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Blinks: High quality reviews and training
Blinks: High quality reviews and training
High quality reviews and training
High quality reviews and training

Roy Blatchford's Column

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com

Will dinner duty ever be the same again?

As an impecunious supply teacher in a 1970s London comprehensive I learned from my first Head of English that if I accompanied him on lunch duty, I could get a free meal. Previously in publishing, I had been told that there was no such thing as a free lunch.

I never looked back.

I have spent much of my professional life on free meals, eating alongside children (pinching their chips in days when that was permitted), and supervising breakfast, break and lunch queues. From house rooms to dining halls, from cafeterias to burger vans (in a new school waiting for the restaurant to be built), I have enjoyed the fun of the food queue.

As a head of year with 320 students, the lunch queue (two sittings) was always the place that I could have a word in a student’s ear rather than wasting both our energies on after-school detentions. Or catch up to congratulate them on their classroom and sporting successes. Or listen to them entertaining their peers, rehearsing lines, dances and songs for school productions.

Amongst the colleagues I got to know best working in five different schools - three as headteacher - were the kitchen staff. Nurturing professional relationships with them meant I always received generous portions. Invariably they had children in the school so were able to tell me, warts and all, about the quality of teaching, homework and report writing.

Teaching in a US high school of 3000 students in the 1990s - courtesy of a British Council scholarship - I learned the three Disney laws of queueing. The queue must always keep moving. The queue must be entertained. You must always be able to see the front of the queue. Running a lunch line-up, I have tried to follow these laws, entertainment invariably coming from the students’ own conversations and portable devices.

It was not always thus, but today there are many, many schools across the country which offer appetising breakfasts. I regularly arrive early to secure one and meet folk.

One outstanding secondary provides free breakfasts for students and supervising staff from 7.30am. The healthy fried eggs, bacon and beans competes with any ’greasy spoon’ and guarantees that student lateness to school is almost zero. Their head of kitchen is a living legend and brings so much personal warmth to the school community. The headteacher, supervising the queue and never wasting a learning opportunity, quizzes students on the school’s ‘words of the week’.

To this day when visiting schools as a reviewer, inspector or trainer, I choose to eat with students at mid-day rather than have sandwiches in an office. To take the temperature of any school, observe children at play and listen to their lunchtime conversations. Have supper with the boarders in order to sense the spirit of an excellent boarding school, not least tasting the multi-cultural wizardry of the chef.

I once inspected a school for autistic children. The ‘family’ lunchtime dining arrangements seated in the round with immaculate tablecloths, staff serving students, were a special part of the day, missed by no-one, valued by everyone.

The Brits have always prided themselves on orderly queuing, though teenagers in schools are not always quite as compliant when hunger calls. I have a good headteacher friend who oversees his cafe queues with a hi-viz gilet jaune and a loud-hailer. He never misses the daily opportunity to hear from his students about the latest gossip, fads and fashions.

So the bustling food queue, rich in chatter, matters to the well-being of a good school. It always has, no matter the context - special, primary, secondary.

Post Covid-19 and with the new vocabulary of ‘social distancing’, will school dinner queues ever be the same again? Standing outside Sainsbury’s two metres from my fellow humans, separated by yellow lines within the store, then by arrows at the checkout - as social animals we are not made for these restrictions.

As schools reopen over the coming weeks, headteachers - amongst a myriad adjustments - will be giving serious consideration to how snacks and lunches are served, and how children wait in line at a safe distance from one another.

I do hope they will continue to share stories, sing songs and enjoy each other’s company while waiting to eat. And that in the autumn, the craic and the jostle will be back in the queues.

Roy Blatchford's latest book is 'The Three Minute Leader'

Will dinner duty ever be the same again? (May 2020)

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com


Philosophy, politics and economics (PPE)
The UK's political leaders who have nervously addressed the nation from the Downing Street podium over the past weeks took degrees as follows: Johnson (classics), Raab (law), Patel (economics), Sharma (physics), Hancock (PPE - sic), Jenrick (history). Rishi Sunak (PPE) has been singularly confident.
Philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) (19 April 2020)

Read Roy Blatchford's latest book: The Three Minute Leader

Before Coronavirus (BC).... After Coronavirus (AC)
There was a time Before Coronavirus (BC), though it already seems months ago. Lenin got it right when he said: 'There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen'.
Before Coronavirus (BC).... After Coronavirus (AC) (April 2020)

The Three Minute Leader: ROOM 101
I taught in a central London comprehensive in the 1980s at the height of the IRA's bombing campaigns. The distinguished headteacher told me years later after she had retired that during those years she received by phone daily bomb threats.
The Three Minute Leader: ROOM 101 (March 2020)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons
The word 'robot' comes from a Czech word robota meaning 'forced labour'. It was first used to denote a fictional humanoid in a 1920 play. By the 1940s Isaac Asimov started popularizing robots and intelligent machines in his great science fiction short stories.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons (February 2020)

A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism
A new, predictably unpredictable decade begins. The German poet Goethe wryly observed that everything has been thought of before - the challenge is to think of it again.
A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism (January 2020)

