Two Years in the Infant School—a review by Paul May

I was surprised when the children’s author, Paul May, contacted me about a post I had written on Enid Blyton as an educationalist, for once written and published, these posts are often forgotten!  I was also curious about what he thought of the pedagogy that was being promoted during the 1930s especially as he had been a primary school teacher.  This was of particular interest to me as during the time Blyton was editing teachers’ handbooks, schools were being encouraged to embrace ‘modern methods’ of teaching Paul has kindly given us some of his time to write about his views on one of the handbooks Blyton edited.


Reused with permission from The Enid Blyton Society

Reused with permission from The Enid Blyton Society

‘Two Years in the Infant School, prepared under the supervision of Enid Blyton, N.F.U.’ was published in 1938. Its preface states that by means of its eighty-four weekly topics, ‘the whole curriculum of the Infant School is covered.’ The preface also tells us that the suggestions of the Board of Education have been ‘closely followed’.  Is this true?  The suggestions (1937) say: ‘The curriculum is a matter not of subjects but of experiences and activities . . . This is particularly true of the first year in the Infant School, where so much of the time is spent in joyous activities, which, though largely instinctive in origin and apparently without ulterior purpose, provide the best preparation for the more serious occupations of a later day.’

In fact, most of the activities in Two Years in the Infant School are teacher-directed and there is little sense that children might be engaged independently in ‘joyous’, ‘instinctive’ pursuits. But while the publication may not entirely have lived up to its claims, it is user-friendly, and most modern-day Early Years teachers would find the contents and their organisation familiar. The topics mostly had a rural or natural theme, but many, like ‘People Who Work for Us’ or ‘Crossing the Road’ might still be seen in today’s classrooms. So, how useful were these plans? I’ll take Topic No 1, ‘The Home’, as an example.

The topic starts with a ‘Talk’ that is too long for most four- and five-year-olds I know. The first paragraph—‘Who has brothers and sisters? Who has a baby at home?’—contains more than enough to prompt lengthy discussions.

Section II covers ‘Oral Composition and Language Training’. ‘Let the children chatter freely about Mother,’ it begins. There are plenty of ideas for getting the children talking, singing, and learning and acting out rhymes.  

Section III concerns ‘Reading Preparation’—‘phonics’, ‘word recognition’ and ‘the sentence method’. The phonics section begins charmingly: ‘These exercises should be preceded by the use of the handkerchief.’  The teaching is thorough, ensuring that the children can both say and hear the sounds, and recognise the letters that represent them. The look-and-say section uses flash cards, pictures, signs and labels around the classroom. For the sentence method, ‘Every week a special sentence or phrase can be written on the board for the children to learn and draw.’ To conclude, the author says that ‘In educated homes children approach reading by all three methods; indeed, an intelligent child cannot be confined to one.’

‘Writing’ was Section IV. This, in the first year at least, was practice in developing fine motor control, tracing, filling in Montessori insets, drawing in sand, on blackboards and on coarse paper, writing their own names and (presumably when they were ready) copying sentences. This is much the way writing was taught in many schools through into the 1990s, and elements are still there today.

In Section V the plans for ‘Number’ are far less detailed than the reading and writing.  In Week 1 we find, among other things, the wildly ambitious ‘teach the values of figures 1-5.’

There is a range of activities in Drawing and Handwork.  In ‘Drawing to help Writing and Number’ we have ‘Drawing lines of different lengths’, ‘Drawing a pin family,’ ‘Drawing a house’.  (What Early Years teacher, planning the week’s work late on Sunday night, hasn’t scribbled down something like this?) There are also ideas for modelling, building, and paper folding or tearing.  

The final section is Dramatisation, Musical Activities, Games etc. The children will act out episodes of home life. They will march, walk and skip to appropriate music.  In the playground they will play ‘Catching the Duster’. ‘The teacher holds a duster by one corner and runs away. The children run after her and try to get the duster.’

To be fair, the musical games, activities and songs in Two Years in the Infant School are generally good, the drawing, modelling and handwork activities would provide useful starting points for imaginative teachers, and the nature-study topics are also detailed and interesting. But the plans are uneven in quality. There is much whole-class teaching and little differentiation. There is some recognition that some children are ‘quicker’ than others and children are allowed to work at different paces when it comes to ‘individual work’, but this is not individual work in the sense of ‘self-chosen activity’.

