After a week of 'Gove Levels' , where England's Education Minister has advocated a return to that divisive two-tier system which failed so abysmally in the first place, it would seem strange to propose anything remotely revolutionary.
Abolish exams and replace them with school-based coursework. Get rid of Headteacher dictatorships and thoroughly democratise schools, so they're run by pupils and teachers. Scrap the costly and time-wasting Inspections and create a system of peer observation and hands-on advisors. Introduce freedom of choice in school clothes, so comfort and suitability replace militaristic uniformity.
All these are ideas I've mooted previously and tried to justify fully. I've been called hopelessly utopian, despite the fact that some of these have actually happened in the recent past, such as 100% coursework in English Literature and Language.
Now I'd like to add to these by suggesting that subjects should gradually disappear from the curriculum altogether.
This may seem like a crazy notion and many may say, why should this happen?
I believe that if subjects are replaced by themes or topics it will enable pupils to see the direct relevance of what they are studying far more clearly. I could not see any basis in reality in both Maths and Science when I did them at school, yet have discovered (through watching various series on tv) just how ubiquitous, practical and totally important they are to any perception of the world.
The extremely unhealthy division between practical subjects and academic ones would also be broken down , with each theme containing vital practical outcomes.In other words, making products, producing leaflets and dishes as a result of that chosen topic.
Above all, it would create pupils who are far more rounded individuals.
One of the most significant initiatives in the 6th form in the last decade has been the introduction of AS Levels, intended to encourage students to select a combination of subjects from arts and sciences, thus ridding A Levels of that almost sectarian division.
However, AS failed to do this in all but a few cases, because Universities continued to demand combinations of subjects confined to either arts or sciences and , moreover, schools found it very difficult to accomodate awkward subject choices.
While both the International and Welsh Bacc. do defy this and are far more wide-ranging and outward-looking, what I am putting forward is much more fundamental.
Ironically, this has been standard practice in Primary Schools for many years and, despite the pressures of the National Curriculum and, more recently, Key Skills, the thematic approach has prevailed and been very successful.
Historically, steps towards it at Comp. level have been tentative. However, one of my first job interviews was at a brand-new school in Telford. It was going to be run on a thematic basis, with pupils moving from area to area to pursue this.
I didn't get the job (maybe my hair wasn't long enough!), but it was one of the best interviews I've ever had, with a long chat down the pub lunchtime with the ex-hippy Head(who's probably now working for Ofsted!).
Later, at the Comp. where I taught in Merthyr I had responsibility for Language Across the Curriculum for a while and it promised to be a nascent form of what I'm discussing, but never delivered.
To make education more relevant and enjoyable, why not study themes such as Obesity or Unemployment , as each can be dealt with in most subject areas, from the science of nutrition to the mathematics of household management?
To give one example of something which will impact on many communities in the next decade, why not make Fracking one of the topics?
It certainly involves a detailed knowledge of geology and also an understanding of how it could pollute and cause earthquakes.
I can imagine debates and the study of portmanteau words in English, the experiences of N.American fracking in Geography , implications for energy bills in Maths and environmental ones in Science.
In History, why not a serious consideration of the Crown Estate which actually owns the mineral rights to most of the land due to be fracked for shale gas ( will the Green Carlo block these?).
This is only one example and some pupils could well say - 'Couldn't give a flyin' frack!'
Yet surely, the themes could be negotiated and decided by staff and pupils?
It's a system that wouldn't happen overnight. Initially it would have to be introduced into Year 7, so they become accustomed as they progress up the school.
Indeed, it's already happening in a tentative way and my young daughter studies 'Meddwl Dysgu Llwyddo' which incorporates Humanities, RE and Learning To Learn.
Certainly the themes should have relevance to the locality, so practical experience, visiting speakers and trips are integral. Although emphasis on the local would lead inevitably to Welsh literature (in both languages), history and geography, there would still be a need for a wider context and the Senedd should provide that.
ALL SUBJECTS GONE
We had this new Headmaster,
must've come from a school on Jupiter.
Everyone said he was off his head,
'I'm not a Head, I'm a body!' he said.
'From now on, all subjects will be gone!
Only themes in our curriculum!'
Our first was LOVE, in Maths we found
not 1+ 1, but a recurring number you couldn't count.
In Science, for all its reproductive skills,
we learnt how it too could be killed.
In Geography, we located the very places
where topography matched lovers' faces.
In History, it wasn't king and queens,
but couples struggling with death and disease.
In CDT, we made our own inventions
trying to determine desires and intentions.
In ICT. from spread-sheets of the heart
we tried to predict how it could start.
In Welsh, we rhymed 'Caru' and Cymru',
discovered no crime to love your country.
In French, we wrote letters with many a kiss
and listened to Piaf's sensuous voice.
