What was I doing at school, up a ladder and hanging bunting at 8am in the cold on a Saturday?
In September, I started a new role as Director of Co-Curricular Studies and Outreach at Streatham and Clapham High School. I have spent the first half of term finding my feet, not only coping with my new responsibilities, but also dealing with an ISI inspection. I thought that I would start a blog to reflect upon my experiences, but in the words of Robert Burns, ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft agley’.
This half of term has kicked off with STREAM, the largest children’s book festival in South London, which has been run by my school for the last three years. It is an amazing event with packed-out venues around the school hosting sessions and talks by a range of illustrators, poets and authors. I jumped at the chance to get involved, even if it meant hanging metres of bunting.
It is perhaps fortuitous that STREAM coincides with my new blog as in many ways it exemplifies what my new role is all about.
I think STREAM highlights what is so important about ‘co-curricular’ activities. As a book festival, it is closely allied to the curriculum subject of English, but it offered so much more. Young people were able to engage academically with a whole range of subjects supporting and extending what they do in the classroom and completely free of examination-pressure. We learnt about the weird and wonderful world of beetles in MG Leonard’s energetic explanation of why she chose a beetle as the hero of her debut novel ‘Beetle Boy’. Marcia Williams, the author of ‘Bravo, Mr William Shakespeare’ treated us to an impromptu production of ‘The Tempest’ and the sheer joy of the whole audience split into three sections to recite the speeches of the witches of ‘Macbeth’. STREAM also delivered important advice and skills for life. There was career advice as authors explained their route to success, such as Rob Biddulph demonstrating how far he had come from his schoolboy drawings of comics to prize-winning illustrations. Our sixth-form helpers demonstrated leadership skills in looking after high-profile speakers and confidently introducing them to huge audiences. It would be too difficult to express the full impact of STREAM on those who attended, but even these small examples serve to demonstrate what significance c0-curricular activities can have.
The other aspect of my new role is ‘outreach’ which can broadly be seen as making connections between my school and the local, national and international communities of which it is a part. STREAM is very much a community event and even its name reflects the local area of Streatham. It is free and open to everyone. It was a joy to see so many people come and enjoy our facilities and gain access to the likes of Malorie Blackman, the former Children’s Laureate. Books play a very important part in helping us to think about ourselves as global citizens. I’m sure there wasn’t one person who did not reflect upon the plight of refugees today as Judith Kerr spoke about her own flight from Nazi Germany described in her novel, ‘When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit’. STREAM helps my school feel rooted in the community and helps others to see that we are part of the community too.
I am already looking forward to next year’s STREAM Book Festival and cannot wait to see the exciting line-up. The festival achieves so much in only one day. If my role as Director of Co-curricular Studies and Outreach requires me to be up a ladder in the cold on a Saturday morning to enable excellent events like STREAM to happen, then I cannot think of anything more worthwhile.