‘Born in the calm pool, protected from danger,
Well up from deep stone, valley cradles me tight.
Catch my breath, give a cry I tumble down freely,
I dance in the sunrise, the birth of the light.
So, where to start? Well, not at the beginning, not 1990, I think. For those readers unfamiliar with the Vale of the river Bride
I choose ‘Turn Towards Me’. This song paints a picture of my small river, from source at Bridehead to sea, twelve miles away at Freshwater where it carves through Chesil beach into Lyme Bay. It will give you a glimpse of, and an introduction to my home, the Bride and its valley.
It is the year 2004, just nudging into a new millennium and a time of great hope. A Labour government is promoting progressive education and social policy, and all seems rosy in Headteacherland. I left Burton Bradstock school a year earlier to take up a new Headship in Dorchester (but more on this in a future blog). On this memorable day I step from my house into Annings Lane and set off to walk to my old school, following the lane that runs alongside the Bride. I swear to you that I’ve worn a groove between my house and the school...could walk it in my sleep!
It is a beautiful, cloudless day, a gentle breeze carries softly the sound of waves washing sea-smoothed pebbles on Chesil beach. Early July sun sets the river shimmering and chicken waddle on the far bank, scrabbling comically for heaven knows what in the dusty soil. But my head is down. I have a deeply sad mood that cannot be lifted as much as the sunrise and scenery deserve. I feel the weight of a heavy heart, a sense of foreboding for the task that lays before me.
The mother of children who attended the school has succumbed to a terrible cancer and after a long struggle, has died. She owned a dog, a tan and white Springer Spaniel who, taking after his breed name used to bound and leap around her as they walked the banks of the river, her seeking peace as she struggled with deep sadness. My family knew her and her children as dear friends. Her qualities were immense, and the sadness she wrestled with was not self-pity, but driven by concern and grief, knowing her children will shortly be growing up without the guidance, love, care and support she thought would always be hers to give them.
I reach the end of Derby Lane and, instead of turning left toward my old school, I continue straight on, through the cool, shady limestone porch into the peace and quiet of St Mary’s Church. For you see, I’ve been asked by her family to write and deliver her eulogy, a great privilege, and a daunting responsibility.
The vicar waits for me. He has guided me over the past week in preparation and now assures me he will be behind me in the pulpit if I ‘lose it’ as I tell her story and celebrate her life in front of a church packed with friends, villagers and, most poignantly family including her devastated children, my pupils.
Well, dear reader, I do lose it. At the very end I am overwhelmed by grief. It surfaces, washes my eyes with tears and chokes my voice. I turn to the vicar to find him also overwhelmed and unable to help. Turning back, I struggle and finish, holding my gaze high on the arch of the dark oak doors behind the congregation.
Welcome to my world, dear reader (and hopefully listener). The life and times of a Headteacher with a ‘formal’ job description underpinned by expectations of educational achievement, financial probity and corporate management and an informal description that embraces the social, emotional and physical fabric of the entire school and its wider community. I loved every minute of my job, but as we all know, love embraces many emotions and carries us through challenges that at times seem overwhelming. In future blogs I aim to link songs that I have written, or the words of local poet, Douglas Northover to events that shaped me and my thirty years in the Vale of the Bride.
As for this song, ‘Turn Towards Me’ ...well it had its genesis in words and melody I composed for a Burton Bradstock school play in 1995. (More about this in a later blog) I repurposed the song after the funeral seeking to channel the emotions that came close to overwhelming me. Using threads from the eulogy I sought to shape words and phrases connecting the life and times of this wonderful woman and mother, to the River Bride’s own cycle of life.
This recording features the gentle voice of Remy, a local girl and was recorded by Robert Lee in Bridport
Coming up in my next blog…
‘These fields, these hills that feel my boots.
‘Tis here, deep down, you’ll find my roots…’
It’s the first day of the summer term 1990. After a restless night I make my way to my new school. First impressions are SO important when you start a new job, particularly when you’re the new boss and all eyes are on your every move…
Click to hear this blog
These fields, these hills that feel my boots.
‘Tis here, deep down, you’ll find my roots:
On shingled Chesil, changing sea,
the pages of my history.
Douglas Northover, Bride Valley Poet 1917-1991
This is quite a long blog, so if you’re impatient, or just here for the song, feel free to scroll down...I WONT be offended!!
Margaret Thatcher is in the final throes of her deep grip on the country. Throughout her rein the dominant role that educators and Local Authorities had held on the profession was being gradually weakened as government sought to gain control. There was no national curriculum, no parental choice, no public means of monitoring performance, no publication of examination results beyond what schools themselves chose to reveal. Computers and the internet played little part in daily school life and I relied on Roneo and Banda to duplicate worksheets...Emails were non-existent. All was set to change.
It is April 1990 and the early sun casts deep shadows. I make my way down Church Street to my new school, my second Headship at the grand old age of 38. Like anyone starting a new job I am conflicted, my excitement at the new challenge tempered by a nervously churning stomach! The old and relatively unmodernised Victorian schoolhouse is on my right, and in front of me a small bridge stretches over a stream...I am drawn to its calming sight and sound, a chance to have a moment of peace, to draw breath before I tumble headlong into my new life!
In the 1800’s a mill leat was channelled off the river Bride as it approached Burton Bradstock to power flax mills that back in the day, along with farming, milling and fishing provided the villagers with livelihoods. Flowing through the village, the waters of the leat wash my new school’s foundations, and it is here that, on my first morning as the new Headteacher, the river and I meet formally, the start of a long and rich relationship. I walk past the school gates to the clapper bridge and we nod in friendly fashion to each other and become firm companions.
I turn, and rather nervously walk through the front gates of Burton Bradstock School, a building largely unchanged from Victorian times. Across the lane from the school, the windows of Rose Cottage glitter and wink beneath its thatched fringe. I walk around the side of the school, running my hand over the cool, dull-gold limestone walls imprinted with fossil shells, past the ancient, wheezing boiler and into a wooden shed bolted to the side of the school. My office. I drop my bag and glance out of the window. The view is dominated by St Mary’s Church boundary wall, gravestones lined up to stand guard over the churchyard. Beside them stands a huge tree, its roots forcing the wall to bulge into the playground. I head back out to walk the school before the working day begins.
I greet the children on the gate as they arrive, strangers to me as I am to them. Some smile shyly, some keep their eyes cast down and a few, not many, look at me and encouraged by a curious mum, wish me a good morning. A child rings the old handbell to start the day, I turn to the sound, catch my breath and it begins.
I make my way tentatively to the only classroom big enough to hold an assembly in. The school files in, children and staff, quiet, apprehensive. I’ve planned this carefully. I wish the children and staff to begin to colour me in, to glimpse my character and values through my behaviour. I smile, welcome them in and quietly take my old melodeon out of its case, pull open creaking bellows and breathe air into leathery lungs. I draw out a long note, air forced across slender steel reeds. I have caught their attention! More on the melodeon in later blogs, but that first contact is so important. I tell them its history, how it connects to my family and they see I’m a musician, an entertainer. I play a tune, tell a story and finish with a prayer (for this, you see, is a Church school). They leave having had their first glimpse of the person behind the label ‘headteacher’. We will find out much more about each other over the coming months.
