Warren de la Rue, Total solar eclipse of 1860 in Spain
We didn’t see the eclipse, but Tallis youth described it on Sky News and the radio. Science large and small went and stood on the MUGA and were careful with their eyes, but as the whole of SE3 was shrouded in dense cloud, all we got was a sense of teatime in the morning. A year 11 said ‘It looks better in Madrid’, but that would be so for any March day in an English yard.
The spring conference season brings light and fog to educators. First there was the Greenwich Heads’ Annual get together, then the ASCL conference last weekend (the Association of School and College Leaders, since you ask). This latter outfit’s gig is the stadium rock of our world: 1200 delegates, big name speakers, all the politicians. 9 till 6 then dinner and dancing. Your correspondent hasn’t actually done the dancing since 1998, but I believe that the younger generation still manage it: dancing deputies, a sight to be seen.
ASCL made a proposal this year alongside our usual calm campaigning on funding. In order to protect our children’s interests, what about an Independent Commission on the Curriculum made up of teachers, governors, employers, parents and politicians to review the core curriculum once every five years. That way, we put up a shield between children’s learning and the need for Secretaries of State to make their mark (not literally, though the help would be welcome) on children’s exercise books.
I used to agree with this because I’m all for democracy, but I’m done with it now. Politicians have an eye on the electorate, the press and their legacies (3 eyes in total). They know precious little about children and less of pedagogy or epistemology. Few of the current cabinet went to state schools and the current enthusiasm for the excellent Greycoat Hospital does not make them curriculum thinkers. Even the CBI despairs, begging for schools to be allowed to offer the rounded and grounded curriculum that their members crave. I strive to be apolitical but here’s what Roberts thinks: stack the commission if you will, fill every position from Chair to tea-boy with political placemen but give us a break. One mega idea (diplomas, EBacc, grit, phonics, Mockingbird) every five years will still get you into the history books but it might mean that a child has only two major upheavals in his school life, three if she’s unlucky. Leave us alone, to think, to plan, to teach. Struth. Commission the thing, would you?
A smaller national conference happened in terrific Tallis last week. We shared a love of expansive education, helping young people think and make links with the world. Two delegates nearly didn’t make it at all because their train went the wrong way out of London Bridge and, in the manner of a Secretary of State, without planning, warning, apology or support, deposited them in Hither Green. Isn’t it the whole point of trains that they don’t get lost? However, our people are teachers and despite all provocation got back on track and arrived on time.
As did the hundreds of young people from other schools we interviewed for our sixth form, the parents who came to find out about revision and the friends who joined the PTA’s Wine and Chocolate evening. We did it wearing lurid socks for Down Syndrome, eating cakes for Ecuador, setting off to Zaragoza or Santander or the history trip or Snowdon or the Maths Feast. We did it winning the year 8 London Sportshall Athletics finals or at the Fashion Show Abstract Couture. We did it because you can trust us to teach our hearts out, if you just let us.
I told them all this in a recent speaking tour of Germany. I describe it thus because saying ‘some nice German English teachers were kind to me in Leipzig and Duisburg’ doesn’t sound quite so grand. I talked to teachers brought together by Klett publishers who use Tallis and Greenwich as a way to learn English. They were interested in our pastoral work and outraged by interference in the guise of accountability. The teachers wanted to know about the triumphs of multiculturalism and goggled at photos of our building and laughed with our Good Morning video. 100 German 12 year olds shared their excitement with us this week: we love this link.
The Germans know a thing or two about politics and the curriculum. Perhaps that Commission isn’t such a bad idea.