Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English

Pitching high and including all

By: Bob Cox , Leah Crawford , Angela Jenkins , Julie Sargent


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PublishedSeptember 2023
Size234 x 156mm

Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English provides both big principles and a toolkit of strategies all carefully selected to support the design of a deeper, more creative and more expansive English curriculum.

Together with Leah Crawford, Angela Jenkins and Julie Sargent, Bob Cox has compiled this rich resource, complete with vivid illustrations by Victoria Cox, to help teachers enhance their learners' engagement with challenging texts and develop their writing skills as budding wordsmiths. The authors, working in association with the Opening Doors network of schools, are addressing the vital concept of 'how' schools can pitch high but include all pupils.

The authors’ innovative ideas on theory, best practice and how to cultivate a pioneering classroom spirit will empower teachers to explore with their learners the scope and depth of literature; literature capable of inspiring high standards and instilling a love of language in its many forms. Furthermore, they help teachers to lay down intricate curricular pathways that will prompt their pupils to better enjoy literature, read and analyse texts with a greater sense of curiosity, and write with more originality.

The book is supported by the Opening Doors series of books which contain units of work based around selected texts. The authors hope this book will act as a starting block from which to develop an Opening Doors approach to English, and have suggested key concepts around which the curriculum can be built, with the units providing examples to work from. 

Suitable for teachers and curriculum leads in primary settings.

Picture for author Bob Cox

Bob Cox

Having taught English for 23 years, Bob Cox is now an independent education consultant, writer and teacher coach who works nationally and internationally to support outstanding learning. Bob also delivers keynotes for national associations, multi-academy trusts and local authorities, as more schools integrate Opening Doors' strategies into their curriculum design.

Listen to Bob Cox talk about his Opening Doors series of books with Toria Bono from Tiny Voice Talks here.

Picture for author Leah Crawford

Leah Crawford

Leah Crawford has 15 years’ experience as a local authority English inspector and adviser, working across both the primary and secondary phases, and now leads Thinktalk education consultancy. She is a tutor for King’s College London’s Let’s Think in English cognitive acceleration programme, is on the Wildern Partnership SCITT leadership team and is delivering the new NPQ in Leading Literacy.  She has spent her career in education championing equitable and inclusive dialogic teaching and learning.

Click here to read Leah Crawford’s blog.

Picture for author Angela Jenkins

Angela Jenkins

Angela Jenkins has extensive experience in English education and school improvement having worked as an adviser in three different local authorities and two multi-academy trusts in the last 20 years. As well as providing link adviser support for individual schools she also took strategic responsibility for English and assessment. Recently, Angela has worked as an independent consultant, providing specialist advice and support for the development of exceptional curriculum, pedagogy and assessment both in primary and secondary settings. She is currently co-chair of the National Association of Advisers in English (NAAE).

Picture for author Julie Sargent

Julie Sargent

Julie Sargent has over 10 years’ experience of working across the whole of the primary sector as an English Consultant. This includes developing bespoke CPD for individual schools, multi-academy trusts and local authorities. She has a particular interest in Early Years/KS1 and using high-quality texts to promote and develop all aspects of English.


  1. The title of this book, Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English: Pitching high and including all, is perfectly entitled. The author’s very thorough use of literature and classroom examples urges, if not demands the reader to pitch high. This book comes to our shelves in a very timely manner given recent debates around reading in particular. It provides us all with the opportunity to take stock of our existing curriculum and provision and aspire to provide children with the kind of learning experiences that Bob Cox outlines in this relevant and highly engaging book.

  2. Especially suitable for teachers and curriculum leads in primary settings, Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English: Pitching high and including all is enhanced for the reader with the inclusion of a ten page bibliography, a two page end-note, a two page list of online resources, and a two page list of downloadable resources. Exceptionally informative, impressively organized, and thoroughly reader-friendly in presentation, Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English is solidly recommended for personal, professional, school district, college, and university library English studies collections and supplemental curriculum lists.


  3. ‘A rising tide gathers all ships.’ Every learner, no matter their starting point, has the right to ambitious teaching at the highest level. As the Opening Doors programme clearly demonstrates, excellence for all can be truly inclusive and gives every pupil the chance to maximise their potential.

