Monday, 18 January 2016

STEM v STEAM

The STEM movement was borne out of an initiative of the US National Science Foundation, to promote the quality of science education in order to address a practical problem in US society, namely that the US economy was experiencing a shortage of technically skilled workers. STEM education programmes set out to improve the quality of high school teaching in these areas, and thus provide a work force equipped with the technical skills and knowledge required for the C21.
The STEM movement never argued that the humanities and creative subjects were not important, rather it set out to address an imbalance within society. 
STEM initiatives in the UK
An examination of UK undergraduate admissions illustrates the need for STEM initiatives. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data for 2013-14 (most recent available at the time of writing) 45.1% of first degree undergraduates are studying science subjects (as defined by UCAS and HESA categories). A subject breakdown f the 1,533,855 first degree undergraduates in the UK shows:
  • Mathematics  35,570 (2.3%)
  • Physical Sciences  71,080 (4.6%)
  • Engineering  106,065 (6.9%)
  • Architecture  31,160 (2.0%) 
Full Data Table available at the end of the article
The fact remains that relatively few undergraduates in the UK are studying Mathematics and Physical Sciences as their first degree. (In fact these figures may be even worse of the UK economy than these statistics suggest, given the high proportion of overseas undergraduates studying sciences).  This has a double impact, both for society and for education.
The Royal Society paper The Science and Mathematics Teaching Workforce (2013) puts forward comprehensive evidence for the need for the active promotion of teaching as a career path, particularly for Mathematics and the Physical Sciences to halt a potential cycle of decline in the quality of STEM teaching in the UK. On this basis 
STEAM initiatives are to some extent a reaction to the STEM movement, seeking to redress a balance in education that does not prioritise STEM at the expense of the humanities, languages and creative subjects. However, with the exception of languages, these subjects are buoyant as the HESA data shows. Of the 842,560 (54.9%) first degree undergraduates in the UK who are studying other subjects:
  • Business and Administrative Studies  205,285 (13.4%)
  • Social Studies 147,570 (9.6%)
  • Creative Arts and Design  139,035 (9.1%)
  • Languages  88,680 (5.8%)
In the UK, at least STEM initiatives are particularly important part to play to address what is a considerable imbalance in society.

STEM v STEAM in the Middle and Far East
The STEM v STEAM debate has a different complexion in the Middle and Far East as here a much more utilitarian and practical approach to education is the norm. These fast-growing economies have a pressing need to for technically trained graduates to drive change. Here engineers and scientists are valued and remunerated accordingly.
In this context, STEAM initiatives that seek to temper the STEM drive, by promoting the importance of creativity are much needed, once again, to address an imbalance within society.




Saturday, 16 January 2016

Grade Inflation in Higher Education

The Editor
The Times of London
Sir,
Grade inflation in Higher Education ('Universities stand accused after top degrees soar' The Times 15/01/2016) is an inevitable consequence of the policy to apply market forces to the sector. Like independent schools who have operated in this environment for decades, universities are businesses selling education and competing to attract students. Unlike independent schools, universities not only teach but also can determine their own results. Given the economic pressures on these institutions to fill places, there is no incentive for them award low degrees. With three-quarters of degrees awarded at Upper-Second or First Class, the time has come for a separation of teaching and degree-awarding powers, as there is in secondary education.
Yours faithfully,
Mark S Steed
Director
Jumeirah English Speaking School, Dubai.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Letter from Dubai: The Teacher Recruitment Crisis: the UK cannot compete in a Global Marketplace

Teacher recruitment is top of the agenda for the senior leadership teams in most schools in the UK.
What hasn't been recognised in the debates in the UK media is that Britain is now competing for teachers in a global marketplace. Britain is not alone in struggling to find suitably qualified school leaders and teachers to stand in front of classes. There is a worldwide teacher recruitment crisis at every level: from classroom teachers through to school Principals. Schools are chasing the top talent; middle and senior leaders are in short supply; and specialist teachers in STEM subjects are at a premium.

