From ‘Au revoir les enfants’ to ‘Reservoir dogs’

So much of what we do in Education is ‘Lost in translation’, such that nice ideas get completely ruined when well meaning ‘experts’ turn them from an inspiring notion to a received wisdom that everyone has to follow and then be examined to test how well they learned the work.  The National Curriculum was such an idea, one whereby children in England could be guaranteed a minimum entitlement of subject coverage and breadth of opportunity. Prior to the late ’80s, what children studied in school varied quite widely until they chose their subjects for O levels or CSEs, and even then there was a pretty

1991 politicos

Ken Clarke in the foreground, May 1991 © Neil Turner

wide range of educational experiences on offer. The arrival of GCSEs in 1986 meant that we could group all children under 1 banner at this higher level, and the rest of the National curriculum arriving pretty soon afterwards united the whole country. And then  the then Education Secretary Kenneth Clarke messed it all up by enforcing national testing from age 7. 25 years on, and the papers and news media run full pages talking about parents striking and children’s education and mental health suffering  because of the ‘straight-jacket’ of teaching to the test at primary school, implemented by teachers who fear for their jobs if their classes don’t perform to the required standards.

There’s a nice urban myth around which I like, very much along the ‘Lost in translation lines’, which goes as follows: Not even Quentin Tarantino has given a plausible explanation for the naming of his seminal gangster movie ‘Reservoir Dogs’, first screened back in 1992.

During Tarantino’s days working in Video Archives, a video store in Manhattan Beach, California, he developed encyclopedic knowledge of video films, and recommended films to his clients, including a film by Louis Malle, “Au revoir Les Enfants” , a fateful story set in a boarding school in occupied France  during the Second World War.  On trying to recall the film title later on, the name had morphed from ‘Au revoir les enfants’ to ‘Reservoir Dogs’.  There might be similar sound patterns, but the feeling the listener hears is dramatically different.  Reservoir Dogs is a 1992 American neo-noir crime thriller film that depicts the events before and after a botched dia


Oh, and everyone dies in it too!

mond heist. The film was the feature-length debut of director and writer Quentin Tarantino, and stars Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney and Tim Roth. Tarantino and criminal-turned-author Edward Bunker have minor roles. It incorporates many themes that have become Tarantino’s hallmarks—violent crime, pop culture references, profanity, and nonlinear storytelling*.  



Closing this blog, just before our May half-term in 2016, I’ll stay with the Louis Malle film title of the myth above. The last thing I want  to see as childrau-revoir-les-enfantsen work through their primary years is a loss of the bright eyes and love for learning that I see each day in school.  It’s true children don’t mind being tested, so long as no-one uses the results of such testing to compare them with others and then ‘do them down’.  It’s certainly the case that in the wrong hands, children rapidly lose a love of learning, indeed leave their childhood and enter that early adolescent stage of choosing to be uncooperative because actually the classroom has nothing in it for their learning. Beware setting our young learners on the exit strategy ‘Goodbye, children’, because they’ll never recover that innocence of learning that permits children to try anything and attempt everything!

If you’d like to watch children being amazed by their own learning, please watch this video, ‘Austin’s butterfly‘.

If you want to watch an amazing deconstruction of why almost  everything dylan-william-conferenceeducation has tried over the last 20 years has failed, spectacularly, then please watch Professor Dylan Wiliam’s lecture at the Schools Network in 2011.  His talk opens with “If we are serious about improving education, we have to stop people doing good things” – definitely worth a watch.


About jameswilding

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