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. 

What can we learn from the West Bank? Giving children confidence, hope and curiosity in the classroom.



Last week at BETT  I met with one of my heros, Hanan Al Hroub.  She is a small, unassuming lady, voted Global Teacher of the Year in the Varley Foundation awards.

Why is she such a hero?  I hope these pictures give you an idea.

Outside her classroom there is fighting, hostility, boredom.

Inside, happiness, learning and engagement.

Children sitting enraptured while a teacher tells a story

How does she do it?  Hanan described the techniques she used, for example making an indoor garden in the corner of the classroom from old bits of junk she found and the children decorated; telling a story while wearing a funny wig.

She illustrated her talk with a few pictures like those here, and also gave an indepth analysis of the qualities it takes to be an inspirational leader.  She gave good theory which was all interesting to learn.

But what struckHanan Al Hroub Global Teacher of the Year me, ironically, given that we were at BETT (the mother ship of education technology,) was that like all good teaching it came down to the strength of that individual person.

Where she teaches on the West Bank they don’t have access to the latest technology, or the even the latest books.  It is her personality, her passion and her belief that makes the difference:

“We have all kinds of suffering and yet I can turn this around in the classroom and I can create a child that can become a happy dreamer”.  What a wonderful vision that is:

“the role for me is to protect the smile and protect their dreams” she continued.

Also talking was Colin Hegarty, who was a finalist in the Global Teacher Awards 2016, and Maths Teacher of the Year 2015 in the UK.

Asked what he thought was the most essential quality of a good maths teacher he said ‘empathy’.

At the start of each new academic year he asks his class to write him a letter about how they feel about maths.  I can easily imagine how that letter gives him a wealth of  information to help him teach each child more effectively.  What a simple step and yet how powerful.

So the lesson from these great teachers is that it is our inner belief and passion that makes a difference.  Although in both cases they were at pains to emphasise the amount of planning and preparation they do for every lesson.

I went straight from BETT to a governors meeting where we talked about the government’s proposed new funding formula, and the impact it will have on our school (because it is less money of course, not more as promised!)… And yet again I was struck by the passion in the room and the determination to make a difference through education to children’s lives.

We do need money; we do need to innovate and work with technology but most of all we need passion and a lot of planning.