David Gribble's Education

Leipzig , 2006

I will try to speak without reading, because that is always more interesting, but in case my German suddenly collapses, I have got my whole talk written out here. Even this first sentence is written on this piece of paper.

I will start with a quotation from Virginia Woolf:

“At any rate, when a subject is highly controversial . . . one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold.”

My ideas about education may not be controversial here, but I hope it will interest you to hear how they originated. To make my task as simple as possible, I have divided my life into chapters.

 

First Chapter: Before I knew that I wanted to be a teacher

I start very early. My parents were divorced when I was about two yeas old. After that I was brought up by women, and my mother did actually tell me that my father had never held me in his arms. I lived in a house full of women – my mother, my elder sister, our nanny, the cook and the maids. The only man who worked for us was the gardener. My life, as you see, was gentle, privileged and rather lonely. It must have had a great influence on me.

Then, all at once, when I was eight years old, I was sent to a boarding school, where there were only men and boys, and if you broke a rule, you were caned. I still remember the first time I was caned. I had to stand by a table and then bend forwards until my face rested on the hard wood. Then I had to stretch out my arms and hold on to the edge of the table with my hands. And then the head master started. I probably only got three strokes, but it hurt more than anything I had ever experienced in my whole life. My skin was not broken, the strokes didn’t even leave bruises, but the pain astonished me.

There are two important aspects to this event; firstly, I was a particularly good boy, who always wanted to please the grown-ups and everybody else, and secondly I can no longer remember why I was being caned. Think for a moment what that means. And remember too, that other boys sometimes did get bruises, which stayed for weeks. The system did not make any difference: the naughty boys went on being naughty.

At this school there was also another punishment: you had to do some kind of useful job with the headmaster in the school grounds. This opportunity to do something that was practical and useful, and what’s more to work with the headmaster as a colleague, was so much fun that sometimes boys who were not being punished came to join in.

And one more story from my time at this school. One evening we found a thermometer in our dormitory, and we had a box of matches. We wanted to see what would happen when the mercury reached the end of the thermometer. Two things happened: the thermometer broke and the headmaster came in.

We were of course terribly frightened: we had broken something that belonged to the school, and we expected a severe punishment. However, the headmaster was in a good mood; he said he understood that we were doing a scientific experiment and had learnt something, and he congratulated us.

In my description of this school I have not said anything at all about lessons. Of course there were lessons, on every day except Sunday, but in my memory they are not as important as these stories about punishing and not punishing. When I was thirteen years old I had to go to Eton College, where once again there were only boys and what is more we all had to wear tail coats. At Eton we were caned in a different way. Firstly, it was the older boys who beat us, and secondly we had to bend over the back of a chair and hold on to the struts under the seat. The first thing the caner did was to lift the tails of the victim’s coat with his cane and lay them on his back.

At Eton I learnt once again that a punishment, even a cruel punishment like caning, didn’t have the desired result. For example, in my boarding-house there was a rule that you couldn’t leave your books on the table near the entrance in the evening. For every book you had to pay a fine of tuppence, and when you had been fined half-a-crown, that is to say thirty pennies, you were caned by the prefects. We all often left books behind, even when we had already paid two shillings and fourpence. The punishment didn’t work.

At Eton I learnt a lot that was not true. For example, I learnt that I was not musical and could neither sing nor play the piano. I learnt that I was not worth much, because I was no good at sport. I learnt that it is more important to obey the boys’ unwritten rules than the school’s written ones. I learnt that if you have power, you do not need to act fairly.

A little story about that. A teacher called Mr. Rowe – it is significant, that I can remember his name – crumpled up a large drawing that I had done in a science lesson and threw it into the waste-paper basket. He said there was no name on it. I protested, and told him that my name was on the drawing. I had to go out in front of the class, pick my drawing out of the bin and spread it out on a desk. There was my name, in the top right-hand corner. “Too small,” said the teacher, and I had to go back to my place.

And one more story. In another science lesson, taken by Mr. Morris, I felt sick and I put up my hand. Mr. Morris just went on talking, and I stood up and went out in front of the class and stood in front of him, with my hand up. He paid no attention and went on talking. “Sir,” I said, “I think I am going to be sick.” No reaction. I ran to the door and I was sick. Mr. Morris looked at me, turned to the class and said, “That was a perfect example of reverse peristalsis.” I still remember the term.

