Alison Prince

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Schools and Visits

Even though I gave up full-time teaching quite early on, I’ve been in and out of schools ever since. For a long time, I kept my hand in as a supply teacher, then shifted to doing talks and workshops as a visiting writer.

The Scottish Book Trust (email runs a good scheme that enables writers to visit schools throughout Scotland. It meets half the fee of £100 per session and all the travelling and subsistence expenses, leaving the host school to find £50.

I do not go on long journeys for a one-hour session in a school – time is too precious. This more or less rules out England, unless something particularly interesting is afoot

I remain passionately interested in education, but I’m appalled by the current official policy of insisting on a narrow range of results rather than a full development of children’s capabilities. In common with many other writers, I have stipulated that none of my work shall be used as material for SATS in Primary schools.

Over the years, I have seen a ‘tram-lines’ approach replace the broad spectrum of interest that used to be such an vital feature of primary education, and I deplore this. Human beings are not merely sophisticated computers, programmed to retrieve information and arrange it in logical order. We are creatures of dream and imagination, able to deploy skills of extraordinary and sometimes non-rational perception, but our schools at present are compelled to teach only that which can be assessed and marked. Spontaneity and the following of an idea into whatever richness it holds have been ruled out. No wonder teachers are leaving the profession in droves.

There are still good things going on, despite the idiocy of the policy-makers. Last year I was involved in helping children from three Leeds Primary Schools to write and perform their own opera, called The Tiger and the Drum. Master-minded by a splendid outfit called OperaHouse, it was the first of an ongoing series of projects linking children and arts professionals. There has since then been an exploration of the Thames, and at the moment (August 05) we are about to start working in the Bronte Museum, Haworth, with 120 children from 4 Bradford schools. The idea is that they'll look at the village and the Parsonage in its wild moorland setting, and devise a performance piece based on the life of the Bronte children. A voyage of exploration, if ever there was one.

This summer, the University of Leicester and its affiliated education college, Bishop Grosseteste College, Lincoln, awarded me an honorary Doctorate of Literature for services to children's books. It was a tremendous thrill, and I'm delighted that writing for children is starting to seem significant enough for such an award to be possible

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