What's all this then?

I tweet too much. So I needed somewhere else to start storing all the words. This is it. Think of it as the external hard drive for my thoughts.

I don't have an obesssion, a dream, a fixation or a hook, so don't be expecting a focus here. It's like great big lumps of my twitterings. You may see teaching stuff, rants, maternal anxiety and occasional sojourns away from reality.

Anyway, I like a nice chat so we should talk. By we, I of course mean me...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Dear reader...

So, it’s a new term and here goes the blog again.  I’ve had a bit of a block with the ol’ writing stuff. Well, not the writing, but in finding the courage to start to post again. When I first started, this was the scariest thing ever, then some of you were kind enough to be nice about it on that twitter and it became fun.

But as all teachers know, one negative can outweigh a whole lot of positive. So, returning as ever to my teaching roots, I thought I’d start blogging as I would start with a new class and establish some parameters for myself.

What is this blog for? Well, it’s for rambling mostly. It’s for my thoughts that won’t rest until they’re out. Often that’s about teaching things. More often it’s about things that have irritated me. It’s where I tell stories.

What will I gain by reading it? Oh, that’s a good one. If nothing else, you’ll find a way to fill a couple of spare minutes that could usefully have been spent filing your papers or doing the washing up. I know I love the procrastination activity I get from other blogs. I wouldn’t bother searching for the meaning of life here, or indeed anything of great personal insight, as it’s most likely to be a fruitless task. Unless you’re looking for a great boozy pudding, rifling through my archives in the hope of finding illumination is wasted time of the bad sort, as opposed to chore avoidance.

Is it all about you? Well, it’s all from my perspective, however that perspective looks from your perspective. I think it’s important to point that out right here *cough…ros wilson… cough*. But, ultimately no. It’s stories and trifles and anecdotes, a bit like listening to that venerable sage who is The Bloke In The Pub. It’s not insights into my psyche, which anyway is mostly full of my kids, cartoon horses, ideas for experimental cakes and suitable alternative careers for Gove. You wouldn’t want to go there, I certainly don’t want you poking about in there and I’m not about to give you any of my deep dark secrets here. Except…. no, you don’t even need to know about the chip and the laminator.

The chip and the laminator? Let’s not talk about it. Really. Let’s not talk about it. Ever.

Someone said you never know a woman till you get a letter from her. 
Hang on a minute…. I’ve just googled who said it. It was Ada Leverson.

Is a blog the modern equivalent of the letter? Can you know someone by reading their blog? I think you do get glimpses of the truth, after all psychologists seem to agree that most sane people can’t keep up a pretence online, the self you see is self you get. Maybe we’re even closer to our real selves online. In any case, the me here is the me proper, but only in nice little bite sized chunks.

From my side, I like my blog when I know there are friendly people out there reading. I was never any good at writing a diary, in the same way that I can’t just go for a walk. I like to have a purpose, even if it’s just to get a pint of milk (and a magazine and some chocolate). 

I like it when people leave comments, what blogger doesn’t? I talk back too. It feels nicer than having a load of anonymous reader out there, silently marking my work. I hope you don’t write on the screen in red pen when I get stuff wrong though, that’s a bit looney and we wouldn’t want that. I love that I know people are reading, I know they come from all sorts of far-flung places, that’s great isn’t it? And I love the search terms that lead them here from google; although some of the more (ahem) specialised googlers must be very disappointed...

So. Let’s go forward from here. I’ll write stuff, you’ll read it if you want. If I like what I write, I’ll write more, and if you like it you’ll read more. If I don’t like it, I’ll shut up and if you don’t like it you’ll stop reading...

What could be simpler? *gulp* 

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


Bird on the Steeple is taking a break... I like to start the School Holidays early.  If you've come here via an Education link, happy holidays to you! Don't waste it all worrying about work: this is one of the few perks you get, enjoy it!

Love, Bird..... oh, and this is for you!

A cake for all my Edu-readers :)
Like the man says...woohoo!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Gove letters straight from the heart.

This is a follow up post to …."Yes Sir we have no bananas today" because I wrote to my MP about the whole Sex Ed Bill thing and, my goodness, had a letter back. It turns out he forwarded my letter to Mr Gove, and so I also have a copy of Gove’s response.

I get ahead of myself. Let’s recap.

