Category Archives: School

Where was I?

I know where I was on September 18th 1990. I know where I was because my geography teacher – a man whose name I cannot now remember – asked all of us what day it was.

We were thirteen. Our teacher seemed genuinely angry and upset that we did not know what day it was. How could we? We had no means of finding out in 1990 without leaving the classroom. So he kept asking us. He was not a good teacher and I made a mental note that this method would not work.

He despaired, shouted at us a bit and put on a video. A VHS with a fuzzy picture and trippy colours on a hulking cathode-ray machine with clunky buttons. It was loud enough to wobble the tubular trolley. There was lots of sound and anger being performed at us. Some of us were a little scared. Our class watched in confusion as Jimi Hendrix performed guitar riffs with his hands and his teeth, on his knee and behind his head. There was certainly skill being demonstrated, but like a fine wine or a decent book we did not appreciate exactly what. We were thirteen.

Happy that he had berated us enough, our teacher told us that the date that day was exactly twenty years since Jimi Hendrix’ untimely death. We looked at each other. So now we knew. Some of us still had no idea who Jimi Hendrix was, so our teacher took it upon himself to tell us. It was not much of a geography lesson. I think this was the teacher who also tried to teach us how to make cocaine from the plant, should we find ourselves in South America. (It was not the best of schools but I learned a lot about how not to teach there).

I never became a fan of Jimi Hendrix.

I never became a fan of David Bowie either, but this week I have learned why.

I judged him.

I thought of him as a provocative and promiscuous glam rocker, caught in all the trappings of fame and success and one of many provocative artists – so what was new? I was not interested in music which broke the mould because much music does that. I felt the Bowie experience was hollow and unsophisticated. Also irritating and showy. And amoral. And broken.

I judged him, and today I have understood something about myself in that and why I need to stop judging. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others. 

I have no right to judge. I did not even realise I was doing it. Here was a guy living out his life in full colour, whatever my own feelings were about those colours. It is not for me to judge him. I can like or dislike his music, his opinions and his actions, but it is not for me to judge them. The difference is important. Do not judge others and you will not be judged.

I still do not identify very much with Bowie and I still don’t warm to his musical styles, but I have made a small step forward. A moon-step, if you like. He, like me, was only human. And sometimes all of us, as humans, recognise that we have limits. And we do ourselves all a great favour if we refuse to let our differences divide us. When we look closely, we find that we have more in common than we may have realised.



The Taking Part

It’s the taking part that counts, right?

Not the success? Not achieving a personal aim? Or becoming highly proficient in some skill?

Taking part – that’s the thing. Right?


I heard two seven year olds sparring today. One was adamant that taking part was the main point in sports events. The other’s daddy had told him that taking part wasn’t enough if you didn’t try and win. And he agreed with his daddy and was not going to talk about it any more. The first lad returned to scratching stones out of the dirt in front of him and creating an interesting collection, avoiding all eye contact and clearly humbled by his fitter and more confident classmate. He did not try to win the point.

But he had just taken part in a tournament. He had managed to get through eleven sweaty tennis activities on a hot morning with no shade. And his team had not won. Oh, I know that feeling well. I have never achieved great things in sports. I came last in sports days every year. I had to learn to swim with small children at nearly 6 foot tall. I didn’t get picked to play for my college football team – despite the captain being my room-mate. Even my form group came last each year at sports day. Taking part didn’t wash with me. Taking part was rubbish. Taking part meant being vulnerable and inadequate in public. Not just the Not Winning, but Not Managing. Not managing to catch a ball and being the kid who chased after it twice every time – once in the general direction (it would never normally go that far!) and a second time when it rolled out of reach or some stray foot of mine made contact wrongly. Taking part in sports days was choosing to be humiliated in skills we had not been working on. Skills which favoured the naturally talented, those who liked an audience or were happy to sit in fields stewing with grass pollen and the few who had remembered sun cream.

Winning was even less of an option. I registered the probabilities and was prepared to concede the fight before even beginning. Taking part meant taking the high moral ground, because it certainly wasn’t going to achieve anything for me. Taking part meant allowing others to prove themselves though their legs were shorter, their language cruder or their times tables wobblier. Taking part felt patronising. Like being taken apart. Like some twelfth night twist. In summer. In infants and junior groups. In bright primary colours with odd names, whose allegiances was sudden and sincere and stupid because my team Never Won.