And it does all look SO familiar. This is exactly how things were in many infant classrooms when I started teaching in the mid-1970s, and a lot of what’s here can still be seen in classrooms today. Can it really be true that the Hadow report on Infant Schools (1933) made the following statements more than 85 years ago, among many others just as radical?

‘It is on the open-air activities and interests of the children that we would base the training and teaching of the infant school.’ (p 124)  ‘During the infant stage the play-way is the best way.’ (p 125) ‘There is little doubt that manual and aesthetic development are better secured when the child is left to make what he likes, how he likes and, within reason, when he likes than by any set lessons.’ (p 130)  ‘The child should begin to learn the 3 Rs when he wants to do so, whether he be three or six years of age.’ (p 133)

The recommendations of the 1933 Hadow report look as much like a distant Utopia today as they did then—and I can’t help thinking that the modern equivalent of the infant classroom has as much in common with the classroom of Enid Blyton’s ‘Two Years in the Infant School’ as it does with that of the Hadow Report.

Paul May                                                                                                                                                  Children’s Author &                                                                                                                                former Primary School Teacher                                                                                                        Website:


Blyton ed. (1938) Two Years in the Infant School, George Newnes: London

Hadow (1933) Infant and Nursery Schools, Report of the Consultative Committee, London: HMSO

Board of Education (1937) Handbook of Suggestions for Teachers, London: HMSO

See also Nazlin Bhiman’s 2012 post: Enid Blyton, educationist.


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Social networks — in papercraft and calligraphy

Social networks — in papercraft and calligraphy

Did you have a friendship album when you were little? My teachers in primary school were mobbed for entries into our ‘poetry albums’, as they were known in German; my father wrote a poem for my album, my mother stuck in a real butterfly which she had brought back from her travels; and I watched with amazement a great-aunt neatly copy out some verse by Gottfried Keller and carefully frame it with a delicate garland of flowers.

Trompe l'oeil painted into a book, looking like pile of papers (letters, calendars, newspaper, etc.)

But a bunch of sunflowers, so finely embroidered that you take them for painted, or a still-life of minute flowers in a vase and musical instruments which could be put up next to the miniatures in an art gallery? That is another league. Nor did I have princes and princesses signing my book or a John Milton writing in Ancient Greek. Who had such prestigious albums of memories and dedications, and when did people take the time to paint their portraits for their friends, or hire someone to do it?

Most of the albums in the British Library’s current exhibition Friendship before Facebook: social networks in a pre-digital age strike you as stage sets for Shakespeare plays: gentlemen in yellow stockings and dangling earrings, ladies in pumped-up dresses and broad-brimmed hats, courting couples drifting on gondolas, the pomp and ceremony of the royal court…

Latin sentence and Latin signature of Charles (Carolus), Prince of Wales.The tradition of friendship books or alba amicorum started in the 16th century as a custom amongst students and other young men, long before it became the domain of ladies and then of little girls. The gentlemen recorded their good friends and social connections as well as their travels – just as we collect photographs to remember where we went and whom we met… or to prove our social status.

Some people did travel three or four centuries ago: German, Austrian, Dutch albums in the display show destinations in England and Italy, and in the online gallery you can admire more lovely views, including Windsor Castle and Old London Bridge.

The still-life with music, flowers, and food is planned to remind you of all the senses, of life with all its facets, beautiful and ephemeral. Elsewhere, music is included, in the form of musical notation and lyrics, reminiscent of a brief audio or video file, evocative and poignant in its silence.

There is a selection of paper craft: a black flap reveals figures underneath a canopy; some thick brushstrokes of paint turn out to be an intricate collage; a collage of calendar and newspaper sheets, in turn, has fooled you as a miniature trompe-l’oeil, recording the date forever, together with the skill of the maker and the status of the commissioner.

Black gondola with oarsmen and cabin with closed curtains. Black gondola with oarsmen and cabin with opened curtains, revealing lute player and couple.

This was the purpose of these solid leather-bound books: they give us a snapshot of times past, and I am sure the owners and their friends would be thrilled to know we dwell on their portraits, their thoughts, and their memories many generations later.

Teachers and parents could be inspired by this exhibition to try out the ideas and techniques employed before photography and digital media with children – from the youngest onwards. Perhaps some of you will start a new fashion for friendship albums?