What is the Sex Ed Bill?
The Sex Ed Bill is a 10 minute Bill proposed by Nadine Dorries, which gets its second hearing in January. Dorries proposes, amongst other things, that girls be taught abstinence as part of their Sex Ed. She doesn’t feel that current teaching deals with the pressure to have sex and that girls need to be taught to say no.

Which is bad because....
It’s utter nonsense. Nonsense of the most perfidious kind because it hides a multitude of dangers.
Firstly, there is no documented proof that abstinence reduces teenage pregnancy rates. It is not a commonly adopted policy, I’m only aware of it being taught in the US, where it has failed to achieve its aims. The current Teenage Pregnancy strategy in the UK is lowering pregnancy rates.

Less obvious, and more worrying though, are the underlying messages here. Girls are given responsibility for managing the sexual side of their relationships, mostly by saying no to mean old boys. This creates an unequal power balance. It makes girls more responsible for sexual health and contraception. It also creates a climate where seeking advice on sexual health or worries is Wrong and Bad for girls. I believe this paves the way for further rises in STIs amongst young people, and puts young women more at risk of abuse and sexual assault in relationships.

Amidst the nonsense, Nadine Dorries lies about what is taught in schools. Maybe it’s just good old fashioned ignorance on her part, in which case she shouldn’t be let anywhere near a Sex Ed Bill, but I’m inclined to believe she knows full well kids aren’t taught to put condoms on in primary school. However, it makes for great headlines and Dorries does love a headline. Let’s not let the truth stand in the way of that.

So, what did I say to my MP?

Well, in addition to outlining my concerns as above, I explained to him exactly how Sex and Relationships Education is taught, as in my original post here. I made him aware of the high teenage pregnancy rate in his constituency relative to other local areas and how the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy is reducing it. His response indicates that this point at least hit home, as I suspected it might.
So, my MP passed on my concerns to Michael Gove.  I’m no great fan of Gove as Education Secretary, as …."EBac: Victorian Delivery after years of modern education" may indicate. To be honest, I’m not sure he understands the nature and needs of modern education.  However, for the record, this is what Gove says in his letter about SRE in schools,

“I remain convinced that schools are best placed to decide the content and presentation of SRE lessons and to tailor them to their particular pupils and to the ethos of the school.  It is possible for schools to engage in a much more meaningful dialogue with parents at a local level than it is from central Government.  Although we shall need to await the outcome of Ms Nadine Dorries’s Bill, I have no plans to specify the teaching of abstinence for any age group and would want to trust schools to handle this issue appropriately and sensitively.”

(Any grammatical errors are Mr Gove’s own.)

What does this mean?

Well, on the plus side, I think this is a pretty clear indication that there will be no statutory changes to SRE. Mr Gove is as clear as a politician can be that Ms Dorries agenda is not the same as that of the Dept for Education.

On the down side, it means no statutory changes for SRE.  This is a disappointment to anyone who supported the SRE Steering Committee’s recommendations to remove the legal parental right to withdrawal. It also leaves a lot of leeway for schools to not provide good SRE for reasons of school ethos, (perhaps some faith schools?) or sensitive issues. Hmmm. I don’t think that there should be exemptions from SRE at a local level, but I am going to try to be optimistic about Gove’s response. And you really have no idea how hard that is for me, as my usual response to anything from Gove involves the hurling of derision/abuse/small projectiles.

I suspect the leniency towards Dorries’ entirely bonkernuts attitude to SRE is just another example of how our current Government allows ludicrous ideas to be thrown into the media just to see if anyone objects and whether they can get away with it... What, you mean people *don’t* want to dismantle the NHS? Oh, well we’ll have another look at that then.

Meanwhile, as we all get hot under the collar about silly old Nadine’s involvement in Education, Gove will continue to centralise control of Education way beyond the usual remit of an Education minister, introduce ridiculous reading lists for children, reduce Teacher Training places for the Arts and Music, and ensure that secondary education doesn’t prioritise any of that modern nonsense like ICT.

Oh dear, looks like my glass is less than half-full again. Time to open another bottle...

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

What has social media ever done for us?

What has social media ever done for me? Apart from the laughs, the community, the window on the world, educating me, consoling me, finding me real friends, seeing me through dark times and being a space of my own? Nothing and everything. Nonsense and common sense. The Agony and the Ecstasy. I’m getting a bit carried away here.