Britain's immigration policies and tax regime means that Britain is simply not equipped to compete in this global market place.  Britain makes it difficult for talented teachers around the world to move to the UK; and the levels of taxation and the cost of living mean that teachers' salaries in the UK are unattractive.
Allow me to illustrate,
  • Experienced teachers in the England and Wales (ex. London) on the Upper pay range (U3) earn £37,8713; even with a Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR1), they earn £50,641 (Source: NASUWT website)
  • Experienced teacher in Inner London on the Upper pay range (U3) earn £46.365; even with a Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR1), they earn £58,635 (Source: NASUWT website)
By comparison:
  • An experienced classroom teacher in a top school in Dubai earns £69,000 [AED 370,000] in salary and allowances; and medical care is provided by the employer. That's the equivalent pre-tax salary of over £100,000 in the UK. Granted that living in Dubai is expensive, but no more expensive than living in London.
  • The key differences between working in London and working in Dubai
  1. that there is limited job security (one-year and two-year renewable contracts are common);
  2. there is no state-guaranteed teachers' pension scheme (instead an end of service gratuity equivalent to three weeks' salary for every year worked is paid); 
  3. teachers with children may have to pay/contribute to school fees;
  4. the sun shines every day!
Working overseas is no longer the hardship posting that it was 20 years ago. The international schools market is much more mature. There have always been outstanding British schools overseas (JESS and Dubai College in Dubai; Tanglin in Singapore etc.), but the marketplace has exploded in the past ten years as commercial school chains (such as Nord Anglia and GEMS) have spread their reach, and as Independent Schools from the UK (and elsewhere) establish franchise schools (Repton Dubai) or establish subsidiary companies (Dulwich InternationalHarrow International) around the world . These factors have meant that working abroad has never been a more attractive career step for teachers.
There are 21 schools set to open in the UAE in 2016 (National 29/09/2015). They will all be looking to attract top senior and middle managers and to recruit top teachers from around the world. This will mean that there is likely to be a significant short-term recruitment crisis in the UAE, but laws that actively attract immigration and an advantageous tax regime mean that it is unlikely to last long!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

10 Questions to ask your IT Manager (that s/he doesn't want to be asked).

These questions were drafted in order to empower school leaders to take greater ownership of the key strategic area of IT in schools.
  1. If there was a major fire in the server room, how long would it be before each of these services could be restored: email, telephones, school MIS and accounts?
  2. If a generous donation of £250,000 was given to the school specifically for IT developments (in addition to the normal budget) what would you recommend we spent it on, and what would be the advantages for the school and end users (Pupils, Staff, Parents)? 
  3. If your budget was suddenly cut by 50%, how could you cope, and what would be the effects on the School and the end users? 
  4. What would be the effect of our main Internet connection being severed by a JCB somewhere? What services would we lose? Have we any backup systems in place, or would they have also been severed by the same JCB? 
  5. Can you show me any records of the systems' reliability over the past 12 months? Do you regard the reliability as acceptable? If not, how could we improve it and how much would it cost? 
  6. What might happen if a major incident occurs while you (or any one specific member of your staff) are away on holiday abroad for 2 weeks? 
  7. How many individuals are sufficiently privileged administrators that they can see my (the Head's) documents, emails, etc.? 
  8. If a pupil got hold of a staff password, and started using it, how would we ever know, and how long might it take to find out? 
  9. Can you retrieve a file which was last seen one month ago, and how long would it take to retrieve? 
  10. For each member of your technical staff (including yourself) what would be the immediate effect on the running of the system if they suddenly (with no notice) left? What specific tasks would it be difficult for the others on your team to perform, and how long might it take to recover fully from the loss? Is there adequate documentation to minimise such a problem?
These questions were drafted by the ISC IT Strategy Group in 2009. 

The Case for combining a UK and International Curriculum: GCSE + International Baccalaureate (IBDP)