My journey to the valley has been circuitous. Born in Ilkeston, a Derbyshire iron and coal town, my childhood garden overlooked the railyards and blast furnaces of Stanton Ironworks. We moved to Exeter when I was ten as my GP dad took on a city practice. I swapped Stanton for Dartmoor, clinker for gorse and granite and found a love of open skies that I have never lost.
I trained to be a teacher and grew in the profession in Buckinghamshire before moving to Dorset with my young family. The Vale of the Bride today is populated with incomers (including me!) and locals, many of them able to trace their roots back for generations, their ancestors having farmed and fished the valley and coastline. The children of these locals and incomers sit in front of me and I will care for every one of them. However, I shall discover over the next few years that It is the locals that I’m really drawn to and on reflection I’m sure this is because of the contrast between their history, their roots so embedded in the village and valley and my nomadic existence.
...and so to this week’s song. ‘Roots’ is a poem by Douglas Northover who lived in the valley on and off for seventy four years. He expressed his love for the valley in poetry, and the collection of his poems’ This Gentle Place’ was published by the Village Society. More on Douglas and his impact on me in future blogs.
These fields, these hills that feel my boots,
‘Tis here, deep down, you’ll find my roots:
On shingled Chesil, changing sea,
The pages of my history.
Here by season’s luminate
You’ll find the pages of my fate:
With autumn leaves and winter’s plough
A primrose bank, a lowing cow.
Summer’s darting mackerel shoal
The wheeling terns which dive below.
When done at last with earthly fears,
Quiet lay me with my peers,
Where I may hear upon the breeze
The distant sound of breaking seas
Many of my future blogs will be drawn from the monthly articles I wrote for the local parish magazine, the Bride Valley News. Below is the very first paragraph I wrote... Bride Valley News June 1990
Few of us are privileged to watch their own child during their first day at school and few children have the opportunity to watch their dad’s first day as Headteacher. My daughter Elisabeth and I both shared this unique experience at the start of term. I have watched Elisabeth settle in quickly to a happy, caring school environment and the support I have received from staff, parents and Governors has given me a sense of belonging that has made the move much easier. A big thank you from all of the Powell family to all who have made the start of our life in the Bride Valley so enjoyable.
Let me leave you with this, a postcard sent to me by a teacher friend when I left my first Headship in High Wycombe.
As I said, more on the squeezebox in future blogs!
Coming up in Blog 3… I realise I’ve been handed a ‘hospital pass’ as a new school is planned and the village is in uproar!
Click to hear this blog
Bride Valley News August 1991
The scene is a familiar one and it was played at schools up and down the country on the last day of the Summer Term.
The whole school filed quietly into the church and took their seats. Class 4 children rose and welcomed the school, parents and friends to the Assembly and the following hour was full of warm memories, memories that opened windows on what has been a busy, enjoyable and challenging year. To the Year 6 children the Assembly was an opportunity to pay tribute to and say goodbye to the school that has guided them in the vital early years of their education. The door to their Primary school life swung gently shut behind them and a new door opened, offering opportunities to stretch them towards their adult life.
This particular scene may well have added significance as it seems almost certain that the school remodelling programme will begin during the late Autumn Term. This will involve the evacuation of the school to the old St Mary’s school in Bridport for the whole of the winter and well into the spring, and major construction work at the school. The Year 6 children that left us this year will almost certainly be the last to have completed their schooling in the ‘old’ building. For Burton Bradstock school a door is swinging gently shut and another opening wide. Our challenge as a community is to ensure that the new school provides the warmth, care and love that has been the hallmark of the old. I know we will all rise to this challenge.
I was handed a ‘hospital pass’ to use the footballing vernacular upon my arrival into the village in 1990. A new school was to be built on a vacant site on the edge of the village. Revolution was in the air! Many in the village wished to keep the school where it was, as a key chamber in the beating heart of its community, alongside the Rectory, Church and Library. Hmm...so much for settling into a Thomas Hardy rural fantasy.
A meeting called by school governors packed the village hall and local authority suits were lined up for ritual humiliation as our brave villagers manned the barricades. The result was an offer of compromise. Sell the site and I was to be given half the proceeds to modernise the old Victorian school. Result! I was paraded around the village on a golden throne held high by the Parish Council whilst villagers threw treasures at my feet and shouted Saviour!
OK, I’ve maybe exaggerated a little, but you get my drift. The site at the end of Annings Lane was sold to local builders, Fry’s and the governors and I were handed a cheque to remodel the school on its existing site. More to come in my next Blog, folks.
1991 also saw the beginning of government grip on the state education system. This from the Bride Valley News entry for May 1991
The month of May marks a watershed for this and all schools in England as we are required to test all of our 7 year old children in certain areas of the National Curriculum. The ‘Tests’ are in the form of tasks the children have to attempt in English, Mathematics and Science.
I went on to argue that us educators could see the value of testing and the early National Curriculum but finished with...
The only aspect of the testing that makes us uncomfortable is in the building up of the school league tables based upon the results...
To use them as the only marker when examining a school is dangerous. Parental choice must be made based upon a careful examination of all aspects of the school by parents and central to that must be a visit to the school. This will take longer than a flick through a crude league table in a newspaper but surely it will be time well spent.
‘How did that work out?’ I ask myself as I look back through my trusty hindsight telescope. This was the first step towards politicians exerting central control on a national education system that should be as diverse as the communities it serves. Great to have national benchmarks of child development but national policy became driven by a one size fits all approach. Whatever works for London must work for rural West Dorset. Well, dear reader, I can tell you it does not, but again more to follow as the years unfold.
As the year ended the village pantomime players were in rehearsal for Tom the Piper’s Son. You know the saying, ‘It takes a village to bring up a child.’ Well how true is this. Our school regularly contributed children to this annual event, honing acting and wider performance and confidence skills in our young villagers, guided by experienced adults who unwittingly became mentors and teachers.
No song this week, but archive film taken by the children at the school as we packed and got ready to move into Bridport for a year. You’ll have a glimpse into how constrained the space was, the ‘shed’ that served as school office and staffroom, and poignantly, images of Len Starkey, headmaster at the school in the 50’s and 60’s, and still living in ‘The Magnolias’ near the school when I arrived.
Click here to view the film https://youtu.be/KxWBWfItih0
Should you be so inclined, visit this link on the village website and read more about village life when Len was school Headmaster.
The film footage taken by children in 1991 as they record the end of an era. The whole film is still available here... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk9q12cIJFc
Notes of the changes to school buildings made by Len Starkey here...
Coming up next week...
The village falls silent as David, the pied piper of Burton Bradstock steals the children and families away for a year.
1992 saw The Conservatives under John Major secure a fourth term in office and the Queen celebrate her Ruby Jubilee. Barcelona hosts the Olympic Games and Nigel Mansell became F1 Champion. The CofE voted to allow women to become priests, vinyl records are withdrawn from sale and I hid behind the sofa as Donny Osmond’s Puppy Love reached number 1 in the charts.
