Never Mind the Inspectors

Here's punk learning

By: Tait Coles


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Size: 210 x 148mm
Pages : 176
ISBN : 9781781351123
Format: Paperback
Published: April 2014

So what is Punk Learning?

It's a philosophy that recognises the importance of students having complete control of their learning. In Never Mind the Inspectors Tait Coles justifies the need for punk learning. His manifesto challenges the orthodoxy and complacency of teaching and allows students to be central to a critical educational culture where they learn how to become individuals and social agents rather than merely disengaged spectators who have their part to play' in the neoliberal ideology of modern schooling.

This book is for everyone with an interest in learning, teaching and doing things differently.

Click here to read Tait Coles' explanation of Punk Learning on the Pivotal Podcast website, and listen to his interview on the audio player below.

Picture for author Tait  Coles

Tait Coles

Tait Coles is a teacher, Vice Principal in a Bradford Academy and an educational speaker. He is a classroom maverick and a respected radical of modern teaching.

Previously, Tait has been Assistant Head Teacher at a comprehensive school in Leeds and was Head of Science in one of the many challenging schools in Bradford.

Tait is the creator of Punk Learning; a manifesto that challenges the orthodoxy and complacency of teaching and allows students to be central to a critical educational culture where they learn how to become individuals and social agents rather than merely disengaged spectators who have their part to play' in the Neoliberal ideology of modern schooling.

Click here to listen in on Tait's podcast with Pivotal Education - Punk Learning'.

Click here to read Tait Coles’ blog.



  1. Tweeters will know that a fairly common share is for colleagues to photograph a pile of books they have in their possession with an announcement that they “can't wait to get stuck into these”. Many of the titles tend to be hot off the press and understandably we tend to focus on these latest titles and salivate over what nuggets and gems might be inside.

    There are of course plenty of other books that might have been around for just a few years but with the passage of time have slipped off our radar. One such -˜must read' is Never Mind The Inspectors: Here's Punk Learning by Tait Coles, a Vice Principal at Dixon City Academy in Bradford.

    It's far too easy to say any book is a -˜must read' because it has to resonate with you on a personal level but every teacher should take a look at Never Mind The Inspectors.

    It is a no nonsense, in your face and cut the crap book that stick's two fingers up and Tait Coles couldn't care less if you like it or not. It's a book that stares at you, intimidates you and enjoys a squabble.

    If you are a spreadsheet teacher that likes to control learning and takes a look at a scheme of work and says, “this is great, can I copy it onto my memory stick?” then you'll probably hate this book because it will challenge your teaching and shake you up but that's all the more reason to read every page.

    “These teachers are the glam rockers of this world, all aluminium foil and make-up. These teachers are all show and no balls. They teach to tick boxes and appease their superiors-¦Their main reason for planning lessons is for them to be judged outstanding, using the Ofsted criteria as their mantra.”

    It's scary, authentic and brutally honest and if you are already a punk teacher then you'll love its boldness and pride. Never Mind the Inspectors is an angry Space Hopper furiously riding a livid Chopper bike and you're in the way so shift.

    This book is an angry Space Hopper furiously riding a livid Chopper bike.

    For Tait Coles, a punk teacher is the opposite, someone who can walk the talk and facilitate great, memorable and deep learning and focuses on students being outstanding. Punk teachers are the professionals who own up to having had a rubbish lesson but then ask for help and reflect on what they can do differently. Tait says they ask questions like:

    “If I did this, would the students have a memorable learning experience?”

    “My students don't get it - how can I change my approach?”

    “Someone has spent a lot of hours writing these schemes of work, haven't they? Bless -˜em, but I'll do it my way.”

    Tait Coles doesn't mince his words and he wants you to know that -˜the only learning that matters' is punk learning. He says that,

    “The punk learning manifesto states that we, as punk learners, takes risks, do things differently, think for ourselves and decide how we want to learn. This is proper do-it-yourself learning-¦it is important to remember that punk learners are not just students; we, as teachers, also have to adhere to the manifesto.”

    Tait says that we can achieve punk learning by choosing how we present ideas and allowing students to learn in a creative and uninhibited way. He talks about punk learning stimulating teachers and students to -˜demand the impossible' and provides 10 ways to create anarchy in the classroom (you'll have to buy the book if you want to know what they are).

    His punk vision is where learning is active, concerted, purposeful, challenging and self-liberating.

