Do professions go on strike?


When I go around the country talking to teacher trainees we get talking about the definition of a profession and the characteristics of professionalism. I love it. I always get a wide ranging discussion going into which people brainstorm things like education, training, qualifications, cpd, specialist skills and knowledge and then develop thinking around dedication, being a role model, responsibility, trust, probity, accountability.

I am always interested in their understanding of the concept of accountability. To whom do they feel they ‘owe’ it?

Willingly, the trainees will recognise that they are accountable to a wide range of ‘stakeholders’ (horrible phrase I know) such as:

  • their employers (like the local authority or school governors who appoint them to their job);
  • their line-managers (like head of department or headteacher, who will ask them what they are planning to teach every day);
  • the wider public and government (through things like Ofsted, who come round and inspect the quality of our teaching);
  • the parents (who turn up at parents evenings or accost you first thing in the morning to ask how ‘Little Johnny’ is getting on with his reading);
  • and even ‘Little Johnny’ himself (who will walk through the classroom door and ask “What are we going to do today Sir?” or complain: “Miss, you haven’t marked my homework!”)

I have rarely met a single student or trainee who doesn’t accept that wide ranging accountability comes with accepting the complex and weighty responsibilities we take on from the first day we enter a classroom as a qualified teacher.

Then I usually tell them this story:

Some years ago I was at a party in the area where I live in north London. I was standing around drinking wine, being introduced to neighbours I hardly knew (that’s what it’s like living in London…) and the guy standing next to me said: “What do you do for a living Alan?”

I said pleasantly: “By profession, I’m a teacher.”

“Well, teaching’s not a profession,” he said rather bluntly (that’s what they’re like in Muswell Hill…!)

“Isn’t it?” I said. “Why do you say that?”

“Teachers go on strike,” he said. “Professions don’t go on strike. Professions put the interests of their clients first. If you go on strike for better pay or pensions or conditions, you’re not putting the interests of your clients’ first. You’re putting your own interests before theirs.”

I must admit I was rather challenged by that remark. We had a rather animated discussion for the next ten minutes that ended with me throwing my glass of wine over his… no, I’m only joking.

So I turn back to ask trainees the question: “What do you think? Do professions go on strike?” and what follows is always a fascinating response.

One such response came recently at the King Edward’s Consortium PGCE in Birmingham (an excellent place to train as a teacher by the way) and one of their brilliant trainees said (I’m paraphrasing her but it’s pretty close):

“Yes, I think professions do go on strike and I reserve my right to do so if in my judgment and that of my colleagues we think that, for example, my employers or the government needs to be held accountable for their actions. Because their actions can directly affect me as a teacher and my students. I accept my accountability to a wide range of people including my employers and the government. But accountability cuts both ways. My right to strike is a way I can hold my employers or the government to account as well.”

What do you think?

Do professions go on strike?

Does accountability cut both ways?

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

Now, what’s reading all about…?


I usually write about ‘professional’ issues rather than curriculum matters but I was recently given a set of books about English to review that made me reflect on issues around ‘professional autonomy’ and how different that once was.

As a primary teacher who did an MA in ‘English in Education’ at London University’s Institute for Education nearly thirty years ago, I read these booklets with some interest. They reminded me of the halcyon days when I felt truly inspired to teach. I would turn up for two hours twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, over two years – each time absolutely knackered from a full day’s teaching in a tough Hackney classroom – but within minutes, find myself drinking at a fountain of knowledge poured by the likes of Harold Rosen, Margaret Meek (Spencer), Tony Burgess and Jane Miller.

These books remind me of those sessions. I’m going to summarise them – all too crudely. But here’s the second one on Reading:

Successful entry into literacy depends on existing competence in spoken language. Beginning readers, to be successful, must employ all the resources of their memory and their meaning-making ability to generalise from the evidence of the text in front of them.

Like the way we pick up language, much of a beginning reader’s learning takes place unconsciously. However, the teacher’s role in appropriately pitched conscious instruction is vital.

