Holiday Knowledge

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(Festival Internacional de Jardins 2016, Ponte de Lima)

“What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.”
Isaac Newton


We know how to jump over a sprinkler,
and we are at least Olympic standard at swingball.


We know which kitten is our favourite
and we know that her name is Midnight Storm.


We know how to go down an

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We know that forest fires blacken the sky,
and make rings of flame in the night.


We know how to play outdoor chess at the garden festival.
Kind of.


We know that this praying mantis loves our lime green chair
because he’s been sitting on it for days.


And we know that we are finally brave enough
to jump off the jetty and into the river!

We might not know much, but we know what we love.:)

Posted in Children, Holidays, Knowledge, Learning | Leave a comment

Celebrating the Blob

When Michael Gove made it fashionable to blame “the blob” for the supposedly disastrous state of our education system, he unleashed a powerful narrative on state schools. The narrative told us that progressive state education had been an unparalleled disaster (with the not-so-subtle subtext that this had happened on Labour’s watch). In the past few years, some high profile bloggers and writers have repeatedly called for a return to ‘traditional approaches’ to teaching, as the only way to save our children from the fate that awaits them if “the progressives” continue to have their way. The DfE is equally clear about the solution: our children lack character, they need more resilience, more respect, more of a military ethos. We are told that our children are needy, entitled, that we make too many excuses for them, that we need a more competitive approach in education. Rigour, rigour and more rigour is needed. Testing, testing and more testing is the order of the day. This, apparently, is the only way to put the “progressive” mess right.

In October 2010 Michael Gove axed the £162 million dedicated funding for school sports. It was also revealed that he had approved the sale of 21 school sports fields. After an outcry, there was a partial U-turn on the funding for School Sports Partnerships, but the selling of sports fields continued unabated. In 2015, figures revealed that 27 schools had been given the go ahead to sell some of their “playing fields land” in the prior twelve months, making a total of 87 schools to do so, since Britain hosted the Olympics in 2012. And yet, as I sit here watching bits and pieces of the Rio Olympics while I’m on my summer holidays, I can only marvel at how brilliantly our progressively state educated young people are doing, despite all the difficulties that appear to be stacked against them. As a nation, we’re not great at blowing our own trumpet, but let’s face it, Britain is well and truly smashing the odds when it comes to the amount of medals we are racking up. Yes, Sport England has been given lots of lottery money to throw at the situation. But one thing is undeniable: a hell of a lot of those young athletes went through school, and first played sports, at the time the Blob was supposedly doing all that damage.

Yes, it’s true that there is an imbalance between the number of sports stars who were educated privately, versus at state schools. At first glance, it would seem that state schools should account for more than 70 per cent of Olympic medal winners, since they educate around 93 per cent of children. But the massive difference in sports facilities between state and independent schools goes a long way towards explaining this imbalance. There is also the fact that private schools generally have more time, space, funds and parental support, allowing them to focus on a broader curriculum, including sports (and the arts). So as our little country punches well above its weight in the Olympics, I’m taking a moment to celebrate state education, and all the teachers who do such fantastic work encouraging children to play sports in schools. And while I’m busy celebrating things that are rather unfashionable at the moment, I should also mention all the amazing athletes that we have, thanks to immigration. Because if commentators are going to blame feckless youths, “progressive teachers” and immigrants for all the supposedly bad stuff, the very least I can do is to say thank you to them for their achievements.

Posted in Sports, Teachers | 2 Comments

A Bucketful of Kittens


She comes crying, sleek, grey and thin in the warmth of a dusky evening. Eventually we give in to her cries. We offer her food and set down milk. She eats and drinks, gratefully. Then a few days later, we stumble across a surprise behind the garage. Born in a bucket, next to the woodpile, is a litter of five tiny kittens. The ginger one is immediately adopted by the youngest cousin; we claim the dark tabby one with the blue eyes. A tiny white one, the runt of the litter, is taken away by a cousin to feed by hand. The ginger one is dropped in the excitement. Later on, a note appears, saying “Sorry Jinja”, and Jinja has his name. We call ours Midnight Storm; it is the dark, wild one. The children visit the kittens at every opportunity, playing with them while they have the chance. They are, they inform us, in “cute overload”.

Soon we will be gone. This part of our holiday will be over. The bucketful of kittens must stay behind, to be passed on to someone else, when we are gone. No, we can’t take them with us, however much we might love to. But while we had the chance, we learned how to handle something tiny, and to do it ever so gently. It was a holiday lesson. Long may the learning continue.

Posted in Portugal | 3 Comments

My 10 Laws of Packing


1. You always think you’ve got 50% more space than you’ve actually got.

2. Delegate the jobs. Have a Chief Documents Holder and a Chief Packer.

3. Once someone has taken on the role of Chief of Something, don’t check all the time to see whether they’re doing it properly.

4. Although remember that “Have you got the passports/tickets?” will always seem like a sensible last minute question, especially if someone else is responsible for them.

5. If you’re going away for a long time, take some stuff that you’ll miss while you’re away.

6. You will never regret taking your own pillows with you when you can.

7. Everyone will always give you more stuff at the last minute. Leave a gap for them or you’ll end up with it on your lap.

