On Solidarity

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I’ve just got back from the Women’s March in Amsterdam and my hands are so cold that it has taken me five minutes to type this sentence. The march was the perfect antidote to what had a been a bleak Friday evening. Nothing will lift the spirits more than seeing over three thousand men, women and children braving the cold in defense of human rights. I met people from London, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, America and France. People from all around the world had come to protest. Despite the cold everyone seemed to be in suitably high spirits, they chanted and sang with enthusiasm as we marched through the Museumplein – the atmosphere was electrifying.

I’ve been on a dozens of rallies and protest marches over the last few years so to me it feels like a very normal, positive and proactive way of expressing your views. All the protests I’ve been on have been very family friendly and completely peaceful (apart from the teacher’s rallies which are noisy affairs because they all have their own whistles.) But there were a few scathing opinions about the women’s marches on social media this morning. There were some people saying the marches were too much/not enough about women’s rights and others/Piers Morgan accused the march of being sexist. Why weren’t we marching for men’s rights? It’s important to remember that Piers Morgan was Editor of the Mirror when they were hacking Nigel Havers’ phone whilst he cared for his terminally ill wife so we mustn’t worry too much about what he thinks of our peaceful protest this is the perfect response:

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These marches weren’t sexist or anti-men – a huge number of men turned up in support. These protests are a response to a President who has no regard or respect for women. The man who boasts about grabbing women “by the pussy” is now the leader of free world – or, if you prefer, Eve Ensler’s title: the predator-in-chief. He leads with Mike Pence,  his Vice President, who plans to “gut” Planned Parenthood services and who said that same-sex relationships were a sign of “societal collapse.” Both men have said they believe there should be a punishment for abortion and already a bill has been passed in Ohio to ban abortions from the time a heartbeat can be detected (which is usually about six weeks.) Yes hundreds of women turned up to vote for Trump but this doesn’t mean other women can’t or shouldn’t protest. The message today was loud and clear: women’s rights and women’s bodies are not up for grabs.

For some people today was an opportunity to have a good old rant about the fact of Trump (my personal highlight was an 8-year-old boy running around shouting, “DONALD TRUMP IS AN IDIOT” at the top of his lungs.) I know how an election can break your heart. I know the anger and pain that follows and how cathartic it is to walk among thousands of like-minded people to stand up for what you believe in. It is not anti-democratic to protest against Trump. By voting him in the victors do not have the right to silence the opposition. People still have the right to a peaceful protest – for now at least.

And ultimately it’s not just women’s rights that are threatened by the rise of the far-right. Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric carried him to the White House. During his campaign he called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals,” promised to deport 3 million immigrants in his first year and let’s not forget that wall he wants to build around the southern border. His inauguration speech made it abundantly clear that it’s “America First.” (Incidentally  “America First” was also the name of the isolationist, anti-Semitic organisation that urged the United States to appease Hitler and stay out of WWII.) Over the next four years we are going to have to fight to defend internationalism and the rights of immigrants. We’ll protest against walls being put up and bridges being burnt in both America and Europe.

For me the march today was about hope. Last night was bleak –  it felt like we were turning the clock back on years of progress. I couldn’t shift this unsettling feeling that one day I’d be seeing Trump’s inauguration speech on a documentary about the causes of WW3. I went to bed with a heavy heart and trying to work through some dark thoughts. Walking in the sunshine this afternoon with thousands of positive, tolerant and passionate women, men and children reminded me that there are still people who, when threats are made to our rights will step up and defend them. Who won’t allow young girls to grow up accepting that wealthy and powerful men can touch their genitals without consent. Who believe that the only person who should make decisions about a woman’s uterus is the woman herself  – radical I know. I returned home tired and happy and so cold that I couldn’t feel my face. My social media feed was littered with pictures with friends on marches around the world: Washington, Budapest, London, Bangkok and Paris. The marches served as a global display of solidarity and one I am proud to have been part of.

 

Why Are Dutch Children The Happiest In The World?

 

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We’ve been in Amsterdam for just over two months now and I’m just starting to scratch beneath the surface of the city. I know the tourist traps and when to avoid them, I can recommend at least one coffee shop (both kinds), I know a good place to get pancakes and have a favourite spot in the Vondelpark. When we returned after Christmas we really felt like residents rather than tourists. I’m trying to take in as much as a I can as before you know it we’ll be back in London.

