Back to school with Iain Stewart

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YOU learn something new everyday, so the saying goes.

This is never truer than when you are at school, when the sole purpose or your days is to absorb information and experience new things. Responsibility for imparting this knowledge falls largely on the shoulders of the men and women who play such a large part in shaping our children’s future: teachers.

Earlier this month, I spent the day with MP Iain Stewart, shadowing Henry Gowney-Hedges, the head of history at the Hazeley Academy. The day follows the MPs recent visits to Milton Keynes Hospital and a patrol with Thames Valley Police officers, as he tries to understand the real-life issues facing public sector workers in his constituency.

Upon arrival it would have been perfectly understandable to find the Principal of Hazeley Academy, Mark Bennison, rushed off his feet and struggling to make time for his high-profile guest. As it turned out he and his staff couldn’t have been more calm and welcoming.

The first port of call for the day was the Principal’s office, where we were joined by staff and pupils to discuss their recent transition from school to academy, their decision to introduce the International Baccalaureate alongside A-Levels and the struggles pupils face in separating themselves from the crowd in an increasingly saturated marketplace.

The children themselves seemed to understand the importance of not only getting a good education but the path they would have to choose within that to make sure they were well prepared for the future.

So far the experience of returning to school had been much as I expected, things were soon about to change though as we headed into the classroom to observe Mr Gowney-Hedges at work. Mr Bennison’s head of history is clearly respected by his students and children even approached us in the corridors to sing his praises. The effects of his interactive lesson plans were evident from the constant hum of activity in the room.

The visiting MP, looking on from the back of the classroom, was clearly impressed commenting on how the classroom dynamic had changed so much since his time at school.

He said: “He was extremely passionate and the epitome of a good teacher. He clearly inspires the pupils, earning their respect while also motivating and pushing them. This visit was also vital in correcting the misconception that teachers work short hours. Henry in particular was often working 13 or 14 hour days and also at weekends to maximise his potential to teach the children.”

A tour of the school in the afternoon saw the interactive nature of lesson delivery replicated in each lesson we dropped in on. It also saw the Principal’s passion for teaching had not diminished, despite his elevated role, as he had to be dragged away from a maths lesson to continue the tour.

Mr Stewart said: “The most important thing that children gain at school is knowledge and it is important that they digest topics across a broader spectrum. I get a good sense that they are well on their way to that here.

“Schools can often be labelled as exam factories, where children are just taught how to pass exams but that didn’t seem to be the case here. They have strong engagement with the business community and they are encouraged to participate in extra curricular activities for the good of their CVs.”

We can be reassured that, despite the bad press the youth of today sometimes get, with figures like Principal Bennison and his staff at Hazeley Academy in charge of our children’s education, our future is in safe hands.