Friday, 17 May 2019

The Primary Curriculum Leader's Handbook


I am pleased to say that I have a short essay in John Catt's 'The Primary Curriculum Leader's Handbook', edited by Roy Blatchford who has 'has brought together some of the sharpest thinkers in education in a brilliant mixture of both practical and conceptual essays about what makes for a positive primary curriculum'.

Here's the opening of my chapter which is entitled 'Apprentices and Masterclasses' and which reflects the current practice that my school and my colleagues have been developing:

The National Curriculum, with a degree of effort, is fairly easy to cover, once you’ve got to grips with what some of the statements mean. If everything is planned out well, a school can ensure that all the statements are ticked off, at least in their intent, even if sometimes some objectives are lost at the implementation stage. But is that the sort of curriculum you want? One that is concerned with ticking
boxes?

You’ll have seen the delivery of this sort of curriculum in action. An afternoon’s art lesson often concludes with 30 pieces of near-identical artwork, 31 if you include the teacher’s piece that ‘inspired’ all the children. A Design and Technology unit that is concerned with making sure that at the end of the half term all children proudly present their parents with a glue-gunned photograph frame that, choice of embellishment aside, is the same each one of their classmates’...

The book costs £15 and is out on 22nd May abut it can be pre-ordered here now: http://www.johncattbookshop.com/titles/the-primary-curriculum-leader-s-handbook

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Book Review: 'The Maker of Monsters' by Lorraine Gregory

Dystopian fantasy/scifi inspired by Frankenstein from the author of the brilliant 'Mold and the Poison Plot'? Don't mind if I do. When I heard there was to be a new Lorraine Gregory book I was certain it was going to be another original tale of adventure, full of heart and soul.

This one is also full of gristle with a side helping of gore. Whereas 'Mold...' had the smells, 'The Maker of Monsters' gets its grim grittiness from the horrific creatures, so vividly depicted, created by the tortured Lord Macawber. Bent on revenge he raises an army of resurrected creations, pieced together from beasts both mythical and real and powered by his waning magic.

Brat knows what's going on; after all he has worked for Macawber (love the name - great etymological links with 'macabre') nearly all his life since he washed up on the beach of the island where the magical Lord has his forbidding castle. He knows that if the monsters break free then all hell will break loose. And when they do its up to him to warn the people of the mainland. Of course, no main character in a children's book goes it alone and thankfully Molly rescues Brat and proves more than useful along the way as she and her father help to break into the City.

Despite being based in a corner of a world completely different to our own, both the settings and characters are so well developed that nothing seems out of place, even the monsters. In such a short story Gregory displays absolute craftsmanship in the way that she writes. The fact that the people in the story are hardly any different to us (only a handful have magical powers) is the glue that holds it all together - they are just so incredibly human that everything else is plausible.

With several subplots involving rivalry, an estranged daughter and a people held captive under false premises, this hard-hitting tale (things really don't go to plan where in conventional children's books everything would be OK) is touching and warming: Brat's pets Tingle and Sherman play the role of adorable animal sidekicks (such as you might find in all good Disney films) and the real central theme here is love and relationships. The things we do, in good faith, in the name of love and their impact on the lives of others is a concept explored here in an upper key stage two-friendly manner, although it would probably suit KS3 readers even better.

If you're after a short-ish read for older children, especially one that would make a great read aloud and one which also would provide plenty of points for discussion whilst still falling into the fantasy genre, then look no further than 'The Maker of Monsters'. Lorraine Gregory has done it again.

Monday, 13 May 2019

From The @TES Blog: Eyes Down, It's Time For SATs Reading Test Bingo


In what must be the article with the shortest shelf life that I've ever written I've made some tongue-in-cheek predictions for the content of the 2019 Reading SATs:

Read it here: https://www.tes.com/news/eyes-down-its-time-sats-reading-test-bingo

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Book Review: 'Girl 38 Finding a Friend' by Ewa Jozefkowicz

'Girl 38 Finding A Friend', brings to life not only a narrative of present and past, but also introduces a third storyline in the form of an imaginary story which is being written by the story's main character, Kat.

In her second novel for children, Ewa Jozefkowicz draws on the second world war experiences of her own grandmother in Poland. Her story is told by the lips (and paintbrush) of Kat's elderly neighbour Ania, who tells her life story in installments throughout the book. The modern day storyline focuses on the arrival of a new boy at school - a boy who Kat's supposed best friend is intent upon bullying. But Gem doesn't do her own dirty work - that's what she's developed her toxic relationship with Kat for.

If Kat's conscience isn't enough to put her off the cruel things that she's putting Julius through, then Ania's story is. The book itself is a celebration of the power of narrative; through listening to someone else's tale, whilst simultaneously creating her own comic strip, Kat develops her empathy towards others.

And that's just what this book will do for its readers. The elderly are not to be snubbed or looked down upon - they are wonderful people with vast experience and understanding of life and what it is to be human. Newcomers are always potential friends - people who can expand our horizons and open our eyes. Friends are supposed to be friendly - they are meant to do good to you, not harm. It even hints at the fact that even the nastiest people might have a back story that we need to know so as to understand their negative behaviour.

As with other narratives in this vein - Once by Morris Gleitzman and The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailier, for example - there is also the exploration of how, in war, not everything is black and white - there are good people trying to do good things despite their circumstances; despite looking like the enemy.

Suitable for children in upper key stage 2 and older, this delicately written yet compelling book would be a great read for those who enjoy history and slightly more grown-up themes in their reading material. Very much a coming-of-age novel, 'Girl 38 Finding a Friend' (a clever title with dual meaning) will sit well alongside recent books such as 'Armistice Runner' by Tom Palmer and 'Closest Thing To Flying' by Gill Lewis, as well as the aforementioned older books.