Author Archives: Hilary

About Hilary

Hilary Moriarty is founding partner of the education practice at Greenings International. She was previously National Director of the Boarding Schools' Association, and has worked in education for over 25 years as an English teacher, Deputy Headmistress and a Headmistress.

Thank God it’s Friday

Something lovely about Thursday night – there seems to be a ‘Nearly there!’ party on the pavement outside every London pub, with young people in their 20s and early 30s knocking back enormous glasses of white wine – every glass a third of a bottle no doubt.  Long term damage of no account when it’s a warmish autumn evening and there’s only a day of the weekly grind to go.

Tonight, for me, an actual embassy party – up a couple of steps from a London street and you are in a foreign land, with people jabbering in a foreign language and a rather fierce lady complaining about the loos to 4 men –  to see the launch of a teacher’s pack all about their country for use in schools.  The pack seemed to  do everything on its own – teacher input?  perhaps they don’t anymore.  One Pupil Task – the pack even set the homeworks –  was “Define the word ‘sustainable’ ” and you think, ‘How long could that possibly take?  Long enough to be a task?’

Met a primary teacher who told me in her school there was no class with more than 30 pupils because of the ‘cast iron contract between the authority and the NUT.’  Is that how such things are decided?  Asked about admissions and appeals – her school doesn’t have such things, ‘We’re full.  And we’re always full because we’ve had two outstanding judgements from Ofsted.’  So why no clamour at the gates, with pupils being turned away and parents appealing?  ‘Because we’re full.’  Right.

Yesterday to the HMC conference in Liverpool, and a glimpse of Roger McGough, and his so-true poem, ‘The Wrong Bed.’  Worth the trip for that needle-sharp comment on us all – ‘Life is like a hospital ward and we are always in the wrong bed.’  And a line that said something like, ‘Soul would always be happier anywhere rather than here.’  And, ‘We did not make our beds, and we do lie in them.’  Still wondering if he intended a pun there.

Trip blighted by leaving coat on train.  And lo! they found it, but it will cost me a trip to Euston and £5 to reclaim it.  If I don’t, in 90 days they will burn it.  Why not give it to a charity shop?  How wasteful of them.  And stupid of me.

Sadly, discovered when I realised not wearing the coat that I wasn’t even wearing a suit – in the dark, or the haste, or the new glasses being less strong than I thought – that I had, to coin a phrase, put on the wrong trousers..

There’s probably a story there.

Hilary Moriarty on Radio 5 Live

On 29 May Hilary was interviewed on the BBC Radio 5 Live Richard Bacon show in a discussion about boarding schools – “are boarding schools good for children”.  She was in a discussion with a number of callers, Simon Partridge (a member of Boarding Concern) and the host Rachel Burden (sitting in for Richard Bacon).

If you have any comments on the discussion please feel free to post them on this site, or contact Hilary using the contact link on this site.

Halifax Alarm

Phones were red-hot in the BSA office on Friday 28 March, with journalists chasing information to fill out the press release from the Halifax Financial Services, about steep rises in boarding fees in the last ten years (articles appeared in the Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Herald, amongst others).

The Halifax had raided the ISC census material – public record – and done the sums which showed boarding fees had risen 86% since 1997.  And so they had – the numbers were unarguable.

Journalists wanted to know why.  The answers were simple – boarding schools came into the twenty-first century in those years, like everyone else.  Customers are ever more discerning and discriminating: parents want the best for their children.

Yes of course they want the best education; but they also want boarding accommodation they feel comfortable with, and facilities which will give children wonderful opportunities to discover and nurture other skills – state of the art theatres and swimming pools, for instance.

In 1997, the average capital spend per pupil in independent schools was £525.  In 2007, it was £1250 per boarding pupil for new and refurbished boarding accommodation alone.

Investment in accommodation moves schools away from vast freezing dormitories and towards single study bedrooms with en suite facilities.  Inspectors look for personalisation of pupil space – they get that now in spades.

