Head's Blog

Rosie Allen's Blog, 22.02.21

A Recovery Curriculum...

As we prepare to reopen the school, I have found myself recalling on more than one occasion the experience of helping my children learn to walk.  The abject terror with which I doggedly followed each of them around cafes, parks and living rooms, reaching for every sharp corner, watching out for every slight slope, gauging their balance with every step. 

Despite my constant concern, I was very much in the ‘pick up and dust yourself off’ camp, and my mindset as we returned to school after last year’s lockdown was similar.  Like many Headteachers, I was confident that, besides a few first day back nerves, our children would bounce back from their time away from school.  And they did.  Much to parents’ and teachers’ relief, the safety nets we had in place for helping them deal with friendship problems, bridging learning gaps and addressing issues associated with children’s mental health were barely deployed.  Instead, September unfolded with a warm and happy glow as children across all age groups settled back into school life as if they’d never been away.   It was a joy to behold.

The vast majority of children will feel the same on March 8th.  Excited to see friends, classrooms, playgrounds and teachers, their experiences of the Winter lockdown will quickly dissipate.  Thankfully, children are extraordinarily resilient; their capacity to move on from events, particularly once they have regained what they had lost, is enormous.  Yet we still owe it to them to approach their return in the same, careful manner as we did the last one.  Schools must prepare a curriculum and a learning environment which support the children being allowed to focus on some key areas.

  • We must provide the children with time to invest in restoring previous relationships and fostering new ones
  • We must help the children to listen to the experiences of those around them to understand the shifted needs of our community
  • We must give the children space to be, to rediscover their sense of self and to find their voice
  • We must acknowledge a shift in their learning patterns and behaviours, preparing classrooms and learning habitats which reignite their capacity to collaborate, share and listen to ideas

Many schools are calling this a ‘Recovery Curriculum.’  A curriculum that addresses the five perceived ‘losses,’ of routine, structure, friendship, opportunity and freedom.  As in September, schools must address these areas carefully and holistically as the children return to school.  But all of this can happen in the background, subtly and unobtrusively.  Like the outstretched arms that were waiting to catch them as they took their first few steps, the children don’t even need to be aware that these supports are there as they put their best feet forward.  They just need to be confident that, if they do fall, we are there to catch them and help to set them right again.

 

Rosie Allen's Blog, 20.11.20

On reading with children..

“You want weapons?  We’re in a library! Books are the best weapons in the world.  This room is the best arsenal we could have.”  David Tennant as Dr Who 

“Once you learn to read you will be forever free.”  Frederick Douglass

Reading is the cornerstone of education.  A predictable and rather boring way to start a blog about reading, I hear you say, but 2020 requires us to reaffirm some of these simple, absolute truths which normal life might have given us cause to forget.    In fact, reading is not just the cornerstone of education, it is the cornerstone of life.  

This year, reading has provided many of us with all kinds of distraction, solace and freedom.  Kids in bed, Zoom calls over, Netflix back catalogue exhausted, who hasn’t enjoyed curling up with a good old-fashioned book?  Being able to discern what to read, and what not to read, has also been particularly useful over the last few months.  Never before has the capacity to identify ‘fake news’ been more important, as we are buffeted with information left, right and centre (no political pun intended).    

The key for the next generation, then, is getting our children to want to read.  To coin the words of the poet W.B Yeats, children should be encouraged to read in a way that lights their fire, not just to fill their pail.  Working through an approved list of ‘worthy’ tomes is not for everyone, and we should be equally delighted by a floor strewn with Beanos as we would by a neat stack of Brontes.  It is the quality of the children’s reading experiences that really matters, not the amount of books they read. 

Which is why sharing reading with our children is so important.  The association of a book with the undivided attention, warmth and love of a parent is about as powerful as it gets.  The next generation will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find wherever they turn.  They will need literacy to feed their imaginations so they can create the world of the future.  Let us, then, not forget the words of another poet, Emily Buchwald: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” 

Rosie Allen's Blog, 25.09.2020

It’s hard to believe that I am only three weeks in post.  The school already feels like home and it is such a blessing to feel equally happy as both new Paragon Head and a new Paragon parent.  With everything else going on at the moment it is a pleasant surprise to be feeling so settled and calm, so I am taking advantage of this to share a thought provoking video from the late, great Sir Ken Robinson with you.  It’s a bit of an old one – 10 years to be precise – but it was a talk which crystallised for me a decade ago so many of the reflections I was having about what makes a really exceptional school.

My favourite part is the bit about paperclips.  I’m sure you’ve heard it before -  the experiment in which a group of pre-schoolers are asked how many uses they can find for the humble paperclip.  A group of 3-4 year olds will apparently happily reel off fifty uses just for starters, and that’s before they’ve reimagined the size, shape and material of said paperclip.  Give the same group of children the same test a few years later and the inevitable happens – the number of uses they can think of reduces with age.  Eventually, by the time they are adults, most of them can think of just 10-15 uses for a paperclip, compared to the 200 they might have come up with aged four.  Sir Ken asks, what has happened to this group of test subjects between preschool and adult life? Answer - they’ve been educated.

Imagine an education system which goes against this grain, schools which encourage, champion and value divergent thinking.  A community of learners who are willing to reimagine the art of the possible.  I find it a delightful irony that the very difficult time we now find ourselves in, full of change, chaos and uncertainty, is also the crucible for lasting change in the way we fulfil the purpose of education.  To be commencing a new Headship at a time like this is far more of a blessing than you would think.