Pleasure in reading is an essential prerequisite to success. This principle applies at all levels of encounters with the written word, from initial ‘word-recognition’ activities up to full-scale comprehension of extended text.

Learning to read is learning to infer and construct meaning. In the search for meaning, readers are trying to employ a formidable panoply of strategies at different points in their encounters with texts – and in talking about texts, this is not just books but could be anything from an advert on a billboard to a sign on the way to school. Many, perhaps even the majority of these strategies operate fast and automatically, below the level of conscious awareness.

The job of the teacher (and of the parent, in a less specialised, less expert but no less important way) is to create the conditions in which the young child’s reading strategies can operate unhindered and to greatest effect.

These strategies include things like:

  • recognizing and retaining whole words, to which children have been introduced by the teacher;
  • linking semantic and syntactic patterns of spoken language, of which most children already have substantial experience;
  • recognising the links between writing and sounds.

Successful teaching of reading does not depend on allegiance to a particular method, but on an overall understanding of what it is that children do when encountering a text. Too often, debates about the teaching of reading have been reduced to arguments about methods. ‘Which method should I use? “Look and say”? Phonics? If so, which kind of phonics?’

To seek a fail-safe single method is to seek the wrong thing. At one particular moment in one particular child’s early experience of reading, any one of these methods – or, more likely, a combination of them – might work. The most important piece of intellectual equipment that a teacher needs is not a method, but an understanding of the processes involved in becoming a reader.

Beginning readers need full access to a wide range of books, crucially including books that have been composed using the natural patterns, usages and rhythms of English.

These include:

  • books that the teacher reads aloud to the class;
  • big books where the children can follow the words as the teacher reads;
  • books that, once the child has heard and seen being read aloud by the teacher, he or she can read in a group or alone, repeating the experience more independently;
  • books accompanied by a CD or DVD so that the child can hear an experienced reader giving voice to the marks on the page;
  • books which go home to be read before bedtime or whenever there is a quarter of an hour to spare.

The support of parents and other experienced readers at home is of enormous importance in the development of successful young readers.

About one in six children in the 3-to-7 age-group is a learner of English as an additional language. EAL learners are engaged in the complex process of sorting differences and recognising equivalences between their first and additional language(s). Appropriate books in the first language and in bilingual editions should be provided, so that the writing systems of English and the other language(s) can be compared.

Current government policy and statutory requirements in the area of early reading are based on a simplistic view of the reading process, in which only one method – synthetic phonics – is recognised as being effective in the teaching of early reading. This simplistic understanding fails to do justice to the diversity of strategies that young children use to become successful readers.

John Richmond’s English, Language and Literacy 3 to 19: Reading 3 to 7 proposes an better balanced understanding of the processes of early reading at the Early Years Foundation Stage and at Key Stage 1 than that represented by the new National Curriculum for English. It is available from the United Kingdom Literacy Association at http://www.ukla.org/publications/shop/, price £12 (£11 to UKLA members).    

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

Talk, talk, talk…


I usually write about ‘professional’ issues rather than curriculum matters but I was recently given a set of books about English to review and made me reflect on issues around ‘professional autonomy’ and how different that once was.

As a primary teacher who did an MA in ‘English in Education’ at London University’s Institute for Education nearly thirty years ago, I read these booklets with some interest. They reminded me of the halcyon days when I felt truly inspired to teach. I would turn up for two hours twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, over two years – each time absolutely knackered from a full day’s teaching in a tough Hackney classroom – but within minutes, find myself drinking at a fountain of knowledge poured by the likes of Harold Rosen, Margaret Meek (Spencer), Tony Burgess and Jane Miller.

These books remind me of those sessions. I’m going to summarise them – all too crudely. But here’s the first one I read on Talk.

The spoken language is the mode from which competence in all the other aspects of language springs. Literacy – that foundation of the ‘civilized’ world – could not have come into being without the prior existence of speech.