I found the last ones I spied rather depressing: nothing more than printed templates to affix a photo and record your own interests, basically an annotated selfie for youngsters. Very little poetry and wisdom there, very little variety and creativity.

Miniature painting of banquet in garden; bright clothes from around 1600.

You could consult your public library or the Newsam Library for books on drawing, paper craft, calligraphy, and poetry writing… or could teach children to use a library for learning new skills! This would fit in with art education as well as creative writing and, I believe, social education.

On the shelves at the back of the entrance level, find paper craft at 745.54, collage at 745.58, calligraphy at 745.6, and art skills in general at 702.8. For poetry, put ‘poetry writing’ or ‘creative writing’ or ‘poetry authorship’ into the search fields of a library catalogue, like UCL Explore.

Book cover of Twelfth night: gentleman all in yellow, lady all in pink, dress around 1600. Book cover of Twelfth night: man's legs in yellow tights and black shoes.

Also, the Shakespeare aspect has been exploited by the British Library: their online resources offer parallels between certain plays and the images (which you may reuse under their conditions). Just in case a teenager doubted that the yellow stockings or dangling earrings were authentic…

Image credits

Trompe l’oeil:
Taken from Twitter (@britishlibrary, tweet of Feb 26th).

Friendship book of Michael van Meer, of Hamburg (?), ca 1615–16.
Held by Edinburgh University Library. Shelfmark:  Laing MS III 283.
© The University of Edinburgh (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Friendship album of Erckenprecht Koler, of Nuremberg, 1588-1612.
© The British Library. Shelfmark: Egerton MS 1208.

Friendship album of Moyses Walens, of Cologne, 1605-1615.
© The British Library. Shelfmark: Add MS 18991

Book covers:
Twelfth night, retold by Rosie Dickins. London : Usborne, 2009.
Twelfth night, modernised by Alan Durband. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2014.

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BBC Broadcasts and ‘Back in Time for School’

Back in Time for School 2
‘Back in Time for School’

Back in Time for School takes a group of fifteen children and their teachers back through time to experience what schooling was like at different times, from the Victorian period up to the 1990s. Last summer, I was involved in doing some research for the second episode on the ‘King’s English’, which was a speech and language programme that began in the interwar period.  To do this, I used the BBC Broadcasts for Schools Collection which I introduced in an earlier post on this blog.

The BBC introduced wireless lessons for schools during the interwar period, the earliest of these date from 1924. Schools were expected to adapt their timetables to accommodate these lessons and the BBC were keen on the ‘wireless teacher’ and the ‘class teacher’ collaborating so that both the children and the class teachers would ‘enter into the spirit of the lesson’. Class teachers were also expected to use the pamphlets produced by the BBC as guides and to make time after the transmission to answer questions that may arise. This would, according to the BBC, ‘treble the value of the lesson’! [1] Teachers were to report to the BBC any difficulties they experienced with the broadcast transmission and to comment on the content of the lessons.

The ‘King’s English’ began life as ‘Our Native Tongue’ in the 1920s.  The title is representative of the focus on the importance of English as the language of the Empire and the necessity of ensuring young children learnt how to speak their native tongue.  The programme had several name changes: In 1927, it changed its name to ‘Speech and Language’; from 1931 to 1934, it was called ‘King’s English’; and subsequently, it became ‘English Speech’.

In the early days, the programme was presented by A. Lloyd James who was a lecturer in phonetics at the London School of [African and] Oriental Studies (SOAS).  Lloyd James was a Welshman and a founding member of what later became the BBC’s Advisory Committee on Spoken English.[2] In the 1927 volume of the schedules of school broadcasts, Lloyd James explained to teachers:

The object of the talks is to arouse interest in the sounds of our native tongue, and to give some practical training in hearing and making these sounds.  Each practical lesson will be preceded by a little talk on some aspect of the subject. Very elementary notions of the history of our language may form a part of these talks, and may occasionally be read in the actual pronunciation of Chaucer and Shakespeare to give the children some idea of what English sounded like in those days.

Nothing in these talks will be said that will reflect adversely upon local dialects, and no invidious comparisons will be made between class dialects. Good northern English is as good as good southern English, etc.[3]

Lloyd James was clearly celebrating the glories of a richly diverse range of forms of English, as embodied in Chaucer and Shakespeare inviting children to become fascinated with the varieties of English. He was also at pains to point out that these lessons were not meant to reflect adversely on local dialects or to make comparisons between class dialects, and that northern English was as good as southern English. But the reality of this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Children who spoke well were likely to have a better chance of getting employment in the professional sphere (instead of manual or factory work) and thereby having the chance of climbing up the social ladder.

