Monthly Archives: October 2015

The vial of life that I can fathom.

If my eyes could bring me certainty, I have seen it all.

If my heart could bleed for all of the remaining time that I have, it wouldn’t be enough.

If my breath could raise a significant voice that would vibrate across continents and centuries.  That would be a miracle.  Time to lift the guitar again.

If my vision disappears.  I have no eyes.

If my heart fails.  I have no feeling.

If my breath fails to raise another voice.  I have no meaning.

If I see, feel and breathe life into what seems impossible, I might create a new life equation.  One that we all can fathom.

What if?



My imagination may allow life itself to rest on my dwindling fingers for a few seconds.  I have three things to say from the curio that is life itself.

Embrace the touch that is important.

Be open to change.

Clarity always appears after the smoke clears.

Patience.  Feeling.  Change.





With my classes, we have reenacted a few different scenes in my time as a teacher, from the absolutely amazing Californian spin on the French Revolution to Trench Warfare in the classroom.  Trench Warfare in the classroom was a lot of fun and a little bit bonkers actually.

I used my non-teaching period today to locate the requisite hill to reenact the Battle of Hastings.    I asked the caretaker about the viability of the site and he said that the hill at the front of the school was perfect.

The students launched wave after wave of infantry into the Anglo-Saxon wall.  We needed several takes.  And then the archers unleashed a wave of arrows as the shield wall fragmented. It was actually one enthusiastic archer, shooting really fast.  The Norman infantry advanced and the rest is history.

It was a little bit bonkers actually, but, it was worth it.  The students will remember it forever and it was the best part of a certain teacher’s day.

I think that all within education have to remember that every lesson doesn’t always live within the boundaries of imagined outcomes and every student doesn’t have to live within the boundaries of computerised predictions.

Most days involve energising enthusiasm and engaging the memory.  Do this well and every student will shoot their arrows beyond the grid of expectation.






Eye tests, emptiness and the overflowing glass of memory.

I have had one eye test in my whole life.  Possibly two.  It seems that I need to go and get my window on the world inspected and cleaned.

How do I currently view the world?  As far as I am concerned, life exists in the memories that we share and remember together, the same memory that lives, for as long as you live.  In other words, I have nothing to give but myself and I hope that the time that we had together indented your brain 0.000000001%, a figure that significantly equates to more than zero.  The space between forgotten and remembered.

I can’t give you anything but myself.  This life is what I am, and whether the chips fly into the sky and catch the requisite tomato sauce, the memory remains in the moments shared together and the moments remembered.

What I see through my untested eyes is you, and what I hold in my depleting grey mass is the second you made me smile, or laugh, or cry, or huff, or stop and think.  As far as I can see is a sea of amazing memories.

When I close my eyes at night, my brain remembers the significant moment you impacted me, a moment that can’t be quantified by science or reason.  It is a feeling.  It is a lasting memory.  The sum of these memories equates to me.

I think that we all should live our lives expecting that the sum of our seemingly insignificant 0.000000001% encounters will equate to something important.  Life should not be a zero sum game.


The Troubles.

There is no lasting memory of ‘The Troubles’ that should be allowed to enshrine heroism, the so called ‘war,’ freedom fighting and dying for a cause, as lasting legacies.  I am really sorry.  I disagree with all of these narratives.  Of course, I voted for the Good Friday Agreement and accepted all of the stipulations relating to prisoner release and community building.  That never meant that I had to accept all of the defining explanations that justified the conflict.  I will never accept any of them.  Sorry.

I want to remind you of the miracle that was the Good Friday Agreement.  It allowed people to draw a line.  Prisoner release was an extremely bitter pill to swallow for many, but, hopefully, most expected to move on from this as a society.  Local institutions were accepted and populated by local politicians and the focus remains that this should lead to a stability that will  generate a different future.  I have to say that this has been the case, most of the time.  And despite all of the protestations about Stormont’s ineffectiveness, Stormont may prove itself yet.  Time is relative and we are a patient society.  We have had to learn to be patient.

