British Book Off

There is an argument for losing the word ‘English’ in ‘English literature’. I often think about all the good books and authors out there that I miss out on because they havent been translated, or rather, I dont speak or read any other word apart from English, this includes ‘American English’ as I cant tolerate the weird spelling.

While I think it is good to review the current texts on the British secondary national curriculum, am I the only person who thinks it strange, illogical and, frankly, bordering on facism to dictate that young developing minds must only digest literature written by English authors.

I am going to try and remember what I read at secondary school (incidentally while under a Tory government, led by John Major, havent the foggiest who looked after education but do recall my dabble in state being disastrous, the standard was abysmal yet today now it is brilliant. Naturally Gove wants to revert to the crap system of the nineties to help broaden the gap between the privileged and the less so.

I read: William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, Susan Hill’s ‘I’m the King of the Castle’, James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’, Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ and Harper Lee’s ‘To kill a Mockingbird’ and F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ by Barry Hines. I’m sure there were more but these were the most memorable. Most of these would still tick Gove’s boxes. My favourite thankfully will still be on the list, ‘Lord of the Flies’. I enjoyed the book so much I kept my battered original from school days. My second favourite (helped by the hit song during that time ‘Wake up Boo’ by the Boo Radleys, is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, i think it is criminal this is no longer on the list. It has more messages about social history, ethics and justice than Michal Gove has in policy u-turns.

I work at a place where students decide on the book they will study. There is obviously a long-list but they have a discussion about the synopses of each collectively with the class and then decide which one to study based on discussion. Kids are more receptive to learning if they take ownership of what and how they learn. I think this may make life more interesting for teachers too. So back off Gove and hand the power of what texts to study to the teachers and their pupils. They are the experts NOT you.

Contemplating sending a list to Gove of what he is permitted to read on holiday and see how he likes it.

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.


Town mouse country mouse

Sometimes I fantasise about living in the big smoke, amongst the hubub of the crowds, the traffic, the shops, the culture, the cosmopolitan atmosphere. London in particular contains a kind of energy that you cant help feeling as soon as you step off the train. I love going there with my daughter and once baby boy is older he will enjoy it even more. There is no need to spend any money once you have arrived, just a walk along the embankment, or a bus ride down Oxford Street is enough to absorb the sights and sounds.

But then I look out of our window at the scrubland and trees behind our gate, the barn owl gliding above the bushes on the hunt for mice and the bats zipping across the garden at dusk and I think, this beats man-made entertainment. Nature has a vibe all of her own and it is on a completely different level.

As for kids growing up in both environments, both have their pros and cons. Country kids probably don’t have as much opportunity to appreciate different cultures and have less access to events and experiences. City kids are less likely to experience nature with less access to forest schools and long walks in the country-side. My daughter recently enjoyed meeting pupils from a school in London, they couldn’t believe there was only one shop and that there was no street-lighting. Its amazing that children living in the same country cam experience such very different environments and upbringing.

But now the Government wants cities to get bigger to accommodate the need for more housing. So what happens to our green bits in-between? What will be left for future generations of kids? England is a small island in comparison to many European countries, where are we expected to go for some fresh air in 50 years time when all these houses have been built?

Where are the barn owls going to hunt? Where are they going to live?

I am blogging every day for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.


Social school

“The best thing about me is my brain” said my work colleague. It’s right, she is clever, she has such a capacious brain that she never feels the need to write it down, she can retain everything and remember everything. As a result her multi-tasking ability is impressive, which comes in handy for teaching philosophy.

Her brain is the main reason why she is reluctant to jump both feet first into child rearing. “My brain is all I have, if I sacrifice it for nappy brain, that’s it”.

It’s a shame really as it would be good to pass on such clever genes to future generations, although there is never a guarantee the right genes get passed on (the Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe scenario is a good example of this).

With one eye on the subject of my post yesterday, to what extent is a brain genetically modified and to what extent is it nurtured. The psychology of learning is fascinating and an area that Governments should be paying good money to research to advise on education reform.