The important bit to me was that twitter, this is mostly about twitter but also Blip and the blogosphere and even Failbook, was a space of my own. If you like the term “me time”, which I loathe but there we are, then you might call it “me space”. My lovely twitterbuddy MDP called it her playground. I liked that.

Like a playground it is so much fun, and full of new people and games. Like a playground, it felt safe. A protected space.

I just found out it wasn’t though. I know the internet is public, I know it’s out there. When I started out, I was neurotic about my privacy. I suppose after a time you become so used to the etiquette and the social norms there that it doesn’t occur to you that someone would break them by stalking you, by reading through reams of your waffling without ever making themselves known and passing on their sordid discoveries to others. In the same way you assume that your phone isn’t tapped and the old lady next door isn’t really holding a glass to the wall when you have sex.  You might think that’s naive. I think it’s a sanity saver.

We all go round thinking the world is ok, and that no-one will step over the line of normal because if we starting seeing mad axe murderers on every corner, well, we’re half way to becoming one ourselves.  We take sensible precautions (no armed hitchhikers in the car) and then we need to think it’s all ok. That’s why the first stage of any processing of  bad stuff is denial. This can’t be happening, we say. I must have imagined it. It’s something you watch yourself for when working in child protection. The unwillingness to believe that something bad could happen is a risky outlook for vulnerable children and we have to fight to let our gut reaction be heard. Usually, it is all fine.  However, just occasionally there really are monsters under the bed and that’s when social media, and indeed life, can all go wrong.

I’m not a perfect person. Are you? No, don’t answer that. I also don’t like to deliberately hurt people though, even if I don’t like them. So I use social media to have a little rant once in a while, to let off steam. That way I can do the social niceties or professional niceties or just plain nicey niceys without my blood pressure going off the scale. I’m not always nice on twitter. I also use it when I’m down, when I’m finding life difficult and I’m hard to be around. I use it to celebrate stuff I’m too embarrassed to share with people I know in case I’m seen as big headed. It’s for finding people who’ve been there too. It’s helped me with the tougher bits of the real world. It’s for all the stuff that I can’t or don’t want to or just plain shouldn’t say in real life. I’m gobby enough as it is, it’s only fair to share the pain of my talkiness around.

Or at least it was all these things. Now I’m not so sure. Now I’ve had the tap on the phone, the glass at the wall. It doesn’t feel safe any more. And safety is very important to me. If you’ve ever been in a situation that was unsafe, you’ll understand.  Many years ago I was stalked and threatened by an ex-partner. It wasn’t a good time. Reader, I took out a restraining order against him. Now it’s happened again. The safety bubble has burst and I’m seeing monsters under the beds, behind the sofa and in the shower, the little perverts. Connoisseurs of PTSD will know this treat as hypervigilence.

Maybe, if I’d been more hypervigilent I wouldn’t be in this situation. Maybe. Maybe if I stay indoors tomorrow I won’t get hit by a bus. Maybe if I never open my mouth or speak out then everyone will like and adore me and be nice to me always. Not very likely, is it? Apart from the bit about the bus, I don’t get buses in the living room.

So, to make things safe, I deleted my twitter account. It was like saying goodbye to a friend, because it was saying goodbye to so many friends. I cried. Not dignified tears of regret, but fantastic snotty blubbering. I used to worry about being a twitter addict. But without it, I don’t miss the posting, the feed, the timeline, the addiction. I miss my friends.  I might go back. I don’t know. I hope so. In the meantime I have the wonderful Mrbird, who I love more with each fresh disaster I create,  and many other good solid three dimensional people here, so I’m fine. I just won’t be playing out for a bit.

This is my tribute. My thank you. My appreciation for such a delicious side dish to life. Maybe next time round I’ll get a food taster though.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Yes Sir, we have no bananas today.

Dear Reader,

I feel I have let you down. As a Sex Ed teacher I can only apologise for my inadequacies. It’s time to confess.

I am sorry to say that I have never put a condom on a banana.

Worse than that, I have never taught a primary aged child to put a condom on anything. Nor have I taught them about sexual positions, or taught a “gay agenda” or encouraged any of them to go on the pill.

To be honest, I’ve never taught Sex Ed in school.

