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Laureate Log #4 - March 2008

Since writing last, I've visited schools and libraries or done theatre shows in Kent, Wiltshire, Peckham, Finchley, Petersfield, Watford, Camden, London's South Bank, Twickenham, Basildon, Greenwich and Cambridge. The NUT in Ealing asked me to do a version of the talk I gave in Wakefield called 'How not to bore the pants off children'. A couple of things struck me: there are some young teachers who weren't helped in their training (or since) to find a way of getting their pupils to enjoy books. A couple of young secondary school teachers asked me, 'How can we get our students to enjoy literature?' Clearly, there is no longer time to answer this question during PGCE and Education degree courses. If anyone knows otherwise, let me know. That said, it was heartening to see some 150 teachers coming to a meeting like this in their spare time. The hunger for a new approach (or is it an old approach?) is there.

My view about this was reinforced by a meeting I had with Jim Rose (he of the Rose report). He was satisfied that he had put into place a structure that gave children what he called 'the alphabetic principle' (ie synthetic phonics), but he appeared to me to be genuinely concerned that there was no equivalent programme in place 'to make books come alive'. Indeed. Isn't that what some of us have been banging on about for the last ten years ? We parted on good terms in absolute agreement on this matter but since then I've heard nothing. The other official meeting I had was with Margaret Hodge, Minister for Culture, Creative Industries & Tourism whose responsibilities also include 'the arts', heritage, architecture, royal parks, museums, galleries, archives, libraries and science. (I like to get these things right!) It was a curious occasion, because it was several weeks before the Government's announcement calling for all schools to give children five hours of 'culture' a week. However, Ms Hodge invited me and the Booktrust people I was with to think about what was to be announced with particular reference to libraries. How could libraries, she asked us, help 'deliver' this 'offer'? I suggested that the Government's own initiatives, Creative Partnerships and Cultural Hubs were good models of how to proceed, weren't they? I thought I detected a certain coolness to this suggestion. If so, then perhaps someone can tell me why. I've chaired several big conferences that brought together many practitioners from these two experiments to get schools working with local cultural organisations and there seems to have been some great work going on. Surely they have each created blueprints of how this could work all over the country?

The moment the Five Hours of Culture a Week story broke, I was asked by several news outlets to comment and it quickly became clear that no one in Government has actually worked out how the over-stuffed official curriculum can be squeezed to deliver the five hours, nor indeed what kind of organisation will oversee it. However, if it does become official, statutory policy, then presumably Ofsted will be required to ensure that schools are really delivering it. And will schools get any extra money to pay for the workshops, visits, cover for teachers and the rest? We shall see.

Meanwhile, there's progress on my Laureateship ideas - perhaps I'll leave the detail of that till my next log when, I hope, I'll be able to report something specific. Meanwhile, the 'A-Z of Poetry Tour' has begun. John Agard, Valerie Bloom and I did a show for some 900 children at the South Bank. There is a one-camera video of this, which I'm hoping might become available at some point. On that matter, I've made what might be the world's first online video book. My poetry collection, 'The Hypnotiser' went out of print so my son has filmed me performing it. You can find it on my website or on YouTube.




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