Back On Track by Matthew Burton

The Blurb On The Back:

Find your mojo.

Stay hopeful.

Get back on track.

Whether facing assessments, a big change or making up for lost time, head teacher Matthew Burton is here to help students get motivated again.

From ways of managing the tough times and looking after your mental health, to skills for beating school stress and tapping into your potential, this is the one-stop guide for kids who are in need of a bit of hope, some soothing words of advice and a good old pep talk to get them going in school again.

Discover how to plan, prepare and preserve … and get back on track!

BACK ON TRACK was released in the United Kingdom on 22nd July 2021.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

You can order BACK ON TRACK by Matthew Burton from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Matthew Burton is a secondary school teacher who featured in 2013’s EDUCATING YORKSHIRE.  This is a warm, compassionate book aimed at readers aged 12+ about navigating secondary school in a post-COVID world, from establishing routines to handling setbacks, developing an exam smashing skill set and when to ask for help).  It’s perfect for any reader worried about making the transition to secondary school or how to get the most from their time there.

I was one of the handful of people in the UK who never watched EDUCATING YORKSHIRE but even I saw footage of Burton helping his student Musharaf Asghar overcome his stammer to deliver an end of year speech to the school assembly.  (If you haven’t seen it – Google it as it’s very moving).  Given the turmoil that COVID has created in the educational system and the pearl clutching and hysteria in the UK tabloid press about the effects of the same on children’s education, I was interested to see what advice Burton had for students.  His book did not let me down. 

This is a calm, thoughtful and very compassionate self-help guide to managing the transition to secondary school (in the first instance) and then navigating secondary school life as you work your way towards your exams.  Burton writes in a chatty, friendly style with footnotes to re-emphasise some valid points and the occasional dad joke.  There are plenty of illustrations to break up the text (and shout out to whoever decided to include a wheelchair user as one of the illustrations – thank you for some much needed inclusivity!) and the formatting makes clever use of headings and fonts to hold onto the reader’s interest.

The book is divided into 9 loose chapters – e.g. two that deal with mental health and resilience for dealing with bad days, one on preparing for exams, one on dealing with the changes to your life that secondary school brings (e.g. when you realise your friendship groups are changing), one on choosing exam subjects and one on dealing with people who say that COVID has left you behind on your education and how to “catch up”.  However there are common themes that run through every chapter, e.g. the importance of keeping calm, how teachers do actually want to help you succeed and knowing when you need to ask for help.  

There’s a lot of common sense within Burton’s writing but he also constantly tries to reassure the reader that he does understand how they’re feeling and that it’s okay and completely normal to sometimes feel overwhelmed with everything.  I also liked the focus on choosing exam subjects and how practical skills are perfectly valid and you shouldn’t be looking to study something just because your parents want you to become a doctor or a lawyer or whatever.

I was particularly heartened by his comment to those who say that that the COVID-disruption to schools has left children behind on where they should be (as Burton says, everyone is in the same boat and kids can catch up).  He also gives plenty of techniques for students to help manage the different emotions that school can bring, e.g. writing affirmations, journaling and keeping photos or notes of the good times and he gives practical advice on how to deal with conflict or situations that you want to change as a student (whether it’s starting a breakfast club, dealing with menstrual poverty or making a bigger social change).

My only criticism of the book is that while I know that many teachers do want to help their students, it would have been good had there been an acknowledgement that sometimes the problem comes from the teacher (whether it’s a personality clash or something else) and what can be done in that situation.  Also, having been bullied myself at secondary school (and I still bear the mental scars), I would have liked a bit more practical advice on dealing with bullies other than the importance of not charging in and being aggressive and violent.  Again, if you’re at a school that doesn’t seem to deal with bullying effectively then it would be good to know what to do in such a situation – especially given the student culture against “grassing”.

These criticisms aside, I found this to be a useful guide and one that readers aged 12 to 16 would get a lot from.  If you’re a parent with a child about to make that jump to secondary school, then I really think that this is worth giving to them to read before hand as it’s reassuring, sensible and practical and could also help you and your child to talk about any concerns they may have about it (or which you as a parent may have!).  

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