And in the 1980s if you did not win, you went home empty-handed. Or you competed against yourself. One year – trying my utmost – I did worse than in the previous year, but still got a certificate. I wished I could have refused it. Receiving no certificate would have been a better reward. My efforts had not been successful and I did not want patronising, which I decided devalued other achievements.

There are arenas in which you are not born to win, yet you are compelled to make your best endeavours – perhaps even in full view.

That stinks.

Many times in life winning is just not an option. Managing may not even be an option. Taking part carries baggage. Taking part is utterly unfair if winning is not an option. Taking part means creating a pedestal for the few, which the many uphold merely by their presence.

Most participants at most sports events lose. Is this the lesson we spend a dozen summer days lining up for in primary colours?

Most participants at most sports events have chosen to be there and have worked hard, with a goal of personal success and new best scores.

Taking part cannot be enough if you are not trying to win. So I agree with that boy’s daddy. You have to put your best into it. You have to give it everything, accept defeat graciously if that’s your lot and use your victories – if you get any – for the good of the team, the school, the nation or the almanack writers.

But I also agree with the stone-scratcher. Taking part takes real courage when you know you cannot win. Taking part takes tenacity and a willingness not to think too highly of yourself. Taking part can (and should) mean encouraging others. Taking part can open your eyes to new ways of looking after your own fitness. Taking part means seeing yourself as part of a team, and not merely as an individual who needs the kudos of standing on others’ losses for personal gain. Taking part challenges the normal hierarchies and routines of academia. Taking part can be part of a pattern of humiliation, which makes you want to scratch a hole in the dirt and gather stones.

There is a time for gathering stones. To cleanse, withdraw and reflect.

And a time to scatter them. To say how it is and how you feel, even when it makes a mess.

Lily has been involved in two competitions this month. The first involved a national search for a child to represent English Heritage. Someone passionate about history and willing to dress up as their historical hero or heroine. She did remarkably well and got through to the final 35, but the competition was very strong and she didn’t win. What struck me, more than her confidence and knowledge at interview was her resolution to do her best and to be content whatever the outcome. She understood that not everyone could win and that it was unlikely she would. She wanted to win and therefore wanted to take part to have the chance, but her sportsmanship was touching. That is what made me so proud of her. She didn’t refuse to take part (as I would most probably have done these days) – she refused to let the competition dominate her.

The second competition was today’s meet up of year two children from three local primary schools at the local secondary college. Teenaged sports leaders directed twelve groups of brightly coloured children around a circuit of throwing, running, batting and catching games. I was there to be an extra pair of hands and eyes. Our small team were not always the fastest or most accurate, but we were told to enjoy Taking Part. And that there would be only one measure of success – the team who encouraged each other the most. Sportsmanship.

My dormant competitor recognised something. Here was a talent anyone could master. All of the children could take part in Encouraging. And the act of encouraging others was to be encouraged. So I cheered the team on and they cheered each other on and we got through the heat and the running after the tennis balls (twice) and the water bottles and at the end we all sat near some shade and waited for the results. And I wanted to encourage everyone and say ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter whether you won or not; well done for encouraging each other so well guys!’ but that would have been wrong.

And finally the results came in. There were joint second place teams from Lily’s school and another school.

There were joint fourth place teams from the two other schools. And the winning team, by just two points…

…was Lily’s team.


I joined in the victory cheer and suddenly the thrill of victory made sense. It was the winning that counted for most. But of course it was not only the winning that counted. Or even the managing.

And I wish I had sat with stone-scratching-boy and told him what he needed to hear. That he was right. And also to keep his head up. And to keep trying. And to find arenas to excel in. And that he could encourage others too. And I hoped others would encourage him, because he needed it more than a lot of the others did.

The Bishop of Bombay

I met the Bishop of Bombay today at the post office.

‘Bonjour,’ I smiled, allowing the sentence to linger Englishly beside the empty bubble-wrap envelopes. No response.