Staffing ratios are also likely to be higher, and boarding staff are likely to be better trained – we know that because a thousand boarding staff have been through the BSA’s professional development courses, accredited by Roehampton University, in the last ten years.

Last year and this, 400 Gap assistants attended BSA induction courses at the start of their year in British schools.  If schools are prepared to strengthen the skills of youngsters who will be with them only a year, how much more will they invest in training their more senior staff so that boarding really is an excellent experience for pupils?

In the event, perhaps journalists realised the story wasn’t really a story at all – particularly when they read paragraphs which said, ‘London is the most expensive, Wales the least expensive,’ for boarding – had they noticed the differences in the prices for just about everything between Wales and London?  So the press release did not get the wide coverage it might have done, and the dreadful news of the plane crash may have shunted the story down the pecking order.

We await the release of the next ISC census on 29 April.  It will be interesting to see what the percentage increase in fees was for this year, and how boarding numbers are faring.  Many schools have spoken informally of numbers rising – let us hope they have, as parents realise the value of a boarding education, whatever its price.

Exams vs Education

Secondary teachers probably despaired at the news that universities believed undergraduates are reaching them unfit for degree courses, and needing foundation years to get up to speed.

University staff apparently believe schools are spoon-feeding to ensure children pass examinations. And they’re right – that’s what government wanted.

In fact, what else did anyone expect when the world started to judge schools by the pass rates in public examinations?

Only now have the universities woken up to protest that, without old-style education, undergraduates are not what they used to be – not sufficiently inquiring, not so capable of independent study and more demanding of more spoon-feeding and direct teaching than any researching, book-writing lecturer likes.

Tough. Live with it. In the end, schools can only deliver what the boss wants.

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Ghosts of Christmas Past

If you left the classroom last summer and you’ve had a great term not being a teacher, I’ll bet there will be a moment this term when you really miss school.

Somewhere in the last two weeks before Christmas, something – the date, the weather, a snatch of a carol on the radio – will remind you of your school carol service, and I almost guarantee, you will miss it.

If you’ve worked in schools for more than 10 minutes, the carol service will be part of the cycle of your year, a wonderful marker for the simple fact that you – and they – made it through another long autumn term. Very often they are on the last day of term, and the goodwill to all men is palpable – not there the day before, forgotten by January, but very real at the time.

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Mark my Words

If you are a kinaesthetic learner, movement helps memory. So a trip to Leicester carried me back, in more ways than one. My last year of studying before I became one of the world’s workers was spent in Leicester, and it was there that I fled at the end of my very first week as a lecturer.

On the train to Leicester, I spent my time proudly marking my first batch of student scripts – A level English, “lit crit”.

Proudly, there I was, transformed from a low-life student into a person who could make judgements on other people’s work. See mistakes and point them out with my little red pen. Spot the gems and applaud in the margins. I could be critic and coach, guide and guru, mentor and mediator.

With my little red pen, I wrote reams. Now I think: “How dared I?”

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Diploma-tic Immunity

Ever since the league tables arrived, schools have channelled their energies into getting the best examination results for the most children.

Of course, schools should produce the best examination performance possible from every child, because a basic education for all, up to GCSE at least, is, ultimately, what schools and education are for. It may be easier if the children are academic on entry, or come from homes in which education is valued and success expected, but league tables do not really show that.

So, we may be agreed that the league table culture has worked in reminding schools of their primary responsibilities for realising the academic potential of every child.

The problem is: what to do with (or for) those children who honestly, really and unequivocally have less academic potential than others? Or than we would wish? Or than would suit our brave new technological world, in which there will be fewer opportunities for those who come to the work place illiterate and innumerate?

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First Thing

Here’s the good news: all primary children will have one-to-one tuition to make sure they can all read by the time they leave primary school.

Brilliant. Secondary teaching will become an absolute doddle. Say, “turn to page 12”, and the whole class will be right there with you, getting every word.

The democratisation of secondary learning, with mixed ability rather than streamed or set classes, carefully graduated from super bright to “oh dear me!”, was founded upon the assumption that at least all children were reasonably competent readers.

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