Eton was of course an old-fashioned school, and we had to spend as much time on Latin and Greek as all the other subjects put together. I have forgotten almost everything. I also studied German. “Aha, that was a success,” I hope you will think, but no, it was not a success. Although I passed my exams, the first time I went to Austria I didn’t dare say a word in German. I could read a little bit, and translate, and I knew how to say “liegen, liegt, lag, gelegen,” and “schwimmen, schwimmt, schwamm, geschwommen,” but that was not the kind of thing I needed to say.

I also learnt a few lists, such as, for example, "Durch, für, ohne, gegen, wider, um," the prepositions which take the accusative, and also "The spirit of god and the body of man and the worm in the place at the edge of the wood". When these words are translated into German you have a list of the masculine nouns which form the plural with umlaut and er. If I hesitate later on, you will understand that I am just quickly running through one of these lists in my head, so that I don’t make a mistake.

After Eton, you may well understand, I didn’t want any more education, I wanted to go out into the real, wide world. For that reason I learnt shorthand and typing and my first job was in a tobacco business that belonged to my father. I copied numbers from one book into another and I typed out hundreds of copies of a letter that began, “Dear Sir, the first shipment of Havana cigars to the United Kingdom has just arrived and is in bond at London.” The real, wide world was just as bad as school.

And then, all at once, it occurred to me that I would rather work with children than with grown-ups.

 

Second Chapter: Before I had heard of democratic education.

David Gribble's EducationIf I want to work with children, I thought, then I will have to be a teacher. It seems to me almost incredible now that I wanted to go back into the artificial, narrow world of school so soon, but I immediately entered myself for Cambridge and in the six months between my decision and the beginning of the university term I worked in a little private school near London and was happy that I was doing something useful.

At the university I was not a second-class person, as I had been at school. I composed songs for the Footlights, a group who performed a revue every summer, first at Cambridge and then in London. I became editor of Granta, the student magazine, a position which carried a certain amount of status. In my exams I was only second-class, but we all said that people who got firsts would only be able to study, and would never have successful lives.

The school where I worked after finishing at Cambridge was Repton School, near Derby, in the middle of England and also in the middle of the tradition of the nation’s traditional expensive private schools. Once again, there were only boys there, aged between thirteen and eighteen. In comparison with Repton, Eton was blissfully free.

One of my responsibilities was as "Master in charge of the jazz band". Most of the boys played better than I did, and I learnt a lot from them. We played at every moment they didn’t have to be doing something else (except Sunday afternoons), and that came to four and a half hours a week.

One of the boys I already knew from the holidays. His brother was at Cambridge at the same time as I was, and I was very keen on his sister, so he was a good friend. He was still a friend at Repton, although we seldom spoke to each other. This friendship showed me clearly how impossible it was to build up a genuinely friendly relationship with the other boys; it was as if there was a wall between masters and boys. We could play jazz together, I could learn from them, but we lived on different planets, we were different species. That worried me.

I had other problems too. There was a hierarchy not only between teachers and pupils but also within the staff group. We younger teachers were just as inferior to the older teachers as the younger boys were to the older boys. As teachers we were still not equals, and I had not expected that.

A seventeen-year-old was beaten, because he had worked in the laboratory instead of watching a football match: loyalty to the school was a training for patriotism, and patriotism, as an older teacher explained to me, was the basis for all morality.

After three years I decided that I must leave the school. There was a rule that the boys were not allowed to eat sweets during lessons. I thought it was a stupid rule, because it is often easier to think when one has something to eat or drink close at hand, and I tried to avoid noticing any such crime. However, one day a boy threw a sweet right across the room to a friend, and I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t seen it. I had to punish him, and that meant giving him a number of lines to write out. The lines had to be written on blue paper, that could only be obtained from your housemaster. The boy went to his housemaster, who asked him what he was being punished for, and when he heard, he caned him. I couldn’t take that, and I gave in my notice.

 

Alternative EducationThird Chapter: I wait for my mother in a bookshop

I still had not found another job, and although I still wanted to be a teacher, I didn’t know where to turn. During the holidays before my last term at Repton, I was waiting for my mother in a bookshop, where you could take books down and browse in them. By chance I found a book about Dartington Hall School, at the end of which there are forty pages about a school that amazed me. They were written by W. B. Curry, the head teacher of Dartington Hall School, who had founded its whole tradition.

Until then my education both as teacher and as pupil had mostly been negative. I never wanted to humiliate or suppress or torture children, as I had been humiliated, suppressed and tortured. I did not want to work in a school where there were only boys, where the most important activity was sport, where teachers and students could never be friends, where the teachers used canes and patriotism was the basis of all morality. I wanted to avoid all the unnecessary suffering that I had undergone in my school days.