If we were to understand the barriers to learning and then work hard to remove them what could be achieved? Obviously this is far too simplistic, all that we can really influence is the school environment, the home environment is a very difficult territory to address, particularly if a child is discouraged from learning at home. Generations of children were let down by a shocking state education system and they in turn had children and passed their negative feelings on either deliberately or inadvertently.

So if a Government improves the school life of one generation, then, with consistency and progress in the right way, future generations will fare even better.

Just as older generations suffer from missing certain sociological revolutions at the right age (causing them to vote Ukip and question the number of ethnic minorities in classrooms), what was ‘status quo’ before the age of 25 remains the case throughout life and so the merry-go-round of ideological slow progress continues.

That is why education is so important for humanity and why it is so disastrous if it goes wrong. Gove you have been warned….

I am blogging every day for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.

Changing education (part four)

I wholeheartedly agree with the questions we pose. Pupils and students are the best judges of a good education, yet they are often the last to be consulted. They say education is like Piccadilly Circus – if you stand there for long enough it will come back round again – this is what is happening with the current Government’s approach and it is deeply concerning and thoroughly depressing.

This blog is for UNICEF – please support the campaign here.

Today a Sudanese woman who faced 100 lashes and execution for renouncing Islam and marrying a Christian was sentenced to death. She is also 8 months pregnant – angry? Then sign the petition by Amnesty for her immediate release – here.

Surviving with grace

4: It all adds up

So far I’ve looked at the systemic failure of our current system, explored some of the external and internal pressures demanding radical change, and suggested what that change might begin to look like. In this final part I’ll consider the influence of formal exams and the need for a different approach.

What you measure is what you get

There’s an old truth that what you measure is what you get, which is to say that examination systems can themselves introduce counter-productive bias. If you put a premium on narrow academic performance then you will skew the rest of the system around it.

This is not about dumbing down; quite the reverse. It’s about asking much more rigorously whether how we test is fit for purpose, which in turn means asking more seriously what the purpose is.

Consider this: if I was managing a call centre…

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Didis and dodos

Every now and then you come across a person who fits their stereotype as neatly as a white upper middle class conservative. It was at a country club, surprise, surprise.

I don’t frequent country clubs, I neither have the budget nor the inclination, but, as most of my life experiences have come about, I was offered a freebie visit through a family friend who happened to be going with her friend ‘Didi’ after school. As it turned out Didi had a daughter the same age as my friend’s daughter and a boy the same age as my own daughter. I met Didi soaking wet in a swimming costume with a frill around her hips (which tend to be worn strangely by apple shaped women who wear it at an attempt to detract attention away from the bottom and thigh area when in fact they may as well have a sign pointing to below the hip saying ‘look here’). But don’t let the cutesy costume fool you from the Didis of this world, one look at that her steely glaze with unflinching direct eye contact told me that:

A) she probably rides horses

B) most likely to have been privately educated

C) is going to be a tad bossy and domineering as many of the ‘pushy middle class mums’ tend to be

At this point I had to scold the little voice in my head with ‘dont judge a book by its cover, she hasn’t even said a word and already she is in a box’. “Hello I’m Didi, nice to meet you, the boys are in the pool already, lets get this lot in their costumes, I assume you are staying for supper, I have lots of kindles and iPad we can ‘plug the children into’ (while she haw haws over a glass of wine…… shut-up voice in my head). I smile and nod and before I know it my friend’s children and mine are ‘cluck-clucked’ to the pool by Didi. Then pool session over, in the showers and then she is going round brushing everyone’s hair with aussie miracle spray (including my daughter who loved it), sorting the seating arrangements out in the country club bar and recommending the most expensive items on the menu.

After she has got half of PC World out for the kids and got a glass of wine in hand, she then embarks on confirming my inner voice’s assumptions. “well of course I said to the teacher, the forest school route hadn’t been properly risk assessed, it was far too close to a bridleway and any rider knows a horse can spook at anything, then buck and goodness knows what could happen” (I found this scenario so far fetched that she may as well have been including in her assessment earth tremors and hurricanes. What she really meant was ‘i want to demonstrate that I am a horse person and this tenuous link is the best way I can do that). Then came assumption b) “I have my eldest down at prep school and my daughter will follow suit, you just can’t beat the class sizes”. In between utterances she was clucking round the table like a mother hen seeing to everyone’s children and paused for rather too long at something situated on my son’s chair, prompting me to look and notice he had wet his trousers as she flounces away in quiet merciless judgement. Before her posh chaos exits the room she makes some remark about her husband playing golf’ (apparently better than her first husband), how she ‘travelled the world and London’ before settling here and listened to my views on co-education with a stony expression before saying “what a funny idea”.

