Teacher Trailblazers

"Teachers make such a difference. They don’t have to be experts in iambic pentameter and sprung rhythm, or workshop gurus. They just have to care enough to stay late after work one evening to photocopy a pamphlet of poems, or give that quiet kid a gold star, or pick the right moment to give the lad kicking around the classroom the right book. "

Richard Evans, Teacher Trailblazer

Back in 2008, Inspired by the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, we decided to reward teachers that showed exceptional dedication to the teaching of poetry in schools. Each year, we will select a small group of new Teacher Trailblazers who will help to develop best practice for working with poetry and young people.

Read their top tips for teaching poetry and try out their lesson plans.

Below are the biographies of our Teacher Trailblazers 

  • Ramnika Sharma
  • Katherine Whittington 
  • Helen Kanmwaa
  • Marcus Buchanan
  • Ashley Smith
  • Fiona Turner
  • Barbara Ferramosca
  • Matthew Hannam
  • Peter Carpenter
  • Allan Crosbie
  • Sezgin Kemal
  • Sophie Breese
  • Jude Brigley
  • Peter Cash
  • Fiona Drye
  • Richard Evans
  • Sue Gale
  • Joan Secombe
  • Cliff Yates
  • 2014's Teacher Trailblazers

      Katherine Whittington

        Katherine has been working as the Librarian at Oxford Spires Academy     for two years, and love sharing poetry with the students. She encourage     them to read widely, especially lots of different contemporary and     historically established poets, and is working with a team of students to     create a Poetry Hub in school, where comfortable seating and a strong     stock of reading materials will inspire writing. The work of her pupils has     been recognised in many creative writing competitions, and she is     continuously in awe of the poetry they produce.

        Katherine is lucky enough to work with the wonderful people at First     Story, who foster literacy and confidence through creative writing. When     she started at Oxford Spires, Katherine wanted our writer in residence,     Kate Clanchy, to host the weekly creative writing workshops in the Library     because she wanted the students to feel like it was their space. As time     went on, she transitioned from listening to them read their work aloud to     sitting in and sometimes even writing herself.

        Read her top tips for teaching poetry


      Ramnika Sharma

        Ramnika was born in Hampshire. After studying for a BA (hons) degree in     London and gaining an MA in Literature with merit at the Universtity of     Essex, she returned to the area and became a teacher of English. She     soon become passionate about sharing her love of books; her passion for     words and her fascination for poetry. She is currently a teacher of English     and Literacy Co-ordinator at Oaklands Catholic School and Sixth Form     College, a highly successful provider of education to 11-18 year olds.

        Central to her work at Oaklands Catholic School is her determination to     raise awareness on the significance of literacy in the lives of young     people; she strives to promote reading for pleasure and through entering     competitions such as 'Foyle', seeks to highlight the power of the written     word. She feels incredibly fortunate to be able to explore poetry on a daily     basis, whether it is through teaching the life and works of particular poets;     analysing the use of language or guiding students through the creation of     their own poetry, and is incredibly excited to be working with The Poetry     Society this year to bring poetry into the lives of  even more young

    2013's Teacher Trailblazers:

      Helen Kanmwaa

        Helen Kanmwaa teaches English at Channing School in     Highgate, London. She feels very fortunate to be part of a     department whose members all value creative writing as an     essential element in the English classroom as well as a     popular and flourishing extra-curricular activity in the school.

        As a very young girl, Helen loved learning poetry by heart to     recite to anyone who would listen; later, when studying Gerard     Manley Hopkins for ‘A’ level, she found great wisdom in the     poet’s advice to Robert Bridges: “Take breath and read it with     the ears…” So often, it is the sound of words, their music,     rhythms and the sheer relish of chewing them and tasting them     which brings poetry to life for many young people and enables     them to experience it and create it themselves. A vital part of     writing poetry is reading it aloud, listening and letting others     hear it; Helen hopes that the creative writing groups at school     provide a nurturing and positive environment for students to do     this.

        Read her Top Tips for teaching Poetry 

      Magnus Buchanan

        Magnus Buchanan is a poetry enthusiast based in the     island of Guernsey who teaches at Elizabeth College. He     was born in Portsmouth and eventually made his way up     north to study English Literature in Leeds. This reversed     the journey of the rather more illustrious poet Simon     Armitage – Magnus was lucky enough to see Armitage,     Brian Patten and Philip Gross during his teens and     proceeded to write quite a bit of obscure verse which     bears little resemblance to any of the above. His     enthusiasm for poetry has been fuelled by several     chance encounters with strangers, too much time waiting     at bus stops but most of all by his wife – who paints     pieces to accompany them.

