No more, really, than a glorified retweet: Playing by the Book have an interesting little blog post on the wonderful Katie Morag stories; the post is well worth a read, and linked here. Zoe Toft challenges the reader/reviewer (and perhaps most of all a prospective publisher) to look at  landscape and setting and see how enriching the particulars can be: the universal may have its appeal, but so does sorting shells with a light box.

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My main idea – there aren’t many – for tomorrow (Thurs 30th, School of Education Hallowe’en Seminar) is to look at the notion of the oath suggested by practice in Singapore and by Tristram Hunt on his return from his visit there. There is plenty to look at in the history and folklore of transgression and retribution, and I hope I have the balance of fun and reflection right.

I will also note that Hunt seems to have “rowed back” from his original, rather bullish statements about an oath and a compass (see my previous post) and is now quoted as saying:

“Taking such an oath would be voluntary and would reinforce the teacher’s commitment to professional development, a symbol of their continued willingness to seek out learning opportunities to make them a better teacher for their students.”

It is, of course, possible that the original reportage was a misrepresentation of his views*.

What I would now have liked to add in (and since the presentation is already written and would require a lot of work today in time I don’t have), would be to reflect on quite what, in this largely unobjectionable vow from Singapore, exercised us all so much – and to do so by looking at what is, in effect, a plea from James Mannion in his blog that we should look at the big questions.  We do tend to look at the smaller stuff, the changeable and annoying bits that politicians present as panaeceas, when what James asks us to do is explore question such as:

  • Where lie the boundaries of current discourses around education?
  • How does this differ from educational discourses throughout history?
  • What paths in the current discourse are well-worn – and are there areas where we no longer dare tread?

He is quite right. The notion of moaning at Tristram Hunt’s proposed oath instead of asking (as James does) “If you could design an education system from the ground up – to what extent would it resemble the one we have?” maybe just reduces us to the role I am saying we dread: moaning zombies.




*NB: this quotation has been edited by me for grammar and clarity. 

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Alethiometers for All?

Philip Pullman has written some terrific ideas into his “his Dark Materials” trilogy: dust, daemons, armoured bears. Today I was reminded of the Truth-reader, the Alethiometer, the Golden Compass which Lyra the protagonist uses to discern what is happening in various situations.

I was reminded of the compass image by this article on Tristram Hunt’s mission to give teachers an ennobled sense of their profession. The “moral compass,” it would seem, is to be at the heart of Tristram Hunt’s vision of what teachers do: they hand it on.  In the ceremony ( if that’s what’s envisaged: see my posts on liturgy and graduation), newly professed teachers would be given a compass as a symbol that the role of a teacher is “to provide a sense of moral purpose and virtue to young people”.

“There is a teacher’s oath about continuing to learn and to pass on the love of learning.

“I’m very attracted by this notion of having almost a Hippocratic oath about the meaning and purpose of teaching,” he said.

“It’s bolstering the moment of qualification and the meaning of qualification – what it means to become a teacher.

“That seems to be an important idea that we want to explore.

“It can’t just be a gimmick – it has to be part of a commitment to professional development and career pathways.”

The commitment to year-on-year improvement is not to be sneezed at, especially if a new Labour government sees this as a commitment to support teachers’ access to high quality postgraduate study and really effective CPD. I worry that this vision of Hunt’s is a bit of conjuring to move the duty to teachers and away from hard-pressed school budgets.

I also worry quite what a “moral compass” is.  A real compass points to a True North. It smacks of an absolute moral right-or-wrong set of beliefs so that ,when we think about “truth” and “morality”,  teachers are being asked to reproduce a catechism of moral choices, rather than to encourage young people to enquire and challenge, to find standards and values to follow. An Alethiometer is much more of a meditation tool, a mechanised (and non-religious) I Ching that challenged Lyra to think, to reflect.  Pullman is too clever a writer to make this a simple set of instructions in machine form.  ‘”It tells you the truth,'” the Master of Jordan College tells her. ‘”As for how to read it, you’ll have to learn by yourself.”‘

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National Poetry Day III

Just to record how wonderful the Poetry Reading event was, with contributors from international students, undergrad interns, members of staff and our close friends.

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National Poetry Day II



..Happily ever after.

That’s the story, but in this case,
The wolf wins,
Jack the Giant Killer falls
No youngest son outsmarts the shadows;
in this case the most that can be said
of those left
of those eager to believe
of the listeners at the doors of faith,
yes the most that can be said is

And they lived…


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National Poetry Day I

Without comment:

In Illo Tempore


The big missal splayed

and dangled silky ribbons

of emerald and purple and watery white.


Intransitively we would assist,

confess, receive. The verbs

assumed us. We adored.


And we lifted our eyes to the nouns.

Altar stone was dawn and monstrance noon,

the word rubric itself a bloodshot sunset.


