Well, what do you know?

Does everything have a right and wrong answer? Which subjects can’t be tied down to assessment objectives?

If spring is here, can exams be far behind? Of course not. The academic and calendar years tick by – a teacher told me last week that by week four of the spring term, they were exactly half way through the year. Where did the time go? How much did we do? Have we done enough? Is there time for revision?

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Noteworthy

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.

Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

Social workers reject boarding school plan

My letter to the editor of The Times, below, was published on 7 February 2017:

Sir

Nicola Woolcock reports that social workers have blocked access to boarding schools for vulnerable youngsters, and not for the first time.

On the two previous occasions, in 2006 and 2009, I was National Director of the Boarding Schools’ Association, which included almost 40 state boarding schools.  The willingness of the schools to make places available for disadvantaged youngsters, offering an excellent education and, for term time at least, a ‘home away from home’, was wholehearted and compelling.

Social workers were downright hostile.  Their resistance  was unshakable and shocking.  Great opportunities? No.  Education as a route out of poverty and disadvantage to better things?  Not interested.  I will never forget explaining the 2009 scheme to  a group of social workers in the North of England.  I was met with sullen silence.

And here we are again: undeterred, the Buttle Trust and the schools have kept going.   They are to be commended. These are life-changing possibilities. Offering them is worth the effort.  But social workers? They say no.  How dare they?

Hilary Moriarty
Monmouth