    If the Opening Doors programme provides the framework for inclusion in the classroom, this book helps all those involved in primary education to unlock that door in their teaching practice. Bob Cox and his team's passion and enthusiasm for all aspects of English jump out of its pages. The book offers a blueprint along with suggested approaches, ideas and resources to deliver ambitious reading, writing and oracy teaching in schools.

    Enjoyment of reading is a lifetime gift, and this book will enable you to light the spark leading to growing skills, confidence, enthusiasm and achievement in all aspects of English, even in the most reluctant learner. As important, this book will take you, the professional, on a journey which will reinvigorate your passion for exploring new texts, authors and teaching approaches in the classroom. I thoroughly recommend it.

  4. The National Curriculum for English clearly states that pupils receive a broad curriculum that allows them to comprehend increasingly complex and ambitious texts at each key stage. The National Curriculum states that the texts that pupils read across the primary age range should prepare pupils for Key Stage 3.

    Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English delivers on these expectations. After all, access to ambitious texts is the entitlement of every pupil.

    This new book by Bob Cox ensures that teachers can utilise the scope and depth of English heritage texts to achieve high standards in English and, above all, a love of the English language and English literature.

    In his inaugural lecture at Durham University in 2013, Professor Rob Coe reminded us that ‘learning happens when people have to think hard.’ Yes, these texts will result in pupils grappling with complex ideas, but in this book, Bob and his team demonstrate to primary practitioners how to exploit the potential of heritage literature and give scope for deep learning and deep knowledge acquisition through a toolkit of practical and accessible strategies. The exemplification included within this book helps teachers to facilitate an understanding of the writing process inspired by classic literature.

    This book taps into the beauty and depth of quality texts and, by including pupils’ writing, shows what pupils can achieve; the pupils’ writing is nothing short of exceptional.

    This book is informative and exciting, and it contains everything a teacher needs to deliver high-quality English lessons. It opens the door to a deep world of wonder and beauty and provides a myriad of opportunities for imaginative thinking and poetic expression.

  5. With the renewed focus on reading in schools, there has never been a better time to join the Opening Doors journey. For years, Bob Cox and his team have been working on the promotion of high-quality reading texts in the primary and secondary classroom and how, in turn, that reading can support, develop and improve other areas of the school’s curriculum. Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English pulls together the team’s wide breadth of research, practice, experience and knowledge of literature into one easy-to-follow and accessible book.

    Everybody knows the importance of reading, but Bob Cox, Leah Crawford, Angela Jenkins and Julie Sargent offer something more than a quick fix. They offer several principles on how to use texts more effectively in the classroom so that all students can engage in high-quality reading material, regardless of ability or starting point. As a secondary school English teacher, I love how the Opening Doors team repositions the reading text in a lesson, placing the reader’s response, and relationship with the text, at the heart of the learning. Instead of reading a text and answering some generic comprehension texts, students explore, think, discuss and investigate how ideas are formed through the writing. Engagement with reading is at the heart of their methods and strategies. Reading isn’t just the simple decoding of words, but it is also about creating new ideas, thoughts, theories, questions, feelings and worlds. Students are engaging as readers and writers on both an emotional and a cerebral level through their methods, as cited by the numerous case studies.

    One of the book’s greatest strengths, for me, is the links to other texts, including poetry, classic fiction and current fiction. The book isn’t just the start of a reading journey for schools, but the start of the reading journey for teachers. All too often, we rely on the same few tried and tested poems or extracts. This book addresses that limitation in schools and starts teachers off with a map and compass on where to go next.

    Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English doesn’t just open doors, but it opens the blinds, the curtains, the windows and even the patio door to new texts in the classroom and new ways of engaging with writers’ ideas, thoughts and techniques.

  6. Beyond teaching the basics of reading, there are currently three major initiatives that have the potential to improve children’s attainment in English and transform their lives hugely for the better. They are interrelated and complementary; every primary school needs to take all three to heart and work hard to put them into practice if they are to bring the best out of all children. One is the work on Reading for Pleasure led by Professor Teresa Cremin and colleagues through the Open University. The second is the Talk for Writing approach developed by Pie Corbett. The third is the Opening Doors work of Bob Cox and his team, involving ambitious English teaching based around challenging texts.

