Mea Culpa


‘It’s a hideous old hag!’

‘It’s a striking youngster!’

‘How can you not *see* what I mean?’

‘How can you not see what *I* mean?’


I take responsibility for the storm that erupted on the twitter edusphere this weekend. I failed to foresee quite how differently some would see my blogpost from how I – and others – saw it.  I should perhaps have re-read this: we react much, much more intuitively than we’d like to admit. That is, our emotional, moral reaction kicks in first’.

So I wrote to Mr Beadle on Monday, and here’s what I said:


Dear Phil,

I’m writing to apologise to you for the offence my blogpost has caused. Here’s what was said about it online on the weekend:

“criticises something written as a generic little helper for being generic, designed to be incendiary, the impetuosity of exuberant youth, poor, unprofessional, wilfully under-nuanced misreading, ideological drives construed as pragmatism, obnoxious, risible, arrogance, dismissiveness and condescension, an emotive lashing-out, misjudged, bitter and hostile, emotive and dismissive, condescending, arrogant, absurd, big-mouthed lightweight, self-imploding, jarring, academically lazy and weak, bigoted, passive-aggressive, a politicised arm, sneering caricature, misrepresentation, smug derision, incredibly dull, lazy, a lazy stereotype, bigotry, jarringly unacademic, no substance, a mosh-pit of obnoxious Oxbridge posh kids, divisiveness and confrontation. Worse than anything seen in my many long years.”

If I understand your viewpoint correctly, it’s that that I criticise your book for being generic when that is precisely its purpose! You see it as a deliberately blunt misrepresentation of your large volume of work – 7 books, hundreds of thousands of words, and loads of TV and CPD sessions. It seems you were the first teacher to take a public stand against learning styles, which I didn’t know. I think I see what you mean – but tell me if I’ve misunderstood.

With that in mind, I’d like to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I misrepresented your work in public. And I’m sorry for the hassle and annoyance my post caused.

I have read three of your seven books, and I plan to read the others. When I read them as a new teacher, I found them iconoclastic. They got me challenging the accepted orthodoxy around starters and the three-part lesson, for instance.

These are the messages and practical ideas I most like from How To Teach:

“Control your classroom; sort your seating; zero tolerance; appear endlessly enthusiastic; use praise envy; all pens down; ringing parents is the ultimate sanction; emotion is viral; enthuse them to love your subject; experiment; set homework at the beginning; equip them with complex, technical sub-specific key words; set only minimally-labour-intensive homework; the key to setting objectives is the verb you choose to use; marking is the most important thing you do as a teacher: mark their books with dedication and rigour and your class will fly; teaching is a lifetime vocation.”

On all this I agree. I have already said what I disagree with; perhaps on that we should agree to disagree.

Someone once said that wisdom is balancing courage and consideration. I clearly overcooked it on the ‘courage’, and undercooked it on the consideration. So I have removed your name from the title, and I would like to make this apology public online on Wednesday.

Apologising is one thing; learning the lesson and acting on the mistake is another. I’ll do my best to strike a better balance between challenge and consideration in the future.

I look forward to taking up your teach-off challenge one day – though perhaps not until the dust has settled!

Kind regards,



Phil replied generously that he’d buy me a pint at the next education event. The round after is on me.

And the moral of the story? That, dear reader, I leave to you to decide.

For my part, I know I still have a hell of a lot to learn!

About Joe Kirby

School leader, education writer, Director of Education and co-founder, Athena Learning Trust, Deputy head and co-founder, Michaela Community School, English teacher
This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Mea Culpa

  1. Iain Hall says:

    I actually thought that you had made a reasoned argument Joe

  2. Gary Jones says:

    A very impressive blog and a very considered reply. This blog has become on of my ‘must-reads’ and long may it continue.

  3. Tim Taylor says:

    Quality Joe; the very highest.

  4. Miss Toppin says:

    I understand why you may have felt the need to apologise however I do not feel that it was necessary. For a long time your blog has been the one that I actively look forward to reading, so I really hope that you never temper your views in the future or feel like you have to sugar coat or self censor any criticism. Remember many an intellectual was initially derided only to have their views adopted wholesale many years later.

    I commented to a friend that I did not have a chance to include an old phrase from my old lecturer, Professor James Curran at Goldsmiths in my comment to your last post.

    “Do not lick the relics,” Prof. Curran used to say. For that is not how we move forward.

    Ideas are supposed to stimulate conversation and debate, it is just a shame that many chose to react in the manner in which they did. A perfect modern day example of hegemony supported sublimely by an overhyped meeting for a chosen few at a government institution that will probably result in being little more than an Ofsted photo op. And as photo ops go a pretty poor one at that. Five white men representing a profession that is 74% female* with a woman taking notes!

    I’ve said enough and I have 60 controlled assessments and 30 mock exams to mark for Monday. Look forward to reading your next post. Keep them coming. I don’t know where you find the time.

    * Source Guardian –

  5. Go Joe! I was one of the first to reply saying that we all need variety and use many ideas as vehicles for learning, depending who sits in front of us. I also told Phil that it may be,”impetuosity of youth”. The latter is vital to question the past and see if the future can be better. I think your apology says a lot about you; after all there has to be a point when youth turns … My old history teacher, Mr Peach, introduced me to the idea of the watershed. You have the courage to put your thoughts into a blog – many of us don’t!

  6. CristinaM. says:

    If there is something, aside from the quality of blogging, that draws readers to your blog it is the attitude towards your own learning. You are one of the few (and I would mention David Didau here) who understand the importance of and embed reflection in this journey. That takes a dose of courage and open-mindedness.

  7. Urging teachers to focus on a body of knowledge rather than resort to a pick and mix of “techniques” is nothing to apologise for. You have taken an honourable course in apologising for creating unnecessary offence, but please don’t let this put you off saying what you think. The “Twitterstorm” has in a way shown that you are on target. Teachers can, in my experience, become extremely hostile when challenged on their comfortable beliefs and practices. But if we are to mature into a true profession, that debate must take place – and this weekend you made an important contribution.

  8. debrakidd says:

    Well done Joe. Hope that doesn’t sound patronising, but reading this lifted my heart.

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