I’ve just written to parents in our Senior School to thank them for responding to a recent survey which we asked them to complete last term: I can imagine the sinking hearts of a thousand families when they received the survey request – everyone seems to be after our views as soon as you’ve booked a holiday or eaten a meal! I tried to ensure that the ‘you said, we did’ energy came across: we found ourselves galvanised into doing some things which made so much sense once we heard families thoughtfully telling us how things work for them. Just as we abandoned homework for the first fortnight of Year 7 a few years back thanks to a survey of new-joiners, so it made sense to cut back on homework in years 7 and 8 by an hour or more to rein in the youthful enthusiasm to impress and please teacher and peer alike. We hope it’s working!
Much in the same vein, I was delighted to see Mr Waller, our academic head of sixth form, wagging his finger at Year 12 and telling them they shouldn’t be doing homework over the two-week half term (and saying much the same to his colleagues, too!). Fine to do the work you’d have been set anyway over a normal weekend, but nothing new or special aimed to mop up the holiday: this holiday should see a change of pace. There should be time to do less, to do nothing, to do something different. And not just in Year 12 – the same applies to younger pupils, too.
But a change of pace should open up opportunities to indulge the mind as well as the body, and that’s where, I hope, our young people will pick out, from all the advice and exhortations, a particularly wonderful and inspiring, life-saving initiative from our English Department. Led by Mrs Hyam and Mr Morgan, its members have gone out on a limb and chosen the 21 best books ever written – a brave endeavour which will, I imagine, have led to combative discussion among our much-loved literati! Highgate 21, a list of three books per year in our Senior School that will reward just as much as entertain. I’ve been on the case this summer and am working my way, rather happily, through Years 7, 8 and 9. (It is, in fact, Highgate 35, as you choose from five possible books per year). Your child should have brought home the list. I found ours in my son’s blazer pocket: where else?
I was a bit confused when I happened on Angela Carter’s Wise Children to think this was aimed at fourteen-year olds, but the confusion lifted when I pitched up at a Year 13 assembly to find a colleague addressing our senior pupils on Highgate 21 and Wise Children. I had simply messed up my bookshelf and where The Picture of Dorian Gray should have been, Carter’s bawdily, cleverly transgressive novel had somehow snuck in. Perhaps there’s something rather tempting about being told that this novel is actually aimed at someone older …
My favourite on the list – not that I have (yet) read all – has to be PG Wodehouse’s Joy in the Morning. Wodehouse is one who has made me laugh more than any author I know: it’s the equivalent of getting into a hot bubble bath – a certain recipe to pick you up, calm you down and make you happy! But I mustn’t just re-read old favourites (although that’s allowed!), and have just plunged into Heart of Darkness. Do follow me – the list is there for parents and carers too!