PISA in purdah
With politicians on doorsteps and civil servants in purdah, this month's publication of PISA results has not been accompanied by the usual idle chatter around rising and falling standards.
OECD's PISA tests have been running since 2000. They measure the ability of 15 year-olds to apply their skills and knowledge to real life problem-solving in reading, maths and science.
PISA in purdah (December 2019)

It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it
According to new research from Yale University, when we hear someone speak we form near-instantaneous conclusions about their social class. It takes just seven random words they claim.
The Professional Speechwriters' Association suggests that content only accounts for 11 per cent of our impact when we talk. Passion, expertise, voice and presence are all twice as important in making a first impression.
It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it (November 2019)

Why independent schools enjoy being independent
The Labour Conference votes to abolish independent schools. Social media have come up with witty suggestions about what to do with the great estates of Stowe, Eton, Wellington and Winchester once they are requisitioned.
Anyone who has attended the annual Festival of Education at Wellington College will know what I mean.
So as minds turn to thinking the unthinkable, let's pause to reflect on why the independent sector rightly values its independence.
Why independent schools enjoy being independent (October 2019)

The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification
It is a remarkable statistic in the home of the English language, and in one of the world's top economies, that one third of 16 year-olds, after 12 years of compulsory schooling, fail to achieve what the Department for Education describes as a 'standard pass' (grade 4) in GCSE English and maths.
This was the starting point for the independent Commission on 'The Forgotten Third' which was established by the Association of School and College Leaders...
The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification (September 2019)
The Forgotten Third: Final report of the Commission of Inquiry

Reading for the summer recess
Radical Candour Kim Scott, Machines Like Me Ian McEwan, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic Simon Armitage, Average Is Over Tyler Cowen, India Connected Ravi Agrawal and Why We Dream Alice Robb.
Reading for the summer recess (August 2019)

End of academic year reflection (July 2019)
This past year I have visited nearly 50 schools in the UK and overseas. Sometimes it has been as a reviewer (Blink), sometimes as a leadership coach, sometimes to work with students and teachers, sometimes to listen to headteachers' views on a range of educational matters.
End of academic year reflection (July 2019)

Eight Leadership Maxims
With acknowledgements to the headteachers and principals across the UK and overseas I have worked with this academic year.
Eight Leadership Maxims (June 2019)

It's the curriculum, stupid!
Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign slogan memorably read 'It's the economy, stupid'. His lead strategist James Carville hung a sign with these words in the Little Rock campaign headquarters: what was intended for an internal audience rapidly became the election signature tune.
In the contemporary schools landscape, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has hung up the sign: 'It's the curriculum, stupid'.
It's the curriculum, stupid! (May 2019)

Postcard from Shanghai
Away from its gridlocked, elevated highways the largest city in the world works. Shanghai: a modern, socialist, international metropolis.
Contrast frenetic New York, chaotic Mumbai, the bedlam of Cairo - Shanghai hums with purpose. Twenty-six million souls occupy countless high-rise towers cheek by jowl with the stylish housing and municipal legacies of the French, British and American Concessions. The Huang Pu river bends through the downtown like a proverbial dragon's tongue.
Postcard from Shanghai (April 2019)

The Forgotten Third
Each year in England over half a million 16-year-olds take their GCSEs. A third of these students do not achieve at least a standard pass (grade 4) in English and mathematics.
Why is it that a third of 16-year-olds, after twelve years of compulsory schooling, cannot read or write English at what the Department for Education (DfE) describes as 'standard pass' level?
Why is there not proper recognition of the progress these young people have made as they move on to further education and employment?
The Forgotten Third (March 2019)

The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK
I encounter many senior politicians, top civil servants in education departments, principals of schools and colleges across the globe who have spent what they describe as memorable and enjoyable years in British universities.
The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK (February 2019)

A Happy New Year from Ofsted
Roy Blatchford drafts HMCI's New Year Message

An important tipping point in this country has now been reached. In 2018, approaching 90% of state-funded schools were judged good or better at their most recent inspection. That should be recognised as a fair achievement for the nation.
A Happy New Year from Ofsted (January 2019)


Roy Blatchford CBE

Roy Blatchford is founder of www.blinks.education - working with schools, academy trusts, colleges and universities in the UK and internationally. He has spent the past three years implementing education system reform in the Middle East.

He recently chaired ASCL's Commission 'The Forgotten Third', and currently chairs the East Sussex Secondary Board.

Roy was Founding Director (2006 - 2016) of the National Education Trust. Previously he served as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools (HMI) in England, with national responsibilities for school improvement and for the inspection of outstanding schools.

He has extensive experience of writing inspection frameworks, nationally and internationally, and has reviewed over 1000 schools and colleges in Europe, USA, Middle East and India.

For 30 years Roy has been an international trainer and conference speaker on English and literacy, school improvement, leadership and curriculum development. He has been an adviser to various UK governments, including Deputy Chair of the DfE Teachers Standards Review (2011) and of the Headteachers Standards Review (2014).

Roy began his teaching career in London, moving to be Principal of schools in Oxfordshire and Milton Keynes. He is Visiting Fellow at Reading University, was a visiting university professor in the USA, and is co-founder of the Mumbai-based education foundation Adhyayan. He is the author/editor of over 150 books.

Roy was appointed CBE for services to education in the 2016 New Year Honours.

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