apple seed

growing great ideas!

Tag: learning

Creative Lent #4: The Garland

I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister today.

I write to my MP on a fairly regular basis –  after all, this is a democracy and I can’t moan about things from the sidelines and then refuse to act and blame someone else for the results. But I don’t write to the PM very often at all. I don’t know whether she’ll read it, or whether it will reach her in time, but I’ve sent it none the less. It’s a letter which has burdening me for some time, but which I’ve been struggling to phrase.

Unless you’ve been living in the wilds of Scotland  for the last twelve months (and some people have, for a Channel 4 reality TV show), you can’t have escaped the news that the UK is on the brink of leaving the EU. Not just politically, but also the Single Market, which affects our trade and employment agreements along with a bunch of other things. Various people have been ringing warning bells, but with no effect apparently, as our leadership seems diligently and wilfully committed to throwing the UK off a political and economic cliff.

I could happily work up a head of steam on the subject, but I’m going to steer away from that and instead draw out something from the letter which I wrote: I suggested to the Prime Minister that the only reason for not changing course from our current trajectory was human pride.

“It was human pride that pushed aside a major decision to an ill-equipped public. It was human pride that took the ‘easy’ way out and opted for a process which will cause more harm than good. And it is human pride which refuses to back down and admit that this may not be the best course of action after all.”

I went on to suggest that “The only way to change the course of history now, would be to admit that this ‘hard Brexit’ is a mistake and that you were wrong. Do you have the courage to do such a thing I wonder? To be a leader like no other in history, before or since?”

Now it’s all very well to be angry at someone from a distance and to accuse them of wrong-doing, but the Bible reminds us that we should not judge, lest we ourselves are judged. And I have been judged – and rightly so. I have made mistakes which have affected those close to me, whom I love, and some of those mistakes, even though I’ve apologised, can’t be undone. Granted, I haven’t made the kind of decisions which affect an entire nation…but each person within that nation, just as each person within my family, is as important to God.

It got me thinking about repentance – the attitude of being sorry, of admitting that we’ve done something wrong. Repentance is one of the three themes I’m reflecting on during Lent this year, as well as Rest and Restoration.

Repentance is the mindset that is willing to admit to mistakes and take responsibility for them. To repair what has been broken and replace what has been lost. But repentance shouldn’t be forced on someone, otherwise it’s not genuine or sincere – that’s the kind of circumstance when a parent forces an errant child to ‘say sorry’ which they then do grudgingly and then as soon as the adult is out of earshot they start being naughty all over again.

A forced repentance can also have disastrous consequences later down the line: consider the ‘Reparations’ which the German nation was forced to pay to the Allies after World War I. None of those involved in the conflict had clean hands, but the penalty Germany had to pay crippled the nation and made the ground fertile for Nazi ideology which might never had taken root, if the Allies had treated Germany differently.

Forced repentance can create brokenness, bitterness and resentment, which yields a bitter fruit later on. But conviction – that internal acknowledgement that something is wrong and needs to be put right – that creates the space for something different. As we yield our will to God or friends and family, as we acknowledge our mistakes, we can bend rather than break and in so doing, we can learn from our mistakes.

This brings me to this week’s piece: The Garland.

Made from supple twigs and woven in with leaves and flowers, The Garland  represents repentance.  Rather than being forced to bend and ultimately snapping in two, the twigs have been gently curved into shape and held in place with florist’s wire.

Sometimes we need help to see our mistakes and be able to learn from them. Discipline offered in love doesn’t always need to be harsh or severe in order to be effective.

Another thing to consider is that repentance affects change – but that requires choice. As soon as the florist’s wire is undone, the twig could whip out and resume its original shape, causing injury in the process. But if it’s bent in that position gently for a period of time, it will keep its new curved shape.

Repentance needs to be a willing act on our part, otherwise we aren’t open to seeing our mistakes and we can’t learn from them.

I have added flowers and leaves to this willowy wreath, which draws out the beauty of the wood – but the spaces where I have inserted them have only been created because the twigs were woven together and able to bend. If the twigs were inflexible and stubborn, if they had stayed straight, the flowers and leaves would have fallen straight off, and no garland would be possible. The twigs’ flexibility creates opportunities which would not otherwise exist.

Repentance can be fruitful.

So this then is my Creative Lent offering for this week: The Garland of Repentance.

May we all be gracious, patient and flexible, because of and in spite of our mistakes, in order that we can learn and love one another more fully.


Education – getting the balance right

balance chairEducation is a gift. It is a privilege, both to the teacher and the student. Education has the power to change individuals lives and by extension whole families…swathes of communities…an entire nation.

But such power wielded wrongly can be a dangerous thing. It can damage and restrict people, limit them and their potential and instill a fear of failure and a sense of ‘not being good enough’.

I was abruptly reminded of this fact this evening, when putting my daughter to bed. She turned six just a month ago and will be moving into Year 2 in the autumn. Tonight she said she wanted to talk to me about ‘her worries’ and the things she was concerned about.

“I’m worried about going into Year 2,” she explained. “I’m worried because I’m going to have tests and I’ve never done a number test in my life and what happens if I get it wrong and I get bad marks?”

She is six.