By the 1930s, the programme was well established in the lists of courses offered by the BBC to schools as it followed the guidelines recommended by the Board of Education which urged that ‘standard English should be taught’ without suppressing the peculiarities of dialect. This reference was from the Newbolt report on the teaching of English which was published by the Board of Education in 1921. Taking into consideration the ‘valuable constructive criticism’ from teachers, in the 1930s, Lloyd James (now referred to as ‘Professor’) modified the course to include rhythm and intonation, in addition to the practical drill in pronunciation of separate sounds. [4]

You can watch a short documentary on the Broadcasts for Schools in the second episode of Back in Time for School (on BBC iPlayer), get a taste of what the ‘King’s English’ sounded like and hear a wireless lesson from the interwar period at 33’50”.  You may end up giggling with the children as you try to purse your lips to speak R.P. (Received Pronunciation) or the ‘King’s English’. I wonder though if this will bring back memories of school for some of you.

If you miss the broadcasts, you can catch up on Box of Broadcasts for which UCL has a subscription.  You may need to access this from Desktop@UCL Anywhere


[1] Lloyd James, A. (1927), “Foreword to Teachers” In:  BBC Broadcasts for Schools, Vol. 1, pp. 7-8.

[2] Mugglestone, Lynda. “Spoken English and the BBC: In the Beginning.” AAA-Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik 33, no. 2 (2008), 6. Unfortunately, Lloyd James’ career ended in the 1940s when he bludgeoned his wife to death – see more here, especially the newspaper articles about this sensational crime.

[3] Lloyd James, A. (1927), “Foreword to Teachers”, pp. 7-8.

[4] BBC, Broadcasts for Schools: April 18th April to 17th, 1932. Vol. 9, p. 21.

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Bears and bees in the library

Book cover: quirky drawing of cartoon character reading a book.You may have been intrigued by the seven book covers posted on our Twitter account without any explanation or link. I hope that the #BookCoverChallenge @IOELibrary and elsewhere has reminded you what a beautiful creation of the human spirit a book is, quite different from an orally transmitted story or from an article presented online.

I also hope that many readers of this academic library asked themselves why it is teeming with quirky bees, pidgeons, and monkeys – as well as humans who are busy studying (or demonstrating).

Well, the UCL Institute of Education is not only a social science research institute but a teacher training college; so the Newsam Library provides many thousands of teaching resources and children’s books, in the so-called Curriculum Resources Collection.

Book cover: quirky drawing of bees.Book cover: painting of pigeon flying above landmarks of cities.Book cover: Quirky drawing of two apes.

Two of our seven book covers belonged to our non-fiction section; one contained children’s poetry, illustrated by the author; one was a picture book about books which appears to be for young children but is really a satire for adults: It’s a book.

Two books were taken from one of our academic collections, which you will find stretching along the upper and lower floors: one recent but radiating a Sixties/Seventies spirit with its retro look, the other one brand-new and published by the UCL Institute of Education Press.

Book cover: Black and white photograph of demonstration in the Sixties or Seventies; black and pink design.Book cover: Photograph of black woman graduating.

Book cover: Photograph of almonds on a table.One title was actually a literary work for adults: apart from fiction for children and teenagers (‘young adults’), the Newsam Library holds novels and films, sometimes biographical or autobiographical, dealing with schools and colleges.

This Education in Literature Collection is located at the back of the Teaching Room, behind the Children’s Book Corner, and you may take the volumes or DVD’s out.

Incidentally, in that cosy nook of the library you will pass some colourful finger-puppets and animal masks, as well as various teddy-bears with other beasts and birds, not on book-covers, but as three-dimensional objects.

Large teddy-bear on armchair with bright blanket and cushion, between bookshelves..If you feel like indulging in a bit of reading, joining the bear on the arm-chair or lying on the rug, here are your justifications:

  1. After reading a book — particularly at the IOE — I might change the world.
  2. I need to relax so that I can work harder afterwards on changing the world.
  3. “People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading” (Logan Pearsall Smith). Remember: It’s a book.

Soft pets, four owls and a mouse, with picture books about owls.

