Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

Schools portraits: a snapshot of four notable schools

Colville Primary School Based just off Notting Hill’s Portobello Road, Colville Primary School occupies a Victorian Grade II-listed building that was once a laundry. Today, it accommodates pupils up to the age of 11 who are taught under the school’s ‘three key values’: respect, aspiration and perseverance. Colville also says it believes in the British

Toby Young

Has Boris Johnson given up on free schools?

For the founders of the West London Free School, of which I was one, last Thursday should have been a moment of great pride. We gathered in the assembly hall, surrounded by the politicians and officials who’d helped us, to celebrate the school’s tenth anniversary and reflect on what we’d achieved. Not only has the

The Oxbridge Files. Which schools get the most pupils in?

Oxford and Cambridge have released figures showing how many offers they gave to pupils from schools in the 2020 UCAS application cycle. We have combined the figures in this table. It shows how well state grammars and sixth-form colleges compete with independent schools. Over the years, both universities have roughly doubled the proportion of pupils

Zoom schooling sounded like fun – until reality kicked in

I never realised how much I enjoyed the sweaty, overcrowded journey into school until it was replaced with a half-asleep crawl from my bed to my desk, 30 seconds before my first lesson was supposed to start. It’s a routine which most of us students have had to get used to since March last year and

Melanie McDonagh

Our school trip: how we sang for our supper

There were a few things that my school — St Mary’s Convent, Arklow — had going for it but as far as I was concerned, the choir trumped most other activities. That was on account of the nun in charge, Sister Agnes, who had been, we had heard, a professional singer before she entered the

Top notes: why does music make you cleverer?

Music is far older than language. The FOXP2 gene associated with speech has been recovered from Neanderthal fossils, yet rhythm and melody have been around for millions of years before that, as attested by the fossils of chirping crickets and singing birds. Sapiens evolved on the ape line, and our songs evolved from the vocalisations

I banned mobiles. Should other heads?

In September 2018, I made the decision to ban mobile phones during the academic day at the school where I am head teacher in Scotland. I’m pretty sure we were the first British school to make this leap of faith. It made headlines across the country. How would everyone react? I knew that I needed

Love letters: why has the alphabet fallen out of fashion?

Last term I invigilated a reading examination at a fee-paying prep school where I work as a supply teacher. About five minutes in, a little girl called Maisie raised her hand. She looked downcast. ‘Yes Maisie?’ She pointed, unspeaking, at the first question. ‘Shall I read it to you?’ She nodded. I read it. ‘Does

Embrace a change to higher education

The pandemic has sparked an entrepreneurial revolution as the business sector has adapted to consumers’ rapidly changing needs, with nearly half a million businesses launched in the UK between March and December last year. This national surge of entrepreneurs — enabled by ongoing technological development, together with a national shortage in practical skills — begs

How to win the Maths Challenge

Simon Singh, founder of the Good Thinking Society and author of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, believes that parents should ferociously ‘lobby their children’s schools’ if they still don’t run the annual Maths Challenge. For those not familiar with it, the Maths Challenge is a phenomenally well-organised competition run by the United Kingdom Mathematics

The secrets to brilliant teaching

‘Why not be a teacher?’ asks Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s great play A Man for All Seasons. ‘You’d be a fine teacher, perhaps a great one.’ ‘If I was, who would know it?’ says Richard Rich, the young man who betrays him. ‘You, your pupils, your friends — God,’ says More. ‘Not a bad

Have we let exams become too important in shaping schools?

I was working in my study at Brighton College one summer term afternoon when my PA banged on the door: someone at The Spectator wanted to speak to me urgently. An animated editor burst on the line, audibly back from a very good lunch, barking: ‘What’s all this you’re saying about exams and tests squeezing

School portraits: a snapshot of four notable schools | September 2021

Brampton manor academy This co-educational state school in Newham, east London, is setting the standard for the academies programme. With hundreds of high-achieving pupils, its selective sixth-form, which opened in 2012, has attracted attention for its stand-out Oxbridge achievements. This summer, 55 pupils secured Oxbridge places, beating Eton for the first time. The sixth-form receives

Building an Ark of Remote and in-classroom learning

Although there is little scientific proof of the story of Noah’s Ark or the accompanying flood, we are told that building the Ark was no small task and Noah was working to a deadline. When UK schools were told to close classrooms and switch to remote learning back in March last year, many were caught

The golden age of the grammar schools

Some lucky parents have already solved their school and university problems. They have managed to insert their young into state grammar schools. If all goes according to plan, they will need to pay no gigantic fees, their sons and daughters will be educated to what at least looks like a high standard, in orderly classrooms

Katy Balls

Who’s being hurt by ‘white privilege’?

14 min listen

While Labour are shuffling people round yet again.. ‘There needs to be a change in messaging from the leader’s office, because otherwise it just looks like he’s rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.’ – Isabel Hardman And the DUP are getting ready to welcome in their third leader in less than a month… ‘Donaldson is actually in

James Forsyth

Have we hit peak graduate?

The Tory party has turned sharply against the idea of ever larger numbers going to university. The reasons for this are both economic and political, I say in the Times today. On the economic front, the taxpayer is bearing more of the cost of the expansion of higher education than expected — the government estimates that

Why I picked an apprenticeship over a politics degree

I’d always wanted to work in the media but had no idea how to get there. I would spend hours during sixth form trawling the pages of impressive journalists on Wikipedia, desperately trying to get some sense of what was required. My conclusion? An Oxbridge education tied most of them together. Inspired, I applied to

The misunderstood motto of Rishi Sunak’s old school

The first thing that Dr Tim Hands, headmaster of Winchester College, would like to clear up is his school’s world-famous motto, ‘Manners maketh man’. Whenever a Wykehamist makes the papers, this ancient phrase is wheeled out, referring to his (in)decent manners. But this isn’t quite right, says Hands. Two pieces of stained glass — one

Remote lessons have been an education for teachers like me

I had a Post-it note beside my laptop during the online lessons I taught during lockdown. It simply said ‘shut up’. I have spent 20 years teaching maths in urban comprehensives, reflecting and refining my methods and trying to train others. I thought I was doing a pretty decent job, but the pandemic and the

The school trip that gave me my first act of rebellion

What I remember in most vivid detail about my school trips are the coach journeys. This may be testimony to the fact that the schools I went to never took me anywhere glamorous, not because they didn’t have the money (our parents were paying enough) but because it wasn’t really thought decent or necessary to

Which instrument should I play?

Thinking about taking up a musical instrument, but unsure where to start? Whether you have amazing musical abilities or not one iota, try our handy quiz to find out what’s right for you, from tissue paper and comb to saxophone.

Mixed blessing: do single-sex schools have a future?

If you were starting with a blank screen to design an education system today, it seems unlikely that you would think of creating single-sex schools, any more than you would single-sex professions or single-sex restaurants. Education for life is something we do together, like working or eating. Their existence is explained by the fact that