Category Archives: Independent Education Today

Appeared in Independent Education Today (

The real thing: authenticity in the classroom and beyond

Buried in a breathless review of the recent exhibition, ‘Raphael: The Drawings’, at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, there’s a reference to something I know – recognise – but have never heard named thus. It’s a term that really nails a complicated and attractive quality one might wish one had, particularly if one was a teacher. Because it would be lovely if all teachers had this quality. In spades.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you ‘sprezzaturra’. Classicists and linguists among you may recognise the word – for all I know, it may be a regular in the more elevated crosswords. But let me repeat for you the definition offered by the critic in the particular article which caught my eye: quoting Baldassare Castiglione, credited with having invented the word, he defines ‘sprezzatura’ as “a certain nonchalance which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless.”

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It’s all about the money

Have we arrived in a place where cash is king?

OK, so when did the purpose of education become a hard-nosed process of steering as many students as possible in the direction of loads of money? Climb aboard at the age of five and head straight for the door covered in pound signs. Your path will be marked with numbers and equations and scientific experiments, but the fat financial reward will make it all worthwhile.

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Are PE lessons awesome?

You can’t travel any time-distance to 2017 without being aware you have lived/are living in revolutionary times. Consider education – who could have seen its current shape and concerns 20 years ago? Which is amazing, given it’s still – presumably – trying to do much the same thing. Or not. How disheartening recently to ask a primary school teacher if she thought all her Year 6 pupils would leave in the summer, ready for secondary education, competent readers.  She said, “No.” The answer was slightly longer than that, and involved references to home, parents, the joys of reading and the difficulty of conveying these when children were more interested in their phones, and of course, the innate ability of the children at the point of admission. But it was still a no. And there was me, thinking that teaching children to read was the most important thing a primary school could do. I must be behind the curve. There has been another revolution, putting well-being before literacy. I’m a big fan of well-being, honestly, but still… I actually believe your well-being is likely to be seriously damaged if you arrive in a secondary school unable to read.

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Gimme a soap box, and I will happily rant for 10 minutes about music.  Specifically, music in schools.

I owe my glancing acquaintance with playing the violin to the free instrumental lessons which were available in my grammar school in North Wales.

They took me to Grade 4 and a rather short-lived place in the county Youth Orchestra. I did not take my violin to university, and after leaving school I never played again. Occasionally friends will still say very brightly, “Oh, we made up a kind of informal quartet – you ought to join us – it’s just for fun!” And I want to run for cover. The grade and the official youth orchestra record hide a multitude of sins, in particular, the fact that I was never very good then and would not expect to be even half-way passable for any kind of musical ensemble now.

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Men do what looks like yoga in a desert
"Happiness matters. We believe it matters"

Keeping up appearances

Are schools doing enough to look after their staff?

They say that by your works shall ye be known. Actions, reportedly, speak louder than words. Don’t announce what you will do to improve things, or describe your good intentions: just do it, to coin a phrase.

So, if it is a school’s intention to do all that it can to improve the happiness of its staff and students – or are those two aims mutually exclusive? – what exactly does it do about it?  What action does it take? Or, more likely with such an ambitious aim, what actions?

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New directions

Who, in the name of all that’s wonderful, would choose in today’s world to be a Careers Advisor? Can you imagine a more difficult, demanding and, possibly, thankless task than that of advising anyone on how they might make a living? Even that expression, ‘make a living’, seems antique. What young person, day dreaming their future as they sit in class today, is thinking about making a living? A fortune, yes of course – preferably before the age of 25, by hook or by crook or by sheer good looks.

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