The learning of spoken language is not merely an act of imitation for young children, but is far more powerful – it is a generalising act in which they perform, infer patterns and rules from the raw material of the language they hear – and then apply inferences to utterances arranged in certain orders and in some cases varying their form according to context – even when they have never heard it before.

Speech is the essential means by which children and young people learn. As a teacher you have a crucial role in guiding children’s use of the spoken language and creating contexts in which children can practise and extend their competence.

To be productive though, ‘group talk’ of whatever size needs a clear structure and purpose. That structure and purpose may be very simple: for example, you could set one single, open question with a time limit. Or you may set a more complex structure involving a series of questions or tasks. Sometimes you will be an active participant in the talk and sometimes just an observer. A key aspect of a teacher’s skill is in setting tasks for children that make demands at the edge of – but not beyond – the reach of a child’s existing state of knowledge or grasp.

Group talk may well involve reading and writing but it shouldn’t be an automatic preliminary to those. Talk should be regarded as an activity in its own right with equivalent status and seriousness to other kinds of language work.

It should embrace a range of purposes and take a range of forms, from exploratory – such as ‘thinking aloud’ or putting together hypotheses – through to the more presentational – like stating arguments or debating – from the tentative to the declaratory and from collaborative group situations through to the individual child becoming a confident speaker in front of an audience.

In the best classrooms, the culture and routines of ‘talk’ is a valid form of ‘work’. The most successful schools have broadly agreed policies on the important principles relating spoken language to learning and in my view, one such principle is that the use of properly managed talk is that it is respected and admired throughout. Quiet classrooms are not necessarily an indication of a working classroom.

Some 17% of the UK school population is bi- or multilingual. These children often outperform their monolingual English-only peers. Teaching multilingual children is not a different kind of teaching, just an adapted one, and recognizes children’s access to a variety of linguistic competence – like the way good teachers recognize a variety of ‘Englishes’ other than just Standard English. Good teachers respect the language of the child’s culture and community. They compare and contrast standard equivalents of non-standard forms that children use in everyday speech. This in itself is a fascinating study of language.

In my view, the government’s new legal requirements for spoken language are insufficiently detailed in the primary years and over-preoccupied with formal and presentational uses of the spoken language in the secondary years. Sadly it seems, the government’s true estimation of the value talk in schools is to be seen in the fact that achievement in the spoken language now does not count towards a student’s main grade at GCSE English Language.

To me that’s a retrograde step – both for English as a ‘subject’ and for teachers’ professional autonomy.

I recommend reading John Richmond’s English, Language and Literacy 3 to 19: Talk – it proposes an alternative National Curriculum for English, giving proper and balanced recognition to the role of the spoken language in learning at the Early Years Foundation Stage and throughout Key Stages 1 to 4.

It is available from the United Kingdom Literacy Association at http://www.ukla.org/publications/shop/, price £12 (£11 to UKLA members).    

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

Teacher – beware the lure of a desert island…


About ten years ago I remember being shocked when I heard that an independent school local to me in north London (and not a famous one either) organized rugby tours for its 15-18 year olds – to Fiji and Tonga of all places. I thought it was a bit extravagant (to say the least). After all, we do have perfectly lovely places to play rugby in a variety of nations across the UK and Europe.

But we live in a free society and people can spend their hard earned cash on whatever they want – if people can afford £30,000 a year and more on school fees they can probably afford to fork out a few extra thousand for a rugby tour to the South Pacific.

Now Horsforth Academy in Leeds is getting in on a similar act.

They usually organise trips to Spain and Italy but this year have apparently been met with “some shortcomings in arrangements” so they have decided to organize a trip to Barbados for the princely sum of £1,650 per student. It will include three fixtures with local teams to play football, netball and girls’ football and the students will benefit from “traditional evening entertainment”, a catamaran cruise, a special sports tour kit and the option of going to a water park – so the school wrote in a letter to parents.

Some parents are up in arms, complaining that it is divisive and extravagant.

They are issues for the school and the parents to resolve but I am also interested in how this impacts on the professional reputation of teachers.