    The important work of Bob Cox and his colleagues is nowhere in print better introduced and explained than in his latest book Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English. This essential guide carefully and accessibly explains the principles that underpin the approach: ambitious, direct teaching; using challenging texts; devising access strategies; developing meaningful dialogue; linking reading to writing. Key points are very usefully summarised in lists at the end of each section. However, it also provides truly practical and easily replicable strategies for teaching, clearly developed by teachers who understand both this approach and the realities of the primary classroom. Here are people who really know how to make highly rewarding English teaching work for all children.

    This book provides considerable challenge for both teachers and children but, equally, every support to meet that challenge. It has the potential to transform primary English teaching for the better, and in conjunction with the other key approaches mentioned, open doors for children, not only to a more rewarding educational experience, but to richer lives. No primary school should be without it, and many would benefit considerably from associated professional development.

  7. A treasure trove of ideas for time-impoverished teachers. With the turn of every page, I discovered fresh new inspiration that provides endless possibilities. It is refreshing as the book does not dictate one right way of teaching; rather, it empowers teachers to discover the joy and delight of texts and encourages them to take pupils on this same journey!

    If this glorious book were a store of curiosities, I imagine it being crammed to the rafters with glistening ideas, wheeled ladders and shelves that stretch up as high as the eye can see. Step in and explore for yourselves!

  8. Another thoroughly researched book from the inimitable Bob Cox, full of exciting suggestions and resources and supported by excellent classroom examples. The collaboration of experts who have worked with Bob to put this text together have drawn upon their own experience to provide an abundance of ideas which teachers cannot fail to be enthused by. Bob inspires us each to be ‘a teacher who learns and develops throughout their career’, who will  understand ‘when to intervene, when to change resources, when to apply new methodologies and when to be conservative’; in other words, a teacher who is reflective and responsive to the needs of the children, not necessarily shackled to the regime of tests and inspections. The recurring theme that struck me throughout the book is Bob’s absolute belief in the need for the teacher to be immersed, inspired by and knowledgeable about the text they choose. How many teachers ‘select’ a text because it’s what has always been used, or what the school curriculum has dictated, rather than ‘pitching high and including all’?

    The whole book is peppered with real case studies written by enthusiastic (and sometimes surprised) teachers. It is impossible not to be carried along by their enthusiasm for the work they have been doing, inspired by the Opening Doors approaches. Also, throughout the book are so many recommendations for texts, teachers need look no further.

    Taking and using the suggestions and ideas in this book, children and their teachers will be exposed to outstanding texts and through these, every possible required objective will be met without the need for tick lists. If fluency is a focus, this will be tackled. Vocabulary and spelling, too, are considered and addressed, not by arbitrary words of the day or spelling lists, but through the quality text, carefully chosen by the teacher.

    Anyone familiar with the Opening Doors strategies and approaches will immediately recognise them here. For newcomers, the tried and tested methods are explained so clearly, all teachers will be empowered to introduce enriching English content to the children they teach.

    For all reflective teachers looking to introduce their pupils to challenging and rewarding texts, this book is essential.

  9. This fantastic book clearly describes how simple and easy-to-replicate strategies such as ‘link reading’ and ‘taster drafts’ can be used to engage all pupils using even the most challenging texts with high impact. Lots of real examples of using this toolkit successfully in schools provide teachers with practical tips as well as inspiring ideas demonstrating how by removing the ceiling for our students, possibilities are endless.

  10. The Old English word for ‘open’ is ‘openian’, originally meaning ‘to reveal’ or ‘to become manifest’. Revelations are voiced with expertise and awareness in the newest addition to the ‘Opening Doors’ series – Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English. This new resource for primary educators offers an opportunity to enroot an ardent approach to the teaching of the English curriculum, ensuring challenge for all. Indeed, this evincing work by Bob Cox and co. offers case studies of primary practice alongside innovative ideas for practical classroom application – an opportunity to set actions into motion, ensuring ambitious teaching and learning of English in the primary setting.

  11. Reading Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English provides further consolidation and real exemplification of the content of the five previous books in the series. The key principles and strategies are expertly explained and the case studies to illustrate each element are invaluable: too often pedagogical texts provide the ‘what’ but not always the ‘how’ and all practitioners, whether they have already embarked upon an Opening Doors journey or have yet to do so, cannot fail to be excited and inspired by the ambition and genuine passion shared by every contributor.

