1988: Active Learning and all that stuff.

Monday 26th September 1988

Fiona dropped me off at Denbigh for 8. Had a quick check of printing for the week and ran off my notes for the team. Staff meeting at 8.45 and tutor group before 9. All good and nothing much to sort. Nicola was in today and seemed o.k. Routine sort of day. Took some photos of lessons for a display I want to do on the way we might work and as evidence of active learning as I see it. Dinner duty in playground. No meetings after school Fiona picked me up at 6. She had a meeting with Father Glenn. I managed to get some marking done in my room before she arrived. Fiona did marking at home so I wrote out minutes for tomorrow’s department meeting. Also prepared a notice for the sixth formers who want to come to see Tony Benn in Westminster Hall. Then watched the Olympics on the TV. Britain 3 India 0 in the Hockey. Watched Panorama on the Solihull CTC and then off to bed Fiona not feeling well. She may not go in tomorrow.

We were in the middle of all sorts of change at Denbigh. Mags Mulligan and I now had responsibility for getting the Humanities department up and running. The Humanities as we saw it was History, Geography and R.E. We had joint responsibility in a classic piece of indecisive divide and rule politics from the senior management team. I got on really well with Mags who was a similarly young Head of Department, in her case of the History variety. Scrivvie was running all number of INSET sessions aimed at getting staff to adopt a more facilitating role to teaching. Active learning was the buzzword and the sound of tables moving to create a series of different learning facilities was common. I was getting my classes to be able to recognise several different arrangements. Individual tables for tests and formal reading. Larger groups of tables for team sessions. One big round table filling the room for whole class discussions and the like. What a load of cobblers. The daddy of them all was no tables at all for role play. Coming up in October was a whole school management course in Chipping Norton. We were going to be locked away for a weekend in a hotel and charged with coming up with a new curriculum for the school. They wanted radical thinking but were amazed and reluctant to implement anything too risky when it came from our direction.


Sugar paper and large table groups. Notice the Hurricane Gilbert Poster. My how we were up to date then


Small group work. Emma Sexton on the right.


Individual work. At least he was on the right page of the atlas for the globe he was looking at.

Nicola was Nicola Collard. If I was to develop any sort of educational specialism it was with naughty pupils. Nicola was my initiation to the land of mischief and bedevilment. On the very first day of our meeting she laid out a physical marker in the metaphorical classroom sand by warning me that she might be feeling nervous and prone to be sick. She  followed this through with a pile of the bright orange stuff all over the table in front of her. This was her very first lesson in a new school and it set a standard she managed to beat with regular ease. I got to love everything about her behaviour. We found ways to keep her in the system and she completed her time with us with a final smile and a Thank You that was heartfelt on both sides of the teacher pupil gulf. The Headteacher Mrs. P suggested that I should pursue a career in special needs rather than bother her with my ambitions to teach her a lesson or two about running her school.

The meeting the next day included some input from the Chief advisor for Humanities in Buckinghamshire. Richard Kemp was one of the good blokes in that educational sphere. He was very much in the Scrivvie camp when it came to enabling change through facilitating learning. But in between the time of clearing fingers from the back of throats he would offer practical time scales and methods to get things done. Surprisingly to me he later went on to be head at Aylesbury Grammar, a school that couldn’t be further from the style he was advocating for us to adopt. But then again Scrivener was last seen offering advice to schools in Oxfordshire and being consulted with regard to effective school management. We were also sharing resources at “A” level with the Lord Grey School. It was located just a couple of hundred yards away on the other side of Whadddon Way in Bletchley. It was purely a numbers thing that enabled us to have some sense of appropriate class size. The pupils did the moving rather than the staff so we had the advantage of meeting some good and friendly new faces in both staff and students.

The Olympics was probably one of our least successful in terms of medals. These were the days of Sean Kerly in the Hockey and Fatima Whitbread and Tessa Sanderson tossing a javelin. The coverage wasn’t memorable although the achievement of the Hockey team was.

I would take a group most years in October to see Tony Benn speak. He was truly inspirational and I never had any trouble filling places because the message from upper sixth students would spread to the target lower sixth formers that he was worth listening to. We would usually catch a train to London, one advantage of Living in MK as the hall is so near to Euston Station. He would usually talk on world issues, having a wider perspective than most politicians of his notoriety.

Fiona had regular meetings with Father Glenn who was at the time the Chairman of Governors at her school. St. Thomas Aquinas was a friendly place and Fiona was making her impression with her involvement in whole school Music and later as leader of Maths. This must have been one of the times when she took on extra responsibility and was given the task to write a policy document. She was often given charge of the school when the head went absent. She did so very reluctantly despite the encouragement she was given by all of us who recognised her talent. When given it, she of course dismissed it, as me doing what would be expected of her husband. She took the next day off school which was very rare. Looking back now I do worry that we missed the very early signs of her illness. She was only off for the one day.

The photos chosen show some of the pupils in my classes in various table arrangements. Within those pictures are some pupils who are remembered for very different reasons. Sadly James Rennie, a well-known Ground hopper,  died a few years ago. I have wondered whether to post it and decided to do so because he deserves to be remembered. One of the three girls working happily together is Emma Sexton as she was then. The photos taken in my back garden are of students in the joint Denbigh / Lord Grey Sixth Form Geography group. Not exactly this year but soon after. If I had any special group this was it. Some remain friends today. There you go I’ve said it now, Nikki, Vikki, Charlotte, Emma and Becky.




The chaps from Lord Grey


The Bloomsbury group as tagged by a Eileen Brackenbury in the staff room.


1979       Swansea H 4-1

1987       2nds Bacavians H W 34-0

1989       Leyton Orient A 1-0

1992       Sunderland A 1-1

1993       Totternhoe H W 6-1-14-3

1998       York A 0-1

2009       Brighton H 1-1

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