Now I found in Curry’s words exactly the ides that I was looking for. I will quote a few passages.

 

At Dartington we have had no patriotic assemblies, exercises or celebrations. . . . The atmosphere of the School has been one which would encourage children to think of themselves firstly as members of the human race, and only secondly as members of a particular country.

Punishment at Dartington is practically unknown, and the tradition of the School is now strongly opposed to it.

Adults who like to exercise authority will give orders whenever the case for freedom is not overwhelming. Adults who do not like giving orders will allow freedom whenever the case for authority is not overwhelming. We have wished our teachers to have the latter bias.

 

In this school, I read, boys and girls learn together. The school had a farm, where the children could work. No one believed in the traditional idea that “children would prefer to remain ignorant, and that you must therefore have an apparatus of bribery and coercion designed to overcome this preference,” as Curry expressed it.

And so on.

But at the end Curry confessed, “As to what has actually been taught, and how it has been taught, I do not think that we can claim to have departed in important or significant ways from what is done elsewhere. So that while I believe most of our teaching to have been good, and much of it outstanding, I cannot claim that in this field we have done much pioneering.”

Later I did get to know pioneers in this field, but that quarter of an hour in the bookshop was one of the most important quarters of an hour in my life.

I wrote to the school, and luckily the German teacher’s mother fell ill, she had to go back to Germany to look after her and I got the job.

 

Alternative Education Fourth Chapter: Dartington Hall School

My first impression of Dartington was simply colour. At Repton the boys had to wear grey suits, but in Dartington the girls wore clothes of all colours, and so did the boys.

I felt myself in some ways to be younger than the students. They were more self-confident than I was, and more at ease with the opposite sex.

To my astonishment I found that in spite of that I was better respected here that at Repton. At Repton a teacher had to assert himself in order to get any artificial respect, but at Dartington there was no need for that. It was the opposite. You had to earn respect rather than demand it, and the respect you earned was genuine.

One more story. Not long after my arrival at Dartington a string quartet from the nearby music school came to give a concert one evening. I went along, and when I came into the room I saw children sitting about everywhere on the floor, or backwards on chairs, chatting and laughing loudly. The four music students stood at the end of the room, tuning their instruments. At Repton such a scene would have been considered highly impolite and disrespectful, and I wondered whether I should demand that everybody should sit in straight rows and keep quiet. Luckily I didn’t do anything, and when the young woman playing the first violin turned towards the children, and announced that they were now going to start with some piece or other, everyone was immediately quiet and listened attentively.

This behaviour was actually perfectly understandable. They had only come because they wanted to hear the music. Why should they sit uncomfortably on chairs, in rows, when they could hear just as well if they were lying comfortably on the floor?

There is so much that we want to force children to do, because it fits in with adult ideas, and that is not only unnecessary but also harmful, because the grown-ups have to be fussily authoritarian. “Sit straight on your chair.” “Your name is written too small.” “No eating in lessons – spit it in the bin.” “Hands out of your pockets.” And so on.

I have commented that at Repton a genuinely friendly relationship between staff and students was impossible. At Dartington I used to take groups of young people out in my car at the week-ends, to go for walks. An eighteen-year-old girl called Jenny Davies, was particularly often one of the party. We fell in love, and a year after she left school we got married.

From Jenny I learnt a great deal. She had been a pupil at Dartington for thirteen years, and understood the school well. One of the most important things I learnt from her was the idea the people are more important than things. The story of the thermometer at my first school could have taught me that – our learning was more important than the broken thermometer – but that was an exception. Jenny showed me, that when a child breaks something, the child must be cared for first, not the broken object. This is so obvious to me now that I can hardly believe that I haven’t always known it, that there are still some people who don’t know it, but unfortunately it is clear that a great many teachers and almost all politicians have a completely different opinion.

A. S. Neill from Summerhill said that above all, he wanted children from his school to be happy. Jenny wanted above all that our children should be kind. In my opinion she was right.

Jenny died from a twisted intestine when she was only twenty-four years old.

I thought, one third of my life is gone, but I still have our children, and I still have my job at Dartington. Dartington was as important to me as that.

Dartington, however, was also not immortal. Almost thirty years later I had remarried and luckily the four children in our family had already finished with the school. A new head teacher was appointed who did not understand the school at all. He tried to assert himself and immediately aroused strong opposition from the staff as well as from the students. In order to suppress this opposition he wrote a letter to all the parents, in which he announced that he had unearthed the following crimes at the school: abuse of alcohol, abuse of drugs, under-age sex, organised burglary and witchcraft.

