“A living art of teaching… has a thread of strength running through it that stimulates individual students to participate.” – Rudolph Steiner
I never thought there would be a clear connection between Marxist intellectuals and novelty festive wear. Turns out there is. The link is the Christmas Jumper. The modern “tradition” of wearing hideous festive woollies seems to have emerged in the last decade and is now a regular fixture of the run up to Christmas. It has even been put to good use by the Save the Children Fund who sponsor a Christmas Jumper Day on the 14th of December. So far so itchy.
There have been plenty of festive pullovers in evidence at this term end but it is the people wearing the jumpers I would like to focus on today. Over the past few weeks we have been treated to wonderful concerts, there have been quizzes, Christmas lunch extravaganzas, parties and plays. Once you have the opportunity to learn about the personalities behind the knitwear it soon becomes clear that there is more to our pupils than just a silly sweater. Indeed, at the end of a very busy term it is good to reflect upon the many diverse achievements that have been won over the course of the term. Particular thanks are due to Year 8 Zara who designed our splendid polar bear Christmas e-card this year.
Last week I saw the Nursery Christmas show; how humbling to see the youngest members of our school community singing and dancing with such assuredness. In September they were having their first experience of the School and now they are quite at home! Key Stage 1 and 2 have had busy terms in which they have moved on in their learning and have enjoyed days out to farms and days in with Egyptians. They have impressed us all with their singing too in their Christmas Shows. The Seniors have not been left behind. Our girls’ football team had a magnificent season, we’ve seen excellent expeditions and trips. University offers are rolling in and our Christmas Show gave our musicians a chance to shine. It has been a wonderful term and there have been so many high points that it is impossible to list them within my newsletter word count. But if you want to see what has been achieved, then take a look at our social media feeds, enjoy the recordings of shows and glance back over the term’s newsletters. As well as having questionable taste in jumpers our pupils have given of themselves and their talents to assist others in the local community through a variety of service projects, collection campaigns and fundraisers. Be it sorting stuff at Emmaüs or playing a musical instrument for older people in their care home, our pupils do it. It is easy to be distracted by the miles of acrylic yarn but make no mistake, our young people are made of a far more powerful moral fibre. They understand that service and integrity are as important as excellence.
One and all they deserve every congratulation on all that they have achieved. I hope that you and they have a joyful Christmas and Happy New Year.
1. See The Invention of Tradition E. J. Hobsbawm and T. O. Ranger if you wish to find out more…
Time travels more speedily when it is the end of term. There is also less of it in the run up to Christmas. Put the two together and you gain an appreciation of how life has been in the last ten days or so. The end of term is now upon us and it does not seem so very long ago that we were returning from the summer holidays.
This has been a fulfilling and exciting term. Our young people have worked hard and played hard and the results are plain to see. For many the Christmas holiday will be a well-earned break, a chance to spend time with friends and relatives. For others it will be a time to draw breath and to prepare for the January exams.
This week I read with great interest that the Italian education minister Marco Bussetti had called on schools to avoid overloading pupils with homework during the festive period. Italian students have one of the heaviest homework burdens in Europe and he gave a clear steer to Heads that they should ensure that there is time for pupils to enjoy time with their family and relatives (for those looking for a country with a lighter burden try Finland). This week also saw the centenary of the birth of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The great author was a man who used his time to the full. He had a punishing working day rising at 1am, working until 9am when he had a short break before continuing on until 7pm. Then he went to bed (sometimes with a pitchfork by his side). There is probably a happy medium between the do no work plan and the Solzhenitsyn approach. So what should our pupils (who do not face the looming spectre of mocks) do this holiday? How best to spend the coming days?
The answer is perhaps to be found in the approach to holiday time found in another country, Iceland. Jólabókaflóð is a tradition borne from the privations of the Second World War when Iceland was unable to import goods. Friends started to exchange books rather than give gifts. Once they had been exchanged on Christmas Eve people went home and spent the evening curled up with a good book. After the war Icelandic publishers saved up their new titles for the Christmas period and the Jólabókaflóð or Book Flood emerged as a custom. Books are still exchanged the night before Christmas. It is perhaps no co-incidence that Icelanders read more books per capita than any other nation in the world.
I hope that everyone receives a book to read this Christmas. Perhaps more importantly I hope that everyone finds time, if only a small amount, to read between now and the start of the next term. If that is the case then we can all probably agree with the words of the song that this is “the most wonderful time of the year”.
Clearly something that is to be avoided, but something that is very tempting to those in education. Barely a week goes by without some great new educational idea being introduced on an unsuspecting world. Some initiatives are adopted wholesale, others fall by the wayside pretty quickly. A trip down memory lane will bring up such marvellous ideas as learning outcomes, verbal feedback stamps and sitting in form order. This week, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools turned her withering gaze upon the formerly popular primary education scheme, Brain Gym. The programme has been around for
a while now and gained a loyal band of adherents convinced of its benefits. The scheme started in California in the late 1980s and was used widely in Europe; indeed in 2008 it received the official stamp of approval with the then Department for Children, School and Families.
It gained an enthusiastic following and I am sure it was enjoyed by many who took part in it. There is little to suggest that it actually helps with learning (if you want to read an entertaining demolition try Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science analysis). All reservations put aside I’m sure that for some it was a way of finding success at school and maybe in turn
it drew pupils to further academic progress. Who knows? Scientifically unsound, it could still have some value. I firmly believe that a tiny amount of success in school can lead to the sort of momentum that grows greater and even greater success.
Over the course of the week I read a piece of what seems to be a well-researched, thoughtful academic paper which called into question certain educational beliefs that I have held dear for many years. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren’s report ‘The achievement well-being trade-off in education’ suggests that many recent attempts to put children at the
centre of leaning and teaching methods are ill-founded.
He questions the view that pupil-led learning, enjoyment and performance form a virtuous circle (he clearly must have loved his school days). He hypothesises that we have all read our Rousseau incorrectly and suggests that “effective learning is often not enjoyable”. Having read all this I was starting to worry that I’d got it all wrong and had been heading off into a happy land of educational mediocrity. I was relieved to note towards the end of the paper that he wasn’t suggesting a return to Gradgrindian education but rather explaining that there may well be times that pupils will be less than happy about doing their homework and other elements of their learning. He advocates making pedagogical trade-offs depending on whether we are looking for education to provide the state with income or to produce fulfilled adults. All in all, I think we may be on the right track here at the BSP. I’ll probably read it again just to check though…
I finished my week seeing the Reception and Key Stage 1 Christmas Show. An extravaganza of talent and indeed joy. Most of the joy was in the audience. Well done to all the performers and thank you to their teachers who have worked so hard to bring the show to fruition. Experiences like this are both joyful and valuable. The good thing is there are plenty more to come in the coming weeks.