Tag Archives: teaching

Why I Changed my Mind on Grammar Schools

9 Sep

After a summer of relative calm in the education world, the new term has brought with it  yet another raft of announced changes from education minister Justine Greening and the new PM Theresa May. This time it’s a doozy: grammar schools are back. New free schools will have the option of selection, and existing schools may introduce selective processes into their existing admissions policies. The aim is to improve social mobility.

Many people have already written about why grammars don’t do anything of the sort but instead mainly cater to the middle classes. Loic Menzies of the ‘think-and-action tank’ LKMCo has a series of excellent posts on the topic, in particular his take-down of the ‘Uncle Steve defence‘ – the anecdotal evidence that Baby Boomers whip out to prove that grammars help bright but poor kids. If you want to see the hard data, he’s got it. For a more irreverent but nonetheless thorough exploration of the political background to the decision, I also recommend Disappointed Idealist. I’m not going to rehash all this, but I do want to offer a personal perspective on the issue.

You see, until a few years ago I might have been an Uncle Steve apologist. I was a grammar school girl. I happened to live in an area with one grammar for girls, and one for boys – not the full on 11+ system at work in other parts of Kent, but a significant watershed nonetheless. My parents were absolutely desperate for me to get in there. They wanted that social mobility for me – the status of being at grammar school, yes, but also what they thought would be a first class academic education of the type they themselves (for various reasons) hadn’t had access to/taken advantage of. In their view this was a ticket to the dream life. I remember my mum having a total meltdown on the day of the test because she forgot my invitation letter and felt she’d ‘ruined my life chances’. The Headmistress herself (a rather stern, birdlike creature who would waft into assembly in a full-on black gown and bang on about eagles and budgies) had to calm her down. “Madam, as long as you know your daughter’s name, we have no problems here.”

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Summer of Lesbian YA

14 Nov

A YA or MG novel featuring LGBTQIA+ characters but not focused solely on sexuality, suitable for teaching to 12/13-year-olds.

That’s what I was asked to find by my boss this summer, in an attempt to diversify our teaching and promote a more tolerant school community. Turns out it’s a really difficult brief to fit. Not only are there few novels featuring any LGBTQIA+ characters (although the number is growing – see Gay YA for a list), most are for an older audience. Whilst there is some debate to be had over whether it is right to seek out novels that don’t foreground sexuality, I also had to bear in mind that my boss wanted something that centred around something else.

With that in mind, I tried out four different books in the hope of selecting something that could be trialled with one of my classes (Year 8). As I work in a girls’ school, I decided to narrow my search to focus on female characters, and ended up choosing four novels with lesbian protagonists as they looked most promising in relation to the brief. The process turned out to be a lot of fun – I had not read many LGBTQIA+ YA books before, so it definitely broadened my reading horizons, as well as introducing me to new authors.

I read:

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What are 13-year-olds reading?

17 Jan

The YA community is always abuzz with news of trends and ‘big books’, so much so that it can be hard to follow what’s in and what’s out. As we know, a large part of this trade is driven by adult consumers, but we must remember that YA also includes the Y part of the equation!

At the moment I teach five ‘literacy’ lessons a week to different classes, which includes time for silent, individual reading. Now that I work in a girls’ school, the majority of the pupils really enjoy having the chance to choose and read their own books (in a mixed environment, this was more challenging – there were many boys who liked to read, but some others found it hard to settle and focus for extended periods, or to find something that suited their interests – I highly recommend the Guinness Book of Records for such occasions). There are still one or two in my current classes who are reluctant, but as I always say, you can’t possible ‘hate all books’ – you just haven’t found the right one yet!

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to post a snapshot of what one class of 13-year-old girls were reading this week, to give some insight into how the younger teens are engaging with YA (or not, as the case may be – many of their books would be considered MG). The results are interesting, and may surprise some people – overall, they suggest that what kids really want is something familiar and comforting, and that new releases are not necessarily foremost in their minds.

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‘Spreading privilege’: Why Gove is taking us back in time

25 May


The internet is abuzz this morning with news that Michael Gove is set to remove popular U.S. texts such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Crucible’ from Britain’s GCSE English Literature syllabus. To those of us who have been following developments in English closely, this comes as no surprise. Last year I submitted an essay for my M.A. on this very topic: to what extent does the Government’s current ideology of the literature curriculum seek to impose an ‘official culture’? I offer here a highly edited version, which I feel is pertinent to today’s debate. In a nutshell: it’s all about official culture, and that culture does not belong to the ordinary people.

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12 Nov

Since September I’ve been running a new writing club at school, in a desperate attempt to meld work with some of my outside passions. Today’s session was on creating character, for which we used games from Booktrust and Language is a Virus.

From a list of items including strawberries, a diary and a chandelier, I came up with Andrea:

Andrea drummed her heels into the tarmac, pushing herself relentlessly forward. The road stretched out before her, a river of grey shimmering in the L.A. heat that had swiftly grown fierce in the two hours since dawn.

“Father, father, father,” said the rhythm of her run.

Her mind skipped like a scratched disc from the palm trees ahead of her to the letter waiting on her dressing table at home. She’d recognised the handwriting immediately.

“Father, father, father.”

Where the hell had he been all these years? Couldn’t even be bothered to let her know he was still alive? Why now?

She pushed down a rising tide of angry bile. She had no idea what had gone on. Maybe he’d been in a flea-ridden foreign jail somewhere, busted for smuggling; maybe he’d been in a bad accident and developed amnesia and…

Why hadn’t she just read the letter before going out? Now she’d have to try and force down his likely apology with her usual strawberry, avocado and goji berry smoothie. The rest of her day would be ruined: her spray tan at ten, her yoga class at two and a long, silent dinner sitting at the other end of the dining table from Sachin, under twin chandeliers. Okay, that last one wasn’t exactly something to look forward to; her father’s confession might break up the monotony of her failing marriage at the very least.

Her hair tie slipped loose and her California-blonde waves fell in wafts of apple scented shampoo around her face. She was so busy scraping it back, she didn’t notice the car until it was too late.

The students came up with some brilliant ideas including a frustrated businesswoman (with dreams of saving the world) and a girl bullied at school for being too posh. I think they like having time to just sit and write, without any pressure of grades or levels – just the freedom of a pen and a blank page.

I quite like it too.

A Day in the Life

21 Feb

There are many of us teacher-writers out there – for some reason it is a popular choice. But what does the average teacher-writer day look like? Maybe a little something like this…

  • 5.45: Alarm rings. Groan. I can have five more minutes, right? Pleeease? Alright then. Five minutes later, haul carcass out of bed and pull on work clothes.
  • 6.10: Eat breakfast while catching up on twitter or reading the week-old copy of the Evening Standard on the kitchen table that I’ve already read four times.
  • 6.40: Realise I still need to make my lunch, pack my bag, find my shoes and put on some make-up…all in the next five minutes Continue reading