The Bishop’s wife touched his elbow and he turned around and saw me. His little eyes lit up Gallicly and his cheeks filled out. Although I always thought he looked old, today he looked much older. Deeper. Sadder.

‘M. Mercier?’ I continued. ‘You used to teach me; it’s Lucy’ I said, mixing my tenses as proficiently as ever.

He grinned and I recalled how he always used to address us in class: ‘Now, ma leetle missionarees – when ah waz ze Bishop of Bombay, let me tell you somesing – what ar you doing zere?’ He always spoke like that. He played to his strengths, with a strong warm French accent and a passion for the perfect tense with être. We played to his weaknesses – some smoked under the tables, while I got fed up with arriver and partir and spent lessons with my head in my dad’s copy of Teach Yourself Swahili. Moja, mbili, tatu, nne, tano and all that. As he got older he got louder. Everyone knew who M. Mercier was, and what his class were learning that lesson if you were on the top corridor. Our school may not have been great for sending folk to Oxbridge, but it was rich in Life.

There was one time when the Bishop of Bombay took me to the local A&E as I’d fallen in the playground – almost certainly from copying the rest of the second year girls and attempting to do gymnastics on the wooden bars outside the drama room. I asked him why he said he was the Bishop of Bombay. He actually twinkled his eyes and explained in broken English that he wasn’t really. I knew that, but I wanted more information. I said that since I’d been seven I’d wanted to be a missionary. After that he always addressed us as ‘my leetle missionarees’.

‘Aha, zee firrst female Bishop of Bombay’ he pronounced, waking up the rest of the post office. The lady hoping to check and send her passport application had been checked and sent away to collect the rest of the requisites. The Bishop’s wife moved forward to the vacant teller. She smiled at me. ‘You were always one of ze very best’ M. Mercier went on. This was clearly untrue. Even my Swahili was sketchy. But I knew what he meant. I didn’t misbehave and I tried hard. I wanted to say something to encourage him.

‘I’m married now, I have two children.’

‘Oh, zat ees good.’

He had hearing aids in. From experience with older folk I knew better than to ask someone with hearing aids if they are well, especially in public with no time to chat. So I told him I had studied more languages at university. He smiled as if he hadn’t heard me. I smiled as if he had.

And then it was time for me to move on to the next vacant teller. The Bishop and his wife both said goodbye to me and walked on, and I was left calculating the value of postage and of words. I didn’t learn much French at school, malheureusement, but I did learn about giving a much better education – that of positive words.


mercierBishop of Bombay, circa 1993 (c) R.Spall


Father I place into Your Hands

Today I discovered that I could not apply for the school places for Joseph out of county quite as readily as we had hoped. We cannot apply through Cambridgeshire if we do not live there, or have two applications open. We can apply to out of county schools through the Suffolk application website, but only if they list them. All three we preferred were not on the (extensive) list of primaries.

And having made two (count them…. two!) phone calls to numbers beginning with ‘your call is important to us’, I emailed Suffolk for advice.

It wasn’t simple: we need to apply online as we are away on the results day and may need to action Lily’s school place or house move details immediately, or make decisions about the second round applications. We are trusting that God is calling us to a specific area. We have already visited some schools and have plans to view more of the area this week. And the deadline is in 8 days.

I got an out-of-office reply stating that Suffolk were away and might take ten working days (count them… ten!) to reply. This could indeed affect our chances.

We’d already stepped out of the boat in faith. We’d already taken risks. There’s no Janus look-both-ways option here. If you try and run back to the boat you won’t stay up.

So I called on my friends, and my friends reminded me to call on Jesus. His Grace continues to cover me and carry me Outrageously. He lifts me, dries me, laughs. And 60 seconds before I’m supposed to be at school (count them… 60!) the phone rings. Withheld number. Might it be Tony, our regular wrong-number guy, calling for Peter, desperate for a visit? Or a company wishing to extol the virtues of government-encouraged schemes and am I in the 55-85 bracket? Or my sister, calling from colder climes?

Usually I ignore Withheld. Today I picked up. Today a lovely lady from Suffolk explained how she’d fixed the problem, approved of our pragmatism and was utterly professional. Their call was important to me. Thank you Marie Withheld from Suffolk. And thank you friends who remind me to face the right way when stepping out of the boat. And thank you Jesus for the outrageous grace – again.


