Head's Blog

Rosie Allen's Blog, 20.11.2020

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.