In other news our little Dorset village fell silent as the school decamped to Bridport for a year....now read on.
Sitting at my desk in the temporary school office in Bridport I am trying to wrestle with the implication of the school budget when my attention is drawn by one of the most evocative sounds an adult can hear. Standing up I squint out of dust-streaked windows, shielding my eyes from early summer sun and with a soaring heart I turn my back on administration, stride out of the office and sit on a warm bench in the playground. I am witness to the first of the summer playground rhyme games and I watch entranced as infant and junior children form a circle and weave complicated patterns chanting ‘In and out the dusty bluebells’. No prompting from adults here, just children spontaneously and instinctively reacting to a glorious day. My eyes close and briefly I am back at Burton Bradstock, the stream playing its lilting tune, the sounds of the church and village, all overlaid by singing, playing children. The bell, enthusiastically shaken by a grinning infant cut through my reverie and we all troop back into school, me to my desk and the children to theirs. Summer has arrived.......
We were all delighted on the last day of term to return to the village and hold our Leavers Service at St Mary’s Church. We then trooped across to our new school where the Rev. John McDougal conducted a blessing. The children and parents then explored their new home and we dismissed children from the gate. It was a wonderful and unexpected opportunity, and we owe grateful thanks to the builders, Spillers, who completed a tricky contract on time. Once again, a big THANK YOU from the whole school community to all Burton residents who have had to put up with so much this year.
At our Leavers Service we bade farewell to our Year 6 children, a wonderful group who had been so supportive as the oldest in the school during this huge time of change.
The second verse of our final hymn went as follows: -
“And just before I leave you, I'll give you one reminder
Unless you are a seeker, you’ll never be a finder”
I know that we’ve sent out a group of children well equipped to be seekers.... the rest is up to them.
There is a filming process called ‘time lapse’ photography that allows you to photograph an object over a long period of time and then replay it to show in minutes what has happened. If you were to film a school building with its roof off and replay it, you would soon see a distinct pattern of movement that repeated itself. Scurrying hordes of children and adults making ant-like paths as they find the best routes from room to room and in and out of the dusty building. The ebb and flow of a daily routine. It is as individual to each school as your fingerprints and its pattern is determined by the shape of the building. If you block a route the pattern will flow around it until a new ‘best route’ is developed.
Although we had been away from our school for nine months the instinct when we returned was to follow the old paths, revert to the old, well-loved routines and frankly it was a shock to the system to find that internally and externally the school was so different that no amount of searching would enable us to trace those well-worn paths.
This is an exhausting process and one of the main reasons why moving house is described as one of the most stressful experiences that you are likely to undergo…. we have effectively ‘moved house’ four times in nine months and I for one will not be unhappy if we stay put now for the next….150 years!!
And so…it’s over. Plans that were first drawn up by Mr Barry, my predecessor, and the school Governors five years ago and subsequently modified by the Authority, me, building restrictions, the children and Governors eventually took form. The old building shook to its foundations for nine months as it was gutted and re-built. The children returned in wonder, and trepidation and one of the rhythms of village life, lost for nine months, was re-established.
During the re-opening celebrations at the end of last month our older children put in a presentation showing the history of the school, but there was a twist at the end of their story. Instead of telling it from October 1992 they used their imagination to project forward and tell the story from the official opening of the remodelled school in 2086. They equipped the school with a rocket pad and two extra storeys! Don’t panic however dear reader, children are renowned for their furtive imagination…. mind you they will be the architects and planners of the future!
Thanks to all of you who came and joined us for our opening celebration. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many enthusiastic villagers and ex ‘Burtoners’.
Left - A piece of my old Victorian village school proudly residing in our new Cotswold Garden
One day, when wandering past the school in the final days of construction I saw old pieces of our school’s Victorian limestone arches in a skip. I was horrified to think they’d be lost to the village and asked the builders if they could transport them to my house, Greensleeves, which they duly did.
We had taken great pains to ensure that arches retained in the school were not plastered over. I have this sense that these old stones, made of compressed history were also batteries, storing and releasing memories of our school and I passionately wanted them to breathe, not be clogged in plaster. However, some old arches were lost and due to be dumped. Rest assured they still reside in the village formed into a Greensleeves rock garden. One stone, however, now occupies pride of place in a Cotswold garden. On the day Barbara and I left the village I placed a school stone in the car, a memory of my time as Head of the school, and maybe on still Cotswold evenings I will be able to hear the tinkling of child laughter and the beat of the Chesil surf... (If you’re interested read my BVN entry below)
And the song...well this is a recording of Burton children singing in 1996. It was written by Class 3 (7- to 9-year-olds) with their teacher Lynette and shows how you can use song to teach history and heritage, in this case the tradition of flax milling, rope and net making in the village. I’ve added lyrics to images as the recording is at times a little indistinct! I include it in this blog, as the discerning among you will realise, as they based it on another children’s playground rhyme, Wind the Bobbin Up, heard regularly in the 90’s at the school. Another song that used to draw me from bureaucracy to reality ;-)
Listen and watch here https://youtu.be/IYVH6PGRq4M
Many of the photographs I used in this film come from our excellent village website’s History & Archive section here…
When the builders remodelled our school, we requested that some of the old internal arches were not rendered, but left, to allow future generations to run their eyes and hands over the stone mason’s 150 year old work. I’m glad we did now for many reasons....one of which surprised even an old pragmatist like me.
Before the term starts, staff spend a few days in school preparing for the onslaught. Schemes of work are prepared, walls decorated and trays labelled. Preparation of a classroom and a school is the great secret of a successful day, week and term. It takes time but it is worth it.
A school without children is an eerie, lifeless place. It is a body without a soul. Staff attempt to fill it with laughter and conversation, but the sounds die quickly. It seems that the newer the school the more soulless it becomes when empty. It may be that new schools are more functional, more like factories for learning, or that older schools were built to look and feel more like homes but....and here’s the romantic in me, I suspect that much of it is to do with the walls. Children, like sunshine, radiate energy and life and perhaps walls pick this up during the day and release it after the children have gone. The older the building, the greater the absorption the richer the radiation. By leaving sections of wall un-rendered the stone still has an open route into the school.
Coming up next week…
You know the story. Although warned not to, Pandora cracks the box open and releases all sorts of evils on an unsuspecting world. ‘Hang on…’ you cry What has this to do with Powell’s charming village school? Well, read next week’s blog, folks and hope…hope…
Click to hear this blog
And so, to 1994
The Channel tunnel opens and Great Britain is directly connected to Europe (Irony alert…Note, dear reader that this is the year after UKIP was officially launched as a party!). Tony Blair becomes the leader of the Labour Party, the first episode of The Vicar of Dibley is broadcast and we welcome infant Harry Styles to, and lose Roy Castle from Planet Earth.
I have an abiding memory of performing on the same stage as Roy in 1975 at my Teachers Training College. He was the main act and I opened the evening charity fundraiser with our college folk band ‘Saxon’. What a warm and true professional he was, nursing us through off-stage nerves and regaling us with calming anecdotes as we rehearsed.
