter goes into full details about ITT funding, for example, that Teach First recruits cost £7,000 per year more than a PGCE student. Kidd writes, ‘that 67% of [Teach First] trainees are still ‘involved in education’ five years later, but this does not mean that they are still teachers.

She quotes from Hattie and Yates, who are clear, that expert teaching take time to form – between five and 10 years – of constant reflective practice and improvement (Visible Learning). Kidd also offers her views on the new Schools Direct initiative which has forced the hands of schools to take the structure of teacher-training away from universities. This is undermining the professional integrity of teaching pathways and has led to an unexpected shortfall in the number of applications. Kidd shares two things that can raise the level of quality in teacher training:

  1. Governments need to show teachers are respected, and to raise the status of the profession is much easier, if you don’t constantly criticise it.
  2. That the profession needs to work towards building relationships with the media so that a range of opinions is expressed.

All in all, it’s a no-holds-barred chapter from Kidd here who finishes with a teaching revolution and an outline of how a two-year teacher programme could be perceived.

Chapter 6 – Moo Cows in Showers: Celebrating Complexity.

There are no easy answers. The reality is that classroom life is complex. ‘Learning is not a linear process that can be tracked neatly on a graph.’ In this chapter, Kidd writes in some detail about the child and their complex emotional elements. There are some details on physical process of relationships and cognition. Kidd uses again, a range of supporting references from Claxton and Piaget.

“Progress is not about putting numbers into spreadsheets.”

Kidd writes about the implications for your classroom and provides a brief list of strategies for dealing with data. The most pertinent being, ‘never fake your data.’

Chapter 7 – (R)evolution: Pedagogical Activism.

In this final chapter Kidd says that “it is not so simple as to point to work load in understanding the phenomena of GERM (Global Education Reform Movement).” She goes on to express her views on teacher burn out and how the recent reforms by Gove has not yielded the kind of improvements we would all have craved.

Kidd writes;

“While writing this book, I have hoped. I have hoped that you, my reader will have considered your own part to be played in solving the problems we have an education … I have hope that we might, regardless of our differences in philosophy or approach, agreed that it is important for children to find joy knowledge and learning and to want that they retain that learning throughout their adult lives … That every child has the right to learn in the safe, trusting and supportive environment.

Pedagogical Activism:

  • I refuse to compete with my colleagues.
  • I refuse to see exam results the sole point of my role.
  • I own my classroom and will teach as I see fit.
  • I recognise the trust is built by sharing.
  • I know that no matter how tired I am, I need to read, to keep up-to-date with new developments in education.

Rather than becoming despondent at our own smallness, we should use our size to our advantage. We’re on the ground interacting with children every single day. We matter.

I’ve circled and underlined the following words for several reasons. We need a teachers’ manifesto. We need a coordinated approach to move ivory towers, and to take the profession back into our own hands. Kidd shares here views on how we might achieve our own manifesto, including the idea of running CPD for parents, which I love. “If parents could see you know what it’s like to teach a class, how would that impact on the failure narratives in the media?”

Last words:

This is an astonishing book, containing a detailed bibliography with many references to classrooms, blogs and academic institutions. This read is truly for ‘front line’ teachers who stand in classrooms, in front of children every single day. Those who do, will know how important this book is. It’s a book I wish I had written … Get your hands on a copy now!

Debra Kidd Notes From The Front Line



12 thoughts on “Notes From The Front Line by @DebraKidd

  1. Thanks for sharing. Just ordered it and looking forward to reading it particularly at a time when I’m considering if I stay in teaching. In my 5th year as a mature entrant. I’ve undertaken many jobs/roles in my 33 years since graduating, but none has made me feel quite as ‘wrung out’ as I do now. If Hattie hasn’t been heard of by more than half the teachers I work with what hope is there for our ‘research based’ profession?

  2. What a fantastic review! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. I just want to super-quickly add that it’s not only teachers, current students and parents who notice and care… I’m a ‘young professional’ and was concerned the whole way though school because I could see teachers are so restricted by something that I couldn’t see. They are all good and talented people, but couldn’t show us that side of themselves or be all they could be because of, well… I’m reading a tonne and edging towards broadly ‘tradition’ and ‘policy’. I’m blogging/writing from a student perspective to do what I can for this cause.

  3. “After all, a 4-year bachelor of education degree prepares trainee teachers with subject knowledge, pedagogy, psychology, child development for the real world of teaching.” I wasn’t sure if that was meant to be irony or not.

      1. I disagree, of course. I am conscious of many teachers who have not been prepared – certainly in terms of subject knowledge. Perhaps that’s because I work in primary, where there are a lot of subjects! For that, they needed to have been educated themselves and it seems many were not.

  4. This and many other similar blogs leave me exclaiming at the screen “that’s tragic!” We have been led like sheep by successive self-seeking politicians into unproven practices that have not improved outcomes for children, but have increased teacher stress and worsened children’s mental health. Artcles like this should be required reading for anyone working at the DfE or OfSTED.

    Btw, this and many other articles on this site must have been written by text-to-speech software. I’m assuming that “Finnish teachers are all educated tomatoes level” must mean “Finnish teachers are all educated to master’s level.”

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