Archive | October, 2015

Through the ages

28 Oct

Every so often me and/or my good wife sit Gryff and Llew on their toy boxes to get photos.  It is incredible how quickly they are growing up.  The first picture is about 10 months ago.  The last one is last weekend.

I plan to keep doing this until we have a set of 35 year olds on those boxes!

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I love this one.  Look how stumpy little Llew’s legs are. They don’t even come close to the edge of the box!

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This is my favourite.  Llew was about 8 months here. (He’s about 14 now).  This is the photo where you really get to see how close they are becoming as brothers.  They are best friends bless.

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This one is stunning.  They are such sweet little boys.  Gryff looks like butter wouldn’t melt, which is true as he is such a polite boy.  Llew has that same look but I’m not so sure it is as close to the truth, he is a menace!

Get up, stand up, Stand up for…maths?

26 Oct

This article about standing desks for the classroom has given me something to think about recently.  Standing desks are not uncommon in the business world.  For a number of years the tide has been shifting towards the standing revolution as a way to tackle some of the health concerns associated with sitting all day, as well as boosting concentration levels. (I type this from a sedentary seated position by the way).

Of course desks are utilised less and less during the early years of a child’s education in Wales.  Under the innovative Foundation Phase we have adopted there is a learning through play approach.  Children are encouraged to express themselves through active learning, through interaction and exploration.  Freeing pupils from their desks and removing the static learning of the past has created the physical representation of the Foundation Phase’s ethos of developing creative and inquisitive learners.  This is one reason why the ‘sit at a desk and be tested’ approach of the standardised literacy and numeracy tests is so flawed.  But that’s a debate for another day.

So what benefits could there be to a standing desk approach in school?  Firstly, having this approach can help tackle the growing obesity issue we face. The BBC reported last year that more than a quarter of four and five-year olds in school were overweight with one in ten classed as obese. Despite obesity being a concern for the whole of the UK, and indeed Western culture, in Wales this is an issue for our children more than across the border in England.  Putting in place measures to ensure children have a generally more active day is undoubtedly a smart move to building an habitual approach to dealing with this issue.  As someone who has recently become fixated with my daily step count due to acquiring a FitBit I know exactly how much extra calories can be burned simply by increasing low-level effort exercise.

The long-term impact this could have on NHS savings will be far from insignificant.  Something we shouldn’t overlook at times crisis in public service funding.  Educationally, I am a firm believer in the healthy body – healthy mind adage.  Having more physically fit pupils will no doubt help create more motivated and engaged learners.

There is also a case, although not evidence based as far as I can see, that having children burn more energy over a school day in this way will help tackle behaviour issues cased by restlessness.  That would be an interesting subject to gather evidence on but I would think it is a view based on a sound theoretical notion.  There would also be a case to argue, although again without current evidence, that the standing position would naturally lend itself to more engaged learners due to the reduction in slouching and an inability to mentally slip out of the lesson.

There is growing evidence that from a physical and public health related point of view standing desks in school could be something to consider.  This research from Loughborough university is one such study.  As yet I am unaware of any research into educational attainment factors but certainly I would think it would be of interest to running a pilot scheme.

Of course you must have a balance.  There will be some physical implications to long periods of standing.  That is why there must be a rotation approach and options to take into account the ability of all individuals to study and learn in this way, including adjustable desks.  Equally there is a start-up cost associated with any change of this nature.  While it would be an invest to save scheme should it work you would still need to find the initial investment.  This is why I am not advocating this be rolled out.

However, all that said, there is enough in the idea to make it something worth considering for the future.  We need innovation in our approach to health and education.  That doesn’t always have to be system wide changes but simple and subtle creative thinking about how we do the things we already do.

40:1

8 Oct

At the start of the year I embarked on a process of trying to make the literary world a little smaller.  That’s PR speak for saying that I took the books I read in 2014 and have been leaving them in random locations (on trains, in parks, in coffee shops etc.) for strangers to find, read and pass on.

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The way I see it I am not one to re-read books so it is better to let others enjoy them.

In January I had this naïve view of being inundated with tweets from people who had stumbled upon my offerings.  As more and more books were recycled I feared I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the praise and demand.  That bubble was quickly burst.