Bride Valley News June 1994
You all know the story of Pandora’s Box. I read it to the children in an Assembly last week and as I was approaching the point where Pandora cracks open the box I asked the children to put their hand up if they would open it. Most said yes!
Playground duty is not a subject that I have dwelt upon at length in this column, but perhaps it deserves more attention. It is an important activity for teachers for many reasons. We are there to oversee the children’s wellbeing while they run off energy, pent up in long classroom sessions. We are there to tend bruised knees and occasionally bruised relationships as children explore their social and emotional parameters. The playground offers us an opportunity to observe our children interacting, mostly in a friendly, carefree and caring way, to rehearse life safely. Sadly occasionally their behaviour changes and they become withdrawn and quiet suggesting the possibility of a troubled mind, a problem at home or at school, that cannot easily be shared. It takes sensitive handling as we carefully try to draw out the anxiety, to slowly pull out the sting and allow the mind to heal.
A brain is a tightly complex structure, however, with many dark corners, a receptacle for storing sensation, memory, thoughts and pictures. A child’s brain is a sponge, absorbing sensations without the opportunity or lived experience to filter out dangerous, corrupting and harmful ones.
Have you ever watched the face of a six year old girl wrinkle in puzzlement as she sits on the floor playing with her dolly as her mum watches the 6 o’clock news. She lifts her clear blue eyes to the screen and is transfixed by the reports of war, rape, abuse, violent death. Her mum realises, too late, that her child’s attention wandered to the flickering screen. No harm done. The child shakes her head and smiles at her dolly...
At two in the morning the shapeless nightmare only lasts seconds. The child wakes screaming, unable to articulate what it is that has ripped the security from her life. The child is comforted. Mother, puzzled stumbles back to bed and I watch a red-eyed child on the playground the next morning.
Pandora’s box was cracked open a long time ago and today’s child has access, through videos, television and newspapers to a diet of visual and audio violence and horror, unheard of a generation ago. I know this country has lived through the horror of war, but this is different, and very dangerous.
The one object left in Pandora’s box was the jewel of hope.
OK…Rant alert! If you are not in the mood, scroll down to ‘Starfish’ this week’s song at the end of the blog... I will not be offended.
I was bought up in a middle-class family in the 1950’s at a time when my parents were struggling to find their place in a society moving forward from the clear but grossly unjust Edwardian class system. It will shock you to know that I had a nanny who was addressed by her surname only until I and my siblings rebelled and we pushed our parents stumbling into the revolutionary 1960’s.
I entered teaching with an understanding that parents were the adults who had the responsibility to ensure their children grew up to become responsible adults themselves, with a clear understanding of values, of right & wrong, and that teachers reinforced this. I was under no illusion that all parents were equipped for this task, indeed many children were in vulnerable and harmful situations, but that was the social landscape of the 1970’s.
I’ll develop this in another blog, but a rudimentary understanding of brain growth will lead you to the inescapable conclusion that young brains & minds don’t reach adulthood until around twenty years old. The evolutionary development of humans (as with all animals) has designed the parent to have the responsibility to Parent, to guide their child’s development until at least they become eighteen.
OK, you ask, so why are you banging on about this, Powell. Well, as a teacher I accepted the professional expectation that I would be the responsible adult to those children when they were placed within my sphere of influence. As the 70’s and 80’s unfolded I watched with some discomfort as the print and screen media expanded its manipulation of society. I watched as trash magazines and newspapers picked up on sensationalism to draw in vulnerable minds of all ages, and I saw this wash up against and attempt to infiltrate my classrooms and schools. I witnessed the degradation of age thresholds, exposing young minds to the bruising of inappropriate spoken, print and screen diets. I tried in vain to stem this tide, believing that I and all educators could protect children from this mental bludgeoning.
By the ninety’s however, I came to the inevitable conclusion that schools and teachers, whilst undoubtably having some influence on young minds, played second fiddle to their lives outside school. I was pointed to the 85/15 rule. Children only spend 15% of their young lives in school. The rest is in their wider world, and it is their family and local communities that play the major part in their mental growth and development.
I have to admit, this rather overwhelmed me, and with some despair I observed the downgrading of values that many of these children experienced, through no fault of their own, or their parents. They were all being manipulated by business and politics into a world that desired to shape their thinking (and crucially spending habits) in order to consume, consume, consume!
Oh, and then came the expanding Internet and social media…
At the same time, Government was taking a huge interest in how to increase family income in order to increase family spending power. A key focus was to enable the household’s chief care provider to relinquish their parenting responsibilities asap and get back into the workplace….and picking up the slack would be our schools who by the noughties would be running breakfast and after school clubs, as well as more and more of the burden of social care with resources being squeezed by ‘austerity’.
Like many in the profession I’ve swum against this tide of change, at times feeling out of step, watching in dismay as successive governments turn their backs on early prevention (Google Sure Start dear reader) in favour of the hugely expensive interventions for the ever increasing number of those deemed disadvantaged.
In committing these thoughts to print I recognise I’ve opened another Pandoras box of contrary opinions. How, you may well ask, dare I assume to preach about values, parenting and the media from my lofty tower. Fair enough. I promise to expand on all of this over the next few months (in between moments of light relief and nonsense ;-) but enough for now…to the song.
‘The one object left in Pandora’s box was the jewel of hope’.
Hope…Well, amidst all this gloom I have come to see that the clear majority of those I meet and know are kind, thoughtful and good natured. After my Headship career I worked as an education advisor for Dorset Children’s Services. At one point I needed to recruit a colleague to manage developing pastoral work. I interviewed four prospective candidates. All had great qualities, but the stand-out interviewee was Debbie. During the interview I asked her for explain her approach to children and families. She illustrated her philosophy by telling me the story of the starfish. I was inspired, appointed her and composed the song. If you have a listen to this video of the band singing at the Arts Centre in Bridport, I introduce it with a brief resume of the Starfish story. As we go through these dark days following Covid 19 and the world’s alarming lurch to the Right I have much hope that humanities overwhelming drive to be kind and good will see off the dark, chase away the shadows and let the future offer us ‘…the chance to turn the tide’.
Ladies, gentlemen & children…(drum roll) I give you Starfish, performed by Chloe Rainey, Mani Chambers, Diana Takezoe, Dominic Faulkner, Maurice Blogg, Barry Bates and me.
Click to hear this blog
Boxer, Frank Bruno wins the World Heavyweight Championship & Manchester United’s Eric Cantona lands a flying kick on a spectator. Cliff Richard becomes Sir Cliff and 36 years before Megan and Oprah, Princess Diana is interviewed by the BBC’s Martin Bashir. My profession reels as Headteacher, Philip Lawrence is stabbed to death outside his West London school.
We say hello to future singer, Dua Lipa and goodbye to Gerald Durrell, Kenny Everett and Harold Wilson.
Bride Valley News February 1995
Picture this, dear reader. You find yourself walking along Annings Lane past my house late at night, cloud shredding a pale moon, haunting owl hoots drifting from dark, mysterious woods. Suddenly the swelling sound of a piano playing. Strange unearthly strings of apparently random notes, a tortured scream.....then sobs as of a soul in torment.....then silence.
