'I'll never forget being bullied' - head of Educating Yorkshire school reflects on experiences after writing book for students moving from primary to secondary

Matthew Burton is the head of Thornhill Community Academy.
Matthew Burton is the head of Thornhill Community Academy.

For headteacher Matthew Burton, one of the biggest challenges of secondary school was tackling being bullied.

“I will never forget the feeling of having to go the long way around school to lessons and being late to arrive to avoid people coming towards me,” he says. “It was horrible.”

Mr Burton was seen helping student Musharaf Asghar when Educating Yorkshire was screened.

Mr Burton was seen helping student Musharaf Asghar when Educating Yorkshire was screened.

Now in his second year at the helm of Dewsbury’s Thornhill Community Academy, the school that was thrust into the national spotlight when award-winning television series Educating Yorkshire hit screens six years ago, Burton has written a book to help young people deal with their own challenges and confront their worries as they progress through high school.

Covering everything from exam stress to messy friendships, homework and bullying, Go Big aims to guide students through their transition from primary to secondary education - and the settling in period that follows.

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“Whilst the book wouldn’t have made [the bullying] go away for me, if it was there giving me tips [about what I should do] that I could have done quicker, and I had listened to it, it could have helped things sooner,” he says.

“My own experience of school and of being a teacher hopefully brings some sort of support and help to young people.”

Burton draws on his 14 years of working in education to explore some of the more common concerns that pupils have raised - from misconceptions including the age-old rumour of heads being flushed down toilets, to challenging academic content and worries about navigating around large school sites without being lost or late.

“It is a tiny drop in the ocean compared to the impact schools and parents can have on children’s lives during transition,” he says.

“It’s another resource that makes a bit of an impact and supports students to feel more positive about that move. Some take to it like a duck to water and absolutely fly.

“But when things don’t go right, it is about understanding that that’s fine, these things happen to everybody and schools are full of teachers and staff who want to help.”

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Burton, who captured the hearts of the nation when he helped pupil Musharaf Asghar manage his stammer in emotional scenes caught on camera for Educating Yorkshire, says he is lucky enough to see the “brilliant” things young people do every single day. But he is also there to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.

“Go Big is about acknowledging that things can and do go wrong and making it clear that it’s absolutely normal,” he says.

“Not only that, though, it’s about giving children a ‘heads up’ about what’s to come, how to best prepare for it, what to do when it arrives, and above all, helping them to feel positive about the big move.”

“I think it’s a really important piece of work really and something I hope helps children to manage that step up,” he adds. “It’s a massive change and I wanted to produce a guide that supported children though it...Hopefully it is that friend on your shoulder.”

The book, aimed at readers aged 10+, will be published under the Hachette Children’s Group’s Wren & Rook imprint.

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Senior editor Laura Horsley says: “The jump to secondary school has never been easy but there are now even more pressures, anxieties and a complex modern world that students have to contend with.

“Matthew won the nation’s hearts when he appeared in Educating Yorkshire and he has brought that same warmth, humour and approachability to what feels like a very important school survival guide.”

Go Big will be out in February and is available to pre-order through Amazon.