Not Quite Bold Enough Beginnings

This is going to be just a blog post in preparation for the discussion I’m going to have with the Brookes 3-7 Pathway PGCE students this week. I think it’s important we read Bold Beginnings together and take a close look not only at its implications but at some of the voices raised against it. Here are some, for reference:

Kym Scott in Nursery World, is here, suggesting that “a very clear political agenda for introducing more formal learning” is at the heart of Bold Beginnings. There is that: the storm crows are gathering, maybe. TACTYC talk of how adherence to recommendations in Bold Beginnings will [sic] have detrimental effects on children’s confidence, motivation and disposition to learn.

Jan Dubiel from Early Excellence – again in Nursery World – expresses concern that EYFS’ “clear set of expectations and outcomes in order to ensure that YR provides the most effective and significant learning opportunities” are narrowed by Bold Beginnings  which “creates a very real danger of misinterpretation and the limiting of effective practice to achieving outcomes in three Specific Areas of Learning and Development at the expense of the importance of the wider YR curriculum.”  Jan cites his organisation’s Hundred Review and its findingshere he is in video format reporting on the massive sample size and other methodological issues.  He is right, I believe,  to talk about how “Reception almost lives between two worlds.” Here is the tension. It was the same issue that exercised me as a Head, in the last days that many free-standing nursery schools had five year olds, and I’m not sure that, even with Forest School and everything else we worked with, it was quite right. I understand this remains a contentious area of education.

CREC  likewise gave Bold Beginnings a Paddington-like long, hard stare, as I read it; in their response the Centre there is a clear key message:

Emerging developmental evidence reveals that an ‘earlier is better’, more formal, didactic approach may be misguided and will not make a difference in the long term. In contrast to the focus on early, didactic instruction, current research into early emotional and cognitive development suggests that long-term well-being and success at school may be more dependent on children developing executive functioning and self-regulation abilities, and exercising autonomy in their learning. The evidence sharply indicates that play and participatory approaches should be seen as key vehicles for learning throughout the early years.

That long-standing bastion of quality in the Early Years, the British Association for Early Childhood Education (founded by the great Margaret McMillan in 1923) calls Bold Beginnings a “hit and miss affair,” and I suppose that’s my view. A curate’s egg. – but remember that the joke there is the luckless curate is desperate to find something good in the face of someone in power. Here the situation is somewhat different, and  ITT and our trainees need to read, to ponder, to see direction of travel, isthat we are aware not just of policy but of its practical implications. There are good thing here – transition, the mention of play in a number of contexts, the highlighting of confusion (dispowerment?) about time allocations. And we have to take voices that raise concern seriously.

So on to OfSTED’s report. It is drawn from their analysis of practice in the schools OfSTED has deemed of high quality, visiting 41 schools. While we might be a little nervy about a self-justifying methodology here, I suspect readers will understand this is their way of working: an internal piece of review not an EdD.

It is clear the authors see that “Reading was at the heart of the curriculum in the most successful classes. Listening to stories, poems and rhymes fed children’s imagination, enhanced their vocabulary and developed their comprehension.”  There is, maybe, a lack of clarity further down the summary where the authors state (time for a long quotation):

 “The schools visited understood that teaching had different purposes. Play, for example, was used primarily for developing children’s personal, social and emotional skills. They learned to investigate the world around them, both physically and imaginatively. However, around two thirds of the staff inspectors spoke to confused what they were teaching (the curriculum) with how they thought they were supposed to teach it.