I am learning to play the piano. My advice to anyone considering a teaching career, or in the profession already, is to regularly remind themselves what a struggle it is to learn something new. After all we are daily subjecting children to the same feelings, frustrations and joys and it gives us important insights into the process of learning to engage ourselves in it at regular intervals. It allows us to develop strategies that can be employed in the classroom to motivate children and sustain interest in what is often a repetitive and potentially boring task.
Well I have to hold up my (left) hand and confess…here I am, twenty six years later and still unable to play the piano. When I was ten my teachers clocked that I was left-handed and, without checking with my parents, instructed me to sit on my evil left hand when writing. This I duly did for a year. Mindless obedience seemed the only option in 1960! Result…from that day to this I’ve been a somewhat confused ambidextarian (if there is such a word).
Music has been a hugely important part of my life since I taught myself to play guitar as a young teen to impress the girls ;-). I had to learn right-handed as my big brother owned the only guitar and I didn’t want to get duffed up restringing it. As a teacher and then leader I’ve always put music teaching front and centre in all my classes and schools.
We lived on Dartmoor when I was in my teens. At the end of my lane a farmer, who played the melodeon (squeezebox), taught me the basics. Like the guitar, it’s a front-facing instrument as opposed to piano which requires you to be side or back onto an audience when you play. I had no inclination I’d be a teacher at that time, but as it turns out, this is ideal when singing with children as you can encourage, or admonish, while playing the instrument facing the little darlings… ‘Wayne, stop playing with that and put it away!’…as you continue to strum or squeeze!
I couldn’t master the melodeon right-handed, so I simply turned it upside down to play. Fast forward to 1995 and my failure to master the piano was, I believe, down to my left-handedness on an instrument that I couldn’t easily turn upside down to play without risking serious injury.
I have fought throughout my career to offer all children and teachers the opportunity to learn an instrument. I passionately believe that acquiring this skill gives children of all abilities a boost to self-esteem and confidence, as well as a means to express themselves and their emotions and thoughts creatively. I recognise that for some, for a variety of reasons, this may be beyond their reach but we all have a built-in instrument, our voice box. We can all sing, even if we have an ear that struggles to allow us to sing in the same key as others. Ahh hang on, writing this reminds me of the classic line from the Morecambe & Wise show when Andre Previn says to Eric Morecambe (who was attempting a tricky piano piece) ‘...but you're playing all the wrong notes’.
‘No’, Eric replied indignantly, ‘I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order’.
Every child at Burton Bradstock School sang in class, in assemblies and the playground and on trips and journeys. The school rang joyously with young voices. Many also learned instruments with wonderful ‘guest’ teachers, Gordon Watson, Claire Dawson and others leading ensemble groups and bands of young musicians. I created barn-dance bands who played at our village functions and travelled further afield. Not just young musicians, but young technicians who learned the basics of sound engineering and later went on to make a career of this. Villagers came to our concerts and we took part in the local Rotary Youth Presents Music, singing songs from Douglas Northover’s poetry.
Combine music with wider learning and you get a vehicle that makes learning stick, by stimulating areas of the brain that fire up, combining emotional and learning pathways, creating joyous sparking bio-electric neural nets of understanding!
And so, to this week’s song, which I think illustrates the above ramblings. Fisherman’s Song was my first attempt at song writing. I was motivated to develop my own song after I’d set Douglas Northover’s poems to music for my school children to sing. I wanted to give children a sense of their heritage and the importance of fishing off the Chesil Beach.
In this song, written and recorded in 1995 you will hear only children performing. The singers were all the children in my class and some of them the musicians, led by fourteen-year-old Becki Driscoll on violin.
For my part, the song marked a milestone in my own development. It combined my love of learning with my improving musicality. In my experience the best teachers see themselves as lifelong learners, placing themselves in the position of the anxious child, struggling to learn a new skill. It helps enormously to design learning journeys for children if we better understand how we deal emotionally with the demands made on us.
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‘Let me drop Killick…’
Take That, the most successful British band of the 1990s, split up (cue wailing tweenies), and a new girl band, The Spice Girls are formed (cue tweenies leaping around to Wannabe!). A gunman kills sixteen children, a teacher and himself in the Dunblane massacre. (I’ll address this in my next blog). A location, on the Greenwich peninsular is identified for a new London exhibition centre, to be called The Millennium Dome, set to open in 2000.
Florence Pugh, Lewis Capaldi and Dele Ali take their first breath, and Dr Who’s Jon Pertwee, comedian Willie Rushton and jazz great, Ronnie Scott their last.
Bride Valley News May 1996
I believe that the best learning comes from a mixture of teaching activities that enable the child to explore the subject from different directions. History provides a good example of this. Children clearly need to gain knowledge of the history of their country and the world and, to place this in context they also need to acquire the skills to enable them to empathise – to drift back into the period of history they are exploring and view events from different perspectives. Tricky stuff this!
Let me explain one approach that we recently tried at school. Class 4 have completed a terms work on ‘The Victorians’. Knowledge was acquired through various methods including posing questions for children to research answers – from an excellent topic collection Dorset Schools Library Service – making notes and writing reports from videos and, shock horror...setting tests.
To develop the empathetic side we had a Victorian Day. Prior to the day each child chose a name from the school’s 1872 admission records. They then researched the village family they had chosen and built up the character of the child whose identity they were to assume. Each child became familiar with their adopted Victorian family and the other children in the class, and friendships were mapped out.
On the day, the classroom was transformed into a Victorian schoolroom and all children and staff (including Mr Crump, the Headmaster) dressed accordingly. The children spent the day re-enacting a typical Victorian school day, including a visit from the Rector (admirably played by John Surry) and two stern School Inspectors (John and Susan Paul). Lessons on the 3-R’s in the classroom and drill in the playground, staged playground fights and …. the cane.
To complete the day the children entertained each other with some Music Hall items and parlour games – including ‘My Ladies Toilet’ - definitely one for Christmas parties.
It was a great day and so powerful was the feeling of escaping to role that the children had to be debriefed at the end of it.
As I’ve touched on in an earlier blog, learning thrives where the learner is motivated, excited by the design of the teaching that provides provocations and challenges students are hungry to overcome. Place children or adults in circumstances where their senses are fired up, where what they are being asked by the teacher to do really engages their interest, and learning bursts into bud and flower.
This is ‘experiential’ learning, learning through experiencing and reflecting, and it’s a great tool for teachers to reach for as they seek to get the best from their children.
The Victorian Day is a great example of this. It takes much careful planning and preparation by the teacher, but the motivation and knowledge that spins off it can be used for weeks afterwards to stimulate more learning.
I have to confess, however, that in fulfilling my role on the day as Mr Crump I could see the attraction of exerting autocratic power over the school, of demanding mindless obedience from children (and staff). Damn sight easier for me than having to plan all these fiddly lessons that excite and motivate the little brats…much better to scowl, force feed rote learning and whip out ‘Thrasher’, the cane to address any tardiness… No, David. Pull yourself together man…where was I?
