Dale kids steal the show

12th August 2011 at 01:00

All Teachers Great and Small

by Andy Seed

Headline Publishing Group, hardback (pound;14.99)

4 OUT OF 5

It's 25 years ago, the end of the summer term at Cragthwaite Primary School, deep in the Yorkshire Dales. Children and parents file into the hall to watch a show written by the year's school leavers, called Looking Back.

Dressed as pensioners circa 2035, the children hobble onstage to reminisce about their schooldays:

"We had proper schools back then, didn't we?"

"Aye, I don't know what they're coming to today, with their laser-powered blackboards."

"And school trips to Pluto."

"And robot dinner ladies."

"And alien teachers."

"Aye . well, some things haven't changed."

Some things never change. The anxiety of an NQT, for instance. The process of getting to know the motley array of individuals in a class. The soul- searching and unexpected triumphs of learning to teach. The madness of reconciling government policy with classroom reality. Any teacher reading Andy Seed's story of his first year in the profession will recognise them all.

They will also recognise the teachers, although there are only four at tiny Cragthwaite Primary. And they will recognise the headteachers: mean- spirited Mr Raven, who rules the stock cupboard with a rod of iron, believes children should be seen and not heard, and mercifully takes early retirement at Christmas; and his livewire replacement, Joyce Berry, who transforms the school's ethos at superhuman speed, but doesn't notice how exhausting all her innovations are for the staff.

However, the title of this book is misleading. It's not really about the teachers at Cragthwaite - it's about the children. Each of the 24 chapters revolves around a child in Mr Seed's first class. They're all there: the clever, the cocky, the pathetic, the precocious, the ones you'd like to lose on a school trip and the ones you want to take home and keep. It's about children's quirkiness, humour, energy, generosity, infinite creativity and infuriating obtuseness.

Intertwined with the pen-portraits is the story of Andy Seed and his wife over the course of that year - moving to the Dales, finding a home and "doing it up", learning to live in a close-knit village community, and giving birth to a child of their own. If, like me, you sometimes guiltily tune into Heartbeat, you'll enjoy every nostalgic minute. Because (like those "pensioners" in the leavers' assembly) the book is looking back to a vanished culture, a culture without mobile phones, email, console games and social networking sites.

The children of the mid-1980s had never heard of such things and their teachers had never heard of risk assessments, targets or curricular objectives. Perhaps that's why Andy Seed has given up teaching himself and now prefers to write and speak about education, and work with teachers to try and enthuse the next generation about books and reading.

Today's teachers have infinitely more on their plates than he did 25 years ago and may well sneer at his nostalgia. But this touching, evocative, and often very funny book has a timeless message: the 24 little bundles of human potential Andy Seed describes remind us what primary teaching must be about - children, great and small.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Seed was a primary teacher for many years in the Yorkshire Dales before setting up as a freelance writer in 2000. He now splits his work time between writing, running workshops in primary schools and giving talks about his time as a teacher.

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