To pick some holes for starters. We might look at “play was used” and the broader issues about quite what play is. I suspect the authors think “fun activities” set up by the teacher equates to the classic Tina Bruce Free-Flow Play model, or that play is primarily a space to hang out with your friends: a “playtime”or “break” model of play. This is where it gets tricky, because I begin to worry that what we have in Bold Beginnings is a battle zone, where Teaching and Play a Balancing Act is in a struggle with a more formal model, and where ‘no one way’ (here is a compilation video but I note it has been archived) is set aside for a more authoritarian involvement. I have written about this before.  This shift in itself seems to contradict a recent TES Blog. Again, here is the message on YouTube. How we think about play- and how we prepare for an OfSTED inspection when we value it highly – was one of the tensions that worried me most in 2000 in my own last inspection as a Head: I had a sympathetic Lead Inspector who instructed me very firmly not to dress up for them. We might also note the confusion between curriculum, used here to denote the intentions of the adult, and complexities around ethos, approach, professional judgments around what is developmentally appropriate…

But let’s not. There are some great things here: singing, reading for pleasure and loving stories, CPD, extra support for SENDI… But for me, Bold Beginnings simply isn’t bold enough: in wanting to divide Reception from the rest of the Foundation Stage, it doesn’t bring Early Childhood Education (Birth to Eight) together: it highlights some good practice, but is in danger of plonking four and five year olds on the other side of a Primary/EY watershed.

It is undoubtedly important, in Jan Dubiel’s words, that we should all be about the business of finding “a broad consensus on what the priorities and practices in YR should be,” and Gill Jones from OfSTED (30th Nov, again in Nursery World) is equally passionate about how important this experience is. However, she is not above taking the “not good enough” line that educators have heard so often from OfSTED, from Ministers (in all parties, I think):

But too often it is a false start for young children and leaves them exposed to all the painful and unnecessary consequences of falling behind their peers…

Primary schools should be introducing an element of formal teaching in Reception. It should not just be an extension of pre-school…

Gill Jones stresses “we are not criticising pre-schools, nurseries and childminders.” Just Reception teachers, then. Bit of a faux pas that one, I’m afraid, but let’s move on, because this lays bare for me the problem with the whole debate. We are back with (I think it was) Ken Clarke saying that it was “time to set aside the happy chaos of sandpit and water tray.” She is echoing the key, revelatory speech of Amanda Spielman of the same date.

So we come to what I am posting this for: the glancing blow from Headteachers that NQTs are ill-prepared for key parts of their task. Read, mark and inwardly digest.

I do like the recommendation that all Primary trainees should

have sufficient knowledge of Reception, so that they understand progression from the early years foundation stage onwards

In other words that “they know nothing when they come to me” should be a phrase that dies the death.

I am less sure of the emphasis in the next point, that ITT should:

devote a greater proportion of their training programme to the teaching of reading, including systematic synthetic phonics as the route to decoding words, and the composition of numbers, so that all newly qualified teachers are competent and confident to teach early literacy and mathematics.

(OfSTED emphasis). If we think back, we were told earlier this year EY didn’t do enough nursery rhymes. We can do both, I know, and maybe the are intimately linked –  and this one will run and run, and really here we need to look at the messages far more than my opinion. I just don’t like the the, I suppose.

But to end on a (sort of) positive note from Bold Beginnings:

Play was an important part of the curriculum in all of the schools visited. The headteachers knew which aspects of learning needed to be taught directly and which could be learned through play. However, except for literacy and mathematics, the schools were not clear about the time they devoted in a typical week to the different areas of learning.

Clarity and self-reflection: the key to an effective profession.

And this is the challenge for us as we prepare more people for the key work at the disputed end of the Foundation Stage. Language development, including reading and writing, is key, absolutely key to my work, and has been since I first went into my Reception class in the late 80s: it continues to be. I agree that we all together need to “raise the profile of early mathematics teaching” although I am less sure about adopting a formalised one-size-fits-all approach. I also agree that school A may limit play to Golden Time (aka “leave me alone: it’s your reward for being compliant” whereas school B may have the space, staff and expertise to organise for much more exploration by children and with them. This is the challenge for Heads, for Phase Leaders, for Governors, for ITE – and ultimately, my PGCE students for you: if OfSTED are right (and they most assuredly are) that the wellbeing and progress of the children is at the heart of a quality curriculum, that’s the baton we are all passing on to you. Learn to enunciate your support, your objections, your insights in all sorts of directions in such a way that you do not lose sight of the child you joined the profession to teach.

