The rain it raineth every day (part 2)…

As readers of my first Principal’s Blog of June will know, this sceptred Isle is doing my head in at present, what with ‘the rain that raineth every day’. How on earth is a child to learn to value the ‘Summer game’ when, despite the very best of a groundsman’s efforts, the green sward is actually unplayable without flippers and water-wings?

Back at school today, and it’s clear that whilst many enjoyed the ‘diamond’ celebrations, other teaching and support staff succombed to the typical teacher lergy – having burnt the candle at both ends by the end of May, those who permitted themsleves an exhausted slump let down their immune system barriers too!

There are so many more major education news stories breaking this week, it is going to be difficult to keep up.  First things first then.

  • It is reported today that Mr Gove is moving rapidly forward with the dismantling of the National Curriculum at primary school level, and replacing it with something that is even more prescriptive than before.  Having decided that NC levels don’t work, he has demanded that a replacement set of assessments need to be in place for May 2015.  In the hands of skillful teachers, pretty much any curriculum is exciting imaginative and rewarding; I dread the compulsory arrival of ‘all pupils being able to recite their 12 times table at 9’ or the imposition of synthetic phonics over and above a more blended programme.  What I think is right is that schools must present their pupils with real challenge.  The current advantage for our kind of school is that we know this, and that all of our children must thrive, not just jump hoops.  Read more about the Govt. proposals here –
  • On the digital side, the ICT national curriculum has been retained, but schools are free to do something better, and I honestly think ISA schools can continue to lead from the front in this area.  Critically important is to get the mix right, and a great picture of what needs to be achieved has been produced by NAACE.

The critique of this disapplication is that schools lack the imagination to devise a better curriculum and need firm guidance.  This so smacks of NC dependency – as teachers I really do thing we should be able to devise great things for children to do, and they are very capable of leading us forward given some encouragement.

  • I fear the arrival of compulsory MFL at primary school level, one of the new recommendations; in the right hands, this can be a liberating experience, but how are state school teachers to differentiate between the increased requirements to encourage rote learning in English, Maths and Science, and not make that fundamental mistake of force feeding 7 year olds vocabulary and grammar to learn at the same time in the chosen target language.  It really is a confusing call to arms – more of that below.  In the meantime, I wonder how the British Dyslexia Association will advise their advice downwards to include 7 year olds on how SENCos can support MFL – .  Expect a new raft of ‘statementing’ to rapidly follow, as Parents, whose own education made none of these demands, show they have neither the ability or patience to keep up with Mr Gove’s new way of learning.
  • The whole problem to my mind in ‘going back to the future’, building in all these ‘memory’ challenges for children is that we don’t seem to have the 21st Century young adult in mind when going about the rough drafting of such changes, let alone the younger learner.  Lordy me, how on earth are they to keep up with their recitation of Cargoes by John Masefield, a party piece apparently of mine, when aged 8 (perhaps the kind of verse Mr Gove has in mind?):

“Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,

Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,

With a cargo of ivory,

And apes and peacocks,

Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,

Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,

With a cargo of diamonds,

Emeralds, amythysts,

Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,

Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,

With a cargo of Tyne coal,

Road-rails, pig-lead,

Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays”.

  • Just think of the amazing curriculum week you could wrap this poem around, offering as it does in under 100 words a possible insight into everything a child should ever know, from the history of the ancients to the boom and bust cycles in our Island’s economy, with the whole problem of the mediterranean’s alternative economy to the Euro as a sandwich in the middle!  As the DfE gently stated after Mr Gove announced his curriculum – they’ll be saying a bit more after the drafts have been further consulted upon!  You can have your say here –
  • University status is now going to be conferred onto colleges down to 1000 students in size – What is happening here is that those specialist University colleges such as St Mary’s and Marjons can grow up and join the big boys, even though they are small – is this not grade inflation?

One of my google thingies is a search on all matters relating to ‘Closure of Independent Schools’ which automatically pops results into my in-box daily.  As a result, I have been following the heoric struggles of a number of our independent schools in England to keep afloat despite the stormy economic weather we have faced for years now. Well done to Chetwynde School in Barrow that announced last week that it had found a mystery benefactor and its future was secured for next year – a story that has run for weeks – Bad luck to Norman Court School near Winchester that lost its benefactor, and is closing next month –  

What amazes me is that there is now more than one English curriculum school a day opening outside of the UK, actually over 400 a year – that’s more than in ISA, HMC, GSA or SHMIS!  There simply are not going to be enough English teachers around to keep them populated with suitable, qualfied teaching staff at this rate, but it’s a great British export of which we should be really proud. In many ways, it’s so easy if you are running a school abroad to work out what your first MFL is going to be – English of course, unless you are close to the Chinese economic area. Malaysia feels it has really struggled since it abandoned English as one of its core subjects, though its great rival Singapore is now much more actively teaching Mandarin.  Do bear in mind that India overtakes China in 20 years time as the most populous nation, and since English is that countries dominant language of business and education, I guess our language will continue to give the rest a good run for their money.

But that growth of English education abroad does provide our sector in the UK real opportunities to find friends and partner up.  I am a great advocate of cross-country blogging, where primary schools in Quads of Four join up to meet and write together – you can find out more from Deputy headteacher Dave Mitchell, and do give it a go! “QuadBlogging is a leg up to an audience for your class/school blog. Over the last 12 months 70,000 pupils have been involved in QuadBlogging from 2000 classes in over 35 countries. The concept is simple, either watch the short video to the right or keep reading…

And finally, spare a thought for those half-term holiday revellers whose caravans got caught in the floods in Wales – here some remarkable footage from YouTube.

(this newsletter was also published for the benefit of the 300 schools in ISA as aprt of a weekly briefing I provide).

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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