Now, I should make it clear that I’ve never spoken to her about SATs, and the only notion she has about testing might be from her older brother, who will be going into Year 4 in the autumn and has already had his SATs and a series of QCA tests. And yet, she is keenly aware of – and worried about, the tests that she knows are coming in Year 2, and more importantly, she is worried about failing.

I’m not worried about how she’ll do in these tests, not least because she’s in an excellent school and she’s in the top Maths group. But the point is she’s SIX. She shouldn’t have to worry about tests or what might happen is she fails. She shouldn’t be concerned about not doing well enough or ‘getting bad marks’. She should be in an environment where learning is a joy, and failure is a accepted and more importantly valued part of that process.

Paul Benneworth, at the GUNI (Global University Network for Innovation) conference in Barcelona earlier this year, reminded us of an old but timely saying: ‘you don’t fatten the lamb by continually weighing it’. I’ve been working in the field of youth and children’s work for over twenty years, and I don’t object to assessment. I understand the need to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of learning. But it seems to me the pendulum has swung far too far in the wrong direction, and those holding that wonderful and terrible power over education find themselves falling foul of McNamara’s fallacy: we only value what we can easily measure, rather than finding ways to measure what we truly value.

My daughter has developed an anxiety about tests and a fear of failure from an education culture that says: ‘you’re only valuable if you achieve the right scores and pass all the tests’ and as a practitioner and as a parent, this is heartbreaking. Surely we want our learners of all ages to know that they have value beyond the score sheets? Surely we want to encourage them, and invest in them, and enable them to have the self-confidence and resilience to take the risks in order that they might achieve and fulfill all their untapped potential?

Education is a balancing act, and it has always been. It is a balance between the need to develop innovative ways of conveying information, and finding appropriate ways to understand how effective this conveyance has been. But people are more than the sum of their test results and metrics and assessments only shed light on a small part of the whole person.

Surely someone, somewhere, must be able to raise a shout that challenges this awful, seemingly inexorable slide towards a factory model of education, where only the ‘good ones’ are kept and the rest are thrown on the rubbish heap? Otherwise I fear this warped notion of ‘value’ will leech further and wider across society, and we’ll end up with a generation too fearful and constrained to take the risks we need to meet the challenges that lie ahead.


September has been a busy month in The Potting Shed (apple-seed HQ) hence why its been a little quieter on the blog. Here are some highlights that explain why…


It is with great delight that I can finally announce that Heritage Lottery Fund have formally agreed to fund the Somerstown Stories project! Although we knew this some months ago, there were some hurdles to overcome in processing the grant payment and so we couldn’t formally announce anything until that had been resolved.

The project itself  started at Somers Park School in early September and its been great to see how enthused the staff and children have been as they’ve learnt more about the area where they live! My role for the school has been varied, including on-going research, sourcing materials and resources, meeting with teachers to help them with specific subject knowledge and also preparing activity sessions.

One of the most enjoyable aspects has been story-telling: I am co-authoring with the children a story called ‘Somerstown Detectives’ about three children known as Carrie, Edward and Ben who get involved in a mystery which takes places in Somerstown just after the war. I have deliberately tried to include factual evidence about the area as well as details of everyday life which would have been common at the time: rationing, empty houses due to bomb damage and familiar landmarks and transportation. The staff and children have really been enjoying the story, which is being serialised and told to the school on a fortnightly basis, as a special assembly.

One of the staff commented: “They really are enjoying it, even my new little one who was adamant he wasn’t going to listen but then wanted to say thank you!”


Fratton Big Local is ‘on pause’ at the moment, while the new round of consultation funding is applied for. Click here to see the report on Round 1: FBL GPI1 Report Aug 2011  Appendix A  Appendix B  Appendix C  Appendix D


The element which had the greatest potential for long term empowerment and sustainability has also been the hardest to achieve: the recruitment of volunteers. Despite offering high quality training with support and the opportunity to be a part of significant change in Fratton, very few people have shown any interest at all, which was very disappointing. No doubt a more conventional method will yield some of the more conventional results that one might expect from a consultation, but I would question how sustainable or valuable a ‘tick-box’ exercise could be?

Each of the areas could have up to £30k to fund its consultation and in Fratton this is coming in two parts. The first part was called ‘Getting People Involved Round 1’ and the local steering group requested £10k. That money has now been spent, and although the intention was to begin the application process much earlier and thus have an overlap or a fairly short hiatus, the project then ran into external political difficulties which had to be addressed.

The next round of funding is being administrated by the Community Development Foundation (CDF) and they have appointed an agent in each area to support the local groups with their Round 2 proposals. Once Round 2 has been completed, each area must have a ‘Community Plan’ drafted, which is essentially the blue-print for how the £1m will be spent. This is a crucial time for the programme, and it’s essential that not only are we as effective as we can be in gathering information and envisioning local people, but also that we are supported and aided by the key organisations and agencies in the area. We only get one shot at making this work, and I sincerely hope we can make the most of this rare opportunity.

And finally: a tentative window may be opening around a small community cohesion project run with some students from Kaospilots. Its early days yet, and negotiations between the students and one of my former Creative Partnerships schools, Admiral Lord Nelson are proving to be a little hiccupy (not least because of the added international dimension!) However, Kaospilots are interested and the school is open to the idea, so I’m hopeful that we can work something out that will be beneficial to both organisations AND meet the stated aim of building towards community cohesion.



© 2019 apple seed

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