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Focus on DERA (Digital Education Research Archive): Grammar Schools

The IOE Library has always collected documents published by government and other relevant bodies in the areas of education, training, children, and families. Today, the Official Publications Collection here at the Library is the largest of our special collections and is highly valued by our users.

In some ways official publications are no different to other areas of publishing and we have witnessed a rapid transition towards a “digital by default” approach. You may already have read our recent blog post about DERA – our online repository founded on the traditions of our printed Official Publications Collection, dedicated to preserving the digital output of government in relation to education – where we highlighted content on the subject of school meals. This month, we are highlighting DERA resources focused on Grammar Schools.

When I began to look for documents in DERA I realised I first needed to understand what was meant by ‘Grammar Schools’. Historically Grammar Schools (or scolae grammaticales) had been attached to cathedrals and monasteries and taught Latin and other subjects which might be useful to future monks and priests, (music and verse, mathematics, astronomy and law). Later Grammar Schools were seen as the entry point for admission to University.

The modern grammar school concept dates back to the Education Act 1944 which promised universal secondary education and to improve the kind of education provided. Under a Tripartite System of state-funded secondary education for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, children would be provided with the type of education which would suit their needs and abilities as determined by the results of the 11+ exam. Academic pupils would attend grammar schools and be encouraged to go to university. Practical pupils would attend secondary modern schools. The third type of schools were Secondary Technical Schools which were designed to train children adept in mechanical and scientific subjects to become engineers, technicians and scientists. In reality very few technical schools were built and in most areas of the country there was really a two-tier system. There are currently 163 grammar schools in England (of around 24,000 state schools) and 69 in Northern Ireland.

Over the years there has been vigorous debate about Grammar Schools and whether they reinforced class division and middle-class privilege. In their support it was said that grammar schools opened up access to an outstanding state education to those who could not pay private school fees.

Grammar schools soon fell out of favour with politicians and in 1965 a government circular (10/65) was issued by the Department of Education and Science (DES) requesting Local Education Authorities to begin converting their secondary schools to the comprehensive system under which schools largely admit pupils without reference to ability or aptitude and cater for all the children in a neighbourhood.

Further legislation, 1976 Education Act hastened the end of selective state education in Wales and Scotland. However some counties and local authorities in England have kept largely selective school systems including Kent, Medway, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire, while others such as Gloucestershire have a mix. A few grammar schools have also survived in areas which are otherwise fully comprehensive such as Birmingham, Bournemouth and some London boroughs. In 1998 the School Standards and Framework Act forbade the establishment of any new all-selective schools.

In England there also Academies which were first introduced in 2000 and are publically funded independent schools. They benefit from greater freedoms (including from local authority control, ability to set own pay and conditions for staff and how they deliver the curriculum) and were intended to replace poorly performing schools. The Academies Act 2010 extended the programme, enabling all maintained primary, secondary and special schools to apply to become an Academy.

The most recent controversy surrounding grammar schools is the result of the announcement in 2016 by the PM Theresa May that she wanted to end the ban on grammar schools and funding would be provided under the 2017 Budget. This manifesto promise was later dropped.

Although new selective schools may not be being built there exists a loophole which allows existing grammar schools to open ‘satellite’ campuses or annexes . The first such school annex was opened in 2017 by the Weald of Kent Grammar School in Sevenoaks which is 10 miles from its original site in Tonbridge. The two sites have to operate as one school which means that pupils in the annex have to spend a day at the Tonbridge site at least every two weeks. Despite being described as an ‘annex’, the school has been seen by some as a ‘new’ grammar school.

There are also fears that annexes could be built in or near neighbouring local authorities without grammar schools, which could destabilise an area’s existing comprehensive schools and even lead to school closures.

At the time the 1944 Education Act (Butler) was being drawn up there was a strong belief in the value and accuracy of psychometric testing which was shared by many in the educational establishment. This led to the creation of an exam, the 11+, to be undertaken in the last year of primary education to establish which type of secondary school pupils should attend. France, Italy, Germany and Sweden also operated a state—run system of selective schools.

The 11+ exam has been criticised as being a barrier not a gateway to entrance to grammar schools. As the Education Policy Institute’s 2017 paper The 11-plus and access to grammar schools indicates

‘both the knowledge and the IQ elements of the 11-plus test assess skills which are significantly influenced by a child’s surroundings.’