So stereotypically middle-class Brit was this encounter that I was half expecting someone to say ‘cut’ and finding myself mistakenly placed on the set of the next Bridget Jones movie. If this indeed had happened I would fantasise that ‘Didi’ would once again return to her actual name of ‘Diane’ and say ‘thank god that’s over, it takes effort to play the part of a point-scoring, social climbing bitch’ and then tell me how she graffitid all over the local UKIP signs.

But that would be a fictitious character.

I am blogging every day for UNICEF – read about it here.

Thanks for reading.


Gilt edged donation

Hello fellow bloggers! I have only missed four days of blog posts but it seems like absolutely ages, if it was possible to get blog withdrawal symptoms, I was getting them. However I did enjoy a break from assessing whether there was enough going on in both my brain and life   each time I faced a blank blog screen.

But this blog is for UNICEF and they get a £1 per day of missed blog. The Guardian recently did a poll on whether charitable giving was selfish. The majority recognised that it was better than nothing but that very few charitable donations are given through altruism. There is always personal gain somewhere along the line.

This blog is not altruistic. I do it for 2 main reasons.

The first is keeping digital memories and to prevent boredom in my old age. I am writing this with a view to reading it when I am a little old lady waiting for God. I just hope I am not deaf and blinds when I reach old age – that would be a bummer.

I just had to stop typing to investigate my son’s potty as I thought it smelt, turns out my husband was on the loo, so I sprayed something round him to mask the smell and then closed the door to put him in quarantine – isn’t it lovely when you can’t decipher your son’s poo from your husband’s? I will love reading about that, or have my carer read it to me once I am old.

The second reason I blog for UNICEF is guilt. At the weekend while I was bobbing up and down on the little boat enjoying the sun glints on wave crests and taking in the blue sky, I read through Saturday’s Guardian. It should have the streamline, ‘observe all the snit going n on the world, pity the situation, then resume your existence, which is a whole lot easier than the people in the paper. I feel powerless so want to do something on a regular basis that donates to a good cause and raises awareness of other issues. The middle of the newspaper is where all the major issue stuff tends to go. The stuff that is easier to read in terms of our sensitivities tends  be put at the front and the back. I wonder how many people read stories about the conflict in Syria and the Ukraine, the schoolgirl abductions in Nigeria and the fact that the apartheid legacy lives on n Cape Town’s planning department.

So this is really a selfish blog for a guilty ageing woman to wax lyrical on random subjects of varying degrees of importance.

Even so better doing this than watching the Kardashians or a football game – at least this selfish act has some social benefits.

I am blogging every day for UNICEF – check out the campaign here.

Hanks for reading.






Getting the Government to quit

The apathy over climate change reflects the apathy that used to exist over wearing seatbelts in a car, smoking, HIV and drink driving, to name but a few. While all these examples impact on personal health and safety, climate change is about global health. Reports after reports by scientists passed to Governments show our C02 emissions continue to climb to harmful levels causing more freakish weather and an environment that is becoming increasingly difficult to live in for a lot of people.

The poorest are the first to suffer, which is probably why the apathy is so severe because they rely on charities to give them a voice and power. By the time it hits the people who have the ability to do something about it, it will be too late.

In September this year Europe’s leaders will gather to discuss global issues, yet climate change is not top of the agenda and charities such as Oxfam are lobbying hard to get leaders not only discussing this life-saving issue but also committing to a crackdown on C02 emissions.

Climate change is the most important issue to address to help people in poverty and to protect our children’s future. Yet it is the least talked about and the UK media seem uninterested in giving it coverage, assisted by the sneers of personalities like Clarkson and the vanity of people driving big 4×4 vehicles on road.

It takes less than a minute to lobby the Government so do so now here.

I am blogging every day for UNICEF – support the campaign here.

Thanks for reading.