September 2016

The know zone

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    Julie McCulloch looks at the government’s latest initiative to introduce the South Asian ‘mastery’ approach to teaching maths in primary schools. More
  • Preventing hate
    Schools and colleges across Britain are seeing a rise in the levels of racism among pupils. Anna Cole looks at why and explains what leaders can do to combat hate. More
  • Exploring the evidence
    In the first of a regular research insights page, Matt Walker, from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), introduces how research evidence can help to improve schools and colleges, and influence policy. More
  • A vital network of support
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  • Adding value
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  • Prevent duty
    Since July 2015, all schools and colleges have been subject to the Prevent duty. How has your institution dealt with this requirement and have there been any challenges? Here ASCL members have their say. More
  • Leader's surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
  • Daily grind?
    Sam Ellis offers some tips for the out-of-town traveller in search of a bed for the night and decent food – although perhaps not an espresso. More
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Sam Ellis offers some tips for the out-of-town traveller in search of a bed for the night and decent food – although perhaps not an espresso.

Daily grind?

I can recommend this limbo land between retirement and slight self-employed status. Having stopped work as ASCL funding specialist two years ago, I now find time for books, the garden, the guitar and the household senior management’s ‘can you just’ list, which puts me on Christmas card terms with most of the staff at our local B&Q.

I also get to hover around the fringes of the educational world doing occasional jobs as an ASCL consultant or in a private context. I know how Banquo’s ghost felt!

On the debit side, once in finance, always in finance; I miss frequent contact with ASCL colleagues but, on the credit side, I get to live for most of the time at home rather than on trains and in hotels. Nevertheless, the occasional work trip away is always mildly entertaining. Filling in the i-SPY book of ‘train spotters at Doncaster Station’ and ticking off the list of ‘hotels a bit like Fawlty Towers’ are still relevant even if they are no longer top of my displacement activity agenda.

There is now only about one gig a month involving a combination of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and an isolated rural hotel with an absence of nearby pavements and street lights. Premier Inns and the like are reliably similar and conveniently situated, provided you are in a car. Urban locations are usually fine but try dragging a suitcase with a broken castor from the railway station to a hotel on the edge of a small village.

I can guarantee that the local taxi service (singular) is either asleep or at home watching Midsomer Murders – if there is any difference – and, second, as you get close to the hotel, you find yourself at a large road junction where all routes are designed to accommodate a Land Rover and prohibit anything on legs.

Occasional work away from home also has a cluster effect. It starts with someone ringing up and offering me money. I am now in the lucky position of being able to tell callers that I cannot do it because I will be washing my hair.

That does not usually happen as a voice at my end of the phone tends to say, “Yes.” Following that, there is a pattern of similar work arising in the same area. I recently used the same Premier Inn on the outskirts of a small town in Essex several times. As I walked in on the fourth occasion, the receptionist greeted me with, “Oh, you’ve been here before, I’ll put you in the same room!” Being tired after a five-hour journey and being a Mancunian, I replied, “It’s a Premier Inn. It’s always the same room.” The receptionist didn’t get the joke.

No boil-in-the-bag

ASCL colleagues will testify that not eating in a hotel and particularly not in one peddling standard catering-company boil-in-the-bag and microwave provision is usually top of my agenda. Over my ASCL years I have managed to identify independently run watering holes that are generally inexpensive and good in most of Britain’s urban centres.

Top of the list for value and entertainment is L’Absinthe French bistro near Chalk Farm. There are many others: flour & ash pizzeria in Bristol and Splinters Restaurant in Christchurch to name but two. Unfortunately, there are occasions when one is billeted somewhere with no escape.

When staying in some big-name hotel chain, be prepared to pay a high price for wine that is essentially ‘plonk’. My son-in-law, whose surname is Corsini, would define that as ‘wine that Italians would cook with but the English drink’.

I was recently stranded in a hotel at the other end of the price range and the only place to eat within walking distance was a Harvester. At one point I ordered an espresso; the waiter returned with a large mug containing a tablespoonful of coffee. Kindly, he whispered, “I only charged you for a tea ’cos there isn’t much in there.” Bless!

I can recommend occasional work, despite any Fawlty Towers experience. It is a privilege to have time to spend on the family, home and hobbies. It is a greater privilege to still be able to support people in schools. In my book, they do the most important job there is.

Sam Ellis was ASCL’s funding specialist.

Want the last word?

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you’d like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Permjit Mann at ASC L offers a modest honorarium.