The perfect time for poetry


Yesterday Ofsted announced that GCSE pupils taking English literature exams next year won’t be required to study poetry.

There is apparently “significant concern” about teachers’ ability to cover all the required topics in the time they have available after the closure of schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

This story was reported on the evening news and came after the reports about that devastating explosion in Beirut.

Those poor people in that beleaguered nation.

Bel Trew, Middle East correspondent for the Independent, who lives in Beirut, reported these words which express the depth of their tragedy:

“We just can’t take any more, it isn’t possible,” said one woman, who had been treated for a minor head injury.

“We have no money, no food, no electricity, now our houses are destroyed, and family members are missing. It feels like the end of the world.”

What has this got to do with poetry? Everything.

Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese poet explains it better than I ever could:

Poetry is an opportunity to express emotions and explore creativity in a way which is especially important at times of difficulty or crisis.

Just spend half an hour in a class of primary school children writing poetry and you will discover that it is a natural outflow of ideas and expression unlike any other form of communication.

Throughout the Covid-19 crisis it has been an incredibly important emotional outlet for many people. We helped to promote a poetry writing competition during lockdown for our client Earthwatch which produced a huge response. Partly this is down to our great PR skills of course, but it also proves that poetry is important to a lot of people.

So now is absolutely not the time to say there isn’t time for poetry. It should be taught in schools to GCSE level, leading children to discover their own talents, express their emotions; and as way to help them make sense of the world.

For a perfect poetry compendium for our troubled times or a troubled mind I thoroughly recommend The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-and-True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul  by William Sieghart.

To support the people of Beirut there are many options, here is just one I recommend, the Lebanese Red Cross:

If you would like to explore how we could provide some poetic PR for you please do give me call or email

Rearranging the desks


When primary schools reopen in September, they are advised to have forward facing desks in all classrooms.

When was the last forward facing desk phased out in primary education I wonder?  When I was a pupil at the primary school I’m now a governor of, we sat at circular desks and happily moved around the classroom to sit crossed-legged on the carpet for story time.

How long ago was that? At least (whisper it) thirty years ago.

How will the children respond to this new, more structured approach? What will the affect be on behaviour and learning? Will the teachers feel liberated or constrained?

It will be a fascinating experiment and one of the many opportunities schools should seize as a result of the lockdown.

I’m not hankering for a return to Victorian values or structure. Far from it. Now is the time to develop a new, different and better 21st century education.

Schools were given the freedom and opportunity to develop their own curriculums well before lockdown when Ofsted made this statement in 2019:

We want to make sure that good results flow from teaching a broad, rich curriculum and reflect real learning, not just intensive preparation for a test.

Now is the time to connect all the dots, to see the signs that have been there for so long, and create a new more inspiring approach to primary education.

It’s time to change the national approach to teaching and learning which has cut art, music, dance, drama and all the creative arts to the bone in most schools. Creativity must have equal status and time to reading, writing and maths. There should be far more sport for all, every day.

What kept people sane and happy during lockdown? Art and baking!  What did we long for like never before when we couldn’t go out? Being outside, involved with nature or playing sport!  What did people share for free to spread joy and happiness across the world? Music!

We’ve been given permission to abandon SATs this year. Let’s now grab this glorious opportunity to reinvent our schools and our children’s learning. Like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, the direction of the desks is irrelevant.  It’s the direction of education that matters.

Nicky Smith is a governor of Bloxham C of E Primary School. These are her own personal views and do not represent the views of the school governing body. 

Value for money and the importance of good communication in education

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Every time I visit or work with a school I am always struck by the dedication and determination of the staff.

They are always, always trying to help their children learn and thrive.  They are not ‘just doing a job’.

This is why communication is so important, because people – parents, the media, government – need to know about the good work going on in your school, college or university.

Another factor which always strikes me in schools, and even more so in universities, is the sense of collaboration and willingness to share best practice.

If all you want is for your pupils or students to learn and thrive, of course you will gladly share any tips and ideas you have learnt which help this happen.

Again this underpins the importance of good communication, telling people about your best practice, your successful interventions.  Which is why it was disappointing to see this headline in Schools Week:

DfE doesn’t know which interventions are ‘value for money’, education secretary says”  We need to encourage any attempt to identify and share good working practices.  Being honest about looking for evidence is to be applauded not criticised.  The example Justin Greening cites of the Parent Engagement Project is a good one.

This was a huge project conducted by Bristol and Harvard Universities among almost 16,000 pupils in 36 schools. It showed that by sending a weekly text to parents about homework, pupils made an additional month’s progress in maths, compared with a similar group whose parents did not get the texts. Child absence rates were also reduced, which given that the link between absence and attainment is proven, is another huge boost from the intervention.

We can’t all work on this grand scale, but for our individual schools, college and universities we can communicate the daily efforts we make to improve teaching and learning.

Here are our top tips for improving communication and sharing best practice among your stakeholders

  • Ensure you have a regular communication channel to the outside world

Consistency beats intensity every time. Give regular, well planned feedback to your key stakeholders. A simple blog or newsletter is always better than nothing.

  • Develop a regular column or forum for explaining how your schools works such as a ‘Did you know?’ feature.

Here you can describe any internal processes you have for improving or exploring ways to improve teaching and learning. Parents are endlessly fascinated about what goes on in the staff room or behind the scenes. For example, what is your system for checking school marking and feedback to children on a school-wide basis? It may be ‘old hat’ to you but to a parent it’s a new and reassuring activity.

  • Use the power of third party endorsement

Invite a ‘third party’ to comment or review an activity you’re especially pleased with and describe their feedback in your external communication. It could come from a conversation with your Chair of Governors or a meeting you had with the head of another school, but having external endorsement is always reassuring and interesting to parents.

  • Make the mundane magical

Describe how you and your governing body go about checking and challenging the school over certain tasks, such as reviewing standards or pupil progress. Again this may be a routine activity to you but describing it and quantifying it helps other people see the work and care which goes on behind the scenes.

The core message is to keep communicating, because if you don’t tell people about the efforts you go to every day, how will they know?

And if you have discovered an intervention which has really benefitted your pupils or students, the world needs to know about it!