I’ve been lucky enough to have three books picked for the Booktrust’s Bookbuzz programme. Dear Scarlett in 2013, Murder in Midwinter in 2017, and now Bus Stop Baby in 2018. The scheme is for children entering secondary school, and is all about choice and reading for pleasure. Schools buy into it at a subsidised cost of £3 per pupil – and the children get to choose a book to keep from a selection of carefully selected titles.
Each time my books have been part of the scheme, I’ve done stacks of school visits and have seen first hand the effect of choice and ownership. I’ve signed battered copies of Bookbuzz books that a child has read over and over – because it is the only book that they own. I’ve met kids who don’t read but who have found in the Bookbuzz selection something that chimed with them – because they found it themselves. I’ve found that school libraries that haven’t got many books and have been poorly funded are enriched by the selection that they automatically get. I’ve noticed that schools that do Bookbuzz often seem to put reading for pleasure at the heart of their ethos.
If you are a secondary school teacher, librarian or parent – do look it up, here – you can sign up until the end of this month.
And actually, year 6 students can do it too.
I’ve endured school. My children have endured school. The best bits, the most informative bits came from inspired teachers who left the format and took us to interesting places, either physically or in the mind. I think my children would say the same. The allegorists, the story tellers, the mavericks.
The worst bits were the teachers telling us stuff from the front of the class, and copying things down from the board.
When I go into schools, I try to remember this. That the moments that stuck were when I was allowed to go outside the straight and narrow – they were the leaps forward. When I understood about character – that it wasn’t a visual thing, or even a behavioural thing, it was an internal thing – I was 45 when I learned that. When venn diagrams made sense because it was explained it terms of gang culture. When we played on the river bank to get all the experience of erosion and sediment and alluvial deposit. When Dad and I trawled through parish records and saw how many people died before the age of 30 – to do a school project on local history.
I really don’t think grammar schools are going to do this.
I think it’s going to mean even more time in the classroom, learning by rote and the middle classes, for all the best reasons, will try to get their children into the grammar schools.
But there is an answer. Half the class sizes, double the number of teachers. Stop the darn testing and give everyone more time to learn.
That’s it. I’ve had my say.