    It would be far too easy to dismiss Never Mind The Inspectors as “not really for me” but there is a lot of wisdom in the book where students come first. My smug colleague read it and said it was “leftist clap-trap” but then he would because he's glam and he owns the learning in his class, not the students, and he always plays in tune.

    Don't dismiss, discuss. Take a look at his chapter on -˜Who Invented The Typical Girl?' and think again about the equality in your classroom, read why he thinks Bloom's taxonomy is “pants” and share the chapter on inspirational punk biographies with your students and why they need to be punk learners themselves.

    Find out why we should encourage our “students to vomit their questions”, discover how to develop critique, look at why measuring progress is artificial cobblers, why work scrutiny sucks, how to share great learning and why we should assess learners using safety pins.

    Described as the “antidote to Ofsted-focused teaching” by Ian Gilbert who provides the foreword, he says,

    “So, read this book and then go and kick your own bins over. Take your frustration over the way education is going and channel it into some devastatingly good teaching and learning, take fear and transform it into defiance, turn obedience into arrogance and put children centre stage in each and every viscerally unpredictable lesson.”

    Never Mind the Inspectors turns your mind attic upside down and makes you think and do things differently. If you're a teacher that says you entered the profession -˜to make a difference' then reading this book will make you sit back and wonder how much of a difference you have actually made if you haven't created genuine student-owned learning. It could be the catalyst of change your teaching needs and might help you develop a belligerent stance and challenge complacency.

    There are far too many teachers playing it safe in the classroom and the staffroom. Go and create some anarchy.

    Click here to read the review on the Teacher Toolkit website.
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  3. Some really refreshing and important ideas in this text around pupil voice and pupil freedom. A must- read as an antidote to a ever- restrictive national curriculum. Inspiring,creative and thought- provoking.
  4. Tait offers a novel approach to arguing an educational philosophy; linking each aspect to different punk lyrics.

    The underpinning message is clear; to have the courage to do what is right for the learners in your care regardless of political policies and bureaucracy. This is a heart felt and compelling call to arms for teachers to reclaim education for the learners, to make a difference and to change lives.

    It also has the best explanation of the SOLO Taxonomy I've seen and I'd recommend it on this alone.

    I'd recommend this to educators who believe that education can transform society.

    See the original here:
  5. A very interesting book, which would be a useful resource for anyone working in a school. It has lots of ideas for activities that could be under taken with young people and resources that would be useful in the classroom.
  6. I'm not one for writing reviews on Amazon but I felt compelled to do so with Coles' book. I really enjoyed it. It was like a siren cry to everyone from a practitioner who is out there doing it. My thoughts align with his when it comes to getting out there as a teacher and doing it for yourself and more importantly for your students. I genuinely feel that anyone reading this will finish it enriched and invigorated for the next academic year. Put it on your summer reading list.
  7. When you think about the term -˜punk', you are usually faced with stereotypical images from the late 1970's of young people with radical hairstyles, who enjoy a loud, fast-moving, and aggressive form of rock music. Unless, of course, you are from the USA, where the term can also be quite a derogatory term depicting a worthless person.

    What place has this impression within the modern day education system? Tait Coles, author of “Never Mind the Inspectors, Here's Punk Learning”, sets out the stall that Punk Learning should embrace the principles behind the punk era:

    “Punk learning is authentically defiant and wildly inventive. We should be planning learning with and for the students. And we shouldn't settle for marginal impact in lessons -” we should demand magnificence!”

    (Article continues below image-¦)


    In fact, Coles calls for teachers to cause chaos, ignore the inspectors, and do what is best for the pupils who you have gauged understanding with. How can a stranger who attends your classroom once in every couple of years for a momentary snap-shot of your teaching matter? The background to punk learning stems to individuals who look at things differently, take risks, be creative, have ownership and create, with the book advocating that this can be done by the teaching profession, who can re-claim education for the best of the students.

    So, how is this achievable? Well, in typical punk fashion, the first rule is that there are no rules -” in fact, poking two fingers at the world will suffice! The important and serious argument about this is letting go of control, allowing pupils to come up with ideas on how they want to approach subject matter. This takes time, bravery and trust, with the teacher needing time to build an effective environment and culture of which pupils will trust. The ethos is to challenge your current thinking and priorities, shaking them around a lot, and see what comes out at the other end, doing the best for your pupils -” not the inspectors. (Review continues below image)


    The message throughout the book is to give your pupils power in their learning helping unite students on their learning journeys. But it is not just a philosophy as practical ideas and tips are shared throughout, such as Question Formulation Techniquesâ-ž'¢ plans of action; how to use SOLO taxonomy; developing critique in your classroom, to point to a few for example.