What I’ve taught primary school children is Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), which is heavy on the relationships.  And I am thoroughly fed up of hysteria in the media about what children are taught in SRE, especially as Nadine Dorries seems to have taken on Peter Hitchens traditional role of blaming sex ed for everything from teenage pregnancies to child abuse.  Usually I ignore Dorries, because as far as I’m concerned she may as well be sitting under a bridge waiting for the Billy Goats Gruff to come along for all the use her opinions are.  She is either woefully or deliberately misinformed about SRE and seems to have no issues with misinforming everyone else via her inaccurately named Sex Ed Bill.

I don’t want to talk about her, I want to lay down a few facts about how SRE is taught in Primary Schools, just so they’re out there. This is how it really is.
  • SRE features in Science where children are taught that they grow and change from babies to adults. They learn that all living things reproduce. As they reach the end of Key Stage 2 they learn how their bodies will change in puberty, and how to take care of their bodies, with a heavy emphasis on the importance of deodorant. They will learn about external and internal sex organs. They may learn the physicality of sexual intercourse in Year 6. They may not if the co-hort doesn’t seem ready or it isn’t part of the school’s individual plan.

And that’s it for sex. Not exactly scandalous is it? No orgasm tips and no amusingly shaped vegetables.

The rest of SRE is pure R. It’s covered in Personal Social Health Education (PSHE) and it’s all about Relationships.  As children move through primary school they will learn about:
  • Their feelings and how others feel
  • How to make friends
  • How to solve friendship disputes and talk about worries
  • How to ask for help, find support and talk to adults and friends in a range of settings
  • Evaluating risks and make sensible decisions to manage risks in their lives
  • How to make choices based on their own preferences, and how to manage peer pressure
  • The difference between aggressive, passive and assertive behaviour and developing techniques to handle difficult social situations.
  • Some social skills work to prepare them for the reality of Secondary school.

None of this social teaching specifically addresses issues around sexual relationships, but it isn’t hard to see how it could all be applied to managing sexual relationships later on. Children are taught to value and look after their body and understand the importance of assertiveness in friendships. They are taught to look out for potential risks, and risks to others, and to develop skills of seeking help when they need it.

All of these skills not only help young people to develop healthy sexual relationships, but they might actually prove helpful to a child trying to cope with the horrendous reality of abuse, sexual or otherwise. They can’t prevent sexual abuse of children, because the responsibility for that never, ever lies with the child. Whether SRE can really help at all to support abused children is not something I feel confident enough to commit to. What I can say, with absolute confidence, is that “teaching girls to say no” and suggesting teenagers abstain from sex should not under any circumstances be promoted as a way to prevent adults abusing children. Which is a link Dorries made today. No-one who makes such an association should have any say in determining how children are educated about Sex and Relationships in school. Additionally, the worrying emphasis on girls taking responsibility for managing the sexual side of their partnerships should be so obviously dangerous and stupid that I'm not going into it here.

As a teacher, I sincerely hope that Dorries’ opinions do not mark the start in turning the clock back in another aspect of Education, there’s quite enough of that from Gove. This country is making good headway in reducing teenage pregnancies and we’re starting to tackle the more pervasive issue of STI increase. And while there are these needs and while there is still a significant proportion of girls who are left in the Victorian terror of not knowing what a period is when they start bleeding for the first time, we really can’t let SRE slip.

That’s why we can’t let media hysteria hold sway. That’s why I wrote down some facts. That’s why I’m glad you read them. I think they’re important. I’ll leave Dorries and her damaging ideas to others. Just as long as you know what is actually being taught and don’t believe the absurdities she’s spouting, I’m happy. And know this: the only reason I’ll be taking a banana to school is for my lunch.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Life in Harper Valley

If you read my twitterfeed you might have noticed some moaning about the PTA. If you pay too much attention, you will have noticed a lot of moaning about the PTA. 

This all started in January when I put myself forward, or at least failed to step backwards, as Chair of the PTA. Since then, planning has lurched into events which have lurched into clearing up and then the whole cycle starts again. This however is not the blog where I want to talk about how the PTA works.

PTAs have a bad rep. PTAs are a pain. Yesterday a friend asked me “Why did you do this to yourself?” This is the blog where I want to answer that question.  

