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Improvement is all about core values

When I was at Exeter University more than 25 years ago, I remember wanting to attend every lecture. Not because I was a swot, nor because I adored English, but because I thought the whole meaning of a particular topic, course, or the subject itself, might be included in one blistering kernel of truth. If I wasn't there, the moment would pass me by. It never happened.

But I do remember Dr Henderson lying immobile, slumped on the lectern with a wide-brimmed hat over his face, as we trooped in for one of his talks on Yeats. He launched himself into the air once we were seated and intoned: "I shall arise and go now and go to InnisfreeI" in the most alarming manner.

Shocking possibly, memorable certainly, dramatic definitely. But not an "ah yes" experience.

Since then I've always looked for those little things that have a big impact. So much of what we do in teaching is of the big-things-having-little-impact variety. Take SATs testing, for example.

Has all the massive work and investment of the past five or six years paid off? Are standards rising? I'm sceptical. I just think children are now better coached for the test.

We've recently had our 100-year-old windows replaced with double-glazed units. The draught we associated with the old ones has disappeared and the building looks better and is more comfortable. It was a huge investment and much-needed. But they did look a bit Spartan, until we bought some curtains from a well-known Swedish store for just over pound;10. They come in a variety of colours and flutter in the breeze, giving an air of calm and tranquillity. Now that's what I mean by little things having a big impact.

Another, in what appeared to be a small investment in training, meant our administrator became a counsellor. She has repaid the investment 100 times.

The most recent example is the "free fruit for schools" scheme. I was reluctant to join - I could visualise huge amounts of over-ripe fruit having to be washed and distributed around the classes to large numbers of unwilling children - chaos. How wrong I was. The fruit is of excellent quality, consistently well delivered, and placed around the classes by our hard-working welfares, and the children love it. It gives them a burst of natural energy, which helps them concentrate - and I'm sure behaviour in the school has improved as a result. Children are now happily eating fruit.

Some, who have never peeled a tangerine before, are learning manual skills.

It's a miracle, and lies very happily alongside all the other PSHE programmes we have in place.

Maybe, just maybe, the answer to transforming standards lies not in a continuous stream of dense documents, but from within the humble apple.

See The Issue: Nutrition, page 13.Bob Fletcher is head of Hobbayne primary school in the London borough of Ealing

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