The paper discusses the problem of wealthier parents being able to afford extensive coaching for their children in how to pass the 11-plus. As Chris Horrie’s 2017 article reveals there have been aids to passing available from the early days of Grammar Schools. The results of failing the 11+ exam, which meant children had to attend secondary modern schools, often had a long lasting effect both educationally and emotionally as discussed by Emma- Louise Wilson and Michael Rosen in their 2017 article. The positive effects of a grammar school education are still controversial and being studied even by researchers at the UCL Institute of Education.

Recent documents available in DERA which continue to discuss the question of selective education include the Department for Education’s consultation document Schools that Work for Everyone in 2016 (includes the Government’s 2018 response) which sought views on

  • Removing the current legislation prohibiting the creation of new selective schools
  • Lifting the restrictions on faith admissions in new free schools
  • Asked how to harness the expertise and resources of independent schools and the higher education (HE) to raise attainment across the wider school system.


Once again research in DERA and across wider documentation available using the Institute of Education Library’s collections answers some questions and leads to new ones.


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What the Dickens!

Charles Dickens’ seasonal novella ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a perennial Christmas favourite which has not been out of print since it was first published on 19th December 1843 by Chapman and Hall of London with four illustrations by John Leech (1817-1843). The first issue of 6,000 sold out by Christmas Eve and there were two more issues before the New Year.

Dickens was aware of the poverty that existed in Victorian London and he was especially concerned about the suffering of children. He had experienced hard times in his own childhood when his father was imprisoned for debt. At first Dickens was going to publish a pamphlet entitled ‘An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child’ but changed his mind and wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’ within six weeks. He felt that he could reach more people with a deeply felt Christmas narrative than with a polemical pamphlet. The treatment of the poor and the ability of a selfish man, Ebenezer Scrooge, to redeem himself by transforming into a more sympathetic character are the key themes of the book. The Ghost of Christmas Present has two emaciated children hidden in his robes named ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’.


‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’ from Quentin Blake’s ‘A Christmas Carol’.

‘A Christmas Carol’ was written during the mid- Victorian period when the British were exploring and re-evaluating past Christmas traditions including carols and including newer customs such as Christmas trees. One of the writers who influenced Dickens was the American author Washington Irving whose 1819-20 work ‘The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent’ included four essays on old English Christmas traditions. Family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games and a festive generosity of spirit were all popularised by ‘A Christmas Carol’.

By the end of 1948 there were eight rival theatrical productions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ running in London.  Dickens began public readings of the novella in 1849 and gave a further 127 performances until his death in 1870. The first film version was a black and white silent version released in 1901. Since then there have been numerous film and television adaptations and even an opera and a ballet. Who can forget the 1992 musical film ‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’ with an admirably straight-faced Michael Caine as Scrooge? The story’s popularity has not waned with at least six theatrical adaptations countrywide this year.

In the Library’s Curriculum Resources Collection you can choose from several versions of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Apart from “standard” copies of the text, there is a 1995 edition which has been lavishly illustrated by Quentin Blake. In contrast to Blake’s generally cheery pictures, the tone of the 2008 ‘A Christmas Carol. The Graphic Novel’ is much darker.


The Ghost of Christmas Present from ‘A Christmas Carol. The Graphic Novel.

Michael Foreman also illustrated ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1989. For younger readers there is a 2003 edition abridged by Vivian French with illustrations by Patrick Benson.


Michael Foreman’s version of ‘The Ghost of Christmas Present.’

Mike Gould’s ‘A Christmas Carol. Student Guide’ (2017) and Sue Bennet and Dave Stockwin’s ‘A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Study and Revise for GCSE’ (2016) are examples of the help available for those studying the book at school.

The 2017 children’s novel by Michael Rosen ‘Bah! Humbug! A magical retelling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol’ illustrates the enduring influence of the story.


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“Outdoor learning and Physical Education in Schools – what DERA has to say?”

The IOE Library has always collected documents published by government and other relevant bodies in the areas of education, training, children, and families. Today, the Official Publications Collection here at the Library is the largest of our special collections and is highly valued by our users.

In some ways official publications are no different to other areas of publishing and we have witnessed a rapid transition towards a “digital by default” approach. You may already have read our recent blog post about DERA – our online repository founded on the traditions of our printed Official Publications Collection, dedicated to preserving the digital output of government in relation to education – where we highlighted content on the subject of school meals. This month, we are highlighting DERA resources focused on outdoor learning and physical education.