Why am I Chair of the PTA? Putting aside the obvious answers around the theme of being the kind of fool who can’t say “No”, there are genuine reasons why I think it’s important to have a PTA and why, when faced with the option of having no PTA at school, I agreed to be Chair.

1. What are your best memories of school?
Mine are of school trips, the school discos where we all did the “Superman” dance (it was the 80s) and stayed up past midnight, the Fete where me and my best friend would spend hours on the swing boats and the Pantomime where the Deputy would always play the role of the Dame. And all of these events and many more were made possible by the PTA. I wouldn’t want a generation of kids to go without the experience of making themselves sick on Dandelion and Burdock at the School Disco, or not have a gift from school to mark their leaving. The PTA provides the fun stuff. That’s worth doing.

2. There are holes in the ring fence.
Here comes the political bit. Education funding is not good at the moment. The government’s promise to maintain the Education budget is not, strictly speaking, being kept. Increasing numbers of schools are having to make redundancies and, at a County level, Support Staff are having their salary cut.  Schools no longer receive their budget annually, but are allocated money on a monthly basis. Like  pocket money. Altogether, this leaves many Headteachers, including ours, in an unenviable position. Something’s got to give. So far ours has done a great job of keeping all the Staff and resourcing the learning, but there is no room for extras. Things like playtime games, a new stage, and trips to the panto at Christmas can’t come out of the school budget. This lack of funding, especially when coupled with the funding going to Free Schools, enrages me. It made me angry enough to join the PTA, and also have a right go about Free Schools (here).

The PTA can, and must, fund these things. Experiences like being in a play on a real stage are key parts of school life. We all remember from age 5 who got to be Mary (for the second year running just cos she had long hair and it wasn’t FAIR) and performing is good for kids, it’s good for the school community. So are playground games. Busy kids are well behaved kids. Bored kids will invent all manner of destructive games, so it’s nice to be able to afford to buy tubs of skipping ropes, balls, stilts and hoops. Thank you PTA for calmer, happier playtimes. And the opportunity to see CJ off of Eggheads in Panto. 

3. Community.
Schools are not just buildings full of kids (actually they’re lovely when they’re not full of kids, but that’s another story), they’re communities in the best sense of the word. And communities need to get together and blow off some steam. Or they’re simply a load of people trapped in the same space, building up their hatred of each other by the day.  Our PTA manifesto (manifestos are more fun than Mission Statements) isn’t just about fundraising, it’s about improving the life experiences of the children. It’s about pulling everyone along in the same direction. It’s about Events. It’s good for kids to see adults all working together to create something that’s fun. In teaching circles we call that modelling and it helps children learn how to get along together. The PTA also gives the children the chance to fundraise, to help their school and other charities and to learn the importance of giving back. And if that’s not Citizenship in action, I don’t know what is.

4. Broadening Horizons
In an effort to find novel ways to part you from your cash, PTA’s offer some great activities for kids: ice skating in school, Chess clubs, being published in a book, modelling in a fashion show, making a scarecrow, fancy dress competitions, talent shows, fireworks displays. These events take children out of their everyday routine and give them a chance to discover new loves and skills. For some kids, school is their only chance to get this stuff. 

So, however much I gripe about the PTA and my place in it, I come back to this. The PTA does an important job. We do it for our children, and to support our teachers. Sometimes we’re a damn nuisance, sometimes we’re bossy, sometimes you wish we’d all go away: I feel like that most days. You’d really rather not send in donations to the tombola or pay £1 for non-uniform day or buy another raffle ticket or hang around on a Friday night waiting to collect sticky discoers. 

But schools need us, now more than ever. So, if it helps,  think of us as a Fairy Godmother saying to the kids “You SHALL go to the Panto!” and think of how much the kids love all this stuff even if we don’t. Then just take a deep breath, smile, and open up your wallet. There now, that didn’t hurt a bit, did it?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A Spotter's Guide to: Nuns.

Watching the Royal Wedding on telly, I was completely distracted by the two nuns sitting next to Wills. Random unexpected Nuns are guaranteed to make me giggle, especially when they are walking down Westminster Abbey together and one is tall and the other short - surely they could have found matching Nuns for the Royal Wedding?