One of my pupils chose Angelina Rockett, who attended the school in the 1870’s as her Victorian partner, and discovered that she was the daughter of a village fisherman. She explored the life and times of a child like Angelina, and on the day became her, breathed life into her. This became a ‘lightbulb moment’ for me. I was inspired by my pupil’s carefully researched work and this led me to explore further, discovering how the fishermen and their women folk made free anchors from rope, driftwood and a big Chesil stone, called killick anchors. (A brief digression if I may…the end of terrace house on the corner of Derby Lane facing Magnolia House used to be called Killick Cottage. Sadly, no more. It was renamed, maybe by someone unaware of the reference to our proud past).
This young pupil lit a fuse under me that fizzes and burns still. To my mind, this anchor symbolised the life of the village, created as it was from hemp harvested in the valley fields, retted then swingled in the village mills before being woven into rope and bound around local wood and stone to keep our fishermen safe. Burton Bradstock grew from hamlet to village through a combination of farming, fishing & rope & net manufacture. Over the years I have positioned the killick in my songs and stories
And so, to this week’s song. I must credit Douglas Northover for his use of the word ‘killick’ as a symbol.
He wrote ‘Chesil Song’ to celebrate life on the village beach, the rounded stone strand that stretches in a vast arc from the village to Portland Bill. The poem finishes with the words,
‘Let me drop Killick, here let me stay,
Until the sun sets at the end of my day’.
…and that’s exactly what Douglas did. He set his anchor down in the village and valley until his sun finally set when he died in 1991
This version of the poem that I put to music is being performed here at Long Bredy Village Hall. At the time I was Chair of Trustees of Home-Start West Dorset, a charity that Barbara volunteered for and this concert was a fundraiser. For those readers unfamiliar with the Bride Valley Band, its membership changed over the years. In this line-up are villagers, Charlie on percussion and Amy with violin alongside ex Burton pupil Katy on flute and singer, Emma who’s family farmed the valley for a number of years.
In front of the film I’ve added a brief recording of Georgie Northover, Douglas’s widow. I interviewed her for the village website in 2001 and in this extract she describes their meeting for the first time in the (sadly now lost) Dove Inn in Southover.
Coming up next week... The village wraps its arms around the school as shock waves from a national tragedy wash against its walls...
And finally, should you choose to, dear reader, a piece written by Douglas for the village website…
The flat topped low wall which originally was from the telephone kiosk to the Blacksmith's shop over Hutchings Bridge and the Duke's Bridge was, before the advent of the motor car, was one of Burton's focal points.
My parents told me many times that it was the village fish market, where fish were spread on the flat top to be sold to the fish wives. These ladies came from Bridport and local villages with a cross handled, half bushel wicker basket on each hand to buy fish and then walk miles inland to outlying farms, villages and hamlets to sell their purchases.
In those days, as in my youth, a catch of fish on the Chesil Beach was heralded by the 'crying of the fresh'. Boys or agile young men were sent from the shore to the village to announce a catch at the top of their voices, a certain amount of rivalry existed as to who and of which boat's crew would be the first. Hearing the 'fresh' being cried the fish wives would emerge from the pubs (of which there was once thirteen!) or from some Burton crony's house where they had been swapping gossip and partaking of the eternally simmering pot of tea, to wait at the wall for the fish to arrive and get on with the business.
I can remember the last of the fish wives I saw as a small boy outside 'The Three Horseshoes'. This lady, leather skinned, gravel voiced, of indeterminate age, was engaged in a half humorous, half irate, wholly enjoyable (to the assembled small boys) cut and thrust conversation with some of the local fishermen and fish 'jutes' (fish buyers and dealers) in which Anglo Saxon words predominate.
Apart from their business activities these ladies, especially to the hard done by country housewives, were a valuable asset. In those days, long before radio and TV when universal education had either not begun or was in it's infancy, they were the carriers of news, juicy scandal and local gossip.
In my young days the fish wives and their market were long gone but the wall was still a focal point. Old men sat on it and basked in the sunshine to reminisce of other days and at evening they were joined by men and boys to review the doings of the day, usually in humorous vein or to plot some revolt or other or, with malicious glee, some practical joke directed against the village establishment, pompous newcomer or uppity fellow citizens.
If you had a query you could find the answer, facetious or otherwise 'Down Corner
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I see gentle hills and the green water meads,
The pools and the bars where the grey heron feeds.
Oh just take me home and there let me bide,
In the peace and the calm of the Vale of the Bride.
Bride Valley News September 1996
One of the many pearls of wisdom to be tossed as subtly as grapeshot at the teaching profession over the last year by the Government was that schools must take responsibility to teach children right from wrong. I was struck dumb by this advice. Of course! Twenty years of working with youngsters and it had never occurred to me to do this. I was very grateful to my Lords and Masters for that timely missive and immediately went to work to straighten out the anarchy Burton Bradstock School was in.
At our Governors Report to Parent’s at the end of the Summer Term, a concerned parent asked about school security in the wake of Dunblane. The Governors explained that security was a concern and was high on our agenda. Money will be made available from the Government to enable schools to become fortresses against maniacs. Stop and think for a minute. There are two truths that scream at me here. One is that I don’t want our children to be educated in fortresses. What view does that give them of the world that we are preparing them to live in. The second is that all recent school tragedies have involved weapons that are built to kill and maim repeatedly and that are ludicrously freely available. However well you fortify your school a maniac with one of these weapons, who has no care for his own life, will get in.
So, dear reader, following Government advice, I would like to ‘teach’ our Lords and Masters a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. It is right to remove all repeating guns and non-domestic knives from our society. Only you have the power to do this. By all means protect the genuine sportsmen, fisherman and farmer but get rid of these lethal weapons.
It is wrong to turn our schools into fortresses. Be subtle please and attack the underlying causes rather than papering over the cracks.
Old Ben sat on the spare chair in the school office, warming his hands on a cup of tea. Jean turned an enquiring gaze on him as he adjusted his tie…he ALWAYS wore a tie!
‘Everything going well here, Jean?’ he enquired kindly, such a gentle soul.
It was the third time he’d asked the same question and she duly noted it, ready to pass on any concern to his family and friends. Just as it takes a village to bring up a child, so it takes a community to care for and support all who are becoming frail and vulnerable.
I haven’t told you much about the design of the new school yet have I. Well, it’s now on two floors, with two large classrooms on each floor, a new hall, staffroom, library, office AND staff executive toilet. Luxury!
This picture was drawn by our architect, John and presented to the school on handover in 2003.
I had deliberately designed the new school office to face out onto the front playground and Church Street. It reflected my desire to show that that our school is accessible and open to all. Its position also ensured that we kept a careful eye at all times on those approaching the school. School secretary Jean and I shared it companionably, with a relationship that allowed us to segue between personal and professional as circumstances determined. We’d be visited by elderly locals like Ben passing by, who dropped in to have a chat, catch up on school & community news. Jean and I understood the importance of developing these relationships, of being welcoming whilst honing our skills to ease them out of the office when work pressed! I refer you back to my previous blog on Victorians, dear reader to capture the benefits of these visits, with villagers adding rich threads to the tapestry of child (and my) learning.