 

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Nature Books

The AHRC Favourite Nature Books project closes its nominations at the end of November. I made a nomination in the end, but with a very heavy heart: it felt like taking one book and saying goodbye to the others. I am wary of lists, as I’ve said before, back in April. However, I do feel I want to record some of the books I considered, a sort of cheat list of ten books I have thought about as contenders for my “favourite.”

  • Rob and Jackie’s The Lost Words
  • Roger Deakin Wildwood
  • Caspar Henderson The Book of Barely Imagined Beings
  • Oliver Rackham’s Woodlands
  • Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts Edgelands
  • Philip Hoare The Sea Inside
  • Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
  • Richard Fortey Life: an unauthorised biography
  • Richard Mabey Weeds
  • Robert Macfarlane Landmarks

and of course there are others I’m sure I’ve overlooked. I couldn’t really decide: we live in an age where Nature Writing (if we want to think of this as a genre: there’s an essay there for starters!) is of a very high quality and justifiably well promoted. There were criteria in this selection, in that I wanted to choose only one from each author but cheated with Robert Macfarlane because of how different Landmarks is from Lost Words and is anyway the latter is a joint creation – but in the end I wonder how different they are…

But I didn’t include writings that indirectly provoke me to think about nature – novels, for example – or poetry, so no Heaney or Thomas.  So that indirect provoking also means no Garner, no Cooper, no Paver, no Pullman… I noticed after I’d compiled it  that there are no children’s books unless Lost Words counts.

This is a lot harder than it looks, but at least my one nomination is in, for what it’s worth.

It was Landmarks, in case you wondered. I just can’t think of the other nine (and then some) not getting washed up on the desert island.

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Outdoor Learning – “Lost like my name…”

The poem by Fuller I cite in one of the research diary posts on Looking for Ludchurch is there to underline how important this project is – and how when we invest something with credibility or significance, we give it power to make or mar us. I am still in the process of digesting it all. The entries for the Wild Spaces, Wild Magic visit days take me through a process I am clear I have not yet finished:

The First is a poem I am still unsure of, although colleagues and friends have been kind.

The Second was the visit to Thursbitch, so unlike what had come before (blogged in detail here) it almost – almost – was not the same place. Except Mat and I sat in Thoon.

The Third is the account of the first visit as people better prepared to the Green Chapel. I remain wary of identification of the place, but with Ralph Elliott’s book, with Garner in our ears, with the Google project to do, this was another different experience.

The pace and tone changes in the Fourth, for Friday afternoon, when Debbie arrives, Mat comes back from Ludchurch, Roger and Jane arrive and with as little commentary as possible we take our new visitors up to the Green Chapel. Then that evening read together the stanzas of the Gawain poet.

Saturday morning, grey skies and a last whole-group visit to Ludchurch: this is my Fifth diary entry, the one I have most difficulty with. Not that it was bad, in any way – but I needed to set the order of event out clearly.

Entry Six is my attempt to recount the visit that stays with me, my walk alone up through the evening wood to say goodbye to the Green Knight, and to reflect on how challenging that- and the writing and thinking of the day – had all seemed.

Why “a language learned but nothing understood/Lost like my name within the magic wood”? Because Caliban’s despair at his lot echoes my own impatience: I want to write weighty, interesting pieces, to communicate my utter love for this valley in the autumn, for the myths that run through it (and other places such as along the Ridgeway) or for the people I worked with this weekend in Gradbach – and yet I see that so often my image of myself gets knocked when I try, and I end up somewhere as intellectually or spiritually or emotionally magical as writing about literature and landscape but feel disempowered. Like Gawain I have  “groned for gref and grame” (line 2502); all the tricks of academia are at my disposal, just like all the trappings of knighthood are for Gawain – but we both return with a simpler lesson. I read the message to be to stop posing and get on. 

So I’m back, and now the work starts: turning this – all this – into papers, into projects for students, into return trips.  This is, after all, what we went out into the wilderness to do.