        Since becoming a full-time teacher in 2007, Magnus has     founded a creative writing website Friday's Footprint     which collects submissions from all of the secondary     schools in Guernsey and organises regular competitions     through the local newspaper The Guernsey Press. He     has also worked with the terrific team at the Guernsey     Literary Festival to help organise extra readings,     competitions and slams for students. Magnus’ pupils     are generally far more prolific than him on a               week-to-week basis, but he has finally got around to          publishing his ballad version of Victor Hugo’s The Toilers     of the Sea with help from the Guernsey Arts Commission     and his wife’s illustrative powers.      

     2012's Teacher Trailblazers:

                                                        Ashley Smith



    Ashley Smith was born on the Isle of Man and brought  up in Stoke-on-Trent. Aged eight, he was told off for writing a ‘flippant’ poem about a crow. Later, at Newcastle-under-Lyme School, he was fortunate enough to be taught by Peg Hulse and Peter Cash, who inspired him to write again. This resulted in various commendations, but also such gems as ‘Predestination’, a Prufrock-inspired epic poem set in a Stoke-on-Trent car park, which managed to rhyme ‘ego’ with ‘Austin Montego’ and has thankfully since been lost.

    Ashley studied Modern Languages at Cambridge, where he wrote opinions pieces for Varsity, comedy sketches, short stories and the first chapters of twenty-odd novels. He started teaching in 2000 and has been Head of English at St John’s College School since 2009, where he is supported by wonderful colleagues who share his passion for teaching poetry. Our pupils’ poems have been commended in the Foyle’s Young Poets, SATIPS and Fairhaven Singers’ Poetry Competitions and are showcased in our annual Y8 poetry evening and Eaglet magazine.

    Ashley will finish one of the novels one day. His fantasy Come Dine With Me guests would be Philip Larkin, Alan Bennett, Morrissey and Victoria Wood.

                                                          Fiona Turner


    Fiona has been teaching for over ten years and has had many roles in Hertfordshire schools from being a Head of English to Assistant Principal and has now become an Advanced Skills Teacher of English at Milton Keynes Academy.

    Poetry has long been a passion of Fiona’s and she considers herself to be very lucky to have grown up in a household where poetry was a part of everyday life. Her parents often read the poems of Causley, Auden, Betjeman and Ayres instead of bedtime stories and the whole family took great delight in turning everyday occurrences into rhyme.

    One of her earliest memories is having one of her poems published in the school anthology and realising that poetry was not difficult or complicated but intensely personal and often exciting. This passion for poetry is shared with and by her students and she has found that making the links between poetry and popular music helps the students to overcome their fear of the ‘P’ word. Fiona is very much looking forward to working with colleagues from around the country on poetry projects over the coming year.

    2011's Teacher Trailblazers:

                                               Barbara Ferramosca

    Barbara Ferramosca was born in the South of Italy, and grew up in a small village close to the ancient town of Lecce.  She always had a passion for books, but it wasn’t always an easy passion to fulfill – her village only had one small library, and she often had to cycle several miles to wake the librarian up so he could open it.

    Barbara studied translation at the University of FORLI, where she developed her love of languages.  She followed her studies with travelling, and spent time living in a number of different countries in Europe and the Middle East.  In Tunisia she worked in a small University Library, and discovered that she could turn her childhood passion into an adult vocation.

    In 2006, Barbara moved to England for the second time, where she studied Information and Library Management at the University of the West of England, Bristol.  Her first job as a school librarian was in Exmouth Community College, where she realised that she could put her more creative side to good use.  Barbara now works in Lilian Baylis Technology School, in London, and spent the last two years developing a well-used library.

                                                Matthew Hannam

    Currently leading a talented and successful English Department at Stroud High School, Matthew Hannam has been teaching for ten years. Having studied English Literature at Bangor, he completed a MA in Modern Literature at Kent University before passing his PGCE with distinction in 2000. Recently, he has been nominated for the National Teaching Awards and continues to be a keen writer of poetry. He feels his writing greatly benefited from attending an Arvon residential writing course and he is an avid reader of contemporary poetry.

    Poetry became a passion for Matthew when he, at home as a teenager, discovered ‘The Wasteland’ in an anthology of poetry next to a much more well-thumbed copy of Pam Ayers. Poetry and writing became a daily activity from that moment on. He considers himself very lucky to have been taught by inspirational teachers and that today he has the opportunity to convey this enthusiasm to another generation. One tip he was given early on in his teaching career, was that you never utter the word ‘poetry’ at the beginning of the lesson, but only when the students are hooked.

    Students at his school have been shortlisted in a recent AQA poetry competition, have taken part in poetry slams, poetry clubs, created literary magazines and met visiting writers.

    2010's Trailblazers:

                                            Peter Carpenter

    Peter Carpenter is a teacher at Tonbridge School and he has taught English since 1980 in secondary education. His fifth collection, After the Goldrush (Nine Arches) follows Catch (Shoestring) and The Black-Out Book (Arc). He is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Warwick and was Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Reading from 2007-08.

