School Matters column with Dennis Richards

A primary school head teacher in Derby demonstrated that children get better grades by wearing slippers.
A primary school head teacher in Derby demonstrated that children get better grades by wearing slippers.

April 1st has come and gone for another year. While perhaps no news outlet will ever match the famous Richard Dimbleby spaghetti “spoof” of many decades ago, the Guardian came close this year with brilliant “wind-up” in relation to a news announcement about George Osborne’s seventh new job.

It certainly had me fooled for those few seconds which are vital to a good April Fool joke.

In the education world, it is also sometimes difficult to be sure.

A month ago came the news that Bournemouth University had commissioned a vital new piece of education research.

On reading further, the research had focused on the benefits of “shoeless” learning.

At Finlon Primary School in Derby the head teacher had been able to demonstrate, apparently, that “children perform better and get better grades by wearing slippers at school”.

The accompanying picture appeared to confirm that their teacher had gone to school in a rather fetching pair of slippers as well. I am not making this up.

Such is the success of the experiment, according to the research, perhaps it has wider possibilities.

How about taking the heat out of the forthcoming Brexit negotiations by insisting all the participants wear slippers?

I do, however, foresee serious problems.

A brief glance at the range of slippers available, reveals a breath taking variety of designs and prices.

And if the children don’t get competitive as to who is wearing the “best” slippers, the parents assuredly will. Some child will turn up with a designer label; someone else will find a pair of slippers which can play a variety of tunes.

Next will come a pair of slippers on wheels. School uniform slippers will follow, mark my words. Back to square one.

Then just last week, St Mary the Virgin CE School in Leigh, Greater Manchester, hit the national news with their breakthrough discovery that “Reading to an animal is different to reading to a human”.

The local vicar, the Rev Kevin Crinks (it is an “i” not an “a”), takes his dog to the school every Monday to “listen to the children read”.

“The dog doesn’t answer back or correct them.”

Well, Kevin, if it did, we really would have an amazing news story on our hands.

It would seem that I now do the same job as a dog. And apparently the dog does it better.

This amazing animal also has to attend services of all kinds, and the PCC, where he promptly falls asleep.

Which may be something of a comment on the quality of Kevin’s oratory.

But what struck me most about the story was the dog’s name. Brian.

Now, as I have never owned a dog, it may not be that unusual.

But it did remind me of that moment in “Blackadder Goes Forth” when Edmund asks General Melchett “Would that be the plan to continue with total slaughter until everyone’s dead, except Field Marshal Haig, Lady Haig and their pet tortoise…..Alan?”

As it happens, I have much sympathy both with the tortoise and the dog.

If you have been saddled with the name Dennis for a lifetime, you will know what I mean.

A quick flip through any contemporary school register, and you will be hard pushed to find a Dennis.

When proud parents put their newly born infant in front of you, and you embark on the ritual of congratulating them on the special cuteness of their progeny, which names would you least expect to hear?

I suspect you are unlikely at the moment to hear of baby Gladys or baby Ernest.

You can have fun thinking of others.

How about Boris? Now there’s a thought.