The following was an interview for WhichSchoolAdvisor 30/11/2015

  1. What are the benefits of the following the British system to GCSE, in relation to the preparation it gives students for the IB Diploma (compared with schools offering the straight IB experience from KG to Diploma)?
    JESS is a British Curriculum School that sets out to prepare young people to be global citizens. A significant proportion of parents choose to combine the British system to GCSE with the IB Diploma, as a way of remaining true to their British roots, whilst acknowledging that the young people in our care are going to live and work in global economy and need the skills and experiences to be able to do this. Others choose this combination because GCSE is an internationally recognized qualification that provides a useful blend of breadth and specialization. The stretch offered in subjects such as the triple sciences in GCSE and Additional Mathematics prepare students very well for Diploma Higher Level study in these areas. The Language and Literature courses in GCSE English develop the skills for Language and Literature courses in Diploma English. The examination process at GCSE prepares students well for the rigour of IB. Combining the British system of GCSE with the IBDP enables students to tailor their range of subjects at GCSE to discover their strengths and match that of the offerings of IB. JESS’ option areas at GCSE reflect the spread of subjects and disciplines that will need to be taken in the Diploma.
  2. What type of child/parent/family does this combined system work best for?
    The combination of the British system to GCSE with the IB Diploma works best for families who recognise that young people are going to be working in a global economy and want their children to receive an education that combines both traditional and forward-looking aspects. The English GCSE curriculum is respected globally. Good teaching through all Key Stages will ensure that students develop the skills required to study effectively at Post 16. Good teaching and learning is the key to success in any curriculum. The rigour of the examination process at GCSE prepares students extremely well for a comparable two years of study, albeit at a higher level, with terminal examinations. By completing the combined system families have numerous choices of Post 16 pathways if they wish to relocate. If they remain with the IB Diploma they will enhance their opportunities globally in tertiary education which is important in the expatriate environment. The IB Diploma is perhaps the most versatile school leaving qualification both in terms of the skills that it provides and in terms of providing smooth transition to the top university systems around the world. The IB Diploma is increasingly recognized as the best preparation for University study, be that in the UK, Europe, America or in the Southern Hemisphere. 
  3. Briefly explain why it is ideal for students to follow the British system to year 12, then change to IB for the Diploma?
    Students will have embedded themselves and proven themselves in two systems which are both recognized globally. They will have succeeded in a GCSE programme that has shown they can succeed in examinations based largely in content and knowledge. The IB Diploma will then compliment this by developing higher level critical thinking and analytical skills. Admissions officers in the UK and around the world rank the IB ahead of other systems in encouraging independent study, developing work place skills, nurturing an open mind and self-management. The preparation of IB students for university (and the work place) is second to none. 
  4. Are there any negatives you see in this combined British/IB system which parents should be aware of?
    We are not experiencing any negatives relating to the combined British/IB system. The IBDP, like A-level, is capable of providing a very broad curriculum, or a very specialized one. The key advantage of the IBDP over A-level is that the nature of the courses means that students develop a much broader skills base. The IBDP allows students to specialize at Higher Level, whilst maintaining a broad and balanced range of learning skills. For example, a student specializing in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) will have the ability to write coherently and use appropriate analysis.   
  5. How ideal is this combined system for ex-pat children, who are often expected to relocate throughout their school years?
    Relocation mid-way through a two year course, be that GCSE, A-level or IBDP, is never ideal. GCSE courses are generally available around the world. The IBDP is a truly international qualification and there are now many schools in the UK who offer it. One of the key advantages of the IBDP is that it aligns more closely to the educational systems in Europe, America, Australia and South Africa than A-level. 
  6. What do you see as the post school-benefits of a combined British/IB curriculum? (university/employers/etc.)
    The British curriculum Pre 16 is tried and trusted and the internationally recognized assessment at 16 comes at a pivotal time for many families. University admissions are increasingly looking back at GCSE grades. By being in the combined system students then have the advantage of being to undertake the IBDP widely recognized as superior by both University Admissions officers and employers.
    As far as UK university entry is concerned, statistics reveal that
    + acceptance levels are actually higher for IB,
    + the drop-out rates are lower for IB,
    + IB students are more likely to achieve first and upper second class degrees. 
  7. How can parents assess the suitability/success of any combined British/IB school before enrolling? (Accreditations/published exam results/reporting etc.)
    Parents wishing to research the relative benefits of schools should:
    a) visit the school and meet the students – they are the best indicator of a good school – well beyond reading a bunch of statistics or an inspection report. SJO] In reverse order.
    b) study the destinations of students after 18.
    c) scrutinise examination results whilst bearing in mind the profile of the school intake and admissions policy.   
I am grateful to Shane O'Brien, Head of Secondary at JESS for his help drafting these responses.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Are Private Schools in Dubai still a sound investment?

The announcement by KHDA that there will be 27 more private schools opening in Dubai by September 2016 ('More than 63,000 seats for students in Dubai by September 2016'  The National 23/08/2015) will undoubtedly bring more competition to the Private Schools' sector, but will it bring profits for investors?
The economic overview of the Dubai Private School sector is a relatively simple one: demand for places has outstripped supply for a number of years. This meant that new players were able to enter the Dubai market place with the relative security that schools will be full and that profits would follow.