Teachers have always benefited from ex-gratia places on school trips and though I never had a free skiing trip in my life, I always looked forward to taking kids away on school journeys and residentials as often as I could – I tried to do it every year to places like the Lake District, Wales and Devon. Kids love not only geography field and foreign language trips but also outward bound and adventure holidays too.

They learn so much from them – about being sociable and flexible, sharing meals and rooms, learning routines and the discipline of team work, being challenged physically, emotionally and mentally, meeting other children often from different backgrounds and even cultures. It almost always changes your working relationship with them too – in ways that have a positive residual effect – often with the really challenging kids who in my experience somehow turn into little angels when they’re away from their families and school environment for a week.

No, I love them – and I’m a firm advocate of them. Take kids away as much as you can.

But Barbados? Fiji? Tonga?

I think parents might start to wonder whether such trips have been organized for the benefit of the teachers rather than the benefit of the students or pupils. When they start thinking that, the bond of trust between teachers and parents – that precious commodity that exists between a professional person and their client – is at risk of very serious damage. And as we all know, when trust is damaged, it is not easily repaired.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

Can we laugh at the Prophet Muhammad, the Holocaust or 9/11? Discuss and debate.


The government want teachers to ‘promote British values’ but teachers are understandably nervous about tackling issues of extremism. However, extremist views present fantastic opportunities for teachers to address a whole range of serious moral, political, social and religious questions.

When I was at school (a large comprehensive in a working class area of Liverpool) the teachers established a wonderful debating society. Topics included apartheid South Africa, immigration, women’s equality, abortion – nothing seemed off limits.

It is perhaps inevitable that people will feel intimidated in our current climate – if not by the potential threat of violence, however remote – but by the sheer complexity of the issues and the possibility that teachers will seriously upset some pupils or cause offence.

This is where ‘rules’ come in handy. Having a formal discussion or debate with rules – about who speaks first; what facts and evidence they can provide to back up their argument; how, when and where that argument can be challenged; when questions can be asked and by whom – provides a rule-governed environment enabling confidence and security.

Schools are required to provide a Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural curriculum as part of the National Curriculum. In my view, it’s also part of the professional duty of teachers to teach children to discuss and consider complex, even extreme issues and debate them with others – especially those they fundamentally disagree with.

Children should learn that ‘causing offence’ should, on the one hand, be avoided as part of our moral and social responsibility to get on with each other. But on the other hand, it should be seen as part of democratic discourse and a legitimate way to challenge over-bearing authority and tyrannical abuse. Doing so may one day protect or liberate them.

They will learn the scope and limits of ‘free speech’ too. We do not have unlimited free speech, nor should we. We all need and expect the protection of the law from verbal threats, abuse and incitement to violence.

When I was a primary classroom teacher I overheard a pupil telling a racist joke. I didn’t ‘tell the child off’ immediately but sometime later set up a discussion in class to discuss and debate what assumptions and attitudes were behind the ‘joke’.

When I later trained teachers, this was also my advice to new teachers too – not to heavy-handedly suppress racist comment, opinion or ‘jokes’ but use the classroom as a platform to challenge such assumptions in a more reflective and ‘teacherly’ way. It was a controversial approach because some people thought I was also giving a platform to racist abuse. I wasn’t.

I made a clear distinction between the ‘free speech’ of offensive, extreme and even racist opinion on the one hand and abusive and threatening language on the other. I told the kids that the latter was banned in my classroom – for the protection of us all – and they understood that, even at age ten and eleven. But I also wanted them to reflect and consider what they think, say and believe – particularly when such views are expressed as ‘jokes’.

Humour has a unique characteristic in that while it is intended to make us laugh, it is often based on causing some kind of offence. “What can we, or can’t we, laugh at?” That’s a great topic for discussion and debate in schools. But I think many of us are shying away from providing such opportunities to students in these increasingly sensitive times. We shouldn’t. Setting up a debating club or society can give us the confidence to tackle sensitive issues.

