The Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, describes arguing with politicians and inspiring school visits and ruminates on Ofsted’s report on the teaching of poetry.
I wrote a poem! In the midst of the visits to schools, the writing of introductions to books and making radio programmes, I actually found time to think through an idea long enough and hard enough for it to turn into a poem. I thought I had forgotten how to do it. (Not really!) As it happens, I wrote it for the Scottish Book Trust as a taster for my Scotland tour in May. Interestingly, it begins: ‘I’m lost, I’m lost…’!
The National Year of Reading has begun and I’m very interested to see if this is going to be something that seriously improves the way in which schools help to create people who read books. As yet, I don’t see a match between the effort and energy going into the phonics programme and what needs to be done to make schools into book-loving places. I had the interesting experience of sitting in the TV studio of the ‘Daily Politics Show’ and arguing with Hazel Blears and a spokesman from the Tory Party about the need for school librarians and home-school reading liaison. Needless to say, the moment we started talking about money for this, it was punted into touch. I find it ironic that Monteagle Primary School, which featured on the recent ‘Lost for Words’ series on Channel 4, has a four day a week librarian and its inventive ways of helping parents enjoy books with their children are superb: the reception staff grab the new parents and sit down with them and share the reading of ‘real’ books with them. So, instead of simply saying, ‘reading books is good’, they do something hands-on and practical. Love it.
Ofsted have produced a report on the teaching of poetry. I met its author Phil Jarrett and scurried around a few radio and TV shows responding to the report itself. He makes several points arguing in particular that there isn’t a sufficient variety of poetry reading going on in schools. My own view of this is that if you nail schools to SATs and Literacy Hours, you create a school environment in which teachers run as hard as they can to fulfil their requirements. What happens with poetry is that many teachers, quite legitimately, feel that they’ve ‘done’ poetry if they do what the Literacy Strategy says they should. But on its own, this is meagre stuff. The Poetry Book Society has expressed extreme disquiet over the fact that publishers have become very wary of bringing out new collections of poetry for children. I can see why: as schools fulfil the minimum poetry ‘norms’, these can be satisfied with one school anthology. At this rate, we won’t see a new generation of poets writing about their world, in the way that I was able to.
I’ve carried on with my visits: this was a mix of work in a library, secondary school, university, London poetry night and an NUT branch meeting called ‘How not to bore the pants off children’. My visit to Polesworth School near Nuneaton was an absolute delight. I don’t think I’ve ever been to an ordinary comprehensive where the atmosphere was so positive, the work so inspiring. The immediate reason for my visit was to open a language block at the school and to be part of the school saying goodbye to someone I went to school with and who I once worked with during the school holidays in a building supplies yard!
In between this, I had the amazing experience of going to Brussels for Radio 4’s ‘Word of Mouth’ to report on the language wars going on between the French and Dutch speakers. I’ve never been anywhere where the issue of language was quite such a political hot potato. I was amazed to hear from Belgium’s Jeremy Paxman (Dutch version) that the Minister of Justice for Belgium doesn’t come on his programme. She’s a French speaker and as the Belgians vote according to the language they speak, she doesn’t see any point going on Dutch TV. This might seem a far cry from Children’s Laureate stuff, but I always find that by immersing myself into language or literature, issues will in the end seep through to how I think about things going on in the area of work with children.
Some interesting work coming up and I’m almost certainly going to Bologna for the international children’s book fair where Booktrust will be carrying on with The Big Picture campaign for the picture book. And who knows – I might even write another poem.
or Michael’s website www.michaelrosen.co.uk
for information and details of forthcoming events.