 

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Green Thoughts, Green Shades, Green Knights

What sort of journey does Gawain go on?  I asked this when thinking about the interior and exterior journeys in children’s literature and traditional tales. Today – cold as cold, but sunny even in the woods as the leaves lose their grip – I was struck by the challenge in how I ask my students to take some time alone and quiet in the woods. No ‘phone, no eye contact with one another, just ten minutes (today five, since they were so cold) stood or sat alone in the sunshine of a little wood.

I do this because one of the dominant things when we think about outdoors is the opportunity for boisterous play – the “let kids be kids” argument is full of this. However, I saw this picture of one of my class and suddenly remembered a little girl who “played camping” all one long summer afternoon in a nursery garden. I repeatedly asked her if she was OK, if she needed anything, and she always smiled and said “no.” Letting humans be human is often about the powerful and energetic ways we interact; today’s shelter building and “One Two Three Where Are You?” games were great examples of this. But to “be” outside may also need time: time to listen to the angry little wren, the panic of a jackdaw, the wary crackle of feet (a hoof, I suspect) in the undergrowth. Time to not listen to me melling on, or to the demands of social media –

till what I find, I find
because it’s there

as John Burnside puts.

Rachel Kaplan‘s sustained work on the benefits of being outdoors (for example here)  emphasises the restorative effects of being out in nature.  She is also clear you don’t need a wood, and I can understand that.  I might contend that these forays into expansive environments also can/might include a spiritual encounter – with silence (or, as the students today identified, a lot of different, smaller noises), with our own feelings and intentions. For some this is familiar, welcome; for others, I know from debriefing this activity in the past, it might entail a confronting of an individual’s own discomfort. What sort of journey  do we go on to our respective Green Chapels, and what might we find? Time to be alone with (or without) our thoughts can lead to all sorts of different paths and encounters – even in five minutes in an autumn-cold wood.

 

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We’re (still) Not Scared

Politicians in the latest attacks on Higher Education have stated that we should be “accountable” for what we teach. I am not shrinking from the veiled threats here; this is not a bear I am frightened to meet. Indeed I don’t think I’ve ever taught about Brexit except to deplore the disjuncture between Fundamental British Values and recent reports of increasing xenophobia and homophobia.

However, in case we are to face a purge from those who see themselves as our Lords and Masters (sc. to include our Ladies and Mistresses) here is a list of possible offences (they are bit inconsistent, and I have deliberately mixed them up so no priority is visible) I may wish to have taken into account:

I am a traditionalist; I believe, with the founding mothers and fathers of Early Childhood Education, in the role of the imagination, in art, in play and being outdoors;
Funding is linked to taxation of society and intimately connected to society’s duty to work for the good of all;
Libraries are a good idea;
It’s not down to Reception;
Knowledge is a vital component in education;
Staff-student ratios are key to interactions, themselves key to quality;
There is no single action that makes children readers;
Children’s rights are human rights;
Schools as organisations are on the whole staffed by people with energy and vision;
Class and social capital matter;
Qualifications do not ensure quality;
School uniform is about control;
English spelling has evolved under a number of influences that are not always internally consistent;
Some children’s lives are deeply shit and even where that is not our fault as educators it is our responsibility;
You can learn more about children’s learning by going out for a walk with them than by quizzing them about how they match data projections;
Planning and data may inform but are not in se quality at any level of teaching;
Developmentally appropriate practice is an ethical position, not the whim of “middle class do-gooders;”
Skills and attitudes are vital components in education;
Children’s chances are not improved by debates that distract teachers: trad/prog is too often poisonous timewasting by the pedagogologues;
Reading high-quality children’s literature is enlightening for adults as well as children;
Politicians (of any persuasion) who seek to pontificate about education should be invited to spend considerable time in schools that have not been smartened up for their arrival.

Bite me.