Doing research in DERA can lead to surprising discoveries, as I recently found out for myself when I was looking for documents relating to physical education and sport in schools. For example, I found a document from the Office for National Statistics called Children’s engagement with the outdoors and sports activities, UK: 2014 to 2015 which looked perfectly suited to my research and opened the door to a wealth of resources that were new to me. These included a fascinating document published by the National Trust, an organisation which has been criticised recently for evicting forest schools from its woods.

The document in question was Natural Childhood by Stephen Moss, whose overall conclusion is that

we as a nation and especially our children are exhibiting the symptoms of a modern phenomenon known as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’.

‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ is a term also used by the author Richard Louv in his 2005 book Lost Child in the Woods to describe the human costs of alienation from nature. His ideas have influenced the research done by Stephen Moss, who hastens to add that his report acknowledges the many benefits of modern technology and is not about trying to return to some mythical golden age.

Children appear to have less freedom to play outside today for a number of reasons, which might be as simple as not living a house with a garden or having limited access to an easily accessible outdoor space such as a park, or even parents or carers perception of the ‘Outdoors’ as a dangerous place .However, another document that I found in DERA, Accident prevention amongst children and young people: a priority review (2009), provides the somewhat surprising evidence that, in fact, the home is not a particularly ‘safe’ environment. Data found on page 8 shows that there were 30,783 accidents in the home compared to 15,084 accidents caused by transport which resulted in emergency hospital admissions for 0-17 year olds in England in the 2006-2007 period.

Research by the University of Essex and the NHS has reported a decline in children’s cardiorespiratory fitness and an increase in childhood obesity, with researchers in these areas agreeing that the decline in the time children spend outdoors is a contributing factor. There has also been an increase in mental health problems as discussed by Richard Layard and Judith Dunn in their book, A good childhood: searching for values in a competitive age (2009), which reports on the findings of The Good Childhood Inquiry commissioned by the Children’s Society. The seventh annual report was published in 2018.

Physical and mental health problems are the most obvious consequences of a lack of engagement with nature and opportunities to maintain and improve physical and mental wellbeing through activity. There are more intangible problems which include declining emotional resilience and a reduction in the ability to assess risk which are vital life skills.

On a more positive note, the educational benefits of outdoor learning have been discussed in Learning outside the classroom, published by Ofsted in 2008.

The National Trust’s strategy for helping to improve children’s connection to nature includes its current campaign called 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾. The activities range from simple (catch a falling leaf or make a daisy chain) to those requiring more time and effort (bring up a butterfly or learn to ride a horse). Visiting a farm, flying a kite or checking out the crazy creatures in a rock pool are amongst the activities which can engage the interest of the whole family.

It is interesting to note that in Children’s engagement with the outdoors and sports activities, UK: 2014-2015 report mentioned earlier, ‘activities’ are defined as including walking, jogging, biking, ball games, swimming and water sports, fishing, picking berries and activities that usually take place indoors such as gymnastics and fitness.

Not all schools can provide trees to climb or ponds to explore but they can encourage children to be active from an early age through physical education and sports. Intentions may be good but schools may find it difficult to engage and retain children’s interest in physical activity. Evidence of official help is provided by a DERA document entitled What works in schools and colleges to increase physical activity?, which identifies eight promising principles for practice, which have been tested with children and young people and practitioners (p.5):

  • Develop and deliver multi-component interventions
  • Ensure skilled workforce
  • Engage student voice
  • Create active environments
  • Offer choice and variety
  • Embed in curriculum and learning
  • Promote active travel
  • Embed monitoring and evaluation

Additional information is provided by two more documents in DERA: the first one, a recent briefing paper produced by the House of Commons Library and titled Physical education and sports in schools, presents a comprehensive overview of current policies and practice in England, while the second is a currently open consultation on the Department for Education’s Review of GCSE, AS, and A level physical activity list.

In conclusion my initial research in DERA for documents about PE and Sport in schools led to the fascinating topic of ‘nature deficit disorder’ and the impact it is having on us and especially on our children. Even small changes such as The Daily Mile initiative can have a significant impact as reported by the BBC earlier this year.

This post is one in a series highlighting the variety of materials held in DERA. If you want to find out more, please visit our LibGude.

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