So what have I learnt? I’ve learnt that Dutch people are open, frank and friendly. They have fewer inhibitions than British people and their entire philosophy seems to be: “live and let live.” As part of our honeymoon last year we travelled coast-to-coast across America, a country which prides itself on being free and liberal. In America you are free to do what you want, within the confines of the law, even if it’s detrimental to other people’s quality of life e.g. exploit workers, avoid tax, pollute the atmosphere with some gas guzzling machine, charge people extortionate amounts of rent for a shitty property etc…

In the Netherlands you’re at liberty to do what you want as long you pay into the society and take care of people. So yes, you can run a business and earn as much money as you want as long as you’re happy to pay the high rates of tax and offer good working conditions. You can be a landlord but there are rent caps, you can build houses or swanky apartments but 30% of all new builds have to be made available as social housing. You can own a car but you don’t have priority on the roads. You come fourth after bicycles, pedestrians and trams. This is a country designed to make life for its citizens as easy and enjoyable as possible. Their laws and regulations are based on an belief that people are entitled to a sufficient income to satisfy their basic needs and should not be at the mercy of charity. And it’s working: The Netherlands consistently ranks as one of the best places in the world to live and, according to Unicef, Dutch children are among the happiest in the world. Here’s why:

Their parents are happy

For all their liberal attitudes to sex and drugs, the Dutch are small ‘c’ conservative in their approach to raising a family. As parents you are expected to spend time as a family doing nice things with your children. You are not expected to spend 50+ hours of your week working. Unlike in the UK where we wear our stress levels and packed schedules like badges of honour, here over 50% of the country work part time. Over 50%. Legislation was even introduced in 2000 that gave men and women the right to ask their employer for part time work.  This explains why the average working week is only 29 hours.

Admittedly there is a gender gap with over 75% of women working part time – compared to only 27% of men. The reasons for this are historic – the Dutch remained neutral throughout WW1 and didn’t enter WW2 until its occupation in 1940 so there wasn’t the drain of men from the workforce that required women to take up jobs. Consequently women didn’t enter work in The Netherlands until much later than in Britain – sometime around the late 60s.

Households can afford run on either one full time income or two part-time incomes – an option many take. Even though it is more likely to be the man that works full time, 23% of fathers take “papadag” leave each week. “Papadag” literally translates as, “Daddy Day.” In the Netherlands all fathers are entitled to a weekday off EVERY WEEK to spend time with their children. Every week. Arguably it isn’t just the fact fathers are free to take a day to spend with their children that makes the difference – it’s the fact that it has been made a social norm. Fathers are expected to be active in their children’s lives.

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2. There’s more to life than academic achievement 

Children start school at 4 or 5 – but don’t start formal reading and writing until 7. Instead, in the first few years, schools focus entirely on social skills, gross and fine motor skills and learning through play. Homework isn’t common for children under the age of 10 – all the more time to be playing outside. Formal testing doesn’t take place until the age of 12 when they take the CITO tests the results of which are treated only as a suggestion to the sort of route a child might want to take next. Ultimately the decision as to what sort of secondary education they’ll pursue lies with the child and their parents.

The main difference here is that academic achievement is not the be all and end all. Professor Volleburgh of Utrecht University sums it up quite nicely, “The Netherlands has a social culture, with open and safe relationships between parents and their children and the same applies to the relationships the children have with each other. The pressure to perform is not as high here.”

In the next few weeks I’m hoping to visit a few of the local schools to see what all this looks in practice – watch this space.

3. They’re Active

Wchildren-cyclehether it’s tearing around the Vondelpark on their bikes, or skating on one of the numerous outdoor ice rinks – Dutch children are very active. This is unsurprising as research by the British Heart Foundation found adults in the Netherlands to be some of the most active in Europe. The same research found that 80% of children in the Netherlands participate in more than two hours of vigorous exercise a week, compared to just 49% of British children. The main reason for this is that everybody cycles. It’s the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to travel and is incredibly safe. Secondly, children are outdoors all the time. Come rain or shine Dutch children are outside, swimming and playing – often unsupervised. Whilst family time is important to the Dutch, the children here are incredibly independent: primary school children cycle to school themselves and take themselves off to their friends’ houses in the evening. Not a helicopter parent or tiger Mum in sight.

 


Of course this could all be rubbish. I reckon the real reason that Dutch children are the happiest in the world is because they get to eat Hagelslag every morning. Hagelslag are chocolate sprinkles which are typically served on a hot, buttered toast – who wouldn’t be happy starting their day like that?

