Have you texted any good novels recently?

 

The modern art of conversation!

The modern art of conversation!

I was standing on Birmingham’s New Street station a couple of days ago on my way home from a teaching session with research colleagues at the University in that city. I have to say that the platforms at New Street are about as dingy and uninspiring as those of any railway station I have experienced anywhere in the world. I enjoy travelling by train; it usually provides an opportunity to catch up with reading or marking, and generally makes few demands upon the traveller. However, this journey was a little frustrating as the only announcements being made were informing passengers of delayed trains and late arrivals and departures.

As I stood on the crowded platform I became aware that my behaviour probably stood out from almost everyone around me. It did so not because of what I was doing, simply standing patiently in anticipation that I might, with any luck get home before dark, but rather for what I was not doing. As I looked around me I noticed that the six individuals in closest proximity were all engaged in sending messages over their mobile phones. So this, I thought, is what we mean by the digital age; an era in which our digits are used for communication more often than our voices.

Of course, I too send text messages via a mobile phone, but after ten minutes or more had elapsed I was surprised to note that, with still no sign of the much anticipated train, all but one of my fellow passengers was still busily tapping the tiny key board and seemingly oblivious to their immediate surroundings. Perhaps, I speculated, this is the way in which students write their essays today; maybe one of these highly focused individuals is writing a novel or some major work of history or philosophy. Can it be that the great magnum opus will in future be written on a mobile phone? Would it possibly necessitate major surgery to separate these individuals from their phones? These thoughts, I reflected are probably the result of two conditions, the first the effects of a simple ennui brought upon from this unappreciated period of waiting in the bowels of the world’s worst railway station, and the second could well be a Luddite tendency possibly related to my age!

At last the train arrived and slumping wearily, but with some relief into a seat I removed a book (an old fashioned object constructed from paper and board containing sheaves of paper called pages filled with text) from my bag, and settled down to enjoy forty five minutes of reading. Taking her seat beside me, a young lady still connected as if by an umbilicus to her smart phone, continued to exercise her fingers deftly across a tiny screen, a dextrous act that she maintained even whilst leaving the train twenty five minutes later in Coventry. Looking around the carriage I noted that her performance was mirrored with commendable concentration by several other passengers, whilst others listened through headphones, presumably to music or possibly stories, again through their phones, and others switched on electronic tablets to play games or even watch movies.

But then I spotted something reassuring. Having begun to think that I had become an endangered species, possibly at risk of attracting the attention of a passing anthropologist, or even David Attenborough in search of a new epic television programme opportunity, there sat quietly across the corridor of the train I noted was a young lady, possibly sixteen years old, certainly no more than eighteen with her gaze fixed intently upon the pages of a book. My curiosity was immediately raised, could this be the last of the dinosaurs or possibly the missing link? What could it be about this ancient technology that held her concentration so fixedly? My curiosity was soon followed by a feeling of unalloyed joy as she turned a page revealing the cover of her book. Women in Love, a D.H. Lawrence classic no less, I wanted to shout for joy, but being British and reserved restrained myself from so doing and returned to my own text with renewed enthusiasm, and an assured feeling that all was well with the world.

Just in case you may be thinking by now that I am resisting entry into the twenty first century, I will confess that I too occasionally listen to music from my phone. Furthermore, when travelling long distances, particularly by bicycle, I often make use of a digital reading device and celebrate the convenience that this brings (not actually whilst riding of course – but usually seated beside a tent in the evening!) And yes, you can download a copy of Women in Love, along with countless other Lawrence novels onto this wonderful machine at a very reasonable price, I’ve just checked. But I still think that from time to time when standing on a railway platform as uninspiring as that in Birmingham, it can be a pleasant, if somewhat arcane experience to engage in conversation with a fellow traveller. And whilst acknowledging the undoubted virtues  of the digital reader, there is something comfortably reassuring about the feel, the weight and even the smell of a good old fashioned book!

If I really must go shopping, there is only one place to head for!

This gentleman provides expertise through his passion for books that draws me back to his shop in Jayanagar.

This gentleman provides expertise through his passion for books that draws me back to his shop in Jayanagar.

