Weekly Newsletter Monday 16 June – Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future

http://goo.gl/n9X0iI for the full picture edition


One of the greatest films from my University days, The Go-Between, starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates, from the book of the same name by L.P.Hartley.  It starts with the line

The Past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.

YouTube saves my bacon here, because you can get some sense of the quality of the movie from the first starting minutes of the film, introduced as it is by Michel Legrands wonderful theme tune, the big landscapes of Norfolk and the country house and its surroundings, where the story is set.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BD1rAzJgzI

Learning from the Past

I have been working in schools for 7 decades now, starting as I did at primary school in 1957.  Sounds a mighty long time. I have been employed in schools for 5 decades, starting pre-University in 1971 on a Gap couple of terms, and commencing my professional life as a teacher in 1975. To be fair, I have absolutely no memory of the past being a better time for schools, for Teaching and/or Learning, either for adults  or for children.  Now this is not because I have no memory, or that I now wear rose tinted Google glasses that make the current period of pedagogy the best thing we’ve had. It is just that in my now quite considerable experience, it seems that the way things happen in schools currently enjoys a remarkable degree of transparency not evident in the past.  In short, Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

That’s not to say that we are not in a rapid period of change led by chaotic an ill-informed central government, who take with one hand many of the hard-won freedoms from those that work so hard in schools, and give back-handedly to others that support the current right-wing rhetoric that progressive teaching has led to all the ills reported as seen in schools today.

Seven Myths about Educationby Daisy Christodolou

This might be the most important book you read this year.  Please look inside…>


With a foreword by Professor E.D. Hirsch, it wil certainly be a tome the Secretary of State for Education will reach for.  After all, it highlights for many the 7 Myths that derail teachers’ efforts every day and shows us the evidence that proves the Myths are just that.

And the publisher has this to say This blisteringly incisive and urgent text is essential reading for all teachers, teacher training students, policy makers, head teachers, researchers and academics around the world.

Let’s be clear; left to the author, there is no debate on how stuff should be done. Irritatingly, she is one of those ‘teachers’ who left the classroom so quickly its difficult to know whether the experience she gained was worthy of a research-based longitudinal study.  Fortunately, we don’t need me to carpet-bag her.  You can read the positive and negative reviews given to Amazon, or perhaps even better read a really thorough elucidation of its ‘Bomber Harris’ obliteration of the educational landscape you and I occupy, by Dr Kevin Stannard of the GDST.

Educational debate is not a Binary argument

Experience and Expertise are needed in equal measure, as is Enthusiasm and a Joy for Learning. Making schools more effective in the round requires the most complex toolkit known to man. It is extraordinary that even with a population of over 63 million people in the UK, one age cohort differs significantly from the next. We know this from Education, from Health, from the Exchequer and from pretty much every other centre of research that explores our make-up. Unbelievably, the first person to live to the age of 150 is now alive, as are the parents of the child who will live to 1000.

Given the absolute uncertainty of our futures, it seems to me such a witless argument even to argue that we shouldn’t be aiming to blend the old with the new and perhaps even the yet -to-be-known. I know children need to learn facts at school, and I also know they need to learn how to apply them. There is a dramatic causal link between the drop-off by girls in University Physics and Engineering and the move from practical experiment-based learning back to theory-based A level. Whether you listen to Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Pink or Dan Meyer, their very clear description of what excites and motivates –  ‘Intrinsic motivation driven by internal rewards’ – is the way we ensure we can generate the key attributes for learning success in our schools.

So its not Learning Facts v Exploration

or Teacher-led v Student-led

or 20th Century v 21st Century etc.

It’s all of it, in a cycle of activity that ensures effective Learning happens, and through which children develop a love of a whole variety of subjects and make choices lat enough so that they have covered enough ground.

Looking to the Future

People do things because they believe in that choice. It’s our job as School Leaders to identify the future that we are aiming our children for in our schools, to pose the questions and shape the curriculum and the experiences that conjoin to build within each child hope, motivation and the will to succeed. By-products of an effective curriculum will be the learning skills and attributes the children need, the opportunities to succeed and fail, to trust and be suspicious, to argue and to accept.

A great TED talk, on how leadership shapes actions is by Simon Senek.  Like many TED talks, it simplifies because it must fit within 20 minutes, but I recommend it perhaps for your Summer closing CPD session. It reminds us above all to shape for our schools our purpose for coming to work each day.  Certainly not so that children can pass exams or win trophies, however desirable those conscious rewards might be. Any child I have ever asked about school talk about school being ‘Fun’, and the better the school, the more ‘Fun’ they have.

In a research paper published in May, Growing up in Scotland, Alison Parkes, Helen Sweeting and Daniel Wight highlight just how important the school environment is, and in equal balance to the importance of family. They asked 5 questions of their 7 year old targets:


Do you… feel that your life is going well,

wish your life was different,

feel that your life is just right,

feel you have what you want in life,

feel you have a good life?

For schools, the study reinforces the importance of creating conditions for positive learning, successful relationships and preventing bullying and violence. To help children make friends, schools should possibly offer training in social skills such as sharing; and help teachers develop strategies to reduce behaviour that alienates other children, such as anger or bossiness. The importance of children making friends is something for parents and other child-friendly venues to bear in mind too.

Separate research published in May also shows that August born children are more likely to suffer mental health issues, and September/October born children are less likely to be so affected, although the differences are actually quote small in % terms. But what this does remind me is that Independent schools have historically been more flexible about starting age and working ahead or behind in terms of the September deadline. And I think we should maintain that flexibility, because actually insisting for example that all children start school in the September of the year they are 4 is really quite ludicrously early for some. In this Daily Telegraph article from the weekend, the state’s unwillingness to permit parents to make this choice is becoming a national scandal.

Wilding’s Crystal Ball

Make no bones about it – Cloud-based learning is rapidly moving past the early adopter stage with so many schools now moving to Chromebooks and Tablets, across Europe, the Middle East, Down under and across the pond.  And returning with the Cloud is Computer Programming, Code for short.

The palpable excitement this morning with our own year 12, who received their own Chromebook for the next year to use, customise and twin with their mobile was a joy to behold.

Some of those Sixth Formers are attending the end of term Google Event we are hosting with C-Learning at Claires Court on Saturday 12 July. They now realise this is a technology form which is new, but in which they can define a future and even perhaps get a job.

Arriving…Google Classroom – http://youtu.be/JUiLc0If0CI

Google Play for Edu – http://youtu.be/vzvpcEffvaE

Using Edity Apps in Google Drive to teach coding – http://goo.gl/lS0Ppq

Try using Crunchzilla for Coding too – http://www.crunchzilla.com/

The Saturday Booking form will be sent out this week, once we have the detail for booking right.  We know some delegates want to come and learn some beginner Google Apps stuff, whilst others want to come and set their radar on these and other new tools.

Advance notice of our Annual Unconference for Digital Educators – Saturday 22 November 10am-4pm 

And finally…

Keep calm

With every best wish for a busy Report writing week…

James Wilding





About jameswilding

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