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What Should Children Be Reading?

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I don’t remember learning to read. I consider it a huge privilege that I only have memories of being a reader. I think it’s because I was quite nosy and once I’d mastered talking (which those that know me won’t be surprised to find out was at a very young age) I didn’t want to be locked out from this world the adults could access for a second longer than necessary. Walking came late, reading came early and that is reflected in how my spend my leisure time as an adult. I was surrounded by books growing up; they lined the walls of every room in our house. Whole worlds, carefully hidden between battered, worn covers just waiting to be explored. Reading introduced me to new ideas, people and places, some real and some fictitious, it enriched my life and fuelled my imagination. So it’s with interest that I read Katie Ashford’s article about what children should be reading. This is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about. And, as part of that thought process, I have decided to reflect on my own “reading journey” and the teachers who guided me through it.

By the time I got to school, I would proudly announce that I could read “by myself” to anyone who would listen (I was probably quite annoying as a child.) My Reception teacher, Mrs Woodhams, gave me books from her own collection to take home once I’d worked my way through the class library. At home we’d read the Ahlbergs, Shirley Hughes, Jill Murphy,  oh and a book called “Bad Mood Bear” before bed. I read whatever I could get my hands on but there are a few books that stand out in my memories of my school years.

I think I’m right in saying that the “Puddle Lane” books were the 80s equivalent of “The Magic Key” series. I have a distinct memory of bringing them home and reading them to my brother. Lucky him. I remember being thrilled to be given the chance to read, “The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark” aloud to the class in Year 1. In Year 3 I became obsessed with the “Flossy Teacake” books – I must look those up again – they were brilliant. Bel Mooney’s “Kitty” books were another favourite, oh and not forgetting Jill Murphy’s “Worst Witch.” There was a series of books by Nigel Hinton that I loved called, “Beaver Towers” it was about a boy called Philip and his adventures with a family of beavers. Whenever I ran out of books – I’d scour my Mum’s bookshelves for anything I thought looked interesting – which is why by the time I’d left Primary School I’d read more Libby Purves than most 11-year-olds. Nothing was off limits. There were no “good books” or “bad books” there weren’t even “hard” or “easy” books there were just books to be enjoyed every day.

In Year 5 I read my first classic. As a class we read the “The Hobbit.” There was no film to rely on in 1995 and, even if there had been, we only had one twenty minute session in the TV room a week, it would have taken nearly a term to get through it. Instead we were skillfully guided through Tolkien’s Middle-Earth by Miss Fry. She would read it to us every day and photocopy chapters for us to read at home. We drew maps of Middle-Earth and even created a “life size” Smaug out of chicken wire and paper mâché. (Which I’ve since found out was rolled out to greet Ofsted when they turned up. It is my belief that all schools should have an Ofsted dragon.) This sculpture was so enormous that we had to move it out into the playground so we could all work on it. As well as grappling with Tolkien we were also treated to a poems by Michael Rosen and Spike Milligan. Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Tennyson were introduced to me in Year 6 and I loved them but after school I’d have my nose in the latest Babysitter’s Club or “Animal Ark” book.

Secondary school was where I was introduced to the big guns: Orwell, Hardy, Dickens, Austen and Keats. Some I loved and some I found insufferably dull. For GCSE I read, “The Handmaid’s Tale” the book that started my love affair with Margaret Atwood. 6 years later I wrote a dissertation about it.  Conversely, for  A-Level I had to read Thomas Hardy’s, “The Return of the Native” and I could not get to grips with it. My form tutor at the time, who was an English teacher herself, listened to me moaning about how complicated the plot was and how difficult I found it to keep up with what was going on. Her response was perfect and has always stayed with me: “Oh Zoe, come on now, the plot is no more complicated than the plot of ‘The OC.'” (‘The OC’ was a programme full of teen drama that I watched avidly at the age of 17.)

From then on she would ask me every day how much more I’d read until I finally got to the end. I am forever grateful to her for doing this. It got me the grades I needed to study English Literature at university and proved to me that I was capable of sticking with a book (a skill I had to draw on often when studying Anglo-Saxon literature in later years.) However, it was also the first time I’d ever had to really force myself to finish a book I wasn’t enjoying and it put me off reading Hardy for years (“Tess of the d’Urbervilles” changed my mind.)