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We’re Not Scared

Bear Hunt is an improbable book: wonderful, but not really a narrative of an afternoon’s outing. The children move through a variety of landscapes and seasons in a re-playing of an older nursery game (with possible variants about lions, guns &c.) and we are not, I think expected to view this narrative as reliable. Grassy hills in summer, mud flats, forests, snow and then to a seaside cave: wild, funny, incongruous, and fantastically depicted by Helen Oxenbury.  It is open, therefore, to a lot of very playful interpretations – and therein lies some of its strength: the rhythms and the scenarios carry us along to the encounter with the bear and then back again.  There could be debate about why the bear chases them, too – and whether it is hungry or lonely as it returns to its lair at the end. Michael Rosen’s own energetic performance of it differs from my own; I suspect everyone who has shared this with a child or a group of children will have done something similar: a pace-change here, an inflection there.

I might as well shrug and say “literature is like that.”

But one reason why literature allows so many interpretations is that we each bring to any interpretive act – reading, walking the landscape, whatever – the acts that have come before it.

And so Bear Hunt presents itself to me afresh as I prepare for my next encounter with the Big Thing we might suggest is not dissimilar to a bear in  a cave: the dwelling of the  Thurs (þyrs) that gives us Thursbitch.  In that light the bear is a figure of terror as it is often in folktales, and actually that’s how I first read the Rosen-Oxenbury collaboration. Children, the innocent protagonists, play out a possible trespass and run home. Red Riding Hood’s great-grandchildren have to learn the lesson for themselves.

Ludchurch

Photo from Oct 16 of first visit to

When we went to Ludchurch that feeling of trespass was not so much one of danger as of nefas, of the unhallowed intruding. The Green Chapel was a place of wonder, and if it is the site of Gawain’s encounter with the Green Knight, I can understand why. A place of awe and wonder – but also one from which Gawain returns chastened, wiser.

The next day’s expedition in the fog to Thursbitch felt different.

Here is Garner’s own evocative description of his visit not only to Thursbitch, but to the elusive Thoon above it:

At high noon in high summer, Thursbitch is visually different from the first visit, when I didn’t notice the bump on the horizon. Now I did. In the two-mile stretch of the valley, this outcrop is the only interruption of the peat ridge. We went to look.

It’s an extraordinary feature, entirely geological: a natural recess, shelter and cave, above a confluence of waters at a ford.

The combination of a natural cave above a confluence of waters at a ford made sense. In my background reading I’d discovered that such a place was the one most favoured by a þyrs.

When I – we –  went there I was definitely a bit spooked, and it wasn’t a beautiful day: this was my account. Our haste at leaving felt more like a dismissal than being chased – and yet the dreams that followed certainly suggested I had felt more menaced than I had let on.  To borrow Garner’s words “A novel may be finished. A journey is not.” Which is why I am sitting in a busy University atrium, planning the next trip – and why, thinking about We’re Going on  Bear Hunt makes me wonder: trespass and return is a powerful theme, and if Garner’s mastery of his narrative means there is, in some sense, no return for the protagonists in his novel, this is an arabesque on the more familiar plot line: leaving home, trespass and initiation are deep-seated in our communal storytelling psyche.

Bear Hunt retains power as a story not only because of the lovely illustrations and the driving, rhythmic storytelling – and it does have both of those – but because it taps into a deep source. The children are Red Riding Hood’s descendants; they are also Gawaine’s.

 

 

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Yellow Skies and Red Suns

Monday 16th October:

What a day today has been! And while words like “apocalyptic” were bandied about on Twitter, the epic skies made me think not only only of texts like this manuscript of Beatus of Liébana’s commentary on the Apocalypse , with its rich and terrifying visions of the end of all things, but of the icon gold of Jackie Morris’ art work in The Lost Words.  The icon is important here,  the translation of the Divine into the here and now.  I remembered the colours in the Corfu Icon Museum and the gold in the Palatine Chapel in Palermo and Monreale Cathedral in Sicily. It is as if I am back with de Hamel and the Remarkable Manuscripts again: so much beauty.  Back to myth and might-have-been.

I have said I won’t review The Lost Words, although I have commented on it, notably in response to Rob McFarlane’s wonderful essay and on the original movement around excising words from the dictionary.  My avoiding a “proper” review is partly because Dara McAnulty’s blog reviews it so much better than I could. I will however comment on this one other aspect of the work: how nature writing and art have an astonishing double edge to them, revealing the instant beauty of the thing or event, and at the same time revealing the “mystery…instressed, stressed,” that is at the heart of the icon, maybe at the heart of this book of spells and the pictures than conjure not only this kingfisher, those otters, but also an almost Platonic ideal. Nature -dare I personify it? – herself.

