“In praise of the place of lazy summers in education”

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky is by no means a waste of time”.

John Lubbock

 “I love how summer wraps its arms around you like a warm blanket” Kellie Elmore

 “A life without love is like a year without the summer” Swedish proverb

It was a bit of shock to answer the Skype call in my study on Monday morning at 9am to see the awesome students of Pinnacle College, Kyalami, Johannesburg, sitting in their coats and scarves. Especially after the weekly meeting of the staff to thank them for last week’s work, briefing them of the events for the new week ahead and mentioning the approach we have to coping with the unprecedented heatwave of the last few weeks in the UK. There are some real memorable moments of this job and getting to talk to the students and colleagues on Monday morning for over an hour about education in South Africa and Britain, diversity in our societies, the World Cup and England’s chances, Welsh v SA rugby, JK Rowling and Wyedean and even to have a lovely rendition of their school song is such a moment in education. I took them on a tour of the campus here at Wyedean courtesy of my mobile in the warm sunshine and asked students and staff here to say hello and answer questions, especially the new Year 12s from other schools for the Sixth Form transition week.  The power of this global learning never diminishes and it is an important part of my role as a British Council ambassador and a Skype Classroom/Microsoft educator to ensure these connecting classrooms and schools around the World happen frequently. However, the coats and scarves in Johannesburg?  Seemed so odd but the geographers here were at least able to talk about the Southern Hemisphere winter and how South Africa can also get cold. Dedicated colleagues like Rose Lean and Principal Naidoo in South Africa are doing tremendous work in bringing the World into their school for the benefit of their community.

In between the end of term events, finishing off the key things for the academic year like the Principal and Leadership report to full governors, school evaluation of the year and the summer newsletter to parents I am trying to get through my 4 week online administrator/Principal’s IBCP course. I never thought that I was a great student and to misquote Winston Churchill, I prefer to learn rather than be taught.  How true for many of the students I have met as well as the glee when they found out Churchill had never been to university but still became Prime Minister and won the Nobel Prize for literature. On Monday afternoon I took part in a conference call with the group of educators who are also working on the course. I listened to my colleague from an IB school in Texas talk about the racial tensions and gun safety issues they faced in their school in comparison to the UK and as I did, I did take a moment to savour and fully appreciate what an “outward facing global school” really looks like. This was is it! It was also seen in a different and lighter way in the amazing energy the phenomenal students from Kosei Girls’ School Tokyo who spent the week with Wyedean students teaching them origami, calligraphy, traditional dances, songs and just interacted together as global teenagers. In the IBCP conference Skype another colleague from South Korea, originally from Canada, raised some of the wellbeing issues she faces as Dean of Students at her campus because of the stresses and pressures teenagers, parents and society places on them to succeed in Asian cultures like Japan, South Korea, China and Singapore. In Lucy Crehan’s book, “Cleverlands” there are many interesting points made but what never is really addressed for me is the intense mental health pressure and issues around young people and their wellbeing in Asia. More importantly, what is being done to address wellbeing and mental health for young people? My colleague from South Korea said it was a real concern for her to actually get her students into some down time and not to be constantly studying late at night at home and early in the morning at school.