I think we need a two-pronged approach when it comes to introducing children to books. The first thing we need to do is completely surround them with books without preference or prejudice. Picture books, graphic novels, classics, nonsense poems, everything from Jeff Kinney to C.S Lewis.  I disagree that “hooking” children in to reading with books based on their interests won’t lead to a life long love of literature. My brother grew up on a literary diet of football magazines, Liverpool FC annuals and the occasional “Goosebumps” book until the age of 14 and now reads widely and regularly. Let children read whatever they want at home, show that you’re interested in what they’re reading and encourage them to bring in their favourite books and share them with the class. Recommend other texts they might enjoy and please never tell a child, “you’re a bit too old to be reading that.”

This is not to say that children should leave school without any experience of the classics – they absolutely should. But it can be a two-pronged approach. Whilst the works of Shakespeare, Tolkien and Dickens should not be the preserve of the most able pupils, neither should they replace “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” It is our responsibility to guide pupils through these more challenging texts and make them accessible. I’ve taught “The Tempest” to 6-year-olds. It was the year of the 2012 Olympics and the class had seen Kenneth Brannagh read Caliban’s speech in the opening ceremony. Given that they were already interested in the speech, I decided to run with it and introduce them to the play. I taught from both an abridged children’s version and the original. As Shakespeare plays go, “The Tempest” is a good one to start with as it’s full of magic, a wizard, a storm and a monster. I know people will pipe up with, “But if you feel that you have to “sell” Shakespeare to children you are suggesting it isn’t interesting or worthwhile.” I’m not. I’m suggesting that if you want six-year-olds to read Early Modern English don’t expect them to be immediately interested. That’s not a new, radical idea – the first children’s Bible was published in 1759 in an attempt to make it more accessible to children.

By the end of that term, the entire class knew Caliban’s speech by heart and we took turns performing it from the top of the playground equipment. Gimmicky? Perhaps. Sugar coating? Possibly. But there are 30 children who are no longer intimidated when they read Shakespeare. That particular class also know Michael Rosen’s “Chocolate Cake”  by heart because we read it so many times and they in turn introduced me to the delights of “Mr Gum.”

I hate this notion that some books are too “easy.” Learning to read isn’t easy and it isn’t always interesting and I don’t believe that it’s selling children the assumption reading is dull by finding them books they’re interested in. The books you first read for yourself and actually enjoy are so special they stay with you for the rest of your life. A book that sparks interest and inspires a child to pick up another is like a magic key (not that one) that unlocks the world of reading.

All that said, I am the teacher that hid the “Where’s Wally?” books from my Year 5 class…

 

 

Do I Miss Teaching?

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Next week it will be six months since I taught my last lesson. That sounds a bit like an AA introduction doesn’t it?

“Hi my name is Zoe.” 

“Hi Zoe!”

“It has been six months since my last lesson.”

And then you all clap. I think. I’ve never been to AA but I’ve seen films.

Last year my resignation letter caused far more drama than I’d anticipated. I wrote it on a Saturday night whilst babysitting my nephew (he was only 18 months old at the time and asleep – I wasn’t just ignoring him for the whole evening.) It had been in my drafts since I’d told my head teacher I was leaving in the January (much to the disappointment of one breakfast TV show that rang to ask if I’d like to resign live on air – no I bloody don’t.) I posted it at about midnight and went to bed. The following morning I woke up to nine missed calls, a flurry emails and an invitation to go on BBC Breakfast the next day. By the time I got hold of my Head of school he told me he’d already read the post because a member of his family had shared it on Facebook. The week that followed was surreal and hugely overwhelming: from press turning up on my Mum’s doorstep,  to supportive phone calls from the wonderful Kevin Courtney and Martin Ellis-Hall.

Anyway. Now I’ve left. I didn’t have much time to process that over the summer as we were finishing the preparations for our wedding. Then we took 10 weeks to channel our inner-Palin and circumnavigate the globe and now we’re now settled into our new life in Amsterdam pursuing careers in writing.

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An entire term has passed by without me entering a school. Do I miss it? Yes. I miss the teaching. Those sacred hours between 9am and 3pm when it was just me with my class hammering out how to multiply fractions, reading endlessly and learning about the world. I miss seeing children succeed and make progress, not always in neat, measurable steps, but progress nonetheless. I miss finding new ways to challenge my pupils, researching new ideas and trying them out. I miss laughing with (ok sometimes at) my class every single day.

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I miss these monsters.
I miss the colleagues: teachers are some of the smartest, funniest and most interesting people I’ve ever met and our colleagues from the six schools we’ve worked in made up over 70% of our wedding guests and remain our dear friends. I miss the sense of community and camaraderie that comes from working in a school.