And maybe this is the revelation, an apocalypse: the eternity in the gold behind Jackie Morris’ kingfisher, the “quick now here now always” of Rob McFarlane’s Wren.

 

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Demotion

I didn’t really need to be so irritable about the fact that, at a recent NASUWT event, someone suggested returning to work after maternity leave might result in teaching younger children and that that could be seen as demotion. The Women Teachers’ Consultation Conference was set to highlight some of the inequalities around women returning to teaching, and didn’t need me mansplaining about all over the place.  But demotion was the word in their Twitter post – although I notice that it now seems to say that “Taking maternity leave is the factor which most detrimentally affects women teachers’ career development.” I hope this is an edit on their part, not an oversight on mine. Whatever it was, demotion flew round the corner of Early Years Twitter I frequent.

So briefly, here’s a few thoughts on demotion.

Coming back from maternity leave to a job with fewer prospects is not on for the woman concerned. Coming back to a job for which you are ill -prepared and into which you are an unwilling conscript is bad for the children. In these senses, coming back to teach a younger age group is very possibly discriminatory, and almost certainly a bad move from an SLT. I recognise what one respondent suggested that the NASUWT were trying, albeit ineffectively, to highlight injustice and poor judgement. However, the word demotion suggests something else: it carries with it the idea that working with a younger age group is an inferior task.

At a time when the notion of child-initiated learning/developmentally appropriate practice is called into doubt, and when the proposed revision of the Early Years Foundation Stage is already seeing territorial demands about what the profession needs, it seems to me, is a cohort of eloquent new teachers prepared to take up the challenge. Not to “fight” in some odd way for this or that (phonics, no phonics, a bigger sandpit, whatever), but to be able to pick up research and engage with it, to find the best practice and follow it, to enrich childhoods and build foundations, to show genuine interest in children beyond the tick sheet, to provide for burgeoning delight in reading and problem solving.  This cannot be done by using the language we already have of Early Years.

  • Down to Reception.
  • The Littlies.
  • The Rugrats Teacher.
  • “So, do you teach them anything?”
  • “How hard can it be?”

All phrases I’ve heard or had reported to me: this is the kind of disempowerment that goes with the word demotion. Cute is merely cute; forget Margaret McMillan and see Early Years as soft and cuddly -and rather expensive, now we come to think of it. Now I know school leaders who would excoriate anyone who suggested that this is how they viewed the Foundation Stage in their school, and defend the practice in their Early Years classes against the pedagogologues whose experience of Early Years is dropping off someone’s kids, or who see the Foundation Stage as an ineffective way of mirroring secondary Maths: bit that word demotion remains in my mind.

It is perhaps up to the older generation who have fought these status wars before (“Time to get away from the happy chaos of sandpit and water tray”) to give some thought to how we we should refer to the Early Years. The sharp end?  It is not demotion to go down to the Early Years; it should be a question of “Are you sure you’re up to it?”

Early Years teaching demands snap decisions about pedagogy, an understanding of children’s needs and a willingness to meet them, to decide how best to help form an understanding of behaviour and to impart this or that piece of knowledge. It’s teaching, for goodness’ sake. Let’s talk of it as such: the glorious, complex, busy world of Nursery and Reception (and KS1, too) that make possible the brilliant work that follows.

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More on lost words

When, a while back, I made a brief mention of the disappearance of some words from the Oxford children’s dictionary I acknowledged the limitations of the lexicographer, who needs to balance all sorts of needs. I also mourned (briefly) the way that “country” words might fade into ignoble disuse. Today, Robert Macfarlane picks up the linguistic gauntlet, reporting and critiquing a paper (which I must read) on the capacity of children to assimilate knowedge about real species, but contrasts this with what appears to be a preference for Pokemon,  which Macfarlane characterises as part of a “lack of natural literacy.” I could, maybe, try and contrast this with the walk I’ve just taken where 7yo granddaughter made up a song about conkers- but as I type, I see “conkers” is not recognised by my predictive text or spellchecker….