 

I dislike shopping. That is, I am intolerant of the endless mind numbing browsing of groaning shelves and sagging racks of items that I can live quite happily without, and which can succeed in holding my interest for no more than a few seconds. Friends and family are acutely aware of my aversion to a pastime that apparently some claim to find therapeutic, (if this kind of therapy is really needed, I suggest that more drastic psychiatric interventions might prove beneficial), and have accepted defeat in their efforts to drag me through the doors of various department stores or other retail outlets.

I fully accept that my attitude to pastimes of the retail variety may be perverse, and like many who exhibit such finely defined phobias, I am happy to confess that there is one great exception to this personal odium. Whilst it takes considerable efforts by wild horses to drag me kicking and screaming into the average supermarket or bon marché, I am always delighted to pass an hour or two in a good bookshop. Sadly in this digital age of on-line purchasing, these have become an endangered species, though a few determined independent booksellers do continue to offer a first class service to the discerning bibliophile. Such defenders of the faith take pride in feeding the habits of the avid book collector and reader, ensuring that their greatly respected wares are sold only to those most likely to afford them the comfort of a well ordered bookshelf in a good home. Long may they thrive!

In England as elsewhere, the ease of ordering books on-line, which are then delivered with great efficiency to the reader’s front door, has sadly become the main assassin of a good number of independent bookshops. I can fully appreciate why this has happened, and when one compares the prices at which books are available from the larger on-line stores with those of most bookshops, it is easy to see how they have come to dominate. But I would still make a case for the need for good independent bookshops run by knowledgeable booksellers, who have a passion for the printed word and a desire to interact at a personal level with their customers.

Near to where I live, whilst a significant number of well-loved bookshops have disappeared in recent years – I still miss Paddy Fox and her welcoming smile in the bookshop in Brixworth; a few remain, and whilst clinging on with their finger nails, continue to offer an excellent service. Quinn’s in Market Harborough and the Courthouse bookshop in Oundle are survivors who have thus far escaped the executioner’s axe to which so many others have fallen victim.

The on-line retail phenomena has not only struck at bookshops in the UK, but has had a similar effect in much of the world, including India. In the fifteen years that I have been visiting Bangalore I have seen a number of excellent book sellers disappear, and they are greatly missed. I recall the excellent service provided by Strand Book Shop who in 2000 shipped a dozen books for me from Bangalore to England. They arrived three months after being ordered, beautifully wrapped  and stitched in sail cloth and having been read are now safely nestled alongside others on the shelves of my study, regularly taken down for reference, or simply to strengthen and renew acquaintance. I was greatly saddened a few years ago when seeking out this professionally managed emporium to find it replaced by an outlet selling… well I’ve no idea what it was selling, why would I have entered the doors?

Gangaram’s Book Bureau in Sivanchetti Gardens just off Mahatma Gandhi Road continues to have a good selection, though it lacks the personality that would make it a more welcoming establishment. However, one wonderful store attracts me like iron filings to a magnet whenever I am in Bangalore and is the epitome of what I regard as the perfect bookshop. Nagashree bookshop  hidden away in the corner of a bustling indoor market near the bus station in Jayanagar  is a haven in which several hours can be constructively passed. Here one can find dedicated guardians of the merest opuscule and the greatest magnum opus, each treated with respect and handled with due reverence.

Nagashree, run by two knowledgeable and enthusiastic gentlemen who are delighted to discuss books, authors and publishers for as long as you have available, can be no more than twelve feet deep and ten wide, yet it is a veritable cornucopia of riches. Books are stacked from floor to a fifteen foot ceiling, with two narrow passages between, in which at most half a dozen customers can safely graze at any one time. There is a haphazard order to the place (if you think that to be a contradiction of terms, you are probably not a devoted bookshop browser), which once you crack the code, reveals treasures unbounded. Within each towering stack can be found well esteemed classics,  shoulder to shoulder with obscure scholarly disquisitions, long established authoratative treatises and brief trifles of local trivia, each comfortable between its own covers and alongside total strangers. Within this Aladdin’s cave, fingering through columns of  rainbow coloured spines is to explore new worlds and old in anticipation of reminders of the past and unexpected discoveries. Furthermore, if fatigued after a day’s teaching you are unable to locate exactly what is sought, I can guarantee that the expert proprietors will put their hands almost instantly upon the volume required.