There is one story from the Troubles that I will always remember.  I took my girlfriend to the pub.  The old guys were playing chess, as usual.  The atmosphere was autumnal and dark.  The Guinness was amazing.  Suddenly, the water came down from above, through the lights and threatened the experience of two friends in love.  The landlord moved us to a different table and we got talking to a fella in glasses who was jovial and laughing about the whole situation.  He was a really nice guy.  We left the pub, bidding goodbye to our new found friend.  That very night, that same guy found himself in the wrong company and in the wrong place at the wrong time and was murdered.   When I saw his face in the news the next day, I couldn’t believe it.

As my father reminded me tonight, ‘The Troubles were absolutely awful.’  As Ian Paisley said before he died, ‘We can never go back to that!’  As everybody who experienced it knows, 2015 is so much better than the past, and we are willing to show a little bit of patience to ensure that our politicians find the right formulae to work through all of the considerable issues that have understandably accrued.  At the same time, we have to be honest, and truly realise that the so called Troubles should never be glorified in any shape or form.  We should teach all of our students the whole truth of the narrative and then allow them to move on in whatever direction they choose.  I am hopeful that they will choose a different path.

Of course, I remain fully cognisant of the fact that the different angles of every story have to be given the space to be related.  Despite this, it must be self-evident to most people in my generation, that The Troubles period was just horrendous and we should redouble our efforts as a society to remove all of the factors that made the conflict occur.

We can succeed.





J S Mill and On Liberty

The main points are these.

The grounds for delivering Government policy should be founded on a real debate, a debate that focuses on all of the angles and refines a policy to fully satisfy all possible objections.  The necessity of ensuring that all bases are covered is essential to delivering the right decision.

The grounds for delivering community cohesion should be founded on a real debate, a debate that focuses on all of the angles and refines a policy to fully satisfy all possible objections.  The necessity of ensuring that all bases are covered is essential to delivering the right decision.

The grounds for bonding society to a different future, one that is understandably defined and, at the same time, enhanced by all of the lessons of the past, depends on a real debate, a debate that focuses on all of the angles and refines a policy to fully satisfy all objections.  The necessity of ensuring that all bases are covered is essential to delivering the right decision.

All that Mr Mill was trying to say was this.  Sometimes, the truth is hidden and we don’t see it.  Sometimes, we struggle with truth because we don’t understand it.  Sometimes, we accept what we have never encountered.  Other times, we hide in our personal caves and pronounce judgement on other possible experiences.  There are many avenues that lead to refined truth.  First Avenue is called beginnings.  Second Avenue is called discussion.  Third Avenue is called fallibility.  Fourth Avenue is called refinery.  Fifth avenue is called fusion.

Whether you have any faith or none.  Whether you have fixed views or you float with the breeze.  Whether you have a political ideology, a personal past or a history that stretches the length of the universe.  Our own conception of what we believe is strengthened by all of the encounters we have with those who don’t hold our views.  They might enlighten and enhance the way we think.  They might help us to recognise our fallibility.  They might refine our understanding.  They might help us fuse a different understanding.  Everything begins with a real discussion and an agreed understanding that the continual collision of ideas may lead to somewhere new, somewhere better.  Then, the process can begin again.  A living truth is defined by continual debate.  A growing society is defined by innovation, innovation that is specifically fuelled by constant adaption to the new necessities of modernity.  Our conception of ourselves is changing everyday.

Accepting that we can, as a society, be persuaded to embrace new horizons, is the foundation stone of the vibrancy that propels us forward.  Educating a society that isn’t afraid to question past certainties, is an essential ingredient of the walls that hold progress in place.  Refining and fusing new collective values will begin to build a roof that will house society until the intermittent storms pass.

I think that is what J S Mill was saying.




The way forward.

I am conscious of the fact that I need to provide an alternative way forward for Education in Northern Ireland.

Number One.  There needs to be a full consultation, involving all interested parties, parents, students, politicians, unions and representatives from industry.

Number Two.  The consultation should allow politicians on all sides to share opinions beyond party lines.