There was no witchcraft, the burglary was a break-in at a nearby restaurant, where the children had stolen pizzas and cakes, but the three other accusations could not be denied. They were not a big problem, but they happened. The head teacher called the police into the school to look for drugs. They arrived with their dogs and did not find any. According to the police there was no problem at the school which was not to be found in every other school in their patch.

The head teacher’s letter got to the press, and for the summer months the school was perpetually in the headlines.

Then one boy found a picture of the head-teacher’s wife, topless, on the cover of a book of Beatles songs. He photocopied this picture and stuck it to his back at the end-of-term party, and the head teacher saw it. First he kicked him, and then he said, “That is not my wife.”

This event too appeared in the papers, and The Sun, a paper with a bad reputation, found the woman’s agent and then discovered that seven yeas earlier she and her husband, the head teacher, had posed for pornographic photographs. Then, at last, he resigned, but it was too late. He had only been head of the school for one term, but he had completely destroyed its reputation. Three or four years later the school’s trustees closed it, against the wishes of the pupils, the staff and the parents.

My last lesson from Dartington was similar to a lesson from Eton – if you have power, you do not need to act fairly.

 

Fifth Chapter: Sands School

The junior school at Dartington, where there were no problems, was the first to be closed, and my wife, a few teachers and a group of parents immediately founded a new school for children from three to eleven years old. A year later the senior school had to close, and fourteen pupils, who did not want to go to an ordinary school, had to find something else. These children, two other teachers and I founded Sands School. It is the only school in England that was planned by its students before it opened. It opened in September 1987 in the home of one of the students.

Alternative Education

We wanted to be sure that Sands School could never be treated in the way Dartington Hall School had been, and we decided that all decisions must be made in the school meeting of students and staff. That was the first decision. The second was that the school should have as few rules as possible; we wanted to rely on common sense. The two rules we began with were against drugs and alcohol. After a few days there was a third rule – you are allowed to smoke, but only outside at the bottom of the garden. And the third decision was, to the disappointment of at least one of the staff, that we should have a perfectly normal timetable, and everybody should have to come to every lesson.

Now, nineteen years later, there are, unfortunately, a whole lot of rules, but although there is still a fairly normal timetable, all courses and all lessons are voluntary.

I was only at Sands for four years before I retired, but in those four years I learnt a lot. At the beginning I was head teacher, and I believed that, in spite of our ideals, there were some decisions which only an adult should take.

One day three girls stole all the money from the school office and went to the nearest railway station to catch a train to York. At the booking-office the clerk told them that they did not have enough money, so they asked for tickets to Brighton. The clerk became suspicious and called the police, and later I had to fetch the three girls from the police station in my car. On the way back I stopped in a lay-by and tried to discuss the situation with the girls. It was completely impossible. They cursed and swore and said that they hated the school, they hated the other children and they hated their parents, and I couldn’t get anywhere. So I drove back to the school, and the leader of the group announced that she wanted to call a school meeting, because otherwise I would tell a lot of shitty lies about them and what they had done. Everyone came to the meeting, and the leader casually recounted exactly what they had done, and then asked, “Do you want to chuck us out?”

To begin with the other children were angry, not because of what they had done, but because they were so casual and shameless. Then one teacher said that it wasn’t sensible just to be angry, and it would be better to ask questions and listen. For the next hour the adults hardly said anything. The children asked the culprits why they had done all that, listened to them and made comments, and finally asked, “Do you want to stay at the school?” All three said yes. A few conditions were imposed, and the matter was dealt with.

What I learnt from this was firstly, that a single person, even an experienced teacher like me, cannot find as good answers as a whole group of people who are really interested in the question, and secondly, that there are no school decisions from which children should be excluded.

After that I proposed to the school meeting that the school didn’t need a head, but only an administrator, who must make sure that all necessary decisions were made in the school meeting, and that afterwards they were carried out. My proposal was accepted.

At the beginning of my time at Sands I had written in a prospectus:

  • Children who are trusted will become trustworthy.
  • Children who are respected will learn a proper self-respect.
  • Children who are cared for will learn to care for others.

Now I know that I had missed the truth. What I should have said was:

  • Children are trustworthy unless they have not been trusted.
  • Children have a proper self-respect as long as others have respected them.
  • Children care for others unless they have not been cared for themselves.