My study at home now possesses many tomes discovered in the Nagashree treasure house, including several by my favourite Bangalore resident writer Ramachandra Guha, (himself a customer of Nagashree) along with works of Indian history, poetry, philosophy and literature with which I was previously unfamiliar, and which few local bookshops would find it in their interest to stock . The shop – nay, this is far too trivial a term – this oasis amidst the desert wastes of Bangalore, has become an abode of peace and safety amongst the non-stop blur of motion that is Jayanagar. I am therefore not surprised when I find that it is held in the affection of book loving Bangalorian acquaintances such as my young friend Varsha, whose photographs on this page admirably capture the atmosphere of this fine establishment and the pride of one of its excellent proprietors.

Long may the independent bookshop flourish, with its distinctive smells and textures, its well laden shelves and its sage custodians of knowledge. Thank you to all who buck the trend, and refuse to buckle beneath the digital age which threatens to eradicate the sensuous pleasures of book browsing. And a particular cheer for Nagashree Book Shop and its dedicated managers.

See you in September.

Many thanks to Varsha for sharing her passion for books and allowing me to use her photographs

Click on any of the images to enlarge

Nothing lost, and much gained in translation

Marcelos on the left enabling  Niall to make himself undertood to our Portuguese colleagues

Marcelos on the left enabling Niall to make himself undertood to our Portuguese colleagues

As a watery light began to announce this morning’s dawn, I made my way along the straight road that leads towards the centre of São Carlos. My destination was the Catedral de São Carlos Borromeu, with its canary yellow dome, said to have been modelled on that of St Peter’s in Rome, though of course on a much smaller scale.

Despite leaden skies and a morning not yet fully formed, it would be impossible not to be impressed by the modern stained glass windows that are the most striking feature of this building. Beneath the dome a blue and yellow encirclement of abstract glass softens the rather austere white walls. But most surprising is the movement captured in larger windows that depict street scenes, with representations of men and women apparently walking across the glass. A further panel reveals a fisherman casting his hopeful nets all created in a vivid blue.

In medieval days of course, the stained glass windows served an important function of displaying biblical stories to a largely illiterate congregation. These wonderful works of art would remind viewers of their duty, their Christian heritage and their mortality. The need for interpretation to those who had limited skills in reading, was clear at this time, and there are parallels with experiences at our workshop for early career researchers today.

When researchers from two different countries and cultures come together there are always likely to be challenges, and amongst the greatest of these is that of language. Fortunately, just as in previous times the Christian masses had the assistance of stained glass, over the past three days we have had an excellent interpreter. Marcelos has demonstrated consummate professionalism in acting as a bridge between those colleagues whose only language is Portuguese, and others who have only English. His patience and good humour has enabled our work to flow freely and has ensured understanding and a sharing of ideas.

Language was no barrier to enthusiastic researchers

Language was no barrier to enthusiastic researchers

The dissemination of knowledge is an essential part of the educational research process and today we had fine examples of how researchers have shared their investigations with different groups. David Preece placed an emphasis upon effective communication with the families of children on the autism spectrum, whilst Aila Narene Dahwache Criado Rocha demonstrated principles of communication between health workers and educators. Niall Devlin fascinated the audience with his analysis of how educational psychologists relate to children, and Marli Vizim described the importance of respectful work with people living in some of the poorer communities of São Paolo State.

Each of these presenters demonstrated an important feature of good educational research, that of ensuring that children teachers and families are not simply the subject of our investigations, but are accepted as partners at each stage of the process. This was a theme evident throughout the day, as participants in this workshop made ambitious plans for further work over the coming months and years. Although these researchers are at an early stage of their careers, it is already evident that they have a determination to conduct investigations that will be of benefit to others and move the inclusion agenda forward.

A coming together of colleagues in São Carlos has proven to be a great success. In the initial stages there was apparent nervousness, apprehension about the route ahead and the challenges of working in two languages. But just as the cathedral stained glass windows gradually increased the intensity of the light within the building this morning, so have the last few days seen an increase in confidence and an awakening of ideas.

I am sure that several working relationships and a number of long term friendships will have been established during three days of working together in São Carlos. I am equally confident that educational research aimed at improving the lives of children and families is safe in the hands of these early career researchers with whom I have been privileged to work this week.

Many thanks to all for your hard work and collaboration during this brief visit.

São Carlos cathedral on a wet early morning

São Carlos cathedral on a wet early morning

 

 

 

 

 

Autonomous learners must be given the space to develop ideas.

Active learning. An enthusiastic group able to learn together outside on a warm Brazilian day.