    His poems appear in many magazines including Poetry Review, London Magazine, the TLS and Poetry Ireland Review; he is a regular reviewer and essayist for Use of English. He has co-directed Worple Press since 1997 and has edited books of poetry by Iain Sinclair, Anthony Wilson and many others. He has performed and taught at many venues including the Arvon Foundation, the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, Ways With Words, The Troubadour and the Poetry Café.


          Allan Crosbie

    Allan Crosbie is Principal Teacher of English at James Gillespie’s High School in Edinburgh. Two previous winners of the Foyle Competition have come from the school, one of them, Julia Rampen, twice in consecutive years. There have been several in the top 100. Gillespie’s students have been successful in other poetry competitions in Scotland: in this year’s National Galleries Writing Competition and the Scottish Poetry Library’s ‘Homecoming’ competition, Gillespie’s students dominated in the 12-15 categories.

    Allan was a runner-up in the 1998 Arvon Daily Telegraph Poetry Competition and was short-listed for the Forward Prize for Best Individual Poem in 2001. His first collection, Outswimming The Eruption, published by The Rialto in 2006, was short-listed for The Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize in that year. He edited the anthology Such Strange Joy published in 2001 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Edinburgh-based poetry group, The Shore Poets.

                                               Sezgin Kemal

    Sezgin Kemal, Head of English at Newstead Wood School in Orpington; is passionate about poetry. The School's twenty year old writer -in- residence programme has been a great personal pleasure, with poets : U.A.Fanthorpe, Alan Brownjohn, Carol Ann Duffy, Benjamin Zephaniah, Kate Clanchy and Michael Donaghy to name a few, coming through the portals of the school to teach students. Our production of an annual 'Words and Music' anthology shared by students and staff alike has been a communion of talents.

    Sezgin and the nine strong English Department always put poetry at the top of the English agenda. Collage work and Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way are emotional engineering tools and offer pathways into the poetic mind. Sezgin enjoyed running workshops for Bromley`s Celebrations of Darwin`s bicentennial this year and continues to use poetry in every English lesson.

    2009's Trailblazers:

                                    Sophie Breese

    Sophie Breese has been teaching English at St. Paul’s Girls’ School, London for nearly seven years. A good teacher, she believes, is one who has had some adventures and has their own interests outside the classroom. For Sophie, this outside interest is creative writing: she does write some poetry, although she feels fiction is more her forte. This summer she went as a participant on an Arvon Foundation Writers’ Retreat at Moniack Mhor, in Scotland. 

    Sophie loves all aspects of being in the classroom but she has found that teaching creative writing has been particularly rewarding. She runs a creative writing group once a week, which between twenty to thirty students across the whole 11-18 age range attend. The school provides other creative writing activities too: poets come once a term for a day to offer workshops to classes and tutorials to individuals; a Poet-in-Residence scheme was started last summer with Colette Bryce being the inaugural poet; there is a high-quality literary magazine published once a year; the school organises two internal competitions; and last year a group of older students were chosen to attend an Arvon Foundation course.


                                     Jude Brigley

    Jude Brigley has been Head of English at Cardiff High School for the last twelve years, but was recently promoted to Director of Learning and Teaching (focusing on pedagogy). Her lifetime quest is to find ways to engage students with their learning and poetry, which has always been her passion.

     Earlier in her career, she ran two performance poetry groups, Connect and Poetry Unlimited, which both worked in schools. She is also the editor of two poetry anthologies, The Poet's House (Pont, 1998) and Exchanges: Poems by Women in Wales (Honno, 1990), which were created with students in mind.

    She believes that poetry should be at the heart of the English curriculum and that it can play an important role in everybody’s life. She has spoken on the subject at various places including N.A.T.E., the Library Association and various conferences. While being an experienced examiner, inset provider and research student, she still retains her enthusiasm for the classroom.


                                  Peter Cash

    Peter Cash was born in Lincolnshire on the last day of 1949. He is a graduate of Nottingham University and a Life Member of the Poetry Society. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 1975 and a prize in the National Poetry Competition in 1982; in both 2007 and 2008, he was successful in The Fellows’ Poetry Prize Competition (English Association).

     Between 1985 and 2009, he was Head of English Studies at Newcastle-under-Lyme School in Staffordshire (of which both T E Hulme (1883-1917) and John Wain (1925-1994) are alumni); since 1986, he organised an annual school poetry competition. He has published five collections of poems, including Fen Poems (Staple, 1992) and Lincolnshire Churches (Shoestring Press, 1998). He contributes regularly to The Use of English for which he has most recently prepared articles on Raymond Carver (Summer 2008) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (Spring 2009).