Number Three.  No stone should be left unturned in the proposed consultation.  When the world looks at Northern Ireland, they are amazed by the fact that religiously segregated schools are the norm, in a divided society that endured the cost of what was perceived as ‘separateness,’ ‘us and them.’  It is clear that we need to discuss an endgame on a cross-political basis.  What is the thesis that props up ‘Shared Education?’  What are the conclusions that will be drawn?  What are the outcomes that we expect?  What will be different in twenty years time?

Number Four.  What equates to a failing school, in a system that does not allow all schools to compete on an equal basis?  The mantra is ‘Every school, a good school.’  I absolutely understand that DENI and ETI are fully aware of the ‘value added’ provision that is essential in all schools.  The selection system at age eleven, as it exists, does not provide the model of excellence that all students deserve.  Let me elaborate slightly.  In the proposed consultation, all interested parties should discuss how selection fits into the wider educational framework, an educational framework that is bolstered to suit all learning needs and abilities.  In other words, false completion should not exist between schools offering equally valid pathways, in a new system where every school is allowed to be a great school.  The Northern Ireland educational system should be designed to promote excellence for all in the next twenty years.

Number Five.  We have got to eliminate competition from the current educational context.  Parents and students should be given a choice between a school of excellence and a school of excellence.  All schools should be supported and afforded with the chance to shine.  There should be a political dynamic that is derived from the possibility that the newly envisaged Northern Ireland educational framework could compete with the best in the world.  This will require a lot of hard work and more than a few honest conversations.

Number Six.  We have got to start taking this debate seriously.  What purpose does a life in politics serve, if it does not bequeath new possibilities?  What purpose does my life serve, if I do not speak up?  What tomorrow is, should not be determined by yesterday and what happened yesterday inevitably conflicts with what our future could hold.  Yesterday is held close by those who have lost and this is immensely important.  Nevertheless, progress should not be held up by circuitous conversations that lead to a place that no longer exists.

Number Seven.  We really need to ensure that we provide adequate opportunities within Northern Ireland for students who wish to stay and contribute to Northern Ireland.  This is a must.

We need a full and frank conversation about the future of education in Northern Ireland in 2016.  Given the historical significance of the year, it seems like the perfect year to begin.


The label that doesn’t tell the whole story.

The Equality Commission Report.

More research of Protestant failure.  Martin Luther turning in his grave.  Same old.  Same old story.

I would like to add a few thoughts to the research.

Number one.  There are a lot of schools, principals, teachers and students who are outperforming the headline.  To add weight to the published statistical trend, it might have been possible to add a few notices of success.  There are more than a few!

Number two.  I really don’t believe it is helpful to harp on about ‘Protestant’ underachievement, when many of my so called, ‘Protestant Boys,’ are doing really well.

Number three.  Two of my so called, ‘Protestant Boys,’ got First Class Honours in their History degrees this year.

Number four.  Why are we obsessed by labels?

Everybody knows that the current Education System in Northern Ireland is designed to favour those selected at age eleven to attend the local Grammar School, in the Catholic Sector and in the Protestant Sector.  Moves were made to question this, but powerful lobbying forces intervened and political fudge was the order of the day.  Let us be absolutely honest.  All students have aspirations.  All parents want their children to succeed.  Whatever their ethnicity, their ability range, their origin or the religion of the student body, an educational structure should be envisaged and created to favour them all!!!

So.  Where have we arrived?  In nowhere land.  A land that exists between powerful forces and what is right.  My mother taught me the alphabet.  My community explained how to use it in graffitti.  My best friends showed me how to rub it out and start again and how to truly live in a land without labels.

I absolutely love my school and the staff that I am fortunate to work with.  I don’t want to see any more surveys demoting the amazing efforts of the teachers or the great work students pour into their studies.

The big Northern Ireland educational question is this.  After all the talks about talks.  The legacy of the past, welfare reform and the great money debate, who lost and who won, 2016 and all else besides; as a society, are we willing to begin the biggest conversation of all and strive to  create an educational structure and environment that ensures that all of our students are able to maximise their performance and succeed in this world?

Can we please build a Northern Ireland without labels?