Now I live by a famous strand

where seabirds cry in the small hours

like incredible souls


and even the range wall of the promenade

that I press down on for conviction

hardly tempts me to credit it.


Seamus Heaney

From Station Island

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Language, culture and education – a quick advert

Just to draw the eye of anyone who might read this to a series of lunchtime discussions at Harcourt Hill:
Oct. 8th 12.0 – 1.00 Dr. Andrie Yiakoumetti The World in the classroom Room AG/09

Why English? First and second language choices and policies
Which English? English as a lingua franca, English as an International Language and World Englishes
Should teachers of English be teachers of culture?

Oct. 22nd 12.0 – 1.00 Dr. Randall Holme The Language Learner: changing methods Room AG/09

What do language teachers need to know about language learners?: Appropriate methodology and learner contexts..
Why should second language acquisition research matter to the language teacher?

Nov. 5th 12.0 – 1.00 Dr. Paul Wickens The English language: changing methods Room AG/09

How is the corpus changing what we know about English? What does that mean for teaching English?
What should teachers know about language?

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Another tweet-and-a-half and no more, instead of a longer post.

Rosemary Roberts once described nursery as “plenty of interesting things to do and plenty of people to do them with,” if I recall her correctly. And here we are at the tail end of summer, working frantically (this brief post is by way of respite!) to make sure that Monday goes as smoothly as possible.

University: interesting things to study and people to study with. Monday: enrolment and induction.

Talks are organised, classes (for some postgrads) set up, their photocopying done: all that is in place. So what else is there? How do we ensure that people joining us feel “held” (to use the phrase a credit-entry year three student used last year)?

What are the messages from nursery?
Is there nothing like milk and cookies and a rest?

Well, there are and there aren’t.

I think the key is that staff understand what transition is. They get the importance of the rite of passage, and the dominance of the institution. They know your change into a student on this course or that is a reinvention, at one level, and that this may not be instant – maybe that it should not be instant.

A concept of transition trajectories lets us acknowledge that successful transitions may take time, that children [read: students] deal differently with transitions and that prior experience needs to be take into account.

Janet Moyles: Beginning Teaching, Beginning Learning

University can be an institution larger and more impersonal than you may be used to – but it is staffed by real people, who are contactable, people with whom you can communicate, who care (dare I say it?) about you and your learning.

Next week will bewilder and alienate, just as it does when you are two and go into a massive room full of busy, bigger children and adults you don’t know. Do what one of my granddaughters did this week just gone: find something to do that you like, make sure you can find coffee and books and a computer, or someone who looks like they will be OK.  Attachments are important; place is important; activity is important. Transitions are key: just remember amid the forms and room changes and institutional hiccups that your tutors know this and are there to support you.

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The future of Nursery Schools: Tuesday morning’s adjournment debate in Parliament

This is a very, very quick post to push on Julian Grenier’s plea that people should write to their MPs about the future of the Nursery School.

This is the link to his blog: which contains all you need, from suggested text through to the “Contact Your MP” link.


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Expect scuffles

The short but clever blog post from Gareth E Rees raises some interesting questions about public landscape and memory, using the insights of memorials.

I won’t spoil the impact by citing the neat ending, much as I’d like to share it, but the notion of memory is an important one. “Jodie” and “Duncan” – or Mrs A, Mr B, Chris and Deb, Ena, whoever – being remembered brings with it a certain appropriation, Gareth maintains. He may be right: I sit on a bench in this park and know that the view was appreciated by someone else.

Of course, I don’t mind that. Lucy Boston’s Green Knowe series of books are meditations on her house and its history, and are built on just this point, for example.

The bigger questions around landscape and myth, however, that I’ve explored before, impinge here, particularly when we think of landscapes as mutable. Can we alter this view, when Fred loved it so much? And more particularly, can we acknowledge the manes, lares et penates of previous inhabitants?

There is a bench I know that overlooks an old gravel pit and a railway siding. In the misty moisty, mornings of September it is beautiful: quiet, with grebes, mallards, the occasional plop of a fish or the silent flight of a heron. The bench has a commemoration on it.  The commemoration does not, I presume, remember when the gravel pit was in full operation, or when a local railway line ran through what is now the park. It remembers Mrs X “who loved this spot” for much the same reasons as many people do now. Her ghost, if you like, resonates with current feeling.

Another ghost, perhaps, of the Neolithic marsh dwellers of South Oxford, or the Normans who built their Grand Pont across the wetland might want to contest her view, our view. Where does our conservation stop? Whom do we recognise? Where does conservation of a nineteenth or twentieth century landscape become a matter of public interest? How do we represent landscape as mutable without laying in open to any and every change – or recognise that change is not always bad?

And can [children's] literature represent this mutability and beauty at one and the same time?

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