We're most productive when we're sociable and cold

10th February 2006 at 00:00
The words of wisdom offered by our parents don't have much of an impact when we're young. We all know best when we're growing up. But the sayings of my father are beginning to make sense in middle age. I now understand that I can use his philosophies in my daily life and work.

Dad, 85, lives life to the full. He goes to a pub every day and is well known in local establishments, where he is greeted fondly. He exchanges wit and repartee while downing a pint or two.

When I think about it, I believe communing with one's fellow men is a skill for life, and I should have socialising on the timetable as part of the PSHE curriculum. Children should have more opportunities to chat about topical issues and share the dinner table with different people. There should also be more time for adults to talk to children about their hobbies and interests. We just don't make time for it in our days driven by lessons and objectives.

Dad was a transport manager for the National Coal Board. One of his mantras was, "If you want a job doing, give it to a busy person". This is very true. When I think about people I know and the work they do, it is the dynamic, personable folk who chair the local headteacher groups, sit on committees or support charities. The busier you are, the busier you become, which makes you more sociable, and probably means you will live longer. So I must encourage the children to be busy and productive in their leisure time as well as during the school day. They need to have the pleasure of seeing a job completed through their own efforts. Perhaps I could put a jigsaw in the entrance hall to keep a group occupied during playtime? Or start the gardening club again?

I was also struck by one thing Dad told me when he showed me a photograph of his primary school class - 43 boys sitting in rows. None looked prosperous or all that intelligent; perhaps it was the novelty of the camera that made them look as if they were about to be shot. Dad could remember all their names and chuckled as he told me wildly improbable stories about what they got up to, but the most surprising fact was that there was not one child in his class who could not read. I found this hard to believe, but he assured me that everyone could read because they were frightened of the slipper. And those who could not read had to sit the furthest away from the stove. Dad believed that the methods used must have worked well. Education was important, teachers were respected and they got the support of parents.

Today, there are children in schools across the country who can't read. Is it because we're too kind to them? Is it because parents do not have the respect for education? Do parents look at all the people who failed the 11-plus and went on to great things and believe that school is not important? Or is Dad's interpretation of being able to read limited to barking at print? What we expect in terms of reading at level 4 would probably stun the average 11-year-old from the 1920s.

One thing my Dad has also taught me is to be competitive. If everyone in his class could read, then I must make sure that all the children in my school can read to the best possible standard when they leave. I will look again at our teaching of reading, review our use of synthetic phonics, bring back the slipper and turn off the heating. I'll make Dad proud of me.

Val Woollven is head of St Andrew's C of E primary school in Plymouth

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