However, 2014-15 saw a shift and supply outstripped demand.  The cover of the KHDA's Private School Infographic 2015 highlighted the new era:  "More seats for students - More choice for parents."  According to KHDA's figures, 13% of Private School places were left unfilled last year.  
Furtherore, with some seven new schools opening in Dubai in September 2015 and a promised further 27 opening by September 2016, the Dubai Private School market place is going to awash with places. 
There are four main consequences of this shift the supply curve:
  1. Parents will have more choice: New parents are likely to be much more discerning in their choice of school. It is almost certain that we are going to see a significant number parents looking to move schools. The main drivers will be geographical location ('convenience' - moving to schools that are nearer to home - reducing their daily commute) and academic standing of the school ('trading-up' - moving out of under-performing schools to one's with a stronger academic record). 
  2. There will be increased competition between schools. This competition will take three forms: quality (academic standards, wider educational/extra-curricular opportunities, pastoral care), value for money (including class sizes) and price
    It is likely that we are going to see Academic League Tables appearing within the next couple of years. There is no doubt that there are going to be opportunities for school marketeers (as schools inevitably put a greater emphasis and resourcing into their marketing strategies).
    Some schools will develop specialism that enable them to fulfil a particular market niche.
  3. Standards will rise.  Competition between schools will inevitably mean that schools will have to up their game. Until recently, standards have risen because of the drive of KHDA; going forward competition between schools both for the best students and to stay full will drive standards up still further.
  4. Schools will fail. In any free market there are winners and losers. Some schools will thrive, but those schools that do not provide value for customers (parents) will struggle.
The consequences for Investors
These likely trends will be of interest to potential investors.  There are two types of Dubai private school that are likely to succeed. First, are those schools that can ensure high academic standards. Some of these will be the established academic schools (Dubai College, JESS, etc), but others, no doubt, will be new entrants who bring established traditions of excellence to Dubai, whether that be from strong chains (such as Nord Anglia) or UK independent school franchises (such as North London Collegiate School - Sept 2017). Secondly, are those schools which are embedded in a strong residential community. These are particularly important at the Primary level, where parents of young children do not want to be travelling great distances to school, particularly where are a different times for the end of the school day. Thus, schools that have been established in partnership with housing developments, such as Ranches Primary School (declared interest: my wife is the Principal) on Arabian Ranches 2 is well placed to be successful as they have a built in residential community on the doorstep.
Overall, the Private School sector in Dubai is likely to continue to be a fertile sector for investors; however, the era of easy pickings for new comers is over, and some schools will need to review their business models to ensure ongoing survival. 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Diary of an Economic Migrant: A Middle Eastern Perspective on Immigration

In a summer when debates about immigration have never been far from the headlines, it is at least topical that it is this year that we should choose to leave Britain to head out to work in the Middle East. The lure of excellent jobs and new challenges, combined with the promise of a better standard of living in tax-free sunshine eventually became irresistible. After interviews in London and Dubai, I accepted the post of Director of Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS) and my wife, Samantha, was appointed Principal of Ranches Primary School (only a mile from JESS!) in May.
There is no getting around it, we are economic migrants - we are moving abroad in hope of a better life and we are willing to work hard to achieve it. However, the stand out thing for me in this whole process is the difference between the way in which the UK and the UAE approach the thorny issue of immigration and economic migration. 
The UAE welcomes migrants - indeed 93% of Dubai's population are from overseas. It has had a lot of practice at immigration and it has got the whole process taped. The UAE's approach is based on a simple principle that so long as you are economically viable you are most welcome. We (or rather our employers) are responsible for providing Health Insurance, and all schools here are fee-paying.
UAE do not offer Citizenship, but they they do allow foreign nationals to apply for Residency. This blogpost outlines the UAE immigration process and you can form your own opinion on whether or not there are lessons here from which the UK can learn.

Friday 14th. August Arrived Dubai International Airport (DXB) and, before passing through immigration, collected my work visa, which has been sponsored by my employer. My passport and work visa are stamped on entry. I'm now in a limbo: I'm neither a tourist nor a UAE resident. UAE law only allows those who have Residency to take out a rental lease on a property or a car; indeed, without Residency, you can't get a driving licence or open a bank account. My transitional status means that my employer has rented an apartment and a hire car for 30 days on my behalf - it has made life possible.

Sunday 16th August
I begin the process of applying for Residency by presenting myself at Al Safa Community Health Centre for two medical checks:
  1. A blood test to ensure that I don't have AIDS
  2. A chest X-ray to ensure that I don't have TB.
Assuming all is in order, I will be granted Residency for two years in the first instance, after which I will need to reapply (which I understand is a formality and doesn't entail the medical checks).