5 books in with no reply I was humbled.  15 books in I feared the worst.  25 books in I was depressed.  35 books in and my heart was no longer in it.  But low and behold, God loves a trier and 40th time lucky, 10 months after I began this, I reaped the rewards.  Finally someone has responded to a book by tweeting me.

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When I had this yesterday it made my day.  My only regret is that after passing on some fantastic reads throughout the year including Nathan Filer’s The shock of the Fall, We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, and Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher the one that was discovered was a run of the mill John Grisham.  Please don’t judge me.

I only have about 8 books left from the class of 2014.  My stockpile from this year however is both larger in quantity and certainly better in quality.  With this life affirming moment to boost me I can crack on again.  Hopefully you (yes you the person bored enough to read a blog about Welsh education and carrot cakes) will pick one up.

Living with the shadow of This is England

6 Oct

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So last night I watched the final episode of This is England ’90, and indeed the final episode of any version of the This is England series.  I don’t intend to write a review blog.  To be honest far more capable people will have already done that and I wouldn’t really do the piece justice.  (this review in Esquire is certainly worth a look).  However, I wanted to write some things about it while it is fresh in my memory as I am not sure there has ever been a film or TV series (or both in this instance) that has ever affected me in the way This is England has.

I probably watched the This is England film for the first time when it aired on TV not long after it came out.  About eight or nine years ago.  As much as a hit it may be to my masculine image, if I could ever pretend to have one, I am not ashamed to admit it is not an uncommon sight to find me crying in the cinema or at home.  I am someone who easily becomes invested in the things I watch and read.  That said I move on quickly.  I don’t re-watch the same films (save the constant loop of Disney movies the Gryffalo has me sitting in front of at home), nor do I re-read the same books.  I take from them in the moment and then that is that.  This is England was different.

I can’t say I have watched the film more than a few times, I would find it too difficult to do so, but its themes and imagery replay in my mind, and have done for many years since I first watched it.  The graphic, but not sensational, violence of the closing scenes are something I don’t think I will ever get over.  Few films have lived with me the way This is England did.  From time to time I would recall not only the themes but the emotions it stirred in me.  My anger, disgust, helplessness and fear.

When This is England ’86 was announced I was intrigued but didn’t hold up much hope.  I assumed the uniqueness of the film could not be replicated, especially for TV, and there was a risk of undermining the cliffhanger of an ending we had been left with.  What I didn’t expect was that the TV series, from ’86 to ’88 and finally ’90 would not only build on the impact of the original movie but develop it in such a powerful way.  That there has not been a drop off in quality over a sustained period is a remarkable feat.  What is more, my own maturing during the years perhaps gave me a deeper understanding of what I was witnessing.

One thing I have noticed over the years is that my own relationship with this work has changed as I have changed.  Thinking about that gruesome scene in the film it isn’t, as it used to be, the utter senselessness of the attack that lives with me but the image of a distressed Shaun watching on that breaks my heart.  While they are nothing alike I see my own son sitting there.  I think it is the innocence that is at Shaun’s core that I identify.  Seeing that echoed in the flashbacks of the final episode made me feel incredibly protective of Gryff (and to an extent Llew although the fact he is a baby almost disassociate him to a point).  I had trouble sleeping last night with those thoughts in my mind.

What This is England has offered up is brutal authenticity of performance, visuals and scripts.  There is a depressing realism to everything with scenes across every version of the franchise that have horrified me in differing ways.  There has been some breathtaking acting, the likes of which I don’t believe I’ll see again from a British drama, from a cast who have not only portrayed each role brilliantly but crucially in a measured approach. There have been career defining performances from individuals who have had, and will have, outstanding careers.

I could cry thinking about the ‘what ifs’ of so many characters let alone the ‘what dids.’  The fact that I despised Combo with a hatred I have never previously, or since, found for a fictional character when watching the film, yet was left heartbroken with his apparent death by the end of This is England ’90, is a testament to Shane Meadows themes of redemption and Stephen Graham’s sensational portrayal. That said it is unfair to pick out just one character as those playing roles across the cast have left me in a state of constant reflection.

As I said at the start of this blog the film still lives with me today after all these years. I imagine, and perhaps fear, the TV series will continue to haunt me for many a year to come. To the cast and crew, thank you for exposing me to such emotionally gut wrenching moments. I’ll miss those characters thou I doubt my fragile sensitivities could have endured another series.