I have heard a Jew make a joke about the Holocaust. I heard a New Yorker make a joke about 9/11 the very day after it happened. Quite recently, I have also heard Muslims make jokes about burkhas.

Personally, I can’t conceive telling a joke about things like the Holocaust, 9/11 or burkhas – but to be completely honest with you, I laughed at all three jokes when I heard them. I accept that laughing along with someone or at ourselves is one thing while laughing at others requires a slightly different set of rules.

I defend the right of those people to tell those arguably tasteless and offensive jokes but just because we have a right to laugh at someone doesn’t mean it is right to do it.

Recently I was with a group of trainee teachers discussing “fundamental British values” as part of the Teachers’ Standards. Many of the British trainees said they didn’t really know what British values were. But an Italian student in the group (living and training in the UK) said she thought “British humour was a reflection of British values”. When I asked her to explain what she meant she said: “The British always seem to be laughing at themselves – their pomposity, their snobbery and their own social class divisions. We don’t laugh at stuff like that in Italy, at least not in the same way. I think what a society chooses to laugh at is a reflection of its values. It tells us a lot about ourselves and the way we relate to each other.” (I think she was paying the British a compliment.)

So to return to what is implied by my initial question. What can we – and can’t we – laugh at? This is an urgent topic for discussion and debate in schools – along with a thousand other urgent and compelling issues.

I therefore propose a motion: “That this House believes every school should have a Debating Society (and a Joke Club too).”

All those in favour, say “Aye!”

If you would like to set up a debating club or society in your school, The English Speaking Union has an excellent resource: “Ten tips for setting up a Debating Club”.

http://www.esu.org/programmes/schools/secondary-schools/e-classroom/resources-for-students-and-teachers/ten-tips-for-setting-up-a-debating-club

 

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

 

What are British values? Don’t ask the British!


I lead a lot of sessions with NQT and trainee teachers up and down the country about how to “promote fundamental British values’.

We go through a variety of interesting discussions and activities related to the concept of ‘values’ – both personal and universal – and how to promote ‘British values’ through practical activities embedded within the Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) curriculum. Then we look at the Teachers’ Standards. Invariably, at least one person will ask: “What are fundamental British values?” So I put question back to the audience.

Most of the teachers I come across have not the faintest idea.

Even when I prompt them a bit with a helpful reference to the actual section of the Teachers’ Standards where it says: “Democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs” – many will even contest that these are exclusively British values, and say things like: “Surely these are universal? They’re found in most countries, not just Britain?”

I sometimes reply – respectfully of course – that they should get out a bit more. If they were to travel the world, they would soon find out that most people in most countries do not necessarily assume ownership of such values nor take for granted the rights associated with them.

So I’ll prompt a little further with my audience… “How about trial by jury… the presumption of innocence… Habeas Corpus… surely these are principles that the British played a founding role influencing legal systems around the world?”

But I can see my audiences are not yet convinced.

I continue: “Then what about things like fair play… cricket and all that… our apparent enthusiasm for queuing… saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ a lot… cheering for the underdog… starting conversations with the weather… being the first to apologize when someone steps on your toe…? Doesn’t that show how nice we are?” But then people think I’m being trivial. I’m not.

But some reply: “They may be British but they’re hardly fundamental values.”

So I try again and suggest some things that have been fundamental to shaping our history – “How about Magna Carta… the defeat of the Spanish Armada… the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo… the British Empire, for both good and bad… slavery and its abolition… the Industrial Revolution… Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain… the establishment of the National Health Service?” I ask: “Doesn’t our history reflect various aspects of British values?”

But still people argue with me. “Every country has proud and shameful events in their history. Why should Britain think it’s any different?”

I say “It doesn’t mean we are necessarily better, but we are different.” So I press on (being ever the optimist) and suggest that perhaps our values are reflected in our unique artistic and cultural heritage? “What about the novels of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Tolkien or even JK Rowling, the paintings of Turner and Hockney, the plays of Shakespeare, the music of The Beatles, the mission of the BBC, the Edinburgh Fringe, Glastonbury…?”