Depression Toolkit #20: Blessing others

I am learning to re-introduce this one gently.

I love helping others out, even when it drains me. Maybe it is a deep-grained sense of duty. I like to see things fixed. I want to weep with those who are weeping and laugh with those who are laughing.

So the end of term is providing the opportunity to find a wonderful gift for Lily’s teacher, who has done so well in her first year of teaching. I found just the thing on, and will also print out home-made thank you cards with her picture on for her teacher and classroom assistants. I am limiting myself to Lily’s immediate helpers this term for my sanity.

Then there is the exciting prospect of a new nephew or niece soon, and coming up with something to bless my brother and his wife and family with.

My husband and I are attending a wedding soon. And we are visiting friends in Albania, so lots of potential for finding lovely ways to bless people. And there are birthdays, occasions and times to focus on others.

It’s not just gifts. I love the idea of the five love languages, and learning to bless others in different ways, such as:

  • words of affirmation
  • acts of service
  • receiving gifts
  • quality time
  • physical touch

Apart from the planning element of gifts or written words, which I have to pace (early preparation is key here), most of these can be managed in the moment, and are more true for it. So although I am not keeping up with every event or birthday, I am hoping to be more of a blessing to others and to focus more away from myself.

The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace

Psalm 29:11


Game boys and girls

The kids are sick. This is not modern youth speak indicating their coefficient of cool; they are actually sick. Joe is ‘nose runny again’ and taking out shares in his parents’ bedroom by night and Lily has been off school for a week and working on her amateur dramatics skills at every opportunity with her parents. In my opinion she still has a long way to go. Nothing big, exciting or clever in the illness department. They will recover and all will be well again. And in the meantime I am grateful for being able to grab a few hours today to make progress in a number of important areas as my parents have bravely stepped in.

I have not been able to interest the children in crafts or other messy activities and would not want to while both have the attention span of a goldfish in a forgettery. Parking children in front of a TV (short programmes only) or allowing them to play educational games on the CBeebies website has been particularly successful, but not the ideal situation. They are not in a useful state for helping with chores, sadly.


So I raided my brain and realised that there were some other ideas. Back to Old School play.

My sister – the one who makes films – recently let me have her old Game Boy. Wow – that brought back a few 90s memories. I was so jealous of the kids who had these when I was younger. It was a very long ferry trip for the German exchange as one of the few 13 year olds not to have one. But they are good for heuristic technological play, as it turns out. My son can now play ‘Stack the Shapes into a Really Interesting Tower’ which – at Level Zero – buys me enough time to put a load of washing on. And his sister can practice her Being A Teacher and Telling Him All She Knows about technology from a previous generation. Because she loves history so much. And also how to make it start again.




I expect it won’t be long before he is better than me, but I will not be publishing evidence of that, clearly. Then there’s the game of What Ancient Objects Can We Find In The House Which Can Be Used For Creating Music?

This is what Joe came up with when I found him amusing himself the other morning:


He doesn’t really have an invisible left hand, that’s just his rhythm-copying. Educational? I should think so: international drums, music and history lessons all without trying too hard. I guess it goes to show you can always benefit from having a few things in the house that you don’t mind being hit by a two-year-old. Especially if they are not people.

And then I was feeling so nostalgic, and excited that Joe may be tall enough to visit Legoland this year, and enthralled to have discovered that I invited him to help me rebuild my Best Christmas Present Ever. Released in 1984, Lego Castle model 6080 is quite something. By this point Lily was back on the computer games, and I don’t blame her. What used to take an afternoon of sorting and building took three or four sessions with Joseph, much of which was spent explaining how to place things symmetrically and not to hurt your fingers or mix the wrong lego trousers and tops. Fashion, history, technology, maths… who needs school? I even had to get out two pairs of tweezers to rescue the lego string and had to substitute half a dozen pieces of highly hooverable shape from other sets of more interesting colour. This is proper lego. This lego actually weighs a serious amount. It smells of the mid 1980s. It makes me happy deep inside. All this was lost on Joe, who thinks it is a glorified drawbridge (it is a wonderfully glorified drawbridge in fact). It turns out several other female friends had the same set when they were younger. So perhaps I should shift the Lego Friends and pursue a more historical and adventurous agenda with Lily. When she gets off the computer, that is.


