I remember it as if it were yesterday. The old Victorian building, the institutionally green classroom, the stiflingly hot June day. It was the summer of 1976 and seven-year-old me was slumped at my desk.
It was the year of THE heatwave; saving water, sharing baths and inexplicable, in our school anyway, lunches of boiled cabbage.
Miss Frazer was taking the register, the look on her face simultaneously saying I don't want to be here and I think another meal of boiled cabbage will be the end of me.
She asked the final name, “Yoland?” and closed the old, leather clad ledger with a theatrical thud and told us it was time for maths.
However, much to our delight, as we began finding our exercise books, a miracle occurred.
“But, children, I thought that we might like to go across the road to the park where I’ll read you a story instead. Would you like that?”
Well, as you can imagine, we didn’t need asking twice. We were out of our desks, lined up by the door before she had finished asking the question.
Except for Dawn Klinger that is. Dawn loved maths and I believe she is now Chief Finance Officer for a top PLC. Thankfully it didn't take much convincing before she also joined the line.
We crossed the road and headed into the park (no risk assessment in sight!), a large willow tree came into view next to a brook which ran through the southern perimeter. This was to be our spot.
It turned out to be a wonderful afternoon and a surprisingly profound one for me.
As I describe it to you now, I can actually feel the blades of grass tickling my neck, the smell of wild-flowers and the sound of Miss Frazer’s voice as she shared one of her favourite stories.
Lying there on my back, staring up through the branches and leaves at the blue sky beyond, I remember thinking to myself that life simply couldn’t get better than this.
As we all look back on the trials of the last 18 months and we work to find ways forward for our colleagues and students, I think it vital that we don’t march on in the belief that the solutions all lie in the new or even in the digital.
I believe that if we have learnt anything during the pandemic, it's the power of the analogue and the simple things in life. Time spent with friends, laughter, walks in nature, books and stories.
I worry that due to the fear of what our children have lost out on, the narrative around the ‘lost generation’ and the ‘catching up’ needed will force the system to focus even more rigorously on heavy academia and formality. We will be bombarded with resources from experts far and wide, selling us the solutions.
However, my hope is that over the coming months and years, we will experience a renaissance, focusing on the importance of relationships and shared experiences not just simply on boosting grades.
We must remember that a summer’s day, sat under a willow tree, can be even more profound than a catch-up lesson on algebra.
Personally, I have always believed that three words lie at the heart of great education. Living. Laughing. Learning.
We must focus on education being a celebration of life; past, present, and future. We must help children connect their learning experiences with their growing aspirations. It must also be filled with fun and laughter. A relaxed state allows us to open up, to be secure enough to fail and to enjoy success. We need to remember that fun and awe and wonder shouldn't just be a preserve of pre-school.
So, let’s all commit to stopping, reflecting and spend some time, going back to the future.