I’m fighting a losing battle, I can see. I continue to try to convince my confused audiences how the British global reputation for science is surely a reflection of fundamental values: “The Laws of Newton… Darwin’s Origin of Species… the discovery of penicillin and DNA…?”

Now I sound like I’m pleading with them.

Finally, in sheer desperation, I reel off my personal favourites: “Then what about fish and chips, a nice cup of tea, a pint in the pub…!” but all to no avail.

It is very striking how most British people in my audiences offer much of an answer as to what fundamental British values are or how they are reflected in our history, law, science, artistic heritage or even our popular culture.

When there are foreigners in the audience. It’s a different story.

Recently, I was in Liverpool and a Bulgarian student there was the first to pipe up when I asked the question. “I have lived in nearly all the countries of Europe” she said, “but it is only in Britain where I feel most respected as a woman.”

I was in St Albans, a trainee from Holland said: “Britain is incredibly tolerant of other religions. That’s not true everywhere in Europe. Even where I come from in Holland if you’re not a Christian of a protestant denomination, you are a little bit suspect. Here in Britain nobody seems to mind what religion you believe in.”

In east London, a Nigerian man said: “In my country there is so much corruption. If you want to avoid a fine, get a visa or planning permission you just pay a police officer or a government official. British people think the MPs expenses scandal was big corruption. That was nothing compared to what happens in many countries.”

Reflecting on the observations of foreigners makes an interesting contrast, but we need to feel to feel confident that we are teaching the values society expects us to promote, not just the skills and knowledge needed by industry and commerce.

Make a list of all the activities your school does under the umbrella of the Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) curriculum – it will include a whole range of things like: recognizing and celebrating religious and cultural festivals, local, national and international events and anniversaries; visits to places of worship, museums, art galleries, concert halls, theatres, castles, town halls, courts, Parliament, the local fire station; arranging visits by local councilors, MPs, lawyers, religious leaders; involving pupils and students in array of school activities, clubs and societies like formulating the school’s Behaviour policy, Golden Rules, ‘Anti-Bullying Week’, playground buddies, staff selection, elections for school councils; organizing a Circle Time, a debating society and myriad other social, sports and cultural clubs. Even if you’re a small primary school, the list will probably include forty or fifty such activities.

You will realise that many if not all of the activities you have identified that are currently being done in your school already contribute to promoting fundamental ‘British’ values – such as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance. You will also see where you have gaps both in your SMSC curriculum and in the promotion of ‘fundamental British values’.

It will inspire you to take forward new ideas for your class and your school. Best of all, it will give you the confidence that you actually know what ‘fundamental British values’ are after all. And best of all, that you can go in to school tomorrow and teach them!

Alan Newland leads a session on “Can you teach British values? Yes – and here’s how…” at ITT training centres and schools around the country. If you would like to book this highly interactive and well-received three-hour training session, contact him either through this blog, through Twitter at @newteacherstalk or at alan.newland29a@gmail.com

If you would like to develop your knowledge and skills around teaching values, British or otherwise, you can get help at:

Parliament Education Service    parliament.uk  Includes tours of Parliament and resources for all key stages

The Citizenship Foundation    citizenshipfoundation.org.uk

Lawyers in Schools    lawyersinschools.org.uk   Free school visits from lawyers and resources to promote legal and justice issues – mainly KS2 up

Giving Nation    g-nation.org.uk   Resources for volunteering

Go Givers    gogivers.org   Resources for volunteering

Paying for it    payingforit.org.uk   Resources for financial budgeting

National Centre for Citizenship and the Law   nccl.org.uk  Aims to increase understanding of career opportunities in the legal profession, different types of courts and how they work, stage ‘mock’ trials and encourage an interest in the law.

