Dear Mr Education Secretary,

I am writing to tell you about my son’s transition to secondary school.

You see, he loved primary school, loved learning, got on well and was challenged and engaged and a respected part of the school community.

Which is why it was such a shock to see the change of him in secondary school.

He is unhappy and doesn’t like it.  I don’t think this is the school’s fault, I think the school is operating within a broken and outdated system.

He says school is no longer fun.

That it is boring.

That the teachers shout too much and don’t know the pupils enough.

That some of the teachers are teaching outside their specialisms and so aren’t confident in what they do.

He says that everything is too serious, even PE and drama.

He says that all he has done since starting is do one test after another.  He doesn’t see the point in the tests and he did national tests just before he left in year 6.

He thinks that detentions are given too soon and unfairly to people who are new to the place and didn’t mean to get it wrong, they just needed guidance.

Some of the home-works have been more a test of printer ink than knowledge and some of the classwork is going over what he did a long time ago in primary school.

He has already been told his lowest minimum target grade for GCSE’s.

Dear Mr Education Secretary,

Haven’t you read about labeling theory?  You can talk about aspirational targets all you like, but if you tell them their lowest minimum grade, this is what they hear.  He now has a grade pinned to his identity in all his subjects; he is no longer learning, he is working towards grades.  How sad, how confined, how limiting when he’s such a sponge and a lover of learning.

Dear Mr Education Secretary,

Don’t you think that’s a shame?  A waste of his enthusiasm and talent?  Of his love for learning and his excitement.

I do.

Don’t you think it’s a shame that teachers are under such pressure to predict grades and hit targets and define learning objectives that they don’t have the time or peace of mind to connect with my son so that he can trust them and feel safe to learn.

Dear Mr Education Secretary,

Have you read anything about attachment theory? You really should, there is substantial literature about how children learn best when they are known as individuals and trust the teachers.  But that all takes time and a stress free environment and all this targeting and predicting is not conducive to connection; it turns my son from an individual to a statistic.  I don’t like that.

Mr Education Secretary,

Have you read the research about the Boston Small School Project where they learned that children learned better when they have fewer teachers, even if the teachers are therefore not teaching their specialism, because actually the pupil-teacher relationship is what matters most.  Don’t you think it would be a good idea to learn from primary schools who do this so well?  Don’t you think that going from one teacher for one year to ten teachers in one year is too difficult, too unsettling and too unnecessary?  Why don’t you just change things?  They don’t need specialist knowledge for at least a couple of years, but they do need to feel safe and known.

Dear Mr Education Secretary,

My son is 11.  He has so much energy that he plays football for hours during the weekends and holidays and yet you want him to sit still for hours in school.  Why do children this age have so little PE? So little time outside? No wonder that by the time they get to their teenage years their mental health is in trouble and stress and anxiety are on the rise.

Dear Mr Education Secretary,

Imagine if well-being and healthy relationships were at the heart of a new way of learning.  How different schools might look then. Smaller class sizes, fewer teacher to cope with in a week so that attachments were formed and trust and safety established.  Then imagine that you went wild and put PE and the creative subjects back at the heart of the state system, more like the public schools do it.  Just imagine that kids in state schools could be free to use their bodies in school as well as their minds.  Imagine how this might improve health and well being.  Imagine how many more kids might enjoy school.

Mr Education Secretary,

Then what would it be like if you were really radical and let kids chose what they learned from a younger age?  We all know they need to know maths, science and English, but really, not all kids need a foreign language, or history, or RE, now honestly, do they?  You know they don’t.  And imagine, that if those who didn’t like a subject were allowed to drop it, then they could focus on what they really liked and you know how it is, if you like something you do better at it.  Maybe that’s how we can fill the skills shortage in maths and sciences, by letting the little mathematicians and scientists get on with it without having to grapple with French, which would leave French teacher free to teach the kids who love French!  Imagine what a win-win that would be.  I bet you’ve never done the subjects you hated at school since have you now?