In Games, we used arrows and bows,
dressed up in Cupid's scanty clothes.
In Art, we created colourful graffiti
with tags and love-messages bright and sparkly.
In RE, we found love of things unseen :
some thought it a fairy-tale, others a dream.
In Music, avidly followed the score
till notes flew off the page, became no more.
In English, we learnt it couldn't be defined,
no matter how many words we tried to find.
We came to love this revolutionary plan ;
'Next theme's CHANGE!' he declared, and I'm stepping down!'
As I approached the ground it felt like a final time. I experienced an overwhelming sense of mourning, like I had felt before the last game at old Ninian Park stadium.
I studied Cardiff City Walk carefully, leading up to the gates. Almost every brick there, large and small, black and golden, was inscribed with the words BLUEBIRD or BLUEBIRDS.
The crest was prominent across the stadium and outside the kiosks and club shop. The actual stadium itself (built from large lego, we always joked) is blue and white , as are the seats within.
In the club shop Cardiff Blues merchandise had disappeared and ours was much depleted, to prepare for 'enter the dragon', a weird and alien prospect. One man was asking about the arrival of the new shirts and seemed very enthusiastic.
This was a kind of ending, though I'll return as a spectator, of course, always wearing blue yet wary of shouting for the Bluebirds when a strange red-shirted team come out onto the field.
It was an ending because the scheme I had taken part in and enjoyed doing so much - 'All Skilled Up', organised by CCFC and Literature Wales - was finishing that day and its funding had run out.
It was a literacy project with a strong Creative Writing impetus and I have relished the many workshops I've done there, together with other poets such as Mike Church, Patrick Jones and Peter Read (Luton, Spurs and Wrexham fans, who have never betrayed their bias......unlike me!).
No other club in Cymru has provided this : a unique opportunity for Primary ,and some Secondary, pupils to tour the stadium and write poetry about football.
Like everything else, the Cuts have impacted severely on Creative Writing provisions and I wonder if such a scheme will ever happen again.
The teacher from the first school was, like me, a die-hard Bluebird. He told me how he absolutely loathed the changes to red shirt and dragon badge and he'd agonised, as I have, over whether to go at all next season, despite having a season ticket.
I tried to reassure him that we, the fans, would be there when everyone else - manager, owners and players - had left to look for more money elsewhere; but he didn't seem convinced.
It simply wasn't his club any more : the one his grandfather had brought him to as a boy and he'd loved ever since.
The teacher from the next school was a Swansea fan who was sympathetic, but still managed to look at me as though I'd suffered a bereavement.
One of his pupils was less caring however and , at the first opportunity and out of the blue (that colour again!) simply put up his hand to announce - ' Cardiff City lost to Liverpool in the Carling Cup Final!'
Only weeks before this we had been celebrating victory. The owner Vincent Tan had declared categorically that there would be no change of either shirt or badge. He had said - ' For all concerned I would like to emphasize that I hold no desire to trample on club history or heritage...'
Fast forward less than a month and he had done exactly that : managed to tear up 110 years of the Bluebirds!
Our history was being re-written like the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's '1984'. Indeed, the more I think about Orwell's dystopian vision the more it seems relevant not just to the state capitalism it exposed, but to the present corporate greed of the West, with its total disregard for people's wishes.
We have been lied to at least once before, when the manager was promised transfer funds in the January window ; money which never materialised and might well have ensured us a Premiership place. One or two transfers certainly altered Reading's season dramatically, especially the signing of Jason Roberts.
How can we possibly trust such owners? Most of their investment of £40 million is actually made up of money they have loaned and the club will have to pay them interest. This is the selfsame scenario of previous owner Sam Hammam, still owed substantial amounts by the club.
I love the Bluebirds and will not run away. Yet, it's difficult for me to summon any enthusiasm for next season, when my team will take the field in Welsh team badges and sub-Liverpool outfit!
And......I am bound to glower at every fan who has been duped by this lunatic scheme and not feel at one with them.
That vital tribal mentality, based on everything from bricks to chants, from colours to fanzines, has been shattered in two.
My friend believes that a sponsorship deal with a company whose main colours are red and black must be pending.
My young daughter speculated on the Tomato Ketchup Stadium!
If I am surrounded by sell-out red and refuseniks in blue are outnumbered, then I may have to think again.
But, for now, one ending is enough to take in.
Our club crest is the Bluebird,
We wear the colour blue
And there’s no lying businessman
Going to tell us what to do.
Over 100 years of history
Which they’re binning like litter,
Blue after Riverside F.C. ;
They wonder why we’re bitter.
Only last month they promised us
That things would not be changed.
Who’s going to buy these red insults?
The plan is totally deranged.
We’ve seen owners come and go,
Managers and players through the years,
But most of us will still be here
When money makes others disappear.