Thoughts on Lily starting school

There are three days until Lily starts school. She is far more ready than I thought she would be. She has even decided where to go to college after, what her subject will be, and (because it helps to fill in the gaps) where she would like to go to high school.

Totally true. And, if you are interested: the local FE college, Art, the catchment high school, where we park for church.

I have ordered many labels and ironed in 19% of them, despite being told by a parent at the school that it won’t make any difference.

I have bought her shiny shoes, and will be helping her wear them in and prepare them. Not that they fit my feet (or likely ever did).

I have avoided instigating academic work with her over the summer (this is the daughter who begs to have friends over and then reads in a corner while they are here). Instead I have been making sure she is ready to take on new things, try new foods, carry things carefully and think about others.

We have had a full summer. We travelled to family, we visited interesting local places, we learnt a lot about flags, we learnt even more about guinea pigs and are now the proud owners of two more members of the family: Beatrix and Stripe. These wonderful little guys (yes) are still so young and shy that they do not realise they have an upstairs and a downstairs in the same hutch, and have to be moved each morning and evening. They really are incredibly loved by the children and are worth being allergic to hay for. I honestly think at least one of them has been trying to communicate in Morse Code (perhaps watching a programme about Colditz escapes was not the cleverest move before imprisoning cavies in the yard: who knows, they might even build a glider while we’re not looking).

(click on image for footage)

As the school deems it wise, Lily will not be starting until Thursday this week, and I am grateful for the extra time with her, but aware that she loves routine and wants to be at school so much that a staggered start taking two and a half weeks may drag on a little. She needs to belong in the school routines and make lots of new friends.

It will be good for her to be at school, and I am mathematically more than ready. Emotionally I am still waiting to see what happens as it all takes off: I want the best for her, but I also want the best for society, which I believe means sending her to the nearest state school and not packing her to a nice private option with all the consequences on us as a family.

In any case, these two at least will not leave to go to school. Beatrix is hiding under the stairs. Stripe is exploring the great outdoors. Within the confines of a guinea pig run of course. Although I am tempted to home-educate them. It would be far more convenient if they communicated in English, say.

Those precious evenings

It is a dark and stormy rainy night. I can breathe a sigh of clichéd relief. The dropping temperature and lack of ultra-violet soaking through the curtains and washing the children with evening energy means that finally both have stopped bothering me and, for the rest of my small evening, there is time to myself. At least until the husband returns [husband returns mid-sentence]. So.

There was a time when I did not realise how precious evenings were. I took them for granted. I assumed that when you were a grown-up and were actually allowed to stay up, that you would want to. Perhaps we grown-ups have it all wrong. Perhaps evening is where children belong. Perhaps our model of society is madly off-centre. But if my children had their way, their dad would be called ‘Big’ (a Josephism) and I would be ‘Emily’ (thanks to Lily, who has realised she may not call me Lucy). They would own any number of animals, eat at fast-food outlets every day and choose their own clothes. I err – they already choose their own clothes. This means I get off the hook for outfit combinations which could not proudly be displayed in any decade in British history, while refusing to buy new clothes to match existing items just because they keep growing. Thankfully, as pre-schoolers, they are yet to feel the shame of mismatch and What Others Think of What You Wear.

But all will change very soon.

In only 49 days, Lily will Actually Start School. And not a day too soon – she’s been asking to go since 2010. I have it on record. This is a very exciting venture in many respects. She has met her teacher, and seen her classroom. She can’t wait to meet her again. She knows a few of the children in her class from nursery, and is excited about another neighbour who will also be joining them in the same class. She is planning on buying her first school shoes. She is worried about catching ‘nips’ from other children, but probably only the boys, as ‘girls don’t get nips mummy’. Will she talk of her parents, the eponymous Big and Emily, to an assembled group sat around her in the playground in the authoritative tones she has so carefully been working on? Will she actually realise that the combination of clothes she can choose from each morning can only match, being taken from a subtle palette of navy, grey, white and light blue? Will she admit defeat in her quest to chart every type of food in every possible eating place and its current status [pasta: Grandma’s house: allowed if normal, bananas: home: not allowed until 5th birthday, milk: nursery: not allowed if it has full-fat ‘bits in’]? Will she wear herself out before she wears us out each so-called evening and thus be ready to get out of bed every morning in time to skip to lessons?