I don’t miss how much of my life I had to sacrifice to do the job well. I don’t miss: leaving the house before 7am, working until 7pm, working some more at weekends, inputting data, analysing data, feeling guilty about the data. Worrying about the results, worrying about forced academisation and worrying about Ofsted. I don’t miss the fear. The fear that’s felt by both my head teacher friends and my NQT friends.  Fear of being caught out, or of failing – because there is no time to fail any more. A head teacher cannot have a bad set of results and an NQT cannot have a bad lesson observation without questions being asked. I appreciate this isn’t true of every school. I was part of a new SLT who were hired to help improve an “RI school”  – which let’s face it was never going to be a straightforward job but it isn’t just RI schools feeling the fear. I don’t miss the frustration at having to tell parents of able writers that, because their child hadn’t used what the DfE call exclamation sentences, they were not meeting national expectations. Actually whilst we’re on it – I don’t miss the DfE at all.

I now have two things I never have as a teacher: time and energy. I exercise every day. There are some incredible people that can do that as well as work a 60 hour week but I was never one of them. I have time to speak to my husband – as in properly speak to him for hours. He’s one of my favourite people in the whole world but when we were both senior leaders we’d stagger through the weeks barely acknowledging one another, sleep and drink through the weekends and repeat. Now we have time to visit new places, go and see exhibitions, I even stay awake when we go to the cinema. I’m not too tired to answer the phone. The number of phone calls I didn’t answer simply because I couldn’t face talking. Not talking to that person just talking in general. I really noticed it this Christmas. In the past the Christmas holidays were a lighthouse in a rough sea that called to me throughout that long autumn term. It was a time to recover and recharge. This year I relaxed and took three days off from responding to emails etc… and I actually had enough energy to get out and see people. I was present for entire conversations and not thinking about work.

We have one life and I am determined not to spend mine working 60 hours a week for 40 years. I just can’t. Not because I’m afraid of hard work – I got my first job at 14, held down two jobs whilst studying at University, helped set up a business in my year out and then went into teaching. I am happy to work hard but I will no longer sacrifice my relationships with my friends and family, my health and my wellbeing for my career – no matter how worthy or noble the profession. Life is too short to only work.

I’m sure there are plenty of people reading this thinking, “What a load of crap – teaching doesn’t have to be like that and it isn’t at my school.” And that’s great. But it was very much my experience. The hours and energy it required were just not sustainable long term.

But I do miss it. And if the time or school came along where I could do the job well on a 40-45 hour week and if we ever get past this high-stakes testing and schools being judged on their ability to jump over an ever-raising bar then yeah, I’d be back.

Is There Something Wrong With How We Teach Children To Write?

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The idea for this post came to me at 10:35am whilst I was boarding a train at Amsterdam Centraal.  We were heading to Cologne to check out the Christmas markets. I spent the entire two-hour journey scribbling down the idea on a piece of paper my husband had been using as a bookmark. (I normally carry a notebook but on this occasion, had left it at home to make more room for Cologne Christmas purchases.) My notes were messy and incoherent as I rushed to get everything down:

notes

The next day I sat at my desk and transferred my notes into a first draft. It was still incoherent: just a list of points I wanted to make that needed to be fleshed out into full sentences. During the drafting stage I am always comforted by Hemingway’s claim that, “the first draft of everything is shit.” I used to have this quote written on a post-it and stuck to my laptop as a reminder for those “this is so crap and you’re deluded if you think anyone will ever read it” days.

That draft was written about a month ago and since then I’ve been editing and rewriting. The idea that had come so suddenly and easily proved to be harder to write than I’d thought.  But I liked the idea so I stayed with it. Yesterday I had 1,700 words in a sort of coherent structure but still wasn’t happy; I dropped the laptop into my husband’s lap and said, “Can you work out why this is so rubbish?” I just couldn’t get it right – I had been so enthusiastic about the initial idea it was as if any attempt to create the post didn’t do the idea justice. Once he’d read it he commented how ironic it was, given the subject matter of the post, that I was struggling with it so much.

Then last night, as I was getting into bed, it clicked; I realised what I’d been doing wrong. I grabbed my notebook and quickly scribbled out a new plan ready to be typed up the next day. And here it is- you’re reading it which means I’m finally happy enough with it to post it – hooray!