Active learning. An enthusiastic group able to learn together outside on a warm Brazilian day.

A pair of great kiskadees have built their unkempt nest atop an electricity post outside of the hotel where I am trying to get some sleep in São Carlos. These are beautifully marked birds (as you can see below), but their grating calls, resembling a rusty hinge badly in need of oil appear to be in conflict with their colourful plumage. They serve as a dawn alarm clock, and early call to action here in Brazil.

Gathering a group of educators together for a few days, discussing opportunities for establishing partnerships for researching inclusive schooling, requires a great deal of thought. In particular achieving a balance between formal teaching activities, presentation of papers and a more informal sharing of ideas is not always easy. Today our gathered assembly have had a mixed economy of activities and it appears to have worked well.

Whilst it is important to ensure that all of these early career researchers have an opportunity to disseminate their research in formal sessions, this is not always the best means of encouraging an exchange of ideas. It would appear that our Brazilian colleagues, in common with the English contingent are pleasingly polite. We all listen to each other and then make appreciative comments, but may be less willing to engage in critical debate for fear of being misunderstood. Given some of the linguistic challenges we face this might actually be a genuine concern.

The quality of paper presentations has been good, but in my opinion the most dynamic learning opportunities were in evidence during less structured sessions. This morning, operating in pairs and then in small groups our colleagues worked together to identify research priorities and exchange their views and interpretations of a range of educational situations. Differing opinions were voiced in the safety of small groups, where there is the security to make critical comments. Ideas were exchanged, debated and in some cases discarded, and as an observer on the periphery of this activity I witnessed a tremendous sharing of learning.

A respectful sharing ideas helps to generate ideas for further collaboration

A respectful sharing of ideas helps to generate ideas for further collaboration

 

This way of working does not, of course, find favour with all teachers. Those who are less confident find it difficult to relinquish control, and to release the agenda to the most important people present, in this case the early career researchers. Here is a fine example of learning as a shared activity in which those who are supposedly the learners, have much in which to instruct the teachers. In this situation it is good to stand back and listen and to be prepared to have one’s own ideas challenged.

This approach is, of course, far easier with adults than it might be with children, but is an important aspect of teaching and learning as a democratic process. Knowing when to exert some influence and when to release learners from this control, is an important skill which we see in the most effective teachers. Sadly there are some who appear unwilling or unable to take this step and remain determined to maintain possession of the learning agenda. When working with children this is of course, at times important, but when working with able adults the teacher who wishes to apply control is in danger of destroying the creativity of the individuals involved.

Amizade e de colaboração

Amizade e de colaboração

 

Giving a degree of freedom to our researcher colleagues today resulted in an exciting and creative melee of ideas, that have now begun to shape nicely into plans for action. Autonomous adults who have already proven themselves to be effective learners, do not want to be pushed into a particular way of learning, or to have a dominant perspective from a teacher paraded before them. The adults here in  São Carlos sharing their experiences, have demonstrated that in informal learning situations they are confident in presenting their own perspectives and critically engaging with ideas.

As I left the classroom for lunch today, four disreputable black vultures had stationed themselves on the roof of the building opposite. They will be disappointed if they are awaiting carrion from today’s sessions!

 

I could be anywhere in the world!

Heathrow, Birmingham, Rome, Dublin, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai - who knows?  This is simply corporate world!

Heathrow, Birmingham, Rome, Dublin, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai – who knows?
This is simply corporate world!

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky tacky,

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes all the same.

There’s a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

          Malvina Reynolds (1962)

Pete Seeger, the American political activist and singer with whom I most readily associate the song “Little Boxes” died last year at the age of ninety four. The song tells the story of an unimaginative approach to housing development, through which hundreds of poorly designed and constructed houses, built with low quality materials cover the country. These become indistinguishable from each other, as do the people who live within them. The song is a protest against poor design and the encroachment of corporate image.

You know how it is, suddenly a song comes into your head and you are unable to shake yourself free of this, until after a while it begins to iritate? Well, this morning I found myself humming the tune to this song as I meandered in a somewhat delirious, fatigued state through the airport at which I arrived in São Paulo, Brazil. Here was I, arriving in an airport at a place previously unvisited, that was oh so familiar. Looking at the immediate environment, this could easily have been Dubai, Bangalore, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dublin, or any one of the numerous airports I have visited in recent years, including terminal five of London’s Heathrow from which I had departed just twelve hours earlier. This is a curse of modern travel; the uniformity that has come to characterise airports around the globe, forbidding any true sense of national or local identity. If an unknowing individual was dropped into the midst of any of these locations, they would have little clue as to where in the world they might be.