I was given some good advice this week on settling children who won’t settle by my physio. I have a physiotherapist as I tore some ligaments in my lower back two weeks ago and have had to rethink my posture and lifting processes and learn lots of new words concerning anatomy. I have genuinely discovered and started to use some muscles that were apparently part of me all this time, in order to prevent having to spend the best part of another fortnight horizontally challenged any time in the future. Lying on your back in bed is quite an eye-opener, even at night-time. I have new appreciation for those who have even less choice over this, and when I am somewhat fitter, intend to do more for the people I know who are bed-bound. But back to the physio’s advice. I am giving this to you free, so take note. Apparently the trick is to film the child in the morning after a bad evening, and show it to them to make the point, when you are trying to settle them. I would do this soon, but I fear finding the camera will involve too much bending, and there is never enough time in the evenings to have a proper conversation with the husband about Improving Our Parenting and delegating bending jobs. The poor man has had so much delegated to him this month. And in any case, the practice of catching a child doing something we don’t like must be so carefully matched with finding and praising them doing what we do like, to keep respect and get a result. But once I do find the camera, and charge it, and sort out a Plan with Lily’s dad, perhaps we will film her in the mornings and show her how crucial it is to get to sleep at a sensible time.

But of course, by the time we do that, I expect she’ll have started school and already be in the new routine.

Or the days will shorten.

Or our expectations to have productive evenings with a young family at home will start re-aligning to something resembling common sense, and we will laugh at ourselves, have an early night and let the kids put themselves to bed.

One generation shall praise Your works to another – Part III

So this is the third of the three parts.

Another 100 today.

Not this one:

Although they timed that very conveniently for me. At ease lads.

No, something far more fascinating, if you are at all interested in Adolphus A. Cox. I was not aware of the existence of Adolphus A. Cox until last week, when my attention was politely drawn to a document found by a bookseller a few miles from here. They knew where to write, as the document happens to be the Particulars and Conditions of Sale of our house (a ‘Pleasantly Situate Small Residence’). What was rather strange was to find that it was

To be Sold by Auction,

On THURSDAY, 18th APRIL, 1912,

At 7 o’clock p.m. precisely.

So although I cannot tell you much more about Adolphus A. Cox, tenant at £18 per Annum, payable Quarterly, I can tell you that precisely 100 years ago today he was probably wondering who his new landlord was going to be, and the dimensions of the house he lived in at the time, in feet and inches. And that, in my opinion, is far more exciting. I wonder who Adolphus was, and whether he appreciated his iron palisade fence (alas, no longer), SCULLERY, with copper, sink, and Water Supply (now our shower room) and Electric Light and Gas laid on. I hope so. There’s not much we share in common really. He doesn’t appear on the 1901 census record I have, and old pieces of newspaper found under wallpaper in the cellar don’t relate to his time. I wonder if he fought in the Great War, and whether he survived to have his own family. I wonder what he would have made of the school down the road which Lily will start in September, which wasn’t even built until 1914? Or the Jubilee celebrations planned for the street behind ours for the King’s grand-daughter this summer? Or the idea of having not only Electric Light, but also an Entertainment Box in the BACK SITTING ROOM and other boxes in the house run on Electricity which replace the Range, which heat the house without using the fireplaces and which allow Instant Communication Worldwide. Who knows?

I wonder if he had Wisdom, and Knowledge, to influence the generations after him?

I wonder if he had fine Character?

I don’t know whether he had Conviction and Values to live by, but I suspect I may be doing further research to find out more.


Meanwhile, the house needs cleaning, the dinner needs preparing, the children need raising, the shopping needs planning and I am distinctly short of a Domestic Help. Time I got on with my convictions.

In 1912 the Olympics were held in Stockholm. In 2012 the countdown for the London Olympics reaches the final 100 days. And the games motto, released today?

Inspire a Generation

Oh yes.