I like spotting Nuns, Nunspotting  is a good game. Rome was an excellent place for that, and I beat Mrbird hands down, although he claims I cheated. Which I obviously wouldn’t because cheating at Nunspotting gets you an automatic penalty, and 6 months in purgatory. At other times though, spotting a Nun feels like a glimpse into the past, as if a Celtic warrior just strolled out of the shop. Or like a glimpse into another world; aliens that walk amongst us, usually in pairs.

In terms of classification, I think there are three main categories of Nun. Sometimes they overlap, but I think they boil down to:

A - Evil Nuns. (See Frost in May, The Magdelene Sisters and the Nuns at my Mum’s school who served up rotten lamb for school dinner)
B- Comedy Nuns (See Father Ted, A Very Peculiar Practice and any Nun seen doing un-Nunlike things)
C- Utterly Bonkers Nuns (See Sister Wendy and most Incidental Nuns in telly dramas, unless covered by A)

My own experience of Nuns is cheerful and benign and comes from my Primary School, which was run by them. Not a Convent School, there were boys for starters, but there were lots of Nuns on staff and us kids loved them. They managed to maintain order whilst giving us all the impression we could do no wrong.

Sister K, the Head, would wander round the school doing her little old lady act to visitors, especially those after money, and you could no more better her than you could Miss Marple.  Her arrival in the classroom at the end of the school day was always met with gasps of wonder and excitement. She would be holding a large jar, and it could only mean one thing - SWEETS! If your class had been especially Good, Sister K brought round sweeties for all. We lived for those days, and all the other classes would be suitably jealous.

The school kitchen was ruled by the immense presence of Sister M who, despite an inexplicable obsession with adding a portion of grated carrot to every meal, was a fabulous cook. Which means, to a 10 yr old, that she made great puddings. Of popcorn cake in gloopy pink custard and Apple Sponge and Custard, are happy childhood memories made. In Year 6 we were expected to do Duties, and by far the most popular was Dining Hall Duty. You would cheerfully scrape plates clean, and carry Infants’ trays knowing that yours was the ultimate reward: DOUBLE PUDDING. An overflowing bowl of rhubarb crumble and the obligatory custard was worth a lunch hour of anyone’s time.

Then there was tiny wren-like Sister C, who did playground duty and often carried a packet of polos. Many years later, I Spotted her in London. She was wandering round Harrods Foodhall looking bewildered, and then guilty. She was “on retreat down the road” and “couldn’t resist popping in for a look round”. Ok, Sister.

When I was six a Head Nun of some sort came to visit the school. She sat and chatted to us, and then asked how many of us girls would like to be Nuns - lots of hands shot up. Why wouldn’t they? We were six and the thought of getting to wear dressing up clothes every day and living in a place where no smelly boys were allowed seemed like a pretty good option.

As you grow up of course, you are harder to impress. And it became easy to laugh at the Nuns’ little foibles and naivities. Except with Sister M. She was a Nun Apart, due to her possession of a driving licence. We used to mockingly call her the Getaway Nun, imagining a load of her Sisters in the back yelling “Just drive, you slaag!”. Her job was to look after lary teenage girls on Youth Activity Weeks. But she spoke to us so honestly about her life, and laughed so genuinely when we wanted to know how she could keep her hair hidden under a headdress the whole time, that we couldn’t help warming to her. She told us looks weren’t important and, as we fogged up the room with cheap hairspray and Impulse, we were all envious of her hair, which was frankly magnificent and hung in glossy healthiness to her waist, and a little envious of her calm confidence and indifference to the things which kept us awake at night. We may even have gone as far as saying that Sister M was… cool.

The Nuns of my childhood were great women, full of dignity and humour and humanity. At 26 I returned to my childhood parish to get married. As the Wedding approached, I went to the  Convent to invite any Nuns at a loose end to come along to the service. The Convent was a modern building, with a welcoming foyer and a sense of serenity that posh Spa proprietors would kill for. I’d been allowed in before, but only when I was very small. My Dad used to mow the lawns for the Nuns and I’d go with him, because sometimes he’d let me drive the ride-on mower. I was once brought inside the Convent to be given orange juice, miraculously without custard. I remember a feeling of awe, but also of warmth. And I was amazed to find that feeling surfacing in the adult me a week before my Wedding. Just a tiny part of me envied the Sisters their life of peace and gentle productivity, a life that they’d chosen willingly and I would never know or understand.