I walked through the village on the morning after the Dunblane massacre. I remember it so clearly. There was a biting easterly wind that cut through me like a knife. I pulled my scarf tight round my neck, pushed hands deep into my pockets and bent my head low as I headed down ‘The Drain’, a Jitty cut-through from Annings Lane into the village. Villagers who normally greeted me cheerfully were reserved, almost shy, as if meeting with a bereaved relative. They understood the particular sense of shock and loss that school communities nationally would have been experiencing.
Welcoming children at the start of the day as I stood by the gate, I forced a cheerful ‘Good Morning’ while wrestling with the dreadful images that I, and I’m sure many coming into our school, had witnessed. The village community reacted to our school as you would to a bereaved relative, with kindness and compassion, offering words of comfort as they passed by the gate and I recall a few days after the massacre a villager handing some flowers into the office, ‘to brighten up your day, my dears.’
The BVN article was my instinctive reaction to the early government response to erect fencing and anti-terrorist barriers at all schools. I’d like to think, however that Prime Minister, John Major, sitting down for breakfast with Norma in 1996, flipped casually through his Bride Valley News as he decapitated his boiled egg and shouting ‘EUREKA, Powell’s solved my dilemma’ as he read my article. At the time that I wrote this article there was no sign that the government was going to demonstrate the courage to react appropriately to Dunblane. Instead of a gun ban, all schools were told to increase security to stop the next crazed maniac from storming in with a weapon…to turn our establishments into fortresses, to put up the shutters and exclude our village community.
The Cullen Report and public pressure led to the Conservative government in 1997 banning all handguns. This was an appropriate response to a tragedy that shocked our nation and acted as an example of the difference at that time between the values that underpinned our UK society and governance and that of the US… (still in 2021 under the influence of the National Rifle Association as their children are slaughtered).
So, like most schools we resisted the temptation to erect the barriers, but remained alert to potential danger. The ‘peace and the calm of the Vale of the Bride’ had been disturbed. Life went on, and we settled back into our routines, but things wouldn’t be quite the same again. An innocence (and maybe naivety) was eroded, and over time schools came to better understand the importance of safeguarding, of protecting all children and staff.
And so, to the song… I’ve travelled through my professional life with an overriding sense of optimism. I am definitely a ‘glass half-full’ person, looking to see the best in people and situations and encouraging the same of children and staff. On the whole, songs I write or select tend to veer towards this innocent optimism, to warm the listener to the beauty that surround them and the kindness of most people they will meet. This song, ‘Vale of the Bride’ was my musical interpretation of Douglas Northover’s love poem to the valley. It is still sung in the village today, and I was privileged to be asked to sing it at his wife, Georgie’s memorial service.
Coming up... In 1997, in a village where netmaking was a key activity, A networking revolution is cast over the school as the internet begins to reel us all in
If you’re interested, read on for excerpts from the rest of my BVN 1996 articles. Some interesting insights here into village and school life...
A Happy New Year to you all.
A good school maximises its resources to enrich the quality of education offered to its students. One of our most potent resources is people – grown-ups. The school has thirteen full or part time staff employed to support the children and we feel confident that, as a team we work well together.
We are being faced, however, with larger class groups, as are all schools and so we reach out for other human resources. Many parents visit the school during the week and spend an hour supporting specific reading or reading related activities in the classroom and we welcome their support. Their motivation for giving up their time is clear. They wish to support, and be part of, the school that is educating their child and they are made very welcome.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank another small group of grown-ups who support learning at our school. Residents of the village, whose own children ‘flew the nest’ years ago also visit the school regularly during the week. They work one to one with children, delivering specific work programmes devised by the teachers and augmented by their own experiences and expertise. They give their time and enthusiasm selflessly and their presence creates wonderful bridges between school and community and – dare I say it – between generations!
They won’t thank me for it – but I would like to thank them publicly for their much appreciated efforts, so take a bow Kay Cove, Wendy Green, Lady Laskey, Jim Dean and Marion Surry.
There is a crude but effective phrase used in Education circles to describe a child, who when reading, is just chanting back at the listener the letter strings – the words on the page, without expression or understanding. It is a sign that while the child has been taught the phonic blends and sounds of each letter and has memorised words, nobody has really taken the time to take the child back over the text – to talk about the meaning and context. The phrase is ‘barking at print’. The same can happen to all aspects of a child’s learning if time is not taken to make that learning purposeful and relevant to the child’s life, to ensure that conceptual building blocks are in place.
Much of the best learning and teaching is drawn from and built upon the child’s own experiences and traditions of the community the child lives in. We were privileged to have been presented with two copies of Douglas Northover’s poems ‘This Gentle Place’ at the time of publication. Recently the older children have been exploring ways of putting some of these poems to music and also considering harmonies. Before Christmas we sang our song-poems around the village and used ‘The Valley Carol’ in our Christmas play. BBC Dorset picked this up, recorded and broadcast it just before Christmas.
I know why these songs were so effective and successful. It was because the children were working on something they really cared about, something that had been drawn from the tradition and the people of the village around them. No barking at print here but singing and celebrating from the heart.
Burton Bradstock School has an OFSTED inspection in the middle of February. For those of you not initiated into current ‘education speak’ OFSTED stands for ‘The Office for Standards in Education’ a government watchdog organisation set up to monitor school quality.
OFSTED is one of two new ‘check and balances’ in the education system designed to ensure that schools work well, the other being the National Curriculum tests. They operate in addition to current monitoring systems and as Head, I generally welcome them.
All schools in England are being inspected on a five year cycle and the first that the school knows of it is when an innocuous brown envelope plops onto the welcome mat containing the unwelcome news that the school is to be descended upon by the modern equivalent of Judge Jeffreys – someone invariably called Reggie and his travelling assize.
Schools appear to react in one of two ways to this news. There is either a good deal of swagger and loud brave comments on the lines of ‘Hah! Let them come. We welcome constructive criticism etc’. Or there is a massed rush to the First Aid box to break out the smelling salts!
Rather than wait for the joyous news of our impending inspection the Governors and staff of the school took the unusual step of buying Inspectors into the school to carry out a pre-OFSTED. They came for a day, visiting all the classrooms, observing the teachers and children at work. Their inspection focused on the quality of teaching offered at the school and the quality of work produced.
Class 4 are currently undertaking a project on ‘The Victorians’ and upon exploring the workings of a Victorian school we have discovered that Inspectors visited schools on a regular basis, assessing the school by testing the children in elementary number, language and general knowledge. This inspection was vital to the school because the results of it determined the amount of money the school received from the Government the following year - ‘Payment by Results’
I am not at liberty to reveal the details of our recent pre-OFSTED, but staff and Governors were delighted with the report. Sadly you won’t catch me sailing through the village in a gold Rolls Royce. Perhaps there is some merit to us reverting to ‘good old Victorian values’!
