Peter Lanyon, Zennor Storm 1958
I’ve been furious for years, so shouting in the street is regrettable but not unusual. The election’s one thing, but the adverts on the backs of buses drive me mad. You’ve heard me on schools publicity before (gurning headteachers and flowering shrubs) but I’m currently amused by one that promises solutions to life’s problems. One particular church is the answer to money troubles, irritating neighbours, rebellious teenagers and other unforeseen difficulties. Excellent! Less amusing is the current one inviting any Tom, Dick or Harriet to become an examiner with OCR, illustrated by an oh-so-funny picture of a small child in large glasses. As if we didn’t know that was how exam papers are already marked. Or by assistance dogs, or washing machines or Charley’s aunt. Why not be really clear and have an advert that says: ‘We measure our entire school system by these exams, but we won’t pay to have them marked properly, so if you can read you could do it, perhaps actually on this bus. That’s cheap and we can always charge schools to have them remarked. Ker-ching! A licence to print money’.
So, what’s to do? We talk of depth, consolidation, foundation programmes of study that re-embed year 6 learning and check that every child understands the basic knowledge upon which higher learning is based. The unusable term for this is mastery, so we need a new word. That’s why our work for the next two years is on curriculum content and design for 5 and 7 years, making our young people into independent learners and long-term, confident thinkers. We would have done this in any case: great teachers going not too fast, not too slow. Continuous Goldilocks (as we say).
Young persons rushing across the yard from PE to Music last week didn’t manage that. An entire class skidded to a cartoon halt distracted by the tiniest of mice, under a birch tree in the yard. They shrieked and cooed as I sheepdogged them away: ‘A mouse! Can we have it as a school pet?’ and all the warmth and wonder of childhood flooded around us. One big family, one exceptionally small and unperturbed pet.
Last week we had the US Ambassador in school (home and foreign policy, stars and stripes). This week it’s Deaf Awareness (t-shirts, badges, cakes, videos, guess the sweets in the jar). We’re fundraising for our families in Nepal. The Rubik’s Cube man came to maths, but I missed it (he can do it in seconds). Our year 11 footie boys won the London Cup. Governors thought about the future shape of the curriculum. We had a mock election: a Labour landslide in our PE classroom Polling Station.
My grandfather used to say that a young conservative was a sad-looking thing. Why would the young be conservative? Young people should be filled with hope and argument, ready and willing to chain themselves to anything in the hope of a better deal for all. They need to keep hold of that as adults and not have it flattened out of them by teachers or the press. They need to understand the world so that they can change it for the better. To do that we need properly-funded schools, planned teacher supply, sensible curriculum agreements, benefits that keep food in the stomachs of the poorest and the heating on in the winter. Schools and teacher have been spending millions feeding and clothing children: I don’t know where that’ll come from with 10% cuts.
We’ve been interviewing English teachers here this morning so Gatsby comes to mind as we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. You heard it here first.