I then applied for my UAE ID Card, which I shall be required to carry at all times.  This entailed paying a fee (270 AED = £46) and reporting to the Emirates Identity Authority to have my biometric data collected:
  • Finger prints
  • Headshot photograph
  • Signature
Monday 17th August 
I am now officially a UAE Resident with a Residency Visa in my passport. I am now able to apply for a driving licence, to open a bank account and to rent a property.




Thursday 20th August
Reported to the Optician's to have formal eye test so that I can apply for my driving licence.
Thursday 3rd September
My Emirates ID has arrived. I now am able to apply for a Driving Licence, register to be able to have an account for Water and Electricity, and to arrange for a TV/Telephone for my house.

There is a lot of paperwork to be done on arrival in the UAE, but one of the great things about Dubai is that the Dubai Municipality building has customer service centres for a whole range of organisations: the RTA (Transport), Ejari, (Property Registration), DEWA (Water and Electricity), Immigration and so on. The end result is that you can go to one building and deal with a whole range of issues at one hit. Inside there people providing typing and photocopying services, so, if you happen to forget to photocopy a key document, it can be done in a minute.
I applied for my Driving Licence - the Municipality were unbelievably efficient and I receive my new driving licence over the counter 10 minutes after walking into the building - the DVLA has much to learn.


Monday 7th September
I am now registered with DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) - the bills are now on my tab, but I now can register the Tenancy for the villa in my name.


All of this would not have been possible to achieve so smoothly without the expertise of Azeez, the JESS Administration Assistant and School Driver.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld - Book Review

This is a very clever book in both concept and execution. 
The concept is to set a classic detective novel within the historical context of the week-long visit of Sigmund Freud's to New York from 29 August 1909. This plot opens up the possibility for discussion of Freud's psychoanalytic theories through discussions between his inner circle, which includes Jung. An interesting recurrent discussion is of Freud's interpretation of Hamlet (Is his inaction being driven be Oedipal desires?). 
As far as its execution is concerned, the novel stands on its own feet as a murder mystery. It has many of the twists and turns associated with the genre and some excellent high tension scenes that I suspect authors include in the hope that the book will be picked up by Holywood. 
However, it is the underlying concept of this novel that is its genius: for the whole plot (and to some extent its resolution) is based on one of Freud's most famous cases (the case of Dora = Ida Bauer). Thus, like newspaper crosswords, this mystery can be solved on two levels: at a simple level by the uninformed reader by following the detectives as they uncover the clues; or at a cryptic level by Freud aficionados who will see a familiar narrative unfolding. 
This is the best kind of historical novel as it weaves together fact with imagination in order to speculate on what the protagonists might have thought, said and done. In this case, Rubenfeld explores the tensions and changing relationship between Freud and Jung which ultimately led to their 'break' in 1912. 
One of the things I always ask myself when I reach the end of an historical novel is, how much of it was true? Jed Rudenfeld must have read my mind and helpfully adds an 'author's note' to distill the fact from the fiction. An entertaining and informative read.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Changing the email culture of an organisation