I took my son to Ninian Park
When he was only five ,
Now he’s a man we’re fighting strong
To keep the Bluebirds alive!
This has been a week of stark contrasts. Between the euphoria of the Republican Evening in Cardiff Bay and waking up to find that my beloved Bluebirds has turned red overnight!
Between the Union Jacks of south Wales and the totally Jack-free zone in areas around Caernarfon, where we went for the Urdd Eisteddfod.
My mood swung rapidly from elation to despair and back again.
Cbay Rday's republican event at Mischiefs in the Bay was a great success. One of the poets, Sion Owen, making his debut in our collection launched there, summed it all up by saying how unique the evening was and how much he'd loved it from start to finish.
Highlights of the speeches were Tim Richards' witty and informative history of Welsh republicanism and , as always, Republic's Suzanne Campbell, such an articulate and cogent speaker you wonder why she isn't on the media more often. She told us how the BBC simply lied about the republican demo in London, saying 100 were present when, in fact, there were at least 1,200 protesters there.
Musical highlights included Merthyr's own Jamie Bevan and his band , with a stirring first set and a second which included so many enjoyable singalongs. Barry Rogers and Lawrence Huxham made ears prick with their rousing anti-Jubilee songs. I still don't know the name of Lawrence's strange instrument like a flattened violin!
As to poetry, it's impossible to single out anyone . From beginning to end there were fine poems and performances by a number of writers in the collection and I'm grateful to those who turned up to read with such verve and passion.
Cor Cochion opened the whole evening in fine style, especially when they urged everyone to join hands for 'Yma O Hyd' : the sense of solidarity was tangible.
We felt a strength of unity and purpose despite our differences, a genuine feeling of us against a massive propaganda machine and commercial enterprise cashing in on Jubilee hysteria.
So, it was worse than any hangover the next day, to be hammered by the news that the Board at Cardiff City had decided to make our shirts red and crests dragons after all.
This despondency followed me to y gogledd. It hung over me like the ominous clouds topping Pen-y-fan.
'A done deal' my son texted me. My son, who I'd taken to see the City since he was five years old and who was as appalled as me at the callous way our proud history and traditions had been so effortlessly torn into shreds and thrown into the bin.
I only hope there are enough fans who care as much as we do. I only hope there are fans who won't be duped by a plan which makes no sense on any level, particularly the commercial one.
In the end, who will buy our red shirts? Who, in China or wherever, really cares about a Championship team when they have the likes of Liverpool and Man U?
What's more, so many of our own fans reject it and, like us, will never buy anything red. I wear red for Cymru in footie, end of!
In Merthyr, the Jubilee has hardly been celebrated. Despite shops down town resembling Ballymena on the Twelth, the only bunting was on a few pubs and isolated houses.
Yet, as soon as we reached Porthmadog, there was bunting everywhere. I had never seen so much.
It was red , white and green and in my delusional state, I thought for one ecstatic moment it represented the flag of the Welsh Republic!
Of course, it was bunting for the Urdd : houses, halls, posts and fences, together with Y Ddraig Goch and the flag of Owain Glyndwr.
Not a Union Jack in sight, not even in the shops of Caernarfon! My own country, yet a different world.
Cymraeg spoken everywhere as well. Somewhere I could live happily, where Welsh is used as an everyday language and accepted readily.
We spoke it in the B&B; we ordered food in Welsh ; we chatted in the pub not just the Eisteddfod maes. The girl on the tills of the supermarket used it without question.
On that bright and sunny Wednesday evening, with the castle of Norman conquest looming above us, we stood in the square and listened to bands and singers in Welsh on a stage there.
My mind soared like a red kite : a vision of all of Cymru one day like this.
Next day, the sun disappeared and there was rain and Glasto-type mud. Even cold noodles and the sight of Carwyn Jones smarming through a TV interview, could not destroy the joy at witnessing the creativity at the Eisteddfod, from drama to dance and singing to art.
From the B&B I watched the Menai Straits, one time full to brimming and , by morning, turned to mud- and sandflats exposed by the tide.
The selfsame stretch of seawater yet do different. My emotions, full and empty, have been like this.
This poem is about the visit of the Windsors to Merthyr : contrast is its essence. Another simple one in Welsh (I am trying).