 

Chapter 6: The Wide World

In the book where I had first learnt about Dartington Hall School Curry wrote “As to what has actually been taught, and how it has been taught, I do not think that we can claim to have departed in important or significant ways from what is done elsewhere. . . I cannot claim that in this field we have done much pioneering.”

In other places I found a lot of pioneers.

Apart from Dartington and Sands I already knew Countesthorpe, a big state comprehensive school where Jenifer Smith worked, a teacher who had previously taught for two years at Dartington, and whose ideas have strongly influenced me. At Countesthorpe there were fourteen hundred young people between thirteen and eighteen, and each one of them had a different timetable. As well as that almost every timetable had big empty spaces, which were called “Team time”, when the students could work individually on their own projects, if necessary with the help of a team of teachers. These projects were not in the least like the school projects in which whole classes work together on some topic. The young people did sometimes work together, for instance when a boy who had written a play, produced it and organised performances in various primary schools. But for the most part they worked alone: one boy observed the birds in his garden at home, another experimented with pendulums, light and drawings, many went to work with disabled people or younger children or old people, one girl followed the history of her family back into the seventeenth century, another read all she could find about politics from the extreme right, so she could find answers to it.

Jenifer Smith has described how difficult it can be to help every student to find out his or her own interests.

 

You may do anything you like.

It may be difficult to do anything at all.

Realisations about what may be possible begin at the students' first interview with their tutor.

For some it is what they have been longing for;

or it makes something possible that they had perhaps hardly imagined and now they can hardly believe their luck.

 

For others it is terrifying.

 

It sounds a good idea but so what, it's school.

It sounds a good idea but I'm not sure what I'll do about it.

It's fantastic and I'm going to be a changed person . . . but in practice it's harder than it seems.

Oh yes, we've chosen our own projects before . . . and out they come with those dull tired old 'Projects' which somehow haven't involved a real choice, choice which has demanded some thought about what they would like to learn, what they need to do, for themselves.

 

It makes some angry.

 

Teach us. Tell us the syllabus. Yes, but what have we got to do?

We've come to school to learn, not to muck about.

Tell me what to do and I'll do it!! Anything! No, not that . . . No, none of those things . . . I know what I'll do.

You shift papers, decorate your folder, stand in the library.
You write a title, gaze through the window, talk to your friend.
How long can I keep away?
I can see a way forward. I know what you should do. We are both uneasy with this inaction.
Right. This is what you must do. And This. And this.
I hear your sigh. Watch your hand with reluctant obedience picking up the pen.
No, I say, wait a little longer.

You speak to me of steam locomotion, of evolution, of cruelty to animals, of Victorian Leicester you draw dream shapes, cartoon figures, meticulous designs, naive illustrations to your stories you write of magic, of love, of horror, of yourself, yourself, yourself you struggle up a rock face; speak with a deaf child; dig for bottles; watch as the image emerges in the rocking tray of developer.
I come to know your commitment which is that of scholar, artist, poet, scientist, historian . . .
We meet together in the seriousness of your choices.

I’m sorry to say that I never achieved anything like that.

And after I retired, I had time to visit other schools, to get to know other methods, to read other books. For example, I read Jürg Jegge’s books, and spent a week at the Märtplatz, his centre in Switzerland. I read Rebeca Wild’s books and spent a week at the Pesta, the school in Ecuador she ran with her husband, Mauricio Wild. I read Daniel Greenberg’s books and spent four days at Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts. I read books by Janusz Korczak. I visited the Democratic School of Hadera, in Israel. I have visited free or progressive or non-formal schools and other educational organisations in many other countries. In most of them I spent about a week: on the first day you are baffled, you don’t understand what is going on, you have the impression that, as people say, nothing is happening. On the second day you begin to understand what and how the children are learning and usually by the end of the week you have a fairly clear impression, which you could only improve significantly by staying in the school for months.

I have also been to New Zealand, Japan, Thailand and three different places in India. What I learnt there I have described in two books, but I can sum it up briefly – there is no single good method, there are hundreds of them.

However, what one finds in every democratic school is a fundamental respecting children. That is not an adequate expression. Bertrand Russell wrote that one must have reverence for the child, but in my opinion that is only a part of it, an emotional attitude which I understand and have also experienced, but it does not help us to understand why one should behave in such a way. You sometimes experience reverence for children, just as you often feel reverence before a new-born baby, but not all the time. David Wills said that you must love the child, but that is not enough either. You can’t spend the whole day merely loving the children. What one really can do the whole time, is firstly see the child as one’s equal, and secondly care for the child’s well-being. What I saw in every school was firstly equality, secondly care and only third and fourth love, awe and so on.

