Kate Clanchy’s Orwell Prize winning memoir sent to 75 important figures in education in the UK

Wednesday 02 September 2020

As pupils return to school across the country, the Orwell Foundation and Picador have collaborated to give copies of Kate Clanchy’s Orwell Prize winning book Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me to seventy-five of the most important figures in educational policy in the UK, including the Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson MP and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon MSP.

The recipients will receive the book, a memoir about working as a teacher in the state education system, in the week that most schools reopen for the new year in a hugely uncertain environment. In order to think about schools and education for a year unlike any other, the Orwell Foundation and Kate Clanchy are asking those with influence to listen to teachers, students, and those who work with them. As the Foundation’s letter argues:

As a society, we need to hear what these young people have to say and should be concerned at the things they have no trust in and don’t say. Creative writing and thinking offers new insights that we should hear and respect.” 

Kate Clanchy, who won The Orwell Prize for Political Writing for the book in July, has long argued that teachers should be listened to with greater attention and care, and commented on the initiative:

One of the contentions of my book is that teachers are not held in the same respect as other professionals. I think we can see that in this anxious return to school, and before that in the calamity of the A Level and GCSE results: both could have been so much ameliorated if the government had trusted and consulted teachers. In my book, I tried to show how very much teachers deserve that respect, and how important our schools are in our communities, through a series of personal stories. I very much hope that the 75 people receiving this book will enjoy those stories, but also take teachers more seriously.”

This year the challenges in education represent a crucial juncture not just for families and schools, but for the country. The risks to young people’s futures were encapsulated in the problems around A Levels and GCSE results last month, which were first predicted and then so eloquently discussed by 2019 Orwell Youth Prize winner Jessica Johnson.

Clanchy’s book is being sent out along with a letter from the Orwell Foundation, which is reproduced below. The full list of recipients is also available below. They represent a wide range of experiences and views from across the political spectrum, and include teachers, trade union leaders, researchers, authors and politicians.

Awarding The Orwell Prize for Political Writing in July this year (one of four Prizes for books and journalism awarded by the Orwell Foundation) the judges said Clanchy’s book showed a ‘brilliantly honest writer’ taking on ‘a subject that ties so many people up in knots — education and how it is inexorably dominated by class. Yet this book is the very opposite of a worthy lecture. Clanchy’s reflections on teaching and the stories of her students are moving, funny, full of love and offer sparkling insights into British society.’


The Orwell Prize for Political Writing is awarded each year to the book or pamphlet which comes closest to George Orwell’s ambition ‘to make political writing into an art.’ The judges in 2020 were: Head of Bloomberg Economics, Stephanie Flanders (chair); Elif Shafak, novelist; Paul Laity, deputy editor, Guardian Review; and Robert Tombs, Emeritus Professor of French History at the University of Cambridge.  The Orwell Foundation awards four Prizes: the other winners were The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction, sponsored by A. M. Heath and Richard Blair); Janice Turner (The Orwell Prize for Journalism); and Ian Birrell (The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils, sponsored and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation).

Kate Clanchy is a writer, teacher and journalist. Her BBC 3 radio programme about her work with students was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes prize. In 2018 she was awarded an MBE for services to literature, and an anthology of her students’ work, England: Poems from a School, was published to great acclaim. In 2019 she published Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, a book about her experience of teaching in state schools for several decades, which went on to win The Orwell Prize for Political Writing.


The letter below has been sent to all the recipients of Kate Clanchy’s book:

We are delighted to give you this year’s Orwell Prize winning book by Kate Clanchy, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me.

It is witty and beautifully written, and you will enjoy it even if you disagree with aspects of it. It is a book about a lifetime in education, but also uncomfortably pertinent to the crisis young people face today. Stephanie Flanders, Chair of Judges for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2020, praised the ‘brilliantly honest’ way Clanchy tackles ‘a subject that ties so many people up in knots – education and how it is inexorably dominated by class’. We believe the book speaks to the value of creativity, thinking and writing in young people’s lives, and hope you will read it because of your care for, and influence in, education.

The Orwell Prize for Political Writing is awarded by the independent charity, The Orwell Foundation. Inspired by the work of the British author George Orwell, we encourage and promote the skills and values needed to think critically and write well about politics. Alongside the much sought-after Orwell Prizes for books and journalism, we run a growing programme of events, debates and lectures. And because young people are core to our charitable mission, we run The Orwell Youth Prize, an annual programme of workshops and activities for young people culminating in a writing prize. During lockdown, we were almost overwhelmed by a vast surge in entries by young people writing about ‘the future they wanted’, who were all offered feedback by an army of speedily recruited, expert volunteers.

The lessons we have learnt this year chime powerfully with Kate Clanchy’s central argument in this book about the value of teachers and youth workers and the encounters they have in nurturing extraordinary contributions from young people. We know young people entered the Youth Prize because their teachers and youth workers encouraged them to do so. We also knew it was important to hear the collective concerns of young people, alongside the voices of the winners. These conclusions were only underlined when, as this year’s A levels were announced, one of our previous winners found themselves making the news: Jessica Johnson had ‘fallen into her own story’ about an algorithm that banded pupils based on their backgrounds, after her own results were, initially, downgraded. We are proud that through her Prize-winning story, Jessica was able to play a part in clarifying that un-fairness and we are also sending you her story and this year’s winning entries.