Dear Mr Secretary for Education.

I know you mean well, or at least I hope you do, but I have spoken to my son’s friends, who also loved school and now don’t and I know something is wrong.  I also know that you are looking in the wrong places for the answers.  Yes ask business, yes look to Scandinavia and of course make sure you read the academic research on child development, cognition, core conditions for learning, yes do all of that.  And then ask the kids.  Listen to them.  They know what they think.  They will tell you.

My son told me.

Will you listen?  And then do something different because what you are currently doing isn’t working for teachers or pupils or all the parents who are worrying about their stressed, bored, invisible, bullied, unhappy kids.


Yours faithfully,

Dr Julie Leoni

Into the Woods

I hope to do the same.  Into the Woods is moving forward.  All the illustrations are done, the typesetting has been proof read and I am just waiting for the legal review to come through in readiness for the launch on 25th November which is the UN day for the End To Violence Against Women and Girls.

Into the Woods is a collection of fairy tales based on interviews I did with real women about their experiences of domestic abuse.  My intention with it, is not only to turn the women’s experiences from darkness into light, but to educate and support people who are either in abusive relationships or know someone who is.

It tries to find answers to the questions such as “Why doesn’t she just leave?” or “Why did she get into it in the first place?”  Patterns of behaviour became clear as I was writing, and so did patterns of thoughts and up-bringing.  My hope is that by increasing awareness of these patterns we might keep our young women from finding themselves being one of the 1 in 4 women who experiences abuse in their life time.

A friend pinned me down and got me to talk on camera about the book…you can watch it here.

All profits from the paperback book will go to charities supporting families who are living with or escaping from domestic abuse.  So many people have gifted their time, experience and skills to help this book get its message into the world.  The women I interviewed, and how have approved the stories at every point, have given their stories so that others may learn from their experience.  Sue the interior designer has cut her costs and so has Alex who is doing the legal review.   Illustrator Anita Wyatt has worked her magic without charge as has the editor Kate Taylor from Middlefarm Press.

Together, we all believe we can make a difference.

I really want to start discussions about domestic abuse and to raise awareness of it.  Please will you help me do that by:
  1. Coming to the launch on 25th November 6-8 (you need to buy your tickets from Booka Bookshop, Oswestry,they are on sale now)
  2. Buying a copy of the book – pre-orders here:
  3. Liking the facebook page and sharing it as widely as possible :
  4. Sharing this information with your friends.  Please feel free to forward this email to anyone you think might be interested in the book and the cause.

“Into the Woods takes true stories of modern day abuse, co-dependence and domestic violence and retells them as spell binding, classic fairy tales, ingeniously combing self-help with magic and fantasy. This nurturing collection of tales shines light on these dark, seldom spoken about experiences to create a healing, informing and empowering resource. An absolute must read for women everywhere who will find at least one character they can relate to in these carefully crafted tales, uniting women to reclaim their power and potential.”

“I hope this book is read, shared, talked of, written about and passed from woman to woman. I hope it inspires more women to tell their stories and to grow in courage and strength. I hope it inspires women to support one other, to ask for help, to value themselves, to learn to put themselves first and to turn darkness into light. I hope it saves some lives”

“It genuinely has made me laugh and cry in equal measures…”

“Tales of fierce love, deep courage and tentative hope in the commitment of the hard work of recovery and healing”.

“Fucking hell, Julie Leoni…no really, just fucking hell! Goldilocks has left me all churned up, emotional…and blown to kingdom-fucking-come!”

Please help me turn darkness into light for everyone who has lived with or is living with domestic abuse.


If you enjoyed reading this please share it with friends. You might also be interested in talking to me about coaching , or maybe try some of my online courses (some are free), or treat yourself to a climate protecting pamper with vegan friendly, organic Tropic which supports the planting of forests and education in deprived areas.
Thanks for being here.