The heatwave currently in Britain makes my daily drive across the old Severn Bridge from Bristol, and the view to the Forest of Dean and South Wales more akin to southern Spain right now with the parched brown and yellow landscape desperate for rain. I “enjoy” the emails, texts and WhatsApp messages from friends and colleagues telling me their school/country broke up for summer “vacation” back at the end of May or June and why are we still in school? To be perfectly honest there is still so much to do and one of the best things we have done to cope with the heatwave in school is to anticipate it and be pragmatic about it. Students have been allowed to wear their PE Kit and shorts from the very start.  If they are too hot and uncomfortable with the heat, still wearing a blazer and tie without access to water how on Earth will they learn? I have taken the same sensible approach with staff who are expected to run the school and teach the students.  There are so many summer term events going on in Wyedean that it is hard to take stock of everything.  For the last few months, I am conscious that the weekly Monday briefing is still half way through when the bell goes for registration as we are still thanking colleagues for their hard work and reading out the week’s events.  This week alone we have a Duke of Edinburgh expedition out, year group reward trips, Year 10 and 12 work experience, Year 11 Sixth Form induction, Year 9 Critical Thinking to the Bosnian Genocide conference at my old school RWBA, Public Speaking finals, Gospel choir events, PE teams are competing in country athletics and Rounders; the list goes on.  Moreover, this is what schools should be doing in this summer term.  The outward facing global school is also a school that believes passionately in the wider and enriching curriculum developing all students holistically and not paying lip service to it with a couple of outdated brochure pictures and references at new parents evening.  Look at our school Twitter to see how rich the education is at Wyedean.  In all of this activity, I know when I speak daily to students in the corridor and yard how much they are enjoying the variety and pace of the term. This is hopefully looking less like a treadmill of grinding education as possible.  Today, my colleague and director of teaching and learning, Julie Smith, presented to the weekly Teaching and Learning briefing on metacognition and self-regulation approaches to help students think and reflect about their learning and to follow more a study by the EEF this year. Julie gave colleagues time to think about these questions:

Which explicit strategies can you teach your students to help them plan, monitor, and evaluate specific aspects of their learning?

  • How can you give them opportunities to use these strategies with support, and then independently?
  • How can you ensure you set an appropriate level of challenge to develop students’ self-regulation and metacognition in relation to specific learning tasks?
  • In the classroom, how can you promote and develop metacognitive talk related to your lesson objectives?

What occurred to me listening to colleagues discuss these questions is just how important the summer term and the summer holidays for students especially, to have the time to reflect on their academic year and to take time to relax, read something or engage in something on a much deeper level without distraction. For students to become metacognitive and self-regulate, they need the balance and time to do exactly this and not an education system some of my global colleagues seem to be describing in the societies they work. The answer?  The summer holiday/vacation! I have a whole heap of articles from various newspapers and journals that stretch back a few years over the same theme about the summer holidays. That they are, in no particular order: too long, Victorian summer farm work culture no longer needed in 2018, students forget what they have been taught and the priceless classic, people who work in education have “all those holidays” – notice it is never accompanied by “and all that pay” and “all those additional hours on a weekend, week nights, half term breaks, etc, that are put in just to get ready to teach during term time and deal with the complex issues around young people and education in 2018”.  However, not to digress dealing with these viewpoints is not the aim of this blog.

I have given an assembly around the theme of the summer break and what makes us happy to the different year groups in the last couple of weeks as I see them formally for the last time before the break. I even managed to retell the “happiness” anecdote to Year 10 around a dinner with President de Gaulle, Prime Minister MacMillan and “Tante” Yvonne in the early 1960s back when Britain was desperate to join the EEC. The assemblies I gave to students amounts to the same advice and that is to use the summer as a rest, to reflect and take time to do something. At Wyedean, we believe strongly in “stretch and challenge learning for all” and on our website, there is a link to reading lists and activities to ensure that as well as taking time out to be lazy, getting up late, spending the day not doing much there is at least something to look at as an alternative.  It is not about young people being addictive to their devices and screen time either for the next 6 weeks.  The link is here:

Stretch and Challenge 2017-18

Like all things, there is a cost and what society is willing to pay through taxation to build a progressive society for all but I have always been impressed with the American, Canadian and Nordic approach to summer camps/summer schools during the break to structure activities and opportunities for young people and actually to get them outside and a change of scenery. In a week in amongst the “turmoil” where those 12 young lads and their coach were finally rescued from the caves in Thailand; a week that Harolds’ MacMillan & Wilson would have definitely described as “events, dear boy” and “a long time in politics”; there were two things that I read with interest in the context of the investment we place in our future through education and young people. The Public Accounts Committee released their parliamentary report into the cost of academies and MATS in England since 2011 and highlighted some of the worst cases of poor oversight of trusts, wasteful spending and profligacy with little impact on young people and their communities.  A very dear colleague and the eminent professor of education at the University of Gdansk and visiting professor of education at John Hopkins University, Maria Mendel, released her book “Pedagogy of Common Places” which is a long study into an alternative to neo-liberalism and economics in the development of education in countries like the USA and UK to try and get policy makers to focus on a humanising alternative based on sustainable community schools. Maria looks at the impact of the Charter School model in the USA and I was very fortunate to be asked to contribute on education in England and Wales.  In the current binary education system of either/or, Maria’s research looks at communities where schools have improved through a systemic approach linked to learning, raising standards and creating World Class opportunities but it is in the context of developing people and capacity focussed on young people as the main priority being prepared for a globalised society.  Connected to that approach is a move away from the relentless testing for its own sake, and a culture ensuring schools are then anchored in the very communities which they serve. I saw this in evidence at the Wyedean annual Creativity Festival last Friday as a great learning, holistic, whole school, celebratory, community event in the July Friday evening sun.  Listening to the Year 9 group at the festival singing the Red Hot Chili Peppers “By the Way” as my five year old daughter danced along was one of the most relaxing and best moments of the term.  These students are so talented!  We need to encourage and see this side of them more through these opportunities.

Dr Isabelle Moreau, of UCL believes we should contextualise “laziness” in space and time instead of contrasting it with “hard work”. She believes just as we go for slow food, quality over quantity movements, in the summer we should go for slow work and that should extend to our students and colleagues at the end of the academic year to recharge and reflect ready for when the autumn brings a different pace and priority as we start a new academic year.  There are those like Dr Sandi Mann of the University of Central Lancashire who actually believe boredom now and again is actually good for us and plays a vital role in society: “When we are bored we look for neutral stimulation. One way to achieve this is to go inwards and let our minds wander and daydream.  When we are freed from the shackles of conscious restraints, we may see things differently and look at ways of doing things…it can be a catalyst for change and help us cope with information overload”. In Tanith Carey’s book “Taming the Tiger Parent”, she writes as a mother of two, about the concept of a child’s spark and this is something every child has and can get lost in as they are allowed the less formal structured time.  They can only do this, she argues if they have the opportunity to be left to their own devices – that does not mean mobiles or tablets!  Tanith believes that some of the best learning is through being left alone to reflect and enjoy the freedoms to watch a film, go on a bike ride, read a book, meet with friends, listen to music, visit the park or even sit under a tree and watch the world go by.  This is why we will always need the periods of down time in the education calendar, to allow good memoires to form and to have less fear about the future. It is ok to be “lazy” in the summer.

I am looking forward to my own summer break, not necessarily the four days at Euro Disney my wife has booked, which my three daughters, aged 5, 7 and 9 are looking forward to, but seeing Paris and the two weeks in France visiting places we know well seeing family and friends. I am hoping to finish a biography on Charles de Gaulle “The Last Great Frenchman”, Mbappe may have something to say on this, by Charles William. I keep putting this down though and I need to stay away definitely from any leadership theory books for 6 weeks only picking up fiction, history or biography. I’ve got Madeline Albright’s Fasicsm: A Warning” lined up next.  Light reading for the beaches of southern Brittany I know. After Sunday, we will also know if Football is coming home finally to England or will it be a case of “Allez Les Bleus again. Bastille Day this weekend could be a spectacular one for France potentially. For so many, the 2018 World Cup in Russia has been a wonderful global event to be involved with whoever lifts the trophy as World Champions and to echo the wise words and leadership of England coach Gareth Southgate

Our country’s been through some difficult moments recently in terms of its unity. And I think sport has the power to do that. And football in particular has the power to do that. So for us we can feel the energy and we can feel the support from home and that’s a very special feeling. It’s a privilege for us”.

#GarethSouthgateWould definitely want a well-earned rest, relaxation and reflection for any team or school community or even country that has worked so hard all year and need time out ready for it to all start up again during the autumn.

Have a great and lazy summer,


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