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