Each destination appears to house the same ugly furnishings, completely ill at ease with themselves. The décor is bland and boring, almost clinical in its presentation. In recognition of the modern obsession with consumerism, the architects (if one can truly describe them as such) of these soulless places, guide the passenger through a mazy path between “designer” shops, with instantly recognisable labels, selling goods that you could never previously have known you needed, enticing you to part with whatever currency you choose in a frenzied display of shopper’s madness. The same familiar goods, sold from display cabinets of corporate uniformity, easily recognised from any other airport in the world, ensure that the only thing that you, the weary traveller knows for sure is that you are in yet another airport.

As many who know me well would tell you, I am not a great fan of shopping, and I must say that it is rare that anything within these cathedrals of consumer insanity would entice me off the path to a seat near my embarkation gate. I sometimes wonder if I was inoculated against the dangers of catching the shopping bug when I was a child. If so, this is doubtless yet another act for which I owe many thanks to my parents.

To be fair, a few airports have made the effort to reassert a more personal identity. I remember a few years ago in Schiphol airport, Amsterdam, that there were two particularly pleasing and thoughtful features. A small collection of paintings from the Rijksmuseum had been displayed in a quiet area, inviting the waiting traveller to browse and enjoy something of Dutch culture. In another part of the airport, a small library with books in many languages had been installed, tempting willing readers to turn the pages and relax with a work of literature. I was more than happy to respond positively to both of these allurements, a much more delectible means of addressing the tedium of a long wait. Even more creative, at Changi airport in Singapore, a butterfly garden was constructed with exotic plants and examples of these beautiful multi-coloured insects to raise the curiosity of the passenger in transit. Again, a pleasant half hour or more was spent during one of my visits, exploring this lovely area. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more such innovation could be applied to these boring, non-descript edifices. Such creativity could certainly make the endless periods of waiting less tedious. Whilst functionality and efficiency must obviously dictate the ways in which airports operate, some effort to retain national identity would be most welcome.

I well recognise the symptoms associated with today’s blog. I am tired after a long period of travel by air and road, and a fruitless effort in trying to sleep in a cramped aircraft seat. I am sure that after a good night’s rest I will be restored and ready to learn with and from colleagues here in Brazil. Perhaps it is the lack of sleep that has made me view international airports in a less than favourable light – but I still can’t get that irritating tune out of my head, because basically

they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

Let’s try to recapture some of the magic of childhood

Congratulations to Evelyn Glennie - awarded the Polar Prize for Music

Congratulations to Evelyn Glennie – awarded the Polar Prize for Music

Dame Evelyn Glennie is a wonderful percussionist. I have been fortunate to see her perform on several occasions. One of the most memorable of these performances was as soloist for James Macmillan’s Veni Veni Emmanuel at the the Derngate Concert Hall in Northampton. She must be amongst the most vibrant and enthusiastic performers to ever grace the concert platform. I was therefore delighted this morning to hear on the radio that she had been awarded the prestigious Polar Music Prize.

Evelyn Glennie has often asserted that she is a musician who does not want to be “pigeon holed” or labelled according to the music she plays. Equally at home with a full orchestra playing pieces written by classical composers, or with a small avant-garde group accompanying the Icelandic performer Bjork, she is an adventurous musician who is always looking for opportunities to do something new.

Just as she does not wish to see perceptions of her musicianship limited, she is equally adamant that she does not want to be labelled as a deaf musician. This despite the fact that she has been profoundly deaf since she was twelve years old. Glennie feels the music at least as well as most of us can hear it.

“There’s no such thing as total deafness,” she told a reporter on BBC radio this morning. “If the body can feel, that is a form of hearing. Sound is vibration, that’s what it is.”

I have heard her make similar suggestions on several occasions before, but it was something else she said this morning that caught my attention. Evelyn Glennie is approaching her fiftieth birthday and was asked by the interviewer to reflect on how she felt about this in the context of her distinguished musical career. Her immediate response was to say that she still felt like a child. When asked to elaborate on this comment, she stated that she felt that she could still view her music and experiences of the world with the same enthusiasm and pleasure that we associate with children.