Teachit Citizenship     teachitcitizenship.co.uk

The Philosophy Foundation     philosophy-foundation.org

Youth for Human Rights     youthforhumanrights.org

Amnesty International    amnesty.org

The British Library – Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy     bl.uk/magna-carta    Free workshops and resources

Alan Newland has worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for over a decade with the DfE and the General Teaching Council. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk

His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

“I’ll never forget that…” What education can do.


Over twenty-five years ago I taught a class of thirty ten-year old primary school children about the Holocaust. I didn’t mean to. It just happened. It was an accident, I promise you.

I was teaching English (or Language as we called it those days) to my Year 6 class and we were doing something on ‘diaries’ – keeping them, reading them, famous diaries etc. I read some examples like Samuel Pepys and of course, The Diary of Anne Frank.

“Wait a minute…” some of the kids said, “this sounds interesting. Can we have a bit more?”

I ended up reading from it every day. They were captivated. I decided to turn it in to a ‘project’ – though some of my colleagues doubted the suitability and appropriateness of the topic for the age group. We wrote letters to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam to find out more, we read books about her life from those who knew her, we read about the persecution of the Jews and others by the Nazis, we studied the history of the Second World War and the geography of Europe during the war and in modern times, we built an accurate and detailed scale model of the famous attic in which she and her family hid, we wrote letters to her as if she were a friend, poems dedicated to her, a play about her.

I asked some Holocaust survivors of my acquaintance – a couple from Vienna who came to Britain as children alone on the ‘Kinder transport’ and who later married and brought up a family in London – to come and talk about their experiences of anti-Semitism at school and escaping the Nazis after Kristallnacht. The (then fledging) Holocaust Educational Trust offered us some photographs, artifacts and display material suitable for primary age children, so we staged an exhibition and invited the local community.

Then I discovered that Anne Frank’s step-sister Eva Schloss actually lived in north London. Eva had been a neighbour and school friend of Anne Frank whose mother married the widowed Otto Frank after the war. We invited her to come and speak to the children and we made a video of her visit.

We even spent a whole night cooped up in an attic (at the very top of a rather creepy Victorian church hall in Hackney), sleeping on the floor in flimsy sleeping bags with only water and no food, with no-one allowed to go to the toilet until it had gone dark (it was June 1989, so it was late) and even more challenging, no-one was allowed to speak. The kids had to read books or play chess and draughts in silence for the whole evening until they finally fell asleep.

The only break in the silence was when I arranged for the school-keeper to make an unannounced visit at eleven o’clock at night, as the kids had (mostly) fallen asleep. He (under my instruction) stomped up the stone steps of the attic stairwell in heavy hob-nail boots, rattled the heavy wooden door, then banged on it loudly and shouted “Come out! Come out! Anne Frank! Are you in there? Come out!”

Of course, the kids were terrified – really, genuinely, very terrified – and I allowed the terror to sink in for a minute before I opened the door and they saw it was the benign and friendly school-keeper whom they all knew well.

The project culminated a few weeks later when we visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and saw for ourselves what she had really gone through. That night at the youth hostel we were staying in just outside of Amsterdam, one of the kids in the class wrote in her diary: “Today I walked in the foot-steps of Anne Frank.”

As a teacher you will often doubt the effectiveness of your teaching – its methods, style and content. You will get frustrated at kids who seem to value so little of what you are trying to do – whether it’s the knowledge you are trying to convey, the skills you are trying to develop or the personal and social values you are trying to engender in them. You will wonder sometimes whether anything you teach has any lasting value or affect. Try not to let these feelings overwhelm you – because with all education and especially with primary education – the real value of it is rarely apparent at the point at which it is taking place.

On this Holocaust Memorial Day and 70th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz I am thinking about Anne Frank and her diary, about those people we met who survived – and I am thinking about the kids to whom I “taught” the Holocaust.

Some of them have been in contact with me through Facebook in the last few years – all of them now mature adults with kids of their own. First, they tell me their news and then they all say something like: “Mr Newland, do you remember that project we did on Anne Frank? I’ll never forget that.”

 

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the General Teaching Council. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.

You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk.

His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.