I suppose in a week filled with worries about napkins and manicures and shoes and hair, the simplicity of their lives was covetably alien! The spell of the serene atmosphere didn’t last, of course. I wonder for whom it stays. Real Nuns are complex to categorise, but they do like a nice Wedding and as I walked towards Mrbird on my Wedding Day, I got to award myself several Nunspotting points.

There are Nuns who are despicable, there are Nuns who are laughable, and those who are safest kept in a Convent. But there are also those who make a mean Damson Tart (and custard), who can stop a gaggle of revolting 15 yr olds in their tracks, and those who, deep down, I respect. Even though the word “wimple” will always make me giggle.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Big Writing Follow Up Session: in which I do my corrections

This post is supplementary to my "Big Rant about Big Writing" Post, which you may read here.

Ros Wilson has expressed concerns about my post and I want to address them here. She was unable to post her comments on my blog post personally.

Firstly, let me say that I am appreciative of Ros Wilson's offer of a Big Writing training session and of her interest in my thoughts. I was surprised too to be contacted by her via a twitter mention. I'll reproduce our brief conversation here so I can explain what I find positive about it, and where my worries still lie:

rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 Tried to reply on your blog Bird, but think I failed. Found your tirade on Big W interesting but superficial and ill informed. Ros
bird42 beccy
.@rosBIGWRITING I'm sorry you couldn't reply, I'll check the settings. I agree it wasn't in depth, but which bits did you find ill informed?
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 VCOP is a piecemeal way of teaching writing. It sticky tapes quick fixes over limited teaching... Stated as a fact, so wrong.
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 ... as are so many other statements. Would like to 'talk' more effectively than this / invite you on a day. Ros@andrelleducation.com
bird42 beccy
.@rosBIGWRITING thank you, I appreciate the generosity of yr offer. I have had Big Writing training, however & worked in BigW schools.
bird42 beccy
.@rosBIGWRITING if you have time, it would be good if you could comment on the blog itself re: anything you see that is factually incorrect
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 suggesting that you can only write when the moon is in the seventh house and Venus is aligned with Mars is not going to help. Sorry?
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 "Keep writing real, give it a purpose, give it an audience." You obviously know nothing about what I, personally, say Bird.
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 You quote a Forum comment that must be 2 years old at least - we have had no students for 2 years. If you had been trained by...
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson  
@bird42 ... an Andrell consultant or myself you would know we guarantee our work and if it did not work for you you could come back to us...

bird42 beccy
.@rosBIGWRITING Meanwhile, I will post an addendum expressing your concerns & restating that my view of BW is personal opinion.
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 ...we work on with you free until you get it 'right'. We abhor stulted 'purple prose', which you may see in the very early...
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 ...'emergent' phases of BW, but you find the same in early use of features of text type and many other forms of early learning.
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 Please don't worry about doing that, I am sure readers would realise that. I would rather 'talk' in a better forum...
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 ...where I can explain your misunderstandings properly. Take care, Ros

This reassures me that Andrell are committed to providing value for money, which is always one of my worries about buying into private companies in the public sector.

I wonder also whether the issues I identify with Big Writing are not due to the theory but to problems in the dissemination of the original ideas. Obviously, Andrell cannot be responsible for the practice of each individual teacher using Big Writing. However, I am still concerned that this is partly due to the absence of a solid base of research underlying Big Writing. Maybe more thorough research would identify potential problems in delivery without having to rely on working with individual teachers until they get it "right".

I'm glad that Ros Wilson seeks to explain misunderstandings, but in my case I feel they are more differences of opinion.

In Education currently, there is a lot of debate around personalised learning. We accept that children have different needs and ways of learning and that we should consider giving them increased responsibility for that learning in order to support their development and help them become more active participants in school. I think the same is obviously true for adults, even teachers. We learn in different ways too, and we teach in different ways. If I was to personalise my own learning journey as a teacher, I would not take on board Big Writing because it does not work for me. I don't think any extra training would change that. I like to work in a different way. As long as I teach the objectives in the Primary Strategy, in a way that is enjoyable and meets the needs of my class, then I'm ok with that. And so is Ofsted. Big Writing is not compulsory and doesn't come from the Department of Education.