Perhaps I should expand on the word “equal”. It is clear that grown-ups often, though not always, know much more about a given subject than the children do. That is also always the case when grown-ups work together, or discuss something – some of them know more than others. But that does not mean that the ones who know most are better, and in such a situation it would be coarse and impolite to behave as if one was in all respects superior. And that is how it should be when adults and children work or discuss together.

When there is that sort of atmosphere, it does not matter whether one teaches this subject or that, what sort of school meeting there is, whether one has to go to school every day or not, how many rules there are, who has what power. In different schools I have seen all kinds of different approaches. I repeat – there is no single correct method.

 

Alternative Education

Chapter 7: And why do we go to school?

What can I do now, that I learnt at school and has been really useful to me?

  • Reading, writing and arithmetic – but I learnt much more maths at school than I have ever used.
  • German and French – but as I have said, after I had done my school-leaving exams, I still didn’t dare speak a word.
  • How to play the piano – but I also learnt that I couldn’t play the piano, which was not actually true.
  • History? What I learnt was that I was not interested in history.
  • Geography? At Eton there was no geography on the timetable, so as to leave more time for Greek and Latin.
  • Science? I understand the expression “reverse peristalsis.” Apart from that, a little physics, for example about magnets, light and leverage, which I could have learnt in an hour.

And what have I learnt, that has been really useful to me, that I didn’t learn at school?

  • To be a father to my children
  • Cooking
  • How to drive a car
  • How to write music
  • How to play the saxophone
  • How to write songs
  • Various card games
  • How to build a rickety cupboard and then paint it
  • Teaching – I was never trained as a teacher
  • Making up crosswords

And at school I had learnt that I was only a clever clown, not worth much, and when I was eighteen years old I had little self-confidence, didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, seldom read a book and in terms of clothes, interests and way of life just imitated my friends. I thought I was being adventurous when I wore a bow tie, or ventured into a jazz club. No-one left Dartington Hall School so ignorant and naïve.

My apprenticeship is not yet over. You learn your whole life, and in the last few years I have got to know about two completely new educational projects, one in Brazil and the other in Scotland. In Brazil there is a businessman called Ricardo Semmler. If you work in one of his businesses, you decide for yourself what work you will do, when and how long you will work and how much you will get paid for it. It is wonderfully successful. But what particularly interests me is that they have now founded a school. At this school of course the children decide what work the want to do, and when and how long they want to work, as in many other alternative schools. The school is called Lumiar, and what is new about it is clearly stated on their web site.

After a lot of fine ideas, that we already know about from other democratic schools, there is this sentence: “Holidays, rules, buildings and classrooms are out of date.” They want to throw everything out and start again from the beginning.

I have not seen Lumiar, but I have twice visited Room 13 in Scotland. My first visit lasted only three days, and I could not properly understand what was going on; I had to go there again, for a week. Room 13 is a studio in a normal state primary school; what is extraordinary is that it belongs to the children who use it. As soon as they have finished their class work, they are allowed to go to Room 13, to paint, to read, to talk, to play chess or whatever else they want to do. When they are eleven that can leave their class when they get bored, when they have something more important to do – in short, whenever they want to. But I had often seen freedom like that in other schools. What is almost incredible is that these children, of whom the eldest are just twelve, are really responsible for everything that happens in the room. They pay the artist who they have employed to help them. They buy all the materials. They sell photographs, postcards and their own art works. They write the necessary letters, they answer emails, they keep parents informed. They look for funding, and have received extremely large grants – up to £200,000 – to help them to found Room 13s in other schools. They have their own bank account and their own cheque-book. They do the book-keeping themselves. And they enjoy it. The aspect of Room 13 that is most valued is that they don’t have to do any artificial school work, but are allowed to deal with reality.

I talked to two girls who had made a video about Room 13 which lasts half an hour and was shown on television on Channel 4. When I was at the school they spent almost all their time in Room 13, and I asked them whether they often spent so little time in their classroom. “Oh yes,” they said. “When we were making the film we didn’t go into lessons for weeks. We just went in at the end of the day and asked, ‘What have we missed today?’ and then we did it in ten minutes.”

It seems to me now that every day of normal teaching may only be worth ten minutes.

I could go on talking for hours, but I will stop now.

My apprenticeship is not over, I am still learning, and I hope I will now learn more from your questions.