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Headmaster’s Blog - May Half Term

Posted: 30th May 2013 | Category: Headmaster's Blog

What a fairy tale end to the first half of the Summer Term.  Ten boys and girls achieved fantastic scholarships to leading Public Schools.  What tickled me was that these super children excelled in so many areas: academia, music, sport and drama.  They also deserve commendation for being so dedicated in their preparation and in handling all the pressure so well.  These fine students have certainly led by example and have been excellent role models for all of those taking Common Entrance in June.

I have always been an avid reader with eclectic tastes.  Having a Teutonic mother, much of my early reading revolved around Grimms’ Fairy Tales whilst my brother opened up a whole new experience for me with the richness of Arthurian legend.  However, by the age of 13 my literary glass was an intricate and bubbling cocktail of Hornblower, Captain Ahab, Tolkien, Nicholas Nickleby with a twist of Science Fiction (The Dune Trilogy and The Day of the Triffids) and a smidgeon of Conan Doyle’s The White Company and dear old Professor Challenger thrown in.

As an English teacher I have tried to enthuse my pupils and entice them into reading a wide range of literature. There are many stimulating modern writers on offer to 21st century children. Some of my favourites are: Kate Mosse; Suzanne Collins; Mike Mullin; and Yann Martel to name a few.  “What about Michael Morpurgo?” I hear you cry!  Every child in the Upper School has studied War Horse and I am looking forward to taking a party of 50+ pupils and teachers to see the West End production in September.

Gaining a balance between classic and modern is quite a tricky matter. The modern plots are racy and gripping; the books are beautifully constructed and easy to read.  The classics tend to be weightier and challenging.  Our current Year 8’s have enjoyed both.  Beowulf or Goodnight Mr Tom, Shakespeare or Plath, they have relished them all.

Back to the Fairy Tale theme!

Not everyone finds Creative Writing easy.  Often the pupil understands the mechanics of writing and can also develop an appreciation of the literary devices authors use to create characters and settings.  A number do, however, struggle to find a suitable plot  - a storyline.   This is where the Fairy Tale comes into its own.

Take a simple one like The Three Little Pigs.  I gave a Year 7 class the task of reading out the synopsis of the tale and gave them a number of discussion words such as FAMILY, PROPERTY, PRUDENCE, GUILT AND LOVE.  These words acted as triggers for discussion and the children in small groups talked about the fairy tale and started to scratch beneath the surface and to examine the respective roles of each of the characters.  This, in turn, stimulated them to think of alternative plots and endings allowing for plenty of creativity.

One scenario was as follows:  the 3 Little Pigs were sent out prematurely into the Big Bad World and became prey to a stalker in the shape of the Big Bad Wolf.  This sent all three pigs on the road to a life of crime.  The youngest stole straw from a local farmer; the next trespassed and gathered wood from a local landowner; and the eldest hijacked a Parker Building Supplies lorry, stole the bricks, sold the lorry and then hired migrant workers to construct Chateau Cochon!

The predatory wolf tried to act as a good, old-fashioned carnivore and pursued his meat relentlessly.  All 3 pigs took refuge in Chateau Cochon and then enticed the wolf into Breaking and Entering via the chimney.

This was where matters took a turn for the worse as the 3 Little Pigs murdered the wolf by incinerating him!

At this point the story branched off in many directions including matricide – the Three Little Pigs, now launched on a life of crime, sought revenge on the mother for casting them out into the wilderness.

This was just one thread pursued…there were other alternatives.

Linking this back to the writing process, I have used this idea of warping a fairy story plot to good effect with reluctant writers.  The following tale may not be exactly PC but it does show a great sense of structure, a figurative style and a young writer who is fully engaged in writing his story.  It was a turning point in this reluctant writer’s education and did so much to build his self-confidence.


Little Angry Red Riding Hood

Once upon a time there was a cute little girl. Argh! “Who am I kidding? She was an angry, annoying, spoilt little girl! So one day her mum, Miss Tired, a soulless single mum, chucked her out of the house and shouted. “Go bug your grandma!” and slammed the door shut.

So, Little Angry Red Riding Hood set off to her grandmas; she was happy because this meant she would have to walk through the deep dark woods. She liked this, because on the way she could always beat up a wood cutter or something. So, she set off down the deep dark woods.

She saw a shadow lurking in the bush - what was it, you ask? Well it was none other than a hairy horrendous wolf. He beamed at the frowning girl. He thought to himself, here is my dinner ... but the girl was thinking the same thing!

The wolf jumped upon the girl and then there was a battle of a lifetime.

Eventually, the girl came out and produced the most horrible burp which, of course, smelt like wolf!

By Seb
Year 7

...perhaps a venture into vegetarian fairy tales next?  The mind boggles!

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