'Poems for a Welsh Republic' is available from me for a fiver (plus p&p) -
YR YMWELIAD Y WINDSORS
Mae’r Windsors yn yr eglwys
Mae Jimi yn gwisgo fel brenhines
mae esgob yn dathlu gyda tafod hir
mae gwrthdystwyr yn siarad a’r thorriad y tir
mae’r Windsors yn teithio mewn tren aur
mae Jimi yn cerdded trwy’r strydoedd Merthyr
mae’r Windsors yn yr awyren hofran
mae heddlu yn cario Jimi dros y lon
mae nhw’n glanio ar y glaswellt
mae e’n tu ol y ffinau gyda’r eraill
mae’r Windsors yn y ceir mawr mawr
mae gwrthdystwyr yn codi faner a faner
cafodd nhw eu gyrru i Gastell Cyfarthfa
cafodd Jimi ei harestio mewn heddlu yna
mae’r Windsors yn teithio dros y cymoedd,
mae nhw’n codi eu law
mae Jimi yn y carchar,
mae’r heddlu cadw fe yn ddistaw.
This coming Tuesday (June 5th) at Mischiefs in Cardiff, starting 7 pm, will be CBAYRDAY's alternative to the Jubilee mass hysteria gripping the country with the fervour of North Korea investing a new ruler. It will be an opportunity to celebrate all that's positive and creative about Welsh republicanism and not merely harangue the anachronistic and undemocratic system of monarchy (though we might find time to do that as well!).
There will be music from Merthyr's own Jamie Bevan , whose song 'Strydoedd Merthyr' is a fine evocation of our town's wild nights. This promises to be a lively set.
There will be plenty of poetry, as we launch the collection 'Poems For A Welsh Republic' in magazine format, similar to 'Red Poets' itself.
Many of the contributing poets will be there to read, including Patrick Jones, whose cd 'tongues for a stammering time' is one of the best fusions of poetry and music since the days of Linton Kwesi Johnson.
Other poets reading will include some of the very finest performers in Wales, such as Neath's Phil Knight, Cardiff's Mab Jones and Mike Church, the funniest poet on the scene today.
I was delighted to be asked to put this collection together. The startling cover by Alan Perry is an inspiring starting-point. I had permission to use poems by Harri Webb and Terry Hetherington, so two vitally important Welsh political poets from the past are in it.
Two others I hope will turn up to read are Herbert Williams and Alun Rees. Both have been publishing since the 1960s and the birth of 'Poetry Wales' magazine, under the editorship of Meic Stephens, in Merthyr.
It's a tribute to Cymru that we have so many excellent poets willing to contribute to 'Poems For A Welsh Republic', especially when some writers have taken the 'Queen's Shilling' doing jobs and receiving honours from this abhorrent institution.
I do regret not including work yn Gymraeg. I tried to get a Welsh language poet to act as co-editor , but failed because of the time-scale of the venture.
It would be very satisfying if this eventually became a bi-lingual book, with many republican poems in Welsh. I am not optimistic though, as times are very hard in the publishing trade as elsewhere.
The political outlook which imbues the collection is certainly Welsh socialist republicanism and I am also very pleased a number of the writers are English people who have come to Cymru and embraced it fully. Their presence refutes any notion that the English are not sympathetic to such causes.
As well as poetry, there will be singing from Cor Cochion and speeches from longtime socialist republican Tim Richards, Christopher Trefor Davies of Cymru Rydd, Gruff Meredith (aka MC Mabon) of Cymru Sofren and Adam Phillips of Balchder Cymru/ Celtic League. An interesting and varied selection of opinions, I'd say.
We have received support from AMs Lindsay Whittle and Bethan Jenkins, though I did ask many more.
So, this has been a week when I've been full of acute disillusionment and a sense of betrayal. As The Who said - 'I won't get fooled again'. More significantly, I'd like to quote one of my favourite bands, whose song 'Kings' is the best ever at exposing the hypocrisy of rulers -
' And though we sung his fame
We all went hungry just the same'
I LEFT THE PARTY
I left the party early
empty bottle in hand,
some of my family left behind.
It was a celebration
of her election, went on
for weeks, so much elation.
I slipped out into the night
and the streets were deserted,
no police to be seen.
When we’d arrived, bottles in hand,
she didn’t greet me,
was too busy to notice.
We praised her, raised our glasses,
I felt part of it all
(my vote also had counted).
She stood on the table
and made a rousing speech,
applause quaked the walls.
Neighbours complained later,
but we never heard sirens,
there was much debate, good-humoured.
She was one of us,
with our accent, never talking down :
‘Hope not fear!’ her saying.
We became drunk with more than beer:
our nation’s music, folk and rap,
rock and reggae, we danced to as one.
Till traders came in from outside,
gate-crashing with their wares ,
every item emblazoned with Union Jacks.
There were disputes and fist-fights,
broken chairs thrown through windows;
I stood aghast; she tried to calm them down.
A disguised reporter put up a picture of the Queen
and when the cameras arrived she led a toast
and spoke in deferential tones of ‘public service’.
I left the party early, never to return ;
some of my family sat silently in the corner,
staying to see what would happen.
I threw the bottle into the air,
watched it explode and shatter on tarmac,
scatter like splinters of Christmas tree stars.