    Here's a challenge for you, from the book, to try on yourself (and possibly your colleagues):

    In order, which features of a traditional lesson do you actually need? Put them in order of priority-¦

    Bell work
    Mini plenaries
    Learning objectives
    Teacher-led discussion

    Which one is last for you? Ask yourself whether you really need it then?

    This book is a manifesto. It's a call to arms. The book, quite simply, demands that teachers should challenge the conventions and complacency that is evident in schools across the globe, allowing pupils to be central to the plans of education, rather than being disengaged onlookers who have a pivotal part to play, but are often ignored.

    The philosophies within this book will challenge readers, but it is what many need who are currently working in the education system -” possibly not for those “supporting conservative and conformist tripe, right wing propaganda and promoting -˜Taylorism' in UK education”.
  8. All students should be experiencing SOD OFF (Self-organised differentiation with outstanding facilitator feedback) from their teachers. A book to help you check you are in the most valuable profession there is for the right reasons and take your role seriously. Read it, act on it apply for a job in another form of paid work if you don't agree with the gist of it. Our responsibility as teachers to the current and next generation is a privilege not to be squandered.

    Use this book to help you determine if you are a teller or a teacher! Read it, be challenged and change. Leave the profession if you have to but allow it to remind you to leave your ego at home and make room for guiding the students in your care. You owe it to them.

    I read it and felt a renewed fire in my belly as to why I joined the most valuable profession there is. A healthy and challenging reminder to those of us in the profession to get out of the way of students learning and stand in the room cheering them on

    Teaching is not about dragging your students through a course of jumps and hoops but letting them loose in a beautiful forest and sharing their delight at what you all find.

    A timely and provoking reminder that your days spent teaching are not to take children on a safe path to a destination but to allow them to freely and safely run in an adventure playground and be as excited as they are about what they find.
  9. This challenging and provocative book takes the very best from punk culture and injects it into the cultural institution that needs it the most today - education.

    Tait firmly puts the learner at the heart of his educational philosophy and practice - something that is a must in the 21st century!

    If you're considering taking up the Punk Learning challenge, get ready to relinquish control in your classroom and trust the potential and power of the young people in your care - they deserve to own their learning.

    At the heart of punk is the Do-It-Yourself ethos, and Tait's book inspires educators to adopt a passionately creative DIY approach to teaching and learning.
  10. Be done with your illusory sense of control. Take your lesson plans and burn them. Hand the learning to the kids and have confidence in your students.

    We need Punk Learners.

  11. This book is an exceptionally readable, yet powerful call to arms NOT to accept the status quo of our jaded education system. Tait provides us with a clear route in providing a pedagogy which is centred on developing learners who can think for themselves, rather than think like their teachers. As I continued to read, I felt a great sense of urgency for change in my own teaching and that of my school. I cannot think of higher praise than that.