Regarding the oddities in children's writing that Ros Wilson identifies as "emergent Big Writing", I still feel that they are qualitatively different from children's naturally emergent writing. We all know how excited children get about new words, new writing tools; like that period in Year 2 when their work is liberally sprinkled with exclamation marks. None of that exuberance feels as clunky and bolted on as Big Writing errors. The hundreds of SATs papers I have marked demonstrated a difference between VCOP and non VCOP schools. To generalise, the difference is in the flow of the work, the development of an individual writer's voice and in lively and entertaining content; all of which come as part of less prescriptive writing methods.

These are of course my opinions. I'm glad to not be alone in them, and have enjoyed some supportive chats with many on twitter who agree. I know lots of people disagree. Hurrah for diversity amongst teachers, let's celebrate that, and independent opinion and giving our children the varied and passionate teaching they deserve.

(And Ros Wilson clearly isn't a fan of Hair...)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Oh Dan Brown, what have you done to me?

In times of stress I used to turn to the comfort of a Georgette Heyer or Jane Austen, maybe a Jenny Colgan if the Regency period didn’t appeal. They were all quite harmless books, not at all detrimental to health and no serious side effects.

However, last year in a period which saw my concentration span collapse in the manner of earth-pea-blackhole-shrinkage, and looking for something undemanding to keep me turning the pages, (like the Dan Brown I once read, but not as infuriating or face-palmy), I picked up a book by Matthew Reilly. If only I’d forseen the effects. It changed my life. Let me be quite clear, it was not a good book. In fact the opening chapters had me snorting derisively at the nonsensical plot devices, the interweaving of myth, urban myth and freudianly big weapons. However, the pages kept turning and by the time Stonehenge was thrown into the mix I was completely, shamelessly hooked.

This was my gateway book into the genre best described as Post-Dan Brown. Now the PDB monopolises my reading. As I scan the blurb of a book I know what I’m looking for. I want references to a shadowy organisation/cult, the Nazca lines, malevolent Cardinals in the Vatican, hidden treasure, astronomical apocalypses, secret chambers under ancient monuments and lost books.  I like a maverick hero with the purity of Galahad and a gun as long as his, um… arm and a female counterpart with a working knowledge of anthropology and a high kick to make Bruce Lee nod with approval; both being led on a merry dance along some of the world’s more exotic leylines.

It is like an illness now. I can't stop. I've tried. I have read such things, oh such things, as a lover of literature should blush to remember. Classics sit unread on the bookshelf as I feverishly turn the pages of another epic jaunt through popular legend and conspiracy theory. I know all the best places to get a fix: jumblesales, charity shops; anywhere second hand books lurk, there you can find a good PDP. As I think of the School Fayre I’m organising, I find myself salivating at the prospect of getting my hands on the donated books before anyone else.

I don’t know why I’m in thrall to the PDB. They have outrageous plots, risible romance subplots and the kind of violence that I squeamishly have to skim over so it doesn’t give me nightmares. But they render me helpless to resist their call.

It reminds me of being 13 and discovering spy thrillers. I read every Len Deighton, John le Carre and Colin Forbes the school library had to offer. I would spend Saturday mornings cocooned in a duvet absorbing worlds of ciphers, dead drops and double agents. Happy, simple times. Teenage-me also read some decidedly iffy non-fiction works, or at least they hovered around one of the fuzzier borders of the fiction barrier. Yes, I owned a copy of “Chariots of the Gods” by the legendary Erik Von Daniken. Owned? I still own it. I can’t bear to throw it away. It’s from part of my life when a good Saturday night involved a bag of Woolies picnmix, scaring yourself witless with whispered stories about people who were never the same after Doing The Ouija Board, and daring each other to say the Hail Mary 100 times whilst looking in the mirror at midnight.

I suppose the PDB genre combines both of these teenage loves (there were no sparkly vampires in those days).  Reading them takes me back to a time before reality was so demanding, before responsibility, before 8am was a lie in. They let me put my anxious brain on hold for a little bit. However, this is my public acknowledgement that I must break their grip. Before I start discussing the Dogon’s knowledge of Sirius earnestly in pubs.

To complete this confession, here is a list of all the PDB’s I have read recently. I have rated each one on the DaVinci Absurdity Scale, where a score of 1 Leonardo represents an enjoyable occult thriller and 5 Leonardos indicate a book so preposterous Russell Grant would treat it with contempt.

You may laugh and judge me. It’ll be like therapy.