    What I love most is that this book made me pause, question and reflect. Whilst acknowledging that the next steps in our curriculum development will take time and effort, reading this book has clarified my thinking and given me first-hand experiences from which I can draw further inspiration. By embracing the Opening Doors approach, we have grown ‘to love and need challenge and ambition as a norm’. I am excited for our pupils that we continue to pioneer!

  12. As head teacher of an inner-city school with an incredibly diverse community – twenty-four languages spoken – I was determined to be ambitious and not to dumb down our curriculum. The real, practical and adaptable examples in this book are invaluable. The use of challenging, complex texts has ignited passions, stretching and engaging pupils to read more, question more and experience more.

    I have a never-ending list of book requests to purchase, children dressing as Sherlock Holmes on World Book Day, pupils playing with the word ‘aqualine’ in their character descriptions, high levels of engagement in English lessons and audible sighs when reading sessions end.

  13. The significance of teachers’ knowledge of high-quality literary and non-fiction texts is widely recognised as critical to the development of a rich literacy curriculum. In this book, professional awareness of old, gold and retold tales as well as new, bold and diverse texts is a foundational principle. With such in-depth knowledge, teachers’ assurance and capacity to promote learning outcomes and high levels of engagement are enriched.

    Such high expectations and support are clearly the maxim that Bob Cox and his colleagues stand by. If you are looking to open doors for all young people and to help them appreciate high-quality texts, and produce their own, then look no further.

    Inspiring accounts from classrooms across the country whose teachers use challenging texts, and apply the principles of Opening Doors, will reignite your passion for teaching and prompt you to reconsider the depth and breadth of texts and the very nature of reading. Practical ways forward abound to enrich the teaching and learning of English, so read, explore, apply and set the bar high for all your pupils.

    This is not an exclusive curriculum, far from it; it is a thoroughly inclusive one which involves teaching to the top.

  14. I particularly enjoyed the section titled, ‘Key Points on Pitching High’ as it offered insights into strategies and skills that will support teachers in their planning, ensuring that highly pitched texts are the way forward in order to plan for quality lessons which enrich every child’s development. As such, enrich pupils’ learning with beautiful texts if you want them to become apt and intuitive writers.

    It is so powerful reading first-hand the experiences teachers and leaders have had in their own school setting. This breaks down the stigma and fear of using ‘challenging texts’ and makes this accessible and achievable for all teachers, and all leaders nationwide. These case studies pave the way for better English being taught, where challenge is key, because ‘challenge’ therefore becomes the beating heart of our English curriculum.

  15. This fantastic addition to the ‘Opening Doors’ series clearly models how schools can design their English curriculum by putting rich, quality texts at the heart. With an emphasis on high challenge, whilst offering strategies that ensure each text can be accessed by all, the reader is offered a toolkit of techniques to inspire exciting and diverse reading and writing responses. These principles are then exemplified in case studies – written by teachers at the chalk face – that are included at the end of each chapter. Bob Cox, accompanied by co-authors Leah Crawford, Julie Sargent and Angela Jenkins, brings his many years of experience of teaching and his in-depth knowledge of literature to demonstrate how the teaching of literary concepts can be introduced to our very youngest pupils, then extended and deepened in a spiral structure throughout the primary curriculum. At a time when teacher workload is more concerning than ever, Opening Doors to Ambitious Primary English will save hours of teacher time with its clear layout and explanations, whilst the link reading suggestions are worth their weight in gold! With its vision of shared discovery and inclusiveness, this exciting new book cannot fail to expand the literary horizons of both teachers and their pupils.

  16. As a teacher, I have heard high expectations talked about so many times, but what these look like and how to ensure that children are equipped to meet them are not always made clear. Throughout this book, high expectations are mentioned again and again and my feeling, as a reader and a teacher, was that Bob had the same ambitions for me that I have for the learners in my class. I felt challenged as I read this book, but I found that doors truly were opened and that I was given the skills and knowledge needed to truly enable my children to soar. If, like me, you are passionate about honing the craft of teaching, then this book is for you. Teach English as you never have before.

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