  12. Punk Learning is a bold, incisive blast of cool reasoning and radical pedagogy. If you are concerned about how education is being used to kill the radical imagination, this is the book to learn both what a real critical pedagogy looks like and what it means to struggle against the arid accountants who are killing the spirit of critical education. A -˜must read' for all those concerned about teaching, learning, democracy and the value of education as the practice of freedom.
  13. If learning is, as Dylan Wiliam says, -˜a liminal process, at the boundary between control and chaos', then surely we can all learn a great deal from punk. Never Mind The Inspectors is much more than a greatest hits package from Tait Coles' inspirational blog, and exemplifies Greg Graffin's definition of punk as -˜a process of questioning and commitment to understanding that results in self-progress and, through repetition, flowers into social evolution'. Smash up the PowerPoint-centred -˜Outstanding' lessons and rock the classroom with learning that is -˜active, challenging, meaningful, public, collaborative and self-emancipating'.
  14. In a book full of strong ideas and strong ideals, Tait Coles, the Joe Strummer of education, has re-asserted the ancient values of authentic learning. They've been called Socratic, democratic, progressive and student-centred in the past -¦ and now punk, the perfect way to describe a way of teaching that defies the Establishment's conveyer-belt lessons and PISA-driven priorities that use, rather than serve, our nation's students. Punk Learning is a sharp slap in the face for England's current business-imitating, state-policed, corporatized schooling with its uber-obedient teaching. Like punk itself, this book is scary. Whatever you do, don't let your head teacher know you're reading it.
  15. Although I suppose the publishers of this book were expecting something that is purely educationally based, the spirit behind Punk Learning goes far beyond this. Tait not only challenges the reader to consider what they do within the classroom, he delves much deeper than this by demanding more of you as an individual within the grander scheme of things. References to artists, lyricists, philosophers and musicians lead to you questioning the very things that you stand for: those values and principles that sometimes lie dormant due to the pursuit of those levels of progress.
    When criticising the system that so-called educationists have created, however, Tait makes it clear that he's not interested in simply making it better. Instead, he wants to smash it up and replace it with something of true substance. Yet he wants us to create whatever that may be by using our own thinking, our own understanding of what works, and our own sense of authenticity. Throughout the book, Tait presents us with alternative ways to the much maligned 20 minutes for progress, and these are accompanied by practical classroom methods and examples. Far from being a conceptual notion that some bloggers on Twitter bang on about, punk learning is alive and breathing and it's being played out with his students in Bradford, UK.
    Tait Coles has produced a remarkable book. Anything that results in personally wanting to tear up, rewrite and rethink your own educational practice after reading a little over 150 pages is a remarkable thing. And this is how I justify such a statement: Never Mind the Inspectors Here's Punk Learning is actually more than just a book - it is a philosophy, a manifesto, a paradigm shifter and a great big two-fingered salute to the existing status quo. Tait's so-called 'staffroom corner huggers' and the -˜outstanding' glam teachers who wear 'aluminium foil and make up' better watch out!
  16. This book is not for the faint-hearted, it won't tell you how to ensure you tick the -˜right' boxes for Ofsted nor how to create the perfect lesson. In fact, it is the complete opposite -” it makes you reconsider your planning, how you teach and how, ultimately, you get the best out of your students. Never Mind the Inspectors :Here's Punk Learning discusses how the current educational norms are not acceptable; as a teacher it makes you consider how the norms can and have to be shifted for the future of teaching. Students are not robots who should just be spoken to; their young punk minds need the knowledge and power to involve themselves in their education.
    Never Mind the Inspectors Here's Punk Learning gets to the essence of punk, taking you on a journey that makes you reconsider your teaching mindset. As I found myself thinking about what Tait Coles has written, it made me reflect that all too often education is training a steady stream of students down the same expected educational journey, and it is teachers that have the opportunity to use punk learning to change this mindset.
    This book makes you look not only at your classroom but at the whole school picture. I consider myself a punk teacher and the book makes me start to think, and plan, how I can start causing anarchy in the staffroom, challenging the -˜normal, mundane, expected' thinking that is found in every school, questioning how SLT lead the school, planning to cause a staff room riot and getting teachers that sit in the staff room, moaning, to see how punk learning teaching can be inspiring.
    The book makes you want to start walking around with placards encouraging students to take ownership of their learning; it makes me want to stand on the chairs in the staffroom and encourage colleagues to destroy their much loved lesson plans and PowerPoint presentations and take the risk of becoming punks and causing anarchy!
    This book will challenge your thoughts on teaching, your teaching mantra and your practice. If you are willing to embrace this book, expect to reflect hard on your own practice and teaching style and become a different practitioner.

    This is a completely inspiring book. Having taught using punk learning I have seen first hand how students have become more creative and imaginative in their learning. They start to learn and question things differently and begin to challenge themselves. Through punk learning, my students have asked questions, and researched and produced outcomes that would never have occurred if it hadn't been for the punk learning experience.
  17. In the Punk Learning manifesto, it is more about putting students back at the heart of what we do -” day in, day out -” than about rebellion. This very act may seem rebellious to some. I am reminded of an Elvis Costello quote about his song -˜Tramp the dirt down': -˜if you say it's subversive then it isn't, this song isn't subversive, it straight out says what it wants to say'.
    Like the song, this book isn't subversive, it simply says what needs to be said.
    Punk learning is very much a way of building a classroom culture that can enable students to see, and then fulfil, their potentials. To do this, Tait urges us to relinquish our hegemony on power within the classroom and to engage in the adult to adult conversations that not only show respect to our students, but also help them learn.
    -˜Student centred' and -˜student driven' are not the same as -˜leave them to it'. Tait reveals some of the craft behind creating this culture and is full of sage advice along the way. Tait has realised, from Graham Nuthall's research, that students not only learn the content of the lesson but that how they learn is inseparable from it, and uses this to create opportunities for his students to develop into inquisitive, passionate and independent thinkers and learners.
    Tait doesn't demand that you take this on board because he says so. He allows his passion that it is their education to persuade us; that, and some cool quotes from punk's finest.
  18. You know those worthy education books that you buy, attempt to trawl through and abandon? This isn't one of them. It's short, sharp and to the point and will revolutionise your thinking -” like the best 7 inch singles. And if it doesn't, just ask, -˜Are you PuNk enough?'

