Monday, 7 November 2011
“I wouldn’t last very long here,” admitted Sandy Nairne, director of London’s National Portrait Gallery after spending the morning at a primary school in Hackney, east London.
Nairne was visiting Jubilee Primary School as part of a “job swap” organised by the Cultural Learning Alliance, an initiative where senior staff working in education and the arts spend a day shadowing each other to see what different jobs entail and to discuss new ways of introducing children to culture.
The minute-by-minute demands of headteacher Jacqueline Bruton-Simmonds’ working day clearly made a huge impact on Nairne. As Lucy Kellaway wrote in her Financial Times piece about the swap (above), the head’s day began with an 8am staff meeting, then continued through a whirlwind of teaching, observing classes, discussing everything from teacher training to school heating and talking to parents. “Headteachers have two jobs,” she explained. “We are managers and we teach children. We have to squeeze it (all) in.”
I’ve long thought that if politicians, business leaders and celebrities tried their hand at teaching they’d soon discover that it’s an awful lot harder than it looks. I’ve taught in schools and colleges in the past and it’s the trickiest thing I’ve ever done. For a start, today’s children, the internet generation, are very demanding pupils. As a teacher, you can’t simply stand at the front and deliver a “chalk and talk” lesson – or you’ll bore your class to tears and they’ll switch off. You have to devise interesting lessons, keep the students’ attention and ensure they actually learn something along the way.
When I interviewed teacher Oenone Crossley-Holland about her book on the stresses and strains of working at an inner-city school, she told me: “When you’re working in a school in a challenging area there are no quick fix solutions. You have to have a whole toolbox of different methods you use every single day, every single lesson and every single minute.”
And as the brilliant Channel 4 series Educating Essex showed, teachers juggle so many different roles. As well as helping teenagers to achieve at least five A*-C GCSEs, teachers like the wonderful Mr Drew, deputy head at Passmores School in Harlow, Essex, also have to support them through problems like bullying, family breakdown, friendship issues, teenage pregnancy and many more.
Headteacher Vic Goddard stressed that his teachers refuse to give up on their pupils. “If we just permanently exclude students when the going gets tough, who is going to redirect these young people to avoid them becoming the underbelly of our society in the future?” he said. “Being a headteacher is about moral purpose and ensuring I can look myself in the eye in the morning when I do up my tie, knowing that we have done all we can to ensure that every student has a future that can contribute to society positively.”
It's an approach that clearly works.
Thursday, 3 November 2011
Soon after the coalition government was formed David Cameron and Nick Clegg announced their intention to delay morning cabinet meetings so they could help with the school run.
But in this week’s Grazia interview the PM said he doesn’t take his two school-aged children to school as much as he used to, though he does try and do it once a week. “...every morning there are priority meetings and phone calls,” he told interviewer Jane Moore, “so you’re endlessly being squeezed...”
Well, welcome to real life. David Cameron is far luckier than most of the working population because he lives “above the shop” and can dash upstairs to the flat above No 10 for a cuddle with baby daughter Florence in between meetings. If you’re running a small business or working as a teacher (don’t forget, it’s the last episode of Channel 4’s fantastic Educating Essex tonight) there’s no way you can break off during the day and pop home.
For most of us, working means a lot of hard graft and endless compromises. Six years ago my husband was working on his computer in our freezing cold attic. He was in between jobs at the time and suddenly came rushing downstairs at top speed. He’d had an amazing new idea for an ingenious hi-tech system that helps to reduce water leakage. Not the glamour end of the market, but pretty damn smart all the same.
All this time later, his eureka moment has resulted in a fully-fledged company 70 miles from home that’s helping to save vast quantities of water around the world. There’s still a long way to go, but to get this far at all he’s had to work flat out seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. He’s missed parents’ evenings galore, cancelled holidays at short notice and hardly ever took our children to school. But then again, if he had helped with the school run, his company wouldn’t exist at all – let alone be employing anyone or making a major contribution to saving water.
I’m sure he’s not the only parent who’s made sacrifices. In fact he’s probably very typical of so many working parents.
Nick Clegg said last year that children often miss out on time with their dads and highlighted research showing that “where fathers are involved in their children’s lives they develop better friendships, they learn to empathise, they have higher self-esteem, and they achieve better at school.” Well yes, but this isn’t something you can fix through legislation or by insisting fathers (sorry, but it is usually the dads) get home in time to put the children to bed. Working parents simply have to make time for their children when they are at home.
PS: After reading my blog about the forthcoming RCA Secret exhibition yesterday, a reader asked what I’d bought in previous years. I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember who the artists are but the two prints we bought are pictured above, in their full glory. Sad to say, they are not by Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin.