I took up the job in September at Highgate Wood School, a school I know well because my daughter was there for five years. It is a comprehensive school in Crouch End, north London, and just as a comprehensive should be it is a complete mixture of social and ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, abilities, personalities. It is a happy, friendly school and I'm very happy to have a chance to spend time there.
|Lovely LRC staff on WBD.|
So, how has it gone? Plenty of other Patrons warned me not to set my expectations too high. Schools are busy places, and it's hard to make a difference when reading for pleasure is not on the examined curriculum. As a result I had realistic expectations and wasn't too worried when some things we'd hoped and planned for didn't quite pan out. I still have two more years to go.
So, what did being Patron of Reading involve?
1) Lots of assemblies. The school is now split into Houses - a new innovation since my daughter's time - and each one has its own assempbly. I must have spoken at about a dozen assemblies this year, which at least meant I was recognised out and about in my neighbourhood.
2) A blog. Sometimes the posts came thick and fast. Sometimes (when I was busy) they were sporadic. A resolution for next year is to find a way of making the blog more regular and (even) more attractive to readers. Video may be the way forward.
3) Creative writing workshops. World Book Day (more assemblies) was a huge success, with loads of staff and pupils dressed up. I ran creative writing workshops for every class in Y7 - all nine of them. It was exhausting, but a lot of fun.
4) The school's own book award. Six titles shortlisted, lots of reading and reviews and visits from some of the short-listed authors. Interviews with others on the blog. Much voting took place, and the winner was Lisa Williamson's The Art of Being Normal. One of the highlights of the whole year was having a Y8 girl tell me that Lisa's book had changed her life. 'Because it made me more compassionate towards other people.' As part of the book award Kate, the amzing LRC manager and I took a group of students to our local bookshop Pickled Peppers - and they decorated the shop window with a display promoting the book award and the short-listed books.
5) Sharing my work. I held a little launch party event when my Amsterdam-set book This is Not a Love Story came out, with Dutch snacks and licorice (Dutch people love it). I shared early chapters of my new book Cuckoo (out August) with the Y7 and Y8 reading groups and found their feedback super helpful. I also shared with them the cover design process.
6) And speaking of those reading groups - I tried to pop into their meetings as often as possible. I really enjoyed meeting them, hearing their views and admiring their voracious reading habits.
7) Highgate Wood has a stunning record of winning an international competition in writing historical fiction, and this year I went and spoke to two Y8 classes as they started writing their entries.
8) We had a go at organising a group of reluctant readers, but it proved difficult to pin down, partly because the people that a school thinks is reluctant are sometimes reading a lot out of school anyway. I did meet some great kids though the group, and it's something I hope to come back to next year.
9) Helping to organise author visits. Mostly by messaging people on Facebook and giving Kate their email addresses. We had loads of visits this year, and the only one I can take credit for is Arabella Weir, a parent at the school herself and the author of (among others) some very funny teen books. Arabella not only spoke at the school, she also arranged a visit from Charlie Higson. And there were lots of other visits as wel, plus a Skype session with Lisa Williamson.
My aims for next year are unformed as yet, partly because I've just started a new job which is hoovering up much of my time. But there are some things I'd like to happen.
1) Involving staff and parents more.
2) Getting older students working with younger ones.
3) Working more closely with the English department.
I've done a lot of different jobs this year. Writing books, school visiting, mentoring students, teaching, marking essays and creative writing. Writing a musical. Journalism.
Being Patron of Reading is probably the least defined, and the most difficult to gauge results. But it's definitely been one of the most fun.