Tentative flight from the state-school nest

23rd March 2007 at 00:00
Fran Hill teaches at an independent school in the Home Counties

There's this tiny baby bird, see. It's nice and cosy in the nest, cuddling up to mummy. It does what it's told - sit in nest, wait for food, don't peck at your brothers - because, although life is tedious that way, it knows no different. Then one day, mummy pokes her beak up its bum and tips it over the nest-edge. Waaaay! What happens now?

There's no one to tell it what to do any more - just a pair of unco-ordinated new wings. Life is now a series of choices. Find food? Build nest? Mate? In which order? And where's the bloody manual? Why am I telling you this story? Well, first because I bet no one tells you - a grown-up - stories about baby birds any more. Second, it's an allegory that explains how I felt about moving from teaching in the state sector to an independent school. That baby bird is me.

In my state school, I moaned along with everyone else about the over-prescriptive English curriculum, teaching to the tests, accommodating three other adults in my classroom, and grading work according to the national literacy strategy. Now, I work in the independent sector, where our curriculum is loosely based on the national version, but not prescriptively. The pupils don't do Sats, I'm usually on my own in the classroom, and how I mark books is my decision. I'm virtually flying solo now, and while it's great to be out of the nest and doing my own thing, I can't help thinking how straightforward it was being told what to do by mummy.

You're probably thinking "What a wimp!" (especially if you work in the state sector) or "Doesn't she remember how prickly that nest was?" But when I'm agonising over whether to teach Year 9 non-fiction, a modern play or sentence structures, and in which order, and with which non-existent departmental scheme of work, I do hanker after a mummy bird.

It's probably my personality. Choices worry me. I like small shops with two types of baked beans, not supermarkets with 13. I preferred TV when there were four channels. A psychiatrist would no doubt say that my dysfunctional, discipline-less, absent-from-nest mother was responsible for these traits, and that may be so, but that doesn't help when I'm poring over a pile of English books and having to think of something original to write rather than "level 5c; work on AT2En2". I'm not saying I'll go back to state schools, although if my head of department reads this, who knows? Anyway, would I be welcome in the nest now that I write "good stuff, old chap, but dodgy spelling" in key stage 3 books and palpitate if anyone over 18 walks into my classroom?

If you're in the state sector, think of me next time mummy bird forces your beak open and crams in a few more worms that you didn't know you needed.

Think of me, flying precariously by the seat of my birdy pants and remembering the old days.

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