How to make the point

My point is, I don’t get to strike on Wednesday. Would I? My union tells me I should. Mums don’t strike, do we? As a stay at home mum I am indirectly affected. The toddler group I run will be short of staff: volunteer parents with school-age children will not be coming. Maybe our numbers will be down though.

I am not in teaching at the moment, and my pension pot as it stands is pitiable. That said, I have a pension pot, which is more than many my age can say. I’ve been in a position to start one and am grateful for that.

I want to be responsible when it comes to retirement: thinking ahead about the kind of life it is reasonable to live when the career is no longer a sensible option. I am not alone in my profession as a teacher in wanting to be reasonable, reponsible and sensible. We know what it means to go the extra mile.

Well, apparently I will have to work until I am 67 and a fraction to get my full pension, which will pay less than it might have and will need more from each pay packet on the way there. These things may be fair. It may be reasonable that people pay more in and live on less. It may be fiscally appropriate for pensions to be worth less in the big picture. It may even be necessary for people who are unable to change careers in their sixties to continue to do the kind of work that saps fit and enthusiastic colleagues in their twenties, both physically and emotionally. But ministers telling professionals that they are not willing to review the TPS situation properly since Hutton shows a lack of understanding and caution and economic/mathematical sense. Let’s get to the bare bones of it.

The Department for Education emailed me. I doubt I was singled out, and imagine all teachers with an email address will have been included. Well, that’s all of us then, although how many will have had time to read the email is another story. Perhaps after organising the rest of autumn term, all the winter and Christmas events and collapsing in a flu-ridden heap for a week after the end of term some others may also notice it. For those who haven’t (yet) read the email, here are the things the DfE indicated we had asked to know.

What stays the same:

We get a pension.

We keep pension and lump sum already accrued as final salary scheme.

We may still retire between 55 and 75.

Those who are old enough will see no changes in any case (if they could have retired within 10 years).

What changes:

Final salary pension becomes career average pension.

Phased increase to Normal Pension Age in line with State Pension Age changes.

“A rebalancing of employee and employer contributions to provide a fairer distribution between members and other      taxpayers.”

Ok. (In fact, a lot of what was written is also available to read here. I guess they’re making their point by emailing. I wonder how they knew my email address? Perhaps through some quango that’s been disbanded… I do hope I’m not getting Cynical Teachers Disorder. I’ve not been in a staff room for years.)


For the first list – hoorah! And – I should blinking well hope so too. Now get on with your work and stop distracting people.

For the second list – humph! And – given that childhood is extending, people are living at home longer and having children later, perhaps we are all getting older more slowly. But my back is telling me otherwise and I can’t be the only one.

So what are our options?

A blogger with a fairly good understanding of it all has written here on why teachers should strike.

I have some other ideas, which will not indirectly cause long queues at Heathrow, risk the health of those whose operations need rescheduling, create delays in justice, cost the economy £ridiculousandfranklypulledoutoftheairbillions, cause those with decent pension options to smugly keep quiet and those with none to rave loudly. Bear with me. Striking is not a good match for the situation. Instead, consider:


Low level resistance. This works in classrooms to great effect all across the country. I suggest unions concerned simply refuse to mark or set homework. Or equivalent really rather silly extra part of the job that no one likes to question.


Get rid of year 9 and 10. This is one I have been mulling for a year or two. I honestly believe in more than 50% of cases it would produce the desired effect. So – children would continue to start school at an age when even Victorians didn’t send them up chimneys, they reach the age of 11 and go to high school where they stay for just 2 years. They then have 2 years in the Big Wide World learning about Real Life, minimum wage, experience and making tea before doing all their GCSEs in year 11 in one year. I bet the results would go up. And it would save a fortune in staffing, and therefore pensions.


Brain drain. All move to Scotland, where house prices and university fees are better. This may backfire if the government realises what we are doing. But we might get Alex Salmond on our side and who knows?


Free schools. Oh yes. Hit them where it hurts. All teachers leave their current jobs and set up free schools. And manage our own pensions. Hmm. Bit hit and miss, that one.


Teach a better way. Live it. Model it. Create it. Responsible children who can be responsible adults. Do we have any choice? In a few years they will all be paying to keep us going anyway.