Staff are preparing to return to school after the Whitsun break. I strongly advise you to take care should you meet teachers over Whitsun or shortly after, also over how you address them. The usual flippant ‘enjoying your hols...alright for some...what is it – 13 weeks in a year?’ routine may get an even shorter and sharper reply than normal.
Whitsun is traditionally the week that teachers get down to summing up, on paper, the entire academic and social progress of each dear child in their care over the past year. We all, parents and teachers, know that the Annual Report is only partially able to do justice to a child’s progress and development. Any good school regularly offers the parents other opportunities to discuss and view their child's work face to face with the teacher, to paint a fuller picture of their child in school, a side of their life that children only offer glimpses of to their parents!
It’s not all gloom, doom and ‘could do better’ for your long-suffering teacher at Whitsun, however, dear reader. We do take the opportunity to re-charge the old batteries to face up to the excitement and challenge of Sports Day, the Swimming Gala, school athletics and cricket meetings, summer music concerts and lots and lots of hard work.
June brings us the opportunity to contribute to the Village Flower Festival and Class 3 are producing our display to go alongside the other community contributions. As part of the Festival we are singing some of the Douglas Northover songs in the Church on Friday 21 June at 3.30pm. I do hope you can come and join us. These songs have been recorded and tapes will be available from the school. More details to follow.
Well...back to my reports...now, where was I... ahh yes - ‘finds it hard to concentrate on...’
As a teacher that has been at the chalkface for 20 years, I hope that I am able to recognise the main anxieties that parents suffer as their children journey through the Primary State Education system. The first day at school, their first game in the school football or netball team, school reports, going on residential visits, moving to a new class – a new teacher. The list is long and a good school works co-operatively with its parent’s and children to help allay these concerns.
Parents of Year 6 (top Juniors in old money) children are casting their eyes anxiously at the next horizon rushing up to meet their dear offspring...Secondary School.
The vast majority of my pupils move on to Colfox, our local Comprehensive School. For parents and children with no prior knowledge of the school, Colfox brims with mystery and intrigue. The big, bad Secondary School? No – not at all. I spend a lot of time professionally at Colfox and know it for what it is. Colfox is a genuine community school, offering a full and rich education programme for all who live within the Bridport Community. A child that goes there meets and learns to live with, a wide cross section of the community that, as adults, they will be rubbing shoulders with. At Colfox they do this within a caring and structured ‘Personal and Social Education Framework.’ Colfox also has an excellent academic record – enabling all children to acquire skills and attitudes that will secure them jobs in their community and, for those capable of extending themselves academically, opportunities for Sixth Form and further education. The school is genuinely open and if parents are prepared to voice their concerns and work in partnership with the staff, issues can be resolved.
Colfox attempts to reassure parents and children preparing to make the leap by reaching out to them. Parents can visit the schoo any time and be shown around it. Children spend a couple of days there before they leave primary school. The Head visits all primary schools. Does this process work.... personally, I think it does. You see, Barbara and I are those parents anxiously casting our eyes towards this new horizon. Our eldest child is about to take one more step away from the nest. She feels safe and secure about the step and so do we.
Congratulations to all villagers involved in the organisation and running of the Flower Festival. The school really enjoyed taking part and the results of all your efforts were dazzling!
I’m sitting in the garden, book in hand, sun on my face. A bee describes a perfect orbit around my head, considers investigating my ear and chooses a nearby flower. I doze...peace has descended upon the village. The school is locked and silent, the energy and bustle of the Summer Term a rapidly receding memory for children and staff alike. Energy and strength are being gathered for a new year, for the cycle to begin again.
A chance to reflect, to learn from successes and failures, to replay the highlights of another wonderful year. Our Infant staff taking the courageous step of involving Infant children in a residential visit for the first time...the Douglas Northover ‘Vale of the Bride’ songs and recording...our footballers reaching the final of the Kenway Cup and just losing out...two Burton athletes selected to represent the County for the first time in years...Class 3’s wonderful display at The Village Flower Festival...the Village School’s football and swimming trophies...
Aaarrh!! The sudden sharp shock of freezing water sluicing over my face – down my neck. I blink in anger at the culprit “Come on Dad, let’s go to the beach”.
Yes...that’s it dear reader enough of this. Time to take of my ‘Headteacher’ hat and put on my ‘Superdad on holiday’ bathing costume. See you in the Autumn. Happy Holidays.
Our school has settled to the rhythm of a new term and new year. One hundred and four children are currently being educated at the school, rising to about one hundred and ten in January.
We are looking forward to some exciting initiatives this year on top of the normal classroom activities. The Orchard Theatre Company are going to collaborate with the school to put on a production, early next year, of a legend that Burton school children are going to write based in and around the village.
Two excellent local teachers are contributing their expertise to the school over the next year. Jan Thorne will be teaching gymnastics to all Junior children and Rex Trevett will be teaching recorder and running our school band.
Having had a wonderful this time, our older infants will, once again, be offered the chance to spend two night residential at Hooke Court. Our younger Juniors will be based at Leeson House, Langton Matravers, for two nights and our older Juniors will visit London later in the year.
The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are also involved with the school and other village schools this term culminating in a performance at Bridport Arts Centre in October.
An exciting and challenging year beckons!
There are certain pitfalls in life that are virtually impossible to spot...treading into dog mess walking through Burton at night for example! You can take certain precautions but relax your guard and it’s out with the Dettol on the shag pile carpet. (I will offer you an illuminating solution to the above if you read on...)
The school is developing a ‘legend’ based around the village. The children have explored legends from this and other countries and have combined this experience with local knowledge to come up with a lot of exciting ideas. The ideas are, as I write, being shaped into the ‘legend’ which, by early next summer we hope to show you in the form of a musical play. Supporting us in this exciting work is the wonderful Orchard Theatre Company from Bideford in North Devon. We planned the programme with Orchard earlier this year and a comprehensive framework workshops and advice sessions were developed.
At this point I pause to warn you that the metaphorical shoe is plunging hopelessly towards the unobserved pile on the pavement.
Who would have thought that in this day and age of Lottery funding, the only South West touring theatre company to have a comprehensive package of workshops for your youth would have its funding terminated by South West Arts....well it has. SPLAT Dettol time!
Six months of planning lie in ruins. The school is reviewing the ‘legend’ idea...but we will succeed...the show will go on, which is more than I can say for the poor old Orchard Company. More about the show later...oh yes, the illuminating solution to one of Burton’s oldest problems. Simple...luminous dog food.
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Artwork by Grace Crabtree
"Before beginning the artwork, I took photographs and made drawings from life and from imagination, weaving together ideas gleaned from Douglas Northover’s poetry and David’s lyrics, my own connection to the landscape, and the folklore of the area. The paintings take different geographical locations – Chesil Beach, Arch Bridge, Southover Lane, and Freshwater Beach – along the journey of the river from source to mouth."
"I created four paintings which each relate to a different song, working in an illustrative style to help bring a sense of narrative to them. I began thinking about a history compressed in layers, like the geological landforms of the valley and coastline – a deep history, embedded in stone and sediment. Each artwork is a visual representation of past stories and voices of the valley, from the viewpoint of somebody living here now."