Roy Blatchford looks afresh at the schools landscape, following a period working abroad
Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!
– Robert Browning
‘Home-Thoughts, From Abroad’ is regularly voted one of the nation’s favourite poems, probably because of its wistful evocation of an English rural springtime. The Victorian poet Robert Browning, nostalgic for home, wrote the verses in 1845 while touring Northern Italy.
I call to mind the celebrated opening couplet as I am just returned to England, following two years working on education system reform in the sun-scorched countries of the Middle East. The spartan vegetation of the Arabian desert to which I have become attuned comprises the acacia and the ghaf rather than Browning’s elms and pear trees. Until recently I have been playing cricket on a 22-yard green mat inlaid into rolled desert.
Back in my native country I am blinking afresh at not only the natural landscape and the cloudscapes, but at the changed political and social scenery too. And visiting a few primary and secondary schools in the first weeks of the summer term, I am seeing anew the education topography.
What have I been struck by on home soil? Simple things at one level, but not to be taken for granted.
• Great pride in their appearance, their school and its values
• Respect for fellow students
• At ease with collaborative learning, indoors and outdoors
• Multi-cultural harmony in classrooms and playgrounds
• Ready willingness to respond to the teacher’s directions
• Boys and girls learning together in music, dance and PE
• Willing and confident to explain what they are doing to a visitor.
• In school early preparing for the day ahead
• Creative planning for differentiation
• Skilful harnessing of plentiful resources
• Easy, relaxed relationships with students
• Readily open to discussion about their practice
• Using PPA time productively in teams
• Engaged in action research
• Endlessly patient with children.
• Focused unwaveringly on supporting teachers and students
• Proud of environments for learning
• Anticipating the exam and testing season
• Thinking creatively about retention and recruitment
• Inventive in deployment of resources
• Enjoying local autonomy
• Passionate about promoting students’ self-esteem and language development.
Does distance lend enchantment, as the old saying goes?
Certainly being away from the UK scene has given an alternative and cherished perspective, and driven an underlying imperative that it is important to value what we have. Sadly, we live in an age when the default position of many pundits, journalists and social media commentators seems to be one of destructive criticism.
What I see around the world in many places is political leaders’ very high regard for education in the UK – and their desire to emulate its great strengths in their own countries. This applies equally to early years, primary, secondary and higher education.
Maybe it takes a period out of the country to appreciate just what simple riches there are in the everyday commerce of England’s primary and secondary schools. I am pleased to be back… as long as the temperatures rise a little.
Roy Blatchford CBE is founder of www.blinks.education. His latest collection of essays Success is a Journey available on the John Catt Educational bookshop. He served as founding director of the National Education Trust, 2006 – 2016.
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