His writing is detailed, moving, insightful, and ranges from Barker’s Flower Fairies through Le Guin and Garner. I feel, as I read Rob’s thoughts in the paper, that I have been trotting behind him for a long while, as well as looking at other stuff along the way, and am looking forward to hearing him and Jackie Morris as part of their book tour for Lost Words. His name-checking of authors and critics we both admire – or that a growing community that I am amazed to find I inhabit with him, and Mat, and the great Alison Lurie and others all have read – is enlightening about how a scholarly community  is constituted, made up of links and lines as complex as a set of ecological interrelationships.

Jackie Morris explains the evolution of the new book.  Here is her blog post on the book, itself well worth a read, and she explains how the vision for their new book moved from protest letter through initial conceptions of a “children’s book” through to something rich and strange. I am looking forward to buying my own, and to having it signed in due course…

But this essay in the paper takes me further, and I am immensely grateful. It seems to me that we (whoever that comprises, but I hope it means me, and Mat, and The Landreader project, as well as bigger  names) are no longer marginal children’s lit ecocritics, but part of a bigger movement of eco-literacy. I feel a call, if not to arms, then at least to get my critical compass out, to set out again (and again) on the paths that lead from the crossroads where The Chaperon Rouge meets B’zou, to where Gawain meets the Green Knight – and back again, through the riches of folk tale and legend, through traditional tales and modern inventive fictions, so we can help people appreciate, in Macfarlane’s words, how “nature, naming and dreaming are all tangled together.”

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A Litany

“Who first made you want to be a teacher?”

A not dissimilar set of occurrences to the one I’ve discussed before about memory of books I have read springs immediately to mind. Here, rather than a narrative, is a brief litany of the saints whose practice suggested teaching (in some form or another) might be for me. Not included are those teachers whose dodgy or eccentric behaviour made me think “I could teach – but not like that”), nor yet those teachers who made a bad call and, for example, taught me I was useless at maths – so, sorry, Miss Thorn, Fr Lobo, Mr Lawson, Mr Foley, you gave me lots to think about, but your inclusion would have raised more questions for me.

Mrs Newsome: my kind and gentle Reception class teacher;

Mr Kilner: allowing drama and voice recording and C S Lewis more or less at the drop of a hat;

Mrs Rawlins, my Y6 teacher: for giving us the best end-of-day story times;

Mr Brown: you had no idea what you were getting from a very hands-on school to see me through the last, unhappy months of Primary – but you listened, and you tried and you talked to me and my parents;

Miss Parkinson: for allowing huge swathes of time to let Y7 and 8 be times where we all explored stuff together;

Mr Gunningham: for the Latin, and the patience, and the wit;

Fr Flannery: for the Latin and the Greek and the RE and the humorable impatience at our adolescence;

Mr Barlow: for not fitting the frame of teacher or Jesuit with much compliance but still getting us there with energy and engagement;

Mr (now Fr., and Professor) John Saward: for tutorials in which he displayed a real interest – and did so in meetings that extended well beyond the time allocated;

Fr Brian Findlay: every boy should have such a mentor. I think you can see some of his mannerisms in Ian Hislop and I have to admit a great deal of my fake erudition is put on in mimicking Brian’s real depth;

The great Maggie: her imaginative planning and ideas sustained me in my first job; her PGCE dissertation on ecology and storytelling sits on my office shelf and still gets read; her anecdotes are recycled in many of my lectures;

Leslie Grundy: visionary headteacher who made me want to do nursery and taught me how to do it;

Julie Fisher: who gave me the framework to try to put intelligent pedagogy into action;

and Brookes colleagues who taught or continue to teach me how to do it, day after day. But I’ll stop with just my first leader and mentor at Brookes, Helena Mitchell, so this doesn’t become an Oscars list.

Thank you to all of them, living and dead.

 

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