                                           Fiona Drye

    Fiona Drye is Head of English at Wellingborough Prep School, in Northamptonshire. She was born and brought up at Gresham’s School, Norfolk, where her father was Headmaster. On long drives to the Highlands, he would entertain his family by reciting a fascinating mixture of Macaulay’s ‘Horatius’, Hilaire Belloc, A.A. Milne and singing Schubert or ribald rugby songs.

    At the local primary school things were less promising; as an undiagnosed dyslexic, she found schoolwork confusing and de-motivating, yet she adored reading. It wasn’t until an English teacher, at Gresham’s, introduced her to ‘Richard 11’, Wilfred Owen and E.E. Cummings that her attitude towards ‘Education’ changed. He asked her for her own interpretation: to think for herself!Realising that what she had never liked about school was being taught, she found a love of learning and quickly developed a taste for highly descriptive prose (Lawrence Durrell, Dickens, Emily Bronte, Hardy, Peake). Soon she discovered that most of the authors she admired also wrote great poetry. This lead her to study English at university and here she enjoyed epic poems, such as ‘The Iliad’, ‘The Odyssey’, ‘The Faerie Queene’ and ‘Paradise Lost’.


                                      Richard Evans

    Richard Evans was lucky enough to have a mum who read him silly poems by Spike Milligan, a teacher at primary school who gave him a gold star for his first poem and an A-level teacher who was a Ted Hughes fanatic. For the last seven years he has been Head of English at Tonbridge School in Kent and has tried, with the help of a fantastic department, to make reading and writing poetry a natural part of the educational experience.

     Through a thriving creative writing society, the use of writers in residence, and regular readings by the boys themselves, he has tried above all to resist the unfortunate notion that poetry is difficult or a ‘problem’.

    One of Richard's favourite memories:

    Tonbridge School, 1994: my Head of Department manages to squeeze fifteen students onto an Arvon Creative writing course. A bloke called Ted Hughes pops in one evening to read us drafts of what he is working on. The students aren’t quite sure why their two teachers are so excited.


                                           Sue Gale

    Sue Gale has taught for the last 34 years in schools in South Tyneside, West Sussex, and most recently Northumberland. At the present time, she is the English and Literacy Coordinator at Lindisfarne Middle school in Alnwick, a market town situated in the north east part of the county.

     She has taught there since 1990 but took four years out to work as the Teaching and Learning Strategy Manager for a local EAZ (Education Action Zone), working with over 21 schools on a variety of projects.

    Sue loves teaching English, especially poetry, and believes that it is often a rather forgotten bit of the English Curriculum. Her English department often works on combined projects with either the music or the art departments, sometimes both, and on two occasions they were extremely lucky and privileged to be chosen as the only English school to work with the National Scottish Gallery on two very different and very exciting projects, one of which culminated in the publication of a book of children’s poems by the gallery.


                                   Joan Secombe

    Joan has been teaching at Bishop Luffa School in Chichester for all thirty five years of her teaching career. Her responsibility is pastoral rather than academic, but she has always had a reputation as someone who 'likes poetry'.

     It was the arrival of a new Head of English that made celebrating creativity an integral part of the school's practice. Barry Smith inaugurated a creative writing magazine, Knight Life which they co-edited for 25 years, as well as showcasing the best work in an annual event.

    The school has always been determined to nurture young talent, so that lower school writers are encouraged and blossom into Sixth Form writers. By this stage pupils often write independently and bring their poems to Joan outside lesson times and she has become more of an editor than a teacher. Joan was often challenged by these older students to become a writer herself so when she was offered a half a term sabbatical she took herself off on an Arvon course and then tried to put into practice what she had taught for so long! This was a wonderful opportunity that made her even more keen to enable children to experience the excitement of their own creativity.


                                      Cliff Yates

    Cliff Yates is a poet and teacher. He is Deputy Head of Maharishi School, where he teaches English throughout the secondary school and where his students are extraordinarily successful at winning creative writing competitions. During his time as Poetry Society poet-in-residence, he wrote Jumpstart Poetry in the Secondary School: "The best aid to the teaching of poetry writing since Sandy Brownjohn's work of the 1980s" (Gordon Wilson in The Teacher). His anthology Oranges: Poems from Maharishi School was a TES Book of the Week.

     His collection of poems Henry's Clock (Smith/Doorstop) won both the Aldeburgh first collection prize and the Poetry Business Book & Pamphlet Competition. His pamphlets include 14 Ways of Listening to the Archers and Emergency Rations. He received an Arts Council England Writer’s Award for Frank Freeman’s Dancing School, forthcoming from Salt.

    He works extensively with teachers and runs courses and workshops in schools, colleges, universities and for organisations such as the Arvon Foundation, the Poetry Society, NATE and the British Council. He has published and broadcast widely on teaching poetry, and has a PhD in Creative Writing and Poetics.  



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