As a society, we need to hear what these young people have to say and should be concerned at the things they have no trust in and don’t say. Creative writing and thinking offers new insights that we should hear and respect. So, we very much hope you will read this book, and we are grateful to Picador for collaborating with us on this campaign. We wondered, too, if we might begin a conversation with you about how best to enhance young people’s writing, how and by whom their voices are heard, and how best to support those who support them.


Prof. Jean Seaton, Director of the Orwell Foundation

Lord Ken Macdonald QC, Chair of Trustees of the Orwell Foundation


The Orwell Foundation and Picador are sending Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me to the following seventy-five influential people in education. They represent a wide range of experiences and views from across the political spectrum, and include teachers, trade union leaders, researchers, authors and politicians.


Susan Acland-Hood Acting Permanent Secretary, Department for Education
Claire Ainsley Head of Policy, Leader of the Opposition
Simon Armitage Poet Laureate
Lord Baker Conservative peer & former Education Secretary
Sir Michael Barber Founder and Chairman of Delivery Associates
Geoff Barton General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders
Tom Bennett Editor, researchED
Katharine Birbalsingh Headteacher and education campaigner
Baroness Christine Blower Labour peer and former General Secretary of the NUT
Fiona Boulton Chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmisstresses’ Conference
Mary Bousted Joint General Secretary, National Education Union
Daisy Christodoulou Director of Education, No More Marking
Kevin Courtney Joint General Secretary, National Education Union
Matthew d’Ancona Chair, Bright Blue
Sir Edward Davey Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Greg Davies Comedian and former teacher
Anneliese Dodds MP MP for Oxford East, Kate Clanchy’s home constituency
Michelle Donelan MP Minister of State for Universities
Larry Flanagan General Secretary, Educational Institute of Scotland
Becky Francis CEO, Education Endowment Foundation
Sam Freedman CEO, Education Partnerships Group
Dawn French Comedian and former teacher
Nick Gibb MP Minister of State for School Standards
Chris Goulden Deputy Director of Evidence and Impact, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Kate Green MP Shadow Education Secretary
Margaret Greenwood MP Shadow Minister for Schools
Robert Halfon MP Chair, House of Commons Education Select Committee
Professor Donna Hall Chair, New Local Government Network
Emma Hardy MP Shadow Minister for FE and Universities
Darren Henley Head, Arts Council England
Russell Hobby CEO, Teach First
Dame Vivian Hunt Chair, Teach First
Jo Hutchinson Director for Social Mobility and Vulnerable Learners, Education Policy Institute
Peter Hyman Co-Director of Big Education and co-founder and first headteacher of School 21.
Joysy John Director of Education, NESTA
Rt Hon Alan Johnson Author and former Education Sectretary
Boris Johnson MP Prime Minister
Larissa Kennedy President, National Union of Students
James Kirkup Director, Social Market Foundation
Sir Peter Lampl Chairman and Founder, Sutton Trust
Rt Hon David Laws Executive Chairman, Education Policy Institute
Deborah Lawson General Secretary, Voice
Neal Lawson Director, Compass
Anne Longfield The Children’s Commissioner
Clare Marchant Chief Executive, UCAS
Bharat Mehta Chief Executive, Trust for London
Munira Mirza Head of No 10 Policy Unit
Layla Moran MP Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Education
Sir Michael Morpurgo Author and former teacher
Ann Mroz Editor, Times Educational Supplement
Fraser Nelson Editor, Spectator and trustee of the Social Mobility Foundation
Prof. Dame Alison Peacock CEO, Chartered College of Teaching
Patrick Roach General Secretary, National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers
Carys Roberts Executive Director, IPPR
Michael Rosen Author and educator
J.K. Rowling Author and former traineee teacher
James Scales Head of Education, Centre for Social Justice
Seamus Searson General Secretary, Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association
Mike Sheridan Regional Director, London, Ofsted
Ryan Shorthouse Chief Executive, Bright Blue
Michael Spencer Chairman, Centre for Policy Studies
Amanda Spielman Chief Inspector, Ofsted
Dame Glenys Stacey Chief Executive and Chief Regulator, Ofqual
Keir Starmer MP Leader of Opposition
Lord Storey Liberal Democrat peer and former Headteacher
Nicola Sturgeon First Minister of Scotland
John Swinney Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Scotland
Peter Weir Education Minister, Northern Ireland
Jacquie White General Secretary, Ulster Teachers’ Union
Paul Whiteman General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers
Brett Wigdortz Founder and Honorary President, Teach First
Baron Willetts President of the Advisory Council, Resolution Foundation and former Universities Minister
Kirsty Williams Education Secretary, Wales
Gavin Williamson MP Education Secretary
Dr Joanna Williams Head of Education and Culture, Policy Exchange