There is little doubting that smart phones were the "game-changer" when it comes to email - once your work emails were on the phone there was no getting away from them . . . or indeed from work. For those of us who are technically minded achieving a work-life balance took on a new dimension.
Work emails coming through 'out of hours' have an ability to pull you instantly away from your family, friends and relaxation, back to the office. The arrival of a work email in your inbox can ruin an evening or weekend. They put the ball back in your court - they demand action, whether that be thought, a phone call, or (just!) the time to reply. One of the biggest problems with emails is that they are like a virus, they spawn more emails - they demand replies and very soon everyone is sending emails to each other. The consequence is that the whole tempo of the organisation speeds up to the point where it is out of control and people simply cannot cope any more.
The 1900 to 0700 Curfew 
Berkhamsted School is like most other organisations: emails came through morning, noon and night. We took the view in September 2013, that we would limit our internal email traffic to weekdays between 0700 and 1900 only. This principle was extended to parents in March 2015 - parents were informed that any emails sent outside 'office hours' would be dealt with the next working day. There is nothing to stop colleagues from drafting replies outside these times, so long as they use the 'delayed delivery' function in Outlook (Options - Delay Delivery). 
The key principle here is that we all to manage our own time as we see fit, but that it is wrong to put the ball into a colleague's court by sending an email outside the working day.
The Results
Two years on, the volume of email traffic has reduced and emails are generally more considered - there are fewer late night alcohol induced rants. Most importantly there has been a shift in mindset: there has been a cultural shift in the moral 'high ground' colleagues no longer feel guilty not replying to an email - colleagues now feel guilty for sending them. Colleagues now feel that it is acceptable to ignore evening and weekend emails. When colleagues break the curfew, it is quite common for them to preface their emails with "I'm sorry to break the curfew, but . . . ", which can be quite endearing when the 'but' is an enthusiastic member of the coaching staff sharing the weekend success of a school sports team.
The result is that the school is calmer. We are working smarter not longer. The whole exercise has meant that staff feel valued. Achieving a term-time work-life balance in our school community remains a challenge, but we have taken one small step in the right direction, and that is appreciated by us all.
Issues yet to be resolved - School Vacations
There are still a number of issues that need to be resolved as to how the school email protocol operates during the School holidays. We have to face the fact that teachers and school leaders get more annual leave than people who have made different career choices. We also have to acknowledge that a proportion of the time when schools are on vacation are times when teachers and school leaders work - to some extent it is "non-contact time" -  be that lesson preparation or performing management tasks. In the twenty-first century it is unreasonable for employees to be totally uncontactable for the six (or in the case of many independent schools - eight) weeks of the summer vacation - particularly for middle and senior leaders..  Here the general principles of the term-time protocol apply: emails are sent during the weekdays 0900 and 1700 and allowance is given when replies aren't the next day.
Teaching is a profession and clock-watching is not part of a professional mindset.
A key area of debate at Berkhamsted is the extent to which teachers should be available to examination year pupils during the key revision periods of Easter and the Summer half-term. There are arguments either way - this is a period when motivated pupils who are working their way through past papers can benefit enormously from teacher feedback, but it is also the time of year when teachers are under the greatest pressure. A balance needs to be struck; and in most cases, teachers are giving of their time and expertise when the pupils have made a consistent effort throughout the year and have managed their time well.

Key Lessons learned
  • A change in email culture needs to be driven from the top - school leaders need to be role models and create a culture where teachers 'have permission' to ignore 'out of hours' email traffic. It is well known that employees follow the lead of senior figures in organisations in order to get on: as School Principal, I made a point of activating my 'out of office' notification at weekends.
  • Breaches of the curfew need to be followed up with an informal conversation - particularly when the perpetrators are in the SLT.
  • Staff need training in how to use the 'Delayed Delivery' feature in Outlook.
Note on Independent and Maintained Sector Schools
This week, the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, called for schools to ban 'out of hours' emails to ease the workload on teachers in the maintained sector ('Morgan: Ban emails after 5pm to help teachers cope with workload' Daily Telegraph 26/07/2015). I'm sure that this is a step in the right direction. There are different pressures in the two sectors: independent schools increasingly demanding fee-paying parents; and there is much more 'red tape' and bureaucracy in the maintained sector. Both create email and pressure.  Schools need space to do their jobs and limiting email traffic is one way to help teachers do this.

Berkhamsted School was award the Investors in People Gold Award in July 2015.

This article was written for publication in Schools Week.  See the article here.

Monday, 6 July 2015

The Rising Sun - A personal portrait of my favourite place in Berkhamsted

The Riser is the guardian of the canal: its beer garden - the towpath; its children's playground and the best seats in the house - the lock-gates, the huge beams with which the passing tourist captains grapple, dislocating the locals in the process. 
All life is welcome here. Professional escapists brush shoulders with those looking for a temporary escape from the strain of their professions. It is equally a favourite port of call for the boat people who move home at fortnightly intervals up and down The Grand Union, as it is for the regulars on the 1751 from Euston. At weekends these worlds combine in a festival atmosphere of acceptance and inclusion. Designer clothes are abandoned in preference to a wardrobe drawn from outdated days of cool. This is a place without pretense or pretension, a place where no one puts up a facade, a place to be oneself. Here the finest things are savoured for what they are rather than for what they symbolise: Ales (real, of course), scrumpy, house wines, and even cigars and snuff. 
Entertainment is provided in the form of a passing peloton, side-tracked from their exertions by the prospect of quality refreshment. Their bikes stacked precariously next the murky lock waters, they argue about whose round it is and, over the second pint, swap excuses that are unlikely to convince their long-suffering wives. 
Do people make places? Or do places make people? Either way, some places are special because they bring the best out of people - oh that we could all live life like we do at The Rising Sun on a sunny Summer's afternoon.

Thanks to Alastair Harrison, @AlastairHarriso - an inspirational English Teacher at Berkhamsted School - who encouraged me to write this piece - over a pint at The Kings Arms!