St Bernard’s High School, Southend


I had fantastic day at St Bernard’s High School.  One of the school’s guiding principle’s is “fairness” – so, in fairness, I spoke to every single one of the 5 English sets in Y7.  15 minutes each.  This did slightly befuzzle my brain and the final group may have found that I spoke complete gobbledygook – but I have to say that it was an incredibly inspiring experience for me.

I was talking about reading – books I loved, books they loved, how to fit reading in to a busy life.  In every one of the 5 sets, every single girl had a novel on her desk.  At St Bernard’s every English lesson in Y7 starts with 15 minutes silent  reading.  In addition there is a library lesson and a reading homework every week.  By the time they reach Y8 every single girl has got the reading habit. When I asked the girls about favourite books and authors,  a sea of hands shot up.  They loved Michael Morpurgo, Georgia Nicolson, Michelle Paver, Sophie McKenzie and many others.  I raved to them about Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, Meg Rosoff and Michael Horowitz (he’s too good to be just for boys!)

A short aside about Michael Horowitz:   my youngest son, who is 11,  has been devouring Horowitz’s at bedtime for many months.  Every now and then – just for the cuddle – I snuggle up and read a bit to him, and the amazing thing is that even just dipping into the middle of a Michael Horowitz book and knowing nothing at all about what is going on, I am always – absolutely always – totally gripped after one page.

Which is what I told the St Bernard’s Y7s.

I then (this was a full day) had a library Q and A at lunch time – all welcome, and loads of girls came and asked pressing questions about how to become a writer.

And then 2 creative writing workshops with A level English groups, creating a piece of writing from family stories.  It was in the second one of these – the last lesson of the day – that I discovered that there are boys at St Bernard’s – but only in the 6th form.

So – thank you St Bernard’s for an inspiring day.  So much passion for fiction is a real treat.  I really recommend this school to any author.  It is quite a remarkable place – and I have to say something about the staff.  I meet a lot of incredibly impressive teachers and school librarians, and the staff here are amongst the most amazing.  The most striking thing was the atmosphere of calm – which clearly came from the top – nothing was a panic, everything was manageable.  In this busy day, during which I saw pupils from every year in the school, including, as I say, the entire Y7, I didn’t witness anything which even approached being a discipline issue.  Which is extraordinary.  There is clearly a lot of thought that goes into running St Bernard’s.  A lot of thought goes into author visits too.  I was greeted with real coffee and toast!  Perfect start to a great day xx


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