    If you wanted a little more here is a fuller response:

    You know those worthy education books that you buy, attempt to trawl through and abandon? This isn't one of them. It's short, sharp and to the point and will revolutionise your thinking -” like the best 7 inch singles. And if it doesn't, just ask, -˜Are you PuNk enough?'

    Too much that is written or debated in education today seems to be about proving who is the best read, or who knows the most, or who can trot out the most learned researcher to reinforce their argument. This book doesn't care about that. It cares about what's happening, or not, right now in your classroom and whether you're focusing on the right things. Are you writing policies or giving kids the tools to grab hold of their own learning and create their own paths?

    Never Mind the Inspectors is confrontational, provoking and will be a challenging read for some, but don't dismiss it as gimmicky. The approaches here work and give students opportunities to develop as passionate, committed, independent thinkers and learners. And don't worry about the treasured curriculum content. They'll cover all of that because they'll be using it to answer their own questions and satisfy their own curiosity, not because they -˜have to for the exam' -” which they'll breeze through as a result.
  19. Ever since I first met Tait, he has been a self-professed learning geek. This book charts his journey through a frustrating time in modern education, when school leaders and teachers have been encouraged to jump through hoops (visible and invisible) in order to prove their worth.

    In his book, Tait gives practical examples on how to bring learning, and his students' desire to learn, back to the fore. Tait speaks with passion about his musical role models which were, and are still, prominent in the punk movement. Punk is not a fashion it's a state of mind, just as learning should be the state of mind in today's classrooms rather than repetitive, inspection-driven pedagogies. Tait develops the idea of students taking ownership of the things they want to learn about, rather than the things they are told they should -” this is a big idea and, at its heart, challenges the status quo of modern society.

    To summarise, Tait manages to balance the role of a twenty-first century school leader with a refreshingly revolutionary approach to putting learning first. This book should divide opinion; it will empower and inspire some, whilst others will find it unfathomable and unrealistic.
  20. It might be a difficult truth but we teachers are often more conservative than we care to admit. We find change terrifying at times, seeking solace in our well-trodden lesson plans and comfort in the known. Why deviate from that path when it works? It works? Well, it depends who you ask, if you ask at all.

    It would be easy to say, if that sums up your teaching experience, that Tait's book is not for you. However, this is exactly the book you should be reading. This short book, like the punk movement in general, questions every assumption we've ever had about our classrooms; every belief we've ever stood by; every truism we've ever thought true. It is often an uncomfortable book to read, but no less essential.

    Peppered with quotations from the masters (Tait'll hate that), this book asks us to throw out everything we believe about teaching and start again. Punk learning, the author insists, is not a series of lessons but a -˜frame of mind'. On almost every page there is a moment when you simultaneously cheer in celebration and gulp with terror at the prospect of punk learning in your classroom.

    Touching on the work of Hattie, Nuthall, Strummer and Bragg, amongst many others, Tait convinced me that, worryingly, everything I've ever done in class was wrong. That depressing realisation was quickly replaced by the verve and excitement at the prospect of punk learning. His uncompromising narrative leaves no room for doubt. -˜Please think carefully before you read any further.' The author's passion and integrity shines through on every page. There is a genuine commitment to the learning of his pupils rather than his own teaching which makes Punk Learning such a valuable book.
    This is not a book which will leave you with a warm glow. It may even anger you at times. Who does he think he is, after all? However, there is no book like this on the shelves. There is no book which asks you to rip it up and start again. It'll make you think twice about those well-produced lesson plans you've just completed. And perhaps that's not a bad thing.
    Passing control of the classroom over to the pupils might seem mad at first but, after reading Tait's book, it'll make perfect sense. As he says in the book, it works because he does it on a day-to-day basis and that's hard to ignore. Buy it, borrow it, steal it -”just read it. Take a risk and get some punk learning into your classroom. Stand back and watch -¦

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