8. It’s a happy moment when you finally escape the “did you remember your cuddly?” stage.

9. If you ever forget to take something, you will usually be able to get it where you’re going.

10. Stay happy. It is the holidays, after all.:)

Posted in Road School | 5 Comments

The Myth of the Super Teacher

In the first two decades of the Twenty First Century, a myth arose. Later, it came to be known as The Myth of the Super Teacher. The first seeds of the myth were sown when everyone started comparing everyone and everything against everyone and everything. Everyone had to be best. There were no excuses for not-bestness. Some people stood on the sidelines shouting, “Hang on a sec, everyone can’t be above average!” but no one really listened to them. The idea of The True Way of Teaching began to take hold, with people claiming that their piece of research meant they knew what The True Way was. Other people just kept turning up to do the job, and wondered whether the people who knew about The True Way were addressing them, or whether they were shouting into a void.

Unfortunately, The Myth of the Super Teacher took hold to such an extent that all those who saw themselves as Ordinary Teachers, Reasonably Good Teachers or I Just Keep Turning Up Teachers, started to wonder why they should bother. If someone else kept saying that they could do your job better than you could, eventually you were going to say, “go on then, do it”. A couple of decades later, the only people left were a handful of Super Teachers, who could deliver finely honed lessons to classes of 60 or more pupils and who used only the approved methods. Unfortunately, the exit of the I Just Keep Turning Up Teachers left a black hole of experience in the middle of the education system. Everyone was so busy honing their skills in order to move up to leadership and tell everyone else what to do, that no one was left to actually do the job any more. The edges of the system finally began to fall in on each other. The parents started demanding to know why That Lovely Mrs Jones wasn’t working at the school anymore. And at that point they finally realised. It is not about Super Teachers, and it never has been. It is about you, in a room, with some kids.

Thank you to all the I Just Keep Turning Up Teachers, for your hard work in keeping on turning up. I hope you all have a very lovely summer break!

Posted in Teaching | 1 Comment

*Flower Show*


I’m not the world’s biggest fan of competitions. Mostly because I can’t be bothered to enter something if I’m not going to win it (which ruled out pretty much all of Sports Day for me as a child) but also because I don’t really care where I come in the grand scheme of things. Having said this, I adore the annual flower show in our village. If you were after a definition of ‘Englishness’, you could do a lot worse than a flower show run by volunteers, raising money for charity, full of local families, with a flower and veg marquee, the WI serving teas in the Hall, children’s work in the church and all the villagers digging up their best veg. Every year, I spend the Friday night before the show wandering around my garden, cutting stuff to go in vases. Every year, on Saturday morning, there are lots of my fellow villagers at the allotments harvesting stuff. On the day I run a stall selling plants to raise money for preschool. Everyone gets together, and we enjoy looking at gorgeous flowers, vegetables, crafts, paintings, photos, children’s writing, preserves and cakes.

The funny thing about a competition is that, when it’s not *A COMPETITION* it feels a lot easier to join in. When it doesn’t matter who gets first place, or who wins a cup, because that wasn’t the point of it anyway, then it doesn’t really matter if you fail. I spent Friday night elbow deep in flowers, not because I wanted to win, but because I wanted to help fill the big white marquee that had appeared in our village with beautiful sights and scents, and thankfully so did everyone else. I sat on the patio with the kid, and I helped her build her impression of a forest vegetable garden, all overgrown and full of moss and brambles. It didn’t matter that she didn’t win a prize, she just shrugged it off; she enjoyed the time we spent together on the Friday night, and to her way of thinking, hers was ‘best’ anyway. And me? Well, I didn’t win the film theme category, despite trying really hard, and there only being two entries. But thankfully serendipity stepped in. As I was about to leave the allotment this morning, with my trug full of peas and broad beans, I thought, “why don’t I dig up a few potatoes?” I pushed the fork into the soil, turned it over, and there – gleaming like jewels – were some perfect early potatoes. I put them on a plate, labelled them “Charlotte” and hey presto! 1st place.

Posted in Allotment, Competition, Gardening | 1 Comment

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Assessment?

“What have you got for me?” She sat down on the leather chair and put her hands on the desk. She leaned forwards slightly, but she didn’t meet their eyes.

They looked nervously at each other. Who would be first to jump?

“Explain it to me sector by sector. Keep it simple,” she said, relaxing back into the chair.

“Should I go first?” Early Years half raised a hand. It only felt right that they should start at the beginning.

“Go ahead.” She smiled.

“Okay. Well, we’re not giving enough funding to settings for free childcare places, we flunked the baseline thing, and people are complaining about the phonics check. Parents don’t like so many tests.”

“Would you like to go next?” She glanced at primary.

“Take your pick.” Primary shrugged. “Key Stage 2 SATs disaster, times tables tests, SPaG, all above average. Parents not understanding a word of it.”

“Can I just mention SATs resits, at this point?” Secondary said.

“Hey, you’ve got new GCSEs coming your way,” Primary said, “I feel for you.”

“So, things have got a bit out of control here, then,” she said. There was the faintest note of perspiration on her forehead. “Goodness me. What a pickle! Whoever could have left me such a mess to clean up? Whatever shall I do?”

They all stood in silence for a moment. They weren’t sure if she was making an ironic SPaG reference, or if she always spoke like that from time to time.

“I know what I’ll do,” she said, finally meeting their eyes and smiling broadly. “It’s all clear to me now. I think I’ll start by saying sorry.”

Posted in Accountability, Assessment, Parents, SATs | Leave a comment