You’ll notice I haven’t actually mentioned the idea that came to me on the train to Cologne – so far this has just been a blog about blogging (meta-blogging?) The idea itself is something that I was always slightly aware of as a teacher but has been highlighted since I started writing professionally:

Why is there such disconnect between how we as adults write and the processes we ask pupils in schools to follow?

It starts with asking children to generate ideas on demand. Yes, we provide plenty of discussion and stimulus but essentially a child can walk into a classroom and be told that in that hour they have to come up with an idea for a report/story/diary entry etc… That’s a big ask. Even when I’m pitching ideas to my editor they are ideas I’ve developed in my own time. Of course time is the main constraint here and generating ideas is just one part of writing (and the part that normally involves the least writing) so we can’t afford the luxury of allowing children endless time to generate ideas and develop them. Equally, if the objective is “To write a diary entry” there is no reason why you can’t provide the pupil with the idea just to get them writing.

Once they’ve had/been given the idea it is commonplace to ask children to complete some sort of plan. Google “KS1/KS2 planning formats” and you’ll be presented with dozens of versions of essentially the same document: a page of boxes for the children to complete.

 

In the early stages of their education, when children need to be taught HOW to plan, there is certainly a place for these but once they’ve learnt the process I would argue that these templates can be more of a hindrance than a help. On a practical level the boxes are small which means you have to think about keeping your handwriting neat to make sure your ideas fit in. It also limits the amount you can write which doesn’t allow for those ideas to lead to other ideas – there just isn’t the space for that!

My plans are messy and illegible to anyone else and that’s fine because nobody else needs to read them. What is the main barrier to children being allowed to plan their writing freely? I would argue it’s presentation policies and policies that state there should be a certain number of completed pieces of work in a book each week. I’m not saying children shouldn’t take care over their presentation and learn to underline the date etc… but it shouldn’t take priority over the learning. Children need a space where they can write freely without worrying about cursive script or drawing in a margin. Some schools have draft books or jotters for this purpose but I’ve heard of schools getting rid of these books because they were “messy” or hiding them when Ofsted turn up.

Once they’ve planned, children start their first draft. In the ideal world the children would have the option of typing a first draft because the process of editing and rewriting is laborious enough without having to do it by hand. If you’ve written a four-page draft that you want to edit and then rewrite, it means turning back and forth between pages and squashing notes into a margin or rewriting sentences in that little gap between the original sentence and the line. Once again, when you’re first teaching editing, it’s essential that children see the process modelled, either by watching you mark their work or editing a piece of work together as class. By upper KS2 children should be able to edit their own work with the support of a checklist of criteria and a dictionary. Their editing would need to be checked by the class teacher but most of it could be done independently. The problem with editing is that it takes time – time that schools don’t have. This post took weeks to edit but even when I’m on a deadline the process can take days and includes a cooling off period where I walk away from the piece for anything from an hour to a day.

Finally we ask children to write up their work. As in rewrite the whole piece again. By hand. For what could be the third or fourth time depending how many drafts they’ve done. Out come the line guides, paperclips and ruled margins which will end up being elaborately decorated. Had they been word processing from the beginning the final draft would be there waiting to print once they’d finished editing and even if that isn’t an option I question how valuable “copying up” lessons are. You could perhaps argue it is a handwriting exercise but there are other ways to teach handwriting. By the “copying up” stage only the keenest of children are still interested in this piece of writing.

Conversely, how often do children get to scrap their work and start again from the very beginning if they want to? I had a child ask to do exactly that when the rest of the class were on their final drafts and I said no because we only had one more lesson to spend on this and next week we’d be moving on to something new. That was the right answer. Children have to learn to meet deadlines and follow instructions and I’m not suggesting we abandon our plans every time a child changes their mind but I do wonder whether if I’d agreed that he could start again on the condition he’d have to work on it at home he might have produced a better piece.

Obviously we’re not teaching children to be “writers” any more than we’re teaching them to be astronauts, doctors or civil servants. We are teaching them to write which requires practising the basics over and over again. It means showing them how to construct complex sentences and how to use punctuation and grammar and giving them time to practise it. Writing is bloody hard work and learning to write even more so.

This post isn’t a criticism – just a general musing. I would love to hear about how different schools teach writing  – please get in touch. I’m also not suggesting that the way I write is how we should teach children to write – I’m not Michael Gove. It’s just that if we are serious about children mastering a “writer’s voice” we should, at least occasionally, allow them to behave like writers.