What a wonderfully life affirming statement I thought. Here is an eminent professional who clearly values the sense of awe and wonder that children experience with each new discovery. Evelyn Glennie in making this claim reinforces the importance of respecting the ways in which children view the world, and the excitement that they gain from learning. Her comment this morning made me smile above my muesli! It also made me wonder whether we all ought to make a little more effort to try and recapture some of the magic of our youth and channel it into the work we do today.

I am not suggesting that we become childish, which I see as being distinctly different from being child like. The first implies a level of immaturity that we should make every effort to leave behind, the second a state that we should perhaps try to recapture.

As I write this I am seated at Heathrow airport awaiting a flight to Brazil. It occurs to me that I have a recording of Evelyn Glennie on my phone and that I have an opportunity to listen to this and celebrate this wonderful musician and her achievements during the long trip ahead. I must also make a note to myself to ensure that I work towards achieving a more childlike state!

 

You can listen to Evelyn Glennie perform Rhythmic Caprice by Leigh Howard Stevens  by watching the link below

 

 

Let’s make time to play!

Summer is on the way - let's go and make some sandcastles!

Summer is on the way – let’s go and make some sandcastles!

“Puzzles not punctuation are key to clever toddlers,” thus ran a headline above an article written by Nicola Woolcock in today’s Times newspaper. The article reports the research of David Whitebread a respected academic from the University of Cambridge, in which he suggests that parents who play games with their young children are making a greater contribution to their learning than those who try to get them to read or solve mathematical problems. At a conference in Denmark Whitebread reportedly stated that if parents want their children to do well at school they should spend more time playing with them in early life. “Focusing on early reading achievement is, at best a waste of time, at worst damaging. Instead the parent should share something they love, such as making cakes or tinkering with engines,” says Whitebread.

Hallelujah! (sorry about that  – but that’s how it makes me feel).

Here is someone prepared to go against current trends that suggest we should be cramming children with formal learning virtually from the moment of birth, and is advocating a return to the common sense that contributed to effective child development for years. The urge to erode childhood and to treat children as empty vessels in need of filling with words and numbers seems to have dominated the discourse of education of late. David Whitebread is using his position and expertise to voice a concern that many of us feel with regards the need to respect children as self regulating learners.

As Whitebread reminds us, there is a wealth of evidence to demonstrate, how children who are encouraged to engage in exploratory play, and to interact in non-formal situations with trusted adults, become much more effective learners as they progress through school. Indeed, there is sufficient data to suggest that such children achieve better academic grades and are less likely to develop inappropriate behaviours or become involved in crime. Such facts are not popular with many of today’s politicians, but they need to be heralded with a far greater fanfare than has been evident of late.

The modern view of education, usually promulgated by those who have little experience of teaching or engagement in the school system, is that we should cram children with knowledge and rules, particularly in relation to mathematics and reading, as this will equip them better for today’s society. This does, however, lead me to ask a number of questions.  Firstly, is today’s society exactly what we want to replicate for the future? Should we be preparing children to live in society as it is, or would we rather have individuals capable of the kind of creative thinking that might assist us to improve upon the many challenges that we have created? Secondly, what kind of messages do we wish to convey to today’s generation of young learners? Do we want children who value learning other than that which takes place in formal situations and young people who learn to occupy their time in a constructive manner? Or are we happy to see a generation that has no appreciation of creativity, culture, spirituality or fun because it is not valued by the adults who determine their lives?

For me the most telling part of the Times article is where it quotes David Whitebread saying-

“Play is characterised as essentially unimportant, trivial and lacking serious purpose, something that children do because they are immature and will grow out of. On the contrary, play is one of the highest achievements of the human species. It enables the development of language, the arts, culture, science, maths and technology.”

Perhaps the problem might be that today’s education policy makers have themselves forgotten how to play.

So I say three cheers for David Whitebread and all others who believe in childhood. As for those who will undoubtedly attack him over the coming weeks I say, why not go to the beach and build a sandcastle, go to the park and fly a kite, find a few puddles to jump in, climb a tree, or if you must stay at home at least get out your building blocks?

Yes, today’s blog is another of those that is a bit of a rant – and no I don’t intend to apologise! (just off to play with my grandchildren)

Incidentally, today is William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday – now there was a man who knew how to play! Happy birthday Will.